Wednesday, June 30, 2010

If it isn't broken, why fix it?: Wonder Woman gets a new costume

DC Comics is going out of its way to alienate long time readers------again.

In the 90's, they thought they could make money out of killing off Superman and disabling the Batman---both for the short term. They targeted the speculator boom of the period, where would-be investors were buying more copies than they really needed of every trendy, "hot" book out there in order to make a profit. Less than a year later, the two iconic heroes were back, good as new.

Now, DC is messing with another of their iconic characters. This time, it's Wonder Woman, and all the fuss is over a wardrobe change, something that hasn't happened in several years.

Images released to the press on Tuesday presented what is supposed to be the Amazing Amazon's 21st century "new look", as designed by artist Jim Lee and envisioned by writer J. Michael Straczynski, who is also putting his stamp on Superman at the same time. Wonder Woman, it seems, has swapped her iconic costume for something more urban, including pants and a leather jacket. A recent storyline explains the change. It seems the gods of Olympus have changed the course of time, such that it alters Wonder Woman's very existence, once again removing her from the early days of the Justice League of America (which DC had previously done in the late 80's). Now, with little or no memory of her link to the gods, Wonder Woman has become another urban avenger.

That is just SO wrong on so many levels. Fans are already howling in protest, even before the first issue with the new look even hits stores. Nearly 70 years after her debut, Wonder Woman has had her wardrobe changed for only the 2nd time. The first attempt was in the late 60's, when the editors of the period re-envisioned her as DC's answer to Emma Peel (The Avengers). Frankly speaking, I'd rather have had a return to that particular look if there was to be a change at all. There are already fans predicting a return to the classic, star-spangled costume, within a year or less. With the 70th anniversary a year away, I'd say that prediction will indeed come true.

The only real, rational reason for the change, no matter how Straczynski tries to spin it, is that it comes down to----what else?----money, and how much DC can make by marketing the new look. Sorry, guys, but this one's an epic fail.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

As a good idea falls apart.......

Vince McMahon just can't buy a break these days with the "1st season" graduates of his NXT series. First, Bryan Danielson (aka Daniel Bryan) was fired after violating guidelines regarding on-camera assaults on personnel that Danielson seemingly didn't know about. The groundswell of fan support for Danielson would seem to assure a return before the 90-day no compete clause in his contract expires. Given the latest developments, that return may have to be hastened, and quickly.

NXT season 1 winner Wade Barrett (real name, Stuart Sanders) was missing from last night's Monday Night Raw as well as house shows the preceding three days due to the fact that his work visa had expired. Barrett has returned to his native England to await the processing of a new visa that would allow him to return and continue the storyline.

As a result, the six remaining "graduates", now known as Nexus (not to be confused with a popular sci-fi comics series from the 80's), went forward without their established leader last night, adding former grapplers Rick Steamboat, Dean Malenko, Arn Anderson, Mike Rotundo (who had to remind folks of his alter-ego, Irwin R. Schyster, in a promo on Steamboat), and Michael Hayes, along with color analyst Jerry Lawler, to the list of victims. As the newsboards report, there is no timetable to determine Barrett's return, the latest pothole in what is arguably the hottest storyline WWE has had in years.

Meanwhile, over on Friday Night Smackdown, Scotland's Drew McIntyre (Drew Galloway) was "deported" in storyline on the June 25 episode, but in real life, McIntyre is also dealing with visa issues, and has returned to Scotland, leaving behind new bride Taryn Terrell (former ECW GM turned WWE diva Tiffany) while he sorts out his issues. In all honesty, McIntyre's spoiled brat gimmick had seemingly run its course. That he had to leave his wife for the duration suggests that marrying an American citizen doesn't always mean you're exempt from deportation, contrary to what we've seen in a number of movies over the years.

Back to the Nexus. It seemed fitting that they systematically picked off their victims, one by one, last night. It isn't their fault that a different kind of system, for good or bad, is picking them off, one by one, in the short term. Barrett will most assuredly be back, for the sake of keeping the storyline alive and kicking. His case, and that of McIntyre, speaks to the inability of McMahon to cover all the bases. He had to know their visas were expiring, and should've pushed to have them renewed before the expiration dates passed. Had the visas been renewed, things might be different than what we've seen over the last four nights.

A year ago, TNA had the same problem with Canada's Angelina Love (Angel Williams), who has since returned after settling her visa issues. Again, a glaring lack of due diligence in addressing the paperwork of visa renewals resulted in a key player being forced off stage, as it were, forcing the creative team to scramble to create a solution. Now, WWE has that same problem, times two, staring them in the face. When McIntyre returns, he has to undergo a gimmick change, since his role as a whiny, spoiled brat who ran to McMahon every time things didn't go his way rubbed people the wrong way very quickly. Barrett is an even more valuable player, as he has the presence and charisma to carry the Nexus gimmick. The other 6 collectively don't.

The only positive that comes out of this is that it ensures that the Nexus angle on Raw will last into the fall, perhaps culminating at Survivor Series in November. Renewing a work visa isn't a quick process, and WWE is preparing to move forward without Barrett & McIntyre for the duration, however long it is. McIntyre's absence from Smackdown had been teased for some time, especially since he was married last month, but had held off on a honeymoon.

So, what else could go wrong now?

Monday, June 28, 2010

Will soccer ever accept the 21st century?

While the United States was eliminated from the World Cup soccer tournament over the weekend, the tournament remains mired in controversy over----what else?----poor officiating.

In the course of its 4 games, Team USA had two goals taken away, and in each case, an argument can be made that it could've turned the tide of battle. But the ineptitude of soccer referees seemed to peak in Sunday's game between England and Germany. England had a goal scored that went undetected by the referee, especially when the German goalkeeper put the ball right back in play before the official even realized a goal had been scored. Germany went on to win the game, 4-1, eliminating England.

Throughout the tournament, FIFA top gun Sepp Blatter has remain firm in his belief that soccer doesn't need instant replay like everyone else. Sorry, Sepp, but it's time FIFA got in line with every other sports governing body and embraced modern technology.

The only other major sport I can think of that doesn't seem to require instant replay is golf, for obvious reasons. It doesn't really need it. With all of the scrutiny in the World Cup, it's increasingly clear that soccer needs it, and as was discussed on ESPN's Around The Horn & Pardon The Interruption, the most likely use of replay would be on goals, same as in hockey. And I'd not be surprised if there have been missed offsides calls in hockey, just as there have been during the World Cup.

Even when the tournament ends, the controversy will linger over replay. Regardless of where the tournament is played in 2014, FIFA has 4 years to finally recognize the need for replay. It may be the only way soccer will ever be accepted in America in the 21st century.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

It's not a good idea to take a good joke too far........

Over the last three nights, the NY-Penn League's Tri-City Valleycats hosted division rival Vermont, and had a little bit of fun on their video screen with the Lake Monsters' lineup. 4 different players had their pictures substituted with others of significantly higher value. To wit:

Outfielder Connor Rowe had cable personality & Ford pitchman Mike Rowe (Dirty Jobs) appearing on the video screen. Catcher Cole Leonida was subbed with "King Leonidas" from the movie "300". Infielder Blake Kelso was replaced on the board by actor-producer Ashton Kutcher ("Killers"), who played Michael Kelso on That 70's Show, and Stephen King, another infielder, had his pictured subbed with that of the more famous author of the same name. Oh, sure, the 'Cats' graphics department thought they were being cute and clever, and had the joke only been used the first night (Wednesday), it'd have been fine, but as I found out after talking with some random team staffers, they stretched it across all three games. Vermont won Wednesday & Friday's games, taking the series 2-1. Karmic justice, you would think, but since the Lake Monsters are due to return to Troy later this summer, I would expect more of the same. Fun is fun, but this kind of joke is best kept in smaller doses.

Of course, the Valleycats are the same team that hired a Bob Sheppard impersonator to do one inning of PA announcements when the Staten Island Yankees were in town in 2006 & 2008.

In hindsight, the joke might actually have worked better had the team had a deal in place with Time Warner Cable to have their games shown on TV. The Valleycats discontinued radio broadcasts after the '08 season, and don't even have their internet broadcasts issued over the loudspeakers in the restrooms this year. Since they're a consistently solid draw, it's not a real issue, but don'tcha think they could spare a little extra coin to service the fans that can't go on the road with the team? Food for thought.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Too bad it wasn't a ninja turtle.....

