Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving: 'We would be honored if you would join us.'

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope your dinner is full of good food, stimulating conversation and relatives who don't make you pray the meal would just end already so you could get to hiding in the den, watching football with your pants unbuttoned. You know who you are.

But even if it is bad, keep in mind that your dinner could be worse: It could be like the one Han Solo got invited to in The Empire Strikes Back:

In honor of Thanksgiving, I revisit that troublesome gathering along with some other memorable cinematic dinners for my latest Farkakte Film Flashback column at
Han, no slave to social etiquette, shoots at Vader with his laser blaster, but Vader absorbs the blasts into his glove, raising the question: Why don’t they make the stormtroopers’ uniforms out of whatever that glove is made of?
Read it tonight while you're chawing on that leftover drumstick.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

COLUMN: 22 (more) reasons to be thankful

As you may recall, around this time each year I like to take a moment to remind my readers that there are still plenty of reasons to be truly thankful. And if I can say that from my perch here in the heart of the newspaper business, you can certainly come up with something.

So stop reading that blood-sucking news aggregator site for a minute and take a gander at these, this year’s reasons to give thanks:

1) You’re not in a homemade balloon spinning somewhere above Colorado.

2) Levi Johnston has gotten nowhere near your daughter. That you know of.

3) You didn’t promise anybody you’d get a massive health care bill through the House and the Senate.

4) You haven’t been arrested for breaking into your own house.

5) You haven’t arrested anybody for breaking into his own house.

6) You’re not the planet earth, which will either implode in 2012 in a torrent of computer-generated special effects, or be sucked into a black hole by the Large Hadron Collider sometime within the next 15 minutes.

7) You didn’t decide to go for it on 4th and 2.

8) Your entire image isn’t being reworked against your will, like poor Mickey Mouse, whom Disney is re-imagining as more “cantankerous and cunning” — apparently the focus groups have said that they’d prefer Mickey to be more like Dick Cheney. But don’t worry, “Mickey is never going to be evil or go around killing people,” said one Disney Imagineer. OK, forget what I said about Cheney.

9) You didn’t win that annoying Nobel Peace Prize.

10) Your image isn’t showing up willy-nilly in pictures of water droplets on lotus leaves, like Ringo Starr’s is. A team researching water-repellent leaf behavior at Duke University took the high-speed images, and darn it if you can’t see Ringo’s little mop-toppy head right there. Add this to the list of signs that the world is ending.

11) None of your sex tapes have been made public. That you know of.

12) You’re not in Richard Heene’s attic.

13) You’re not Ruppy, one of five beagles who South Korean scientists recently engineered to become the world’s first glow-in-the-dark dogs. I imagine this makes it much harder to sneak up on people. Still, it finally offers a solution to the dire tripping-over-dogs-in-the-dark problem, and if you can get the dog to curl up close enough to you, you can read by him.

14) You didn’t try to address the nation’s annoying schoolchildren.

15) Perez Hilton hasn’t judged your beauty pageant or scribbled all over you with a white marker.

16) You’re not a drinker in Arizona, where a new law allows people to bring their guns into bars. Unfortunately, actually shooting somebody in an Arizona bar is still illegal, for the most part.

17) You don’t have Nicolas Cage’s financial advisor.

18) You didn’t lose your finger and have it replaced with a USB drive, like a man in Finland. In his defense, it is better, stronger and faster, plus it gives a whole new definition to the phrase “pull my finger.”

19) You’re not running for president in Iran. Or Afghanistan. Or Iraq.

20) You weren’t elected president of the United States.

21) You weren’t one of the many children frightened this summer by Colorado’s new ill-advised water conservation mascot, the “Running Toilet,” consisting of a man with an entire actual-size toilet on his head. (Best bystander quote: “I don't think the toilet meant to scare them.”) No word on whether the toilet has spent any time in Richard Heene’s attic.

22) You don’t work for Goldman Sachs, where executives had to scale back drastically and cut their massive bonuses to almost nothing.

What? Their bonuses and spending are as lavish as ever? Somebody should make those guys work for a newspaper.

this column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE."

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Muppets go skaramoosh

If the idea is to endear the Muppets to audiences that weren't around during their '70s heyday, then having them cover a Queen song probably isn't going to cut it. But I don't care, because this is AWESOME.

Monday, November 23, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Monday: Giant Atom Smasher 'Probably Won't' Destroy Earth

GENEVA (CAP) - Scientists preparing the world's largest atom smasher to explore the depths of matter say chances it will open up a black hole that will suck in the entire earth, destroying all life, are "iffy at best."

