Horror of July: Part 1

This past Fourth of July started off as normal as could expected for the year of 2020. Except it turned into a nightmare that my therapist strongly urged me to write down. Sarabeth assured me it would help, and a friend said it would be like purging. I want to get past this. Forgive me for any grammatical or spelling errors, as I did not go back and proofread this.

I just took a moment of silence to reflect on a very horrific thing I witnessed exactly a week ago on 9:33 on the quiet and peaceful morning of Fourth of July. It was an experience that shook me to my core, and one that is incomparable to anything else I’ve ever witnessed.

I was being cranky that morning at home. For some reason or another I just wasn’t feeling very patriotic, even though Fourth of July is my second favorite holiday behind Halloween. I was upset that everything was going to be closed this year because of the stupid pandemic that I still can’t believe is still a thing. I wanted to go to the park and eat junk food and listen to the hokey jamboree band and keep the kids out late to gaze at the fireworks.

But, you know, COVID-19 and paranoia and all that. Sorry America, your birthday party’s gonna suck this year.

Sarabeth said she was going to take the kids for a walk before it got too hot. Not wanting to be a killjoy, like I was already being, I said I’d tag along. She asked me not to go because I was being a jerk, but I insisted. It was Fourth of July, damnit! We were going to celebrate it like one big frickin’ family. This was, of course, the first step that led to the horror I was about to face. It was probably around 9:15; eighteen minutes before the world darkened significantly.

We walked down Kennedy St. to see if Wolverine, the neighborhood cat was out. He was, and the kids pet him for a couple of seconds before Sarabeth urged them to move along. Usually we let them pet her for a few minutes, but not this time. We unknowingly had just about seven minutes left of calm and peace before everything changed.

“Let’s go down one more street,” Sarabeth said. One more street. I wanted to turn down Franck Avenue, just before the firestation. The firestation I mentioned in my article about the tranquil quiet little street of Frankfort Ave. Alongside the entire road were volunteers who had woken up early to clean up the sidwalks and pick up trash and tend to the flowers. What sweet and good people to give up their Saturdays to help make our community a better and safer place.

Only, it wasn’t so safe for all of them.

I relinquished, because I was enjoying the walk. I would have been happy to go down several more streets; it was such a beautiful morning. I was walking just slightly in front of the kids and Sarabeth, I think, when I was thinking about how lame it was that Frankfor Avenue held an Easter parade each year, but not a Fourth of July parade. How fun it would have been if there were floats and beeping buggys and large crowds of people waving to their neighbors’ kids in the marching bands.

At this point we were just nanoseconds from everything changing. And I’m struggling with writing it down because that means I have to willingly go back there in my head. I’m not ready to do that right now. I’m stopping here for now.

We Got a Kitten!

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A surprise landed on (close to) our doorstep. And when I say I’m not a cat person. I’m not exaggerating in the least. I’ve never liked cats, never cared for them, and in fact, they always kind of freaked me out.

But then I saw this little girl, and I knew I wasn’t going to let a terrified kitten go hungry or get killed on my watch. I’m sorry, but no way.

So it took me a long time to lure her to me because I didn’t want to startle her by lunging at her. So I went inside and grabbed my daughter’s tuna sandwich she didn’t eat and I was able to safely and slowly pick our kitty up for the first time.

I walked her to the front door and yelled inside, “Sarabeth, I need you to come here. You kids need to stay inside, but Sarabeth, you need to come out here right now.”

We had just witnessed a horrifically traumatic nightmare three days prior, so for poor Sarabeth, it was like, Oh, crap. What is it nowWhen she came outside, she looked at me in absolute stunned awe. I wasn’t quite ready to adopt a cat, of all things, but as Sarabeth told me later: “I saw the way you were holding her close to your chest and the pitiful look in your eyes.”

So… what’d she do? She called the kids to come outside to meet their new kitty. Forget any discussion about taking her to a shelter before the kids find out. Call it a snap decision, but I think it’s one we’re all quite glad to have made.

