Saturday, May 29, 2010

On DVD: Sky King (1951)

I just couldn't resist snagging a 4-episode compilation of the 1951-59 series, Sky King, which, like so many of its contemporaries, made the transition from radio to television. I'm glad I made the investment.

I have to admit I wasn't really interested when Sky King aired on cable several years back, but these days I find myself buying more and more old radio & television shows, and this, I felt would be a good addition to my collection.

Kirby Grant starred as Schuyler "Sky" King, owner of the Flying Crown Ranch and licensed pilot who patrolled the ranch property and the surrounding environs aboard his personal plane, Songbird, often in the company of his niece, Penny (Gloria Winters). It was typical family oriented adventure fare of the period, with Sky & Penny battling with common thieves and other villains.

The DVD set I have hop-scotches across the time line, the latest episode being from the series' final season, 1958-59. One episode, sponsored by Peter Pan peanut butter, includes commercials promoting the inevitable toy giveaway tie-in, in this case a portable microscope. It sounded like well traveled radio and film actor Gerald Mohr was the announcer for at least one episode (the one with the Peter Pan promotion), but I'm not sure about the other(s).

Edit: 4/11/14: Here's the episode, "The Wild Man", with announcer Gerald Mohr:





Would Sky King be revived today? Hard to say, with the world having changed so much. Grade: A-.

Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)

They say celebrity deaths usually come in groups of three. Earlier this week, we said goodbye to Art Linkletter, and yesterday, Gary Coleman passed away. Today, it is actor-director Dennis Hopper, at 74, after a lengthy bout with cancer.

Hopper's talents, both as an actor and a filmmaker, were counter-balanced with a nearly career long struggle with substance abuse. Hopper directed 1969's counter-culture classic, "Easy Rider", in which he co-starred with Peter Fonda (who also produced) and future superstar Jack Nicholson. Because "Rider" was such a huge hit, Hopper was entrusted with "The Last Movie", which wasn't released until around 1972, due largely to Hopper's drug use. "Movie" was as opposite of "Rider" as you could get, a total failure that made Hopper persona non gratia in Hollywood for a few years, until a classic turn in 1979's "Apocalypse Now". However, Hopper didn't come all the way back until earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor in 1986's "Hoosiers".

Today's generation might be more acquainted with Hopper from his role opposite Keanu Reeves in "Speed", as well as a stint as a shoe-sniffing referee in a series of commercials for Nike. More recently, Hopper ventured back into television, starring in the cable series, Crash, for the Starz network, and narrating the "Seven Ages of Rock" miniseries that airs frequently on VH1 Classic.

Would Hopper have been an even bigger star without the drugs? No one really knows for sure.

Rest in peace, Dennis.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Gary Coleman (1968-2010)

It has just come over the wires. One day after being hospitalized following a brain injury in his Utah home, actor Gary Coleman has passed away at 42.

Coleman, best remembered for the 80's sitcom, Diff'rent Strokes, suffered the injury when he hit his head on Thursday. Later that same day, he'd slipped into unconsciousness, and was placed on life support. The news of his passing came less than an hour ago.

Coleman had been in the news more for his legal troubles than his acting in recent years, and had appeared in a movie produced by the Mormon church a few years ago. Around that same time, he also appeared in a music video by wrestler-actor-rapper John Cena, "Bad, Bad Man", which, while a parody of another iconic 80's series, The A-Team, enabled Coleman to send up his own wholesome image by playing the villain.

In addition to Strokes, Coleman made a couple of TV-movies for NBC, one of which, 1982's "Kid With the Broken Halo", was spun off into the 1983 cartoon series, The Gary Coleman Show, which followed up "Halo", but lasted only one season.

Rest in peace, Gary.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Too young to be addicted

I happened to catch this in today's New York Daily News. A 2-year-old boy has taken up smoking. Let me repeat. This child is just 2. In a small Indonesian country, this kid has as many as 40 cigarettes a day, and otherwise, according to his father, is a normal child. If you try to tell him he can't have any more, he reacts as any normal toddler would, by throwing a temper tantrum. I can just picture him going to kindergarten in about 2-3 years, and using bathroom breaks to cover for taking a smoke, provided of course his parents don't break him of the addiction before then.

Not long ago, a local advertisement suggested that kids who take up smoking might actually pick up the addiction while in their mother's womb if she insists on smoking during her pregnancy. I thought then that it was a little extreme, but then, maybe they were on to something after all.......!

Art Linkletter (1917-2010)

I was eating dinner when my mother told me that Art Linkletter had passed away at 97. She'd found out via the 5:00 news just before I came home from work.