"I mean, you'd need an awful lot of power and energy to basically open up a rift in the universe strong enough to suck in an entire planet," said Sergio Bertucci, a research director working in Switzerland on the Large Hadron Collider. "I don't think we'll be harnessing that much energy, probably."

Scientists have been working to repair the $10 billion collider since it malfunctioned just nine days after its initial launch more than a year ago. But Bertucci says talk at the time that the device could have snuffed out life on earth was highly exaggerated.

"France, Switzerland, maybe part of Austria, tops," he said of the so-called collider "Danger Zone," nicknamed such for the Kenny Loggins song of the same name. "And there was a small chance that the Iberian Peninsula would fall into the ocean. Tiny, like 100 to 1."

While scientists are desperately hoping the collider will provide a window into the origins of the universe, some have slammed the project for its excessive cost and the possibility that it will destroy the earth.

"Ten billion dollars! That's 400,000 $25,000 a year jobs that the money could have been used for," noted one commenter at the "Plus wiping out the planet - bad form."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, November 20, 2009

COLUMN: As seen on TV — but wait, there's more!

As any experienced parent will tell you, the longer you can keep your kids watching PBS, the better. Because even though Barney the Dinosaur may fill you with an inexplicable rage not unlike what an African honey badger must feel right before it crushes a puff adder’s head in its jaws, your toddlers love him and his educational friends. But more importantly: no commercials.

Once you move on to commercial television, it’s all over. First of all, your kids suddenly know about the existence of all sorts of things you’d rather they wouldn’t, like video games and Barbie digital manicure machines. The first time you’re trying to get them to turn off the TV and they declare “But Dad, I love this commercial!,” you can bet that somewhere on Madison Avenue there’s a man in a suit adding another child’s soul to the gigantic jar on his desk.

As it turns out, though, the toy commercials are the least of a parent’s problems, at least once you have a child who starts to enjoy professional sports. If you watch any of the big sporting events on TV, you know they are being targeted to a very specific audience: specifically, rich, white, perpetually randy older guys whose prostates are roughly the size of official Major League baseballs.

The most problematic of the ads shown during these games are of course the ones for Viagra and Cialis, with their now-legendary talk of four-hour, er, building projects (sorry, family newspaper) and the need to be constantly “ready,” like an aging Boy Scout walking around with all the tools on his Swiss Army knife extended.

My initial inclination during these commercials is always to throw myself in front of the TV — parents, if they were true to their natural instincts, would do nothing but throw themselves in front of things all day long. But I realize that would just draw undue attention to them, so instead I just make loud, inane small talk whenever they come on.


Kid: “Dad, why are you shouting? We can’t hear the commercial for the double outdoor bathtubs.”

Only slightly less bad are the spots with the guy who would have the most satisfying life ever, if only he didn’t have to find men’s rooms at the most inopportune times (during golf matches, on boats, while skydiving, etc.). It’s hard not to feel bad for the man, which is probably why whenever the commercial comes on my 8-year-old son declares “He has to pee!” and laughs so hard that he has to use the men’s room in our own house.

Then there are the ads for inappropriate movies; for instance, the spots for “2012” have my son convinced that the world is going to end in three years, which both disturbs him and adds fuel to his argument that future school attendance is not only unnecessary, but a pointless distraction from staying home and watching more commercials. My kids have also been lobbying me to buy the automatic soap dispenser, the wall-mounted toothpaste dispenser, the pan that bakes pre-sliced brownies and the machine that makes a cupcake the size of a volleyball.

So the situation is clearly dire, but not necessarily disastrous. Commercials are about as unavoidable as the headlines on the covers of women’s magazines (which you can find me throwing myself in front of whenever we go to the supermarket). I figure if my wife and I try to moderate their TV viewing, and watch with them whenever possible to explain or mitigate what they might be seeing, we’ll all be OK. Which is why if you pop over our house you’ll often find us all on the couch, taking in the ads together.

You can’t miss us — we’re the ones in the Snuggies eating the giant cupcakes.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy toys, or evil instruments of death? You decide!

It's my favorite time of year; no, not Thanksgiving, although I am looking forward to gorging myself on carbs and poultry, not necessarily in that order. I'm actually referring to the annual release of the list documenting toys that, while on the surface may appear fun and cheerful, have really been sent here from the future to kill us.

The list is compiled each year by World Against Toys Causing Harm (W.A.T.C.H.), whose name always struck me as very James Bond-ian. I picture them in black spandex, meeting in their secret undersea headquarters where they spend the first 10 months of every year rolling back and forth over potentially dangerous toys, and then checking each other for penetrating and blunt-force injuries.

