Dan Le Batard, Alexa, and Me

Alexa and the Amazon Echo always kind of freaked me out.  Amazon is pretty direct in admitting that the Echo is always listening for “Alexa,” its activation phrase.  And then, about a year ago, stories started circulating that people could hear a faint laughter emitting from it.  This unsettled me to the point that it inspired a horror story.

However, some family members recently bought a few Echos for their house and, admittedly, they were super cool.  My kids loved asking Alexa questions and, personally, I found the option of just asking about the weather or any other kind of information without having to run to my phone or laptop pretty enticing.

Unfortunately, the idea of that thing always “listening” still gave me the creeps.

I bet you’re wondering what any of this has to do with Dan Le Batard.

If you’re not familiar with Dan Le Batard, he co-hosts a program called The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio.  I discovered these guys a few years ago and I listen to them almost religiously.  Dan is a former sports writer who ventured into TV and radio as he foresaw the decline of print.  I find Dan’s sense of humor clever, but he’s also very insightful and, in my opinion, often calls things correctly.  He recognizes the ridiculousness in sports and isn’t afraid to contradict popular talking points.  Half of the time, he doesn’t even talk sports even though it’s technically a “sports” show.

Stugotz is every boneheaded sports fan to have ever existed, and we love him for it.  He speaks in cliches, he wins arguments by making you prove him wrong, and if you haven’t done anything for him lately, then what have you really done for him?  Jon Weiner is playing a character with Stugotz, but mostly in the same way your teacher plays a character.  Stugotz is Jon Weiner, and Jon Weiner is Stugotz.  I imagine that Stugotz is just Weiner enhanced and unfiltered.  The guy is so popular, he has his own army.

I listen to these men virtually every night as I cook and wash dishes.  Their radio show ends around noon, but they strip the morning program down to it’s best moments with a podcast available on ESPN.com.  You can find their archives here: http://www.espn.com/espnradio/podcast/archive/_/id/9941853

So what does this have to do with Alexa and the Amazon Echo?

Often, when I’m doing dishes and enjoying the show, one of my children comes into the kitchen and asks me a question.  Because I listen to it loudly enough to overtake the sound of water, pots, and pans, I have to dry my hands, go to my phone, and then hit pause.  After I deal with whatever they need, I then push play again and go back to my dishes.  This typically happens a few times a night–night after night.

I got to thinking … wouldn’t it be nice if I could just say “pause” or “volume down” instead of going through that whole process?  There was just one problem.  I didn’t think ESPN entertainment would be available through Alexa. I kind of figured the whole Amazon and Disney competition would render that an impossibility.

However, I did a little research, and it seemed that because The Dan Le Batard Show With Studgotz is available through many podcasts outlets, it should be generally retrievable by Alexa via the internet.

There was only one way to know for sure.

The next time I was at my family’s house, I approached their Echo.  I said, “Alexa, play The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz.”

A half second passed.

It felt like a century.

And then … I heard that wonderful music coupled with Papi’s introduction.

I ordered my Echo that night.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

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Ben Affleck … I’ll Miss You

You may remember that I’m a strong supporter of Ben Affleck’s Batman.  In fact, I wrote a lengthy article a few years ago encouraging Affleck to stick with the role.

While Michael Keaton will always be my favorite Batman, with Adam West coming in second, I thought Affleck playing an older, beaten-up Batman worked really well within the context of an inexperienced Superman and a fledgling Justice League.  It was a side of Batman we hadn’t seen on film before, and I thought it was largely successful due to that originality alone.  Plus, as an added bonus, Affleck is a physically imposing man who can pull off Batman’s impressive stature, inherent arrogance, and undeniable charm.

Unfortunately, Deadline is reporting that Affleck is not on board to star in the 2021 movie obviously titled The Batman and even went to so far as to wish whomever will play the Dark Knight Detective good luck.

Remember that Affleck was originally tapped to write, direct, and star in this film, but things changed for a multitude of reasons.  Matt Reeves is now directing, and they have yet to cast a younger Bruce Wayne.  Apparently, this movie will try to play up the “detective” aspect of the character.

If we’re being honest, I’m not even sure this movie is necessary if it doesn’t build upon the Batman that Affleck established.  I only say that because we don’t really need yet another Batman origin story.  That’s been done to death.  I also don’t want a grim and gritty solo Batman trilogy, either, because Christopher Nolan already did that about as well as it can be done.

There’s only one direction that I feel would warrant a new Batman series.  With the financial success of Aquaman and the critical success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, I think it’s time they go all in on the “comic book” aspect of the hero.  Audiences seem far more willing to embrace the more fanciful aspects of these characters.  They should take a deep dive with all of the Robins and their complex stories, his stranger villains like Man-Bat, Killer Moth, Blockbuster, or Firefly, and even draw in the entire city of other heroes that he’s inspired.  I’m not suggesting a campy Batman like from the 60s, but one that is more in line with the two movies mentioned above.  The Dark Knight doesn’t always have to be so, well, dark.  Otherwise, I think Reeves will be destined to come up short in comparison to Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton.

