Kenosha, Wisconsin: Pershing Plaza McDonald's with “Guns” and “Ammo” banners
This McDonald’s restaurant at Pershing Plaza in Kenosha, Wisconsin was the site of a 1993 active shooter attack that killed two people. (Photo by Amy Czerniec, April 15, 2023.)

Another Week: Number 16

by | April 16, 2023

We have lost our minds in America, and things are getting worse, not better.

On March 27, a shooter killed three staff members and three 9-year-olds at a school in Nashville, Tennessee.

One week later, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation allowing people to carry concealed guns without a permit and without training.

Three days after that, the Tennessee House of Representatives expelled two members for protesting gun violence in response to the Nashville shooting.

Four days after that, a shooter in Louisville, Kentucky killed five people and injured eight others.

Four days after that, former vice president Mike “Slim Pickens” Pence pressed the applause pedal to the metal in calling for faster executions of mass shooters in his speech at an NRA summit. (Never mind that many mass shooters die, as intended, in their attacks — or that some are mentally ill and unlikely to weigh penal promptness in their planning. Never mind that most mass shootings are state crimes, and a President Pence would not be able rewrite the criminal code of the 50 states.)

Speaking to the same audience, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem bragged that her two-year-old grandchild already has several guns.

Sifting through the news yesterday morning, I read one story about police responding to the wrong address, then shooting and killing the man who answered the door there holding a gun.

Then I read another story about pizza being delivered to the wrong address, and the people there who ate it getting into a shootout with the neighbors next door who ordered it. 30 rounds were fired, and five people were shot.

Meanwhile, on her way to the store, my wife had to detour because police had a roundabout blocked off while they dealt with the body of a shooting victim in a blue bag.

At long last this week, I heard someone on cable news underline what all of these shootings have in common:

In every single case, it’s guns.


The Big Door Prize

Amy has been smitten with actor Chris O’Dowd since early in our viewing of all three seasons of Get Shorty, one of the most overlooked series in TV history. We also caught O’Dowd in State of the Union which was exceptional but odd, due to its 10-minute episodes.

So we were excited when The Big Door Prize — starring Chris O’Dowd — began rolling out on Apple TV+ this past March 29.

The series is based on the novel of the same name by M.O. Walsh, a New York Times bestselling author who does not currently have a Wikipedia page. The story concerns a mysterious machine that appears in the town Deerfield, Louisiana, and can tell you your life’s potential for two bucks.

In the book, according to Walsh’s website, the DNAMIX machine resembles a photo booth and requires a swab of your cheek.

In the TV series, the machine is called MORPHO, sports a blue butterfly theme, and has an arcade game interface that takes your fingerprints and Social Security number. After a little fanfare, it produces an envelope holding a blue card with a word or two summarizing all you can be.

We have seen four of the ten announced episodes, and I guess the idea is that each roughly 30-minute installment centers on a different townsperson. Surprise — each of the locals has an inner life that may not be apparent to casual passersby.

Ironically, though, no one in this show — which aims to crack open the chrysalis and show us gooey, Ted Lasso-like human feelings — feels real.

The town (as adapted by David West Read of Schitt’s Creek success) is more like a science fiction Pleasantville than anywhere in Louisiana.

O’Dowd plays Dusty, a high school history teacher noted for his whistling (stunt whistling performed by voice actor Joe Zieja). Dusty also does amusing stunt-riding to work on his scooter.

Billed as a comedy, the show is all very cute, but not especially funny. And although the characters each have their quirks and traits, there’s no real depth, so the gooey insides feel like parody. Picture “TV Dad” from the Progressive commercials revealing — well, I don’t want to spoil anything.

So here we are once again in Apple TV+ land — like Physical, like Shrinking, like Hello Tomorrow!, The Big Door Prize is another puzzling series that takes place in an alternate reality seemingly generated by artificial intelligence, attempting human comedy and drama together, but getting neither right.

As for Chris O’Dowd, well — like Billy Crudup in Hello Tomorrow! — he’s an excellent actor doing the best anyone can do with what’s on the page.


On a Wing and a Prayer (2023)

Tuesday was one of my dinner-and-a-movie nights with my mom, and on our way to something else on Prime Video, she spotted Dennis Quaid’s face on the home screen carousel with “#1 in the US” above it.

