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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Three Decades Later, A Christmas Memory of Working for Independence

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Checking Out V

Last night's episode of V answered the question I've had during every show so far: How is this going to last for a full season?

Well, it's not.

V is gone until March, as all of us who have made it appointment TV found out last night. It just had that mini-series feel to it all along. I'm guessing the network is going with the FX style of a short "season," and they are just looking to stretch it out. Promos for the return of V should start any moment now.

Don't get me wrong, I love the show, which is generally a death sentence for any series. Like many, I'm fascinated with the idea that there could be other life out there in the universe. I was a huge fan of the original series as a kid, which didn't last very long after what actually was a mini-series.

The show has touched on some interesting concepts that I hope it will really explore. The questions that the existence of other life forms would raise for religion is one of the best issues, but so far the show hasn't gone too far into it. Manipulation of the media has been explored a little. I wouldn't have minded more on the political front, as well as the human nature to trust the Vs, which I didn't quite buy. If I remember correctly, the first episode jumped past three weeks or so after the initial alien arrival. I wondered why that happened until last night revealed the scheduling for the show.

Of course, I'm not suggesting V is a brain teaser. The show is focused on the impending war between the planets, and, let's face it, Morena Baccarin is just plain hot in the lead role of Anna, leader of the Vs.

Last night was supposed to reveal why the Visitors were here, which didn't really happen. Does it really count as a "revelation" in a drama about aliens that they want to kill the human race?


But we still don't know why beyond the notion that they are trying to survive as a species. And apparently we won't find out until March.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Review of Changeling starring Angelina Jolie

I finally caught Changeling, starring Angelina Jolie, over the weekend. This portrayal of the 1920s Los Angeles police stirs plenty of emotion. Maybe it's just that society focuses on the corrupt as opposed to the positive things done by public figures, but the arrogance of those in power never ceases to amaze me.

Dubbed as a true story, Changeling details the life of Christine Collins after her young son disappears when the single mother is called to work on a Saturday. Already under intense scrutiny, the LAPD "solves" the headline grabbing case after several months by attempting to substitute a similar looking boy for Collins' son. When the mother protests, threatening the positive media attention the LAPD was desperately trying to generate, Collins is abruptly locked away in a mental institution.

It might be too strong to suggest that this film "grabs you" right from the beginning, but there is definitely not much effort needed to get into the film. Knowing the basic premise of the movie may be the reason, but I found myself glued to the opening scenes with Collins and her son, Walter (played by Gattlin Griffith). Perhaps I was looking for clues to what I knew was coming, but whatever the reason, the scenes worked. The recreation of 1929 Los Angeles was also a cool aspect of the early part of the movie.

Jeffery Donovan stood out as J.J. Jones, the main symbol of corruption within the LAPD. I never quite buy that an actor brings out the emotion as opposed to the writer of the script; I'm sure it's the wannabee writer in me. But Jones certainly personified every little weasel with an ounce of power we've all had to tolerate in our lives. Unfortunately, Jones had actual power, and single-handedly had Collins institutionalized. From there, she learns that any female who becomes a nuisance to the police was declared unstable.

Jolie received plenty of acclaim for this role as I heard many had said she stole every scene she was in. I didn't really have a feeling one way or another on her acting, but I imagine not noticing the acting while being very intrigued by the plight of the character — as I was — is in fact complimenting the actress. Her fight against "the system" came through in a powerful way, and I'm sure women of today and other minorities relate to battling against the patronizing attitudes that were perfectly acceptable in the era in which the film took place.

John Malkovich was a tad creepy as Reverend Gustav Briegle, the LAPD's harshest critic who becomes an advocate for Collins. However, his role in aiding Jolie's character helps him win over the audience.

A minor character that really stood out was Sanford Clark played by Eddie Alderson. The young actor was very good as the kid who ultimately reveals how Walter disappears, and may have played the best part in the movie. He walked the line between tough kid who had to do whatever was necessary to survive and a vulnerable young teen or pre-teen very well.

Despite running for more than two hours, the film never really felt long. It does a good job of following the story of Collins, the case that ultimately involves a number of children and includes some brutal moments, and the corrupt police force.

Changeling is definitely worth watching.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Glee Offers Solid Episode Focused on a Character with a Disability

I checked out Fox's Glee last night after reading that the show focused on the group's efforts to pay for an accessible bus to bring Artie, a member of the group that uses a wheelchair, to a contest with the others. I had also read that the character is played by an able-bodied actor, Kevin McHale, news that I wish was shocking but certainly is not.

Entering the show with trepidation -- glee club was just never on my radar -- I found myself basically entertained by the show. At first I was watching Artie's rendition of "Dancing with Myself" thinking it was a bit over the top, but then I realized that type of sequence is probably a regular part of a show about a glee club. Once that clicked in my brain, I actually thought it was a creative take on the song.