Yahoo! is reporting the story of a 10 year old girl who was forced to leave her pet turtle behind when she boarded a flight from Atlanta to Milwaukee on Tuesday. The turtle, named for one of the characters in the hit movie, "Avatar", is only 2 inches long, and was kept in a cage, but the airline at the last minute ruled that the turtle couldn't be on board in the cabin with its owner and her sisters.

The poor girl was forced to put the turtle, cage & all, in the garbage rather than wait for another flight. Her father, whom she was visiting, would come and get the turtle, but an airline employee picked up the turtle to take home. Airline officials cited health reasons, specifically a report by the Center for Disease Control that claimed that turtles likely could carry salmonella.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending. The turtle was shipped as cargo to Milwaukee on Thursday, but the airline may be hearing from PETA soon, and for once, PETA can do something constructive. We hope. I guess none of the airline employees were Braves fans.........!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Suing for attention

I just read an article on Yahoo! that illustrates yet again just how obsessively litigous our society has become.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is threatening to file a lawsuit against McDonald's, alleging that the fast-food chain's Happy Meal toys are partially responsible for the rise in child obesity.

Give me a break!!! So-called "watchdog" groups like CSPI pop up like pimples, claiming they are acting in the best interests of children, but the truth of the matter is, they just want people to know they're out there in a mad grab for 15 minutes of fame. The article notes that CSPI's last high profile lawsuit was 4 years ago against Kellogg's, which prompted the cereal giant to revamp their product. However, going after McDonald's reads more like a case of golddigging.

To tell you the truth, I didn't even know about the Kellogg's case until I read the article. McDonald's has had the Happy Meals around for nearly 40 years, and while there might've been a few problems with the toys because of safety issues, such as the recent recall of "Shrek"-related items, I don't see much correlation between the toys and kids gaining weight. Yes, we're becoming more health-conscious as a society, but we don't need another group of busy-bodies trying to dictate what we can eat. We have brains, we can decide for ourselves, thank you very much!

What CSPI would probably be happy with is if they add salads to the Happy Meals. Maybe that'll happen, but I'd rather that it was a decision made by McDonald's without the prompting of a bunch of get-a-lifes with nothing better to do than chase publicity.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Yellow journalism was never this bad

The other day, I received 3 issues of The Sovereign, a New York based monthly tabloid whose headlines make the Weekly World News read more like Mad Magazine.

Included in the package were some postcards from the editors, and on one of the postcards was a short inscription that stated that the issues were a gift from my pen pal in Long Island, whom we'll call "Donald" to protect his identity. "Donald", you see, is a conspiracy buff, just like the Sovereign's editors, and, despite my repeated advice not to send me anything without asking first, decided it'd be a good idea to send me the three issues of the rag. The anti-Obama headlines turned me off immediately. When "Donald" e-mailed me the next day to tell me about a flier he sent, also unsolicited, I notified him that I was not happy with the newspaper, and repeated yet again that he should ask first before doing something like this. Whether he actually heeds the advice this time remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the advice I have for the editors of the Sovereign and their loyal readers is rather simple. Get a life.

Weasels of the Week: Florida Marlins promotions department

I've heard of jumping on the bandwagon of popular trends, but the vuvezelas, the air horns that have become a sensation at the World Cup, are anything but popular with critics.

So, on Saturday, the Florida Marlins decided to give away these horns to fans attending the game against state rival Tampa Bay. Earlier, I was watching a World Cup match with my brother, who was visiting for the day, and then I heard the sound of those horns for the first time. For the uninitiated, the vuvezelas create a sound akin to a hive of bees. It can be annoying, like the bees themselves, and for Florida outfielder Cody Ross, it can also create a headache. Marlins slugger Dan Uggla and the umpires muted the sound by wearing ear plugs.

Didn't it occur to the promotions department that no one actually likes the vuvezelas? They're a distraction that baseball doesn't need. Then again, if those things fall into the hands of Phillies fans......!

Conversely, as Yahoo! Sports reports, two Rays fans were prohibited from bringing cowbells into Sun Life Stadium. Cowbells aren't quite as annoying, and they're a baseball tradition dating all the way back to the Golden Age with the Brooklyn Dodgers. In hindsight, maybe karma had something to do with the final result, as Tampa beat Florida in extra innings.

Maybe next time, the Marlins can give away something less annoying, like Billy the Marlin action figures........