“What about that?” she asked, so I hit play and settled in for what I figured would be an onslaught of Christian propaganda.

You know that old chestnut about air traffic controllers having to talk someone through how to land a plane because the real pilot has suddenly died of a heart attack? Now stretch that out to one hour and 42 minutes and have faith-and-family mogul Roma Downey produce it.

On a Wing and a Prayer is in no way a good movie, but it’s not as bad as its 16% Tomatometer rating would suggest. It should have maybe twice that number.

The movie is based on the true story of Doug White, who landed a King Air 200 at Fort Myers, Florida on Easter Sunday 2009. Dennis Quaid plays White, whose wife (Heather Graham) and two daughters are on the flight with him. Raina Grey plays a fictional young girl named Donna — an aviation nerd who follows the flight’s communications from her bedroom, explaining technical details to another kid so we can all understand the peril.

The crisis does get passed between several different advisers on the ground, making it a bit hard sometimes to tell who’s making decisions. One guy’s girlfriend assembles a makeshift cockpit in his workshop out of random items to help him visualize things. The plane is too fast one minute, too slow the next, and there’s a lot of tense questioning about whether the autopilot is or is not on or off.

There are religious nudges and winks, but they’re not really excessive. After his ordeal, Doug pointedly ignores voicemails from Oprah and Ellen producers inviting him to tell his story on TV. Ouch!

Not everything in On a Wing and a Prayer is true. The storm is fiction. Doug White had much more previous flying experience than the movie portrays.

As the plane landed, my mom turned to me and remarked that the filmmakers didn’t do the best job on this one.




Coming up April 27th on HBO Max (or just “Max” as of May 23rd) is a miniseries called Love & Death.

Not to be confused with the Woody Allen film, this one will star Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemons in the true story of Wylie, Texas, housewife Candy Montgomery, who was tried for the axe murder of her friend Betty Gore in 1980.

This reminded the completist in me that last year there was a Hulu miniseries called Candy based on the exact same case. So I figured we could watch the existing series while waiting for the new one.

Unfortunately, it takes more to make a worthwhile movie or miniseries than simply assembling a collection of costumes and sets and cars evoking the 1970s or 1980s and having actors walk around in wigs, mouthing lines like human Ken and Barbie dolls.

Candy stars Jessica Biel in a wig with a Texas accent, with Timothy Simons (Jonah Ryan from Veep) as her husband Pat, Melanie Lynskey as murder victim Betty Gore, and Pablo Schreiber as Betty’s husband Allan.

Also appearing, in a cop costume with a mustache, is Biel’s real-life husband Justin Timberlake.

Candy Montgomery is a busy, sociable Christian housewife desperate for some passion. Betty Gore is a lonely, introverted, and repressed Christian housewife. Both husbands are clueless dorks in short-sleeved dress shirts. And … action!

We have yet to watch the fifth and final episode, but that’s an obligatory chore at this point. It’s all just wigs and accents and 80s station wagons and beige color grading (except when red recalls bloody murder).

I sure hope the Max thing is better. We have known Jesse Plemons since he was a high schooler in West Texas on a show with actual characters.


Chef (2014)

Thursday was another dinner-and-a-movie night at my mom’s, and this time I picked the flick: Jon Favreau‘s 2014 gem Chef, which he wrote, directed, co-produced, and starred in — along with John Leguizamo, Sofía Vergara, Scarlett Johansson, Oliver Platt, Bobby Cannavale, Dustin Hoffman, and even Robert Downey Jr.

Currently streaming on HBO Max, Chef is an underappreciated triumph. Favreau plays Carl Casper, a once-inspired chef from Miami who, ten years later, is divorced from his impossibly rich and glamorous wife (Vergara) and rehashing those same old popular dishes at a fancy place in L.A.’s Brentwood area — until the night of a review by a powerful restaurant critic (Platt).

This sets in motion a challenge for the chef to return to his authentic self, rediscover the joy of food and cooking, and stop neglecting his young son (Emjay Anthony, who my mom declared adorable repeatedly).

There’s a road trip, music, New Orleans, lots and lots of cooking — it’s a great little movie.

Mom liked it — and she wasn’t even bothered by the swearing.



Please add your thoughts: