Peter Pan in Pink

Tired of politics today. Here’s a cute (and true) story for “Throwback Thursday.”

When I was around nine years old, I played a Lost Boy in the Virginia Museum Theater production of “Peter Pan.”

The first scene we were in involved us running around on stage, looking up and seeing Wendy flying into Neverland (off stage). “It’s a bird!” one of the Lost Boys would say. “It’s so big!” another would say. “Look how white she is!” I’d shout out.


Me in costume backstage, doing my homework before the show

So we practiced and practiced and then the show opened and every night, I felt like an idiot saying my line. You see, in the scene, we’d take arrows and shoot them into the air and then Wendy would come down on her wires and land on the stage, where we’d realize she was not a bird. And there she would be, for everyone to see, dressed in the pink gown the costume designer gave her.

So one night about a week into the performance, when it came to my line, I shouted out “Look how pink she is!”

I was surrounded by laughter. I peeked into the audience but then realized it wasn’t coming from there — it came from the stagehands. You see, after performing a play so many times, everyone knew everyone else’s lines and it runs like clockwork — but I had thrown a wrench into the clock.

The show continued on, and after the performance, the director came up to me, while everyone was watching, and kneeled down before me. I was scared that he was mad, but he smiled and said, “Keep the line.”

So I marveled at Pink Wendy for the rest of the performances.

What if the critics’ choice always won the Oscar?

When Moonlight won the Oscar this year, I noted that it had also been the best reviewed film of the year (according to Rotten Tomatoes).  So I started wondering how often that happened.

Here’s a list of the best reviewed films of each recent year compared to the film that actually won the Oscar. Most of the time, the Oscar winner is near the top, but sometimes, it’s clearly not the “best” film of the year.oscar

Note that Rotten Tomatoes uses some magical mathematical formula based on how many reviews a film gets and who those reviews are from and so on so that even if both films get the same percentage of good reviews, one may come out ahead of the other.

Rotten Tomatoes started in mid-1998, so I only went back to 1999 on the chart.

2005 is an interesting year — the best film was a documentary, and the winning film Crash was not very well liked. In fact, it didn’t even make the Rotten Tomatoes top 100 for the year.

The film that came in second that year was Wallace and Grommit: The Curse of the Wererabbit, but as we can see from other Rotten Tomatoes winners, the Oscar never goes to an animated film no matter how well made it is. I mean, seriously, look at this list:  Over the past 18 years, animated films have topped the charts 8 times.

Year Best Reviewed Film (Tomato score) Best Picture (Tomato score + rank)
2016 Moonlight (97%) Moonlight (97%) #1
2015 Mad Max: Fury Road (97%) Spotlight (96%) #3
2014 Boyhood (98%) Birdman (91%) #15
2013 Gravity (96%) 12 Years a Slave (96%) #2
2012 Argo (96%) Argo (96%) #2
2011 Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows 2 (96%) The Artist (96%) #2
2010 Toy Story 3 (99%) The King’s Speech (95%) #5
2009 Up (98%) The Hurt Locker (98%) #2
2008 The Wrestler (98%) Slumdog Millionaire (92%) #8
2007 Ratatouille (98%) No Country for Old Men (93%) #3
2006 Casino Royale (95%) The Departed (91%) #6
2005 Murderball (98%) Crash (75%) > #100
2004 The Incredibles (97%) Million Dollar Baby (91%) #15
2003 Finding Nemo (99%) The Return of the King (95%) #2
2002 The Two Towers  (96%) Chicago (86%) #27
2001 Monsters Inc. (96%) A Beautiful Mind (75%) #71
2000 Chicken Run (97%) Gladiator (76%) #47
1999 Toy Story 2 (100%) American Beauty (88%) #11

Super Bowl critics in glass houses

The Super Bowl has tons of fans, and many people who, like me, could not care less.  And that’s fine — we don’t have to all like the same forms of entertainment.

It would be a boring world if we all liked exactly the same thing, especially in the creative arts where new and different things can provide innovation and change for the better.

So what if I don’t like football?  I might make jokes about it, but they’re meant in jest and are somewhat meant to make fun of me at the same time for being such a nerd.  But this problem does come up every time there’s a huge sporting event — there are a bunch of posts on Facebook from people who seem to be laughing at those who look forward to the game.

So what if people are looking forward to the game?  How does that hurt you in the slightest?


cartoon by Adam Ellis

There are many things I like that you don’t, I’m sure of it, and there are many things you like that I don’t.  But as long as it doesn’t hurt me, so what?  Go ahead and like Justin Beiber or stock car racing or My Little Pony or the Super Bowl.

That doesn’t mean those things should be free from artistic criticism or analysis.  You might like Sylvester Stallone movies but that doesn’t mean I can’t say they stink.

But, as the cartoon says, let people enjoy things.

