Tuesday, August 31, 2010
I look at Affleck, who has a new film coming out soon---a movie that he directed, wrote, and stars in---and I can't help but think that he could have been so much more.
It's been 13 years, believe it or not, since the 38-year-old Affleck burst onto the scene in Good Will Hunting, a film he co-wrote and co-starred in with Matt Damon about a math wiz who needs guidance.
The movie introduced us to Affleck, a nice-looking, well-spoken young man who looked to be the next big box office male lead. Co-star Damon seemed a tad too nerdy looking to assume that mantle.
But something happened on the way to stardom for Affleck. He made a lot of so-so movies; some were downright awful.
He could have been so much more.
There were some decent flicks: Armageddon, Shakespeare in Love, Boiler Room. But they weren't blockbusters, and they weren't yesterday. We're talking about a decade ago.
Instead, there's been Changing Lanes, Gigli, Jersey Girl, Surviving Christmas, and it hasn't been so much what Affleck has done, it's been what he hasn't --- which has become the matinee idol that so many of us thought he was destined to be.
He's done "Saturday Night Live" many times and he's poked fun at his failed relationship with Jennifer Lopez and he's not had a bad career---just not one that reached its potential. My opinion.
So here comes The Town, slated for a September 17 release, in which Affleck plays a career bank robber who starts to grow a conscience, while at the same time trying to elude the FBI.
Affleck is the biggest name in the cast, though fellow players like Jeremy Renner and Jon Hamm are probably recognizable by face.
A movie star's career---and it's often different than an actor's, because there can be a distinct difference between actor and star---is at the mercy of variables outside the control of the player.
Script selection, though, is where the player has to be accountable. No one held a gun to Affleck's head and ordered him to do Surviving Christmas.
But Affleck is only 38. He can still turn things around. Maybe The Town is the vehicle that will help him to do that. We'll see.
I look at Ben Affleck and I don't see failure. I just don't see what I thought I'd be seeing, when he arrived on the scene in the late-1990s.
It's been an uneven career, where I thought he was destined for Burt Reynolds or Chevy Chase or George Clooney-like box office power.
But he's only 38. It's far from over.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
That sounds like opinion, but it's almost morphed into fact.
The poll was conducted by CNN in 2006. The winner (loser?) was Paul Anka's ode to his expectant wife, "(You're) Having My Baby," which found itself on the top of the charts on this day in 1974.
Anka, whose songwriting prowess cannot be denied, penned a stinker when he wrote "YHMB," which was written in celebration of the impending birth of Anka and his wife's fifth child. Anka wrote the song while appearing at Lake Tahoe.
At the suggestion of United Artists recording executive Bob Skaff, Anka was asked to change the song from a solo effort to a duet with virtually unknown vocalist Odia Coates, who made the mistake of being present in the studio when the song was about to be recorded.
Anka took a lot of abuse from women's rights activists, who saw the lyrics and the spirit of the "YHMB" to be highly chauvinistic, egotistical, and basically obnoxious.
Among other issues, the song was criticized for declaring the child was the man's, rather than the couple's. Anka would later replace the line "you're having my baby" with "you're having our baby" while performing in concert.
The song was so vilified that Anka would often simply omit it when he sang a batch of his old hits in concerts.
Then there's the 2006 CNN poll, which placed "YHMB" at the top of the heap when it comes to all-time bad songs.
The National Organization for Women gave Anka the satiric "Keep Her in Her Place" award during "its annual putdown of male chauvinism" in the media on Women's Equality Day. Ms. Magazine "awarded" Anka their "Male Chauvinistic Pig of the Year" award.
All that, yet the song achieved great commercial success.
One of the lines from the song that took some heat stated that while the woman could have "swept it from [her] life" (abortion), she hadn't because it was "a wonderful way of showing how much she loves him" In response to feminists, Anka said the song was "a love song".
The song is typical 1970s shlock---a syrupy melody and an arrangement that screams lounge singer.
But it topped the charts, 36 years ago today.
Perhaps no Paul Anka quote is more appropriate for this discussion than the following.
"I believe in criticism," he once said.
