Friday, December 31, 2010

Movie of the Week

This week,


Starring- Billy Crystal, Meg Ryan, Carrie Fisher, Bruno Kirby

I would call this one of, if not the, definitive New Year's Eve movie. Most of the action takes place in other times of the year, but the critical part, the ending, takes place as the ball drops. Not only is this film a great vehicle for its two stars, it also made the romantic comedy a genre unto itself. Crystal and Ryan are a fabulous tandem that perfectly balance neurotic tendencies with funny quirks as they develop a friendship that ultimately turns into true love.

Directed by Rob Reiner and written by Nora Ephron, this film has the perfect blend of behind the camera and onscreen talent. I can only see the lines being said by Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan because it feels as if the roles were tailor-made for them by two people who actually lived lives that paralleled the characters. Beginning with Harry and Sally's meeting at the end of college, we are taken on an eleven year journey that sees their relationship evolve as they progress and mature. It is great to see how people can change over time and still maintain who they are at their core. Harry is forever the pessimist, seeing the dark side and never really giving himself over to love, while Sally is the upbeat optimist who works hard to see the bright side of things. I have always marveled at how these two characters slowly come together and meet in the middle by the end of the film, having been through so much together.

The heart of When Harry Met Sally is undeniable, but it is the persistent comedy that makes it a special movie. Never before, or since, for that matter, has a film so brilliantly captured the humor of dating, sex, men and women, and the differences between them. I have applied much of this film to my own marriage, which started as a friendship. So much so that I have used lines from it in my daily life. In fact, here are some of the maxims which I have learned from When Harry Met Sally.

-Men and Women can't be friends because men always want to have sex with their female friends
-Women fake orgasms
-Men can't tell when they fake them
-Sex complicates things
-The little things are what you come to love most about a person

There you have it. If you need more clarification, pop in this movie and see the many sides, moods and jokes of friendship and love.

Things to watch for-

Mr. Zero
Surrey with the Fringe on Top
The Wagon Wheel Coffee Table
Baby Fish Mouth
Days of the Week Underpants
Pecan Pie

"Someone is staring at you in 'personal growth.'"

Thursday, December 30, 2010

We Hardly Knew Ye 2010

Here is a list of some of the people we lost in the last year. Think of it as my version of the Oscars' "In Memoriam" video montage.

LESLIE NIELSEN (Actor- The Naked Gun movies, Airplane!)

RONNIE JAMES DIO (Badass rock star)

GARY COLEMAN (Child Star, Utah Resident)

TONY CURTIS (Actor- Some Like It Hot, Spartacus)

BARBARA BILLINGSLEY (Actress- Leave it to Beaver)

BLAKE EDWARDS (Director/Writer- The Pink Panther movies, Victor/Victoria)

TOM BOSLEY (Actor- Happy Days)

RUE MCCLANAHAN (Actress- The Golden Girls)

GEORGE STEINBRENNER (Owner, New York Yankees, The Boss)

PETER GRAVES (Actor- Mission: Impossible, Airplane!)

MANUTE BOL (Basketball Player, Activist)

DENNIS HOPPER (Actor- Speed, Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now)


Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 In Review

2010 was a year that saw some big things happen for yours truly, let's review shall we?

I met film director, and my birthday buddy, Spike Lee.

I had the privilege of working as an intern at KUER for RadioWest with Doug Fabrizio. It was truly an enlightening experience and I learned a great deal from everyone at KUER, especially RadioWest's producer, Elaine Clark. (P.S. That's how I got to meet Spike Lee)

My wife surprised me with tickets to see one of my all-time idols- Paul McCartney. He was in The Beatles.

We took a trip to Napa Valley with friends. It was a great trip and I learned a lot of wine factoids. For example, did you know that wine is made from grapes?

After almost a year of not having full-time employment, I got a job. A real big boy job.

I ate a really good dill pickle.

The dog and I built a fort.

I taught little kid P.E. for a brief period in the Spring. I discovered that my skills at corralling first graders still need developing.

We took our annual trip to the Utah State Fair. I ate a bunch of fried stuff on a stick and rode the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Mary Anne and I celebrated our fourth anniversary.

