I Skipped The Debate And I Regret Nothing

I didn’t watch last night’s Democratic debate but I had a good reason.  I was watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Star Wars instead.  They were both on TCM and I think I made the right decision in choosing them over Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, in particular, is always better than I remembered.  The first time that I ever watched Close Encounters was in a film class and, at the film’s conclusion, tears started to form in my eyes.  I assumed that it was just I was just moved by the end of the film, with Richard Dreyfuss going into space and Melinda Dillon being reunited with her son.  Later, I went back to my dorm room and discovered that I was running a fever and had a temperature of 101.  Whether you’re sick or not, watching Close Encounters is still an emotionally rewarding experience.  That scene where the aliens first arrive at Devil’s Tower still takes my breath away.

As for Star Wars, it’s still a great thrill ride.  I watch it and I’m a kid again.  Of course, while I’m watching it, I don’t worry about things like how Darth Vader could have built C3PO or Luke’s obvious crush on his sister.  I just sit back, relax, and have a blast.

For those two movies, I skipped last night’s debate and I regret nothing.

The Brilliance of TCM (Example #3456)

TCM has the perfect counter-programming for tonight’s Democratic Debate.

Tonight, you could either watch Peter Buttigieg and Beto O’Rourke meeting on stage for the first time…

Or you can turn over to TCM and watch a line-up of some of the greatest science fiction films ever made:

Close Encounters of the Third Kind

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

Solaris (!!)

Logan’s Run



Sorry, Democrats.  I know what I’ll be watching.

Andrew Golden Is Dead

Drew Grant in 2008

Last night, news broke about an accident that occurred on a highway in Independence County, Arkansas.  One car drifted into oncoming traffic and collided with another car.  Both drivers were killed.  The driver of the second car was a 33  year-old resident of Missouri named Drew Douglas Grant.

It’s the type of thing that happens nearly every day.  What made this accident national news was that before Drew Grant was known as Drew Grant, he was known as Andrew Golden.  In 1998, Golden and his friend Mitchell Johnson were responsible for what was, at the time, the 2nd most deadly school shooting in U.S. history.  After Golden pulled a fire alarm at Westside Middle School in Jonesboro, Arkansas, he and Johnson ambushed and shot 15 people.  4 students and one teacher died.

At the time, Mitchell Johnson was 13.  Andrew Golden was 11.

Andrew Golden in 1998

Because of their age, Johnson and Golden were tried as juveniles.  Convicted of five counts of murder, Johnson and Golden were imprisoned until they each reached their 21st birthdays, at which point they were released and their criminal record was officially wiped clean.  Johnson and Golden became the only two living mass murderers who were not incarcerated.

Can someone who did something terrible as a child be reformed and go on to be a productive adult?  That is a question that haunts the juvenile justice system.  After his initial release, Johnson continued to get into trouble with the law and spent even more time in prison on drug and theft charges.  (Johnson is currently free and living, under probation, somewhere in Texas.)  Andrew Golden, on the other hand, changed his name and, with the exception of one time when he attempted to get a concealed weapon permit under his new name and failed to disclose that he had spent time in prison, kept a low profile.

If you go on YouTube, you can find a 2008 disposition that Golden gave in a civil case.  For two and a half hours, Golden was asked about the shooting and his life afterwards and most of his answers consisted of replying, “Not that I remember.”  When asked to describe the day of the shooting, Golden claimed that Johnson approached him before school and, while holding a pocket knife, threatened to kill Golden and his father unless Golden helped with the shooting.  When asked why he didn’t run away or make any attempt to warn anyone when Johnson supposedly ordered him to enter the school and pull the fire alarm, Golden can only shrug and say that he doesn’t remember.  Golden, who was considered to be an excellent marksman even at the age of 11, also claimed that he only started shooting to try to warn everyone the teachers and students about what Mitchell was planning.  Despite having fired nearly every fatal shot, Golden insisted throughout the disposition that he only fired his gun in the air and at a wall.  Watching the disposition, it is evident that Golden was not ready or willing to take responsibility for his actions in 2008.  Had that changed by 2019?  Was Golden even capable of making that type of change?  Who can say?

Andrew Golden is dead, the victim of an accident that appears to have been as random as his actions in 1998 were deliberate.  If his death brings some sort of peace to those who he hurt, good.

Alas, Baltimore

The politicians who spent this weekend attacking West Baltimore and the politicians who spent this weekend defending it have one huge thing in common:  None of them have ever done much to improve the conditions for the people who live there.  Instead, the citizens of West Baltimore have, for decades, been treated like pawns.  While the Republicans only care about them when there’s a partisan point to be made, the Democrats make promises that, because they’re the only game in town, they have no reason to actually keep.