And he's gotten a ton of it, for a song he probably innocently wrote over three decades ago.
Friday, August 20, 2010
Sonny Eliot owned Detroit weather TV in the 1960s and '70s. He was the first of the goofy weathermen---the kind who just as soon tell a corn pone joke as they would give you the day's temp and humidity.
Eliot wove his groaners and homespun wit into his weathercasts seamlessly. His delivery was like a silver ball in a pinball machine on warp drive, bouncing and ricocheting off each town's current condition frenetically. Every couple of minutes Sonny would come up for air and tell us a joke.
"It's 42 degrees today in Manchester, where a man made a killing in the stock market---he murdered his broker."
Sonny also combined the day's weather into one nonsensical word.
"Today it was cloudy and breezy---cleezy kind of weather," Eliot would say as he wrote the new word vertically down the map of Michigan---in chalk. Sonny was still a chalk guy when the other blow-drieds in town began opting for fancy-shmancy electronic gizmos.
But one day, someone in the upper management of Channel 4 decided it would further Sonny's shtick if he did the weather outside, on the roof of the station's headquarters downtown.
Naturally, this decision occurred in the wintertime.
So there was Sonny, in a topcoat, jamming his chalk hand into his coat pocket to keep it warm between writing down the temps on the Michigan map. His nose was red and you could see his breath.
Why we had to see Sonny Eliot perform outside is a mystery that I'm afraid will never be solved.
It was needless and added nothing to the weather segments. If anything, it took away.
Reminds me of what someone once said about France.
"Going to war without France is like going deer hunting without an accordion."
The Sonny Outside Experiment didn't last long, thankfully. They put the poor guy indoors before long.
Eliot doing his thing; note the word "clilly" on the map
In his heyday on Detroit's airwaves, Sonny Eliot did the TV weather on channel 2---and then channel 4---at 6 and 11 Mondays thru Fridays, hosted "At the Zoo with Sonny Eliot" on Saturdays, and did weather updates on WWJ radio during the weekdays. He continued the WWJ segments twice a day for years after retiring from TV.
Not bad for a former fighter pilot during WWII.
But the Eliot/outside thing unfortunately portended the future.
Nothing, and I mean NOTHING---short of a presidential assassination attempt, heaven forbid---gets TV news teams more excited than stormy weather.
They love the tornadoes and blizzards and lightning and high winds. They even love just the threat of all that stuff. Mention that there might be some rough weather coming our way and the TV news management people's eyes light up and their salivary glands start working overtime.
Cue the poor slob doing his stand-up report amid 50 mph winds and sleet. Break out the satellite maps. Start conducting man-on-the-street pieces, asking painfully stupid questions.
Look, weather is important. I don't mean to suggest that it isn't. Anything that literally affects every human being, one way or another, is relevant.
But TV news people treat daunting weather as if they, well, enjoy daunting weather. Let's just say that when a severe thunderstorm is on its way, it's not only the winds that get stiff.
I'm an adult and I'm smart enough to know when the weather is getting bad. I don't need to see a news correspondent standing in the thick of it, his or her eyes barely able to stay open for all the snow, dust and debris in them, to get the picture.
At least the folks at channel 4 had the sense to bring Sonny Eliot back inside before the weather got too inclement.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
It was there, nearly 50 years ago (gulp), where presidential candidate John F. Kennedy stood and delivered a speech late in the evening of October 14, 1960. There were only a few weeks to go before the election. And Kennedy was tired and haggard after whirlwind campaigning.
But he wasn't too tired to go public for the first time with his vision of an organization that would encourage recent college grads to serve their country overseas as voluntary missionaries.
It was called the Peace Corps, and JFK first stumped for it while in Ann Arbor, running a neck-and-neck race with Vice President Richard Nixon.
There's doubts that Kennedy was the very first individual to concoct the premise of the Peace Corps, a volunteer program run by the Federal Government. Minnesota Senator Hubert Humphrey, for example, introduced a bill in 1957 that would have established a program very similar to what ended up becoming the Peace Corps.
So what is the Peace Corps, exactly?