Most of us will remember that Linkletter was doing commercials for some insurance company, if my memory serves me correctly, during the 70's & 80's, but he's better known for his radio & television work. Specifically, a pair of iconic series that ran concurrently during the 40's, 50's, and into the 60's. House Party, a daytime series, ended its CBS run in 1969. I barely remember ever seeing any episodes of that series, if at all. One popular feature of Party would later be revived as a stand-alone series, Kids Say the Darndest Things, and hosted by another TV icon, Bill Cosby, with Linkletter as a contributor, during the 90's.

All I can remember of People Are Funny is how it was parodied (as People Are Phony) in one of those Bugs Bunny-Daffy Duck cartoons during the era when the two iconic Looney Tunes characters were more adversaries than friends, with Daffy jealous of Bugs' uncanny talents.

As a collector of old-time radio programs, I haven't seen either Party or People released on CD (radio) or DVD (television) as yet, and I think that would be because Linkletter held the rights to both himself, rather than the networks. We'll see if there's any sort of CD/DVD release in memorium down the road.

Rest in peace, Art. You will be missed.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Maybe the school board needs to go to confession?

This is just flat out ridiculous.

Raymond Hosier, a 13 year old student at Oneida Middle School in Schenectady, has been suspended from school twice this month, the latest ban handed down on Monday, for refusing to comply with school dress code policy. On the surface, you wouldn't think it's so bad if he's wearing something socially or morally offensive, but then you look into the heart of the matter and wonder what all the fuss is about.

Hosier wears a rosary and a crucifix around his neck, and the Schenectady school district claims that instead of the religious symbolism they represent, the rosary, to them, is a sign of an affiliation with a street gang.

SAY WHAT?

A rosary is a symbol of the Catholic faith. Most gang members depicted in the movies are usually more blinged out than that, wearing more gold chains than even Mr. T in his heyday. Like, what is the school board thinking here? Hosier told the Albany Times-Union that he's worn the rosary and crucifix from the start of the school year, and now twice in the last month, he's been suspended from school. When was the last time you'd heard of a Catholic street gang, anyway?

Hosier's parents have obtained help from The American Center for Law & Justice, a Christian organization founded by evangelist Pat Robertson (The 700 Club) to settle this dispute. The story is gaining national attention as a result, and Robertson has most likely already made mention of it on his show. The bottom line is, the school district is misreading the entire situation. They claim it's a safety issue. That's total nonsense. Would they say the same thing to kids dressing like characters from popular fiction, say for example, the "Twilight" series of books & movies? Maybe, but it wouldn't garner the same kind of attention.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

If you can't take a joke......

Hulk Hogan can't buy a break these days.

In January, he debuted in TNA Wrestling, but his presence hasn't had the kind of impact (pun intended) the company was hoping for, but we've gone over that enough times already. Unfortunately, in addition to his declining mental faculties (how else to explain his changing the story on nearly every radio show he appears on to promote TNA?), Hogan now has a bit of a thin skin when it comes to satire.

It has been reported that Hogan has filed a lawsuit against Post Cereals, an arm of Kraft Foods and makers of the Pebbles family of cereals, alleging that an incidental character in the latest commercial for Cocoa Pebbles uses his likeness without his permission.

The ad has Fred Flintstone & Barney Rubble grappling with "Bulk Boulder", who's not a total Hulk-a-like, despite the former champ's claims to the contrary. Boulder is undone by Barney's adopted son, Bamm-Bamm, and the animated wrestler is reduced to a pile of---wait for it---pebbles (naturally). Seems Hogan thinks that Kraft and its ad agency should've at least asked for his permission, but when has Hogan ever set foot in a ring in green trunks? Never, at least to my knowledge. The ad is satirical in nature as it relates to the wrestler, and it may have had more of a genesis in the success a year and a half ago of Mickey Rourke's "The Wrestler" than anything Hogan-related.

I'd say Hogan's gotten quite paranoid in his old age, wouldn't you? I don't see the suit going very far, and will probably be thrown out due to lack of conclusive evidence. The internet is already rife with people joking about Hogan and his rep for backstage politics in wrestling, suggesting he'd try to apply that to this latest piece of litigation. Let's face it. If Hogan can't beat a cartoon character, then maybe he might as well finally read the handwriting on the wall, and, assuming he keeps his word and leaves TNA unable to finish his work there, hang 'em up once and for all.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Tim Winter

Winter is the current frontman for the Parents Television Council, the media watchdog group that impulsively whines and complains to the press every time there's something offensive on or soon to be on television. The PTC would like the television industry to at least clean itself up, or, at worst, move back to simpler, happier times, like the 50's. Sorry, folks, it ain't happening, so deal with it.

Unfortunately, Winter and his minions don't know how to deal with the changes in the television industry in correlation to the changes in our society. Case in point is a forthcoming CBS sitcom that currently has the title, $#!* My Dad Says, starring TV legend William Shatner (ex-Boston Legal), which stems from a hot Twitter account created by a 20-something comedy writer about his father's ramblings. Of course, the first word in the title can easily be changed to something less offensive, like, for example, "Stuff", but Winter just can't sit idly by and let industry nature run its course in this case. Instead, he's already getting ink for his latest round of moralist whining, and, quite frankly, I'm getting sick of these pseudo-moralist know-it-alls sticking their collective nose where it isn't needed.

