Friday, July 27, 2012

Johnny Dangerously?

The Greatest Actor Alive Today has played an effeminate pirate; John Dillinger; an undercover Fed trying to bust the mob; a young man with scissors for fingers; the Mad Hatter; and that's just for starters.

What he hasn't done, despite all that range and the sometimes cartoon-like qualities of the characters he's portrayed, is sparked a whole lot of controversy.

Johnny Depp, The Greatest Actor Alive Today, will be appearing as Tonto in a new Disney movie about the Lone Ranger. It's a Jerry Bruckheimer project. And while that has many Deppophiles licking their chops, it has one group a little on edge.

Those would be the Native Americans, a segment of whom have been a little queasy ever since Bruckheimer Tweeted a photo of Depp in his Tonto garb, complete with face paint, feathers, the whole shot.

"The moment it hit my Facebook newsfeed, the updates from my friends went nutso," wrote Natanya Ann Pulley, a doctorate student at University of Utah, in an essay for the online magazine McSweeney's.
According to the Associated Press, for Pulley and her friends, the portrayal of Native Americans in Western movies is getting old.
"I'm worried about the Tonto figure becoming a parody or a commercialized figure that doesn't have any dimension or depth. Or consideration for contemporary context of Native Americans," she said.

What's funny is that Depp has played so many different characters in so much scene-chewing glory but has never really brought the ire of any particular group.

Until now---maybe.

Just because some Native Americans have a problem with Tonto's return to the big screen, that doesn't mean Bruckheimer and Depp have alienate the entire brethren.

According to the AP, in New Mexico, where some of the movie was filmed, the Navajo presented Depp, his co-star Armie Hammer, director Gore Verbinski and Bruckheimer with Pendleton blankets to welcome them to their land. Elsewhere, the Comanche people of Oklahoma made Depp, one of Hollywood's most bankable stars, an honorary member.
"In my niece's mind, I met Jack Sparrow," said Emerald Dahozy, spokeswoman for Navajo President Ben Shelly and a member of the Navajo group who met with Depp. "My personal view, I like him playing in a character which he can embody well."

There's also the matter of Depp being perhaps the most likable big box office star in recent memory---maybe ever.

Depp as Tonto in the 2013 Disney version of "The Lone Ranger"; Armie Hammer is the Lone Ranger

Stories abound of his generosity, with everyone from autograph seekers to curious kids who've commiserated with him on movie sets. He has sent them gifts, appeared at their school functions, and been just an all-around nice guy.

So maybe Depp's nice guy image off screen will soften any indignation or blowback from his portrayal of Tonto---if there's any necessary to begin with. Those who decry the film may change their mind once they actually see it.

The AP reports that Depp has said the film will be a "sort of rock 'n' roll version of the Lone Ranger" with his Tonto offering a different take from the 1950s show.

That would appear to be a step in the right direction, right there---for those worried of any over-the-top stereotyping.

The film is slated for a 2013 release, and the cost is already at $200 million---before all the marketing costs.

Gyasi Ross, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana who lives and has family in the Suquamish Tribe, outside Seattle, said, "I'm not sure how much redefining I'm going to expect, not sure how much of the movie will be something I can show my son."

Maybe he'll be pleasantly surprised.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Would YOU Do?

The question goes like this: "What would YOU do for a Klondike bar?"

I'm not sure what I would do, exactly, but I'd do some things.

I'd do some things, because there is something wonderfully simple yet with largesse about a Klondike bar.

You know what a Klondike bar is, right? It's that block of vanilla ice cream generously covered in chocolate, wrapped by hand, it seems, in foil.

When eaten immediately out of the freezer, before it gets a chance to get remotely soft, is the best way to eat a Klondike.

They have different flavors, but I think I like the old fashioned vanilla the best.

They come in packages of six and I start to get sad as early as when the third one gets lifted from the freezer, for that means it won't be long before we're out of Klondikes.

Mrs. Eno doesn't buy Klondikes every week, and that's a good thing, because absence makes the stomach grow fonder.

Klondikes wouldn't make me nearly as happy if they were constantly in the freezer, as counterintuitive as that sounds.

There's a ceetain degree of excitement that I get when I see that a package of Klondikes has made its way into one of the grocery bags that come home.

I know this sounds like a paid advertisement (I wish!), but there really is no generic version of a Klondike, so there you have it---I have to use the name.

So why am I glorifying the Klondike today?