However, I will admit that the sequence was the one part of the show in which I was bothered by the knowledge that Artie was played by an able-bodied person. It was a very smooth routine complete with a few wheelchair maneuvers on two wheels (as opposed to four). I understand the realities of Hollywood, and I hate to use soft words in this situation, but it just didn't feel right.

Even an occasional observer of Hollywood knows it's a superficial world that will go with the best looking person over someone who may bring more authenticity to a role 99 times out of 100. Tom Cruise didn't get the lead role in Jerry Maguire because he had some deep understanding of NFL agents. So, it's not too outrageous to suggest that giving McHale the role of Arty is just par for the course. Not that an actor with a disability couldn't have been just as good, but it's at least possible that the producers did their due diligence in seeking out an actor with a disability and McHale won the part. I doubt that occurred and even if it did there are still problems with this casting, but let's assume for the moment that was the case.

Watching McHale do tricks in a wheelchair raises a question that goes beyond role playing or star power. Certainly, some people with disabilities can do those maneuvers, but there just seemed to be a hint of leaving the disability behind when it was time to perform. It's disingenuous and potentially sends a poor message to the show's teenage target audience that someone with a disability can just shake it off when necessary. To be fair, the episode addressed that very issue later.

Again, it's a show about a glee club, so it gets some latitude. Certainly it's a long way from the days of a character in a wheelchair showing up out of nowhere on a show like What's Happenin' and having all of his problems solved with a pop-a-wheelie for Rog, Rerun, and the gang at the end of the half-hour. In fact, the Glee story line that lead to the entire club spending three hours a day in a wheelchair was done fairly well. The club's teacher/sponsor brought up the often overlooked issue of the need to have the person with a disability, Artie, travel with the group to be part of the comradery of traveling as opposed to just going in a separate car with his dad. Even the Rolling on a River finale performed with everyone using wheelchairs and the ultimate conclusion of the story line about Artie was solid.

One question remains though, especially in light of the news that Brothers is likely to be canceled. This is the only other show I'm aware of currently running -- or possibly was running -- with a character who has a disability (and is played by an actor who actually uses a wheelchair, Daryl Mitchell) Is Artie's disability a true part of the show even when it's not the centerpiece?

I was disappointed by the news on Brothers, as the show was genuinely funny, though not uproariously so, and the disability of Chill, Mitchell's character, was dealt with in a manner that needs to be seen much more. It was simply part of who he was, not the center of the show. C.C.H. Pounder's character, the mother of Chill and Michael (played by Michael Strahan) delivered a couple of great lines in the pilot about Chill using the chair as a tool as opposed to being stuck in a chair, but it was a real reaction from a caring mother and the show moved on.

This may be unfair to question with Glee as I've only seen one episode and the show may already be dealing with the disability as part of the show. But last night disabilities were shown to touch the lives of three characters and was a central theme of the show. One of the other story lines involved a gay member of the club. Was this the "minority" episode after which these characters return to the background?

Hopefully not.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Review of Robert B. Parker’s Spare Change

I picked up Robert B. Parker’s Spare Change to read because I have enjoyed his Spenser Mysteries series. Having gotten to know those characters in the TV series, Spenser for Hire, which was based on the books, I was able to get into the flow of those books without a problem. However, the same choppy dialogue that helped give Spenser and Hawk from the other series their unique characteristics, came off as laughable and added to a void of character in this installment of Sunny Randall novels.

Sunny Randall is a Boston private investigator pulled in to tracking a serial killer who had eluded her father during his career as a police officer. The story eventually becomes a battle of wits between Sunny and the second generation “Spare Change” killer.

Unfortunately, neither one of them is very witty.

A dialogue-heavy novel trying to depict the stereotypical fictional Boston police officer shouldn’t go anywhere near trying to be a psychological thriller. The book is dominated by dialogue that often doesn’t stretch beyond half a line of text. It actually became comical at times. No doubt Parker was going for realism, but it was just over done, and, again, there needed to be a hell of a lot more depth at some point when the author is going for a psychological thriller.

An added bonus was reading Parker’s attempts to show the feminine side of his female protagonist. First of all, it was a complete departure from the rest of the writing, making these segments awkward enough. Throw in the fact that it read very much like a man trying to write a woman, and it’s clear the author should have left it out.

It’s also clear I should have stayed with the Spenser novels.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Politically Correct Terms Failing People with Disabilities

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Staying Quiet about Non-Advocates

Don’t say a word. Two years of working for a non-profit mostly funded by the government providing alternative financing for assistive technology used by people with disabilities, and that’s all I’ve been told. Let it go.

No one cares I was hired as a writer and turned into a poster child.

No one cares about the loan I was “asked” to take that I didn’t need.

No one cares about the public embarrassment of being unexpectedly called up to the microphone at a press conference, which I had declined to do, where I froze up due to my cerebral palsy.

No one cares about the patronizing attitude that I received from my boss.

No one cares that I was asked to write an article for their newsletter about an adaptive bike I bought completely on my own. No one cares that when I refused, I was called ungrateful for a job I never pursued.