Monday, June 14, 2010

Jimmy Dean (1928-2010)

Actor-singer-turned-sausage-mogul Jimmy Dean passed away Sunday at 81 in his home in Virginia. Based on the description in the obit I read on Yahoo! earlier this morning, it sounded like he'd suffered a sudden heart attack while eating dinner.

The Yahoo! article referenced his 2 self-titled series in the 60's, the 2nd of which, a variety show, introduced audiences to Rowlf, the canine Muppet created by Jim Henson, who'd later resurface on----where else?----The Muppet Show a decade later. What it doesn't tell us is Dean's later stint as Josh Clements on Daniel Boone toward the end of that series' run.

In 1969, Dean launched his namesake line of sausage products, which is now a part of the Sara Lee Company. Sara Lee infamously dropped Dean as a spokesman for his own products just a few years ago, citing---naturally---a need to attract younger customers to their product. Dean didn't take too kindly to that.

As a singer, Dean's best known hits were his tale of John F. Kennedy's heroic adventure aboard "PT 109" and the ballad of "Big Bad John", which won him a Grammy. "John" was more spoken-word than singing, in truth, but the tale of a Louisana coal miner who gave his life for his co-workers was a country classic.

Dean's passing marks the 3rd of the Boone cast in the last few months, following Fess Parker & Dallas McKennon.

Rest in peace, Jimmy. You'll be missed.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

How to screw up business without really trying......

On Monday, the WWE, transitioning from one "season" to the next for NXT, decided to have the "graduates" of the first season, stage a mass attack in the ring during the main event, a cross-brand match between WWE Champion John Cena (Monday Night Raw) and CM Punk (Friday Night Smackdown). Both wrestlers, along with Punk's cornerman, Luke Gallows, announcers Matt Striker & Jerry Lawler, ring announcer Justin Roberts, and assorted others, were brutally beaten. The announcer's table was destroyed, and the ring was broken down in part by the 8-man riot squad. Only announcer Michael Cole, and Punk's valet, Serena, managed to escape the carnage.

2 nights later, at a Florida Championship Wrestling event, the rebels struck again. It was supposed to be a tag match pitting Christian and Heath Slater against Mike "The Miz" Mizanin & Daniel Bryan (Bryan Danielson). That match never happened. Miz presumably was laid out in the backstage area. Slater turned on Christian, his mentor, and Bryan joined in. Miz came racing out and, turning babyface for a moment, suggested to Christian that they switch partners and make it mentors vs. "rookies". Christian agreed. The other 6 rebels, led by NXT "winner" Wade Barrett, hit the ring several minutes later, and the scene was a repeat from Monday, but with the carnage a little more contained.

Unfortunately for Danielson and the WWE, the fact that he choked Roberts with the announcer's own necktie threw a monkey wrench into the proceedings------or has it? On Friday, WWE announced that Danielson had been fired, and it was reported that his actions were a little too violent, considering that WWE is offering PG-rated programming these days. Speculation has run as to who might've been responsible for WWE taking action, be it a sponsor, a corporate partner (Mattel, which now has the license to make action figures and toys for WWE, has been mentioned), or NBC-Universal, parent to USA & SyFy, two of the WWE's four TV partners. Fans commenting on message boards aren't entirely convinced that Danielson really is gone, and that he could conceivably still turn up on Monday in Charlotte, NC, for the next Raw. If not, then you have a hole in the plotline that could be filled pretty easily by announcing that Danielson got too out of control and had to be "disciplined". However, WWE is taking a risk. They could be "working" not only the fans, but their own employees as well as the competition (such as that is), but making a public announcement of Danielson's dismissal while leaving open speculation that he could be covertly still under their employ.

From the start of NXT, Bryan Danielson was never allowed to showcase the talents that made him an internet darling over the last decade. He was asked to portray a luckless schlub who couldn't win a match when he really needed to. After being eliminated from competition, he snapped and went after Cole, his chief on-air tormentor. After Monday, people speculated that Cole might be secretly involved with the rebellion. I don't think that would be the case, and if in fact Danielson is gone, it would remove Cole from suspicion entirely-----which might be what WWE wants.

It's been a long time since WWE has had a compelling storyline that people could connect with and talk about. When it finally happens, it seems, their own decision to dial down the violence may be their own undoing. The only thing left to do, to see if Danielson really is gone or is secretly still with the company, is to.........stay tuned.

Even if you win, they won't come

Towards the end of the Albany Patroons' 2nd run in the now-defunct Continental Basketball Association, I talked to an usher at a game, curious about the decline in attendance. I was politely told that Albany was more of a high school & college hoops town now, unwilling to support pro basketball, despite attempts to keep the pro game relevant. Indeed, to people in Albany, CBA means Christian Brothers Academy, not the Continental Basketball Association, and Siena's average attendance at the Times Union Center blew away the Patroons even at the peak of their powers.

Fast forward to 2010, and the Albany Legends of the International Basketball League (IBL). I finally decided to take in a game on Friday, and while the Legends won, I was disheartened by the lack of attendance. It was even worse than the Patroons a year and a half ago. By my best estimates of a head count, I'd say there weren't even 100 people inside the Washington Avenue Armory on Friday, unless you include team staff, players and coaches from both teams, cheerleaders, game officials, and concessionaires. To say that there were about 60-75 people in the stands would be not only generous, but close to accurate.

Here's the problem. Entering play tonight, the Legends, at 11-2, are in 1st place in their division with 7 games left. Normally, a winning team would mean increased attendance, but not in this case. The local media only covers them when it's a slow news night. It's baseball season, and folks are more inclined to remain at home and follow the Mets or Yankees. Oh, yeah, there's also that little thing called the NBA Finals between ancient rivals Boston & Los Angeles. Worse, the Legends don't have a radio or television deal, and the two radio outlets likely to pick them up already have contracts for the Mets & Yankees. Time Warner Cable, also, isn't bothering to air any games. So what's a fan to do? Scope the team's website, of course, and it's linked to the IBL's site.

Any solutions? No. Legends management is swimming upstream against a difficult tide. Even if the Legends win the IBL title, that doesn't mean a ticker tape parade down State St., because it'll be the quietest championship in the city's history. Come to think of it, I don't think any Albany sports team has ever gotten the ticker tape treatment. And that's the worst shame of it all.

In theatres: "The A-Team" (2010)

When The A-Team was launched as a mid-season replacement in 1983, it was derided as a live-action cartoon because with all the attendant car crashes & explosions, no one really got hurt. 4 years later, the series ended, its place in history secure.

Now, it's 2010, and, as with "Iron Man" 2 years ago, the origins of the team have been relocated. Instead of being in Vietnam, Hannibal, BA, Murdock, & Face were all in Iraq. However, instead of being a team from the start, the four of them come together in the course of the film's first act. Naturally, Murdock (Sharlto Copley, "District 9") had to be sprung from a mental hospital. BA (MMA star Quinton "Rampage" Jackson) still has a fear of flying. Face (Bradley Cooper) is the charming con man, and Hannibal (Liam Neeson) the fearless leader. Instead of fighting garden variety gangsters and drug dealers, the A-Team is tasked to retrieve some stolen printing plates used for printing money. Naturally, the Team is framed when General Morrison (Gerald McRaney, better known for TV shows like Simon & Simon & Major Dad) is purportedly killed by a black ops team whose leader is dealing with the enemy.

In the series, the Team was pursued by Col. Lynch. Now, Lynch is the code name for a succession of CIA agents. That plot twist doesn't make much sense, but we're dealing more in cloak & dagger here instead of cops & robbers. Agent Clarissa Sosa (Jessica Biel, "Blade: Trinity") becomes Lt. Girard to the 4 Kimbles on the loose, with the added hook of being a past girlfriend of Face, and as you might expect in this era, the Team has to turn around and help her out when they discover "Lynch" is coming after her.

I left before the credits finished rolling, and I'm told via a message board I frequent that series co-stars Dwight Schultz & Dirk Benedict's cameos were moved to the post-credits sequence, as if that's any idea of things to come, unlike the "Iron Man" movies. Copley & Cooper fill their roles very well, as does Neeson, channeling the spirit of the late George Peppard. Jackson has remolded BA in his own image, and there's a sequence during the 2nd half of the film where BA, while in prison, has taken a vow against killing, a nod, you would think, to Mr. T, who is now a born again Christian.