The prequels that do not exist

If you’re about to show the Star Wars movie to some kid who has never seen them, for God’s sake, start with Episode 4: A New Hope. Don’t ruin it for the poor tyke.

I can’t stand the prequels and like to pretend they never exist. Oh, sure, if it was just those three, it would be an acceptable trilogy, no better than many other space operas. But the fact is that they ruin the original trilogy’s storyline in so many ways as to make me pull my hair

If you watch the films in order, you’re sure to ask:

What’s the big deal about the line “Luke, I am your father”?  So what, I knew that all along. 

Why doesn’t C3PO tell Luke who his father is? For that matter, why doesn’t Obi-Wan recognize the droids (and vice versa)?

How could Luke be “hidden” in plain sight on Anakin’s home planet with his relatives and not been found?

And how did Obi-Wan age so much in the twenty years or so between trilogies?

Why did Leia say she knew her mother in Return of the Jedi when her mother died in childbirth?

For that matter, why did Obi-wan have to be reminded by Yoda that there was “another”? He already knew about Leia, right? 

If midi-chlorians are in the bloodstream, then why don’t people just do blood transfusions so everyone can have these powers?  Surely the Empire would have thought of that by now.

Look, maybe I’m pickier about these kinds of things because story is most important to me (says the guy who writes novels). I’ve never been impressed by mere special effects and cool battle scenes without some connection to the characters and the plotline.

So between the unlikable characters and the contradictory plots in the prequels, you can see why I tell everyone THEY DON’T EXIST.  Because otherwise, they just ruin my enjoyment of the original series.

A great Christmas present idea (for you AND me)!

Hey!  Want to buy yourself a great holiday gift while at the same time saying, “Hey, Michael A. Ventrella, thanks for all the entertaining blog posts I’ve enjoyed”?  Why not buy one of my books? That way we both win!  You get a fun and entertaining read, and I get another small book sale.  You can download a copy for less than $6!

Here’s what people have said about “Bloodsuckers:  A Vampire Runs for President”:bloodsuckers-510

Bloodsuckers takes modern politics and adds vampires to the mix (yes, we already know all the jokes you’re making!) to make it actually new and exciting. Washed-up reporter Steve Edwards can’t believe what he sees when a Presidential candidate is gunned down by a man who then disappears before his eyes, apparently transformed to a bat. But that’s just the beginning as Steve finds he’s been framed for the crime and what he’s seen is just the very tip of a blood-drinking iceberg. Ventrella’s quick, bright dialogue punctuates the adventure with dry humor even as he ratchets the tension up towards an ending that might just surprise even the jaded reader. Highly recommended!” – Ryk E. Spoor, author of Grand Central Arena and Phoenix Rising

Bloodsuckers draws back the curtain of politics and confirms the fear we’ve all suspected about our leaders for decades. A cutting expose of the—what, this is fiction? Naw … Well then. Funny, quick, too smart for its own good. Had me viewing politicians with new suspicion.” – Mur Lafferty, Campbell-Award-winning author of Ghost Train to New Orleans and The Shambling Guide to New York City

“Sharp as a stake through the heart, Bloodsuckers works both as an entertaining thriller and as satire of our current out-for-blood political landscape. I loved the characters, the political insight and the final revelation!” – Dennis Tafoya, author of The Poor Boy’s Game and The Wolves of Fairmont Park

Bloodsuckers is a delicious blend of mainstream thriller, oddball horror, and biting social commentary. Sink your teeth into this one!” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Code Zero and V-Wars

“What could be more horrifying than vampires with a taste for blood? Vampires with a taste for politics, as well. Mike Ventrella gives us both, plus action, adventure, laughs and chills, in Bloodsuckers, a political satire with bite.” – Jon McGoran, author of Drift and Deadout

“Politics, intrigue and vampires—a match made in Washington, DC. A bloody good political thriller that sucks you in from the start and gets its teeth into your imagination.” – Gail Z. Martin, author of Reign of Ash and Deadly Curiosities

“The book is a lot of fun. It manages to be many things at once. It’s both thrilling and humorous. Both politically charged and poignant without being preachy.” – Lucas Mangum, author of Flesh and Fire.

(More reviews are here).

Many bloggers have a button for “tips” if you enjoy reading their blogs, and some have ads.  (The ads you may see here are placed by WordPress — I don’t get any income from them.)

All I ask is that you give my books a try — if you like VentrellaQuest, you’ll probably like the books, too! And if you have read one of my books, another great present idea that is absolutely free is simple: post a review.

So Happy Holidays!   And thanks for all your support!

“Let me tell you how you feel”

“Why are most of the animals in ‘The Secret Life of Pets’ male?” asked a female reviewer.

