The 30 Day Film Challenge – Part 1

“Movies touch our hearts and awaken our vision, and change the way we see things. They take us to other places, they open doors and minds. Movies are the memories of our life time, we need to keep them alive.” – Martin Scorsese

 

 

 

As with the 30 Day Song Challenge I do not have the patience to post once per day for an entire month, and fortunately I don’t need to since I make the rules in this space. I feel like I’ve probably written entirely too much about movies here over the years, but it’s a subject I enjoy and right now I need as much to smile about as possible. 2020 has been a bumpy ride for many, so I don’t want to be selfish. Having said that, the past few months have been brutal for me personally, so I’m thankful for an outlet that allows me to take my mind off things, atleast for a little while. The vast majority of these were easy answers, though I had to ponder a few, and in some cases I found the questions a bit puzzling. That’s why I like providing context…it provides some insight into my thought process, which is not only helpful for you but something I find constructive as well. Once again I have broken this project into two parts for readability. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

1       The first film you remember watching…

Coal Miner’s Daughter

To be honest I’m not entirely comfortable with this answer. Coal Miner’s Daughter was released when I was eight years old, and I’m pretty sure I watched movies before then. However, our local mall (complete with multiplex cinema) wasn’t built until a few years later, so anything I saw before had to be at a drive-in or on television, and nothing specific comes to mind. However, I have a clear memory of going to the drive-in with my parents & sister to see Coal Miner’s Daughter.

 

 

2       A film you like that starts with the first letter of your first name…

Sleepless in Seattle

I really like alliteration…it’s fun. I actually had a date…with a woman…to see this movie. It might be the last real date I’ve had lol (I don’t even remember her name though, which speaks badly of me, her, or both of us). Anyway, Tom Hanks & Meg Ryan are screen magic, and Sleepless might be my favorite film of theirs.

 

 

3       A film that has more than five words…

Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

I’m not going to dive into a marketing lecture, but the vast majority of films have short titles…1-3 words. It’s just easier for people to remember, among other things. I really had to think about movies I’ve enjoyed with longer titles, but once Anchorman popped into my head it became an easy choice. Stay classy!!

 

 

4       A film with a number in the title…

Ocean’s Eleven

So many choices!! However, I’m a big fan of the Ocean’s Trilogy. Eleven is a remake of a 1960 Rat Pack classic, and I actually enjoy the remake more than the original, partly because the ending of the newer film is so much more satisfying than the older one. Ocean’s Twelve is okay, though certainly the weakest of the trilogy. Ocean’s Thirteen rebounded with the addition of Al Pacino to the cast. I highly recommend binge watching all three movies, something I’ve done many times.

 

 

5       A film where a character has a job you want…

The Shining

Okay, so he is a psychopath…but don’t forget that Jack Torrance (as portrayed brilliantly by Jack Nicholson) is also a writer.

 

 

6       Your favorite animated film…

The Toy Story Series

This is tough. There are so many animated classics that we all enjoyed as kids, but I have to ask myself, would I sit down and watch many of those old movies now…as an adult?? I suppose the occasional nostalgic mood may hit, but generally we look at such things differently when we’re older. However, the four Toy Story movies are more recent, have quite the memorable voice cast, the animation is top notch, and the plot is written to be enjoyed by all ages.

 

 

7       A film that you will never get tired of…

Casablanca

There are dozens of movies I could (and do) watch over & over & over again. I tend to prefer older movies that I grew up enjoying to most of the pathetic excuses for entertainment Hollywood churns out these days, and Casablanca is as pleasurable to watch now as it ever was. They don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

 

 

8       A film where you liked the soundtrack more…

Saturday Night Fever and The Big Chill

Two movies immediately sprang to mind and I’m not going to choose between them. The Big Chill is about a bunch of middle-age 60’s radicals gathering together in the midst of the conservative revolution of the early 80’s to attend the funeral of an old schoolmate who committed suicide. The film itself is just fine, but the soundtrack…wow. Smokey Robinson. The Temptations. Marvin Gaye. Three Dog Night. Aretha Franklin. If you like Motown you can’t help but dig one of the best soundtracks ever produced. Saturday Night Fever not only skyrocketed John Travolta to superstardom, but it defined the disco era. The soundtrack relies heavily on The Bee Gees, but that’s okay because they kick ass. Disco may be dead, but it had its time in the spotlight and this particular album may have been the high point.

 

 

9       A film you hate that everyone else liked…

Pulp Fiction

I watched it once…I just don’t get it. Travolta is cool. Samuel L. Jackson?? Very cool. I’m a big Bruce Willis fan. Tarantino just isn’t my kind of director. I can’t think of a single one of his movies I’ve enjoyed.

 

 

10     Your favorite superhero film…

Batman

I’ve said it a thousand times…I wasn’t a comic book kid. Outside of the three big superheroes (Batman, Superman, & Spiderman) I couldn’t possibly care less. The only “Marvel Cinematic Universe” films I’ve seen are the two Spiderman movies. I may or may not ever watch the rest of them. However, I do love me some Batman, and I really like the 1989 film starring Michael Keaton as The Caped Crusader. Keaton & Adam West (who portrayed Batman in the 60’s TV show) are easily my favorites, and it didn’t hurt Tim Burton’s movie to have Jack Nicholson’s larger-than-life portrayal of The Joker.

 

 

11     A film you like from your least favorite genre…

Halloween

Horror flicks aren’t generally my cup o’ tea. However, John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a classic. From the brilliant opening sequence to the legendary theme music to the amusingly ostentatious performance of Donald Pleasence as a Captain Ahab-esque psychiatrist, well…it’s nearly flawless. It’s hard to believe that what has become an annual October institution was produced on a shoestring budget of just over $300k (in comparison, Jaws, which was produced three years earlier, had a budget of $13 million).

 

 

12     A film that you hate from your favorite genre…

Holmes & Watson

This one is a double whammy. I’m a huge fan of the Sherlock Holmes novellas & short stories, and I’ve also enjoyed the work of both Will Ferrell & John C. Reilly. When I first heard that the duo were going to tackle Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fabled crime solvers I was excited to see what kind of hilarious spin the stars of Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby could put on the story, but the result was immensely disappointing. Rotten Tomatoes gives Holmes & Watson an atrocious 10% score, and it won the Razzie for Worst Picture of 2018.

 

 

13     A film that “puts you in deep thoughts”…

Groundhog Day

First, I must state that I detest the way this is stated, like a nine year old wrote it. Secondly, though I’m not above thinking deeply I rarely run across a movie that makes me do so. It just doesn’t seem to be Hollywood’s thing, and sadly I don’t know which came first, the chicken or the egg. Are crappy special effects movies with inane action sequences & insufferable explosions the norm because the populace demands it, or have we been conditioned to be dumbed down & accept such mediocrity?? I suppose it’s a little of both. At any rate, in 1993 Bill Murray & director Harold Ramis teamed up to give us the antithesis of such tedious garbage, and what they accomplished is far more than your typical comedy. Groundhog Day is existential. It is profound on a level that neither Murray nor Ramis likely intended. I watch it every February 2nd, and it always makes me ponder life.

 

 

14     A film that “gave you depression”…

The Perfect Storm

Another poorly worded turn of phrase. Here’s the thing: I don’t watch movies to get depressed. Trust me…my real life is miserable enough. Why on God’s green Earth would I pay money to have alleged entertainment make me sad?? It’s why I lean so heavily toward comedy. Having said that, occasionally something sneaks up and gives me all the feels. When I first watched The Perfect Storm I had NO IDEA it was based on a true story. It was on television and I was bored, so I gave it a whirl. It is well-written with good performances so I was quickly hooked. At the film’s conclusion I fully expected the ship’s crew to be miraculously rescued…but, of course, they are not. I’m a little slow sometimes, but eventually I learned that this actually happened…these were real people who died. The film does a superb job of conveying the very tangible danger faced by fishermen every day, and I have developed tremendous respect for those who put their lives on the line to put food on our table. Some years after my initial viewing of the movie (which I have watched countless times) I decided to read the book on which it is based, and I must opine that it is the rare case where the film is far superior.

 

 

15     A film that makes you feel happy…

Bull Durham

I suppose numerous comedies make me happy, but since it’s summertime and baseball just began after a virus related delay of several months Bull Durham popped into my head. Sports films are delightful…sports comedies are sublime. One major barometer I use when judging movies is whether or not I am still glad to watch them many years & multiple viewings later, and more than three decades later I find Bull Durham just as enjoyable as I ever did.

 

 

 

Okay folks, let’s take a break. Stay tuned for Part 2!!

100 Memorable Movie Characters – The Top 25

“A good film is when the price of the dinner, the theater admission, & the babysitter were worth it.”    –  Alfred Hitchcock

 

 

Y’all thought I’d forgotten, didn’t you?? Waaaayyyyy back at the end of November we presented Part 4 of this series, and then everything just kind of stopped. We didn’t produce as much content during the holidays as usual, and The Sammy Awards were…canceled (for one year only). Then…as y’all are surely aware…the world was thrown into chaos due to the global coronavirus pandemic. And just as we were slowly beginning to emerge from all of that yours truly ran into some old familiar health issues. After a month in the hospital I am currently residing in an even more depressing place. I can think of no better way to pull myself out of the abyss than to reconnect with The Manoverse. For the sake of readability I have decided to break down the Top 25 into two segments. I don’t believe there will be many surprises, but I would love to hear some feedback. Are there any characters I left out?? Who is ranked too high?? Too low?? Keep in mind that I am an 80’s kid, so if you are a decade older or a decade younger some of my choices may not make much sense, but all in all I would stack my list up against any others out on the info superhighway. If you need to catch up or just give yourself a refresher on what we’ve done previously just go here, here, here, & here. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

25     Mickey Mouse (various films)

When we counted down our favorite cartoons a few years ago Mickey placed 10th. However, I feel like he also needs to be included here because he starred in well over 100 short films from 1928-53, as well as about a dozen full length movies. Those films not only introduced a plethora of additional Disney characters to the world (Goofy, Minnie Mouse, Pluto), but they served to etch Mickey into the pop culture consciousness of the first generations of moviegoers. His popularity has endured, and though he is no longer Disney’s biggest star (especially since they’ve expanded their footprint beyond animated movies) Mickey Mouse is still the company’s symbol and the character most associated with it. Three decades would pass between the initial wave of short films and Mickey’s comeback, and since then he has popped up occasionally, although he seems to be more of a television star these days, with any movies he’s in going direct to video.

 

 

 

24     Lt. John McClane (The Die Hard Series)

McClane makes the cut on a technicality. I said at the beginning that we weren’t including Christmas characters like Santa Claus, Ebenezer Scrooge, or George Bailey in this project because we already focused on them a few years ago. Lt. McClane ranked 10th on that particular countdown, but let us not forget that he has been the star of five Die Hard movies, with only the first one being a certified Christmas classic. And while the films that have followed don’t measure up to the original I believe they are good enough (especially the third…1995’s Die Hard With A Vengeance) for John McClane to be included here. I’m not sure it’s fair to call him an underdog, but he does seem to have a knack for finding himself in situations where the odds are stacked against him, and while most normal human beings would fold like a cheap suit under such duress he shines. McClane isn’t a superhero with any kind of special powers…he’s just a regular guy with incredible tenacity and a refreshing wit.

 

Quotes

“Yippie ki yay, motherfucker.”

 

 

23     Kirk, Spock, & Bones (The Star Trek Series)

When we counted down our 100 Memorable TV Characters back in 2018 Captain James T. Kirk & Mister Spock tied for 4th, with Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy ranked 24th. However, not only am I a bit more familiar with the Star Trek movies (six were produced featuring the original crew from 1979-91), but I think the dynamics changed a bit. Bones McCoy is even more endearing as a cranky old man. Captain Kirk balances getting older with his ever present fiery passion and the demands of an evolving Starfleet. Spock is infused with a skosh more humanity. The respect & admiration between the three is palpable and works well in balancing out the action sequences. I have enjoyed JJ Abrams’ rebooted Star Trek films to a degree, but they feel like a poor imitation of the original.