Speaking of Mr. T, while not busy shilling World of Warcraft games, he's had his publicist deny published reports that had him decrying the film for its excessive violence. The final product didn't have too much more violence than the series itself, and certainly no sex. Instead, you have plenty of flirting between Face and Sosa. The door's been left open for a possible sequel, and I would expect that possibility to become a reality within a couple of years or so.

Grade: A-.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Weasel of the Week: Lady GaGa

This one is a slam dunk pick for a very simple reason.

Lady GaGa, one of the hottest recording artists out there these days, decided to take in the afternoon portion of Thursday's day-night doubleheader between the Mets & the Padres at Citi Field, then made the front pages of today's New York Post & New York Daily News when she expressed her displeasure at the paparazzi taking pictures of her by flashing her middle finger not once, but twice.

According to the account in the Daily News, GaGa wanted to blend in with the fans at Citi, even though she happens to be a Yankee fan. One would assume she wanted to get a good look at the competition, considering that Subway Series '10, round 2, goes down at Yankee Stadium II next weekend. However, her idea of blending in was to wear a leather jacket over nothing more than lingerie. A bra, panties, and, as the papers neglected to note, fishnet stockings. That draws the shutterbugs like moths to flame. Casual attire apparently is a foreign concept to GaGa, who apparently aspires to ascend to the throne of Queen of Pop Schlock & Shock, an unofficial title held by Madonna for the last 25 years. At this time of year, she could've left the fishnets in the lingerie drawer and opted for something, well, normal, like a halter top, blue jean skirt or shorts, and sandals. Sorry, sister, you can't have it both ways.

It may have put a cap to a troubling 48 hours in New York for GaGa, though. She played a special concert at her old school, upstaging her sister's graduation by showing up in another of her already infamously outrageous costumes. While Madonna has mellowed in recent years (being a mother will do that), her stunts seem relatively tame compared to Lady GaGa's antics. At least GaGa hasn't tried to make a movie. Yet.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Spelling used to be more fun than this.....

I read an article in today's New York Daily News that was really disturbing.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee has become the latest to fall to the whims of television. ABC, which holds the broadcast rights for the finals, mandated that 10 contestants would advance to the finals, broadcast live last night. That meant cutting the semi-final round in mid-stream, with a handful of contestants getting a virtual free pass into the final round.

The semi-finals started with 19 contestants. Once they got to 10, even though six had not yet gone to the mic to take their turns, the competition was stopped for the duration. ABC & Disney got what they wanted, even if the methodology was all wrong. Indeed, it wasn't fair, and it takes the fun right out of the competition.

Had this been on any other network, save maybe for PBS, it'd be the same thing. ABC had a 2 hour window (8-10 pm ET), and couldn't risk losing any more players. It's not exactly the same as the "human drama of athletic competition" that the late Jim McKay referenced in the open to Wide World of Sports for so many years, but at the same time, these kids and their parents have a right to be angry over the shallow handling of the competition.

Here's a simple solution that can be worked one of two ways:

1. If you keep the finals in prime time, then start the competition a day earlier, and keep the meddling network suits out of the picture. Let the competition progress naturally.

2. Put it on a Saturday morning, bouncing those over-played Disney Channel reruns that make up ABC's Saturday daytime lineup for a day. The latter, in this writer's opinion, makes the most sense, as it'd freshen things up in the one part of the schedule that ABC has neglected for the longest time.

Either way you slice it, you can still spell it a s-u-c-c-e-s-s.

John Wooden (1910-2010)

There was a time when UCLA ruled the college basketball world back in the 60's & 70's, under the direction of coach John Wooden, whose simple, effective strategies resulted in 12 Final Four appearances and 10 National titles for the Bruins, including 7 straight, and an 88 game winning streak between 1971-74. When Wooden retired, it was truly the end of an era. UCLA has won since, but not with the dominance of the Wooden years.

On Friday, Wooden, the "Wizard of Westwood", passed away at the age of 99. The first man to be enshrined in the James Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach (he won a National championship as a player at Purdue), Wooden spent two years at Indiana State before moving west to forge his legend at UCLA. Wooden's chief directive to his players was to focus on the game at hand, and not worry about what the other team is doing. Wooden, in turn, coached future Hall of Famers as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (then known as Lew Alcindor) & Bill Walton, as well a number of other future NBA players.

I will admit that I never watched much college basketball as a child, and thus never really saw the "Wizard" at work. The college game today isn't what it was 30 or 40 years ago, not with television and corporate interests becoming more of a factor, something that I doubt Wooden would have tolerated.