I thought that was a good question. It’s not like there was a plot reason to have the characters male. petsSo I posted that article on a page devoted to animation, and immediately was attacked. “Oh, here go the feminists again!” they said. “This woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about” and so on.

All from men, of course.

I expected one to scream “All cartoons matter!”

I always try to listen to the experts. When the vast majority of scientists are telling me that climate change is real and vaccinations are good, I tend to listen. I don’t have any experience in that area.

Similarly, it is tremendously frustrating for me as a lawyer who once taught Constitutional Law to be lectured by some high school dropout about the meaning of the second amendment.

Everyone reading this is an expert in something. Your job, your hobbies, your life — how do you like it when someone tries to tell you you’re wrong about something you know better than anyone else?

So when women tell you that the lack of representation in a film is important to them, don’t go tell them they shouldn’t feel that way. If black people are telling you that they fear the police and are targeted by them often, don’t go saying that they are wrong.

Let’s assume they’re the experts here.


Top ten great Monkees songs you’ve probably never heard

The Monkees are #1.  No, really. They hit #1 this weekend, 50 years after their original appearance.


Great album. Terrible cover.

The Monkees were highly influential on me as a child. While some kids in the 60s wanted to grow up and be astronauts or James Bond, I wanted to be in a rock and roll band where we all lived in the same house and had wacky adventures. So I taught myself to play guitar and was in a number of bands over the years (as the bassist). Strangely enough, one of my college bands — the Naughty Bits — actually ended up pretty much all living in the same house (except for the drummer who was still in high school). We practiced in the basement. Our adventures weren’t quite as interesting, though.

Anyway, the music of the Monkees influenced me a lot more than the TV show. How could the music not be good? They had the greatest songwriters and backing musicians available at the time, and the guys in the band had something to do with it as well. (That’s Mike’s guitar work playing the hook on “Pleasant Valley Sunday” and Peter’s keyboard making the difference on “Daydream Believer” — not to mention the influence Mike had on creating “country rock.”)

They had some reunion albums every now and then that weren’t very good, but they’ve learned their lesson. The new album enlists some of the best songwriters of our day — people who, like me, were influenced by the Monkees. There are songs from Andy Patridge (XTC), Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Noel Gallagher (Oasis), Adam Schlesinger (Fountains of Wayne), Paul Weller (The Jam), and Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie). They dug up some old songs that were written for the show and never completed from Neil Diamond, Carole King, Jeff Barry, Harry Nilsson and Boyce & Hart. And then Mike, Micky and Peter contributed songs as well.

Most people only know the hits from the sixties, but there are some great album tracks that should not be missed.  In no particular order:

The Porpoise Song was a single,  but it bombed — which is sad, because it’s a great piece of psychedelica written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin. This was the theme of their movie “Head.” That’s Leon Russel on keyboards, by the way.

The Girl I Knew Somewhere was the B-side to “A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You” and never appeared on any album until some greatest hits collections came along. Written by Mike Nesmith, this was the first song that the Monkees really played on. Peter’s keyboard solo is quite good.

Shorty Blackwell was Micky’s masterpiece — he wrote it about his cat. There are many parts to this song, with shifts in tempo (it even goes into 5/4 at the end).

Goin’ Down was the B side of “Daydream Believer” — it’s written by all four Monkees although I don’t think they play any instruments on it. Micky is amazing here.

Daily Nightly was written by Mike and, as was his way at the time, has trippy words that don’t really mean anything. Micky plays the brand-new Moog synthesizer making its first appearance on a pop record.

Mommy and Daddy is Micky’s protest song, but the record company made him rewrite and re-record the strong lyrics (“Ask your mommy and daddy who shot JFK”). Here’s the original version:

While I Cry is one of Mike’s better written “country rock” songs, with clever lyrics, more than one bridge, and then it ends just at the right time before it could become boring.

Star Collector is another one written by Goffin/King. This one’s about groupies — something Davy certainly had experience in when singing this. Davy was my least favorite Monkee — too much Broadway, not enough rock and roll — but he handles this one just fine. There’s a long solo at the end that was the second use of synthesizer on a pop record.  The version below is the long version you never saw on the TV show.

Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again was written by Peter. I like the way it’s organized, with a different lead section than the rest of the song, and with a great bass line. Nice title, too. This is from the “Head” movie.

Auntie’s Municipal Court is another one written by Mike, with meaningless words and a title that has nothing to do with the song. They were indeed smoking a lot of strange weeds in those days.

Bonus #11: Randy Scouse Git. I didn’t know whether to include this or not. It’s one of my favorites — another one written by Micky. I wasn’t sure if it was obscure enough for this list, as it was a big hit in England of all places (where they demanded an alternate title since “Randy Scouse Git” was a bit too crude in British slang for a teeny bopper audience). Micky, bowing to record company demands for an alternate title, renamed it “Alternate Title” for the impressionable youth there.