And yes, we’ve taken her to the vet and we checked everywhere online for missing kitten reports. I may have seen her parents, but there was no cat as cute as ours who’s been reported missing.

Anyway, check out our video. I think you’ll find it just purrrrfec- What the hell’s happening to me?

Recommended TV Shows

It’s hot out and the pools are closed to the public this summer, so you’ll likely be staying in watching TV unless you’re one of the two people who have a  job.

In this video Sarabeth and I talk a little about our favorite shows. I’d like to add that we watched The Mandalorian last fall, which was definitely worth bumming the Disney + subscription off my buddy – I mean paying a monthly subscription fee.

I’ve also been showing the kids Home Improvement (DVD’s, baby!). That’s definitely a show worth returning to. It seriously holds up more than I thought it would. Enjoy the video!

Ian Holm: “There and…” Back Again to LOTR for Us

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Sir Ian Holm’s passing on June 19 was sad. I dread to think of other household names we might lose during this loser of a year.

  1. Did you know he was knighted? He was, back in 1998.
  2. Ash was my favorite character in Alien.
  3. He was the voice of Skinner, the tiny chef (not the rat) in Ratatouille. 

He was in scores of other movies and TV shows that I haven’t seen, but perhaps most notably, he was the beloved Bilbo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring, and Return of the King.

Sarabeth and I happened to be in the middle of watching the extended editions of this nearly twenty-year-old timeless trilogy when the news of Ian Holm’s passing invaded our newsfeeds.

Obviously, Holm’s character Bilbo Baggins is primarily featured in the first movie, Fellowship, and briefly given screen time in the final chapter, Return of the King. But it’s worth pointing out that his performance in Fellowship is a highlight in a film that is in itself a bright highlight in all of cinema. (Remember that scene where Bilbo turns into a sharp-toothed villain as he reaches for Frodo’s ring?)

Some of my favorite scenes from that movie are the interactions between Bilbo and Gandolf. They really do come across as having a history together, and a deep concern and well-being for one another.

But I’d like to talk about the trilogy as a whole, and make a recommendation. If you haven’t already, check out the nearly-twelve-hours of the extended editions. Not only do you get more Middle Earth, but more backstory that helps support the structure of the theatrical versions.

And beyond that, they come with nearly twelve additional hours of an intricate behind-the-scenes documentary, which is as entertaining as the features themselves. There, you get to enjoy interviews from the cast, the crew, and Peter Jackson himself. Now, you’ve got to to take it from a guy who doesn’t particularly enjoy sitting through documentaries, but these are definitely worth the watch.

And in the end, if you’re like me, you end up just wanting to give Pete Jackson a big hug and thank him for painstakingly making some of the greatest movies of all time (especially the nearly-flawless Return of the King). 

 

Unpublished Piece: Awakening Frankfort Avenue

Having been let go from my job thanks to COVID-19, I’ve been actively pursuing my dream of having a career in journalism. One thing I’m learning is that not every piece I write will be published, and that’s okay. Here’s a loving piece I wrote a few weeks ago about the street around the corner from me:

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In the wake of the worldwide shutdown, many of us may feel like forest animals after a fire, poking our heads out from under the brush, checking for signs of safety before we venture out to what used to be our homes. All around the world people are reluctantly stepping back into old haunts, and visiting favorite places without calling in beforehand. Facemasks have replaced air fresheners on most rear view mirrors, and they are now parked on streets in front of shops and restaurants that are now waking up from a very long and lonely winter.

There are literally billions of little streets like this around the globe, but we’re going to focus on one in particular, in the neighborhood of Clifton. Just a mile or two outside of downtown. It’s a tiny stretch on Frankfort Avenue, just nineteen little businesses visible from the street, and eight that are hidden. We’re looking at that little stretch that’s not even a quarter mile long that goes from the Crescent Hill Library to the fire station that houses engine 4.

It’s early Monday morning. The roosters are still crowing from the chicken coops neighbors keep in their yards. The church bells dong a somber tune that emits from Crescent Hill Baptist Church where the sign outside reads: “HE IS RISEN WE WILL TOO.” Is this a promise that we will rise from our hiding places, our quarantine? Or simply that our spirits will rise back up as Christ has done from his grave?