No one cares about the almost total lack of assignments to write about loan recipients since early spring if not late winter as my job ended, suggesting that there is one more government funded non-profit merely draining tax-payer money in the worst recession since the Great Depression.

I’m told naming names would be liable, and that no one cares anyway.

Maybe someone should.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Royal Steele Now Donating Percent of Profits to PowerPlay

In an effort to enhance the impact of Royal Steele’s donation to a charity supporting people with disabilities, I have designated a new organization to donate to for 2009. Royal Steele is excited to be donating to the Philadelphia PowerPlay. Start at The Stores @ Royal Steele when shopping online and to go to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes,, Staples, and many other sites to shop as usual at no additional charge to help us build our donation.

The Philadelphia PowerPlay is a power wheelchair floor hockey team based in the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. The mission of the team, founded by team member and manager Pat Hilferty, is to provide a community based competitive athletic experience for people who use power wheelchairs in their daily lives. To learn more about the team, check out their website at

This is an exciting opportunity for me to put the website behind a local effort. I played wheelchair hockey as a kid, and it was some of the most fun my friends and I ever had. It is great to see the level Pat has brought it to. It’s especially gratifying to see it based in Delaware County for the Philadelphia area - right where I played.

While their is no legal agreement, the PowerPlay and Royal Steele will be working together to make this a mutually beneficial arrangement. Donations will simply be made based on profits from the Stores @ Royal Steele to the PowerPlay.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Top 5 CDs/Albums

Selecting a Top 5 CDs or Albums poses the same difficulty I felt when attempting to write a few CD reviews for this blog. Music is so personal I really don’t understand attempting to review an album – hence the dearth of music reviews. Of course, I’m not saying it can’t be done well.

While I realize the same can be said in regards to books and movies, I just think there’s more tangible qualities to judge those mediums than there are in music. For example, someone who is not a fan of rap is going to have a hard time reviewing an album from that genre. Yet, even if a person isn’t necessarily a fan of science fiction, an intelligent review of a sci-fi flick wouldn’t be out of the question for that individual.

So, the criteria for this list is sort of a combination of those used for the Top 5 Movies and Top 5 Books. I’ve tried to select CDs that I remember as exceptional and can still be put on shuffle mode without fear of landing on bad songs.

Now that I’ve offered enough of a disclaimer, here’s my list of Top 5 CDs/Albums:

5. Call Me Irresponsible (Michael Bublé) – This used to be the type of album I would never have even thought of listening to. I actually like this in combination with Bublé’s self-titled album – Michael Bublé – but Call Me Irresponsible edged it out with the title track, “Lost,” “Comin’ Home Baby,” and other remakes, especially “Me & Mrs. Jones.” He manages to not just mimic the classics yet doesn’t destroy them by trying to modernize the songs. His best song, though, is the remake of Crazy Little Thing Called Love from the self-titled album.

4. Genesis (Genesis) – Somewhat of a representative pick for my favorite band (at least during the Phil Collins era), this is the sound I associate with the group. The first side (sorry, I remember tapes) doesn’t miss on anything with “Mama,” “Home by the Sea” and “Second Home by the Sea,” and “That’s All” is their best song. Underrated songs fill the second side with “Taking It All Too Hard,” “Just a Job to Do,” and “It's Gonna Get Better.”

3. Born to Reign (Will Smith) – Fans of my other selections might wonder what the hell this album is doing on my list, but it’s just a damn good album. For those like yours truly who leave dancing to others, Will Smith can at least make a workout a little easier. “Act Like You,” “I Can’t Stop,” and “Gotta Go Home” highlight the album. Tra-Knox does some vocals on the album, and helps make it a great mix of rap, R&B, and rock.

2. Off the Wall (Michael Jackson) – Michael Jackson’s recent death may have contributed to this pick. The allegations surrounding MJ made it tough to enjoy his music without it feeling like some sort of guilty pleasure in the last decade or so. The one positive in his sad passing may be that his music will come back to the mainstream. I’ll take this over Thriller as his best.

1. No Jacket Required (Phil Collins) – Another representative pick as I easily could have made out this list with Phil Collins offerings. This is the first album of Collins’ I ever heard and it still holds up for me. “Take Me Home” is my all-time favorite song (even though finding out what it was really about was disappointing). Hits like “Sussudio” and “One More Night” overshadow equally good “Inside Out,” “Only You Know and I Know,” “Who Said I Would” and others. I liked all of them.

As with the other lists, feel free to agree or disagree with any or all of my selections, and, more importantly, add your own list of Top 5 CDs/Albums in the comments section. Don’t hesitate to add your own creative angle such as a list of Top Rock Albums of All Time, Top 5 Rap CDs, or other ideas. I really do want to make the Royal Steele Community section of this blog interactive. Be brave or, if you must, post anonymously.

Sure, you can do this on much bigger websites and potentially get lost in a sea of millions, or help us build something fun at The Stores @ Royal Steele. (Don’t forget to refer to my “CYA” rules & guidelines.)

