Posts Tagged ‘movies’

The Day I Met George Romero

When I learned of George Romero’s death, it reminded me of the day I met him.

In 1977, I was working as an on-air personality at WKTQ-AM (13Q) in Pittsburgh. My friend, Patty Bernesser was serving as an associate producer for a new George Romero movie and one afternoon she invited me to visit the set of “Martin”,    the story of a teenager who believes that he’s a vampire. The set was George’s mother’s house.

Of course, I knew who George Romero was. “Night of the Living Dead” had scared the crap out of me. I was especially haunted by the scene of the little girl eating her dead father’s arm. It was chilling.

When I moved to Pittsburgh, I lived in an apartment complex in the North Hills off of Cemetery Lane across the street from the cemetery where some of the zombie scenes had been filmed for “Night of the Living Dead”. Such was the power of that movie that on certain nights, when the clouds were scuttling and the moonlight was bright, I’d feel the hairs on my neck stand up as I drove down Cemetery Lane.

I found George Romero to be a laid back, gracious guy. He was easy to talk to and was amused when I told him about my Cemetery Lane experiences. I don’t recall the specifics of our conversation but I think he addressed his concept that his movies weren’t about the zombies but more about how ordinary people reacted to the situations.

As it turned out, one of the subplots of “Martin”, the teenage boy who feared he was a vampire, was that he made calls to a local talk radio host and anonymously shared his concerns. Given that I had on-air experience, Romero asked me if I’d like to play the role of the talk show host in the movie. Wow!  Never, in my wildest dreams, had I ever thought I’d be offered a role in a George Romero film.

Unfortunately, due to commitments I had with my full-time job, we weren’t able to coordinate recording and filming schedules.  Someone else ended up with the role of talk radio show host. So, I blew my big shot at being in the movies.

But,  I’ll always have Pittsburgh!  And fond memories of George Romero, the man who was not only nice enough to offer me a movie role but who also lodged that frightening image in my head from “Night of the Living Dead”.

May he rest in peace.






Oscar, Yes. Promotion, No.

Jessica Chastain won an Academy Award for her portrayal of the CIA operative whose obsession with al-Qaeda’s network of couriers led to the discovery of Osama bi Laden’s hideout in Pakistan. Chastain in Zero Dark 30
However, it might surprise you to learn that the woman on whom Chastain’s character is based was denied a promotion which would have earned her an extra $16K per year.

Apparently, the real-life Maya (not her actual name) is, shall we say, “assertive” and as one of her colleagues explained to a reporter not Miss Congeniality. However, another colleague pointed out that jerks are not in short supply at the CIA so the woman’s abrasive personality shouldn’t be an impediment to promotion.

The CIA says that she received a financial bonus after bin Laden was found but the agency was reticent about discussing why the operative’s promotion from GS 13 to GS 14 was denied.

Here’s the Washington Post story:

You’ll notice that this story was published in early December and it did get some press coverage then. But, as Charles Peters observes in The Washington Monthly, it’s odd that this story hasn’t received much wider media attention. Especially, following Chastain’s Oscar win.

Your Cheatin’ Heart

A few months ago, I posted a blog piece about cheating on taxes. That prompted a response from Allison Morris who sent me the infographic below created by Online Colleges in a blog piece about how cynical members of the Gen X and Gen Y generations feel about cheating and lying. They appear to think of these behaviors as necessary for basic survival. How much these attitudes are created by media exposure from television police procedurals, movies and music would be an interesting topic to pursue.

Check out the infographic below and let me know what you think.
Rise of the Cheater Infographic

RIP, The Bee Gees’ Robin Gibb

I was saddened to learn of the untimely death of yet another member of the music community, The Bee Gee’s Robin Gibb. Robin and Barry had been the two survivors of the four Gibb brothers. The youngest brother, Andy, died tragically at the age of 30. Robin’s twin, Maurice, passed away in 2003. Now, of those four talented brothers, only Barry remains.

My only personal encounter with the Bee Gees was in an elevator at 30 Rock. I was then working at WNBC Radio. The Bee Gees were the musical guests that week on Saturday Night Live in the wake of their huge success with the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack. One afternoon, I was heading back down to the radio station on the second floor from the seventh floor commissary and, when I stepped into the elevator, found myself alone with the three Gibb brothers.