That about does it. Let's hope that 2011 has as much awesomeness in it as 2010 did.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Movie of the Week

This jolly week,


Starring- George C. Scott, David Warner, Edward Woodward, Roger Rees

Of all the versions of A Christmas Carol, this one starring Oscar winner, George C. Scott, is the darkest and scariest. The ominous nature of this retelling of Dickens' classic works well for the most part, but there are some things that make it hard to believe that Scrooge will become a better man by the end of the movie. Scott's portrayal of Scrooge is a bit evil and he seems to enjoy being mean to Bob Cratchit and everyone else a little too much. I have always thought of Scrooge as bitter and angry, not vengeful. Having said that, there is a good deal that I enjoy in this made for T.V. movie.

The acting is of a high caliber, with strong performances from the supporting cast. David Warner as Bob Cratchit, Suzanna York as Mrs. Cratchit and Frank Finlay as Marley's Ghost stand out, as does the tiniest, most sickly and cute Tiny Tim ever. Looking at him, you think that he truly might not make it to another Christmas, which is more than can be said for the Tim's of other Christmas Carols who are far to healthy looking and not at all tiny.

Humor is at a premium in this version, but there are some funny moments peppered in between the ominous overall tone of the film. Of note are the interactions between Scrooge and the Ghost of Christmas Present (Woodward), as well as the charming Fezziwig's pearls of wisdom for a young Scrooge. In the end, Scrooge makes the transition from miser to good man, but the way Scott plays it is more understated, making it seem like Scrooge will have a long road to redemption. Truly, this is more realistic, but it doesn't leave you with the same joyous feeling that A Christmas Carol usually elicits. Watch and enjoy this for the parts rather than the story as a whole, and also watch it for General Patton as Scrooge.

Things to watch for-

The Ghost of Christmas Past's fright wig
Ignorance and Want
Mrs. Cratchit takes Scrooge down a peg
Michael Gough- (Batman's Alfred) as a businessman

"Another sound from you... and you'll keep your Christmas by losing your situation."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Do Ask, Do Tell

I, for one, am glad that the Senate voted to repeal 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' today, allowing gays to serve openly in the military. The argument that many are making in favor of the repeal is that anyone willing to serve, and potentially die for our country deserves the dignity and respect of everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation, and should be allowed to serve openly as a gay man or woman. I agree with this logic, but I hope that this act is only the first step in a long line of measures that grant homosexuals more equality in this country.

We live in a world where people have been marginalized and discriminated against to the point of extermination. While many seem to think that we are in some post-modern wonderland where prejudice is a faint memory that only rears its head when a new film about the Holocaust is made, I say that we need to reexamine why something like 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' took so long to repeal. Anytime something like this comes up for debate, people who are afraid of what change might bring forget about the effect it has on the group being discriminated against. Many have trouble thinking about what it would be like if they had to deny who they are, and keep it a secret for fear of what might happen if others found out.

As a straight, white, well educated male I am never asked to not be who I am, or given a back seat because of my race, sex or orientation, but I know those who are. Everyone does, whether they want to admit it or not, and I cannot say what something like this act by Congress does for a group of people who yearn to be treated like everyone else. I see this as a good step in the right direction, but I hope that those in power will not be content with this one act. There is still work to be done.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book of the Month

This Month,


by Jay Parini

This 1990 novel about the last year of Leo Tolstoy's life was recently made into a very well received film. I have not seen the film, but the book is definitely worth your time. I had very little knowledge about Tolstoy before reading the book, and while it is a novel, it draws heavily on true accounts and journals from the main characters. The characters and their personal stories are what drives the narrative. Parini deftly switches the storyteller in each chapter, so that the reader is aware of the feelings, thoughts and agenda of the major players in Tolstoy's life. Sofya (the Countess Tolstoy), Bulgakov (Tolstoy's idealistic secretary), Chertkov (the devoted leader of the Tolstoyian movement), along with Tolstoy's doctor and daughter make up the book's narrators. Every one of these characters yearns for the great man's attention and confidence throughout the book, and some do better than others.