Also, check out the “Best of” lists at The Stores @ Royal Steele in the Book Store. The lists include the 100 Best Records of All Time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Top 5 Books

The hardest part of compiling a Top 5 list of books for me is simply remembering the books I’ve read. It’s not that I’m such an avid reader that the list is just too long. Despite an admonishment from a college professor that I’d never do well if I didn’t read everything at least twice, I’ve never read anything twice unless it was assigned in two separate semesters (and did just fine). Even if I had I’m not sure I’d have much more of a mental list to pull on, but it might have helped.

That said, I figured a criteria of books that still stand out in my mind more than a year after reading them as particularly good was a perfect rule for my list.

So, here’s my Top 5 Books:

5. A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens) – I read this book in the 10th grade, and have loved the story since. I make a point to watch the film version every December, but it all started with the book. All the knock-off versions make it clear this is the best fictional Christmas story ever written.

4. No Pity : People with Disabilities Forging a New Civil Rights Movement (Joseph Shapiro) – Reading this book was an experience. It was the first time I got a glimpse of the disability community as a real entity with a history and common experiences. In that regard, nothing has ever approached this book.

3. The Tipping Point (Malcolm Gladwell) – Simply put, this is the most insightful book I’ve ever read. As I wrote in my review, it offers some amazing perspectives into psychology, history, pop culture, and group dynamics, just to name a few subjects covered in the absorbing, readable language.

2. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom) – Panned by many due to it’s sentimentality, this was a very original and truly touching story.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) – Dan Brown’s novel is easily the best I’ve ever read. Again from my review, this novel continuously shocks a reader with historical facts — albeit disputed facts — that are so enthralling they render the plot secondary.

Feel free to agree or disagree with any or all of my selections, and, more importantly, add your own list of Top 5 Books in the comments section. Don’t hesitate to add your own creative angle such as a list of Top Summer Books of All Time, Top 5 Suspense Novels, or other ideas. I really do want to make the Royal Steele Community section of this blog interactive. Be brave or, if you must, post anonymously.

Sure, you can do this on much bigger websites and potentially get lost in a sea of millions, or help us build something fun at The Stores @ Royal Steele. (Don’t forget to refer to my “CYA” rules & guidelines.)

Also, check out the “Best of” lists at The Stores @ Royal Steele in the Book Store. The lists include the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century and 100 Top Sports Books of All Time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Top 5 Movies

After way too much thought and even more procrastination, I’ve come up with a list of my Top 5 Movies. The title of such lists puts a ton of pressure on anyone taking it even a little bit seriously. I found myself wondering if I was forgetting a movie that absolutely belonged in my Top 5, or if I had been prejudiced toward a movie I had just seen. Most of all, I wondered if I would just seem like an idiot for picking some movie the industry looked down it’s nose at. And what about new movies? How do should those be handled in a Top 5 list?

Then I realized I’m just some guy writing a blog trying to have a little fun and hopefully generate a response. Of course that didn’t stop my anal retentive side from coming up with a criteria for my list, albeit a rather simple set of guidelines. (Feel free to ignore it in posting your own list.) Besides obviously being a film I truly liked better than most, I decided that to make the list a movie had to be one that would stop my channel surfing regardless how far into the movie I discover it and be watched to the end even though I’ve seen it enough to know exactly what’s coming. This means new movies can’t sneak in, but the list can be tweaked later on.

Without further delay, here’s my list of Top 5 Movies:

5. My Left Foot – I had to put this one on the list. It’s the only film I’ve ever seen that explores life with cerebral palsy, and gave me the chance to see the disabled part of myself in a character. Based on a true story, it’s done without the “aww” factor that is so often a part any character with a disability in film, and shows the main character who has CP as a fully-developed person. Sadly, this movie doesn’t get to stop my channel surfing much because it’s simply not on enough.

4. Castaway – Easily my strangest pick on the list, but it just fascinates me. For a movie with relatively little dialogue it has some great lines, including one of my all-time favorites – “keep breathing . . . you just never know what the tide’s gonna bring.” The theme – or maybe more accurately said, the exploration – of the human instinct to survive is awesome.

3. Arthur – Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli are perfect together in this hysterical romantic comedy. The story may not be all that original as Moore’s character – an alcoholic who never grew up – is threatened with being cut-off from his unbelievably rich family if he doesn’t marry the classic rich girl character, but he falls in love with a waitress played by Minnelli. John Gielgud is very good as the Butler. The sequel, Arthur 2 - On the Rocks, is decent, too.

2. You’ve Got Mail – This movie is about as cute as a movie can get without going too far. The fact that it’s a re-make would probably get me in trouble with some critics. The idea that the characters get to know each other via e-mail intrigues me for personal reasons, and once Tom Hanks’ character figures out who his e-mail pal is I think it’s very funny watching him manipulate the situation. Besides that, watching Meg Ryan for a couple hours is never a bad thing.