At any rate, say what you will about Ben Affleck, I will always appreciate what he did with the character and I’ll miss his performances as the Caped Crusader.

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Manifest Destiny: Fortis and Invisibilia by Dingess and Roberts – A Book Review

The Manifest Destiny series continues to be perfect for those who love the comic book genre but are not fans of super heroes.  Now on its sixth volume, Manifest Destiny details a fictionalized account of Lewis and Clark as they explore America’s new west.  Thomas Jefferson tasked them with this exploration, but the premise is that history has it wrong.  It wasn’t just to map the area and find a waterway to the Pacific, but also to record and eliminate any super natural creatures posing a threat to future American pioneers.

In this latest volume, Lewis and Clark, as well as their party, have built a fort in order to hunker down during the winter.  However, the men grow weary of the leadership, they grow lustful for the few women in the group, and they grow mutinous against the chain of command.  To make matters worse, the entity for whom we thought spoke only to Lewis?  It’s expanding its influence.

Manifest Destiny began as an adventure comic with touches of horror as it offered both accurate and fictionalized accounts of Lewis and Clark’s travels.  However, Chris Dingess has transitioned the book into a psychological thriller as the men are growing stir crazy in their fort, trapped by nature itself, as well as perhaps the supernatural.

Matthew Roberts continues to blend historically accurate scenery with terrifying creatures throughout.  The clothing he depicts particularly astounds me.  I’d love to know his research methods.  It all seems quite meticulous.  Furthermore, when violence occurs in this book, it is not for the squeamish.  I also appreciate that the colorist, Owen Gieni, has opted to use fairly muted colors to match the eerie tone of isolation and winter.  The book once sported vibrant greens and lush vegetation, but no longer.  It’s a subtle touch, but a deft one.

I have very much enjoyed this series so far.  I highly recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction, horror, thrillers, and fantasy.  Not to worry if you’ve never read a comic book.  No one is perfect, and you’ll figure it out quickly.  I know you will become hooked on this title.

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(Did you enjoy this review?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

Bill Maher Is Mostly Wrong, But He’s Also a Little Bit Right

I read an article over at ScreenRant describing an editorial by Bill Maher basically taking comic book fans to task.  More specifically, taking adult comic book fans to task.

This seems to be a complicated story.  It appears to have started when Bill Maher wrote a blog post called “Adulting.”  In it, he basically reacts to the huge outpouring of sadness related to Stan Lee’s death and claims that comic book fans need to grow up and leave childish things behind.

He then used his HBO show, Real Time, to try to clarify his remarks.  ScreenRant, via ComicBook.com, posted a transcription of what he said.

“Tonight’s editorial is about Stan Lee who, if you missed it, died in November. And a few days later, I posted a blog that in no way was an attack on Mr. Lee, but took the occasion of his death to express my dismay at people who think comic books are literature and superhero movies are great cinema and who, in general, are stuck in an everlasting childhood. Bragging that you’re all about the Marvel Universe is like boasting your mother still pins your mittens to your sleeves.

“You can, if you want, like the exact same things you liked when you were ten but if you do, you need to grow up. That was the point of my blog. I’m not glad Stan Lee is dead, I’m sad you’re alive. […]

“Director Kevin Smith accused me of ‘taking a shot when no shots are f**kin’ necessary,’ except again my shot wasn’t at Stan Lee. It was at, you know, grown men who still dress like kids.

“Can we stop pretending that the writing in comic books is so good? Oh, please. Every superhero movie is the same thing–a person who doesn’t have powers, gets them, has to figure out how they work, and then has to find a glowy thing.

“I’m sorry, but if you’re an adult playing with superhero dolls, I’m sorry – I mean collectible action figures – why not go all the way and drive to work on a Big Wheel?”

So, here’s the thing.  Bill Maher is mostly wrong–yes.  Without a doubt.  But … he’s also a little right.

He’s wrong in that we all know there are some very strong writers in the comic book industry.  Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, Warren Ellis, and Gail Simone are a few that spring to mind.  These are writers who have transcended their genre and written some comic books that should absolutely be considered “literary”–whatever that means.

He’s also missing out on some great cinema existing within the super hero genre.  After all, Black Panther just got nominated for a “Best Picture” Oscar.  Most consider The Dark Knight an instant-classic.  Not a classic “comic book” movie, but just a classic film–period.

But, let’s be honest, he’s also hit on some valid points.  Most comic books, and most comic book movies, are pretty easy to predict.  Most of them do follow a prescribed formula.  And many adults do take both comic books and comic book movies far too seriously.