The real conflict is between Sofya and Chertkov, who are at odds over what will become of Tolstoy's works once he is dead. Chertkov and his many followers hope to elbow Sofya out and convince Leo Nikolayavich to sign over the rights to his writings to the public domain, so that the people can enjoy them, and so that profit cannot be made from them. It is a core tenet of the Tolstoyian movement to reject personal property. Sofya, on the other hand, wishes to keep his writings private so that her family can survive on the money they generate. Caught in the middle of the conflict is the Count's new secretary, Blugakov, a young Tolstoyian who is recruited by both Chertkov and Countess Tolstoy to spy on the other. He ends up finding that his loyalty is to Tolstoy himself, and not to the factions on either side.

This book is at once a study of political dealing, a snapshot of pre-revolutionary Russia, a love story and a portrait of a great author. If you allow yourself to get lost in the world that Jay Parini creates, you will find an engrossing story that takes you right up to the end as Tolstoy arrives at the last station.

P.S. My girl Helen Mirren is in the movie.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Interview with Santa

Rarely does Conned! get to interview famous people- in fact, this is the first time. Here now is my exclusive interview with Santa Claus. He and I sat down in his workshop earlier this month.

CB: Santa, thanks so much for taking the time today, we all know how busy you are this time of year.

Santa Claus: No problem.

CB: I just want to start by saying thanks for all the presents over the years.

SC: My pleasure, you were always pretty good as a kid.

CB: I tried. Anyway, let's get down to it. Do you think that kids nowadays are as good as they used to be?

SC: Some years are better than others. I could sit here and tell you that kids in this decade are worse than kids in the 1960's, but I'd be lying. The naughty list varies from year to year, like this year the list is actually much shorter than last year.

CB: Any particularly naughty years that leap to mind?

SC: 1996. That was the worst Christmas for me in all my years of delivering presents. So many naughty kids that year.

CB: How come?

SC: That damn Tickle Me Elmo. Never before were so many kids nasty to their parents, and all for that ridiculous giggling muppet. I really considered hanging it up after that year. Luckily, Mrs. Claus talked me out of retiring.

CB: Lucky for all of us. I wanted to ask you, of all the movies about you, what actor captured Santa the best on screen?

SC: I think probably Ed Asner in Elf. I always liked him on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and I felt he had the right twinkle in his eye when he played me. I'm also partial to that goofball Andy Dick as my evil son in The Hebrew Hammer. That movie is hilarious.

CB: Favorite Christmas carol?

SC: It's a tie between Bing Crosby's White Christmas and Eartha Kitt's Santa Baby.

CB: I see. What is the hot toy for this year?

SC: The buzz around the workshop is that it's these Pillow Pets. I'm really encouraged that kids are going for a plush toy this year instead of so much electronic gadgetry. Plus, stuff like the Pillow Pets are so much lighter to carry in my sack than PlayStation 3s. Do you know what that's like?

CB: I don't.

SC: It's heavy. I'm not as young as I used to be, Conor.

CB: We don't want to keep you too much longer since Christmas is only a couple weeks away, but I have to ask, who is your Super Bowl pick?

SC: I'm a lifelong Browns fan, but they always stink. I've got a good feeling about the Atlanta Falcons this year.

CB: Thanks so much, Santa.

SC: My pleasure.

Eat your heart out, Doug Fabrizio.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Movie of the Week

This merry week,


Starring- George Lazenby, Diana Rigg, Telly Savalas, Bernard Lee

This film is what I refer to as the Christmas Bond, because a majority of the action takes place around that holiday. No, Bond doesn't foil a plot by SPECTRE to steal Christmas, he instead must stop a deadly virus from spreading while navigating a bevy of beauties, and out-skiing the bad guys with his bride to be. The film not only contains the best ski chases ever, it also features the debut of George Lazenby as James Bond. After a worldwide search for Sean Connery's replacement, producers Broccooli and Saltzman settled on the Australian model turned actor for his good looks and strong presence in the fight auditions. It was up to veteran Bond editor Peter Hunt, who was directing his first 007 feature, to make Lazenby as believable in the dramatic scenes as he was in the action scenes.