I'll let you read the entire list yourself -- it's always very entertaining -- but my favorite this year has got to be "X-Men Origins Slashin' Action Wolverine," a toy for kids ages 4 and up based on a character whose entire raison d'etre is slicing people to death with his razor-sharp claws. Sounds preschool-riffic to me! But W.A.T.C.H. disagrees:
The Wolverine action figure, sold for children as young as four years old, is marketed as an “indestructible combat machine” with a “[s]lashing [u]ppercut!” Wolverine has rigid, pointed plastic claws sporting three 1 1/2 inch protrusions on both fists. The right “pop-out” claw retracts upon impact, whereas the left claw remains rigid and unforgiving upon contact. Incredibly, there are no warnings on either the box or the toy itself.

Of course, there's a very good reason for that: Warnings are for sissies.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: NASA Confirms Existence Of Carrie Prejean Sex Tapes

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (CAP) - Still basking in its discovery of water on the moon, NASA yesterday announced its second momentous find of the week: 25 more sex tapes made by former Miss USA Carrie Prejean.

"It's not like we were intentionally out there, you know, looking for them," said NASA spokesman Marvin Federer, speaking by phone from Cape Canaveral. "It's just that they're everywhere."

The tapes were apparently being streamed digitally over the Internet when they were picked up by NASA's SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) satellites, and were subsequently beamed onto NASA's massive control room screen.

"We haven't seen this many high-fives in there since we got the first transmission from the Mars rover," said Federer.

Prejean, who lost her Miss USA crown over "contract violations," was suing the pageant, claiming she'd really been fired for speaking out against same-sex marriage. But she was forced to drop her case when a homemade sex tape emerged.

Prejean called the tape "the biggest mistake of my life." When seven more tapes were soon uncovered, she called those "the next seven biggest mistakes of my life."

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Come fly with meep!

It would be hard to overstate how much I'm enjoying the meep story out of Danvers, Mass. This is of course the incident in which the Danvers High School principal banned the use of the word "meep" (such that it is) because students were using it in a disruptive fashion. He did this via a recorded message to parents, although it's unclear whether he actually uttered the word "meep" on the recording, and if so, whether he did it in a squeaky, high-pitched fashion that might lead you to believe he was about to be humorously electrocuted.

I'm of course using Beaker, the meep-uttering lab assistant from the Muppets, as my reference point for the origin of the meep craze, since I grew up with the Muppets and still, to this day, probably relate to them a little too arduously for it to be healthy. But as Wicked Local Danvers so expertly reported, there could be any number of origins, including but not limited to:

Also, the Geekdad blog suggests that it could have come from the character "Meap" from the Disney Channel show "Phineas and Ferb," which is, I might add, the BEST SHOW EVER. Um, according to my kids.

Anyway, the craze continues to grow, with characters such as Boston radio host Michael Graham using it to fill airtime, er, decry the nanny state. Me, I just want to keep Beaker at the top of the news cycle for as long as possible. To that end:

Column: An ode to the LP, whatever that was

I have a confession to make: I turned my back on an old friend, just when he needed me most. Well, that’s if you can consider an LP album to be a “he.” In some cases I suppose it might be a she. If you’re talking about, say, early ’70s David Bowie albums, who knows what the heck it is. But you get the idea.

For you youngsters out there, I should explain that an album is a collection of songs by an artist who has presumably given some thought as to what order you should listen to them in. In the old days they’d come on black vinyl, and you’d listen to all the songs in order, turning it over once in the middle. You’d do this in your house, and the music would come out of speakers so big that today, Steve Jobs could live in one.

It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when if you wanted a collection of songs by a bunch of different artists, you had to stand in front of your tape deck juggling albums or CDs. That’s why giving somebody a mix tape was such a sign of commitment; it involved a Herculean effort that invariably ended with you standing in front of your giant speakers, swearing.

So you can see why the onset of digital music has been so groundbreaking — it turned your computer into a song Cuisinart, slicing and dicing your LPs into one big album featuring every song you’ve ever owned. Finally, with almost no effort, music fans could segue directly from Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused” into “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly” from “My Fair Lady.” (You know who you are. OK, me.)

As a result, I’ve basically spent the last five years on shuffle. I do this even when playing just one artist, which essentially amounts to listening to a single, randomly ordered 15-hour-long Bruce Springsteen album. This comes in handy, especially if you’re driving from, say, Boston to Kokomo, Ind., and everybody in the car loves Bruce Springsteen as much as you do. I’m sure that happens.

