Month in Review: June ’18

To encourage a bit more variety in my blogging posts and to help distance this site from the one of old, I’m installing this monthly post where I summarize the previous month’s activity in a wraparound that will hopefully give people the chance to go back and find stuff they might have missed, as well as keep them apprised of any changes or news that happened that month.

June was the month of my grandmother’s visit. She spent four weeks here in New Jersey with us, having made the exhausting journey from England to the United States at the age of 86. Sipping limoncello in the shade became a motif while she watched her great-grandchildren splash in the pool. This was the first time I had seen her in 12 years. The first time I’d seen her without her lifelong friend and partner by her side. The first time since my grandfather on the other side passed the year prior. The first time since I said goodbye to my dear mother.

So much can change — does change — in a decade, but what hasn’t is my family’s support of my hobbies and passions. My Nan hasn’t quite got the wherewithal to be a daily visitor, but she asked me during her stay how the writing was going. Over these years those hobbies and passions have also changed. The last time I saw her was in England, and I was doing that thing where you skate up and down ramps and slide down rails and ledges — for no discernible purpose other than to get hurt. An entire decade’s worth of climbing has elapsed as well, an activity in which I made such great friends. I have gone through the whole rolodex of obscure, niched hobbies and yet, she sorted through all of that history. She found where I am today, despite all that distance time put between us.

So with that said, thank you to my Nan and as always to YOU, for reading what I have had to say. And this is what has been going on on Thomas J during the month of June.


New Posts

New Releases: Deadpool 2; Solo: A Star Wars Story; Tag


An Embarrassing Admission

The other day I caught Nic Cage in the 2009 global disaster movie Knowing. Even knowing what had been said about this rig, merely one of several in a long string of titles that have all but sullied the good Coppola name, I still allowed this to happen to me. If you care to know, the movie is about a professor (Cage) and his son coming into the possession of a cryptic message that seems to have predicted every single major disaster that has occurred over the last 50 years, including the dates, death tolls and geographic coordinates of those events. It even goes on to warn the lucky recipient about an impending apocalypse. Something about the sun going kablooey. Sure, Knowing is terrible, but it’s not the fact Cage plays an MIT professor who gets caught up in the most absurd plotline you’ve seen since Howard the Duck that makes it so. It’s mostly bad because the tone is just so unrelentingly dour. Why so serious Mr. Proyas?

But what really makes this an embarrassing admission is that . . . well, no real surprise here. I liked it! May all our children be kidnapped by aliums and taken away to the Garden of Eden on some remote planet. Good god man this movie is silly. I just wish Mr. Cage got to let loose a little more in this one. That was probably my biggest grievance.


Blogging News 

I have added the following blogs to the DSB Blogroll (which, may I add, is in desperate need of an update. Three quarters of that list are blogs that have either gone into hibernation or are no more). Be sure to check out these new additions, and stop in and give them a page like while you’re at it!

SPOOL. 

IT CAME FROM . . . 

Flicks and Pieces 

Films etc. 

Psychology of Film 

January Blindspot: Defiance (2009)

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Release: Friday, January 16, 2009

[Netflix]

Written by: Edward Zwick; Clayton Frohman

Directed by: Edward Zwick

Defiance at the very least satisfies a certain curiosity I had about a film that featured Daniel Craig not in a suit and tie, and as of this posting — admittedly a time-sensitive and quite frankly rushed one — I feel more inclined to recommend it more on that basis rather than for its dramatic credentials. I mean, Defiance isn’t a bad film but it’s just not a great one and that’s kind of a shame.

Really, the most damning thing I can say about it is that in hindsight I would replace this film with something else for my January Blindspot — but, well, that wouldn’t make this a very blind Blindspot list, now, would it? Defiance is well-made but pretty forgettable, and while its lead man seems outwardly appropriate for the part of Tuvia Bielsky, a Polish Jew who helped thousands of refugees escape the death camps and ghettos of Nazi-occupied Europe, Craig once again makes it obvious he works best in roles that don’t require him to adopt an accent. Yeesh.