From its Wikipedia page:
Each program participant, or Peace Corps Volunteer, is an American citizen who commits to working abroad in an assignment for the organization for a period of twenty four months after three months of training. Generally, the work to be performed is related to international development. Specialties include education, business, information technology, agriculture, and the environment.
Kennedy won the 1960 election, of course, and signed Executive Order 10924 on March 4, 1961, officially establishing the Peace Corps.
Nixon, by the way, railed against the Peace Corps idea on the campaign trail. One of his gripes is that it would become a "haven" for draft dodgers.
President Kennedy greeting Peace Corps volunteers on August 28, 1961
JFK tabbed his brother-in-law, Sargent Shriver, as the Peace Corps' first director.
In just under six years as director, Shriver developed programs in 55 countries with more than 14,500 volunteers.
I've been to the spot where Kennedy stood and first spoke of the Peace Corps. Apparently the late night speech was rather impromptu and was delivered to a less-than-huge crowd of people.
But it's kind of cool that something so historically significant happened in such an intimate location in such an off-the-cuff manner.
Oh, and Kennedy addressed the Peace Corps idea in his inauguration speech on January 20, 1961. Perhaps you've heard the words, which were in reference to the program.
"And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country"
Monday, August 16, 2010
We're texting, talking on the phone, shaving, putting on makeup. Driving falls somewhere in the middle of the pack.
I like what we used to do in our cars---like eating (when the car is parked) and watching movies with speakers hanging on the windows.
The Woodward Dream Cruise is this weekend, so it's impossible not to turn on the wayback machine.
They ran rampant in the 1950s and '60s---drive-ins of both food and cinema.
Woodward was one of the main providers of the greasy spoons at which you'd park and a gum-chewing, sassy girl would take your order. Maybe she was on roller skates.
But other main thoroughfares were drive-in havens: Gratiot, Groesbeck, Jefferson.
Now, all you can muster for a drive-in food fix is the occasional A&W or the newish Sonic locations.
If you wanted dinner AND a movie, you could do that in your car as well; but the drive-in theaters are pretty much gone, too.
I missed the cruising by a hair; I grew up in the '70s, and didn't start driving until 1979. By then, cruising was fading fast. But it sounds like fun: zooming up and down a busy pike, windows rolled down, flirting and having a good old time.
Then, when your stomach growled, you pulled in to any one of many joints where you could eat in your buggy.
I was able to enjoy a couple drive-in eateries as a child: the Big Boy at the southwest corner of Plymouth and Farmington Roads in Livonia, and Daly's at Merriman and Plymouth. They're both still there, but the Big Boy hasn't been a drive-in for years. You can still eat in your car at Daly's---home of the foot long Daly Dog coney.
"Get the Daly Habit!," it still screams on all their bags and containers.
I remember eating fish and chips from Big Boy in the car, back when they served it in a basket lined with faux newsprint from the U.K. to give it that "genuine" British fish and chips feel.
Menus on stands with speakers at every parking space, under a large awning; what a cool concept.
I still go to Daly's, by the way---usually when we visit my mother in Livonia. She likes it, too. Always has.
It's good food at a low price, and it's filling and hearty.
Another cool concept.
Friday, August 13, 2010
He didn't write about the city, he squeezed his heart about it onto the page.
Cantor's Detroit glass was always half-full. At times he may have appeared as a fish out of water, because he was a golly-gee-whiz guy in a f*** you town.
Cantor, the former Detroit Free Press and News reporter and columnist, died today at age 69. Cause of death wasn't revealed in a story that appeared in the News.
I first grew to know Cantor as him having been a 27-year-old reporter who covered the Tigers for The News during the World Series year of 1968. That was also the year of a newspaper strike in Detroit. I found it very cool that someone of Cantor's age could be in the middle of such a glorious sports story, even if for many weeks, no newspapers rolled off the presses.
Cantor also wrote several books, more than one about the Tigers.
Cantor was a Detroiter from head to toe, having grown up in town and attending Wayne State University. He began his journalism career at the tender age of 22, reporting for the Free Press starting in 1963.