But recently, Springsteen and other artists have started playing entire classic albums in sequence during their concerts, presumably to remind people they put the songs in that order for a reason. I also happened to be reading “Runaway Dream,” a great book about the Springsteen album “Born to Run,” and both of these things inspired me to play the album all the way through for the first time in years. Well, no, not in one sitting — who has 40 minutes?

Still, it amazed me how well the songs fit together, and hearing them in context reminded me what I’d loved about them in the first place. It also made me feel guilty about abandoning what is now, thanks to me and my fellow shufflers, a dying art form. Somewhere, millions of copies of “Dark Side of the Moon” are shooting little laser beams at my head.

So what am I doing about it? First of all, I’ve set my iPod on album shuffle mode, meaning it skips around from album to album instead of song to song. I’d never used it before, but now I’m finding it a thrill when the first song of a great album I haven’t heard in years pops up on my little speakers.

Second, and probably more radically, I’ve also gone back to vinyl. Yes, most of my records didn’t survive my parents’ great garage cleanout of 1993, but that’s why God invented eBay. Just last week I got Springsteen’s “The River” and “Born in the USA” on vinyl for 99 cents each, putting me in the admittedly galling position of having bought them on vinyl, CD and then on vinyl again — it’s really going to irk me when I have to pay for the inevitable cerebral cortex implant.

I’ve been enjoying flipping over all those sides, and I’ve even managed to get my hands on the vinyl release of a brand new album: “Songs from Lonely Avenue” by the Brian Setzer Orchestra, which sounds terrific. It’s somehow soothing that new discs like this can still get a vinyl release, and the BSO album is pretty heavy duty — it feels like a manhole cover.

But even though people gush about vinyl’s fidelity, I think most people buying LPs these days are doing it so they can place that needle down and watch the disk spin gloriously on the turntable, like it has a tangible purpose in life. (I don’t know what an mp3 is doing inside my iPod, but whatever it is, I don’t trust it.)

It also forces you to sit down somewhere in your house — not your car, or your gym, or while avoiding eye contact on the subway — and really listen, which is what music is all about. Of course, the Setzer album also has the CD mounted right in the gatefold of the LP, for easy digital dicing. (Hey, we’re not cavemen.)

So do your part: Listen to an album today — I promise you won’t regret it. Well, unless it’s a Helen Reddy album released between 1973 and 1980. Then you’re on your own.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Wednesday: Disney Shocked At Small Gross For Creepy, Boring 'Christmas Carol'

BURBANK, Calif. (CAP) - A soft opening for Disney's A Christmas Carol has jeopardized the company's planned slate of creepy animated movies nobody really wants to see, says one Disney executive who declined to be named.

"We had planned to roll out two or three of these a year," explained the executive, citing Disney's The Nutcracker, Disney's Johnny Tremain and Disney's Little Lord Fauntleroy as just three of the many creepy motion-capture animation projects based on old, boring stories they have currently in the works. "This has us rethinking everything."

The $200 million Christmas Carol, featuring Jim Carrey in 15 different roles, grossed about $35 million its opening weekend - enough to grasp the No. 1 spot at the box office, but much less than expected. People who did see it noted in particular the way Scrooge's ultra-realistic wrinkly and pockmarked skin contrasted with his glassy, dead eyes.

"I don't think I'll ever sleep again," said Sally Marples of Kannapolis, N.C., whose children left the theater in tears.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

Sunday, November 08, 2009

AT LARGE Sunday Night Link Roundup

News and comedy, not necessarily in that order.

Friend of AT LARGE Jeff Vrabel: "I cannot help but notice no one is fleeing in horror from all of the giant snakes."

I'm not bad ... I'm just drawn that way: "Robert Zemeckis Confirms Roger Rabbit Sequel."

Dan Kennedy interviews the geniuses behind Fake AP Stylebook.

Where have you gone, Hal Linden? Friend of AT LARGE Dave Lifton speaks out "In praise of Barney Miller."

The end is nigh: "Beatle Ringo Starr's face seen in water droplet on lotus leaf."

Mickey is never going to be evil or go around killing people." Well, THAT'S a relief.

At Bullz-Eye: "Weird Al" on his new "Essential" album and being the most awesome singer ever. Actually, that last part was just me editorializing.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

AT LARGE Fake News Thursday: Sexy Costumes Lead To Tween Prostitution Arrests

SALEM, Mass. (CAP) - Halloween festivities in Salem, Mass. were marred Saturday when police arrested more than a dozen 11- and 12-year-old girls, mistaking them for prostitutes.

"Well, you can't tell me they didn't look like prostitutes," said Salem Police spokesman Howard Wieczorek, who noted that they were only incarcerated for "a few hours" before their parents were able to pick them up.