When Edward Zwick’s film premiered in 2009 it apparently caused quite the kerfuffle. Polish columnists in particular brutalized Defiance, accusing it of the sorts of things directors like Peter Berg and Michael Bay are regularly found guilty of today: xenophobic tonality; the glorification of violence; the oversimplification of extraordinarily complex circumstances. I didn’t find Defiance damaging or incompetent as others have, but its issues are obvious. Despite the fertile historical ground in which his material is rooted, Zwick bogs down an urgent tale with direction that largely feels uninspired and repetitive.

As his film notes during the end credits, the Bielski partisans — four brothers who amassed a secret community of some 1,200 homeless Jews in the depths of the sprawling Naliboki Forest, a near impenetrable mass of evergreen and marshland encompassing northwestern Belarus — never sought recognition for their heroic actions during some of the darkest days in human history. Zwick felt it was high time they received a little.

The narrative primarily focuses on the rift that develops between the two eldest brothers, Tuvia and Zus (Liev Schreiber) who, when brutal, violent oppression finally hits home differ in opinion over how they should respond. Tuvia, despite an early scene of bloody retaliation, insists on avoiding confrontation and becomes the de facto leader of the camp. Zus on the other hand feels strongly about seeking vengeance and joins a local Communist troupe, vowing to take the fight right to the Nazis.

The events depicted in Defiance occur over the course of a year. We watch as conditions within Tuvia’s faction deteriorate as winter sets in and as impending Nazi forces constantly force them to move around within the forest. They battle against starvation, exposure and the inevitable in-fighting as the need to stay hidden intensifies with each passing day. We cut back and forth between this sad scene and Zus’ predicament as he finds himself surrounded by “comrades” who don’t necessarily share the same sympathies toward the Jewish refugees. They do, however, eventually agree to provide much-needed medicine to Tuvia in exchange for help in knocking out a radio transmitter that is interfering with the Russian’s communications.

The film rides a fairly strong wave of emotion on the back of solid performances most notably from Craig, Schreiber and Jamie Bell, the latter finding a way to come into his own as he finds himself mounting a last-ditch defensive stand when German tanks appear in their neck of the woods. (Sorry.) Mia Wasikowska also leaves an impression as a love interest for Bell’s courageous Asael. Their blossoming romance quickly yields a wedding ceremony in one of the film’s defining moments, a tender act of love nestled at the heart of a narrative shrouded in darkness.

I’d feel better closing this piece on a note of positivity rather than with more complaints about how the film perpetually shirks its responsibility of authenticating events as detailed in the 1993 novel by Nechama Tec, Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, upon which Zwick’s movie is based. Of galvanizing survivors with a story that does history proper justice. Defiance isn’t that film. It’s something more closely associated with typical action fare, with the kinds of movies you expect Daniel Craig to star in. As Tuvia he is more James Bond than Moses.

No, allow me instead to wax poetic about the film’s visuals for an easy out. Even several days after, that wedding ceremony remains burned into my memory. The snow coming down, in all its cheesiness. The intimate gathering. The golden sunlight. Eduardo Serra’s camerawork simply stuns; he seizes the opportunity to capture the forest in all its eerie beauty, offering Defiance this compelling but disturbing dichotomy between the enchanting allure of nature and the ugliness of humanity. Who would have thought we would have ever heard the words ‘Mazel tov’ uttered in this place, in this time?

Curious about what’s next? Check out my Blindspot List here.

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3-0Recommendation: I can’t help but feel disappointed by Defiance but this is far from a bad movie. It just isn’t a very ambitious one. Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell are the clear stand-outs (even if the former’s accent is horrendous at the best of times). But as a visual display, the film earns a fairly strong recommendation from yours truly. 

