in Movie Night

Episode 92: “Starred Up”

We welcome a guest on this episode – hello to Matt from Spain! Ready to dogfood this podcast? Starred Up is frankly one of the best prison dramas. The thick across-the-pond accents may tempt you to flip on subtitles, but please resist. What’s prison like, anyway? In this case, your private/delicate/beautiful/special parts may be in danger. We bring up a million other movies at random and settle in for a bit of grilling shop talk. Oi!

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The first Christmas letter, or, the year in review


By this time, you’ve shredded through the defenseless wrapping paper, watched only the endings to the same three holiday movies, devoured food items that you don’t even allow into your own home and forgotten anything of a normal existence.

And I’m sprawled before the fireplace (not like that!), trying to make a midnight deadline.

Many of you are far more disciplined than I, opting to spend the time and money to carefully craft a report of the previous year with a nicely framed photo. You have mailing addresses ready and one of those tree-shaped holders for the pile of cards you get in return. They’re called Christmas cards?

So come with me to January 2014, when the snow was deep and I found myself at the seat of a pipe organ. I’d been a substitute organist at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Peoria, Ill. for a few months, but each gig came with the fury of Mother Nature. A tornado. A blizzard. This didn’t help performance nerves. My last remaining grandparent, Grandma Hemken, also died at age 87.


February. I keep my personal life fairly private (despite this dumb blog’s history of the opposite), but I officially started dating my longtime friend Katie. She’s made me less selfish, humored my strange tendencies and just made life better. If I’m willing to throw cliches around, you must know that this is love.

Daylight Savings Time came in March. So did a trip to Milwaukee. Whatta town! Their art museum and food scene made it a new favorite city for both of us. Time itself skipped directly to June, when my parents, sister and her husband and my niece came to Peoria. My brother wasn’t able to join us, but we tried to play tour guide the best we could and hope they’ll soon be back.

July. I finally saw “Jaws” on the big screen. My substitute organist career takes a new turn when I traded the ornate cathedral for the tiny farm town of Chenoa, Ill. A trip to Indianapolis for my birthday was a mostly a disappointment, except for a great restaurant themed in Kurt Vonnegut. And I took Katie home to Wichita to meet the family – during a family reunion, no less.

Nobody likes August.

I packed my bags and attended my first “big deal” work conference in September. ONA14 was in Chicago, so it felt like attending a class reunion where everything is familiar yet the social stakes are higher than they ever were before. My brother Nick also made the trip.


October was a big month. Katie ran her first marathon in Chicago, while I galloped about trying to see her on the race route. I was 66% successful, while she was 100%. We also made the trek to northern Michigan for the fall foliage, which were drenched in rain most of the week yet still very beautiful. It was Katie’s first time on Mackinac Island, where automobiles are banned and horses are encouraged to poop with abandon.


Todd Rundgren still performs and I saw him in Peoria with a friend in November. Katie and I spent our Thanksgiving in Omaha with good friends and turkey.

Photo Nov 27, 12 03 19 AM

And that brings us to December. Because Katie had to work the week of Christmas, we took a long weekend up to Chicago. We watched ice skaters (sadly, the line was too long for us to actually skate), shopped at the gigantic Macy’s store, drank mulled wine at the Christkindlmarket and reveled in the spirit of the season. It’s a new tradition that we hope to continue.


That leaves several routine things unsaid. I continued my role as digital editor of the Journal Star, while Katie received a promotion to assistant universal desk editor. We’re both still learning to leave work at work. Not every ounce of fun was documented, so know that we did have many good days off together in the company of friends.

Photo Sep 21, 4 43 38 PM

So allow me to spill a cup of eggnog and wish you a wonderful Christmas (if indeed you participate) and/or a hopeful new year (we’ll all be in this together, God willing.)

Leave a note and let me know how you’re doing? I have officially entered full adulthood with this letter.

(Editor’s note: He cheated and fudged the publication time by 30 minutes 13 hours.)

Why I watch the TCM man

I’m like many film aficionados who appreciate Turner Classic Movies not only for the commercial-free, broad programming, but also for affable host Robert Osborne. This recent profile in The New York Times sums it up perfectly.

So does this text exchange at 12:30 a.m. between a man visiting Wichita and a woman living in Peoria. I’m in blue, while Katie is wearing grey quite nicely:

iMessage convo

Episode 91: “Thief”

Woo, Tangerine Dream! Woo, eggnog! These seemingly unrelated items have one thing in common – passionate haters. But back to the first – Thief was, as one reviewer aptly put, a Mannsterpiece. Basically, it’s Drive but THREE DECADES EARLIER. Have you ever skipped class to go to the movies? Doesn’t matter, because we are soon paneling on grilling and uttering dirty words like “padiddle.” If I wanna meet people, I’ll go to a fuckin’ country club.

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Episode 90: “The Hunt”

A man is accused of child molestation and here we are having fun. The Hunt is excellent moviemaking, though, so don’t let the seriousness scare you away. A tangent is introduced (shooting guns and throwing knives) and we return to the stress of our upcoming 100th episode. Tales from Omaha are probably not good podcast fodder. The world is full of evil but if we hold on to each other, it goes away.

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Untrue Tales: The Thanksgiving train

Disclaimer: A series not fully based on actual events. Poorly written. Read even less.

Such romance! My girlfriend is already annoyed at the use of an exclamation point, but the point here is that we’re eating strawberries and chocolate while swilling Perrier on a train bound for Omaha. She’s also probably annoyed at run-on sentences, but I’ve given her another strawberry as a bribe.

But that’s not all.

112514_diningonrailsShe’s packed a set of tall, white candles. She sets them gently in pewter candlestick holders, even though I mumble something about the train swaying quite a bit. There was an announcement from a conductor about smoking being so very illegal and that they wouldn’t hesitate to throw people off and into the desolate Iowa winter. This is a girlfriend, people! She’s ready to fight for her right to light.

We’re soon surrounded by a soft glow and catapulted back to the 1940s. A wayward skunk is splayed on the tracks ahead of us. Our engine slams into it, assuring that the entire train is coated with a fine mist of pungent odor. The candles seemingly float before us, then slam down into our overpacked belongings – these same belongings that are covered in skunk essence.

There’s a fwoooop sound and our seats are ablaze. Our row. Our train car. The melting countryside.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Episode 89: “The Heartbreak Kid”

Boot talk to kick us off. Some of us aren’t used to these ankle shackles. We welcome Elaine May back to Movie Night with The Heartbreak Kid. But that’s not the only item on the menu – a film about a miniature man inside another man’s body is accidentally discussed. Basically, we set a new precedent by only discussing movies and not our usual assortment of nonsense. There’s no insincerity in those potatoes. There’s no deceit in the cauliflower.

Learn more about Movie Night™. Subscribe to the podcast with iTunes or Stitcher.