And, as always, it’s the people who suffer.

It’s Been Six Years Since My Last Cigarette

As of today, it’s been six years since I last smoked a cigarette.  It was a Dunhill and I smoked it while standing outside a pub in London.  At the time, it didn’t occur to me that I was smoking my final cigarette but, with the benefit of hindsight, it was a good way to go out.

At the time I had already transitioned from being a chainsmoker to being only an occasional smoker.  I cut back on my smoking because someone who I love asked me too.  She was smart enough to ask me to cut down to half a pack a day instead of demanding that I just quit.  Once I went down to half a pack, it was easy to then go down to a fourth of a pack and then eventually I was just smoking one or two cigarettes a day.  A week after I smoked that final Dunhill, I realized that not only had I not been smoking but I had no desire to smoke.  I had always heard horror stories about people going through withdrawal while trying to give up cigarettes but my experience was the complete opposite.

Looking back, I don’t regret the years I spent smoking.  Some of the best friendships that I’ve ever had were formed while standing in a cloud of cigarette smoke.  Only another smoker can know what it’s like to step outside after a long class or meeting and finally get to light up a cigarette.  Only my fellow smokers could understand the pleasure of taking that first drag.  The fact that the rest of the society hated all of us smokers and our habit only made our bond stronger.  It was us against the world and, while the rest of the world might be able to breathe at full lung capacity, they would never know the pleasure of learning how to make smoke rings.

Smoking was good to me.  I don’t miss the cigarettes but I do miss the culture.

Book Thoughts: Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel by Marshall Terrill

Last night, I watched Tom Horn.

This western was the actor Steve McQueen’s second-to-last movie.  He died a few months after it was released in 1980 and McQueen looks frail throughout most of the movie.  Despite his obvious ill-health, McQueen still gave a strong performance as a real-life former frontier scout and cowboy who was executed for a crime that he probably did not commit.

After I watched the movie, I searched through my collection of film books until I found my copy of Marshall Terrill’s Steve McQueen: Portrait of an American Rebel.  Terrill’s book is one of my favorite actor biographies.  It covers all the details of McQueen’s underrated acting career and his turbulent personal life, including both the time he ran into the Manson Family and his relationship with Ali MacGraw.

Best of all, the book ends with a detailed list of every film that McQueen turned down over the course of his career.  After he appeared in The Towering Inferno, McQueen became very selective when it came to picking his film roles.  He was tired of just doing action movies and he also didn’t want to spend too much time apart from MacGraw.  Directors still wanted to work with McQueen but McQueen didn’t always want to work with him and, as a result, the movies that McQueen turned down make for a truly impressive list.

Here’s just a few of the films that McQueen was offered but turned down:

  • Breakfast at Tiffany’s (The George Peppard role would have been a rare intellectual role for McQueen)
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (McQueen was the first choice for the Sundance Kid but he and Paul Newman could not agree on who would be billed first.  This same issue nearly kept them from working together in The Towering Inferno.)
  • The French Connection (The French Connection was greenlit due to the success of Bullitt so it’s not a surprise that McQueen was offered the role of Popeye Doyle.  McQueen, however, was tired of playing cops.)
  • Dirty Harry (Again, McQueen was tired of playing cops.)
  • The Great Gatsby (This film was originally envisioned as starring McQueen as Gatsby and Ali MacGraw as Daisy, both of whom would have been better cast in the roles than either Robert Redford or Mia Farrow.  As a former juvenile delinquent who became one of the richest men in Hollywood, McQueen was Jay Gatsby.)
  • Jaws (Spielberg considered McQueen for the role of Brody.)
  • The Driver (Ryan O’Neal was cast instead and gave a performance that was clearly influenced by McQueen’s style of cool)
  • A Bridge Too Far (Everyone who was anyone was offered a role in A Bridge Too Far.  McQueen was one of the few actors to turn it down and, as happened so often in his career, the role instead went to Robert Redford.)
  • The Gauntlet (This was originally envisioned as starring McQueen and Barbra Streisand.  It was eventually made with Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke.)
  • Close Encounters of The Third Kind (McQueen turned down the role of Roy Neary because he didn’t feel that he could convincingly cry on screen.)
  • Sorcerer (William Friedkin later said that the biggest mistake of his career wasn’t fighting harder to get McQueen to star in his remake of The Wages of Fear.)
  • First Blood (McQueen was one of many stars considered for either Rambo or Sheriff Teasle before Sylvester Stallone came aboard.)
  • The Bodyguard (Famously, this was written for McQueen and Diana Ross.  It was eventually made with Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston)
  • The Cannonball Run (After McQueen turned down the project, the script was rewritten to play up comedy over action and Burt Reynolds was cast in the lead role.)
  • For me, the most intriguing project that McQueen turned down was Apocalypse Now.  McQueen was Francis Ford Coppola’s first choice for Capt. Willard but McQueen turned him down because he didn’t want to leave Ali MacGraw alone for the months that would be required to make the film.  Even after being turned down the first time, Coppola offered the role to McQueen twice more, once after firing Harvey Keitel and once after Martin Sheen’s heart attack.  When McQueen again refused to play Willard, Coppola tried to interest McQueen in playing Col. Kurtz.  While I think McQueen would have been a good Willard, I also believe he would have been a great Kurtz.  McQueen would have been more believable as a feared warrior than Marlon Brando.