Rated: R

Running Time: 137 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.uk.pinterest.com 

Blindspot 2017

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Peer pressure strikes again, people. I’m doing a Blindspot list this year. That’s right. Twelve films, one reviewed per month. I’ve seen so many fascinating lists over the past several years and finally I think I’m ready to tackle one of my own. It’s an inspired idea, and someone should get a sticker or something for conceptualizing this popular blog trend. What a great way to discipline yourself into tackling that ever-growing list of Movies I Should Have Watched, Like, Yesterday. It’s also a good way of diversifying your tastes. I’m not sure if any title on this list is a real stretch for me, many of them fall under genres I’m predisposed to enjoying anyway, but the vast majority of this list is comprised of things I know I absolutely should have seen by now — barring one or two curios I’ve been interested in ticking off even knowing they are going to be, in all likelihood, somewhat forgettable. The goal wasn’t to create a list of potentially life-changing films. No matter their relevance or durability, I’m motivated to get started here! I hope you all will follow along with me.

I present to you my Blindspot list for 2017*:


January 

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Release: Friday, January 16, 2009

Plot Synopsis: Jewish brothers in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe escape into the Belarussian forests, where they join Russian resistance fighters and endeavor to build a village in order to protect themselves and about 1,000 Jewish non-combatants.  

Review now available here 


February

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Release: Friday, January 15, 1993

Plot Synopsis: A Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the snow swept Andes are forced to use desperate measures to survive after a plane crash.

Review now available here


March**

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Release: Friday, August 9, 1996

Plot Synopsis: Renton, deeply immersed in the Edinburgh drug scene, tries to clean up and get out, despite the allure of the drugs and influence of friends.

Review now available here


April

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Release: Sunday, March 13, 1927

Plot Synopsis: In a futuristic city sharply divided between the working class and the city planners, the son of the city’s mastermind falls in love with a working class prophet who predicts the coming of a savior to mediate their differences.

Review now available here


May

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Release: Friday, May 17, 1991

Plot Synopsis: A successful psychotherapist loses his mind after one of his most dependent patients, an obsessive-compulsive neurotic, tracks him down during his family vacation.

Review now available here


June

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Release: Friday, July 4, 1969

Plot Synopsis: A mysterious stranger with a harmonica joins forces with a notorious desperado to protect a beautiful widow from a ruthless assassin working for the railroad.


July

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Release: Friday, October 18, 1996

Plot Synopsis: Wannabe actors become regulars in the stylish neo-lounge scene; Trent teaches his friend Mike the unwritten rules of the scene.

Review now available here


August

Imprimer

Release: Friday, January 7, 2011

Plot Synopsis: A cop turns con man once he comes out of the closet. Once imprisoned, he meets the second love of his life, whom he’ll stop at nothing to be with.


September

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Release: Friday, October 23, 1992

Plot Synopsis: After a simple jewelry heist goes terribly wrong, the surviving criminals begin to suspect that one of them is a police informant.

Review now available here 


October

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Release: Friday, August 12, 1983

Plot Synopsis: Cujo, a friendly St. Bernard, contracts rabies and conducts a reign of terror on a small American town.

Review now available here


November

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Release: Wednesday, August 16, 1995

Plot Synopsis: A sole survivor tells of the twisty events leading up to a horrific gun battle on a boat, which begin when five criminals meet at a seemingly random police lineup.

Review now available here


December

downfall-movie-poster

Release: Friday, December 31, 2004

Plot Synopsis: Traudl Junge, the final secretary for Adolf Hitler, tells of the Nazi dictator’s final days in his Berlin bunker at the end of WWII.

* subject to change based on availability 

** not original line-up; I have switched out March and May, in anticipation of the Trainspotting sequel  


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com

30-for-30: Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?