1. Rocky – Forget all the sequels for this discussion. When you go back and watch the original Rocky, it’s a great, character-driven film. No doubt the Philadelphia setting plays a role in my selection of this movie as my top movie.

Feel free to agree or disagree with any or all of my selections, and, more importantly, add your own list of Top 5 Movies in the comments section. Don’t hesitate to add your own creative angle such as a list of Top Summer Movies of All Time, Top 5 Action Movies, or other ideas. I really do want to make the Royal Steele Community section of this blog interactive. Be brave or, if you must, post anonymously.

Sure, you can do this on much bigger websites and potentially get lost in a sea of millions, or help us build something fun at The Stores @ Royal Steele. (Don’t forget to refer to my “CYA” rules & guidelines.)

Also, check out the “Best of” lists on The Stores @ Royal Steele in the Book Store, which include the 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Do-it-yourself Therapy

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A Rare Encounter

A couple weeks ago I finally got to go bike shopping. This isn’t as easy as it probably sounds to most people, but the reasons for that related to my cerebral palsy will have to wait for another day. What I found so interesting was the mere fact that I met someone else with cerebral palsy doing the exact same thing.

I may be dramatizing just a tad, but I can assure you that meeting someone else with CP out of the blue is a rare occurrence in my life. I don’t mean to suggest that we’re some sort of endangered species, but meeting someone in everyday life with very similar characteristics who is doing the same thing at the same time simply doesn’t happen much when you have CP (or, I feel safe saying, most other physical disabilities).

I won’t use his real name, but Joe was out with his mom and dad, and they were also looking for an adaptive bike. He was about high school age, and probably has significantly less spasticity than yours truly. My mom began telling his parents about the adaptive biking program I recently started attending on Saturdays down by the river, and I later e-mailed Joe’s dad a few specific details.

In his reply, Joe’s dad started telling me how he was glad that Joe got to see that I can drive, and how he is always talking to his son about the importance of being independent. It was such a rare opportunity that I had to refrain from offering every piece of relevant experience that I could think of.

I wanted to tell the kid to do all of those annoying, pain-in-the-ass exercises his physical therapists are (hopefully) telling him to do. I wanted to tell him to hold on to any friends he has in high school as best he can because such relationships may be hard to come by in just a few years. I wanted to tell the kid to push past his comfort zone, whatever that may be for him, because it only gets harder to do so with every passing day.

No, I really don’t think I know so much about living life with a disability that I needed to offer advice to a virtual stranger. In fact, just the opposite was at work. I saw the encounter, which hopefully won’t be a “one and done” opportunity like many in my experience have been, to engage in a give-and-take about the disability part of my life.

Of course, offering a ton of advice or even just relevant experience right off the bat is one of the best ways to have it fall on deaf ears and find people inching away from you as fast as possible. At least that was always my reaction as a kid on the few occasions that I met someone who might actually have a clue about life with a physical disability.

The problem, I think, besides my being a teenager, was that there were only a “few occasions” to meet adults with disabilities that could offer a give-and-take, advice, or stories about relevant experience. Maybe as the world delves into “social networking” that’s all changing, but my fear is it’s just adding to the general noise level that being in touch 24/7 has created. I’m believing more and more that internet contact isn’t nearly enough for any group, including the disability community. You can’t get to truly know a person online, or have them get to know you, which is what builds trust and the ability to share and learn from one another.

I’m obviously not disparaging online communication. In fact, I just recently joined Facebook and LinkedIn to learn what those sites are all about. Among other things, I hope to engage other people with disabilities and have them engage me. I’d like to find something more than someone to IM, or “poke,” or whatever.

If you have looked around, or “clicked around,” on this blog, you no doubt quickly learned that it is dominated by sports posts. They get the most hits, and the most comments, so I naturally give the topic the most attention. I’m once again hoping to begin matching that, or at least creating a strong second place, with posts on my experiences with disability.

As I offer my experiences, thoughts, opinions, and, God help you, advice on life with a disability, feel free to jump in with comments of your own. Even if you’re already doing it in other places online, as I hope to be doing soon enough, it can’t hurt to spread the conversation to a wider audience. It might help a younger (or older) person avoid some of the same obstacles you faced or connect with an activity that might fit his or her abilities that is buried in a sea – or a world wide web – of noise.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Marley and Me — DVD Review

It’s pretty rare for me to read a book and then watch the film version (or vice versa), though it seems a lot of people enjoy doing so. I find myself watching to see how the movie producers did this or that from the book, or how closely they stick to the book, instead of just enjoying the film. But, for the same reasons I eventually gave into reading Marley and Me, plus the gigantic poster of the cute little puppy that I kept seeing, I finally saw the movie.

At first it seemed like Disney was prepared to take John Grogan’s story of life with his mischievous dog on a path that was only loosely connected to the book. Possibly it was just the skeptic in me looking for the worst. But once the film settled in, passed the wedding day (well, evening) of the Grogans, it actually stayed true to the book fairly well. Honestly, I’m not even sure the wedding day was not mentioned in the book. My concern was more about the tone that the film seemed to be setting.