PTC founder L. Brent Bozell was at the forefront a decade ago with his pathetic crusade against the WWE (then-World Wrestling Federation) over their over-the-top, adult-themed angles because the company was and still does market their product to children. Bozell made his peace with WWE, and would probably welcome their current family-friendly programming, but Winter is picking up the baton and going after anything and everything he finds offensive, usually, as is the case here, without bothering to do any due diligence in terms of research. The series title will likely be changed before September, and critics will cry that it's to appease the PTC, but the truth is, it's a common sense move, and I think it's expected to happen over the next 4 months. Winter will then take some bows for his fragile ego by claiming a moral victory.

He's better off trying to talk some sense into Lenore Skenazy, but that would require surgically implanting common sense into him.

Bugs Bunny returns to prime time

File this under "be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it":

On the message boards at http://www.toonzone.org/, fans have been clamoring for Cartoon Network and/or its sister channel, Boomerang, to put Bugs Bunny and the Looney Tunes gang back on the regular schedules. Rather than spend money on rights fees to parent company Time-Warner, Cartoon Network has instead opted to commission an all-new series featuring the beloved characters.

The Looney Tunes Show, due in the fall, is the 2nd series to bear that title at Cartoon Network. The first was a Saturday morning show that aired the classic shorts a few years back in a 2-3 hour block, if my memory is correct. The new show, according to reports, reads like an animated sitcom. Ivan Shreve, Jr., posting on his Thrilling Days of Yesteryear blog, reports that Bugs Bunny & Daffy Duck will be-------wait for it------roommates. I'm getting the feeling that this is more along the lines of The Odd Couple than Beavis & Butt-Head. It makes sense, of course, since the antagonistic relationship between Bugs & Daffy through the years would put them right up there with Neil Simon's classic duo of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison.

This year marks 50 years since Bugs and pals made their first foray into prime time on ABC. As long as Cartoon Network gets it right and actually promotes the new series in the same way they've promoted their other shows, like Chowder, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and recent debuts like Generator Rex, The Looney Tunes Show could in fact become appointment television for the whole family. A few years ago, Warner Bros. raised a few eyebrows by introducing viewers to descendants of Bugs, Daffy, et al as superheroes in the series, Loonatics Unleashed. That lasted two seasons, but has largely been ignored by Cartoon Network since ending its network run. The fans want classic Bugs & Daffy, but will they get it along with the new Looney Tunes Show? We'll just have to stay tuned----or should I say tooned?----and see.

Bad time for a good idea

Author Lenore Skenazy, a former columnist for the New York Daily News, made headlines the other day when she suggested that a day be set aside to allow children to play in neighborhood parks & playgrounds----- virtually unsupervised.

In this day & age, a parent leaving his/her kids at a public park or playground unattended is begging for trouble. There have been too many cases, especially in New York City, of kids being abducted, and in some of those cases, they've been snatched right off the street. Ms. Skenazy would be well served to amend her idea to allow for parents to be at least within visual range of their children to ward off any seemingly suspicious individuals that might have bad intentions.

So far, Ms. Skenazy's plan has been met with predictably mixed reactions. Some think it's a good idea, others, not so much. While this might have met with greater approval, say, 40 or 50 years ago, it just doesn't fly in 2010.

Let's give her some credit, though. We live in an era where most kids are content sitting at home playing with X-Box or Playstation on their TV's. They don't know what it's like to go out to the playground and use the slides & swings, and that's what Ms. Skenazy is trying to advocate. A return to the days of innocence, where children from all over the neighborhood would gather, mingle, make friends, and have fun.

We've seen the NFL take steps to encourage kids to come out and play in an advertising campaign run over the last two seasons. Of course, there's also the current Ad Council commercial featuring Shrek and Donkey (Mike Myers & Eddie Murphy) encouraging kids to hit the playgrounds for at least an hour a day. That spot airs at least a dozen times a day, usually during sporting events.

The only way today's generation of youngsters will have a chance to get out and play is if their parents stay with them and supervise. Ms. Skenazy's own children, ages 12 & 14, might not need supervision, but children under the age of 10 will, because they're the ones that are usually prey for kidnappers. A detail that Ms. Skenazy apparently forgot.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Is this remake necessary?, part 2

In announcing their fall 2010-11 lineup, CBS made official what had been speculated for some time, and that is a revival of one of their cornerstone series of the 70's, Hawaii Five-0.

The original Five-0 aired from 1968-80, with star Jack Lord creating an iconic, indelible image as Steve McGarrett, the head of the Five-0 team, answering directly to the Governor of Hawaii (Richard Denning). The new Five-0 will air on Mondays, meaning that CSI: Miami is being moved to a new night.

