5-sentence review of ‘The Flash: Fastest Man Alive’


The Flash” | Season 1, Episode 2: “Fastest Man Alive” | Date: Oct. 14, 2014

  1. “The Flash” is the best show I’ve watched this year.
  2. The show is remarkably true to its superhero comics origins, but loses very little in translation.
  3. It does not force itself to be dark and gritty, yet avoids being campy and silly.
  4. I like that it gives homages to the underrated 1990 series of the same name.
  5. But the fun, oh, the starry-eyed belief that one man can make a difference and be extraordinary, well, there just isn’t enough of that earnestness in fiction or reality.

Moments: On the burdens of books


My back is sore. My legs hurt. I’m tired of carrying this heavy load.

The burden I refer to is books. I have too many of them. The shelves of my overstuffed (and very cheap) bookcases sag beneath the weight of my books. Nearly every surface in my home serves as a holding space for books.

Paperbacks are jammed into the entertainment center behind the TV. Books pile up on the coffee table. There are a few in the closet and a few more in the nightstand. I bet if I looked real close, I’d find a few under the bed.

But I’m too scared to look under there. I saw “Monsters, Inc.” Nobody wants to be surprised in bed by John Goodman and Billy Crystal.

This book problem becomes particularly acute when one moves, which I’m doing this week.

Confession: I have not read all the books I own. I have not read most of the books I own.

I have, for example, a Christian Bible. I keep it out of respect for my parents, particularly my late father, who went to a great deal of hassle to make sure I passed confirmation at the First United Methodist Church in Winterset when I was a boy.

I’ve looked up things in it. There are lots of Biblical references in society, especially made by politicians. I like to look them up and see if they say what I’m told they say. But most of the time the language is very dense and often vague. So, no, I haven’t read it cover to cover.

I watched “The Ten Commandments,” “The Greatest Story Ever Told” and “The Bible” on TV around Easter every year when I was a boy. I know it’s not the same, but I understood those.

A very nice Methodist minister I knew gave me a guide to prayer when I graduated. I picked through it once in a while when I’m feeling desperate, but I didn’t understand the supplementary materials any more than I did the main text. But I keep both, just in case.

I have a very nice hardback collection of Plato’s dialogues. I haven’t read it, either. It makes less sense to me than the Bible. It was given to me by a philosophy professor I had at Drake University. He and his wife, who was the provost at the time, wrote a very kind dedication upon my graduation.

I briefly considered cutting out that page and putting the book in the pile to sell to the used bookstore. But that seemed uncouth. So the book went in a box.

Other books, however, were less fortunate. “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, three books by James Joyce and a collection of Ernest Hemingway short stories were all sold. These are books I bought because I thought it was important to have them. I thought writers had to read these kinds of books to be writers of any promise or ability.

But I never read them. I’m not sure Joyce is even written in English. I bought those books because I wanted to impress a girl in St. Louis. Her former boyfriend quoted Joyce. She’s married now, not to me of course.

And, well, most of the people I know who regularly quote Joyce are kind of snobs. I can’t become a snob if I don’t read him and, thus, don’t quote him. So I got rid of those books to improve my character.

My apologies to Dickens and Hemingway, whom are often regarded as canon by people who call a writer “a man of letters.” I get more out of the collections of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. Anyway, I like those books.

I could never really get into the machismo Hemingway or the Victorian-era Dickens. I loved, however, the “Doctor Who” episode in which the Doctor and Rose meets Dickens. I have that on DVD. I’ll probably watch it before I read a page of “Great Expectation.”

People often give me books by Bill Bryson, the Des Moines, Iowa, native who moved to England and writes books admired by nearly everyone, save me, who prefers Ross MacDonald and Joseph Wambaugh. So a couple Bryson books, both gifts, were sold off, hopefully to land in a home where they’ll be read by an admirer rather than an ignorer.

My bookshelves are heavy with good intentions. There’s an acclaimed book about the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I bought it at the suggestion of a colleague, who said it was excellent and showed everything the public thinks about that day is a lie. I bought the book used. It was sold with no additional mileage. It struck me as too depressing a topic to want to scratch through while relaxing at bedtime.

I always meant to read “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton. It was the classic insider tell-all about life in the majors. Mickey Mantle reportedly wouldn’t talk to Bouton for years because Bouton revealed Mantle as a drunk. It seems kind of innocent in retrospect, doesn’t it? Entire books are written about all kinds of horrible things done by baseball players and other athletes these days. Being a drunk wouldn’t even rate an item in the celebrity news.

A copy of James Clavell’s “Shogun” won’t make it to my new home. I’ve never been one for epics, but I have the NBC-TV miniseries based on the novel on DVD. I think that’s probably enough feudal Japan for me.

I kept “Summer of ’49” by David Halberstam, which I bought as a paperback from the racks at Montross Pharmacy in Winterset. I read it on long baseball road trips from Winterset to Nevada. I felt the hot sun on my arms and fell in love with the New York Yankees as they beat back the Boston Red Sox on the final game of the 1949 season.

I had several books by Charles Finney, who writes about time travel. I was impressed by the title of one book collection: “3 By Finney.” The guy had the same last name as me. Maybe I could write three novels. But its doubtful. I never read “3 By Finney” or any of the others.

For years, I owned a guide to being an action hero. I bought it one night after a writing class I took with my friend Syd Spink. We laughed uncontrollably under the section that advised what to do if you’re wrongly convicted of a crime and sent to prison. Advice included: “Take a lover if you need to. Do whatever it takes to survive.” But I never really read it more than that.

Of course, there are books that will always be with me. “Nobody Asked Me But … The World of Jimmy Cannon,” by the great columnist Jimmy Cannon, was given to me by the best teacher I ever had, a journalism professor at Drake. I was struggling to come up with a column idea one week. He picked up the book at a used sale. It was a revelation. I keep it close, a reminder of the great teacher and the great writer. That’s the book I save in case of fire.