The main device used by the movie producers that was not presented in the book was John’s best friend (or seemingly so) who was also a coworker for a time, Sebastian. I call Sebastian a “device” as his main purpose was to allow the audience to learn John’s thoughts, which surprisingly involved plenty of regret about the professional path he chose not to take. Sebastian popped in and out of the movie as his career continued to climb the ladder of success, at one time pursuing a big investigative story, which would make John a bit envious. In fact, there was more time spent on his doubts about becoming a columnist versus pursuing a career covering hard news stories. As a wannabee writer, I found it very interesting, and I don’t think it would detract from the movie for most people.

Of course, there was this dog in the story. I didn’t mean to give the impression that Marley isn’t the star of the show; he certainly is. As I wrote in my book review, the lovable dog spends plenty of time reeking havoc and being rather irresistible all at once. I will say I felt more attached to the dog when reading the book, and he’s not quite as irresistible in the film. There was just no way to fully duplicate the depth of the attachment displayed in the book between Grogan and his dog in film, which the reader tends to adopt as his own. Plus, I think there was something about seeing the destruction Marley wrought that made him just a touch less less lovable.

I was very hesitant about Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston playing the Grogans. They just seemed a bit too “Hollywood” to pull-off what I had read, and Wilson has a surfer dude quality for me. I never totally got passed feeling like Wilson had been pulled of the beach and told to play a family man, but overall they were both quite good.

Well, I warned you that I tend to focus on the differences between book and film in these circumstances. The ending still evoked plenty of emotion, and I have this gnawing feeling (no pun intended) that I’m being too harsh on the film. I don’t mean to be harsh at all. It was very enjoyable. The book was just better.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Lisa Scottoline’s Dirty Blonde

Lisa Scottoline is a Philadelphia writer, so I wanted to give her novel, Dirty Blonde, a shot. I’ve been forcibly read to from her column in the Philadelphia Inquirer from a fan of her’s on numerous occasions, and thought the novel that had been on the book shelf in the hall was a safe bet.

Cate Fante has just been appointed to the district court in Philadelphia, and her high-profile case involving the creator of the latest legal thriller to reach the small screen has her in the news. When she’s forced to allow a judgment in favor of the producer over the local writer claiming to have originated the concept for the show, things get even crazier after the producer is killed – seemingly by the complainant, who has killed himself. Her life only gets more complicated when producers of the show threaten to expose her penchant for one-night stands with guys she picks up from dive bars in the city.

Some form of empathy for the protagonist is generally a part of the reading experience involved with pop-culture novels. While Scottoline deserves credit for challenging the typical formula by giving her main character a major character flaw, it made it difficult for me to “root” for Fante. I’ll admit that may be nothing more than a chauvinistic bias on my part, and there’s little doubt the author had some fun turning the womanizer type of character around.

But I really think there was more to it. Most of the trouble Fante faced was brought on by Fante. She had everything going her way, as protagonists often do in the beginning of these stories, and continued a behavior that she knew threatened all of it. Obviously, there was the hint of a sex addiction, but it wasn’t quite sold in that vein. It came off as just her stupidity that caught up to her, especially when the idea of treatment never comes into play even in what ends up being a typical pop novel finish.

I’m always impressed when a novel, or any “entertainment vehicle,” deals with a disability in a realistic manner. Fante’s best friend has a son who has autism. A good amount of time is spent dealing with the challenges the single mother and the little boy face in dealing with the disability. It simply isn’t done enough by other writers. Fante’s relationship with the family even becomes a part of her struggle.

The writing is perfectly fine, allowing for easy enough reading. I struggled to get going with the novel, but that happens so often that I have to think it’s just me as opposed to anything with the book. Once I got going, the reading was smooth, and, as a side note for others from the area, it was fun to read a novel that took place in Philadelphia.

I wouldn’t recommend Dirty Blonde, but I wouldn’t discourage anyone considering picking up the novel either.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Seven Pounds — DVD Review

If you’re wondering what Seven Pounds is about, you’re no worse off then people who have seen the movie were two-thirds into it. “Slow” doesn’t begin to explain the glacial tempo that characterized most of the movie.

Will Smith plays IRS agent Ben Thomas (sort of) who is looking to redeem himself after causing a tragic accident. On a search for seven worthy people, Thomas claims to have the ability to drastically change their lives for the better. Gradually, and I do mean gradually, it becomes clear exactly how and why Thomas is looking to help seven strangers.

I understood what the makers of the film were going for, it just didn’t work. Forcing an audience to wonder what in the world is going on for the majority of a film or any other story doesn’t make any sense. I imagine it’s possible to pull off, but constantly bringing the question to mind isn’t the way to do it. Certainly, viewers are given a vague notion of why Thomas is seeking redemption before too long, but the question isn’t resolved soon enough. Ultimately, the ending and the actual gift Thomas offers the individuals he selects is a surprise, salvaging something for the viewer that has spent two hours watching the movie.