However, not all revivals are guaranteed hits. One needs only to reference NBC's dismal failure with reboots of Knight Rider and The Bionic Woman, and ABC's failed revival of Night Stalker, all coming in the last 5 years, as evidence that a familiar brand name doesn't guarantee viewer interest. Basically, today's audience has said, time and again, that older brands are of no interest to them. Battlestar Galactica, which was revived by SyFy, was much more successful the second time around because of a pre-established fan base that the show was geared toward. That same fan base has embraced the prequel, Caprica, it would appear. What made Galactica work this time was that it was no longer perceived as a "Star Wars" derivative, which may have contributed to the original series' demise.

What could work against Hawaii Five-0 in 2010 isn't so much the fact that there are enough police dramas out there now already. That's always been the case, even during Five-0's original run. It's shoehorning the CSI/Law & Order procedural format into the series in order to appeal to fans of those other franchises. In the original, McGarrett had one recurring foe who kept himself two or three steps ahead of the law. You don't see that in crime dramas anymore, and I don't think that it'd be the direction they'd take in reviving the brand.

Meanwhile, NBC had considered a revival of another 70's classic, The Rockford Files, with Dermot Mulroney filling James Garner's gumshoes, but it wasn't picked up. Yet. Maybe they're waiting to see if the new Five-0 takes off, which would give them enough confidence to go ahead, considering past failures noted above. They're better off consulting the works of Santayana.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Bud Selig

Major League Baseball Commissioner Allan "Bud" Selig is this week's Weasel, and this was an easy call.

Opponents of the immigration law signed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer have asked Selig to move the 2011 All Star Game, scheduled for Chase Field in Phoenix, out of the area to protest the law, which allegedly allows law enforcement officials a legal right to ask for ID's & birth certificates for anyone they think is in their state illegally. They say it amounts to legalized racial profiling. They point to the NFL taking away a Super Bowl from Phoenix nearly 20 years ago because the state refused to recognize the birthday of civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. as a national holiday. As we know, of course, Arizona finally got to host the big game 2 years ago, after it joined in with the rest of the nation to set aside the 3rd Monday in January to honor the late Dr. King.

Selig has never exactly been the sharpest tool in the shed, and all he did was point to statistics regarding MLB's success in minority hires in recent years, and the fact that he decided to stick his head in the sand on such a sensitive issue, one that has White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen already stating that he won't go if they keep the '11 game in Phoenix. A good percentage of major league players hail from Latin American countries like Venezuela & Mexico. The potential is there for a unnecessary confrontation with one or more of these players that would be an embarassment not only to the state of Arizona, but to MLB as well.

Selig has been too slow to react to other hot-topic issues during his tenure as commissioner, and even though he's already stated he'd leave office after the 2012 season, when his current term expires, it'd be a good idea to start forging a positive legacy for the next man to fill the office. Too often, Selig comes off as clueless and ill-informed, and of course, his legacy is letting an All Star Game end in a tie early in his administration. He needs to act now to change that legacy, otherwise he'll leave as the worst commissioner MLB has ever had.

Of course, what would you expect from a used car salesman who presents himself to be dumber than a bag of hammers?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Can a newspaper be charged with tampering?

As I write this, the Cleveland Cavaliers are still in the NBA playoffs, but the New York Daily News can't make July 1 come soon enough to suit them. The tabloid is putting on a full court press, after a fashion, trying to convince Cavaliers superstar LeBron James to sign with the New York Knicks. They've gone so far as to recruit former Knicks like Willis Reed, and one of the team's biggest celebrity fans, filmmaker Spike Lee, whose screen alter-ego of Mars Blackmon made those legendary commercials for Nike with Michael Jordan back in the day. Nike, coincidentally, also has an endorsement contract with James. It's also well known that James is a fan of the New York Yankees, and got in hot water with his own hometown fans 3 years ago when he attended a playoff game between the Yankees & Indians wearing a Yankee cap.

It's also well known that the Knicks haven't fielded a playoff team in years, and are desperate for a spark of some kind to become a contender again. The tabloids have made note of James' pending free agency for the last two years, but what makes them think that James would actually agree to come to New York at any price?

In fact-----and I didn't watch the game tonight----, what if Cleveland gets past Boston, goes all the way to the Finals, and wins the championship? Cavalier ownership would break the bank to retain James, because letting him walk, after all they've done for him, including signing Shaquille O'Neal prior to this season, would be a devastating blow to the morale of the city, never mind the team, killing all the momentum from a possible title victory.

We know how they're obsessed with championships in New York. The tabloid press fans the flames by over-analyzing every minute detail to the point of annoyance. But as of now, LeBron James is still a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Knicks would be accused of tampering if they spoke openly about acquiring him, but does that give the tabloids the right to do the tampering for them? Absolutely not! There's no guarantee that James will even sign with the Knicks. If he was to leave Cleveland (and I doubt it), he'd more than likely end up in Los Angeles, Boston, or Chicago.