 

Quotes

“I don’t like to lose. I don’t believe in the ‘No-Win’ scenario.” (Kirk)

“Are you out of your Vulcan mind? No human can tolerate the radiation that’s in there!” (Bones)

“I have been and ever shall be your friend.” (Spock)

“I haven’t faced death. I’ve cheated death. I’ve tricked my way out of death and patted myself on the back for my ingenuity. I know nothing.” (Kirk)

“It’s bad enough to be court-martialed and to have to spend the rest of our lives mining borite, but to have to go home in this Klingon flea trap!” (Bones)

“Live long and prosper.” (Spock)

“That’s simply the way they talk here. Nobody pays any attention to you unless you swear every other word. You’ll find it in all the literature of the period.” (Kirk)

“This is insane! You’re proposing that we go backwards in time, pick up two humpback whales, bring them forwards in time, drop ’em off and hope they tell this probe what to go do with itself!” (Bones)

“Concentration is vital. You must be one with the rock.” (Spock)

“Forgive you? I ought to knock you on your goddamned ass.” (Kirk)

“Please Captain…not in front of the Klingons.” (Spock)

“God, I liked him better before he died.” (Bones)

“Damn it Bones, you’re a doctor. You know that pain and guilt can’t be taken away with the wave of a magic wand. They’re the things we carry with us, the things that make us who we are. If we lose them, we lose ourselves. I don’t want my pain taken away! I need my pain!” (Kirk)

“The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe.” (Bones)

“If I were human I believe my response would be…go to Hell.” (Spock)

“This is the final cruise of the Starship Enterprise under my command. This ship and her history will shortly become the care of another crew. To them and their posterity will we commit our future. They will continue the voyages we have begun and journey to all the undiscovered countries, boldly going where no man has gone before.” (Kirk)

 

 

22     Sherlock Holmes (various films)

Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed on film more than any fictional character other than Dracula & Santa Claus, with the three of them trading the lead back & forth as more stories are produced. Going all the way back to silent films Holmes has starred in about four dozen movies, with the most famous probably being the 14 that were produced from 1939-46 with Basil Rathbone portraying the world’s foremost consulting detective. 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes is a fun adaptation, while I am not keen on the more recent Guy Ritchie films starring Robert Downey Jr. as Holmes. I am a huge fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original short stories & novellas, and don’t believe modern filmmakers do that great of a job in capturing the ambiance & general vibe of the author’s creation. Occasionally they sort of travel in the opposite direction and go for parody. In the case of 1988’s Without a Clue starring Michael Caine it works, while Holmes & Watson with Will Ferrell from a couple of years ago is an abject failure. If Holmes had been consistently portrayed in better movies thru the years it is likely he’d be ranked much higher in this countdown because I adore the character, but it seems like he is far better off on television than on the big screen. Or you could just read the books.

 

Quotes

“No magic, Watson. Pure and simple deduction.”

“The game is afoot!”

“Murder is an insidious thing, Watson. Once a man has dipped his fingers in blood, sooner or later he’ll feel the urge to kill again.”

“A great detective relies on perception, intelligence, and imagination.”

“At the moment I suspect no one and everyone.”

“You’ve a magnificent brain, Moriarty. I admire it. I admire it so much I’d like to present it pickled in alcohol to the London Medical Society.”

“There’s no doubt about it in my mind. Or perhaps I should say, in my imagination. For that’s where crimes are conceived and where they’re solved… in the imagination.”

 

 

 

21     The Wicked Witch of the West (The Wizard of Oz)

I must admit that I have not read the 1995 novel Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West or seen the award winning musical based on that book. However, I grew up loving the 1939 classic, and also enjoyed a 2013 film called Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel that explores the origin stories of The Wizard, Glenda the Good Witch, & The Wicked Witch. In the prequel the witches are presented as three sisters: Glinda, Evanora, & Theodora, all daughters of the late King of Oz. Evanora is already evil when we meet her…she is the Wicked Witch of the East. It is Evanora who manipulates Theodora into believing that Oscar Diggs…the eventual Wizard of Oz…has screwed her over. Theodora is heartbroken since she has fallen for Oscar, but once she has been convinced of his bad intentions she is easily persuaded by Evanora to eat a magic apple to cure her sadness. Instead the apple turns Theodora into a hideously green witch that completes her transformation, which is really well done thanks to modern special effects. I’m one of those people who rather enjoys a good backstory in a prequel/sequel as long as it is well-written & makes sense. For example, I hate how the newest reboot in the Halloween series dismisses the idea of Michael Myers being Laurie Strode’s brother (a concept presented in 1981’s Halloween II) because I think that relationship made a lot of sense and was a cool twist. Theodora’s conversion into The Wicked Witch of the West is the most interesting part of an otherwise average (at best) movie. But of course it’d be almost impossible to live up to the standard of the original film, when nasty, bike riding, dog hating Almira Gulch becomes The Wicked Witch of the West during a really vivid dream (maybe). In 2003 The Wicked Witch of the West was 4th on the American Film Institute’s list of 50 Greatest Villains, and nearly a century after the movie’s theatrical release the character is still frightening children of all ages.

 

Quotes

“I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog too!”

“I’m melting! Melting!”

 

 

20     Captain Quint (Jaws)

Every sequel that followed Spielberg’s 1975 original failed in one way or another. There are a ton of reasons for those disappointments, but maybe one explanation could be the absence of Robert Shaw as shark hunter Quint. Before co-starring in Jaws Shaw had already been nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in 1966, although her lost to Walter Matthau. Shaw had also found great fame & success after co-starring with Sean Connery in the second James Bond film From Russia with Love. He was reluctant to sign on for Jaws because he didn’t particularly care for Peter Benchley’s novel, but ultimately was persuaded to take the role and we’re all better off for that. Jaws is one of the few examples where the movie is exponentially better than the book, and Shaw’s performance is a key factor. Quint’s haunting speech about the 1945 sinking of the USS Indianapolis might be one of the greatest monologues on film, and his death scene is epic.

 

Quotes

“Here lies the body of Mary Lee, died at the age of 103. For fifteen years she kept her virginity. Not a bad record for this vicinity.”

“I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish! Not like going down to the pond and chasing bluegills & tommycods. This shark, swallow ya whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back the tourists, that’ll put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant! I value my neck a lot more than $3000, Chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s too many captains on this island. $10,000 for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”

“1100 men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn’t see the first shark for about half an hour. A tiger, 13 footer – you know how you know that when you’re in the water, Chief? You tell by lookin’ from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn’t know was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn’t even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin’. So we formed ourselves into tight groups. And the idea was, the shark comes to the nearest man and he starts poundin’ & hollerin’ & screamin’. Sometimes the shark go away… sometimes he wouldn’t go away. Sometimes that shark, he looks right into your eyes. Y’know, the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes after ya, he doesn’t seem to be livin’ until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white, and then… aww, then you hear that terrible, high-pitched screamin’, the ocean turns red, and in spite of all the poundin’ and the hollerin’, they all come in and… rip ya to pieces. You know, by the end of that first dawn, we lost a hundred men. I don’t know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I don’t know how many men. They averaged six an hour. Noon the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us. He was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later, a big fat PBY comes down and start to pick us up. You know, that was the time I was most frightened – waitin’ for my turn. I’ll never put on a life jacket again. So, 1100 men went in the water, 316 come out, and the sharks took the rest, June 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.”

 

 

19     Lt. Col. Frank Slade (Scent of a Woman)

Al Pacino has been nominated for nine Academy Awards, but his only win came as a result of portraying blind, angry, & suicidal retired Army officer Frank Slade. While The Godfather, Glengarry Glen Ross, and others might be better films, there’s little doubt that Slade is Pacino’s best performance. He carries an otherwise pedestrian movie on his back, chewing enough scenery along the way to feed a small village.

 

Quotes

“Women! What could you say? Who made ’em? God must have been a genius. The hair…they say the hair is everything, you know. Have you ever buried your nose in a mountain of curls…just wanted to go to sleep forever? Or lips… and when they touched, yours were like…that first swallow of wine after you just crossed the desert.”

“You got integrity Charlie. I don’t know whether to shoot you or adopt you.”

“I’m just gettin’ warmed up! I don’t know who went to this place, William Howard Taft, William Jennings Bryan, William Tell, whoever. Their spirit is dead; if they ever had one, it’s gone. You’re building a rat ship here, a vessel for sea-going snitches. And if you think you’re preparing these minnows for manhood, you better think again. Because I say you are killing the very spirit this institution proclaims it instills! What a sham! What kind of show are you guys puttin’ on here today? I mean, the only class in this act is sittin’ next to me. And I’m here to tell you, this boy’s soul is intact. It’s non-negotiable. You don’t know what out of order is Mr. Trask. I’d show you, but I’m too old, I’m too tired, I’m too fuckin’ blind. If I were the man I was five years ago, I’d take a FLAMETHROWER to this place! Out of order?! Who the hell you think you’re talking to?! I’ve been around, you know? There was a time I could see! And I have seen…boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off! But there is nothing like the sight of an amputated spirit. There is no prosthetic for that. You think you’re merely sending this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say you are executing his soul! And why? Because he’s not a “Baird man”. Baird men. You hurt this boy, you’re going to be Baird bums, the lot of ya.”

 

 

18     Inspector Clouseau (The Pink Panther Series)

When I was a kid The Pink Panther was an animated pitchman for insulation. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I discovered the film series starring Peter Sellers as a hopelessly inept French detective who obliviously wreaks havoc everywhere he goes. Sellers starred in a half dozen Panther movies, with Alan Arkin, Steve Martin, & Roger Moore taking on the role in other offerings that should be mostly ignored. By far the best of the lot is 1964’s A Shot in the Dark, which finds Clouseau investigating the murder of an elderly millionaire’s chauffeur. Sellers had a long & successful career that included multiple Academy Award nominations and Golden Globe wins, but his greatest legacy is Clouseau.

 

Quotes

“Facts! Nothing matters but the facts. Without them the science of criminal investigation is nothing more than a guessing game.”

I believe everything and I believe nothing. I suspect everyone and I suspect no one.”

“We must accelerate out training program. You must learn to attack me whenever and wherever I least expect it. And you, you must give no quarter.

“You fool! You have broken my pointing stick! I have nothing to point with now!”

 

 

17     Harry Potter (The Harry Potter Series)

Millennials are freaking out right now because they think I’ve ranked their beloved cinematic hero way too low. Well, okay…you are entitled to your opinion. However, let me clarify a couple of things. First of all, I am slightly older, so I didn’t experience Potter-mania during my formative youth. It took me a few years to jump on the bandwagon and I was about 30 years old. Secondly, I don’t think the movies even approach the brilliance of the books. Having said that, there is no denying that The Boy Who Lived and the world that was created around him have had a huge impact on pop culture in the past two decades. When author JK Rowling signed a movie deal in 1999 a seven month search to cast the title role ended when producers discovered 11 year old Daniel Radcliffe, and it turned out to be a brilliant choice. It cannot be an easy task to bring a literary icon to life, especially for such a young kid. That’s a heavy responsibility. Fortunately Radcliffe was up to the challenge and an entire generation couldn’t imagine anyone else as Harry. Thru eight films over the course of a decade we watch him grow from a scared & confused young lad to a confident & brave teenager who ultimately defeats Lord Voldemort and saves the entire wizarding world. Contrary to some religious folks who stay away from Harry Potter and its sorcery I see a lot of very spiritual themes in the story, not the least of which is good triumphing over evil.

 

Quotes

“He was their friend, and he betrayed them. HE WAS THEIR FRIEND! I hope he finds me cause when he does I’m gonna be ready! When he does, I’m gonna kill him!”

“I didn’t put my name in that cup. I don’t want eternal glory.”

“Working hard is important. But there is something that matters even more…believing in yourself. Think of it this way; every great wizard in history has started out as nothing more than what we are now: students. If they can do it, why not us?”