The nature of the corporate-owned recurring comic book character absolutely necessitates the repetition of stories.  Think about this–Superman has been published monthly since 1938.  Batman has appeared every month since 1939.  It is impossible not to revisit similar plot lines every decade or so, especially when considering that these are not finite stories.  No matter what happens, these characters will be back in just thirty days.  It’s hard to get too original when working within these editorial confines.  They can’t really do anything too drastic to Superman for too long.  Same goes for Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc.  If you’re a DC fan, how many “crises” have there been now?  If you’re a Marvel fan, how often has there been “an age of …” or “no more mutants?”

Consequently, Bill Maher hit on something that’s been particularly troubling me of late.  Because so many adults do still read comic books, the comic book industry really isn’t aimed at children anymore.  It’s aimed at, well, grown-ups.  As a result, the plots get lazier and lazier.

Let me explain.

Because most people my age have read virtually every kind of comic book story out there, the industry feels the need to “shock” us time and again by killing off major characters.  First of all, no one believes Wolverine or Superman or even Jason Todd is ever really “dead.”  I just read a headline the other day that they killed off Dr. Leslie Thompkins.  This is a kind woman who helped take care of young Bruce Wayne after his parents’ murder.  She appears only sporadically in the DC Universe, but, because she’d never been killed before, they decided to “shock” the audience by calling her number.  There’s an entire comic book series going on right now called Heroes In Crisis whose entire premise is that heroes were murdered while seeking emotional support at a sanctuary.  Yes, you read that right.  I’m sorry, but comic books deserve every criticism they get when killing off characters seems to be the best the writers can come up with.

However, Bill Maher is missing something vital about super heroes.  These comic book characters are undeniably derivatives of gods and demigods from centuries’ old myths and religions.  We are intrinsically drawn to these characters.  At this point in human history, their archetypes are sewn into our collective subconscious.  They represent our hopes and our dreams, our aspirations to conquer fear and the unknown.

With that being said, I do think it’s important that adults keep these characters in perspective, though.  Let the children have these characters.  Let them inspire the young as they did most of the adults who still love them.  If there’s any bone I have to pick with my generation, it’s that we are unwilling to relinquish the things we loved as children.  We want Star Wars our way.  We want Ghostbusters our way.  We want She-Ra our way.  We want comic books our way.  We need to be wiling to stand back and let these things evolve in such a manner as to appeal to today’s youth.  We can enjoy these characters as they change for our children, and we can appreciate that they are not suffering arrested development.  Of course, that would require that the adults are unwilling to suffer arrested development as well.

So, as you can see, Bill Maher had it mostly wrong, but he was also a little bit right.  While I agree with him that adults need to lighten up when it comes to these characters and leave them primarily to the children, I think it’s vital that we don’t dismiss the incredible impact they have had on society and continue to have.  Like any book or movie, the extraordinary should not be suppressed merely because of its genre.

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 (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

 

 

 

This Season Of The Handmaid’s Tale Will Be My Last

We’re not Hulu subscribers, so when everyone heaped praise upon The Handmaid’s Tale, we had to wait until it came out on disc to experience it for ourselves.

We were able to finally watch it a few months ago, and we can attest that it deserved all of the acclimation it received.  Sure, it was intense, disturbing, and fraught with modern day political implications, but the sheer skill in terms of writing, acting, and production could not be denied.

In fact, the series impressed me so much that I immediately found the book and read it as well.  To my surprise, the first season of the show followed the book very closely.  The only aspect of the book the series did not cover pertained to the final ten or fifteen pages.

I presumed the second season would tackle those last pages of the novel.

I could not have been more wrong … so far.

The second season of The Handmaid’s Tale blazes its own trail by adding original material to the classic Margaret Atwood novel.  It’s serving as something of a sequel to the book as it continues Offred’s plight, the Waterford’s tyranny, and the general awfulness of a place like Gilead.

However, they’ve managed to up the stakes this season.  It’s become even more tense, more unsettling, and more … well, horrific.

Honestly, my wife and I watched episode eleven (of thirteen) last night, and we both decided that this season will be our last.  Yes, we’ll finish it out, but we agreed that neither of us wants to infiltrate Gilead’s boundaries anymore.

Minor spoilers here–with Offred’s complicated pregnancy and a heart-wrenching story line revolving around her first daughter, as well as an extremely frightening scene depicting rape … it’s too much.  This dystopian society of Gilead has become too real.

This isn’t the first time I’ve had to retreat from a show.  Back in 2014, The Walking Dead began killing children every week and threatening to kill an infant, so I had to quit it, too.  Our real world is scary enough.  We see enough tragedy on a daily basis in our reality.  I can’t deal with this level of calamity on a show, too.