Rest in peace, Coach.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Rue McClanahan (1934-2010)

News came over the wires earlier this afternoon reporting the passing of actress Rue McClanahan at the age of 76 following a stroke. Ms. McClanahan had recently had heart bypass surgery, and the stroke might've been resulting from complications following the surgery.

Ms. McClanahan is best known to audiences from her role as saucy Southern belle Blanche on The Golden Girls, which marked a reunion with co-star Beatrice Arthur, more than a decade after the two had co-starred on Maude. In between, Rue had a recurring role on Mama's Family. Maude, which debuted in 1972, marked Ms. McClanahan's first television series role, after having made her mark on Broadway and in movies.

Rue McClanahan's passing leaves Betty White as the last of the Golden Girls, with Arthur having passed away last year, and Estelle Getty a year prior to that. It won't surprise anyone if Hallmark and/or WE (Women's Entertainment), the two cable networks that share the rights to Golden Girls, clear time either this weekend or within the course of this month, to do another memorial marathon.

Rest in peace, Rue.

Weasel of the Week: Oliver Perez

As I wrote on Monday, Mets pitcher Oliver Perez has repeatedly refused an assignment to Buffalo, the team's Triple-A affiliate, despite the fact that it's exactly what he needs to save his career----and his sanity.

Even Perez's agent, Scott Boras, realizes his client's plight. Boras reportedly suggested that Perez be placed on the disabled list and given psychiatric counseling. The Mets actually have advocated the latter for some time, but Perez doesn't want that, either. The problem is that Perez is just too inconsistent to be kept in the starting rotation, and recent outings against Milwaukee & San Diego have convinced manager Jerry Manuel that Perez can't be trusted with the game on the line coming out of the bullpen, and would only be used in a blowout.

Unlike umpire Jim Joyce, who admitted he made a mistake on a blown call that prevented Detroit's Armando Galarraga from pitching a perfect game on Wednesday, Perez is unwilling to admit there's anything wrong with him. If an umpire can man up and own up to a mistake, then so should Perez. The Mets don't want to flush $20 million dollars by releasing Perez, but what other choice do they have if Perez continues to be stubborn & defiant?

Boras got weasel ears for his rep of fleecing teams such as the Mets a few months back, but this time, it's Perez who gets the ears, and he certainly deserves them.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

An African-American Spider-Man? I don't think so!

We know that Columbia is rebooting the "Spider-Man" movie franchise, choosing to start fresh after 3 very successful films with Tobey Maguire as the web-spinner, so already they're falling into the category of fixing things that aren't broken. There wasn't much wrong with "Spider-Man 3" 2 years ago, as opposed to Christopher Nolan being handed the reins of the "Batman" franchise at Warner Bros. to erase the stench of Joel Schumacher's desecration of the Dark Knight in the mid-90's. However, they're really pushing it if they actually "listen", if you will, to a Twitter-fueled petition to cast an African-American actor as the new Spidey.

Columbia, you'll recall, made a major casting blunder in 1999's movie remake of Wild, Wild West by casting actor-rapper Will Smith ("Hancock", "Independence Day") as James West, a role created by Robert Conrad in the 60's. Despite Smith's star power, the cinematic "West" flopped, badly.

Twitter subscribers, blissfully ignorant of the "West" debacle, or so it would seem, are pushing for comedian Donald Glover (Community). Granted, Glover is a relative unknown, as are the five candidates the studio wants to look at, and it's been demonstrated before that an unknown commodity can succeed (Christopher Reeve as Superman, 1978). One online columnist, however, has proven to be even more ignorant by asking why Spider-Man should be a white guy at all, even as the web-head approaches his 50th anniversary next year. The last thing these folks want to do is to actually give Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada any ideas.

Quesada, you see, has proven to be unafraid when it comes to courting controversy. Just a few short years ago, he green-lighted a Rawhide Kid miniseries that rebooted the long-standing Western hero as a homosexual. Like "West", it tanked, even though a new Rawhide book is due to hit the stands shortly. It was also under Quesada's watch that The Ultimates was launched, creating an alternate world where superspy Nick Fury is in fact African-American, modeled after actor Samuel L. Jackson. Recognizing this, Marvel's movie division cast Jackson as Fury for the "Iron Man" movies and 2008's "Incredible Hulk". For once, taking a risk on reimagining an established character actually worked, since Ultimates was a success on the comics shop shelves.