Knicks owner James Dolan, a part-time rock musician in his spare time, has gotten nothing but scorn from those same tabloids for his poor management of the Knicks & the NHL's Rangers, and forcing announcers on the MSG Network to be "homers", trying to dress up even the worst defeats by finding a sliver of a silver lining in the clouds. If Dolan had any real business sense, he'd be scouting for the best possible player in next month's draft, and not trying to put all of his eggs in one big basket in pursuit of LeBron James. Who knows? Maybe the Knicks won't need "King James" after all if they're suddenly contending at this time next year.

"Annie"'s out of "Tomorrow"'s

On June 13, New York Daily News readers, and readers of 19 other newspapers around the country, will say good-bye to (Little Orphan) Annie, as the strip has been cancelled by its syndicator, Tribune Media Services after an amazing 86 year run.

Currently written & drawn by Jay Maeder & Ted Slampyiak, respectively, Annie made her debut in 1924, created, written, & drawn by Harold Gray, who drew all of his characters, Annie included, without pupils in their eyes. Annie has been fighting spies and assorted other villains for much of the series' run, including the current story arc, which will be the last. The strip was adapted first for television as part of a long forgotten 1-shot special, "Funny Papers", which aired in April 1970. I remember seeing pieces of this show, but you'd be hard pressed to find any prints of it today.

What most people will recall is the Broadway show, "Annie", which spawned the feature film of the same name, and the iconic ballad, "Tomorrow", which Annie sings while in the orphanage. These days, Annie hardly wears the equally iconic red & white dress anymore, since that would stand out when she's fighting bad guys.

Will this really be the end of "Annie"? No, I really don't think so. After all, the Broadway musical was revived, and there is a touring company that came through my area recently, which says that there is still interest in the character, such that another syndicator might come along and acquire the rights to the strip from Tribune. Consider that even though the late Charles Schulz's Peanuts ended 1st run publication some years back, reprints still are used as a testament to the series' enduring popularity. Annie won't go that same route, though. I don't know about you, but I think by this time next year, we'll be hearing about her return, proof positive that "the sun will come out tomorrow".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The darkest side of high school sports

Oh, to be young and gifted as a basketball player, yearning to be the next LeBron James or Kobe Bryant or Dwight Howard. But what if you'd rather be just young and gifted forever?

Yahoo! reports that there are three cases of 20-something hoopsters posing as younger players. The motivation and rationale for such mindless, selfish chicanery at the high school level are as yet unknown.

Take first the case of Neville "Steele" Davis, who decided to relive his teenage years ad infinitum as a vagabond transferring from one school to the next between 2005-09 before administrators and law enforcement officials finally caught him 13 months ago. Why relive your senior year, or all of your high school years, for that matter, for four more years? Why embarass every high school you've gone to?

Anthony Avalos pulled the same scam in Arizona, but like Davis, was busted last year.

The case that gets the headlines, however, is that of Guerdwich Montimore, 22, who graduated from Dillard High School in Florida in 2005, and enrolled at a junior college in Illinois, but never played a game there. It's safe to guess that he dropped out of junior college. Nearly 18 months ago, he resurfaced, posing as Jerry Joseph, and claimed to have emigrated from Haiti. His new coach in Odessa, Texas took him in as an orphan. An anonymous e-mail sent to the school in Odessa last month exposed the truth about Montimore.

In each case, the report has not noted whether or not the schools affected by these scammers face any sanctions for using ineligible players. One would imagine that in time they would, but the shame and embarassment felt by the schools and local law enforcement agencies for letting these scams go on is far worse.

So, again, what is the motivation? I can understand if these kids don't think they're good enough yet for the NBA and, Montimore aside, can't afford college tuitions, but still want to play. They don't want to spend all their time on the playground or in the gym playing pick-up games. However, they've made their coaches & teammates accessories to their scams as well as victims, because of their selfishness. Now, they've made it impossible to be accepted by the NBA, which, in the cases of Avalos & Montimore, has three teams in Texas and 2 in Florida that could've scouted these kids. They've made it tougher, too, for other kids who legitimately belong on high school teams to even get past the try-out stage, because coaches & administrators will likely be forced to ask for birth certificates to prove they're the right age.

Well, boys, the prison 3-on-3 leagues await.........

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lena Horne (1917-2010)

Lena Horne was as much a trailblazer as baseball player Jackie Robinson, shattering the color barrier on Broadway back in the 40's and becoming a top attraction. Ms. Horne passed away over the weekend at 92, but the cause of death is still not yet known. All we know is that she was being treated at Cedars-Sinai Hospital at the time of her passing.