However, the ending was problematic for me, leaving one very specific question open. Without giving it away, I wondered if he was looking to help someone with the specific problem of the woman focused on in the film, Emily Posa played by Rosario Dawson. I realize this is very unclear to readers who haven’t seen Seven Pounds, but I thought it was worth mentioning. If he was, I think it makes his eventual relationship with the woman very questionable.

Thomas appeared to be meant to have a confident charm, but his desire to get to know these strangers without revealing anything about himself came off as slightly obnoxious. As a fan of Smith, I would have thought he could pull that off quite well. I’m never sure who deserves the blame in such a situation, but as a viewer it really didn’t matter. It definitely hurt the movie.

I feel like I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a secondary character – Ezra Turner, a guy who is blind played by Woody Harrelson. At one point, Thomas tests the customer representative (and aspiring pianist) by pretending to be an incredibly rude customer who starts berating the character about his blindness. I knew what he was doing, so it didn’t bother me much. But I did question the level of ignorance being displayed, albeit under false pretext. In our politically correct world, which I certainly don’t want to support, I often wonder why it’s ok for people with disabilities to be the butt of jokes. This isn’t quite the same thing, but I thought it was questionable.

Overall, I would recommend giving something else a shot instead of watching Seven Pounds.

Friday, April 3, 2009

David Balducci's The Camel Club — Book Review

The Camel Club is a direct response to the changes in the world, or at least the United States, since 9/11. The West Wing fan in me picked it up, I admit, because of the picture of the White House on the cover and the promise of some presidential intrigue on the inside flap. That didn’t quite hold up, but I still found some value in it.

A small group of largely disenfranchised men, including one that goes by the all too obvious pun-certainly-intended Oliver Stone, regularly get together to keep track of Washington, D.C., conspiracies. They end up witnessing a murder that eventually involves them in a plot that puts the United States on the brink of nuclear war.

While the book flowed well enough to keep me reading, the ending absolutely destroyed the novel for me. My difficulties with over the top endings may be the reason I never make it as a novelist, but this was just so outlandish and requiring a complete suspension of believability that it took away from the enjoyment of the story.

There were actually some worthwhile insights, assuming they were fact based, into the way the Arab world views itself and us. I could almost claim the same thing – meaning worthwhile insights – into the inner workings of the White House, but the suggestions were so far-fetched I assume they were mostly fiction.

The book was bad enough for me to take forever to actually write this review – I read the book in the fall – but I guess it was good enough to want to finally write it all this time later. More than likely that has a lot more to do with my anal side and needing to finish what I start than the quality of the novel.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reading Marley and Me

I don’t write book reviews on this site any more mostly because I got bored to death with them. Plus, reading started to involve a thought process about the review I was going to write, something I had to assume was taking away from my reading besides the fact that I simply didn’t want to think like that as I read. The review I was going to write was becoming a chore instead of something I actually wanted to write, and the hope of getting back into writing for a newspaper was becoming more like a pipe dream. But reading Marley and Me wasn’t just reading another book, and writing about it certainly isn’t my attempt to review it.

Ever since losing my full-time job a while back, the idea of getting a puppy has appealed to me. I do pretty well at keeping myself busy, and did so even before getting a (very) part-time job from home, but it can get pretty lonely. Unfortunately, my new landlady (aka mom) said no chance. Since she had a decent point that I couldn’t take care of a dog – though I’m not totally convinced of that – and I don’t know that I could even afford a dog, it’s never gone anywhere.

So it was with more than a little trepidation that I picked up Marley and Me. I really didn’t need to pile on myself the feelings of wanting a dog, but with the author John Grogan having written for the Philadelphia Inquirer for years – and having regularly been read his columns whether I wanted to hear them or not by the aforementioned landlady – I eventually couldn’t resist.

There were some definite surprises in reading Grogan’s remembrance of life with his dog. The inevitable – almost unbearable – cuteness of tales of a lovable dog, along with pretty much the only ending possible that tries its best to rip your heart out, was certainly present and well done. There was also some good writing, apart from just the storytelling, made the book even easier to get through.

I will say I could have done without some of the stories, for example Marley’s penchant for eating his own waste almost made me gag. I also didn’t need to read so much about the poor dog losing his manhood. Let’s face it, even just the thought of it makes a guy wince. But, to be fair, I guess some of it was just a part of the reality of owning a dog.

Marley’s absolutely manic behavior would almost be enough to scare me off of wanting a dog if it would wasn’t for the fact that it seemed to be a rarity according to Grogan. Of course, even that was foreseeable according to Grogan by taking a little more note of Marley’s father.

I definitely recommend this book for any dog lovers, or even those that just like dogs. I’ve been told the movie is significantly different, so as the DVD comes out this week, don’t assume that’s all you need to check out if you are interested in Marley and Me.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lewis and Ignorant Parents Deserve Criticism, Not Praise and Support

It’s rare that a news story involving people with disabilities reaches the mainstream media, let alone two of them in the same week. But that’s just what happened this week.