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Release: Tuesday, October 20, 2009

[Netflix]

Directed by: Mike Tollin

When Donald Trump made the ‘small potatoes’ remark it was after he had wrapped up an interview with the director for this very documentary. He was referring to his dalliance with sports team ownership, his dismissiveness hinting at days that were so far in the rearview he couldn’t even see them anymore. He was already over it, the way you get over a summer fling.

In the early 1980s Trump briefly owned a franchise within the United States Football League — the New Jersey Generals — before growing bored with it and selling it to an Oklahoma oil magnate who in turn sold it back because he couldn’t keep pace with the travel schedule required to watch his team play. Trump did agree to speak candidly about his involvement with the USFL so anything seemed fair game. However, at the time of the interview (sometime in 2009), Trump’s magnificent hair was already thinning, evidence that at this point his image was so firmly cemented he no longer seemed obligated to care about his hair. And if he didn’t care about how thin his hair looked, how could he possibly still care about a business venture that fizzled out all the way back in 1986?

Mike Tollin (executive producer of such shows as All That, Smallville and One Tree Hill) seeks multiple perspectives rather than going all Salem Witch Trial as he tries to find out the cause of the USFL’s collapse a mere three years after its establishment. A variety of interviews with former players, coaches and team owners alike — Burt Reynolds even weighs in — are spliced in between segments from the present-day Trump interview.

The USFL was first envisioned by a New Orleans businessman named David Dixon some 17 years before Trump’s acquisition of the Generals in 1983 helped legitimize the league as something worth investing not only money but time into. The establishment of the league was predicated on the notion it would run differently than its older and more popular brother, the NFL, which played its schedule through the fall season, concluding with the Superbowl in February. The USFL, then, would be played in the spring and summer months, capped off with a National Championship game. Following what was known as ‘The Dixon Plan,’ the USFL found the inaugural season somewhat successful though crowd attendance and media exposure disappointing. It was after that first season franchise owners started having eyes larger than their stomachs.

The Dixon Plan had set into place limits on spending and had also helped teams secure prominent locations where they would play their games, all moves which helped make the USFL a little more competitive with the NFL, even if that was ultimately not the intent. Not until Trump, anyway. The advent of legendary running back Herschel Walker, who cost Trump a whopping $4 million, indicated a shift in the league’s priorities — rather than looking towards long-term security team owners began signing higher-profile talent which ultimately broke many a franchise’s bank, with single-player signings often exceeding salary cap space four or five times over.

There were other significant moves made that steered the USFL toward an altogether uncertain and less stable future. With Trump’s business savvy he began poaching NFL talent and even went after collegiate players in an effort to “level the playing field.” This ultimately triggered yet another out-of-control spending spree and further set the league back financially. But that was nothing compared to what the Donald had up his sleeve next. In perceiving the USFL to be an organization that could possibly rival the more institutionalized NFL, Trump advocated for a schedule change so the games could be shown on TV alongside those other “more important” games.

In 1985 everything changed when the league decided to pursue an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL for their monopolization of television markets. It was a disastrous move that all but spelled the end for the USFL. Over the last season many teams had already folded or had merged with other more notable franchises, and Trump’s Generals was still trying to pile on the star talent to make them the team to beat. While the court ruled in favor of the USFL there would be no flags for excessive celebrations. Damages amounted to a grand total of $4 (that’s not a typo — they had a check cut in the amount of $3.67 or something), which is not quite enough to get franchises up and running again. No one, not even Trump’s sexified Generals, would see a fall season of action.

Small Potatoes, for obvious reasons, leans heavily on the business side of things and while that could spell boredom to many viewers, it’s a narrative that only gets more interesting as it goes on. We needn’t live in denial; the real game is played behind the scenes rather than on the field and the competition is far uglier. What had begun as a potentially prosperous and exciting alternative to mainstream football had been decimated by a series of hasty, if not altogether poor decisions that were never actually made in the league’s best interests. David Dixon would be spinning in his grave if he ever knew what became of his idea.

Click here to read more 30 for 30 reviews. 