"It was a little confusing at first, because most of their parents looked like prostitutes too," said Wieczorek.

Similar arrests were reported around the nation this Halloween, as "sexy" Halloween costumes have become more prevalent for girls of younger ages. In Salem, the girls were dressed as Sexy Hello Kitty, Sexy American Girl and Sexy Dora the Explorer, along with more generic costumes like Sexy Witch, Sexy Princess and Sexy Preschooler.

"I don't see what the problem is," said Michelle Ruggiero, 38, of Peabody, Mass., mother of one of the girls accidentally arrested. Ruggiero, dressed in her Sexy Homemaker costume of short apron, feather duster and bustier, was buying popcorn from a cart during Salem's famed Halloween celebration when police picked up her daughter and her friends.

"These girls are cute and thin, and I don't see why they shouldn't be able to show that off a little bit," said Ruggiero. "Maybe if more people let their kids wear 'sexy' little costumes, the United States wouldn't be in the disgustingly fat shape it is now," she added as she stomped out her cigarette with her 6-inch stiletto heel.

[Read the rest at CAP News.]

COLUMN: A Yankee Doodle, do or die?

As a native New Yorker living in the Boston area, I’ll admit to having a complicated relationship with the Yankees. Not as complicated as the relationship between A-Rod, his wife and Madonna, but still …

See? Even I can’t resist the easy A-Rod joke, even though by all accounts I should hold each and every Yankee in the highest regard. After all, both my parents were born in the Bronx and my New York family is still full of diehards — I have a new nephew who at 6 months old has never, to my knowledge, been out of pinstripes.

But even as a child I tended to buck the family trend. I went through a period during elementary school when I rooted for the Mets, for a very logical reason: They had a mascot whose head was a giant baseball. While other mascots had at best a tangential relationship to baseball (c’mon, a chicken?), Mr. Met literally was a baseball. If somebody walked up and hit him in the head with a bat, I imagine no jury in the land could convict.

But beyond that, I always seemed to have an innate need to root for the underdog, which the Mets of the mid-’70s most definitely were; like my Little League team, and unlike the Yankees, they were terrible — meaning I could relate. Sometimes too much.

So it wasn’t until the ’80s, when the Yankees started losing on a consistent basis, that my baseball interests turned in their direction; now, this was a team I could get behind. My favorite Yankee of that period was, of course, Don Mattingly, who never got to a World Series but showed up every day and played his heart out anyway. He’d have fit right in on my Little League team, except for the moustache.

So by the time the Yankees finally got back to the World Series in 1996, even though I was living in Boston by then, I had no problem rooting for them unabashedly. When Jeter & Co. won that one, it felt like they were doing it for Donnie Baseball — it was a perfect victory, except for Wade Boggs riding that horse around Yankee Stadium, like he was just asking to be attacked by Apaches.

But before long the Yankees were no longer underdogs, being widely acknowledged as one of the best teams ever. Meanwhile, I had married a lifelong Sox fan (and former Fred Lynn stalker), and was starting to see what a Red Sox series win would mean. So much so that in 2003, I couldn’t help but feel bad when Aaron Boone’s home run finished off the Sox in the ALCS — and not just because as the token New Yorker there was a very good chance that when I got into the office the next day, I would be stapled to death.

Then a few things happened: The Sox did win, and I saw the joy that came with it for my wife and her family and friends. And my son Tim came of baseball appreciation age, and immediately took after his mother as a member of Red Sox Nation. Baseball is currently his favorite thing in the world, and watching it is our favorite thing to do together — which, since we’re in Boston, means watching the Red Sox.

So what that’s meant for this New Yorker is a sort of cognitive dissonance —– if the Yanks and the Sox are playing separately, I can root for either, and if they’re playing each other, there’s a danger of my head exploding like in a David Cronenberg movie. It doesn’t help the Yankees’ case that they’ve employed some truly unlikable characters (sorry, A-Rod), but on the other hand, how can you not like a Jeter, Matsui or CC Sabathia? Even my son can agree with that, as much as he may want them to lose in humiliating disgrace — he’s still a Sox fan, after all.

So if I’m going to root for the Yankees around my house this week — as I write this on Nov. 3, they’re ahead of the Phillies three games to two — I’ll do it quietly. I know when it’s over, no matter who wins, my son and I will be out in the backyard, pushing aside the leaves to try to get one more game in before the snow comes. That won’t be about the Red Sox or the Yankees — it will be about baseball, and how if the stars align properly, there are ways to love everything about it.

Well, except maybe for A-Rod. He just irks me.

This column appeared originally in North Shore Sunday. Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at To receive At Large by e-mail, write to, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”