 

 

16     Ferris Bueller (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)

Movies & TV shows set in high school are a tried & true entertainment staple, and frequently feature a character who is popular with everyone except the principal, is enviably cool & charming, thumbs their nose at authority, and gets away with all sorts of hijinks. However, I submit to you that every other character in that mold is a poor imitation of Chicago’s own Ferris Bueller, who takes his girlfriend Sloane & morose best pal Cameron on the ultimate Senior Skip Day, all while his clueless parents think he’s at home sick in bed. The only people who are onto the young scalawag are his cynical sister Jeannie and Ed Rooney, the hapless principal. Ferris Bueller, as embodied by young Matthew Broderick, isn’t particularly cool or sexy, like the stereotypical jock you see in too many movies. He isn’t the formulaic nerd. Neither his popularity with students nor the reasons for Rooney’s disdain are explored deeply because it doesn’t matter…we take those things at face value and just enjoy the kind of innocent adventure we all wish we could have had when we were that age.

 

Quotes

“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

 

 

 

15     Khan Noonien Singh (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)

Khan first appeared on a Season 1 episode of TOS called “Space Seed”, during which The Enterprise stumbles upon a ship full of Earthlings in suspended animation. Khan is a genetically engineered superhuman with evil intentions, but his plan is foiled by Captain Kirk and he is exiled on a remote planet. Fifteen years later Khan & Kirk battled on the big screen in what most believe to be the best Trek film. In between actor Ricardo Montalban had moved on to his most famous role as Mr. Roarke on ABC’s Fantasy Island from 1980-85, but Trekkies everywhere are glad he revisited the role of Khan. The odd combination of Khan’s superior strength & warrior mentality and Montalban’s suave Mexican accent, as well as his fondness for quoting Moby Dick, serve to make the character that much more memorable,

 

Quotes

“Ceti Alpha VI exploded six months after we were left here. The shock shifted the orbit of this planet, and everything was laid waste. Admiral Kirk never bothered to check on our progress! It was only the fact of my genetically-engineered intellect that allowed us to survive.”

“I’ve done far worse than kill you. I’ve hurt you, and I wish to go on hurting you. I shall leave you as you left me, as you left her…marooned for all eternity in the center of a dead planet, buried alive.”

“He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him. I’ll chase him round the Moons of Nibia and round the Antares Maelstrom and round Perdition’s flames before I give him up!”

 

 

14     Don Vito Corleone (The Godfather & The Godfather Part II)

One of the more interesting bits of Academy Awards trivia is that Don Corleone is one of only two characters that won awards for different actors. Marlon Brando won Best Actor in 1972 for the original Godfather, while Robert DeNiro won Best Supporting Actor for his turn as young Vito in the 1974 sequel (Heath Ledger &  Joaquin Phoenix.achieved similar acclaim portraying The Joker). Brando was the top choice of the novel’s author Mario Puzo to portray Don Corleone, although the film studio preferred Ernest Borgnine, George C. Scott, Orson Welles, or Anthony Quinn (thank God Puzo prevailed). Brando famously stuck cotton balls in his cheeks and put shoe polish in his hair to darken it, which is the kind of small quirk that helps a character stand out. The Godfather and The Godfather Part II are both nearly flawless films, with Brando & DeNiro’s interpretations of Vito Corleone a huge reason why

 

Quotes

“Why did you go to the police? Why didn’t you come to me first? We’ve known each other many years, but this is the first time you ever came to me for counsel or for help. I can’t remember the last time that you invited me to your house for a cup of coffee, even though my wife is godmother to your only child. But let’s be frank here. You never wanted my friendship and you were afraid to be in my debt. You found paradise in America, you had a good trade. You made a good living, the police protected you, and there were courts of law. You didn’t need a friend like me. But, now you come to me, and you say: “Don Corleone, give me justice.” But you don’t ask with respect. You don’t offer friendship. You don’t even think to call me Godfather. Instead, you come into my house on the day my daughter is to be married, and you ask me to do murder for money. What have I ever done to make you treat me so disrespectfully? If you’d come to me in friendship, then that scum that ruined your daughter would be suffering this very day. And if by chance an honest man like yourself should make enemies, then they would become my enemies. And then they would fear you.”

“Someday…and that day may never come…I’ll call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”

“I want no inquiries made. I want no acts of vengeance. I want you to arrange a meeting with the heads of the Five Families. This war stops now.”

“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”

“I want you to use all your powers, and all your skills. I don’t want his mother to see him this way. Look how they massacred my boy.”

“I have a lot of friends in politics, but they wouldn’t be friendly very long if they knew my business was drugs instead of gambling, which they regard as a harmless vice. But drugs is a dirty business.”

“I spent my whole life trying not to be careless. Women & children can afford to be careless, but not men.”

“Tattaglia’s a pimp. He never could’ve outfought Santino, but I didn’t know until this day that it was Barzini all along.”

“I never wanted this for you. I worked my whole life…I don’t apologize…to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all of those big shots. I don’t apologize. That’s my life, but I thought that when it was your time, that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone. Something. There wasn’t enough time, Michael. Wasn’t enough time.”

“I have a sentimental weakness for my children, and I spoil them, as you can see. They talk when they should listen.”

 

 

13     Dracula & Frankenstein (various films)

I don’t have children and don’t pay all that much attention to Halloween or trick-or-treat, but I know that trends in costumes vary annually based on who’s in the news and what pop culture is offering. However, I’m willing to bet that Dracula & Frankenstein still sell their fair share of costumes each year no matter what the most popular characters du jour happen to be. Both novels are fantastic, and if you are so inclined I always encourage people to read them. Mary Shelley published Frankenstein in 1818, while Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897. Most probably have a general idea of what the stories are about so I’ll spare you a rehash. Dracula has appeared in atleast 200 movies since the 1920’s, everything from straightforward adaptations of the book to comedic parodies like 1979’s Love at First Bite to animated fare. My favorites are the 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, which is fairly mild in comparison to modern horror films, and Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (they meet Dracula too), which is the kind of comedic scary entertainment I gravitate toward every October. Frankenstein has been featured in dozens of films since the Silent Era, with my favorites being the 1931 Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, the aforementioned Abbott & Costello spoof, and Mel Brooks’ 1974 hilarious classic Young Frankenstein.

 

Quotes

“Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” (Dracula)

“You are too late. My blood now flows through her veins. She will live through the centuries to come, as I have lived.” (Dracula)

“To die, to be really dead, that must be glorious! There are far worse things awaiting man than death.” (Dracula)

“For as long as I can remember, people have hated me. They looked at my face and my body and they ran away in horror. In my loneliness I decided that if I could not inspire love, which was my deepest hope, I would instead cause fear. I live because this poor, half-crazed genius has given me life. He alone held an image of me as something beautiful. And then, when it would have been easy enough to stay out of danger, he used his own body as a guinea pig to give me a calmer brain and a somewhat more sophisticated way of expressing myself.” (Frankenstein)

 

 

12     Han Solo, Princess Leia, & Luke Skywalker (The Star Wars Trilogy)

I know, I know…it’s a cop-out to tie these three. Guilty as charged. Having said that, I don’t see any way around it. If the prequels & sequels taught us anything it’s that we needed this trio…all three of them…together. They each bring something a little different to the table, and it takes all of them to bring peace to a galaxy far far away. It’s a damn shame that the idiots at Disney squandered an opportunity to bring them together again, and now that chance is lost forever.

 

Quotes

“Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” (Princess Leia)

“It’s the ship that made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.” (Han Solo)

“I’ll never turn to the dark side. You’ve failed, your highness. I am a Jedi, like my father before me.” (Luke Skywalker)

“Somebody has to save our skins. Into the garbage chute, flyboy.” (Princess Leia)

“Never tell me the odds!” (Han Solo)

“I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” (Luke Skywalker)

“You know, sometimes I amaze even myself.” (Han Solo)

 

 

11     Willy Wonka (Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory)

Author Roald Dahl published Charlie & the Chocolate Factory in 1964, with the film adaptation arriving less than a decade later. Dahl helped write the screenplay but didn’t like the finished product for a variety of reasons. One of those reasons can be found in the title. The movie focuses much more on Wonka than it does the book’s main protagonist, 11 year old Charlie Bucket. One can only guess why such a change was made, but one factor may have been the casting of Gene Wilder, a known entity who had been nominated for an Oscar just a couple of years before. Wilder portrays Wonka in such a way that the viewer isn’t quite sure what to think. Is he crazy, or harmlessly eccentric?? Is he clueless, or does he know exactly what he’s doing?? We concede that he’s a bit odd, but we like him anyway, and that’s important. Characters like Willie Wonka are tricky, especially thru the prism of modern sensibilities when we’re taught to be somewhat wary of certain types of weirdos, but Wilder pulls it off. It’s a shame Dahl was so displeased with the film because it prevented the sequel…Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator…from being made, and it would’ve been cool to see Gene Wilder get a second opportunity to bring Willy Wonka to life.

 

Quotes

“If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it. Anything you want to, do it. Want to change the world… there’s nothing to it.”

“A little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest men.”

“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.”

 

 

 

Stay tuned for the Top 10…coming…soon-ish.

100 Memorable TV Characters…The Top 25

Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.  –  David Frost

 

 

 

I am easily distracted and have a short attention span. In years past I could easily finish a 500 page book within a week, and not that long ago I would have completed a fun & frivolous project like this in 3 or 4 days, but the older I get the less I seem to be able to focus and the more time it takes me to complete a task. Perhaps I’m just bored with life in general. I don’t know. Anyway, y’all didn’t stop by for me to lay on the couch and have you analyze my neuroses. If you need to get caught up with how we arrived at this point please click here. Today we reach the summit and discuss the Top 25 most memorable television characters of all time (in my humble opinion). I don’t think there are too many surprises in store, but I could be wrong. I still believe that there are writers out there creating great characters in all forms of entertainment, but sadly I think nowadays those writers and thus their characters frequently embrace a gloomier, more solemn & complex vibe. There’s nothing wrong with complexity, but for pete’s sake most of us are just trying to relax, laugh a little, and escape from the tedium of the daily grind, not join a crusade about serious worldly issues. Hollywood has become far too enamored with promoting various agendas and has forgotten how to chill out & have fun. That’s my viewpoint anyway. Your mileage may vary and that’s alright. For now though let’s recognize & give kudos to times when those left coasters got it right. Enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

25     Alex P. Keaton (Family Ties)

Okay okay okay…I suppose Family Ties did have a quasi-political premise. It was the 80’s and Ronald Reagan had cast his spell on a huge portion of the country, which didn’t sit well with aging 60’s radicals. And so we got a sitcom about middle-aged former hippies raising a family in Columbus, OH, with their eldest son being a right leaning yuppie Republican. However, despite that general theme the show itself didn’t deviate much from standard nuclear family fare, except that it was funny and extremely well-written & performed. Alex Keaton isn’t your typical teenager. He wears a suit to school, carries a Richard Nixon lunchbox, reads the Wall Street Journal, and actually enjoys studying economics. While Alex is depicted as somewhat uptight and often disagrees with his parents’ opinions he is never shown to be a bad guy or antagonistic, and he’s actually rather comical. He loves his family and they love him. There is a reasonably fair-minded presentation of differing worldviews, which has become all too rare just a few decades later.

 

 

24     Dr. Leonard “Bones” McCoy (Star Trek)

Dammit Manoverse…he’s a doctor, not a writer!! Admittedly my love for Bones McCoy began with the half dozen Star Trek movies produced in the 1980’s because that was my first exposure to Trek, but rest assured that he’s the same cantankerous curmudgeon even in the original series…just a few decades younger. He’s the voice of reason that tempers the reactionary passion of his captain and injects humanity into the detached analysis of the ship’s science officer. He’s also really funny and has some of the best one liners.