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Recommendation: Packed with fascinating insight into the inner workings of a fledgling football league, Small Potatoes, one of the very earliest installments, asks that simple question: who’s responsible for the USFL’s sudden disappearance? There’s something bittersweet about this film, about knowing how dominant the NFL has become over the years and realizing that even if the USFL hadn’t folded in the 80s, it almost assuredly would have in the 90s and early 2000s. I also had no idea Donald Trump ever owned a football team, so that was fascinating in and of itself. It’s also funny coming to the realization that apparently he was never good enough to become an NFL franchise owner. 

Rated: NR

Running Time: 51 mins.

[No trailer available, sorry everyone . . . ]

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com; http://www.youtube.com

OCMC: Lance Clayton in World’s Greatest Dad

wgd-1Okay, I believe I’ve got this week mapped out the way I want. We’re going to start with the heavier performances and work our way out of the dark side of things. Like Anakin Skywalker, only trending in the opposite direction.

So this little. . .thing that I’m doing. . . .to pay proper tribute to the full range of acting chops Robin Williams undeniably possessed might seem like it’s starting a bit solemnly — I mean, I’m not sure you can find a darker comedy that this man has been in (perhaps Death to Smoochy gives it a run for its money) — but as the week goes on I’ll do my best to turn that frown upside-down by looking into some of his more funny moments. Come next Sunday, hopefully we will have built our way up to a fitting conclusion to this man’s legacy.

His wickedly fast comedic tongue most assuredly is what he’s most known for, though his markedly reserved dramatic persona is not to be ignored, either. Frequently these smaller moments in a career packed with bigger and more luminous ones are overlooked, because. . . well, we all do love it so when Robin makes us laugh.

Here, though, we couldn’t be further from that comfort. In this pitch-black comedy involving a high school teacher who is broken by his son’s suicide (and there’s no really good way of saying this) via autoerotic asphyxiation, Robin Williams demonstrates a truly heartbreaking reaction to his son’s untimely death. This one moment may be particularly sensitive given the events that have since transpired, but this is as good as I’ve ever seen Williams hold the screen as far as convincing us that real loss is going on around him.

World’s Greatest Dad is directed by none other than Bobcat Goldthwait (still the best name in the business, if you were to ask me. . .but you’re not so I guess we can move on) and stars Robin Williams as the aforementioned teacher; Daryl Sabara as his awful son Kyle; Alexie Gilmore as Lance’s love interest as well as colleague. . .and then several, several names you’ve likely never heard of.

The bulk of the movie’s emotional heft revolves around these key players, with various supporting roles showing up in the latter half of the film to offer support and their condolences to the shattered man. And this is precisely where the movie starts to take a really, really darkly comic turn. I don’t know. This movie is pretty weird, but I enjoy it. An overlooked piece for sure.

Quoted: “Ernest Hemingway once said all he wanted to do was write one true sentence. He also tried to scratch an itch on the back of his head with a shotgun.”


All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.imdb.com 

TBT: I Love You, Man (2009)

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This may be pushing the limits that I sort-of (but not really at all) established about how recent a movie can be to qualify for this throwback feature, but darn it if today’s entry doesn’t qualify for one of the more memorable buddy-comedies. . . ever. It’s a slight film, but it’s also infectiously feel-good, and a delightfully breezy way to spend an hour and a half with a film. Such are the simple qualifications for the throwbacks of this month! Hope you enjoy. 

Today’s food for thought: I Love You, Man

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Release: March 20, 2009

[Theater]

Paul Rudd seems to be able to work a smile onto anyone’s face, no matter whom he’s working alongside, or in front of what audience persuasion he may be performing. He’s got this easy charm to him that is impossible to resist. (And if you can, then you’re simply jealous of not being quite as cool as he is.)