Fortunately, I was feeling more glib than shy at that particular moment so, as they looked at me and I at them, I smiled and asked: “Are you boys all behaving yourselves?”. They seemed to enjoy the engagement and we all laughed and bantered a bit during the brief five floor elevator ride. I immediately liked them all. Despite the fact that they were, at that point in their careers, huge and wealthy stars (and not yet the objects of derision by the tragically hip), they were unselfconscious and very likable.

For some reason, I felt the strongest connection with Robin. It might have been his eye contact or something that he said. Whatever it was, although I was favorably impressed with both Barry and Maurice, my reaction following that five floor 30 Rock elevator ride was that I liked Robin Gibb best.

Although I still enjoy hearing “Stayin’ Alive”, my favorite Bee Gees hits tend to be the early ballads. I’d never given much thought to who sang lead on their songs so it was a little surprising to learn that Robin Gibb had sung lead on some of my favs, “Gotta Get A Message To You”, “Massachusetts”, and “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart”.

I was impressed with this report aired on NPR’s “Morning Edition” following the announcement of Robin’s death:

R.I.P, Robin Gibb. Thank you for your music and the memories.

Here Comes Trouble

Let me begin by stating my belief that, whether you’re having a conversation, writing a book, posting a blog, sending a Facebook message, tweeting, doing a radio show, podcasting, or making a movie, it’s all about story-telling.

A recent article in Miller-McCune magazine reports that, based on scientific research, psychologist Jonathan Haidt has determined the beliefs you and I hold are really more the result of our genes and environment rather than immutable truths. Having established that ideology isn’t based in rationality, Haidt and his colleagues have come up with a framework of 5 moral foundations. They are care/harm, which makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; fairness/cheating, which alerts us to those who might take advantage of us; loyalty/betrayal, which binds us as team players; authority/subversion, which prompts us to respect rank and status; and sanctity/degradation, which inspires a sense of purity, both literally (physical cleanliness) and symbolically. The conviction that abortion, euthanasia, or gay marriage is immoral arises from the sanctity impulse.

Haidt says that American liberals respond most strongly to the care/harm and fairness/cheating impulses and tend to dismiss the others whereas conservatives (and the majority of people in the rest of the world) take all 5 moral foundations into account. Another way of interpreting this information might be that liberals tend to be more optimistic and see the glass half-full while conservatives tend to be more pessimistic and see it as half-empty.

There’s little doubt that Michael Moore is more influenced by the care/harm and fairness/cheating factors than by the others described. He waves his symbolic “freak flag” proudly and merely mentioning Michael Moore’s name provokes viscerally negative reactions from political conservatives and many independents, too. He’s viewed as a caricature of an old, unwashed, left-wing hippie troublemaker.

So it will be easy for those who disagree with Moore’s politics to reject this book as irrelevant. I think that would be a mistake.

I was surprised by the humanity that emanates from this collection of stories. I listened to the audiobook , which Moore narrates himself, and was struck several times by the thought that those who despise this man might gain some useful insights from hearing his stories about growing up in working class Flint, MI, his staunchly Republican mother, his encounters with Bobby Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Harry Chapin, and John Lennon. And the life experiences which shaped Moore into the Quixotic documentary filmmaker that he is today.

You might laugh, you might cry, slam the book shut or shout at the dashboard, but you won’t be bored by the stories in HERE COMES TROUBLE.

Moneyball The Movie

“When you rule out an entire class of people from doing a job simply because of their appearance, you’re less likely to find the person best suited for the job.”-Michael Lewis in MONEYBALL.

Michael Lewis is a journalist who writes like a novelist. The first time I encountered Lewis’ work was in his book, THE NEW NEW THING. Understand that I’m a very slow book reader. My reading tends to be in the snack-o-tainment style of magazine articles and , now, blog pieces. It can easily take me a month to 6 months to read a book which is why I tend to prefer audiobooks which I can “read” during commutes.