Wire to Wire, one of Cantor's several books about the Tigers, told the story of the 1984 World Series team
I also enjoyed catching Cantor on TV, where he'd provide occasional commentary, whether on sports or on social issues. His demeanor was laid back, bordering on goofy. His voice was like the actor Jerry Mathers', who still has a touch of The Beaver in him to this day.
Cantor was disarming but he was no less outspoken. He wrote a Saturday column for The News where he weighed in on local issues.
"He was a high-class reporter. Whatever he did, he did a good job at," said Pete Waldmeir, a former News columnist and longtime friend. "He was a very talented writer. He could handle any assignment you gave him. He was very low on ego. He was just an all-around good guy."
Cantor also experienced deep personal tragedy; his daughter Courtney died from a fall out of a window at the University of Michigan.
Even in that time of personal grief, Cantor never fully took off his journalism hat.
When photos appeared in the paper of his daughter's funeral---taken with a telephoto lens from across the street, Cantor's reaction wasn't that he felt intruded upon.
"When I saw those pictures in the paper, my first reaction was those are great shots," he said.
Cantor retired from daily journalism in 2003. Afterward, he taught sports writing at Oakland University and began writing a series of Michigan travel books.
George Cantor was a button-downed version of the late Bob Talbert, who was another who wore the city (and the Tigers) on his sleeve.
"(Cantor) was a great font of Detroit lore," said Jeff Hadden, a News editorial writer.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Aniston has drawn the ire of Fox TV's Bill O'Reilly, among others, for comments she made while promoting her new movie, "Switch."
English is the head football coach at Eastern Michigan University. He raised some eyebrows with comments he made to the Detroit News last week.
Why would a meeting of the minds of a Hollywood actor and a college football coach make for some interesting discussion?
Simple: opposites attract, and make for some lively debate.
Aniston, in a nutshell, could take or leave men---when it comes to starting and raising a family.
English, in a nutshell, overzealously believes a father figure is critical to a boy's upbringing, especially if that boy wants to play college football.
Here's Aniston, promoting "Switch," in which she plays a single woman who chooses to start a family via artificial insemination.
"Women are realizing more and more that you don't have to settle, they don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child," she said. "They are realizing if it's that time in their life and they want this part they can do it with or without that."
O'Reilly blew a gasket.
"Jennifer Aniston can hire a battery of people to help her. But she can't hire a dad. Dads bring a psychology to children that in this society is under emphasized. Men get hosed all day long in the parental arena," he ranted.
"Any man who leaves their children is not a man. Let's make that perfectly clear. But the fathers that do try hard are under appreciated and diminished by people like Jennifer Aniston," O'Reilly continued.
English (top) and Aniston made an odd but topical pairing recently
Now here's English, in an interview with the Detroit News, talking about recruiting.
"We wanted guys that had a father in their background. A guy that's raised by his mom all the time, and please don't take me wrong, but the reality is that you've got to teach that guy how to be taught by a man."
If English was the football coach at a relevant program, his words would have made national headlines.
See why I think Aniston-English would make fun dinner guests?
No matter where you come down on the whole single parent thing, there's no mistaking that both Aniston and English are overstating their views. Their intentions may be good---Aniston's to prop up husband-less women, and English's to respect the role of a father figure---but both went too far.
The more level-headed view, as usual, lies somewhere in the middle.
It's foolish to dismiss the role of a father to a child's development, as Aniston appears to be doing. But it's also a disservice to single moms to say that they can't raise boys who can be "taught by men," as English did.
We (I hope) can all agree that a household with a strong two-parent presence is best for any child/children. And I'd like to also think that the lack thereof shouldn't be the death knell for our kids.
Jennifer Aniston and Ron English---in the same sentence, and in the same blog post.
Who would have thought?
Aniston bit back at O'Reilly after I posted this.
"Of course, the ideal scenario for parenting is obviously two parents of a mature age. Parenting is one of the hardest jobs on earth," Aniston told PEOPLE Magazine exclusively. "And, of course, many women dream of finding Prince Charming (with fatherly instincts), but for those who've not yet found their Bill O'Reilly, I'm just glad science has provided a few other options."
