Monday, April 30, 2012

Reinventing "Shazam!": Another bad gamble from DC

40 years ago, DC Comics launched Shazam!, and welcomed the former Fawcett Comics icon, Captain Marvel, whom they had put out of commission some years earlier with a lawsuit alleging that Fawcett had infringed on DC's copyrights for Superman. Of course, Superman and Captain Marvel would meet a few times before the decade was over, and Shazam! ended its run after 5 years, right around the same time its TV spinoff for CBS ended. Since that time, DC has tinkered with the classic tale of Billy Batson, boy newsreader, and "The Big Red Cheese", but not to the extremes that they have now, in a serial running in the back pages of the current Justice League series.

Geoff Johns' plot carries over a concept introduced in last year's Flashpoint "event", in that Batson spent some time in foster homes before his fateful visit to a subway station and destiny. Now, I cannot say for sure that Billy will still take that walk into the subway terminal, but where I have a problem is with the attitude Johns has given the lad. Belligerent, self-centered, mean-spirited. Kind of the opposite of the Billy we've known for years. The foster home where Billy was placed in the beginning of the story, as I've discovered, has the same group of kids that appeared in Flashpoint, and they happen to be a diverse group, including an African-American girl who has an immediate crush on Billy, only to be sent running in tears when Billy lashes out at her.

I get what Johns is trying to accomplish here, putting some meat behind the original tale, and giving Billy some character depth, but the angry young man attitude doesn't fit Billy, and never really has. The other mistake is titling the serial, "The Curse of Shazam!". Curse? Somehow, I doubt that very seriously.

There is an old expression more commonly associated with Spider-Man: "With great power comes great responsibility". Billy Batson will learn that lesson before this story is over, but the radical reboot of the Captain Marvel/Shazam! mythos is just too much for me to have to deal with. There is another old expression I'd like to apply here. If it isn't broken, don't fix it. In this writer's opinion, Captain Marvel wasn't broken, from a creative standpoint, and the "Marvel Family" is meant to be just Billy, his sister Mary, and their friend, disabled newsboy Freddy Freeman. Why can't they just leave it that way? Again, I get the need for cultural diversity in the 21st century, but why mess with an icon?

Weasel in a Dunce Cap: Jack Berghouse

Mr. Berghouse gets the double whammy of both a Dunce Cap and a set of weasel ears this week. Why? Read on, MacDuff!

Mr. Berghouse's son was expelled from Sequoia High School in California earlier this week after the lad was caught cheating on a test in an English Honors class. He was copying from another student, who, oh, by the way, was also expelled. The younger Berghouse had signed an honesty pledge at the beginning of the season, but, as his dad said, there was another policy document attached to the pledge, which supposedly allowed for 2 strikes before expulsion.

Berghouse decided the only sure way to settle it was to file a lawsuit. Now, that was Dunce Cap worthy all by itself, because he's unwittingly trying to justify his son's actions. The school board says that the "two strikes" policy was outdated and is in need of updating. The honesty pledge overrides it as it stands presently, so Berghouse is wasting time, money, and brain cells with foolish litigation. Clearly, the Berghouses didn't completely comprehend the policy as stated, else we wouldn't have this mess. A hearing is scheduled for May 17. Problem is, the school year ends on June 8, which means the younger Berghouse will likely be headed for summer school to make up the time lost, with interest.

So why is Jack Berghouse a Weasel? He's fighting a losing battle, and getting 15 minutes of cheap publicity that few will remember later. I've got this feeling he's already been well acquainted with dunce caps, though........

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It's time to restore the music to MTV--whether the suits like it or not!

It can be argued that MTV began its decline from being a music channel all the way back in the mid-80's, when they began acquiring reruns of various series. It was one thing if it was repeats of The Monkees or the animated Beatles cartoons, since they fit the mission statement. Monty Python's Flying Circus didn't, but MTV acquired it anyway. The Best of Saturday Night Live, in a one hour format instead of 90 minutes, could be excused as long as the musical segments were left intact.

Their first, and until recently, most recognizable, "reality" show, The Real World, marks its 20th anniversary this year, but is MTV beating the drums to talk about it? Not yet, and I'm not really sure if they care. Instead, MTV would rather shove Jersey Shore, Teen Mom (and its attendant, tabloid-ready controversy), & 16 & Pregnant (ditto) down the viewers' collective throats, and banish what few music videos are on their playlist to early morning hours, not caring a whit about long-time viewers who likely have washed their hands of the channel they grew up with.

After all the hype surrounding a series version of the 1985 movie, MTV's Teen Wolf is anything but a comedy, and is geared to attract the "Twilight" crowd. I'm not even sure if it's returning for a second season. The channel has acquired off-network reruns, not only for itself, but also its sister networks, but in most cases, they just don't fit in. Consider the following:

That 70's Show: Until recently, the series aired in a 2-hour block from 5-7 (ET) each afternoon. MTV shares cable rights to the series with ABC Family, but the real reason it's on MTV is to help fulfill the contract corporate parent Viacom signed for the show, which also airs on sister network TeenNick at last check.

And, over on MTV2:

Martin, Living Single, & The Wayans Brothers: All three also air on sister networks BET & Centric. Again, it's about fulfilling a contract.

Saved By The Bell: A recent acquisition. Rights are shared with TBS, which farmed out Bell to its sister network, Cartoon Network, for a brief, and I do mean, brief, run on [adult swim] a ways back that caused some consternation on the internet with folks who already have axes to grind with the administration mismanaging CN.

Boy Meets World: The former ABC series previously had cable runs on Disney Channel & ABC Family, and likely is also airing on TeenNick. MTV2 is advertising that World & Bell will form a early afternoon block weekdays, to further drum home the point.