THE NEW NEW THING was an exception. While accompanying my wife on a weekend business trip to Phoenix, I couldn’t stop reading it and completed the whole book in a couple of days. That’s when Michael Lewis became one of my favorite writers.

I don’t buy audiobooks. I get them free from the library. But I did buy the audiobook of MONEYBALL because I was fascinated with the concept of using sabermetrics to assess performance. To me, it was more like a textbook than a mere reading experience. But I was a little surprised when I learned that the book had been made into a movie. Guess I shouldn’t have been given that movie adaptation of “The Blind Side” was such a big hit.

During an interview about the movie version of THE BLIND SIDE, I’d heard Michael Lewis talk about how once he sells the film writes to a book he relinquishes control and is usually eliminated from the project. In his recent interview with Jon Stewart, Lewis indicated that he’d expected the movie adaptation of MONEYBALL to be a disaster but that he’d been pleasantly surprised.

We saw the MONEYBALL movie last night.

Apparently, Paul DePodesta, who is a central character in the book, did not want to be represented in the movie. So the character of Peter Brand as played by Jonah Hill was created as an amalgamation of DePodesta and other members of the Oakland A’s staff. Hill’s movie career has primarily been playing obnoxious geeky characters in Judd Apatow movies. He’s geeky but vulnerably likable in this role.

The book chronicles the pre-Oakland A’s experiences of several key characters: Billy Beane, Paul DePodesta, Chad Bradford, and Scott Haddeberg. We hear anecdotal observations about Beane and his mercurial nature but we don’t really get to know much about him. The movie is more centered around Billy as the main character and, with Brad Pitt in the starring role, we get to learn more of his experiences as a person. It could be titled “Moneyball:The Billy Beane Story”. I’m unclear about how much of the personal interactions between Billy Beane, his wife and her new partner or Billy and his daughter are fictionalized but they play well in the context of a movie. Pitt’s performance is relatively low-key with occasional outbursts and you find yourself rooting for both Beane and his team of outcasts as the underdogs. My emotional reaction reminded me a lot of those I experienced while watching the movie version of “Seabiscuit”

The book ends with the story about how Scott Haddeberg inadvertently broke his Louisville Slugger contract by grabbing the wrong bat when he was unexpectedly called in to pinch hit for what turned out to be a record-breaking game. The movie doesn’t include that story and instead ends with Billy Beane in a “dad” moment.

It works.

Postscript: I’m an advocate for Billy Beane’s sabermetrics approach but there is a certain irony that Tony LaRussa, who Billy forced out, has been the manager of two World Series contending teams since leaving the A’s organization while A’s have yet to make it into the Series. Tony likes to employ all those old baseball tricks like sacrifice bunts, etc that sabermetrics indicate are ineffective.


If you like Michael Crichton’s novels, you’ll like Daniel H. Wilson’s sci-fi story about artificial intelligence gone wild. As I was listening to the audiobook, I thought “I can see the movie already”. Turns out that Steven Spielberg is producing an adaptation for release in summer 2013. The CG guys will have a blast making this film and it will be interesting (and ironic) to see how advanced the computer graphics technology will be by the time of the movie’s release.

The plot is pretty simple. We humans are depending a lot more on computer driven robots and machines in our daily lives. A scientist creates a device, Archos whose artificial intelligence is so great that it creates self-determination, goes rogue, takes control of all the world’s computer-driven machines, and starts annihilating the human population. A definite page-turner.

Since reading this book, I’ve seen the documentary “Transcendental Man” about Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is a fascinating scientist/academic/futurist who talks about how the information we have & our technological capacities double every couple of years. He believes that during the lifetimes of many people who are now alive humans and robots will become merged with the release of nanorobots into our bloodstreams. This nanotechnology will enhance our mental and physical capacities to the point where we will evolve into a new species. Of course, hearing Kurzweil speak about this utopian vision reminded me of Robopocalypse.

In fact, Hugo de Garis appears in the documentary to dispute Kurzeil’s vision and warns of an “Artilect War” which is at the core of the story in Robopocalypse. Click between to watch a debate between de Garis and J. Storrs Hall about the two different visions:

Engineered Utopia or Artilect War? from Jeriaska on Vimeo.