Captain Mike's food truck in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

March 8, 2024: Fish fry food truck on 51st Place, outside Captain Mike’s in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Another Week: Number 63

by | March 10, 2024

My addiction to radio began in childhood. My grandma had a bright red Coca-Cola radio in her Cicero, Illinois grocery store when I was a toddler. Not long after I could ride a two-wheeler, I mounted a transistor radio on my handlebars and listened to Chicago’s two top-40 music stations, WCFL and WLS, or Cubs games as I rode around my Kenosha neighborhood.

The magic was in the miracle of a live broadcast. Here I was cutting across the Southport School playground, and meanwhile, a guy in Chicago was sitting in front of a microphone, making wisecracks and playing records. He had a news guy keeping a watch on the world. If something major happened, they would find out about it and tell me.

These days, I can’t tell you whether radio still exists. Instead, I have TuneIn, on which I mostly listen to MSNBC and CNN for hours every weekday.

The live broadcast is still the attraction: Things are happening in the world, and I’ll hear about them via the people talking right now in New York, Atlanta, or wherever. Lately, as I suddenly find myself living alone in addition to working from home, the anchors and correspondents may be the only human voices I hear all day.

As with any habit, I put up with a lot of torment to get my fix. I hear certain commercials — like Kwik Trip’s “Fried Chicken For Life” offer — dozens of times daily. Listening to MSNBC’s José Díaz-Balart is pure torture. Major news events — such as this week’s Super Tuesday elections and President Biden’s State of the Union speech — get oversimplified and rehashed ad nauseam, often with a jaded, condescending tone aimed at “resonating” with an audience presumed ignorant.

Nevertheless, a pair of sharp minds — MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes — managed to cut through all the “longest presidential campaign in history” brain rot to deliver a couple of bracing slaps of sense this week.

On Monday, Maddow underlined in bold marker that your choice for president this November is either Donald Trump or Joe Biden: Pick one. Any mental slacker who submits that they “don’t pay attention to politics” or that “Biden is too old” or that they don’t like choosing “the lesser of two evils” should be forced to watch Maddow’s segment after swimming in a frozen lake.

Then, on Wednesday, Chris Hayes reminded us where we were four years ago: Right at the beginning of the COVID disaster that President Trump botched so horribly. Even though House Republican Conference Chair Elise Stefanik wants to erase the record, Hayes insists Trump was indeed president for all of 2020, the year of  “freezer trucks packed full of bodies” that we now, understandably, might like to forget.

This week I walked 6.74 miles.

Friday, in the rain, my sister Karen and her husband Kevin took me to the fish fry they love at Captain Mike’s in Kenosha. The bar is run by a guy named Mick who hails from Ireland and his wife Jeanette. Their fried cod wrapped in paper with fries and a curry sauce does have a certain “across the pond” character. It was a good meal — and Mick was also touting his upcoming St. Patrick’s Day festivities.



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Triumph of the Will (1935)

I continue my snail-like progress through the 858 pages of Joachim C. Fest’s 1973 Hitler biography. It is the detailed explanation I was seeking for how Hitler maneuvered himself into power and put a nation under his spell.

Propaganda, of course, was one of Hitler’s most powerful tools, and Triumph of the Will, the 1935 documentary by Leni Riefenstahl, is one of the most noted examples of propaganda in history.

The film documents Hitler’s 1934 Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg. My sister Karen has visited Nuremberg, but she has not studied Hitler, and neither of us has seen Riefenstahl’s infamous movie, so on Tuesday I rented it via Apple TV+.

Her technique is solid. Gorgeous photography presents Hitler as a humble superhero, intercut with glimpses of ordinary Germans yearning for him and deeply moved to be in his presence. The enormity of everything about the annual rally is staggering — so many people, so many flags, huge bonfires at night, endless formations of marching Nazis. The troops are armed with shovels for reforestation, as it’s still four years before Hitler crazily embarks on his war.

There are brief excerpts from many speeches, and the version I rented helpfully identifies all of the despicable speakers and captions many notable details in English, with closed-captioning also available for English translation.

Despite Riefenstahl’s artistry, you can only watch so many salutes and drummers and flags and marching and Hitler histrionics before astonishment turns to queasiness, and her 144-minute documentary well exceeds that limit.

But now we have seen it.



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Poor Things (2023)

The trailer for Poor Things captured me some time ago, so when it became available on Hulu Thursday, my sister and I pounced, subjecting our 88-year-old mom to it ahead of the Academy Awards.

The movie is a fantastical spawn of Frankenstein, with Emma Stone in the role of Bella, a woman brought back from death and given the brain of a child. Willem Dafoe plays the eccentric scientist, Godwin “God” Baxter. Ramy Youssef is his assistant, a passive medical student named Max McCandles who becomes fond of Bella, and Mark Ruffalo is Duncan Wedderburn, a cad lawyer fascinated by her as she starts developing into a curious, self-aware woman.

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos, the movie is visually wild. There are lots of wide-angle distortions, color shifts, odd angles, bizarre costumes and makeup, CGI wonders, and so on. Emma Stone’s physicality is simultaneously as creepy as any Universal monster movie and as funny as Lucille Ball’s.

The script is chock full of clever and unexpected lines. The characters are rich and unique, and each of the actors delivers a wonderful performance.

Obviously, there are plenty of metaphors underlying Poor Things’ story. In the end, though, I felt that these circuits did not fully connect. Maybe I need to think about the movie more, or maybe it just fails to ring that psychic bell.

Either way, it was an entertaining watch, despite some unsavory moments — and several sex scenes were more graphic than our mom is used to. She later said that seeing Mark Ruffalo naked made her uncomfortable because, since he’s from Kenosha, he’s almost like family. Still, she said the film gave her some things to ponder.



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The Zone of Interest (2023)

Another Nazi-themed movie I watched this week, also nominated for Best Picture, was The Zone of Interest, rented by my sister, which I watched with my mom Saturday night. It comes to Max on April 5.

Imagine a husband, a wife, and their five children living their daily lives, doing their gardening, swimming in the river, eating their meals, working from home, and sleeping each night in a blissful home in a small Polish town.

Now imagine that the town is Auschwitz in 1943, the husband is German SS officer Rudolf Höss, and the businessmen visiting his home office are contractors building the crematoriums for the concentration camp just over the wall from his wife’s impressive gardens.

The Zone of Interest quietly observes this gut-wrenching disconnect between seemingly ordinary fellow humans and their participation in monstrous acts. The two realities play out, in tandem, right next to each other.

Christian Friedel stars as Höss. Sandra Hüller, who was great in Anatomy of a Fall, plays his wife Hedwig.

After watching, I was impressed to read about the ten-year quest by director Jonathan Glazer to make this film — how he researched and reconstructed the house, dug deep into witness testimonies, and used ten embedded, unmanned cameras in the house to witness the action unobtrusively.

Although I found the opening and closing musical score jarring, the movie’s sound editing is crucial. If you have a good audio system to bring that out, use it.



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