 

 

23     Luke Spencer (General Hospital)

Lucas Lorenzo Spencer emerged as one of the more provocatively popular leading men in soap history a few decades ago, a real accomplishment for a character that was intended to disappear after a few months. Instead, Luke’s stay in Port Charles lasted…off & on…for nearly four decades. He famously falls for beautiful young Laura Webber and rapes her at a college disco, a deed that would normally brand a character as a villain. However, Laura loves him, so Luke is redeemed and becomes a good guy. Luke & Laura’s wedding in 1982 had 30 million television viewers, which still has to be some sort of record. Over the years Luke evolved into a beloved scoundrel, always ready for an escapade or hatching a scheme to proliferate his bank account. He is the quintessential soap hero, constantly engaged in battle with the dastardly Cassadine clan while exhibiting fierce loyalty to his family, especially son Lucky, Aunt Ruby, & sister Bobbie. Luke & Laura both die and return to life a couple of times as soap characters tend to do, and eventually end their marriage. Luke moves on with bitchy socialite Tracey Quartermaine, which is arguably a more enjoyable pairing. He is a restless soul and always finds himself in hot water, but somehow makes it thru. Alcoholism becomes an issue, as well as horrible childhood memories that had been repressed for decades, both of which add layers of complexity to Luke but weren’t well-received plot points by GH fans who prefer their fun-loving scalawag instead of a depressed, broken, suicidal old man. Luke left Port Charles a few years ago and is presumably living a life of adventure somewhere in Europe.

 

 

22     Shaggy Rogers (Scooby-Doo)

Actually his given first name is Norville. Of course he is Scooby’s owner/master (or whatever title you prefer), and the two are inseparable. Shaggy is the prototypical slacker, an animated homage to Bohemian beatnik Maynard G. Krebbs from the early 60’s sitcom The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis. Unlike his friends, who bravely seek to solve mysteries they encounter, Shaggy is a chicken who runs at the first sign of trouble. He mostly prefers to hang out with his dog and take it easy. Oddly enough they both seem to always have the munchies, though I have no idea what that’s all about. Well-known radio personality Casey Kasem voiced Shaggy for four decades.

 

 

21     Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created the world’s foremost consulting detective in 1887, writing four novels & 56 short stories about Holmes and his trusty wingman Dr. Watson over the course of four decades. Since then Holmes has had a long life in films, television, radio, stage plays, & any other entertainment outlet imaginable. At one time Guinness had Holmes listed as the most portrayed fictional character in history, though I believe Santa Claus & Dracula are right there with him. At any rate, though (surprisingly) I have never seen Benedict Cumberbatch’s well-regarded interpretation of the treasured detective in BBC’s series Sherlock, I do fondly recall the late Jeremy Brett’s depiction in an 80’s series that ran here in America on PBS. There were 41 episodes of Sherlock Holmes, each rather faithfully adapting one of Conan Doyle’s stories. I’m sure that all 60 would have been produced had it not been for the untimely death of Brett at the age of 61. Most rankings & polls out there rate Brett’s version of Holmes as one of the 2 or 3 best, and I wholeheartedly concur.

 

 

20     Mork from Ork (Mork & Mindy)

Robin Williams was a force of nature (and cocaine)…a legendary comedian who evolved into one of the most significant actors of a generation. His acting career was launched on a 1978 episode of Happy Days in which he portrays a goofy alien from outer space who wants to take Richie Cunningham back to his home planet as a human specimen. Mork got his own spinoff in which he lands in Colorado and befriends the young & beautiful Mindy, even telling her the truth about his identity. Mork lives in Mindy’s basement for four seasons, with the two eventually falling in love, getting married, & having a “baby” (hilariously played by legendary comedian Jonathan Winters). The show itself was never great, but it was a showcase for Williams’ peerless talent and an indication of great things to come.

 

 

19     Les Nessman (WKRP in Cincinnati)

Persnickety newsman Les Nessman is probably the most overlooked part of WKRP’s greatness. Johnny Fever & Venus Flytrap are cooler, receptionist Jennifer Marlowe is sexier, & clueless boss Mr. Carlson gets a lot of laughs, but Les is the comedic gem of the ensemble. Unlike his laid-back colleagues Les is super serious about his job, approaching it as if he is an important journalist breaking momentous news on a major media outlet, whereas in reality he’s the newsman for a smallish radio station at which rock n’ roll pays the bills and news is not essential at all. Despite his erudite demeanor & professorial appearance Les is a total dufus and completely incompetent. His only area of expertise seems to be husbandry, for which he has won a Silver Sow Award and multiple Buckeye Newshawk Awards, accomplishments for which he is quite proud. He amusingly likes to imagine that his cubicle is an office, putting tape on the floor where walls would be and demanding that his co-workers knock on the imaginary door. Les Nessman’s shining moment is the 1978 Thanksgiving episode Turkeys Away, during which he gives dire news updates on a promotional gimmick initiated by Mr. Carlson that goes horribly yet hysterically awry.

 

 

18     Cliff Clavin (Cheers)

Actor John Ratzenberger originally auditioned for the role of Norm Peterson, but when he didn’t get the part he asked the producers if they had a bar know-it-all in the cast, and thus the part of blowhard mailman Cliff was created. Cliff is a middle-aged momma’s boy who is terrible with women, and like the rest of his cohorts he’s a loveable loser that would come across as sad & pathetic in reality, but somehow works as a sitcom character. The funny thing is that we’ve all known people like Cliff that are mostly full of bull and try our patience when we’re in their presence for any length of time, but despite their faults we kind of like having them around.

 

 

17     Chandler, Monica. Ross, Rachel, Joey, & Phoebe (Friends)

In retrospect Friends was better than most of us realized at the time. Oh sure it was popular, ranking as a Top 5 hit in nine of its ten seasons, and the cast became superstars, but if you watch it now in syndication almost fifteen years after the final episode aired what you realize is what a well-written & performed show it was. I can’t single out any one character from the ensemble because I feel like each was a vital part of the program’s success. Monica Geller is an OCD fussbudget, a chef by trade who acts as the de facto glue that holds the group together. Monica’s brother Ross is a neurotic paleontologist whose ex-wife became a lesbian. Ross’ best friend is Chandler Bing, a sarcastic business executive. Chandler lives across the hall from Monica with Joey Tribbiani, a dimwitted yet kindhearted struggling actor who is a bit of a ladies’ man. Monica’s childhood friend Rachel Green, a self-absorbed rich girl who left her fiancé at the altar, shows up and becomes Monica’s roommate in the inaugural episode. Rounding out the group is hippy dippy massage therapist & quirky songwriter Phoebe Buffay. They mostly assemble in Monica & Rachel’s apartment, Chandler & Joey’s place, or at the local Central Perk coffeehouse. Ross’ unrequited love for Rachel and their subsequent on again/off again relationship is a principal focus of the show thru the years, and in later seasons Chandler & Monica become involved & get married. I’m not sure it’s fair to say that any of them are accurate illustrations of real 20/30-somethings, but some of their issues do ring true and did so at a time in my life where I really appreciated that connection.

 

 

16         Fred Sanford (Sanford & Son)

For some reason Fred, an elderly black junk dealer from south central Los Angeles, always reminded me of my paternal grandfather, a retired Italian-American coal miner from West Virginia. Perhaps it is because my Papaw was a fan of the show. Fred is a widower who lives with his middle-aged son Lamont and runs his business out of his home. Fred is a feisty old dude, never hesitating to mix it up with sister-in-law Esther, next door neighbor Julio, or Lamont’s best buddy Rollo. Though he & Lamont appear to be close he is quick to belittle his son, often calling him a big dummy. Fred is oftentimes shown to be bigoted, which is played for laughs but probably wouldn’t fly with the modern day PC Police, and he is rather lazy as well as a bit of a manipulator. By far Fred’s most enduring legacy is when he would find himself in a tight spot or on the verge of having one of his harebrained schemes exposed, at which time he’d fake a heart attack and proclaim “This is the big one! You hear that, Elizabeth?? I’m coming to join you honey!!”.

 

 

15     Louie DePalma (Taxi)

Danny DeVito has had a moderately successful film career, appearing in movies like Romancing the Stone, Ruthless People, Throw Momma from the Train, Twins, Batman Returns, & Deck the Halls, but his first taste of fame came via 80’s sitcom Taxi. Louie is the dispatcher at the Sunshine Cab Company and acts as if he’s the boss, although in retrospect I’m not sure if he had any kind of authority or just likes to pretend that he does. He is a misogynistic & unscrupulous schemer who shows zero respect for any of his colleagues and is rarely at a loss for words, usually of the demeaning & insulting variety. His diminutive size coupled with an arrogant, abrasive attitude are indicative of a classic Napoleon complex. However, despite his faults Louie oftentimes does the right thing, and, in contrast to his coarse exterior, deep down there’s a big ol’ soft heart that makes an appearance on occasion.

 

 

14     Ari Gold (Entourage)

I have no idea if life in Hollywood is as…colorful…as it is depicted on Entourage, but if there really is an agent like Ari Gold I’m not sure if an actor should sign with him without hesitation or run away as fast as possible. He is ill-mannered, foul-mouthed, arrogant, belligerent, & somewhat deceitful, but is also shown to be really good at his job and truly concerned about his clients, especially rising star Vincent Chase. In contrast to Vince & his buddies, who enjoy basking in the party lifestyle like a bunch of wealthy & carefree delinquents, Ari is a faithful husband & father whose biggest fault just might be hardcore dedication to his career. Ari is one of those rare characters that demands attention, stealing every scene in which he appears.

 

 

13     Dr. Sheldon Cooper (The Big Bang Theory)

Far be it for me to fall into the “prisoner of the moment” trap, but after a decade on the air I don’t think it is an overreaction to consider Sheldon one of the best characters in television history. While TBBT writers have done a good job of remaining faithful to the ensemble dynamic of the show and still give a fair amount of screen time & storyline to everyone, it is undeniable that Sheldon is the breakout character, especially since the 9 year old version of him is already starring in a spinoff even as the original show remains one of the highest rated programs on television. I watched the first episode of Young Sheldon, but it just didn’t pique my interest. In TBBT thirtysomething Sheldon is a theoretical physicist, a genius with an eidetic memory and a total lack of social skills or emotional intelligence. He is egotistical, peculiar, somewhat irrational, & oftentimes childish. He & his pals are classic geeks who love comic books, technology, & sci-fi but know next to nothing about sports, pop culture, contemporary music, or current events. His mother is a devout Christian, and Sheldon’s devotion to science causes him to view her faith with derision, a foible that has troubled me a bit on occasion. Sheldon is an extremely well-written character whose physical comedy is an underrated portion of what has been an award winning performance.

 

 

12     Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (The Dukes of Hazzard)

Is he a bad guy?? Not really. Is he corrupt?? I suppose, but not in the traditional sense. It’s more accurate to say that Rosco is a weak-minded follower who is easily led astray by his greedy brother-in-law Boss Hogg. It is initially revealed that Rosco had served with integrity for 20 years, but got screwed out of his pension just as he was on the verge of retirement (Dukes was a show ahead of its time). He joins in Boss’ schemes in order to get back the money he lost. All traces of bitterness soon fade away though, as Rosco evolves into a simpleminded, inept, & comical lawman. His constant companion is a lethargic basset hound named Flash, and despite his own foolishness he consistently calls deputies Enos & Cletus dipsticks. He enjoys “hot pursuit”, but it usually doesn’t work out well as he oftentimes seems to “scuff his vehicle”. Rosco genuinely cares about Boss Hogg but is also intimidated & taken advantage of by him, rarely getting more than a small fraction of whatever windfall the duo earns from their deceitful plots. He doesn’t seem to have any genuine beef with the Dukes but is regularly ordered to chase them by Boss Hogg, though they rarely get caught & easily escape when they do end up in jail. Much like Hogg, Sheriff Rosco is portrayed as far more sinister in the 2005 big screen adaptation, which is another strike against that film.