The first time I'd actually seen Ms. Horne on television, that I can remember, was a guest appearance on Sanford & Son, in which Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) had developed a crush on Lena and wanted desperately to meet her in person. Back then, it was an innocent plot device, but that context really wouldn't work today in an era of celebrity stalkers obsessed with their favorite stars.

Lena Horne will be remembered more for her signature song, "Stormy Weather", and for her involvement in the civil rights movement. She made a comeback of sorts with a one-woman Broadway show, "Lena Horne......The Lady & Her Music", in 1981, which introduced her to a modern generation of fans.

Rest in peace, Lena. You will be missed.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

In theatres: Iron Man 2 (2010)

Ever since Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) revealed to the world that he is "Iron Man" at the end of the first film 2 years ago, he's had more enemies than even the late President Nixon. The government wants his armor and the technology that goes along with it. As "Iron Man 2" unfolds, Stark discovers that he's got more to worry about than just Uncle Sam.

The Stark Expo in 2010 is little more than a glorified exercise in ego massage. Stark, as Iron Man, arrives to a rock star reception, complete with dancers in two piece costumes derivative of the Golden Avenger's armor. As he leaves, Stark is served with a subpoena to appear before a Congressional comittee in Washington. There, he trades barbs with Senator Stern (a disturbingly puffy Garry Shandling) and boldly declares that he will not turn over the armor.

Meanwhile, in Russia, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) develops a set of electronic bullwhips, but at no time in the movie is he even referred to as "Whiplash". Just as well. Vanko meets Stark for the first time at the Grand Prix of Monte Carlo, after Stark has talked his way into the race, driving his own sponsored vehicle. Despite taking a hellacious beating, Stark comes out of it a winner, thanks to his chauffeur/personal trainer, Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau, who also directed). Vanko is shipped off to prison, but is sprung in short order and brought to America at the behest of Stark's business rival, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), who has all the charm of a con man, but is about as smart as a burnt toothpick.

That comes into play when Vanko decides to do his own thing with the armor that Hammer has supplied him with. Not only that, but Hammer has also managed to obtain a government contract, and with that contract comes the reluctant cooperation of James Rhodes (Don Cheadle). After a violent tiff with Stark, Rhodes took possession of one of the spare Iron Man suits, and so it can be implied that this is the debut of War Machine, an identity that Rhodes took on in the comics some years back. Now, War Machine has been outfitted with some guns that neither he nor Iron Man really need. However, on the last night of the expo, Vanko makes his move, and uses remote control to take control of the drones he'd built for Hammer, as well as War Machine.

Now, we're getting ahead of ourselves. In the meantime, we're given a little dose of the seminal Iron Man arc from the late 70's, "Demon in a Bottle", as Stark turns to drinking to deal with the myriad issues, the most compelling of which is the fact that the tech that is keeping him alive is also slowly killing him. He promotes secretary "Pepper" Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) to CEO, putting her in charge of Stark Industries while he tries to find a cure for his condition. At the same time, he has to deal with S.H.I.E.L.D. boss Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and the agent that Fury has placed at Stark Industries, Natalie Rushman, aka Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson). One of the most impressive parts of the movie is the sequence in which the Widow (not called by that name in the movie, but most fans know who she is based on the black catsuit she wears), aided to an extent by Hogan, dismisses at least a dozen of Hammer's security agents. It takes Hogan a while just to beat one. Well, what would you expect from comedy relief?

I won't spoil the finish, except to say that it's on a par with Iron Man vs. "Iron Monger" (Jeff Bridges) in the 1st film. As with the first movie, you have to wait until the closing credits roll for a teaser for the next film in the continuing series leading up to 2012's "Avengers". And that's all I have to say about that.

If you can picture Scarlet Johansson substituting for Jennifer Garner as Elektra in "Daredevil" and "Elektra", I think you get a sense that maybe those films would've turned out a wee bit better. A Black Widow solo movie would be very welcome down the road, thank you very much. Rourke's comeback story continues, as he provides just the right kind of menace as Vanko. We'll forgive him for the harness & whips at the race track, as it just didn't look right, and they were well served not to use the name "Whiplash" after all. The video flashbacks of Howard Stark (John Slattery) resemble something out of the Disney vaults, and the elder Stark looks like he could pass for Walt Disney himself! Hmmmm, considering that Disney now is Marvel's parent company, that may be more than coincidental. "Iron Man 2" also marks the last appearance of disc jockey Adam "DJ AM" Goldstein, who passed away last year after production'd been completed, and thus is dedicated in his memory.

Here's the trailer.



Will there be an "Iron Man 3"? I think that's almost a lock. Grade: A+.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Travis Parmalee

Based on what I read in this morning's New York Daily News, this dweeb was begging for headlines. Parmalee, you see, had a few too many Friday afternoon and was heckling Tiger Woods during the 2nd round of The Players Championship. The article doesn't say whether or not Woods actually took notice, but security at the golf course did, which led to the local police arriving and Parmalee ending up on the business end of----wait for it----a taser. Yep, for the 2nd time this week, a knucklehead ends up getting tasered for disrupting a sporting event.