The Crescent Hill Branch Library’s sign is a little more clear: “WE’LL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER.” Hashtag LFPL.  And another hashtag: Team Kentucky. But the sign hanging on the widow is blue and ominous, and many others will echo it down along the rest of Frankfort Avenue. It says all the library branches are closed due to COVID-19. There’s no opening date. No promise that they’ll be back soon to open the doors and load your arms with books.

Walk west several feet with the unusually quiet railroad track to your right. When you come to a blue horse statue, you’ll find an Italian restaurant with patio seating, seats the patio hasn’t seen since March. Porcini offers insalata, antipasto, pasta, pizza, and fine wines. You can almost hear the building sigh, hoping that it will get to see rowdy summer evenings this year.

But perk up! Because next door brings our fist glimpse of good news! The first sign of life is posted on a bright yellow notice on the widow of Fitness on Frankfort. “We are very excited to reopen Fitness on Frankfort on June 1st. We have missed each and every one of you!” And everyone has missed you, too, Fitness on Frankfort. But everyone is still being cautious. Following the announcement is a list of rules and guidelines that must be strictly adhered to upon reopening.

The not-for-profit store, Just Creations, is carefully following CDC guidelines, so patrons can still stop in and pick up international spices and peanuts and also purchase hand-made facemasks displayed on orange and white mannequin busts. But the absence of flyers advertising concerts stand up shows and the Trolley Hop is felt from the sidewalk. From yoga to dentistry, and even to shops that turn bourbon into food, no one was left untouched and unharmed from the coronavirus. Not even the shops on this quiet little street in eastern Louisville. You can feel the fallout. But these little places are still standing. They’re still here.

But there are some casualties. The Louisville Rock Shop, for instance, had to vacate their baby blue building, tucked away from Frankfort Ave. A big “FOR LEASE” sign faces S Baly Ave. from building 107. But don’t be too worried. Customers can still get their stones from the website, louisvillerockshop.com, and your stones can now be delivered. Jill is also still doing crystal readings, so don’t forget to book a session. Support local business. Help the hard working entrepreneurs who have lost so much. But the final words on their farewell sign hold on to hope, even if the tears are still there. “We are looking forward to what the future has in store for the shop so stay in touch. Much love to you all!”

But not all is lost. Caspian Grill will still be serving gyro burgers, Heine Bros’ only allows three people in at a time, and even though restaurants were allowed to open on May 22, Eggs Over Frankfort will continue to only do carry out as they feel their “small size might make it difficult to maintain social distancing for our staff and guests.” The notice mentions “a new normal” for proper dining experiences.

Will things ever go back to being the same?

Lashtastic of Louisville, where people go to get eyelash extensions, attempt to brighten the spirits of pedestrians walking by with hearts of all colors cut from construction paper, hanging like drapes over the windows. A nice reprieve from health guidelines. Margaret’s replaced their unsold Derby dresses with white gowns to be worn underneath graduation robes that won’t see the large crowds of proud parents and grandparents this year.

Cross South Hite and you’ll find artwork going un-perused in B. Deemer Gallery. Someone is getting their hair done inside Era Salon, and Ward’s Hair Shop has yet to open. Urban Kitty has those yellow smiley faced-balloons floating above their plants. The Craft House and the Wine Rack will be open later today, but under strict guidelines, of course.

Will we ever be free of these health guidelines?

Some places were considered too essential to close, like Oscar’s Hardware. Because even during the shutdown, toilets leaked, people needed lug nuts, and damnit, some people just wanted to build stuff while they were stuck inside all day. But still, it’s nice to know that some businesses are considered essential. But wouldn’t it be better if all were considered such?

Like Redhog, the pork shop. What used to be a fun gathering attraction can now only occupy two customers at one time.

This may be the “new normal” as Eggs Over Frankfort suggests. But will this be our permanent normal? Will the people of Frankfort Avenue continue to tiptoe around and inside these favorite landmarks? Or will people become brave one day and come all the way out of hiding and reclaim the neighborhood that’s theirs?