 

 

11     Gomer Pyle (The Andy Griffith Show and Gomer Pyle USMC)

Television viewers have a love/hate relationship with spinoffs. Sometimes they work, but oftentimes they fall way short of expectations. Gomer Pyle USMC lands somewhere in the middle, which isn’t intended to be negative…it’s just that it’s almost impossible to measure up to TAGS. Gomer appears in Seasons 3 & 4 of TAGS and was introduced because the actor who portrayed Floyd the Barber had a stroke and was off the show for awhile. Like most residents of Mayberry Gomer is an unsophisticated bumpkin with a friendly & gentle disposition. He works at Wally’s Filling Station and is alternately shown to know nothing about automobiles or to be an expert mechanic (TAGS had issues with continuity). He is always willing to help out when needed and is deputized by the police on several occasions, though he proves to be a totally incompetent lawman. On a few occasions Jim Nabors is able to show off his real life singing talent. Any episode of TAGS with Gomer is even more of a delight than usual, which is probably why he was given a spinoff. That show lasted for five seasons and features Gomer as he enlists in the Marine Corps and clashes with hard-nosed drill instructor Sergeant Carter. It’s a classic fish-out-of-water story, with a bit of an Odd Couple vibe thrown into the mix. I like the TAGS version of Gomer much more than I like him in the spinoff, but that probably has more to do with the overall quality of the two shows rather than the character. When Gomer leaves Mayberry the void is filled by his cousin Goober, but I’ve never enjoyed Goober as much as Gomer.

 

 

 

Television is like a library. There are a lot of library books in it, and you have to pick and choose what you take out of it.  –  David L. Wolper

 

 

 

10     Rev. Jim Ignatowski (Taxi)

The third member of the Taxi cast to make the cut is a spaced-out relic from the 60’s who might be the most entertaining dopehead not named Cheech or Chong. Iggy grew up wealthy, but his Mom died when he was very young and his father was a busy doctor, so he was mostly raised by servants. He was extremely intelligent and attended Harvard, but in a comical twist on the whole Adam & Eve/forbidden fruit concept is goaded by his girlfriend into eating a marijuana laced brownie, which leads to him permanently becoming an eccentric & absentminded burnout. Jim’s random tangents that have nothing to do with the topic of conversation are hysterical, especially when he completely forgets whatever point he thought he wanted to make. Occasional glimpses of his former intellect & deep thinking skills sneak thru the fog and he says something profound, which of course takes everyone by surprise. Iggy once opined “You know the really great thing about television? If something important happens, anywhere in the world, night or day… you can always change the channel”, which kind of sums up how I feel about TV nowadays. In an early Season 2 episode titled “Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey” the cabbies get Jim a job, but first they must take him to the DMV so he can pass the driver’s test and get his license. It is quintessential Iggy, and quite possibly one of the best sitcom moments of all time.

 

 

9       George Costanza (Seinfeld)

For some reason I really identified with George. He is Jerry’s best friend since junior high school, and becomes pals with Jerry’s other quirky cohorts. Jerry opines that George could have been normal, but isn’t mostly because of his crazy parents. He is a self-described “short, stocky, bald man” who is alternately bombastic & self-loathing. He always looks for the easiest way to do something, or even avoids doing it altogether. He’s awkward, impulsive, insecure, narcissistic, high-strung, occasionally devious, & not good at all with women. He has several relationships throughout the series, but always manages to screw it up. I am reminded of the 1999 film Office Space, in which the main protagonist states that “it’s not that I’m lazy, it’s that I just don’t care”, except in George’s case he actually is lazy, though not necessarily stupid. Jerry Seinfeld made a brilliant choice when he decided to play straight man and let his co-stars be the wacky oddballs with most of the comedic moments.

 

 

8       Dr. Frasier Crane (Cheers and Frasier)

Frasier Crane has the distinction of being one of the two longest running live action characters in television history, appearing in nine seasons of Cheers and, of course, all eleven seasons of the eponymous spinoff Frasier, for a total of twenty years on the air. He’d probably deserve a spot on this list for that alone, but there is so much more to love. Dr. Crane first appears in the third season of Cheers as the new beau of waitress Diane Chambers. The two are kindred spirits…pretentious intellectuals that don’t really fit into the working class pub dynamic. Alas, Diane can’t fight her attraction to bar owner Sam Malone and eventually leaves Frasier at the altar. Even after Diane departs Cheers at the end of the fifth season Frasier sticks around and becomes a regular part of the group, eventually marrying then divorcing aloof fellow psychiatrist Lilith and fathering a son with her named Frederick. When Cheers concludes Frasier moves back to his hometown of Seattle to help his brother Niles care for their father Martin, a police officer forced to retire after being shot in the line of duty. In Seattle Frasier hosts a radio talk show, so there is interaction with eccentric callers & quirky work colleagues in addition to the familial relationships. Frasier is a bit more masculine than his brother, but is just as much of a pompous elitist. He is passionate about theater, fine art, literature, & gourmet food, but because of his time in Boston is considerate toward his blue collar father’s lifestyle & hobbies, though he by no means shares those proclivities. It almost seems as if he might be bipolar because he can transition from eloquently helping a caller on his radio show in a soothing & melodious tone into an indignant fit of rage just minutes later, something that happens in nearly every episode. Despite being an alleged expert in helping other people solve their issues Frasier does not understand his own complexities and doesn’t have a great track record with the ladies. In addition to the doomed engagement to Diane & divorce from Lilith he dates a plethora of women in Seattle, but nothing ever seems to work out.

 

 

7       The Dynamic Duo (Batman)

Nearly every incarnation of Batman stays true to his gloomy origins as an orphaned billionaire who becomes a crime fighting vigilante after his parents are murdered in the gritty, violent, & sinister milieu of Gotham City. Robin is originally a young boy in a family of acrobats who witnesses his parents die in an accident arranged by a mobster, and is afterwards taken in by Bruce Wayne who becomes his legal guardian. But all of that melancholy stuff is set aside in the 1966 action sitcom that aired for three seasons on ABC. Dick Grayson (aka Robin) is still the “youthful ward” (now a teenager) of billionaire Bruce Wayne (aka Batman), and the two team up to fight crime in Gotham City, but the atmosphere is bright, the dialogue is cleverly corny, the villains are hardly intimidating, & the end result is delightfully absurd. Adam West’s interpretation of Bruce Wayne/Batman is funny because the character takes every situation so seriously, delivering his lines in a solemn & melodramatic tone. This incarnation of Robin is enthusiastic & peppy, but not annoyingly so. The entire show is cheeky & whimsical, a definite departure from the norm and a risky choice that paid off. Joel Schumacher’s 1997 film Batman & Robin starring George Clooney as The Caped Crusader attempted to borrow the cheesy vibe, but it fell flat because…well, let’s face it…Clooney isn’t Adam West.

 

 

6       Archie & Edith Bunker (All in the Family)

Contrary to popular belief the idea of Hollywood idealists using their entertainment platform to promote an agenda and talk down to the masses about issues that common folks in flyover country are allegedly ignorant about isn’t a brand new concept conceived in the 21st century…it’s just that they used to be much better at it. Norman Lear did a lot of it in the 1970’s and did it quite well, creating shows like Sanford & Son, One Day at a Time, Maude, Good Times, & The Jeffersons. By far his greatest creation was All in the Family, centering on a working class family in Queens, NY. The head of the household is Archie Bunker, an ill-tempered, opinionated, & narrow-minded loading dock foreman. He is an equal opportunity contrarian who insults just about every minority, religion, & nationality. He is especially dismissive of his ultra-liberal son-in-law, who he calls Meathead. However, despite his gruff exterior, deep down Archie is a loving & decent man who cares about his family and friends, though he often becomes impatient with wife Edith, who he calls Dingbat. Edith is rather ditzy, but she’s usually quite jovial & compassionate, the sort of person who might get on one’s nerves but you just can’t help but like. She’s a bit of a throwback…a submissive & dedicated wife, mother, and grandmother that would be scoffed at by modern day feminists. The Bunkers are extreme caricatures certainly created to make a point. Archie is intended as a mean-spirited dig at conservative values, while Edith’s kindhearted yet naïve subservience is meant as negative commentary on the traditional but allegedly outdated idea of the stay-at-home housewife. But an odd & unexpected thing happened…the audience actually liked & identified with them. Fans understood that conservatives aren’t really evil racists and easily dismissed many of Archie’s more exaggerated traits while realizing that some of his views had merit. They were able to chuckle at Edith’s comical zaniness while recognizing that being a traditional housewife isn’t a horrible thing. People saw thru the self-righteous poppycock of Meathead and agreed with Archie’s assessment of him. Decades later folks who are now much more aware of media bias can clearly see how Lear attempted to manipulate the conversation…and how he failed miserably.

 

 

5       Arthur Fonzarelli (Happy Days)

Fonzie was never intended to be a significant part of the Happy Days cast. He is introduced as a local mechanic who Ritchie & Potsie occasionally bump into at Arnold’s Drive-In. He didn’t even wear a leather jacket at first because the powers-that-be were concerned about him looking too much like a hoodlum (which is old school slang for what we’d now call a gang member). But Fonzie is too awesome to be held down by The Man, and eventually became a central part of the show. He’s all about being cool and chillin’ with the ladies. He has the ability to make a jukebox work with the pounding of his fist, and women flock to him with the snap of a finger. Richie, Potsie, & Ralph Malph all look to Fonzie for advice about various issues, and the Cunninghams treat him like a member of the family. In the beginning he is a high school dropout, but eventually completes his education, and at various points owns a garage, is part owner of Arnold’s, & even becomes a high school teacher. Fonzie’s oddest contribution to pop culture is the 1977 fifth season opener in which, after helping a couple of Hollywood producers passing thru Milwaukee deal with mechanical issues, he finds himself in Tinseltown for a movie audition. While there he is challenged by an obnoxious jerk to a water skiing duel (a laughable idea at best). During the competition Fonzie literally leaps over a tiger shark in the water. Though Happy Days would continue for six more seasons that episode was cited by some as a moment indicative of a decline in quality, therefore popularizing the term “jumping the shark”. Fonzie became so popular that some wanted to rename the show Fonzie’s Happy Days, but actor Henry Winkler adamantly refused and insisted that Ron Howard continue to receive top billing. I believe that, even to this day, more than thirty years after Happy Days went off the air, one can still see Fonzie’s leather jacket on display at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC, which is a pretty cool legacy.

 

 

4       Captain Kirk & Mister Spock (Star Trek)

This may be the strangest variation on the Odd Couple formula ever seen on television. James Tiberius Kirk hails from Iowa and is Starfleet’s youngest & best yet most rebellious officer. While a student at Starfleet Academy he is the only person to ever overcome a training exercise called the Kobayashi Maru, a moral dilemma and no-win scenario that Kirk defeats by reprogramming the computer. Though his solution is what most would consider cheating he is actually commended for original thinking. That one story sets the stage for everything we see afterward from Captain Kirk. He is brash, passionate, bold, dedicated, & extremely smart. He thinks outside the box and doesn’t back down from a fight. The yin to Kirk’s yang is his science officer Mr. Spock, a half alien whose mother is human while his father is Vulcan. Spock exhibits many Vulcan traits, primarily the predisposition to rely on logic & reason and leave emotion out of their thought process. It is this ability that enables Spock to balance Kirk’s intensity and inclination to jump in with both feet. Spock can present all the options to Kirk along with every possible outcome. Conversely, since Spock is essentially a computer with legs it is Kirk that oftentimes explains concepts like feelings, humor, & emotions to him, helping him to make sense out of the foolish & illogical things that human beings tend to do. The two men don’t always understand each other, but have immense respect & admiration for one another and might have been television’s first bromance.

 

 

3       JR Ewing (Dallas)

Entertainment used to be very clear about the differences between heroes & villains. In old westerns the good guys would literally wear white cowboy hats, while the bad guys would wear black hats (an idea some would undoubtedly consider racist nowadays). However, somewhere along the line the concept of the anti-hero became prevalent, wherein a character might not necessarily be evil but certainly has dubious ethics & selfish motives. JR Ewing is the eldest son of a wealthy oil baron who eventually takes over the family business. He loves his family, but tends to love his money just a little bit more. Dallas originally intended to focus on the Romeo & Juliet-esque romance of JR’s younger brother Bobby and his new wife Pam, the daughter of patriarch Jock Ewing’s most bitter enemy, but JR’s penchant for screwing over everyone…business rivals, his family, his wife…with a sly grin on his face made him the character everyone loved to hate. It was always a treat to see who JR was going to cheat, shake down, intimidate, & defeat next. He is always a few steps ahead of everyone else, especially the honorable & benevolent Bobby, as well as Cliff Barnes, Bobby’s inept brother-in-law and JR’s spirited but overmatched nemesis. Dallas reached its pinnacle at the end of Season 3 when it popularized the concept of the cliffhanger after an unknown assailant tried to murder JR Ewing. During the entire summer of 1980 America was abuzz with the question “Who shot JR??”, a mystery that was solved that November in what remains the third most watched television episode in history, bested only by the series finales of MASH & Cheers. I was a kid when Dallas was on the air, and one of my most cherished memories is what a kick my Dad got out of it whenever JR was revealed to be the dastardly mastermind behind a scheme that had vanquished Cliff, Bobby & Pam, JR’s wife Sue Ellen, or one of Ewing Oil’s many adversaries. Dad was genuinely entertained by JR Ewing in a way that few people seem to be by anything on television these days.

 

 

2       Cosmo Kramer (Seinfeld)

Seinfeld has four of its characters on this list…two of them in the Top 10. Kramer lives in an apartment across the hall from Jerry and has been described as a “hipster dufus”, although I’m not exactly sure what that means. He has a unique fashion sense, as well as peculiar tastes in things like food, sports, cigars, & women. He is neurotic in a way unseen on television before or since, fearing clowns & mice and having seizures whenever he hears the voice of Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart.  In nearly every episode Kramer busts into Jerry’s apartment with a combination smile & look of perpetual amazement. He doesn’t seem to have a job and supports himself with get rich quick schemes & wacky entrepreneurial ideas, sports betting, publishing a coffee table book about coffee tables, & a brief but lucrative gig as an underwear model. To call him quirky or eccentric would be an epic understatement. His philosophies & perspectives aren’t by any means normal, yet they oftentimes make sense in a way one would have never imagined to be possible. Kramer really isn’t comparable to any other character in any form of entertainment. He is a unique creation, with credit given to Seinfeld’s stellar writing as well as actor Michael Richards’ flawless physical comedy.

 

 

1       Deputy Barney Fife (The Andy Griffith Show)

TAGS can easily be separated into two eras…its first five seasons and then its final three. While it’s true that those two time periods are most easily distinguished by the fact that Seasons 1-5 were broadcast in black & while before switching to color in the latter three years, a more significant difference is the departure of Barney Fife at the end of the fifth season. Barney is the excitable & ham-fisted deputy in Mayberry. Early on we are told that he is Andy Taylor’s cousin, but that relationship was only alluded to a couple of times and from then on the two are merely lifelong best friends & co-workers. Barney reminds me a bit of WKRP’s Les Nessman in the sense that he takes his job very seriously and is hilariously overzealous. There are also shades of Cheers’ Cliff Claven, with Barney’s incompetent attempts to present himself as a know-it-all when the truth is that he has no clue what he’s doing or talking about. Barney’s bravado is poorly disguised window dressing for tremendous neuroses and low self-esteem, and Andy selflessly goes above & beyond to save his deputy’s fragile ego on multiple occasions. Everyone likes Barney but few respect him, and respect is what he craves. He tends to overreact, while Andy is laid-back & steady. Barney is emotional, anxious, & easily taken advantage of by others, but despite his numerous shortcomings he is the heart of TAGS, and his absence during the program’s latter three seasons left a hole that was never quite filled. In Season 6 Floyd the Barber’s nephew Warren Ferguson becomes Mayberry’s new deputy, but he only lasted 11 episodes before the character was never heard from or spoken of again. Immediately following actor Don Knotts’ exit TAGS played with the idea of making a character who’d been introduced as a banjo player at a carnival the new deputy, but actor Jerry Van Dyke declined the opportunity. In hindsight the plan might have actually worked out for the show, but obviously that didn’t occur. Gomer Pyle’s cousin Goober was given the primary role as Andy’s sidekick, but I never really warmed up to Goober. As I’ve stated previously the final three seasons of TAGS were just dandy and it is still terrific TV, but it just isn’t the same, and I can’t think of any better example of a character’s exodus so significantly altering the fabric of a show.

Sherlock Holmes: The “Novels”

Four Sherlock Holmes novels were written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle between 1887 & 1914. Of course he also wrote 56 short stories featuring Holmes, but we’ll do a little something with those in the future. For now let’s examine the novels.

 

 

 

 

 

A Study in Scarlet

scarletI am a sucker for origin stories, and Scarlet is the genesis of the Holmes-Watson friendship. It lays the foundation for everything we know about Sherlock Holmes…his physical features, his unique personality, his keen knowledge of certain subjects (and lack of familiarity with others), & the whole idea of deductive reasoning as it applies to crime solving specifically and assessing people & situations in general. Oh, and it also gives us the very first case that Holmes & Watson ever worked on together as well as Dr. Watson’s first foray into chronicling their adventures. That mystery involves a double murder in which the catalyst is…of course…a woman. The middle section of the story takes us back to Salt Lake City a couple of decades earlier and promotes some rather harsh ideas about the Mormon religion. We must not overlook the success of A Study in Scarlet in stimulating the public appetite for Sherlock Holmes. He is a literary icon a century later in part because Scarlet provided such a great beginning.

 

 

The Sign of the Four

fourThree years after A Study in Scarlet and a year before the first of the short stories was published came this little gem. The story revolves around the mysterious death of a British Army officer and the disappearance of the treasure that he had absconded with from India. There is much more exposition about Holmes’ methods, philosophy, & attitudes, and a latter section of the tale features a thrilling boat chase down the celebrated River Thames. The client who initially hires Holmes is Mary Morstan, who quickly falls for Dr. Watson and would go on to become his wife…one of them anyway. The opening & closing scenes of The Sign of the Four allude to Sherlock Holmes’ disturbing cocaine habit, one of the few controversial aspects of the canon, especially thru the prism of modern sensibilities.

 

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles

hound2In 1893, after two novels and 24 short stories, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle decided to kill off Sherlock Holmes. However, the public clamored for more of the world’s greatest detective and in 1901 Doyle relented with this novel, set before Holmes’ alleged death at Reichenbach Falls in a battle with his archenemy Moriarty. It tells a tale of the mysterious death of a wealthy aristocrat in the south of England, possibly at the paws of a fabled demonic dog that is part of an old family legend. A new heir is set to inherit the family estate and all that comes with it, but strange things are afoot and the young gentleman’s life may also be in danger. Dr. Watson accompanies Sir Henry Baskerville to his new digs and Sherlock Holmes is actually MIA for a big chunk of the story, but eventually he arrives on the scene to unravel the mystery. The eight year break must have treated Doyle well because the writing here is stupendous. Hound is set in October and the author effectively fashions the mood of a dreary, dank, foreboding autumn. Doyle makes one want to stay far far away from a British moor. There are several interesting characters and the mystery is more nuanced than most other Holmes stories. Hound was so well received that Doyle went on to write 32 more short stories and an additional novel.

 

 

The Valley of Fear

vfThe final Sherlock Holmes novel was written in 1914. Holmes & Watson are dispatched to investigate the brutal murder of an English country gentleman who turns out not to be quite so dead. As with A Study in Scarlet, a big chunk of The Valley of Fear is a flashback story that takes us back two decades when the protagonist was an alleged violent hooligan in America and part of a secret society modeled after the real life Molly Maguires. However, he was actually an agent of the famed Pinkerton Agency sent to infiltrate the society and bring them to justice. Unfortunately justice isn’t always perfect and one of the society’s more ferocious members only gets a few years in prison, thereafter chasing our hero all over the globe, ending up in England. Valley is notable for its extensive exposition about Professor Moriarty, a character that has risen to the high honor of being thought of as Holmes’ archenemy despite only being alluded to in a handful of the canon’s stories. In this instance Moriarty’s assistance is apparently sought by evildoers in hunting down the protagonist. At first it looks like the good guys have won, but by the end we learn the tragic news that the malevolent Professor has gotten the job done, much to the chagrin of Sherlock Holmes. The mystery is well-conceived, with unpredictable twists & turns that keep the pages turning, but the flashback section that is devoid of our favorite detective, his trusty sidekick, or any of the ambiance of Victorian England doesn’t feel like a Holmes story at all.

 

 

 

The Best??

 

The Hound of the Baskervilles. I rather enjoy all four Holmes novels. A Study in Scarlet is a fantastic origin story. The Sign of the Four is exhilarating and well-written but a flashback sequence to another time & place sort of kills the momentum. The Valley of Fear is unpredictable & fresh, yet a flashback sequence that once again takes us out of Victorian England into another decade of the past in America where Holmes, Watson, etc. are nowhere to be found weakens the story to a degree. The Hound of the Baskervilles is a beautifully written, intricately woven mystery. It is true that most of the action takes place away from 221B Baker St. and that Holmes is absent for a chunk of the story, but Watson is ever-present and if a Holmes story must be located somewhere other than foggy old London then the lonely, dank, sinister moor on which the Baskerville estate rests is a worthy substitute. Hound is probably the most popular Sherlock Holmes story, and has been adapted many times on film. However, one cannot get the full effect any other way than by reading Conan Doyle’s beautifully evocative prose. I suggest reading Hound in the autumn just before Halloween, not only because that is the timeframe of the novel itself, but because it evokes a mood impeccably aligned with the season.

Superfluous 7 – Fictional Characters With Whom I’d Like To Hang Out

Awhile back I read a book called The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived. It wasn’t quite what I thought it was going to be when I made the impulse purchase, skewing a bit too much toward the analytical and academic instead of the lighthearted and interesting. The authors made a point of emphasizing that their list was based on influence and not popularity. Many of the conclusions reached were curious, some in a good way and some in a real head scratching sort of way. Rosie the Riveter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Barbie (the doll) made their list. The Marlboro Man was #1. Meanwhile, Fonzie and Rocky Balboa are nowhere to be found. So I decided to make my own, much shorter list. My criteria isn’t based on popularity or influence. The question I asked myself was simply “Who would it be cool to hang out with??” Now let me be very clear…I am not simply talking about meeting them or doing an interview. I am talking about spending a weekend or maybe a summer with a person, becoming involved in their daily life. Michael Corleone is an awesome character, but really…who wants to become part of the mafia with all the guns and blood?? Shakespeare created many memorable characters, but a lot of them are unstable and end up dead. I love Forrest Gump, but I think he may get on my nerves after awhile. So I thought about who it would be fun to converse with and learn from, or just have a good time with. It was difficult to narrow down to seven, but the mission was accomplished. Who would you enjoy chillin’ with if you had the opportunity and the line between fiction and reality was not only blurred but eliminated?? Don’t hesitate to let me know…after you enjoy…..

 

 

 

from the home office in Spasticsville, Kansas…..

 

 

 

The Superfluous 7 Fictional Characters With Whom I’d Like To Hang Out:

 

 

7 The Duke Boys

I am a child of the 80’s, and every Friday night from 1979-1985 I could not wait for The Dukes of Hazzard to come on television. It is only now, 25 years later, that I can truly appreciate the show (and I mean that sincerely). Was the acting great and the writing superb?? No. But no one ever got killed, and the crimes committed were pretty benign. Hazzard County seems like it would be a cool little town in which to live, as long as one doesn’t get on the bad side of Boss Hogg & Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane…and even then they are actually rather tame as far as villains go. Now I am resisting the urge to write about what I would do if given the chance to spend some quality time with Daisy, instead taking the high road and choosing to chillax with Bo & Luke. Did they have jobs?? What did they do all day other than run the roads in the General Lee and occasionally throw back a cold one at The Boar’s Nest?? I suppose they helped Uncle Jesse by doing most of the heavy lifting on the farm, but that’s okay…a little elbow grease and sweat never hurt anyone. I’m not much of a fast driver, but I could handle being a passenger as the guys race around evading the law. I imagine it’d get the ol’ blood pumping, especially when a washed out bridge forces one of those cool jumps. I could grip the roll bar and yell “Yeeeee-haaaaaa”. Mostly I can just see myself enjoying the slow pace, the good people, and the relative innocence of a place like Hazzard and learning the essence of being a cool country boy from The Dukes. And yes…I’d probably hit on Daisy.