Monday, August 9, 2010
"More Couples Opt For Friendly Divorce," the headline said. The sub-headline added, "Kids are the primary beneficiaries of amicable splits---and it's cheaper."
Aww, that's sweet. How thoughtful!
The bottom line, according to the story written by Karina Bland:
Some of today's divorcing couples, who as kids in the '80s witnessed some wretched family separations as bitter as the movie "War of the Roses," are vowing to do it differently. Even if their own parents didn't divorce, many kids saw how hard it was on their friends.
So more couples are opting for a friendly divorce, whether through mediation, collaboration or even do-it-yourself kits. The majority of couples choosing friendly divorces are those with children.
The story went on to rave about how chummy the exes are with each other, and how they did it all for the kids. There were examples of ex-hubbies staying in ex-wives' vacation homes, and how divorcing couples sat at the same side of the table to divvy up the goods, so that little Timmy or Suzie wouldn't be as traumatized.
More from Bland's story:
This new kind of divorced mom and dad might attend parent-teacher conferences together, work jointly to get one kid to Little League and the other to piano lessons---even if it's not technically their visitation day---and share calendars electronically so Dad can arrange to take the kids when Mom's out of town on business.
"It just seems much more humane and friendly," says John Jarvis, 54, who admits that his staying at his ex-wife's house when he visits his daughter, Hannah, in Chandler does raise some eyebrows.
I get the desire to make awkward things as un-awkward as possible, especially when there are innocents involved.
But nowhere in Bland's story did it mention anything about a little thing called KEEPING MARRIAGES TOGETHER.
This whole "friendly divorce" thing is a classic double-edged sword.
I fear we're making it too easy to choose divorce, as opposed to working on marriages that could be saved.
The "friendlier" and easier-to-swallow divorces get, the more the incentive to stay married dwindles.
As you might have guessed by now, I am the child of divorced parents. I'm also an only child. My father passed away in 1996 (he re-married about a year after the divorce, in 1978), and my mother is still with us (she never re-married, but had a committed relationship to a man for many years).
I'm lucky in the sense that my parents probably had themselves a "friendly" divorce, though the term may have been rarely used back in 1977. There were no spats, no custody battles, no "this is mine, that's yours" tiffs over material things. My father stayed with me shortly after the split while my mother went on a cruise. Conversely, my mother loaned my father cash for a down payment on his new home with his new wife.
It don't get much friendlier than that, folks.
But as friendly as they were to each other, there was still one unshakable fact: they were just as divorced as the couples who went the nasty, unfriendly route.
Kids want their parents together. Period. Does this mean that every marriage can be saved? Of course not. But by making the trial of divorce all nicey-nicey, it makes it easier to go down that path rather than put in the work to save things.
And let's face it: who knows how many marriages that end up in divorce could have been saved with some hard work and commitment?
With the "friendly divorce," now we'll especially never know.
The aforementioned John Jarvis and his soon-to-be-ex, Elenore Long, sat side by side across the table from the lawyer and, together, they came up with some financial solutions and custody arrangements.
"It's not that the conversation didn't get lively and emotional, but with a mediator at the table, we kept coming back to 'What's best for Hannah?' " Long, 46, says of the couple's 13-year-old daughter. "It really asked us to be our best selves rather than our petty selves."
Ahh, "What's best for Hannah."
What's best for Hannah is probably her parents staying married.
What can be "friendlier" than that?
I get a sneaking suspicion that friendly divorces are appealing to the lazy and to the resigned. And to the selfish.
But hey---as long as it was easy and friendly, right?
For the parents.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
If you have a pulse and have any inclination to vote for who should be the next governor of the State of Michigan, it won't be acceptable to hem and haw and scuffle your feet and be wishy-washy about the matter.
This isn't Coke vs. Pepsi. Not McDonald's vs. Burger King.
It's not even apples vs. oranges, because if you like fruit, you might choose one of each.
This is Virg Bernero vs. Rick Snyder for the governorship of Michigan, 2011-2015.