Unfortunately, both stories were merely reminders that even in our politically correct world, insulting the disability community is ok.

It seems the BBC had the nerve to hire a woman that was born with only half of one of her arms to co-host a children’s show. This has outraged many parents, who are apparently horrified that their television is failing at it’s job as mind-numbing baby-sitter, and has presented the fact that there are actual differences among people to their children. Here’s a sampling of reaction from parents according to a story on the website of the NY Times:

A father going by the name of brightroddydoddy wrote: I question the logic of hiring a girl with part of her arm missing (and so obviously placed on display for kids to see it) to present cbeebies. My child was immediately freaked out and didn’t want to watch. There’s a time and place for showing kids all the “differences” that people can have, but nine in the morning in front of 2 year olds is NOT the place! . . . Little overboard on the need for political correctness, perhaps?

A mom, KellieLucas, agreed: I understand that in todays society we have to be politically correct. But how do you explain to a 3-year-old child why the one of the presenters has half an arm. She was extremely upset and confused by this and continues to ask questions. . . . I am not questioning the ability of the lady who seems very good, but I don’t feel that a channel which targets toddlers and young children is the right place.

The story, by the way, had the headline: “Is a Disabled TV Character Too Much for Toddlers?” And the story suggested parents were merely “expressing their discomfort . . .”

I’m not sure which is worse, the Times suggesting there’s an actual debate on the subject, or the moronic parents who think it’s ok to express open prejudice toward people with disabilities. I fear quoting these two, especially the father, empowers like-minded dopes, but hope it serves to expose the level of stupidity still faced by the disability community.

Words can barely express the level of outrage that should be directed at these parents. They are no better than racists who openly express their ignorance as if it was handed down by God. Imagine these words being directed at any other minority group. At the very least the show would remove the messages, which were posted on their site, the story would be a lot more prevalent in the news, and many would rightly question whether or not these people should have social services intervene with their children due to their lack of parenting.

I’ve often been given the impression that European countries were much more socially advanced in regard to treating people with disabilities as equals. I believe we can put that myth to rest. These parents, if they even deserve that title, not only ignored an opportunity to have a worthwhile discussion with their children able to need to respect differences in others, they outright rejected the principle as ludicrous and taught their children to do the same.

Not to be outdone, though, the United States chose to put its ignorance toward people with disabilities on display when the Motion Picture Academy chose to honor Jerry Lewis with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Academy Awards last Sunday. They might have even gotten away with it had they only focused on Lewis’ work in film. Instead they made his work with the Muscular Dystrophy Association part of the video honoring Lewis.

This one just barely reached the media, but many people with MD protested the award due to Lewis’ tactics with the annual MDA Labor Day telethon of inviting pity for people with disabilities. In fact, audio exists of Lewis responding to the criticism by saying, “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house.” (Click here to go to a site with a link to the audio.)

Lewis refused to talk to the press and offered a very brief acceptance speech at the ceremony. It would be nice to think he realized how absurd it was that he was receiving any kind of award. The fact is that such a comment about any other group would have ended his career. Instead, he was just avoiding answering questions about the criticism.

And that is the real problem. He can avoid the issue because people with disabilities still don’t have a true voice in this country (or apparently any other). This man is perpetuating the very stereotypes that allow the world to marginalize and downright ignore people with disabilities, yet is celebrated as some sort of champion for us. He is part of the reason parents think it’s ok to teach their children to “freak out” at the sight of someone with a disability or to assume any modicum of success they achieve is based on political correctness. (Children simply do not react that way to a disability unless conditioned or prompted to do so by ignorant parents.)

Yet, he didn’t receive a single question about it. Instead, he was instead honored for it.

If there was any doubt as to the status of people with disabilities in society as second class citizens – if we rate that highly – I’d like to thank the Academy for putting it to rest.

Lewis comments long ago revealed him as a fraud, and if any group representing people with disabilities had any type of clout, there is absolutely no way he would have been honored. He certainly wouldn’t continue to host the MDA telethon.

I dare say the same about parents posting their ignorance for all to see. They might have the same feelings, just as racists certainly haven’t disappeared, but they might at least not be so brazen with their ignorance. At the very least, the might face a backlash for their idiotic stances. Instead, they’re said to be raising debate.

There is no debate. These types of comments from Lewis and the parents mentioned above should no longer be any more acceptable than other type of hate speech. We must find ways to put real financial pressure on groups like the MDA and Motion Picture Academy to stop tolerating such behavior.

How to make that a reality is something I surely have not discovered, but if nothing else I will continue to write about such issues hoping others do the same (as many do). We’ve all heard the cliché proclaiming the power of the pen; let’s hope there’s some truth to it.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

No Magic Key to Life with a Disability

This essay has been deleted from the blog and will be available in my upcoming book.