And that’s just a few of the roles that McQueen turned down!  Terrill’s biography includes a comprehensive list.

Even after his death, McQueen has remained an icon of cool.  Damian Lewis plays him in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon A Time In Hollywood.  I’m looking forward to seeing that movie this weekend.  I’m also looking forward to rereading Marshall Terrill’s biography of Steve McQueen.

The Mueller Hearings Were Strange

I love politics and even I was bored out of my mind.

From what I saw of the hearings, Robert Mueller came across as if he was the only person in America who didn’t care about the report.  He often seemed to be confused by the questions and it appears that his main role as special counsel was to delegate to his assistants and sign off on their findings.  There’s nothing wrong with that and it should be remembered that Mueller is 74 years old and was semi-retired when he was appointed special prosecutor.  Still, the Mueller that we saw today was quite the contrast to the dynamic prosecutor that everyone has spent the past two and a half years describing.

I don’t think anyone changed any minds today but I don’t think anyone was expecting any differently.  The members of Congress got to get in their soundbites and they got to show off for the cameras and that was what today was always meant to be about.


Boris Johnson is the new PM

Boris Johnson, a leadership candidate for Britain’s Conservative Party, leaves his office in London, Britain July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

I’m not going to speculate on how Boris is going to do as PM.  Most people seem to think he’s destined to either be a spectacular success or a spectacular flop.  You may think that but I couldn’t possibly comment.

Al Franken. Again.

There’s been a lot of talk today about Al Franken, the SNL writer-turned-Senator who resigned his seat in 2018 after eight women accused him of groping them and kissing them without their consent.  The New Yorker has a new and lengthy piece from Jane Mayer that essentially argues that Franken was railroaded out of office and should be given a second chance.

That the story is a puff piece that spends nearly 8,000 words attacking one of his accusers before admitting that seven other women also made credible accusations against Franken should not come as a surprise.  The media has always loved Al Franken, largely because he’s seen as being one of them.  He’s Ivy League-educated.  He came up through the broadcast world.  His humor poked fun at all the acceptable targets while his SNL background provided cover whenever anyone complained that the left was made up of humorless scolds.  Before the accusations came out, Franken was the subject of fawning profiles and presidential speculation.  Remember the Giant of The Senate book tour?  That there would eventually be an attempt to rehabilitate Franken’s image was inevitable.

Reading the story, it’s hard not to get the feeling that Franken is upset because he now realizes that, if he hadn’t resigned, the news cycle would have eventually moved on to something else and he would have been fine.  It’s easy to imagine Franken looking at Donald Trump easily surviving far worse accusations and saying, “Why not me?”  When someone like Al Franken looks at Virginia and sees that Ralph Northam and Justin Fairdfax are still in office, how can he not feel that perhaps he was too quick to surrender?

The main consequence of Al Franken’s resignation seems to be the transformation of Kirsten Gillibrand from a rising star to a pariah.  There are Democrats who will never forgive her for calling on Al Franken to resign.  But what did the country really lose when Al Franken left the Senate?  He was a progressive from a blue state.  When he stepped down, he was replaced by another Democrat, one who probably has the exact same voting record that Franken would have had if he hadn’t resigned.  If Al Franken was still a member of the Senate, the same judges would be confirmed, the same bills would be passed, and the only difference would be that Franken would be on the floor giving a speech instead of Tina Smith.  The idea that some had that Al Franken’s showbiz background would make him uniquely capable of challenging Trump was wishful thinking.  If Trump’s the WWE, Franken’s the Hasty Pudding Theatricals.  Guess which one of those swing state voters usually prefer.