Or, rather, it's loud vs. soft. Labor vs. big business. Coffee black vs. with cream and sugar. Paper vs. plastic.
This is beyond Democrat vs. Republican. These aren't even similar men.
When you go to the polls on November 2, there may as well be some ushers greeting you, asking if your affiliation is with "the angry mayor" or "the nerd."
No in between this time.
This is John Engler vs. Geoffrey Fieger, 1998, but less comical.
In one corner is Bernero, Mayor of Lansing---the loud, abrasive, relentless Italian who'll never tire of telling you about himself and his agenda.
In the other is businessman Snyder, who's making his first foray into politics, and who when he needs more money, simply goes outside his house and picks some more off the trees.
Big labor vs. big business. It's like Walter Reuther running against Henry Ford.
Snyder (left) and Bernero: Pick one
It has to be more than that, however. Stephen Henderson, a pretty bright guy over at the Free Press, correctly pointed out that Bernero, especially, needs to fine tune his message in order to broaden his reach.
Henderson reminded us that indications are that Snyder was able to bring some Democrats into his tent, along with some independents. This race might be determined by which candidate can best poach the other's lukewarm supporters.
A primary campaign can almost be 180 degrees from its general election counterpart. It's one thing to fight off others from within your own party---quite another to make yourself attractive to those outside your comfort zone.
Bernero is the bull in the china shop. Snyder is the owner of the china shop.
So don't you dare tell me, come November 1, that you have no idea who you're voting for tomorrow. That's not going to fly this time.
They've laid the choices out to you in about as polarizing a manner as possible. The chasm is too wide for any fence on which to sit.
Monday, August 2, 2010
Forget buses. Every city has buses. I'm talking about honest-to-goodness mass transit that puts a city on the cutting edge.
Detroit has no such animal, and it's quite simple why that is.
Detroit is the Motor City. We put America on wheels. We love our cars. We don't even like to car pool; you think we're going to espouse mass transit that could harm auto sales?
I've long fantasized about a train that would take you from the foot of Hart Plaza to the tony suburbs of Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills, with dozens of stops in between.
But I knew that "fantasized" was the key word, because anything that would discourage the use of the automobile, read: wear and tear, thus necessitating the purchase of a new car, would be buried as a pie-in-the-sky idea.
That pie is about to fall to Earth.
The first hurdle has been cleared for Detroit to start working on its brand new light rail system that would run along Woodward Avenue. Phase I would begin construction in 2011 and would run from Jefferson to West Grand Boulevard (about 3.4 miles), and Phase II would carry the rail all the way to 8 Mile Road, and would be completed by 2016.
Mayor Bing's Administration says the project could create as many as 10,000 jobs.
The hurdle was the federal government pledging to conduct an environmental impact study required for the plan to move forward.
The project is expected to cost about $450 million. So far, $125 million in private and public funds have been raised to complete the first phase of the project with the hope that the federal government will pick up much of the rest.
A sample of what a light rail train in Detroit might look like
The Woodward Light Rail Project would contain several stops along the way, including Wayne State University, Tech Town, Detroit Medical Center, Campus Martius Park, College for Creative Studies, the State Fairgrounds and the New Center/ Henry Ford Hospital area.
This is very exciting news.
This may seem cosmetic to some, but to be a world-class city, as Detroit claims to want to be, and to be more attractive and competitive when it comes to landing conventions and other business, having light rail in place is a huge step toward that goal.
It separates Detroit from other wannabes.
Not to mention the jobs the project will create, and the bounce back for local businesses.
Mayor Bing said, "If you've visited other cities as I have to see the impact of light rail, you see the development that it generates is equally important to the convenient transportation that it provides."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who was in Detroit Friday for President Obama's tours of auto plants and subsequent speeches, said this light rail project will become a "model for the country" given the public and private partnership to raise funds for the project to see that it gets completed.
"Projects like this cannot be done just with public dollars," LaHood told the press. "This will become a model for the country: public-private partnerships, foundations coming together with the state, the city, the entire delegation around the idea that if you build it they will come. I believe that."
So Detroit's finally on board---pun intended.
It's about damn time.