 

 

6 Bilbo Baggins

There is a reason I specifically chose Bilbo Baggins. His nephew Frodo is a character we get to know much more in depth, as he is the main protagonist in all the Lord of the Rings books/movies. In contrast, Bilbo is the focus in only one shorter book, The Hobbit. But Frodo’s adventure is so long, grueling, and dangerous that it doesn’t seem like it’d be much fun to be in his proximity. As a matter of fact, because of that damn Ring (The One to rule them all) Frodo’s life and the lives of everyone around him becomes way too scary. Bilbo’s adventure in The Hobbit is not without peril, but it is much shorter and less fraught with life-in-the-balance moments. However, if I were to hang out with Bilbo it would not be in the midst of an adventure at all. I would want to hang out in The Shire with he and the other hobbits. The Shire is a quiet, idyllic land where the hobbits enjoy simple things like eating, drinking, smoking, and being social. The hobbits enjoy gardening and live off the fat of the land. It is a simple place and they are simple folk, which I like. Bilbo is a good storyteller and definitely has some stories to tell, plus he is pals with the wizard Gandalf, so one never knows when he might pop in.

 

 

5 Batman/Bruce Wayne

Batman is the ultimate example of bi-polar disorder. How cool would it be to hang out with him?? During the day one could enjoy the lavish lifestyle of billionaire Bruce Wayne, and at night get a taste of adventure as The Dark Night trolls the seedy underbelly of Gotham City exacting vigilante justice. I would LOVE to ride shotgun in The Batmobile and of course chill in the ultimate man cave, The Bat Cave. I am not much for physicality, but it’d be intriguing to try to outwit villains like The Riddler, Catwoman, and The Penguin. While Batman doesn’t seem like much of a conversationalist his alter ego, Bruce Wayne, is charming and charismatic. And since I would know his secret we could have rather fascinating discussions. Trying to get inside the head of a man who was emotionally scarred as a child by seeing his parents gunned down and who uses that trauma as a reason to dress up like a bat and fight crime…well call me crazy, but that sounds like fun.

 

 

4 Sheriff Andy Taylor

It has long been my opinion that the happiest place on Earth is not Disney World, but rather the town of Mayberry. I am too young to have caught The Andy Griffith Show when it first aired in the 60’s, but forty years after it was cancelled generations of people like me are still invited into the lives of Andy, Opie, Barney, and Aunt Bea thanks to reruns. And while Barney Fife is one of the funniest characters in television history and we all love Opie because we have literally seen Ron Howard grow from a small boy to an Oscar winning director and a grandfather, for me the heart & soul of the show and the town is Sheriff Andy. It may seem like a trite cliché, but Andy Taylor is a good man. He is kind, wise, understanding, and tough. He’s a great Dad, a good friend, and good at his job. I have reached a point in my life where I see that running around like a chicken with its head cut off trying to impress people and achieve what the world defines as success is akin to a cat chasing its tale…an exercise in futility. Faith, family, and friendship are the most important things in life. I think a man like Sheriff Taylor understands that, and I would enjoy immensely the opportunity to sit on the front porch sipping some iced tea, picking a little on the ol’ guitar, and shooting the breeze with him.

 

 

3 Captain Jean-Luc Picard

This was a tough call. Thanks to my good friend The Owl I am a Trekkie, and the Star Trek Universe is polluted with memorable characters. I love Bones McCoy, but I really can’t see myself voluntarily spending time with a doctor. Scotty is cool, but I am not an engineer either. Spock is interesting, but really…would he even understand the concept of chillaxing?? ‘Tis not very logical afterall. Captain Kirk is awesome, but a little too intense and adventurous for my tastes. I like to keep things low key. Captain Picard is more my speed. He is less of a swashbuckler and more of an intellectual, an educated man with eclectic interests in classical music, literature, archaeology, fencing, and physics. Picard is the type of guy one could probably sit and listen to for hours, even if he is so smart that the majority of what he is saying goes way above your head. Captain Kirk would be fun to party with and you’d definitely want him on your side in a fight, but Picard is someone to learn from and gain insight about the world.

 

 

2 Santa Claus

Oh come on…who wouldn’t want to hang out with Santa Claus?? And I am not just talking about on Christmas Eve as he makes his journey around the globe delivering presents and eating cookies. I want to spend all year with Old Saint Nick. How does he know when we are sleeping and when we are awake?? How does he know whether we’ve been bad or good?? How does he know exactly what every child wants for Christmas?? Precisely when does he check The List twice and how much time does that take?? Who compiles The List in the first place?? What kind of set up does The North Pole have as far as manufacturing all the latest gadgets kids want these days?? Most of us are selfish and not the least bit concerned about the needs of others, so why is Santa so different?? Why is he so giving and what lead him down this career path?? What is the economic situation for him personally and professionally since he just gives presents away?? Does he get a cut of the profits from stores like WalMart, Sears, Amazon.com, and Best Buy?? What is the deal with the elves?? These are things I need to know people!!

 

 

1 Sherlock Holmes

I have been a huge Sherlockian since junior high school. I have read each of the 56 short stories and 4 novels countless times and enjoy them tremendously. I think maybe the coolest job in history was Watson’s. I would love love love to be Watson, hanging out with Holmes and then writing about all his adventures. I realize that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle makes Victorian London seem far more awesome than it probably was in reality, but that’s okay. Doyle’s London is an odd mix of quaint, mysterious, dangerous, and romantic. Holmes wouldn’t need to flip through endless channels of mind numbing idiocy even if the technology were available to him. He’s got plenty to keep him busy. If he’s not out solving some of the oddest crimes ever conceived he is conducting chemistry experiments in his living room, writing an academic treatise on various types of soil or poisons, or playing his violin. One would never get bored hanging out with Sherlock Holmes, except during those times of languid inactivity when he takes to shooting up cocaine. That’d be when I’d have to leave and visit someone else on the list. At any rate, spending time at 221B Baker Street would encompass meeting all sorts of strange people, trudging through the streets of London at all hours of the day & night in search of answers, and most of all learning at the feet of quite possibly the smartest man in history.

 

 

 

The Sherlock Holmes Canon

sherlock_holmes_silhouette2I promised that The Bookshelf was going to get some attention, and there’s probably no better place to start than with my favorite book series of all time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes canon. I first became enamored with Sherlock Holmes back in junior high school when, for some reason, our English textbook contained the story The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. I instantly fell in love with the cleverness of both the writing and the character. Not too long afterward I picked up a two volume paperback edition of the complete works and spent the next few weeks devouring each and every story.


Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 56 short stories and 4 novels featuring the world’s most renowned amateur detective and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson from 1887-1927. Nearly all the stories were first published in England’s The Strand magazine, the 19th century equivalent of The New Yorker or Reader’s Digest. Doyle himself was a less-than-successful Scottish doctor who turned to writing to pay the bills. I assume Dr. John Watson was loosely based on Doyle himself. The main h1man though…Sherlock Holmes…was inspired by a professor of Doyle’s at the University of Edinburgh, Joseph Bell. Bell’s methods of deductive reasoning left a deep enough impression on Doyle that when he began writing stories Sherlock Holmes was created. Readers of The Strand fell in love with Sherlock Holmes immediately. In fact, the folks in merry old England had such an abiding affection for Holmes that when Doyle (who apparently didn’t love the character as much as his readers) tried to kill him off after just 2 novels and 24 short stories there was much consternation…so much that Doyle felt compelled to bring Holmes back to life, which would spur 2 more novels and 32 additional stories. Doyle seemed to have that yearning that so many artists – writers, actors, singers – have…to be taken seriously. Hopefully before his death in 1930 he came to realize that no other writings by him could have possibly come close to being the gift to the world that Sherlock Holmes was and continues to be a century later.


I will make the assumption that almost everyone from the youngest child to the greyest seasoned citizen has atleast heard of Sherlock Holmes and probably thinks they have a vague idea of what he’s all about…the deerstalker hat, the cape, the pipe, the phrase “Elementary my dear Watson!!”, the home address of 221B Baker Street. Holmes consistently appears in the top 5 of any lists dealing with beloved fictional characters, and at one time (I do not know if it is still the case) he held the Guinness world record for the most portrayed character in film. The character has been used in countless movies, plays and pastiches (in other words, imitations by other authors) that portray Holmes in a wide variety of ages and put him in all manner of fascinating situations…trying to track down real h2life serial killer Jack the Ripper, fighting Nazis in World War II, going up against Dracula. I don’t necessarily dismiss all non-canonical varieties of Holmes, but I do tend to tread lightly. Part of the magic of Holmes is the setting…foggy, gaslit, Victorian England. When one takes the character out of that setting it can either be an interesting fish-out-of-water scenario or a complete disaster. I am a traditionalist, so I like my fictional characters to stay in the era and locale of their origin, and I tend to prefer any new reincarnations be based on or atleast show respect to the author’s intent.  Putting a centuries old character in a modern day situation with guns blazing, car chases, and meaningless explosions does not impress me at all. For example, I sincerely believe that the powers-that-be responsible for the atrocity that was 1996’s Romeo & Juliet starring Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes should never be allowed to work in Hollywood again. At any rate, I recommend reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon first (obviously), and then being very selective in what other Holmes incarnations one digests. There was a PBS series in the 1980’s and early 90’s that was very good and pretty faithful to the canon. 41 of the 60 Holmes stories were produced, and the remaining 19 probably would have been done if not for the untimely death of its star Jeremy Brett (certainly among the best portrayers of Sherlock Holmes). I’ve always heard mixed reviews leaning toward positive about the 1940’s films starring Basil Rathbone, but to be honest my intent to see them has never come to fruition. The fact that only 1 of the 14 films, The Hound of the Baskervilles, is canonical is a concern, and it is well known that they portray Watson as a bumbling stooge which was not how Doyle wrote the character. I suppose one day I will cave and will attempt to be open minded, but I have a strong inclination that I’m not really missing anything.


The influence of Sherlock Holmes over the past 100+ years is truly amazing. Most mystery and detective type stories owe much to Holmes, and shows like CSIh3 wouldn’t exist without him. Sherlock Holmes was forensics before forensics was cool. Hundreds of societies (all based on the original Baker Street Irregulars, founded in 1934) regularly gather to discuss and celebrate Holmes. I cannot think of any literary figure with that kind of influence and following…not even Shakespeare. The stories themselves are interesting enough to keep the attention of adults, but uncomplicated enough that teenagers and maybe even overachieving and precocious pre-teens can read them. They are eminently readable, and one can go back to them over and over and they never seem to get old.  As a matter of fact, picking up a book of Sherlock Holmes stories is like reuniting with an old friend. I would strongly encourage anyone who has never read them to give them a whirl. You are unlikely to regret your choice.

Hall of Influence – Class 2

The time has come to add to the hallowed chamber that is The Hall of Influence. Today we will be inducting three new members from diverse fields…sports, literature, and music. Though these areas of interest may not measure high on the scale of significance in the big picture that is our universe, I am sure most will concede that they do add immeasurable joy, pleasure, and interest to most of our lives to some degree.