There are two left in our freezer, and I noticed them again today. It got me to thinking about the aforementioned jingle, which in my mind is one of the best advertising campaigns ever created.

The question is apt.

"What WOULD you do for a Klondike bar?"

Because they're just so gosh darn good.

Ask yourself the question, if you enjoy a Klondike as much as I do (which is doubtful, but even if you're close, that's OK).

What would you do for one?

If a Klondike bar was just out of your reach, and the person who could retrieve it for you asked you to perform some sort of a task in order to get it, what would your limitations be?

It's a question meant to be taken seriously, now!

You can eat a Klondike with your fingers and you don't have to rush. A firmly frozen brick will last a good five minutes before getting too soft---or before it disappears, whichever comes first.

My Klondikes never get soft.

So what would I do for a Klondike bar?

Just try holding one out of my reach if you want to find out. I dare you.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Why (this time)?

So add going to the movies as the latest in the list of perilous activities in this country.

That list includes walking down the street, filling up your gas tank, standing in line at the fast food joint, attending school, sitting at your desk at work, enjoying a picnic, driving down the freeway, and watching TV in your living room.

The tragic shooting in Colorado last night at a screening of the latest Batman movie again underscores, as if we needed it, that nowhere are we truly safe.

The examples listed in the second paragraph are, off the top of my head, activities that people were engaged in when they were shot, either in a mass shooting, a drive by, by a serial killer or something in between.

James Holmes, 24, is a former med student and he is in custody now as the alleged shooter. As I write this, 12 have perished and nearly 40 are wounded. All at the hands of one man---who was armed as if he was ready to go to war.

Maybe he was, in his twisted mind. Certainly, dressed as he was with a bullet proof vest and wearing a gas mask, one might get that idea.

Holmes is the exception, in that when these horrific crimes occur, typically the shooter doesn't make it out alive; he either shoots himself or is killed by police.

So at least there might be some gratification in dissecting his mind to find out the answer to the only real question that matters, and the only one people want the answer to forthwith.


That is a question that doesn't necessarily produce closure or satisfaction, even when the perpetrator is alive to answer it. You think the families of the victims of the Manson Murders feel good about what Charlie said after being apprehended?

Holmes, police and witness accounts say, released a canister apparently filled with tear gas and just started shooting, into a crowded theater. He was armed with a shotgun, a rifle, and two handguns. And his canister.

Reports were that explosives might be found in his apartment, whose building was evacuated.

So it's another male shooter, armed to the gills, with military-like gear, turning an everyday civilian activity into a horror movie.

No, you can't even go to the movies anymore.

The truth is, you can do whatever you want and 99.999% of the time, nothing will happen to you like what happened to those 12 poor victims last night in Colorado.

The truth is, we might feel squeamish about going to the movies for a brief period, but then forget about all that and enjoy the experience just as before.

The truth is, we really do feel safe most of the time. Until something like this happens, and we get a little nervous. But then it goes away.

Until the next time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Mystery Solved! (Quickly)

Donald Sobol knew his audience.

Sobol, who passed away the other day at age 87, wrote the Encyclopedia Brown mini mysteries for decades, which engrossed adolescent boys (mainly) with the adventures of Leroy Brown, aka Encyclopedia, who was the son of the police chief in the fictional town of Idaville.

Encyclopedia solved mysteries, and he did it in short order, both in terms of time and in pages.

I was a fervent reader of the EB series as a kid, and I fit Sobol's demographic perfectly; i.e. I wasn't exactly the most patient boy around, nor did I have the comprehension to "solve" a mystery that lasted much longer than five or six pages.

Sobol knew that I was not the exception, and so he made sure his EB mysteries didn't last long enough for the reader to lose interest.

That's pretty much how long, in terms of pages, each Brown mystery lasted. The boy detective often would begin his "investigation" at the family dinner table, and sometimes just closing his eyes and thinking for a couple minutes did the trick.

The "crimes", of course, were of the petty variety; many bordered on being nothing more than pranks, often committed by Leroy's fellow kids or an occasional unscrupulous adult.

The hook in every mini mystery was that Sobol would drop clues within the narrative that the reader, if sharp-eyed enough, could easily identify and thus solve the case. The back of the book gave the answers.

I found myself turning to the back probably more often than I should have.

I didn't have the patience, not because the stories bored me but quite the opposite: I couldn't wait to read the next one.