Collections of columns by Mary McGrory, Mike Royko, Roger Ebert and Andy Rooney all made the cut. Most of my comic books and graphic novels make the trip. Yeah, I know they’re books with more pictures than words, but people who say that have never enjoyed the sublime pleasure of Jack Kirby’s kinetic art with Stan Lee’s prose in something as perfect as “Captain America No. 105.”

So I culled the collection, not as much as I probably should have and certainly not as much as my movers would have wished I had. But there are fewer books headed to the new apartment.

I would like to believe I’ll be content to enjoy the books I have — especially those gone too long unread. But I ordered a collection of Hunter S. Thompson works just this morning. I don’t think that cleared shelf space will stay vacant long.

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On Movies: ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’ left me cold and bored


Guardians of the Galaxy” | Rated PG 13 | Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes | DirectorJames Gunn | CastChris PrattZoe SaldanaDave BautistaLee PaceMichael RookerKaren GillanJohn C. ReillyBenicio Del Toro and the voices of Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper.

“Guardians of the Galaxy” makes a better 2-minute music video than a 2-hour movie.

The Marvel Studios movie is what the advertisements promised it would be: things blowing up, occasionally amusing one-liners and enough old music to plan a block of your local classic rock station.

What it isn’t, I dare say, is good. Oh, it’s fine. But it never quite hits “11” the way other Marvel Movies have. It’s no “Avengers.” And it’s certainly not the terrific pleasure that was “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” It’s better than, say, the two “Iron Man” sequels.

This movie is mildly more fun than “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” which I found tedious and dull. “Guardians of the Galaxy” is just average, OK, fair, not bad enough to be mediocre, but not good enough to be interesting.

The movie begins with a blizzard of alien names and planets. If you didn’t read comics, which I do, you would have no idea what any of it meant. Having read the comics, I can assure you that, in fact, it meant nothing.

The story is pretty straightforward: Ronan, an angry blue guy with a sledgehammer, wants to destroy the galaxy. A group of plucky misfits, including a talking raccoon and an animated tree, band together to stop him.

Ronan isn’t all that interesting as a villain. He’s not scary. His superpower appears to be being able to work in a spaceship with almost no lights. The guy may be able to smash people’s heads with his sledgehammer, but there isn’t a 75-watt bulb to be found on his big, twisty space rig.

He has a couple minions. One is named Nebula. She’s blue, like him. The other is Gamora. She’s green. They’re both the (sort of) daughters of Thanos, who is purple. The minions are both played by beautiful women in form-fitting clothing that highlight their rearends. It’s not really acting or character depth, but it’s something that kept my attention when the story got muddled or dull, which it did a lot.

This Thanos guy is described as “the mad Titan.” We meet Thanos. He sits on a chair kept afloat by rockets on some rocks in space. He’s played by Josh Brolin. He doesn’t do anything that’s even remotely scary or powerful, either. But he is supposed to be some sort of big bad. Perhaps he’ll do something interesting in the third Avengers movie. For “Guardians of the Galaxy,” however, he’s just a red — well, purple — herring.

There’s another green guy. His name is Drax. He’s angry and doesn’t understand metaphors. This is supposed to be amusing, but I think it is just to cover up for the fact that the professional wrestler who portrays him isn’t big on acting.

Chris Pratt is charismatic as Peter Quill, the group’s leader, but he was much better as a different kind of action figure: Emmet, the Lego guy.

There are a lot of winking references in the film for late Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, from nods to the Space Invaders video game to “Footloose.” There’s so much of this stuff, one might think this was an episode of “Family Guy,” where imitation is used as comedy. But in the case of both the Fox cartoon and “Guardians of the Galaxy,” imitation is just copying in hopes no one notices what is actually going on isn’t compelling enough to sustain your attention.

Then there’s all that classic rock music, worn-out songs such as “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede and “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” They’re fine songs. But they’ve been played so much on the radio, TV and movies that one doesn’t hear them anymore. They’re just background music, filler. If the filmmakers are trying to evoke nostalgia with these songs, all they really serve to do is make something meant to be spectacular quite mundane.

This isn’t a complaint that’s specific to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” but the visual effects are overwhelming. This isn’t a good thing. In some of the space battles, the action moves so quickly and is so chaotic, I really didn’t know what I was looking at. This happens a lot in movies this days. Computers have given filmmakers the ability to do anything. Too often they choose to do everything all at once.

There is also the the rather large matter of exposition: There’s way too much of it. All the characters are sad. Their parents are dead. They’re weird. They don’t have any friends. The galaxy doesn’t love them. But they find kinship and common purpose in … blah, blah, blah.

The writers work far too hard to give emotional depth to characters that are obvious and without a hint of edge or mystery. Everything is spelled out a little too clearly when it comes the heroes’ purity of motives. This isn’t an ABC Afterschool Special. It’s fine if some people to good things for bad reasons. That’s even interesting. These characters are not interesting. They’re quirky.

Michael Rooker is in the film. He plays the same character he played on “The Walking Dead,” except he’s got a red mohawk, a whistle-controlled arrow and blue skin. Apparently blue is the new orange, which was previously the new black.

My biggest gripe against “Guardians of the Galaxy” is that not one thing happens that is surprising. The heroes who don’t like each other end up being BFFs. They come through in the nick of time because, by golly, they’re pure of heart. You just knew the talking tree was going to say something other than “I am Groot.” Nobody important dies. And if you can’t guess what’s inside the present given to Quill by his dying mother, you’re just not paying attention.

Then again, this isn’t really a movie that requires you to pay attention.