Converting Nick Fury from white to African-American is one thing. Doing the same thing to Peter Parker, even if it's just for a movie, is asking for trouble. It was one thing when DC experimented with a 1-shot storyline by having Lois Lane change into an African-American woman for a news story she was working on in her self-titled magazine nearly 40 years ago. They also have an African-American in the Green Lantern Corps, starting relatively around the same time (John Stewart). However, they also allowed corporate cousin Warner Bros. to cast Billy Dee Williams ("Empire Strikes Back") as Harvey Dent in 1989's "Batman", then working around that to introduce Dent's alter-ego, Two-Face (billed as Harvey Two-Face) in 1995's "Batman Forever" and played by Tommy Lee Jones. No wonder the Bat-franchise seemingly died under Schumacher's watch.

But if DC were to even suggest that an African-American be in line to be, say, Batman, or if there was a suggestion made by an ignorant marketing suit at WB, then there's trouble.

The bottom line is, you don't take an iconic hero, such as Spider-Man or Batman, and change him from a white to an African-American just because of the whims of the ignorant. Columbia needs to understand this before beginning production on a new Spider-Man movie, because otherwise, they're risking another cinematic embarassment.

The Sad Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Perez

The New York Mets have tried to convince pitcher Oliver Perez to accept an assignment to their Triple-A farm team in Buffalo, but Perez has refused. Rather than eat the remainder of the contract agent Scott Boras conned them into giving Perez a year ago, the team opted to put Perez in the bullpen after consecutive bad outings. Until Saturday's game against Milwaukee, Perez seemed to adjust pretty well to his new role, but, as is the case when he has been a starter, Perez has been prone to fits of misfortune on the mound, and the New York press was all over him like a cheap suit. The New York Post, in Monday's edition, citing an anonymous teammate as a source, seemed to push for the Mets to go ahead, eat the contract, and send Perez on his way.

The Mets knew what they were getting when they traded for Perez in July 2006. He had a horrid record that season, but showed flashes of brilliance, including a heroic effort in the NLCS against eventual World Series champ St. Louis. In the nearly 3 1/2 seasons since, it's been more of the same. Given a choice between Perez and Pedro Martinez prior to the 2009 season, the Mets ended up getting swindled by the greedy Boras and re-signed Perez. Martinez signed in mid-season with Philadelphia, and could conceivably do so again this summer, pulling a Roger Clemens ploy in waiting until the 2nd half. If the Mets are really serious about being players in the NL East, then they need to correct the one mistake that conceivably could've put a pox on them last year, and that would be to cut Perez and make a major mea culpa to Martinez. Sure, Martinez might not be in the best of health, but he showed in his brief stint with the Phillies last season, and before that in the World Baseball Classic, that he's still a money player. The Mets are simply erring on the side of caution, what with Martinez missing chunks of the 2007 & 2008 seasons because of injuries. Screw caution. If they can stick it to the Phillies by taking Pedro away from them, so be it.

Another option would be to trade Perez across town to the Yankees for their troubled hurler, Javier Vazquez, who proved he can still pitch in a National League park by dominating the Mets at Citi Field on May 21. Vazquez gave the Mets fits last year when he pitched for Atlanta, and you have to believe the Yankees are having similar dilemmas with Vazquez as the Mets have with Perez. In two tours of duty with the Yankees, Vazquez has had the same kind of inexplicable problems that others have had (i.e. Ed Whitson) pitching in the Bronx, and yet the Steinbrenners were willing to put the past aside and give him another chance. Going into a series against Baltimore, Vazquez is 3-5, with one of those wins coming in relief. Putting Vazquez in Mets orange & blue and Perez in Yankee pinstripes could be the cure-all for everyone concerned.

But will it happen? The key here is convincing Perez that it is in the best interests of both the team and himself that he has to accept a trip to Buffalo to straighten himself out. The Mets have done this with other pitchers, most notably Steve Trachsel & Aaron Heilman, with mixed results. If Perez remains defiant, then it's over for him. His ego and wallet are getting in the way of bringing the team back to respectability in the division. Unfortunately, he is the only one who doesn't understand.