Oh, how I read those Brown books, borrowed from the local or school libraries. I gobbled those things up.

Sometimes I'd even channel Leroy and actually figure out the mistake the bad guy (or girl) made, and the turning to the back of the book was done to confirm my findings.

But mostly I read them quickly, made a cursory look through the pages, and if something didn't jump out at me, off to the answer I went.

I remember one clue was that a letter supposedly written by an adult that would exonerate Leroy's suspect was dated June 31.

Get it?

Sobol was more than the author of the Brown series. He started in 1959 with something called Two Minute Mysteries, which were grown up crimes solved by a Dr. Haledjian. Then, in the early-1960s, Sobol decide to write for an audience with short attention spans, and Encyclopedia Brown was born.

Sobol also penned non-fiction pieces, often under different names.

But nothing will identify Sobol's legacy more than Leroy Brown and his friend Sally Kimball and arch enemy Bugs Meany.

To give you an idea of how non-violent and passive Leroy was, Sally was his bodyguard---the one kid who would stand up to the bully Bugs.

Reading Sobol's mini mysteries was unlike anything else I read. The books weren't long novels, and the answers weren't like anything found in a puzzle book. The series was a perfect amalgam of fiction and fun.

And they didn't last too long. Even now, I type Leroy.

Why? Because I'm too impatient to spell out Encyclopedia.

Sobol knew me and my kind well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Silence, Please!

Do we have so much more to say to each other in the digital age, or is the digital age tricking us into thinking that we do?

Did we talk to each other as much as we appear to do nowadays, before there were cell phones to blab into?

If we did, then our every spare moment must have been spent in conversation.

I'm sorry, but I don't remember that. So I suspect something else.

Who is everyone talking to on their mobile phones? And what are they talking about?

And, most importantly, why is there so much to say in the freaking car?

I would have thought that, by now---well over 20 years since people began acquiring mobile phones---the novelty of yakking into a phone while driving would have worn off.

Apparently not.

Chances are that the next time you see an ill-advised move on the road by a fellow driver, or tardiness in responding to a green light, the offender has a cell phone pressed against his or her ear.

And it's happening a lot---seemingly even more than just a few years ago.

My question is a simple one, really: What is everyone talking about? And why can't it wait?

OK, so I guess that's two questions---not that the blabbermouths are counting; they're too distracted by blabbermouthing.

I think cell phones are a wonderful invention. They truly save lives and provide communication where there normally wouldn't be any---and usually that's a good thing. But not always.

What is there to say to someone when you're driving? I mean, that can't wait until you arrive at your destination?

I sometimes speak into a phone while driving but the conversations are so brief as to be harmless.

"I'm on my way!"

"I'm almost there!"

And that's only because we have an epileptic dog who sometimes gets too excited when his family comes home. Hence the telephoned warnings.

I speak into one at the grocery store sometimes.

"What did you say I should get, again?"

Stuff like that.

I don't carry on private conversations in public that last much longer than the time it takes to read this sentence.

Sadly, I seem to be in the minority in my humility in that regard.

People don't seem to care what you hear anymore---no matter how private.

I remember having a dinner at a Chinese restaurant several years ago with my wife and daughter. It was a quiet, intimate place. And seated in the booth behind us was this blowhard.

For 15-20 minutes, he rambled on into his phone, so much so that you'd have thought there was someone seated across from him---except that we heard it as a one-way conversation.

His conversation---I don't remember the details but it was loud and had NOTHING to do with us---literally ruined our meal, because he was the only thing we could hear. It was impossible to ignore him.

I just don't know why people are on their mobile phones so much in public. Again, I thought we were beyond that as a status symbol and a novelty.

It's not that I don't care what you have to say when it has nothing to do with me. It's that YOU don't care that I don't care. And that you don't have the shame and humility to realize what you're sharing in public.

And it's a great distraction while operating a motor vehicle---these montonous, digital age conversations.

What's so important?

Can't you put your phone down for a minute and tell me?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Remembering Ernie Borgnine

(in honor of the passing of actor Ernest Borgnine the other day at age 95, here is a piece I wrote about him on October 14, 2010)

The Importance of Being Ernest

The eyebrows have long ago gone gray but are still as bushy as the Serengeti. The nose is bulbous, the smile as gap-toothed as ever. The voice still sounds like it's coming out of a cement mixer.

Ernie Borgnine was never an attractive man, unless you're one of those who like creatures that are so ugly that they're cute, like a koala bear.