Hunt does a serviceable job in making Lazenby a strong 007, and surrounded him with gifted veteran actors to help him. Diana Rigg as the lead Bond girl, Tracy, turns in a fabulous performance. She's so good in fact that our James can't help but ask her to marry him. Menacing the happy couple is Telly Savalas as Blofeld. Savalas is a bit uncouth and too American as the super villain, but he poses a nice physical threat to 007, especially in the deadly bobsled chase. Rounding out the cast are Bond staples Bernard Lee (M), Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Moneypenny) who provide continuity, and Gabrielle Ferzetti and Ilse Steppat as Tracy's likeable crime lord father and Blofeld's nasty henchwoman, respectively. If this film had starred Connery, it would have been the best in the series, but alas, it does not. Lazenby does his best, and while not great he is not bad enough to derail a stunningly beautiful and action packed movie.

Right off the bat the story grabs you and doesn't let go until the tragic climax. In between we get treated to some witty dialogue courtesy of writer Richard Maibaum, brutal fight scenes cut together in an innovative new way by editor John Glen and groundbreaking ski action filmed by Willy Bogner and Johnny Jordan. This film did for skiing what Thunderball did for underwater work. I am still amazed by some of the stunt work in this film as Bond skis away from Piz Gloria on one ski while being chased by SPECTRE agents, or when he avoids a giant avalanche. While Lazenby is a bit wooden at times, he has some nice moments that shine through. It is a pity that we never got to see what he might have been capable of since he decided to leave the role of 007 after one film.

Many say that this film is marred by Lazenby's work as Bond and do not rank it with the best of the series, but that is unfair to Lazenby and to the film. I do put it in the top ten, and say that the shortcomings are far outweighed by the strengths. Connery would return in 1971's Diamonds are Forever and while it would be nice to see him back as 007, I can say that his return was not anywhere near as good OHMSS. So for a little holiday action and adventure, strap in and say- Merry Christmas, 007!

Things to watch for-

The janitor whistling the 'Goldfinger' theme
The stock car race
John Barry's iconic theme song
M's house
Louis Armstrong's 'We Have All the Time in the World'

"This never happened to the other fella."

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Hero

One of my great heroes is a man who made as big an impact on the world as any musician ever has. He changed what it meant to be a star, an activist and a rock and roller. John Lennon was one of a kind. From his humble beginnings in Liverpool to his time with The Beatles and after, John Lennon was an innovator in the field of music and art.

I first took notice of John Lennon in middle school when I went mad for The Beatles. Everything became about John, Paul, George and Ringo for me. I wanted to wear my hair like them, I spent hours each day in my room listening to their music and studying them, I even wore round glasses like John's. I admire so much his talent, his songs and his message of peace and love. While I outgrew my hardcore Beatles obsession, I never outgrew the music. I still listen to their music all the time and read about them on occasion. The Beatles, like John Lennon were a phenomenon that can never be forgotten.

Thirty years ago today, we lost John Lennon. I wasn't even born yet, but I still feel the loss that so many of his fans felt that day. While we have had to go without new songs, inspiring words, and a complete Beatles reunion in the time since 1980, his is an enduring legacy that will always live on. I am grateful for the rich catalogue of work that we have to look back on, and for the way he inspired so many to imagine a better world.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Worst Sports Franchises

There are certain teams in every sport that never cease to make terrible choices and are perennial bottom feeders. Here now, are three of the worst.


L.A. Clippers

These guys could screw up a cup of coffee. Year after year the Clippers fail to even attempt to come close to dethroning the Lakers as L.A.'s favorite team. As far back as I can remember they have been losers and laughingstocks. They continually fail to keep good players and make huge mistakes with who they bring in as free agents. Blake Griffin is a legit star, but knowing the Clippers, they will find a way to lose him too.

Detroit Lions

I feel bad for Lions fans. They are forced to live in a city that has been deeply affected by the bad economy, and then to escape the hardships they have to go watch the only team to ever go 0-16 in NFL history. Trying to overcome the culture of losing is tough, but the current management seems to be on the right track. Let's hope they can do it and get the Lions of this list.

Pittsburgh Pirates

I don't even watch baseball, but I know enough to know that this team stinks, and has for along time. Even when it seems like they have a good team and some momentum, the front office dumps their good players and sends the team back to the MLB cellar. Good thing that the citizens of Pittsburgh have the Penguins and Steelers to root for.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Movie of the Week

Christmas movie time, kids.