 

Let us first venture onto the football field. Anyone who meets me knows within 10 minutes that I am a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan and have been for over 30 years. I began to be interested in and understand football at a very young age, even before I started school. Living in the state of West Virginia there are no professional sports teams because there just isn’t the population or economic base to support such a venture. However, I am fortunate to live within a couple of hours of the city of Pittsburgh, and I just happened to be born right as the heretofore hapless Steelers were morphing from a team that had never been very competitive to one that would ultimately come to be thought of as NFL royalty, one of the most successful franchises in team sports. They were the first team to ever win 4 Super Bowls, winning back to back titles twice within a 6 year period from 1974-1980 and have won two more since that time. When contemplating just who should represent the Steelers in The Hall of Influence many names ran through my mind. Terry Bradshaw was the quintessential franchise quarterback and led the team to all four of those 1970’s titles. Mean Joe Greene and Jack Lambert were the leaders of the most infamous defense in football, The Steel Curtain. Lynn Swann was poetry in motion and one of the most acrobatic wide receivers ever to catch a football. Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier were the leaders of a hard-nosed, smash mouth rushing attack that defined Steeler football. Less heralded players like center Mike Webster, safety Donnie Shell, and wide receiver John Stallworth embodied the blue collar attitude of a city and a team. All of these men were guided by the stoic, quiet, firm hand of head coach Chuck Noll. However, my choice to represent the Pittsburgh Steelers and my undying love for them is the family that has owned and operated the team since its inception in 1933, the Rooney family. The patriarch was Art Rooney Sr., The Chief, who used his winnings from time spent at the horse track to start a brand new NFL franchise. The Chief was a driving force in the growth of the league as a whole, and helmed the ship as the Steelers became a powerhouse team. He was aided by his son Dan, who worked alongside his father beginning in the late 1960’s. Dan ran the organization’s daily operations from the late 1970’s until 2003, when he handed over the job to his son Art Rooney II. In a world where many teams seem so unstable…changing coaches, owners, and even cities at the drop of a hat…The Rooney Family has been steady and consistent. Their long term leadership has been a major reason why the Steelers have been among the elite for such a long time, and that success has provided me with countless hours of happiness and entertainment.

 

One of the other ways I entertain myself is reading. I love a good book. My all time favorite literary series is The Sherlock Holmes canon, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I intend to go into a more detailed analysis of the books and my enjoyment of them in a piece for The Bookshelf section of The Manofesto, so I will keep my comments short for now. Suffice to say that Sherlock Holmes is one of the most endearing characters in all of literature, and he cannot really be separated from his creator Doyle. Therefore I have chosen to initiate both sides of the same coin into the Hall of Influence. I cannot thank them enough for all the times they have magically transported me to Victorian England and allowed me to forget about my problems for awhile. I would encourage any bookworm who enjoys a good mystery to give Holmes a whirl. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Our third and final inductee today is from the world of music. In my mind he is the ultimate musical performer…classic, timeless, the standard to which all others need to be compared. I am speaking of Ol’ Blue Eyes, The Chairman of the Board, The Voice…..Frank Sinatra. I tend to have rather eclectic musical tastes. I like everything from hard rock to blues to 80’s pop to big band. Amongst the crowd of pretenders to the throne…Elvis, The Beatles, Michael Jackson…only one man clearly stands above the rest. I am not saying those performers and many many others are not talented and deserving of their accolades, just that in my universe they are all a bit overrated. No one can ever legitimately call Mr. Sinatra that, not even close. During a career that spanned nearly 60 years, he had numerous #1 songs and albums, won 11 Grammys, and tried his hand at acting and won an Academy Award. Somewhere along the line Sinatra segued from a top selling singer to a legendary cultural icon. I was first introduced to Sinatra during my youth by my father. Like most youngsters I wanted to be cool and hip and thought Dad was just an old fogey, so I didn’t pay too much attention to his music. But as I grew older and began to have more of an appreciation for quality and excellence and became less concerned with fitting in with the crowd I began to develop an appreciation for various musical genres, including swing, jazz, and “crooners”. There’s no one that embodies all of those better than Frank Sinatra. With it being almost a foregone conclusion that all great (and even not so great) bands will eventually reunite for a big money tour and knowing that no musician ever really retires, it makes me sad to know that I will never have the opportunity to see Sinatra in concert because…well, he’s dead. But the music lives on. So while others waste their time gushing over the latest MTV/American Idol wannabe and embrace what is clearly a lower standard of musical mediocrity played on the radio these days, I will happily be listening to my Sinatra CDs and appreciating the greatest singer to ever live. For his many contributions to music and culture Frank Sinatra is a well deserving member of The Hall of Influence.

 

 

Random Thoughts 5

I suspect one of the most satisfied men on the planet right now is American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert. He gets all the fame and adulation and other benefits without the oppressive obligations and contractual entanglements that seem to coincide with actually winning the competition.

 

As a long time Sherlock Holmes fan I have a bad vibe that the Holmes film starring Robert Downey Jr. that’ll be released later this year might really really suck. There’s no denying that Downey is a brilliant performer, but is he miscast as the world’s foremost amateur detective?? And director Guy Ritchie…most famous for marrying Madonna (therefore legitimately bringing his taste and judgment into question)…doesn’t exactly have a great track record. Plus, translating great literature onto the big screen is thorny territory to say the least. Sometimes it turns out really well…..The Lord of the Rings trilogy, To Kill A Mockingbird, Gone With the Wind, The Godfather, almost any version of A Christmas Carol, Of Mice & Men (a wonderful 1992 remake starring Gary Sinise and John Malkovich). Other times it, to say the least, does not…..Romeo & Juliet (the 1996 version with Leo DiCaprio and Claire Danes), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Three Musketeers, Left Behind, almost everything Dickensian except the aforementioned A Christmas Carol. I will reserve final opinion until I actually see the film…I’m just saying my expectations aren’t high.

 

I was in a restaurant recently and, after dinner, asked about dessert. One available item was bananas foster, but the waiter said that they weren’t actually allowed to flambé the dish tableside. I ordered something else because really, what’s the point of bananas foster without the flames??

 

Kanye West is a moronic jackass.

 

It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that a comment like “you’re Mom is kinda hot” would run across my mind and it’d be wrong. Now the bad thoughts are more like “you’re daughter is pretty cute”…and it’s even more wrong.

 

Will someone please explain to me the hatred of Rush Limbaugh?? I realize that we are a nation of diverse sociopolitical opinions and spiritual beliefs. I have no issue with disagreement and debate. But when I compare the left-biased public perception of Rush with what he actually says and does the fanatical loathing of the masses just doesn’t compute. The man is forthright and unapologetic, there’s no denying that. Maybe he scares people because he says the things others are afraid to say even if they are thinking them. Maybe he scares the opposition because he’s so right much of the time. However…is he offensive, racist, mean-spirited, and hateful?? No one who truly listens to Rush’s show can be intellectually honest and say that he is any of those things.

Top 5′s (Thanks For The Inspiration Facebook)

Ok…so…the rage on Facebook these days seems to be listing one’s Top 5 this and that. However, because I am a nonconformist, and in an effort to bring new readers to The Manofesto so they may have the privilege of discovering my brilliance, I am just going to do all my Top 5’s here at the same time. This also affords me an opportunity to pontificate on my choices, and if there’s one talent in the universe I have (atleast one that I can discuss publicly) it is most certainly pontification.

Movies – I’m not going into that right now. I’m doing a whole series on my Top 100 Favorite Movies, so you’ll just have to read that.

Books – The Bible, The Sherlock Holmes Canon, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn/Tom Sawyer, Zen & The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Animal Farm. I could go on all day. I’m a bookworm. Love to read. I like classic literature, biographies, nonfiction…..it’s all good. I did not include the works of Shakespeare because I think Shakespeare is better experienced in a live performance. I also did not include The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Godfather because, while the books are outstanding, they are the rare case where the movie actually outshines the book. I’ve tossed around the idea of doing a Top 100 Books series, but I take reading much more seriously than I do movies so it would take much more critical thought and consideration, more effort than I’m willing to put forth at the moment. Besides, there is The Bookshelf feature here at The Manofesto.

Sports Teams – Pittsburgh Steelers, West Virginia Mountaineers, Marshall Thundering Herd, Pittsburgh Pirates, Pittsburgh Penguins. I’ve been a diehard Steelers and Pirates fan since before I even started kindergarten. I grew up in northcentral WV, which is Mountaineer country. Marshall University is my alma mater. I include the Penguins only to get to five. I’m not really much of a hockey fan.

Singers/Musicians/Groups – Frank Sinatra, Van Halen, The Eagles, REO Speedwagon, Boston. I could very easily list atleast a dozen more. I’ve seen all of these five in concert with the exception of Sinatra. I was born probably a decade too late to really appreciate his brilliance while he was still doing live shows. My musical tastes are very eclectic and vary widely depending upon my mood.

Candy – If chocolate is involved it’s all good. No need to narrow it down to a Top 5. However, let me take this opportunity to express my deep affection for some candy bars that aren’t produced anymore or are very difficult to find, making my love for them all the more heartbreaking in a “you always want what you can’t have” kind of way. The first is Bar None, a chocolate bar produced by Hershey’s in the mid 80’s. It was a chocolate wafer, some chocolate ganache-like filling, and peanuts all covered in chocolate. At some point they re-did it so it was two smaller bars in the package instead of one bigger bar. The original was outstanding, the revision still very tasty. Bar None was discontinued in the mid 90’s and I’d pay just about any amount of money for a case of those babies. Mallo Cups are shaped and packaged like Reese’s Cups, only instead of peanut butter the chocolate encases soft creamy marshmallow filling. Mallo Cups are still around, but they are far from ubiquitous. I actually took the step of ordering a case online directly from the company a few years ago, but it’s rather pricey. And finally I want to give some attention to Chunky bars. Chunky is a trapezoid shaped hunk of chocolate with peanuts and raisins. Very unique. And it comes in a shiny silver foil wrapper. Chunkys are still around, but they are even harder to find than Mallo Cups. I used to stumble across Chunky at my local video store, but renting movies is an archaic 20th century task, so I haven’t had one in ages.

Fast Food Joints – Wendy’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Rally’s, Hardee’s. You’ll notice the absence of McDonald’s. That’s because when examining their menu every single item is done better at other places, with the exception of french fries. McDonald’s fries can’t be beat. Anyway, I love love love Wendy’s and eat there way too much. We didn’t have a BK in my area until I was in high school so I felt deprived and put it up on a pedestal of expectation. Then in college my fraternity house was right beside a BK and I have a lot of great memories. Ditto for Taco Bell…..it has a nostalgic place in my heart dating back to the fantastic college years. We had a Rally’s here when I was a kid but it disappeared when I was in high school and I miss it. In & Out and Sonic are two places I‘ve heard great things about but haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing.

Beers – Killian’s Irish Red, Dos Equis, Rolling Rock, Heineken, Corona. I’m kind of a beer snob, eschewing blue collar brews like Budweiser and Miller Lite for the most part. But at the same time I don’t really drink a lot of beer and haven’t been exposed to much of what is out there.

Cereals – Rice Krispies, Honey Bunches of Oats, Raisin Bran, Corn Flakes, Wheaties. I’m not exactly Mr. Excitement when it comes to cereal. I like it basic and old fashioned. Not too sweet, not too cute.

All Time Athletes – Michael Jordan, Terry Bradshaw, “Dr. J” Julius Erving, Dale Earnhardt, Willie Stargell. I’m not a huge NBA guy. The closest team in proximity to my home is in Cleveland, and until recently they were an afterthought. So for me the NBA has always been more about individuals that I enjoyed watching, and in my book there were none better than Jordan and Dr. J. I cheered for the Sixers when Erving was with them and I was a Bulls fan during Jordan’s reign. That’s the closest times I’ve ever come to having a favorite NBA team. Earnhardt was one of the toughest competitors I’ve ever seen and his tragic death was very upsetting. Bradshaw and Stargell were the faces of the Steelers and Pirates during the glory years of the late 70’s, my formative as a sports fan. I limited this to athletes who I’ve actually had the privilege of seeing perform in my lifetime, which is why you don’t see people like Jim Brown or Babe Ruth.

TV Shows – Cheers, Seinfeld, Dallas, The Andy Griffith Show, Taxi. Another case where I could list many many more. I watched a lot of television as a kid. Probably too much. But atleast I can say with confidence that the shows that were on back then were really really good, unlike today where so much is pedestrian and uninspired.