Yet here Borgnine is, 93 and still we see his mug on the big screen.

Borgnine is one of those actors who was always old. "McHale's Navy" debuted almost 50 years ago and Ernie looked old then.

It's been 55 years since Borgnine made his mark in the film "Marty," in which he played the title character, a warm-hearted butcher who was also a shameless mama's boy. The film was an adaptation of the great teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky and earned Borgnine the Academy Award for Best Actor---beating out the likes of Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Cagney and Spencer Tracy, no less.

From then, Borgnine made a living in film playing rough-and-tumble characters in movies like "The Dirty Dozen," "Ice Station Zebra," "The Flight of the Phoenix," and "The Vikings."

Never more rough-and-tumble was he than in Sam Peckinpah's "The Wild Bunch" in 1969, where he famously played Dutch, one of the bunch.

Kids of my generation were likely introduced to Borgnine by watching "McHale's Navy," a TV comedy (1962-66) that featured an all-star ensemble cast, with Borgnine playing gruff Lt. Commander Quinton McHale. The role earned Borgnine an Emmy nomination.

Fun fact: "McHale's Navy" started as a one-hour serious episode called "Seven Against the Sea" for the "Alcoa Premiere."

Borgnine also played legendary football coach Vince Lombardi in a TV movie, and Ernie was likely the only actor available who didn't require makeup artists to recreate Lombardi's gapped front teeth.

Borgnine was also married VERY briefly---we're talking about one month---to singer Ethel Merman, which I didn't know until I looked it up.

Why all the love for Ernie Borgnine today? Two reasons.

Number one, Borgnine is in the new film "RED," starring Bruce Willis, Morgan Freeman, John Malkovich, and the still stunning Helen Mirren. The movie opens on October 15.

Second, the Screen Actors Guild announced in August that it will be honoring Ernie on January 30, 2011 during the Academy Awards Show with a Lifetime Achievement Award.

I'd say he's due. After all, as recently as 2009 Borgnine was still earning award nominations; he was recognized for a guest appearance on "ER" with an Emmy nomination. He was 92.

Borgnine is still feisty. Tired of being asked about the key to his longevity, Borgnine said during a TV interview recently that he stays young by masturbating twice daily. You heard me.

"I answered that question one time on Fox News," Borgnine told WENN. "This fella kept bothering me all morning: 'What do you do to keep yourself so worked up?' Finally, I got sick and got tired and I forgot that I was miked. I reached over and replied, 'I masturbate a lot!'

"I'll tell ya, everybody dropped on the floor. They couldn't believe it: 'At 93, what the hell?' Listen, hey who cares?"

But seriously, folks, Borgnine does have a secret, sort of, for still doing it seven years shy of 100.

"I keep active but I'm the laziest man in the world," he says. "If I don't have to move I don't move. I also gave up meat about 35 years ago."

Ernie Borgnine, a national treasure who'll finally get his props in January.

I know I'll be watching.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Sending the Wrong Message?

It's not rocket science to declare that, when running as a presidential incumbent, it's better to run on a campaign of "Look what I did", instead of "Just give me a little more time," i.e. four years.

It's looking like President Obama has been opting for the latter option.

It's said that people vote for president from the inside out, meaning that they assess their own personal situation first, before they consider any state, national or international consequences.

Makes sense. Taking care of Number 1 isn't necessarily a selfish, arrogant thing to do. Who else is going to do it?

The latest jobs numbers came out, and for Obama, less than four months away from Election Day, they could be better.

Just 80,000 jobs added in June. Unemployment rate stubbornly remaining at 8.2%. Economic experts suggesting that the brief recovery may have already petered out.

It's the economy, stupid. Isn't it?

It hardly matters that the president, in reality, has limited influence, by himself, over the national economy and jobs creation. It takes a village to raise an economic child, re: Congress, the states, and the Executive Branch.

But as Harry Truman espoused, "The buck stops here." Obama will, rightly or wrongly, take the hit if the jobs numbers remain sluggish come fall.

The economy, frankly, is the only thing that is preventing the dynamic president from trouncing the stiff, less-than-brilliant, hoof-in-mouth Republican nominee, Mitt Romney.

Obama has, so far, been forced to run a campaign that is a little more defensive than he would prefer. OK, maybe a LOT more defensive. The president is at his best when he's on the attack, being proactive and framing a vision.