Now, Steven Consalvi, the 17 year old who infamously was tasered in Philadelphia on Monday, has been the subject of much ridicule since, largely because he ignored his parents' advice not to go on the field. Not to mention the fact that an older idiot got on the field the next night and was caught in more conventional fashion. Parmalee, who either is unemployed or played hooky from his job for the day (that wasn't made clear, either), was more than three sheets to the wind, such that the taser was required to subdue him when he resisted arrest.

I would say it was too early in the day for Parmalee to be that wasted, but then again, I live in a neighborhood where the local riffraff buy cheap beer (and I do mean cheap--less than a dollar a can) and get sloshed at all hours, rather than do something productive---like getting a job. Something I doubt Travis Parmalee will have Monday morning. Instead of pink elephants, Parmalee should be seeing pink weasels, because his foolish, parasitic grab for attention got him a set of weasel ears this week.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Free Comic Book Day 2010----a random sampling

It's been almost a week since Free Comic Book Day, which for once fell in between the releases of comic book-themed movies. "The Losers" came out a week prior, and "Iron Man 2" opens today.

For me, it's the only day out of the year where I'll willingly step out of retirement and pick up a few things. This year, it was 3 free books, and some supplies for my sports cards. Let's take a look at the books:

Marvel's Greatest Comics: Invincible Iron Man 1: This is a reprint of the current volume of the series, not the original 1968 series. You knew that something involving the Golden Avenger would be Marvel's main entry for this year. It's a funny thing. 5 years ago, there was only 1 Iron Man book on the racks, and now, Marvel has a line of titles largely because the first movie did such tremendous business 2 years ago. Anyway, this was actually the least entertaining of the three I picked out, and I'll leave it go at that.

Doctor Solar/Magnus: Robot Fighter preview (Dark Horse): The former Gold Key heroes are back again, and so is writer Jim Shooter, who helmed the characters' previous revival at Valiant 20 years ago. Dark Horse acquired the rights to reprint the original Gold Key books in the Masterworks/Archives format popularlized by DC & Marvel a few years ago, and feel the time is right to bring them back. New series will debut this summer, and have plenty of promise. What would really help them is if the folks at Dark Horse gave some consideration to marketing Solar & Magnus to Hollywood studios and get a cut of that movie action, just so it doesn't look like DC & Marvel have a monopoly........

War of the Supermen 0 (DC): Previewing a limited series that is meant to be the coda to the "New Krypton" storyline from the last year, clearing the decks for a new creative team to take over the Superman line of books. It comes down to Superman vs. ancient foe General Zod, with Earth hanging in the balance. Hmmmm, haven't we seen that before? Yes, but not quite like this. Let me put it this way. Zod has a lot more backup than he did in "Superman 2" nearly 30 years ago, and it still won't help him in the end.

Ratings: War of the Supermen 0: A-. Doctor Solar/Magnus: A. Marvel's Greatest Comics: Invincible Iron Man: C-.

Bear in mind I only went to one comics shop this year, right in my hometown, and it was packed almost to capacity. The lure, besides the free comics and a back issue sale? Free food!!! The only time I see that many people in the shop otherwise is during a Magic: The Gathering tournament, and even then, it feels like they need to rent a bigger room to hold the tournament.

Am I tempted to get back in the game? A little, but not enough to go all in. I've sold or traded most of my collection as I write this. I admit I do miss the thrill of going to the store every week, but after collecting on and off since the 70's, I had to step away.

I'll have a review of "Iron Man 2" up later this weekend.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ernie Harwell (1908-2010)

Hall of Fame broadcaster Ernie Harwell, the play-by-play voice of the Detroit Tigers from the 60's through the early part of the millenium, passed away earlier tonight after a lengthy illness at 92.

The only time I actually heard Harwell call a game was just a few years ago, when he was a guest announcer on ESPN. I am, however, well aware of the tumult after the 1991 season when the Tigers decided that Harwell would leave the booth after 32 seasons. Harwell went west and worked for the Angels for the 1992 season, then was brought back in 1993, and he retired for good in 2002, returning only for the ESPN 1-shot in 2006.

Rest in peace, Ernie. It's probably game time in Heaven.

Who's the worst idiot?

It happens a handful of times a year during baseball season. Some dimwit decides to run onto the field, hoping to draw the attention of the television cameras. Never mind the fact that teams and their television partners have long gotten wise to the intentions of these usually besotted clowns, keeping the cameras away from the trespassers.

On Monday night, however, this was a wee bit different. In Philadelphia, with the 2-time defending National League champs opening a series against St. Louis, a 17 year old boy runs onto the field, but instead of field security collaring this kid, a local police officer opts to bring him down by shooting him with a taser.