Maybe that’s not up for us to decide. Maybe it’s just a matter of time before the dust settles and we can take off our facemasks and smile nakedly once more at the dog walkers, the joggers, the early evening first-date strollers. May those moments not be only for Frankfort Avenue’s history books, but also for our tomorrows and subsequent spring afternoons, summer evenings, and brisk fall mornings. May these moments always color Frankfort Avenue.

15 Great Movies that You Missed in the Last 5 Years

It’s summer, and movie theaters are starting to open back up finally!! So if you don’t make the 33% capacity cut, and you want something to watch, read on.

As you know, I took a few-year hiatus from blogging, but it sure feels good to be back. In those years I didn’t report on some of my favorite movies I’ve watched since I last wrote to you.

So, I went through the list of movies I’ve watched over the past five years (yes, I keep a list), and I picked fifteen movies that did not get the attention I thought they deserved.

Yes, I loved John Wick, Avengers: Infinity War, and Us, but chances are, you’ve already seen those movies, or at least know of their existence. This list of movies you may have missed due to mostly being quieter films, but still worth the watch.

Disclaimer: Most of the films mentioned below will provide much better viewing experiences the less you know about them, so I’m going to keep the synopsis.

 

The Visit (2015), Directed by M. Night Shyamalan

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I didn’t discover this movie until several years after it had been out, which is surprising because I tend to keep tabs on fading Hollywood talent (i.e. Adam Sandler, Spielberg, Jim Carrey). Few would argue that Shyamalan had been floundering on rock bottom with disappointing films such as The Village, The Last Airbender, and After Earth. He’s been climbing back up with hits such as Split, but little did I know that this freaky flick about creepy-ass grandparents preceded Split. And it’s got that old familiar element that made us fall in love with Shyamalan to begin with: an awkward and satisfying blend of jump-scares and plenty of laughs.

The Walk (2015), directed by Robert Zemeckis

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It’s usually a pleasure when famed director Robert Zemeckis (Back to the Future trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Castaway) doesn’t resort to that CGI mocap crap like he kept doing with Beowulf, and Disney’s A Christmas Carol (I liked Polar Express). The Walk certainly has its fair share of animation and special effects, but it never gets in the way of this awesome true story about a tightrope walker who walks across two of the world’s tallest buildings that no longer exist.

The Hateful Eight (2015), directed by Quentin Tarantino

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Generally Tarantino fans will see all of Tarantino movies. And generally speaking, all of Tarantino’s movies are absolutely hypnotizing. I know this is probably the most well-known movie on this list because of the names backing this film up, but I also know that there are a lot of people who still haven’t seen a Tarantino film for whatever reason. I would suggest that this would be a good one to start with just because Tarantino is actually rather constrained as far as his trademark use of violence. Really, this movie is just a downright fun whodunit, with memorable acting, and extremely crisp dialogue.

Lion (2016), directed by Garth Davis

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A good adoption story for people who like adoption stories. This movie is high on emotion and facts and low on sap. Sarabeth has never cried in a movie before, but there are two movies on this list that broke her rock-hard record, and this is one of them. However, I cry often in movies, and this did not break me.

The Founder (2016), directed by John Lee Hancock

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Director John Lee Hancock could have had a successful career as a historian or biographer, and he would have lived up to the likes of David McCullough. But luckily he went into filmmaking instead, because he happens to have given us some damn good movies, like The Rookie, and the brutally honest Saving Mr. Banks. The thing I like about Hancock’s movies is that he doesn’t sugarcoat and he rarely takes creative liberties. He tells historical stories as they actually happened. And this movie about the “founder” of the burger empire is equally entertaining and jarring in its facts.

A Monster Calls (2016), directed by J.A. Bayona

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This is a fable akin to the style of Big Fish (another recommendation). It’s a bit darker and moodier, and it’s the second film ever to make Sarabeth cry. Again, I did not.