Then again, isn't any candidate?

Obama, in 2008, was the attack dog, going after George W. Bush and assailing the president on his eight-year track record, and then doing a wonderful job in casting John McCain as someone who would simply be a Bush in McCain clothing.

It was a campaign filled with enthusiasm, vision, and that four-letter political word, hope.

2012 sees a much different Obama---one that doesn't resonate as well and one who isn't in his comfort zone.

Obama, until now, hasn't really ever had to defend anything, politically. His has been a career of looking forward and asking that Bobby Kennedy question (as channeled by Teddy), "Why not?"

Now, Obama must ask a bastardized version of that.

"Why not give me another term?"

The president talking to patrons at an Ohio diner, on the campaign trail

It's a question he doesn't relish, and not just because the answers he will get are liable to be plentiful and soaked with battery acid.

It's a question born of weakness, and Obama has never been about weakness in any political campaign.

The message that Obama and his campaign people ought to be drilling into the skulls of American voters, especially the so-called independent ones, is very simple.

Stay the course.

Now THAT can be a message filled with courage, determination and mettle.

Just think of the metaphors, some of them encapsulated in great moments in history.

The first that comes to mind is the brave ship captain, insisting his crew plow forward, because past these storms are blue skies, dry land and a bounty.

It takes more courage and guile, sometimes, to stay the course than to veer off at the first sign of trouble.

The second part of the message is to clearly identify why staying the course is wise instead of stubborn.

But that's it, basically. Obama needs to convince the majority of the electorate that his way is best, despite the seemingly gloomy June jobs numbers.

He needs to stop defending and start defining.

There's a difference, you know.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

It's Mourning in Mayberry

When you think about it, there aren't too many people who are traipsing around this country who are beloved by the rest of us who are traipsing.

I use "beloved" deliberately because that's the buzzword in the wake of the death of actor and musician Andy Griffith, who passed away earlier today at 86.

Even President Obama, who came out with a statement today about Griffith, used the b-word.

There've been other words of praise, including an obituary I read online that said when you say Andy Griffith, you're basically saying a mouthful about Americana.

Was Griffith, best known for two roles---Sheriff Andy Taylor and lawyer Ben Matlock---truly beloved?

Let's just say that you'd be hard-pressed to find a TV actor who burrowed his way into as many generations and other demographics as Andy Griffith.

It didn't matter how young or old you were, whether you were male or female, whether you were married or single, whether you hailed from the country or were a city slicker. Didn't matter if you liked sports or fishing or classic cars or lemonade.

It didn't matter, because all of the above have called themselves Andy Griffith fans at one time or another.

When Griffith first entered our living rooms as Sheriff Taylor in the early-1960s, a policeman character on TV wasn't a family man, per se. He wasn't gentle or kind-hearted or nurturing. And he certainly wasn't a single dad.

Griffith was all of these, as he combined his "Aww, shucks" personality with the steady hand of a parent who was totally in control. The "Andy Griffith Show" was, at once, charming, funny, heartfelt, sympathetic and morally rich.

Griffith, as sheriff of Mayberry, was surrounded by funny characters, most notably deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts), and a small child (Ron Howard), and the occasional animal. WC Fields would have tagged Griffith with a bunch of on-screen/on stage violations.

But Griffith didn't try to compete on screen. He didn't have to. All he had to do was be Andy Griffith---that deadpan, disarming man who was the calm among the storm that frequently went on around him. And that was more than enough to stand out.

The genius of Griffith was that he was able to leave indelible marks on the industry generations apart, despite several TV failures after his turn in Mayberry.

The career of Andy Griffith wasn't peaches and cream again until he put on a pale grey blazer and charmed us once more in "Matlock," which debuted in 1986.

He even managed to play a defense attorney that you could love, at a time when high profile trials were becoming more plentiful and defendants slimier, and their lawyers more distasteful.

For nine years Griffith played Matlock, one year longer than he was Sheriff Taylor. So for eight years Griffith played the guy who locked criminals up, and for nine years he played the guy who gained them acquittal at trial.

In both cases he had us in his gentle, self-effacing palm.

Through it all, when times were good and not so good in his entertainment career, Griffith remained spiritual.

"I was baptized alongside my mother when I was 8 years old," he once said. "Since then I have tried to walk a Christian life. And now that I'm getting older I realize that I'm walking even closer with my God."

Not any closer than how he does today.