In the end, when I watch a show, see a movie, or read a book, I’m engaging in a certain amount of escapism.  I cannot, for a sustained amount of time, feel extremely depressed after watching a show.  Every once in a while is manageable, but every episode of an entire season?  Maybe it’s not as potent if watching it on a weekly basis, but we’re watching an episode a night, and it’s absolutely altering my overall mood.

The Handmaid’s Tale crossed a line in my mind.  I understand children are the driving force of the entire premise, but by bringing them front and center, and by teasing their exploitation and abuse on a regular basis, in addition to the constant barrage of violence against powerless women … Again, it’s too much.

This second season is too blunt, too graphic, and too ruthless.  I found the first season, though very troubling, a little more nuanced, poignant, and purposeful.

I think the show and the book both serve as a significant warning against people manipulating religious and political beliefs for their own personal glorification, and I believe The Handmaid’s Tale inspires us to hold firm onto our own morals even in the face of rampant corruption, but I simply can’t partake in such abasement as a means of escapism any longer.

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    (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

President Donald Trump Has Exceeded My Expectations

President Donald Trump has always been a unique figure during my lifetime.  I grew up with him acting as a bombastic promotions man.  Yes, I knew he was in business, but I primarily experienced his face on board games, appearing on World Wrestling Entertainment television, talking with Howard Stern on the radio, feuding with Rosie O’Donnell, hosting The Apprentice, and  showing up in movies like Home Alone 2.

When Trump pondered running for president in 2004, 2008, and 2012, I don’t think many people took him very seriously.  He was notorious for pulling huge publicity stunts, after all.  So, to be fair, when he officially ran and won in 2016, I was amazed.  I was shocked not only because he actually stayed in the race throughout, but also because he managed to win.

However, in my opinion, Donald Trump has always been about making a splash and building his brand.  That’s just my opinion.  I absolutely believe that he wanted to win the presidency.  I didn’t believe, though, that he actually wanted to deal with the day-to-day, nonstop drudgery of being president.

Because of this belief, as well as Donald Trump’s penchant for controversy, I didn’t think he’d complete the first two years of his presidency.  I truthfully thought he would find a reason to resign–to go out on top.  If he didn’t resign, I assumed he would be impeached because, again, Donald Trump has always bent the rules and admitted as much.  That kind of thing eventually catches up to people.

But, President Donald Trump has exceeded my expectations.  Yesterday, January 20th, 2019, marked two full years in office.

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  (Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)

Best NFL Day Of the Year

If you love NFL football, it doesn’t get any better than today.  In fact, I think today will probably be better than Super Bowl Sunday.

If you don’t follow the NFL, a rare thing happened–the actual four best teams are left playing for their conference championships.  The winners of these two games will then go on to compete in the Super Bowl.  Even though I’m a die-hard Bears fan and would love it if they were still playing, I think it’s great that the four clubs with the best records and/or the best overall teams are playing today.  Yes, I know the Patriots didn’t have one of the best records, but they are the most successful franchise of this century–I think we all knew they’d make it this far despite their wins and losses.

So, even if you’re not a huge football fan, today will be well worth your while.  You will see some truly magnificent offense and defense on display.  You’ll see the incredible defense and creative offense of the LA Rams.  You’ll see the superhuman twenty-three-year-old Kansas City Chiefs quarterback named Patrick Mahomes.  And, of course, you’ll witness the masters of their craft–Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots.

Let’s not forget that the Chiefs, Saints, and Patriots have some of the best coaches in the history of the game–respectively Andy Reid, Sean Payton, and Bill Belichick.  And the Rams coach?  His name is Sean McVay, he’s only thirty-two-years-old, and he’s considered an offensive genius.

Each of these teams are highly skilled and deserve to be playing for the Super Bowl.  There aren’t any silly Wild Card entries who made it in due to a weak division and freak occurrence.  Today will be about as good as it gets.

Oh, and, of course, I’m obligated to offer my picks for the day.  Though I love the Chiefs and Andy Reid’s coaching, I think the experience of both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will prove too much for them.  Give Patrick Mahomes another year or two and he’ll know how to win these huge playoff games with Reid’s guidance.  Same goes for the Saints and the Rams.  I think all the battles Brees and Payton have fought together will ultimately win the day for them.  So, to be clear, I’m picking the Patriots and the Saints for the Super Bowl.

Just to be especially bold, I’ll go ahead and pick my Super Bowl winner, too.  I believe Brees and Brady will nullify each other, as will Belichick and Payton.  It’s going to come down to defense and special teams, and, in my opinion, the Saints are better at those two things.  So, I’m picking the Saints to win it all.

But I’m hoping it will be the Bears next season.

Enjoy the games!

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(Did you enjoy this article?  Check out Scott William Foley’s short stories HERE!)