The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017), directed by Niki Caro

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I’ve always loved a good outsmart-the-Nazis story, and this one delivers just that. The poster makes it look like a soft watch, but it’s not. It’s hardcore intensity running wild throughout just like a good Nazi movie should be. Animal lovers beware: not all the animals live.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017), directed by Martin McDonagh

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Do not bother looking to see what this is about if you decide to watch this movie. Half of the fun is in the surprises. The first time I watched this movie, my jaw hit the floor and I just kept thinking how excited I was to have a  new favorite in my top ten, maybe even five movie list. This movie should have been talked about so much more, but I think it just fell behind the rowdiness of the Marvel movies that year. Frances McDormand is one of my favorite female actors. It’s also got Sam Rockwell, an absolute favorite of mine, and as a bonus, Woody Harrelson. It’s like Christmas watching these three not only come together, but put on arguably the best performances of their careers. To boot, the story is gripping and controversial, and overwhelmingly entertaining. This is one of those movies where I feel bad for anyone who doesn’t see it. And Peter Dinklage fans, you might want to give this special consideration as well.

American Made (2017), directed by Doug Liman

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I’m a big Tom Cruise fan (I know, I know). Tom Cruise is best known for his Ethan Hawk performance in the Mission: Impossible franchise (my personal favorite franchise next to Toy Story and Lord of the Rings). And if you haven’t seen Fallout yet, get your ass on it ASAP. But Tom Cruise has also been doing other projects that aren’t as headlined, like this revealing movie about the Iran-Contra affair.

Three Identical Strangers (2018), directed by Tim Wardle

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I’m not much of a documentary guy, but I am very glad I watched this. And I’m even gladder still that I didn’t research it before watching it. The revelations are what make it fun.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? (2018), directed by Morgan Neville

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Again, I’m not much into documentaries, and I never really watched Mr. Rogers growing up. I’m sure you’ve watched Tom Hanks’ most recent movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, and if not, get on it. But I’d argue that this documentary is just as good as that film. It’s a great companion piece. Also, this one made me cry randomly at different times just because I miss being a child.

Instant Family (2018), directed by Sean Anders

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I’m not a fan of “family-friendly” movies. And honestly, I never would have watched this if we hadn’t adopted kids for ourselves, but what I really liked about this flick was that I felt like it depicted the foster-care/adoption system as accurately as a Hollywood movie could in a 90-minute timeframe. I was more impressed with this movie than I thought I would be.

Yesterday (2019), directed by Danny Boyle

This is why I don’t think movies should be categorized into genres because I’m not a big fan of romantic movies, and I’m not a fan of comedies (generally speaking). But this movie is both. Maybe it’s not your typical rom-com because it’s made by the brilliant director who gave us 127 Hours and 28 Days Later (the zombie movie, not the Sandra Bullock one). The premise should be enough to convince you: What if the whole world forgot about the Beatles, except you? (The video above is a movie review I did for this film. Check out my channel for lots of other reviews, and subscribe.)

Richard Jewell (2019), directed by Clint Eastwood

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If you don’t remember the aftermath of the 1996 Olympics bombing, don’t refresh yourself. Allow this movie to sway you, confuse you, then convince you. This is easily my favorite Clint Eastwood film, and could very possibly be a contender on my top 10 favorite movies. Kathy Bates knocks it out of the park, and to say that this is Sam Rockwell’s best movie, well, he’s just always playing off all cylinders. If Three Billboards is my favorite movie on this list, this is my second favorite. A very, very close second. The laughs are rare in this film, but they hit hard when they come.

Uncut Gems (2019), directed by Benny Safdie and Josh Safdie

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All I’m going to say is this: THIS IS THE ADAM SANDLER WE’VE BEEN DYING TO SEE FOR THE LAST FIFTEEN YEARS!! MAY WE GET MORE OF THIS GUY FROM HERE ON OUT. It looks like he’s finally “grown up,” and I just hope he stays that way, because when he’s not making fart jokes, he’s a pretty brilliant actor. And this movie showcases his talent in all its glory.

If you’re interested in more of my movie reviews, I have a YouTube channel. Click the video below to see my top 5 favorite movies of 2019. It was a hard list to edit down.