This strategy has been micro-analyzed in the 24 hours since. Was the use of a taser excessive force? Was it even necessary? What was the kid thinking?

Let's address the last question first. According to all accounts, this kid called his father for permission. Should've known what the answer was going to be, junior! NO! He goes and does it anyway, because it's supposedly "once in a lifetime". Apparently, he's never paid attention to the dozens of potato-headed jerks who've tried it before him. The father said his son doesn't drink or use drugs, so you figure, this was a case of peers daring this fellow into making that fool's run onto the playing field. Less than a minute after he'd been tasered, the kid was up and walked off the field under his own power, but the most glaring question remains. Was it necessary to drop him with a taser?

The Phillies and Philadelphia police are looking into the incident. Oh, by the way, the Phillies, on an emotional high after winning 2 of 3 from the Mets over the weekend, lost the game.

So, who was the worst idiot? The police officer made a judgment call. Less than 48 hours after a car bomb scare in New York, he makes a decision to taser an unarmed 17 year old fan. He's lucky there isn't a lawsuit coming. The fan? He'll be fine, and fined. But neither one is the worst idiot.

That brings us to a 20-something WWE fan who flooded the corporate offices in Stamford with phone calls and voice messages over the weekend to protest the company's decision to dismiss popular "diva" Mickie James after 5 1/2 years with the company. He threatened to bomb WWE HQ, among other things, but after being arrested, of course he said he didn't plan on following up on those threats. He was just upset because Mickie, presumably his absolute favorite wrestler, lost her job. Now, the guy can't attend any more WWE events. Period. It's harsh, but it sends a clear-cut message that any threat, even if it's not going to be followed through on, will be taken very seriously. He wasn't the only one upset, of course.

When WWE held their annual "draft lottery" last week, it was in Mickie James' hometown of Richmond, Va., and the irony is that when she was notified of her release, James was busy doing promotional work to hype the show. A group of fans were ejected from the arena for bringing signs protesting the firing of the hometown starlet. Can you imagine what would happen if an even bigger star, say for example, Rey Mysterio, were to lose his job right before an important show in his home city of San Diego? Or if it was John Cena? Fans would be on the verge of rioting. The problem here is that most of these folks may not have internet access and have any idea of exactly why Mickie was let go (repeated tardiness on the European tour was a big reason). All they know is that their heroine is gone. All I can say is that maybe she'll return one day, and all will be forgiven. To these fans, I will give you this. I refer to an inscription on a bracelet my ex-girlfriend used to wear. "Have hope".

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Co-Weasels of the Week: Gov. Jan Brewer & Todd Clem

Two sets of weasel ears to hand out this time, and largely for similar reasons.

As most of you know by now, Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona has plunged her state into national headlines by virtually making racial profiling legal. I get she's trying to stem the tide of illegal immigrants crossing the border from Mexico into Arizona, but by authorizing police officers throughout the state to question the citizenship of every Hispanic-American they run across, be it on the street or at a traffic stop or whatever, she is risking mass rioting, not just from Hispanics, but other minorities as well. We're supposed to be well past racial bias in this country, but it just won't go away. If Gov. Brewer's up for re-election this year, stick a fork in her, she's done.

And who is Todd Clem, you might ask? You might know him better by his stage name, "Bubba the Love Sponge", well known Tampa, Florida-based radio shock jock and friend to Hulk Hogan. Clem was hired by TNA Wrestling in January at the request of Hogan, and they tried him out as a backstage reporter. He infamously ripped into 2-time women's champion Awesome Kong (Kia Stevens) for her fund-raising efforts for disaster victims in Haiti after the earthquake there, and all Kong did was dim Clem's running lights. However, Kong was cut a few weeks ago, a clear sign that Hogan was doing all he can to protect his friend.

Clem, however, didn't get the message. He reportedly ambushed Kong on his radio show earlier this week, and that was the final straw. TNA terminated Clem's contract on April 30 after 4 months, perhaps realizing that he was more of a liability to the company than they originally thought. Well, DUH! I get that TNA might want to bring Kong back at some point, and in order to facilitate that, they needed to get rid of Clem, who more recently was a mascot for The Band (not the rock group), aka the former New World Order Wolfpac (Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, & Sean "Syxx-Pac" Waltman), a trio of past-their-prime bad boys that were brought in because of the misguided belief that they are still a draw. TNA President Dixie Carter had to lay down the law, and all Clem did in response was to turn on TNA and urge his loyal listeners to virtually boycott the promotion, at a time when they need all the fan support they can muster, given the miniscule ratings they've generated since moving Impact to Mondays 2 months ago.

Clem is a poor man's Howard Stern. Gov. Brewer may think she's the 2nd coming of George Wallace, the former Alabama governor. They're both weasels in my book.