This merry week,


Starring- Bill Murray, Karen Allen, John Forsythe, Alfre Woodard

The greatest Christmas story of all is Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. If Dickens had been working 1988 it's likely that Ebenzer Scrooge would have been a jerk T.V. executive who treats his employees like crap, hates Christmas and tries to staple antlers to a mouse's head. Even though Dickens was long gone by 1988, filmmakers gave us a very apt update of the classic tale of redemption in the form of Scrooged. In the film, Bill Murray plays Frank Cross, a jerk T.V. executive who treats his employees like crap, hates Christmas and tries to staple antlers to a mouse's head- go figure!

Murray is the perfect blend of smug and silly as Cross, who is forced to reexamine his mistakes when three ghosts take him on a Scroogian journey of Christmases past, present and future. Along the way, Frank sees his somewhat unhappy childhood, how he won and lost the love of his life, Claire (Allen) and how he became the vindictive head of the IBC television network. Among the shows that Frank has on his network are the violent, The Night the Reindeer Died, and a cheesy, live version of A Christmas Carol that nicely parallels his own journey throughout the film. Just like you would expect, Frank is redeemed in the end, but only after some of the funniest scenes in Christmas movie history.

Of particular note are the ghosts of Christmas Past and Present who steal the show. David Johansen is the crude, cab driving, cigar smoking Ghost of Christmas Past who uses his knowledge of T.V. to call Frank on his made up childhood, and Carol Kane is the sweet fairy-like Ghost of Christmas Present who beats the snot out of Frank to get her point across. I always laugh hysterically when she hits him in the face with a toaster. Conversely, I always tear up at the end when the film's version of Tiny Tim makes us all aware of what Christmas is all about. Even though Scrooged is absolutely a comedy, it has heart and harkens back to Dickens' original message about the true spirit of the season and why people need a little love in their heart.

Things to watch for-

Bob Goulet's Old Fashioned Cajun Christmas
Five pounds of veal
Bobcat Goldthwait as the shotgun toting Eliot Loudermilk
Vodka and Tab
Robert Mitchum says 'butt head'
The Ballbreaker Suite
Mary Lou Retton as Tiny Tim

"If you TOUCH ME AGAlN, I'll rip your goddamn wings off! Okay?"

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Christmas Ornaments

Here are some of my favorite ornaments that I have collected over the years. There are many more, but I have to save something for next year, people.


My Grandma Pat and Grandpa Chuck gave me this great basketball themed ornament back in 1995. It was great because it showcased our shared love of the Jazz. I'm always glad to pull this one out of the box, but I was even more glad this year because the team went back to the old music note logo this year. Christmas 1995 never felt so timely.


I'm not sure where this one came from, but it's been around as long as I can remember. What's that moose got wheels for, you ask? Well, maybe he is like the Six Million Dollar Man and was rebuilt after an accident, or perhaps moose had wheels in prehistoric times and evolved out of them. Whatever the explanation is, one thing is for sure- he looks great on a Christmas tree. Sorry, She. Only the females have red antlers and blue bodies.


This one is from a series of ornaments that we have of Santas from around the world. It depicts Santa forcing a child into his sack against his will. Obviously this kid was on the naughty list, but why is Santa putting him in a sack? My guess is that this country's version (probably Germany) of Santa takes naughty children home to feast on them. I hear that in an early version of The Night Before Christmas, Clement C. Moore had a short scene describing Santa throwing kids in his sack and melting them down in a large vat at the North Pole to use in his sugarplums. It was edited out of the story. I can't imagine why.


These angels were made by my great grandmother. At one point there were enough to cover several Christmas trees worth, but over the years they have deteriorated and now there are only a handful left. Notice the pipe cleaner halo and Ivory soap flake hair on her. Pretty cool, huh? I think more people should try to make ornaments like she did.


Don't get all scandalized by Santa's blurry little weenus. This charming ornament was given to me by my Auntie Cher. It's really funny and always makes me giggle when I take it out of the box. I know I'm a child, but I don't care. All I have to say is it must be cold at the North Pole. Zing!