Then, when you pair him off with someone like Freaks & Geeks‘ Jason Segel — an equally lovable goofball who’s as gangly and awkward as he is tall — the only thing left a director needs to do with his film is scout the locations. The movie is already written, just by casting these two sincerely funny men. To me, for some reason the script for I Love You, Man is so natural and organic it wouldn’t be a great surprise to learn that half of it was improvised. Yet, at the same time, names like Rudd and Segel aren’t quite huge enough to drown out the rest of the cast; instead, they blend perfectly with the rest, creating one of the most enjoyable buddy-comedies in recent years.

John Hamburg (Along Came Polly)’s film follows Peter Klaven (Rudd) around town as he goes on a mission to find a Best Man for his upcoming wedding to the beautiful Zooey Rice (Rashida Jones). Having learned of the, shall we say, ‘deep’ conversations his fiancé has been having with her girlfriends, Peter has a rude awakening — he has never been one to have platonic friendships. With the women, he’s always been a girlfriend kind of guy, and as Peter’s younger brother (a gay Andy Samberg) puts it, “all his male friends just sort of fell to the wayside.”

Peter’s an ace at selling homes — specifically, bungalos, low-rise apartments. . .that sort of thing. One day he’s given an opportunity to sell a house way out of his league — namely, the multi-million dollar mansion belonging to none other than Lou Ferrigno, “the Hulk, from television.” During an open house for this spectacular property, he comes across the amiable, albeit strange, Sydney Fife (Segel) and the two strike up a conversation about cars, finger foods, and farting in open houses. It appears to be the first honest interaction Peter’s had with a stranger in quite some time, and the two begin hanging out often, becoming fast friends.

Ironically it’s this Sydney who is now responsible for Peter’s increasing distance from Zooey, who is initially beyond-excited for Peter’s latest “man-date” with this unseen Sydney guy, but as time goes on, the new relationship starts to pose as a threat to the soon-to-be-wed couple. Peter can’t prioritize his time. Even worse, he is so socially awkward he doesn’t realize that compartmentalizing friendship doesn’t realistically work. Since Sydney and Peter have such great bromantic chemistry, Peter’s thinking this is clearly the guy to be at his wedding. Yet Sydney thinks Peter’s just lonely and in need of a friend (which is also true).

I Love You, Man is a heartwarming comedy featuring fine work from both Rudd and Segel, who play off one another’s energy throughout the entire film. The film also offers an ensemble cast putting forth quite the effort as well, with hilarious performances from Jon Favreau and Jaime Pressley (as the gleefully dysfunctional married couple Zooey is friendly with); Sarah Burns as Hailey, Zooey’s beyond-desperately single friend; and Rob Huebel playing Peter’s obnoxious co-worker, Tevin Downey.

This particular film may not take you to any new places in terms of the type of comedy and it doesn’t offer locations that will stick in your mind long afterwards, yet that’s all part of the unassuming beauty of I Love You, Man — it’s so grounded in reality that one can hardly tell where real life and the cinematic life in this one converge.

As a piece of popcorn entertainment, its surprisingly substantial in that this speaks volumes about the insecurities people are bound to have when getting married. Is everything in the right order? What’s going to change when we are married, particularly the friendships? There’s nothing that’s profound as such, but the message contained herein is just sweet enough and important enough to keep this film at the top of the pile in terms of quality buddy-comedies. An incredible on-screen chemistry between two comedic pros helps ensure this. As well, our romantic couple feel so natural, forming a charming relationship that you cannot wait to see finally tie the knot at long last.

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4-0Recommendation: John Hamburg’s latest is by no means a timeless classic, but as far as contemporary feel-good’s are concerned, this one has remarkable staying power. This is earned from the great interactions between Rudd and Segel who form a believable, lovable friendship, and the rest of the cast do lovely work all around as well. For as many decently rude jokes that are sprinkled throughout, this is also a surprisingly mature film, one that shouldn’t be missed for comedy devotees.

Rated: R

Running Time: 105 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.bayoucityflyers.com; http://www.imdb.com