Earlier today, I was channel surfing, and found Married....With Children airing on VH1 Classic. Yep, another case of fulfilling a contract that was drawn up for another of the Viacom channels, in this case, Spike. Unless it's a music themed episode (i.e. with ex-Herman's Hermits frontman Peter Noone), it doesn't really belong.

While VH1 & VH1 Classic trumpet their Rock & Roll Picture Show package and try to confine it to music-themed movies (i.e. "Purple Rain", "Grease"), MTV & MTV2 specialize in horror movies or teen comedies with rock soundtracks. Meh, whatever.

So what needs to be done? Viacom must be making enough money off MTV Networks to allow the present business model to continue, but by doing so, they've alienated viewers who've supported the channels for years, since before Viacom bought them in the late 80's. The current administration needs to be shown the door. It's either that, or someone has to come along that cares enough about MTV's rich history and is willing to restore said history, such that they'd be willing to relocate Jersey Shore permanently to Spike (a more appropriate place at this juncture), cancel the exploitive Teen Mom and its ilk, and concentrate on restoring the mission statement.

In 1981, Mark Goodman was the first one to utter the phrase, "you'll never look at music the same way again". In 2012, unless things change, you  may not want to look at MTV and its sister networks the same way again.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Musical Interlude: One Thing Leads to Another (1983)

The Fixx's first single from their 1983 album, "Reach The Beach", "One Thing Leads to Another", copped plenty of airplay on radio & MTV during the summer of '83. The catchy opening beat doesn't get out of your head, and the video? Wiggedy wack, man. Uploaded via the band's VEVO channel.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

On The Shelf: Cold War: The Damocles Contract (2011)

When I came out of retirement to resume collecting comics last fall, I placed some personal restrictions so I would not over-indulge, as I had in the past. That having been said, there was a miniseries from Idea & Design Works (IDW) that caught my fancy, and I resolved to wait until it was reissued in a trade paperback.

"The Damocles Contract" is the first of what is proposed to be a series of miniseries under the umbrella title, Cold War, written & illustrated by comics icon John Byrne, best known for his work at DC, Charlton, Dark Horse, & Marvel dating all the way back to the mid-70's. What Byrne has conjured up this time is a maverick secret agent in Michael Swann, who doesn't exactly do things by the book, but then again, neither does James Bond, and Swann is designed to look as if casting directors had chosen George Clooney instead of Daniel Craig to be the current 007. Swann isn't exactly a Clooney lookalike, but the attitude suggests the snarky take Clooney put into playing the Batman in "Batman & Robin" in 1997 (and, oh, was that ever a dud).

In "The Damocles Contract", Swann pretends to defect, along with a prominent scientist, in order to prevent some secrets from falling into the wrong hands. However, the professor's daughter is in fact defecting, and just comes off as very anti-Bond Girl. Byrne hits all the right buttons in terms of plot & pacing, and this has the feel of potentially being adapted into a movie down the road, one that maybe could draw the attention of Clooney, for one.

Byrne's most successful creation for Dark Horse, the Next Men, were revived last year, also at IDW, as part of the deal, and if you read that series originally, it may be a welcome return. Right now, I'll settle for the trades to get caught up.

Rating for Cold War: A.

Also available:

Perhaps the most famous pulp hero of all time, The Shadow has returned to comics. This time, Dynamite Publishing has the license, and brought in British writer Garth Ennis to script the series. Cognizant of the mistakes DC made in resetting the series in the present day in the late 80's, Ennis takes the Shadow back to the Golden Age. In stark, sharp contrast to the Shadow's 1st run at DC in the 70's, there's much more blood to be had, and it's worth every penny spent. The Shadow merits an A+.

IDW has acquired a license to adapt Popeye into a 4-issue miniseries, the first issue of which hits shops this week. A review is coming soon.......

Monday, April 23, 2012

On DVD: Phantom of Chinatown (1948)

When is a movie both a beginning and an ending?

It happens when it is the last film in a series, but also a prequel to what came before. Such was the case with "Phantom of Chinatown", the last film in the Mr. Wong series produced by Monogram Pictures in the 40's. Horror legend Boris Karloff starred as detective James Lee Wong in the first 5 films, and "Phantom" was also meant to be a vehicle for Karloff as well, but plans changed, and "Phantom" was recast as a prequel to the earlier 5 films.

That opened the door for veteran Keye Luke, better known at the time for his work as Charlie Chan's #1 son, Lee, during the Warner Oland years of that series at 20th Century Fox. In what would be his only starring role, Luke imbues Wong with some energy and wit. The common link in the six films is Grant Withers as Captain Street, who was befuddled by the Chinese proverbs tossed around in this film.

The plot surrounds the poisoning death of a Dr. Benton, who had just returned from Mongolia with a rare find. Wong studied under Benton, giving him a personal reason to locate the killer. As with the rest of the films in the series, the pace is swift, leaving the viewer little time to breathe. Where this clocks in at a tidy 62 minutes, if it were to be remade today, it would be padded out to anywhere from 90 minutes to 2 hours.

Rating: A.

Maybe he wasn't "Tough Enough" after all

A year ago, WWE revived their Tough Enough reality series, with a great deal of promotion, fanfare, bells & whistles, you name it. When it was over, Andy Leavine was awarded a WWE developmental contract. Perhaps it was a sign of things to come when Chairman-CEO Vince McMahon struck Leavine on national television that night.

Once assigned to Florida Championship Wrestling to begin his full training, Leavine was given the stage name of Kevin Hackmann. However, he wasn't heard from much after that, and was forgotten. Over the weekend, Leavine was released by WWE, less than a year after winning his contract.

This is not unprecedented. 2004 winner Daniel Puder, more proficient in MMA than wrestling, made his only PPV appearance in the 2005 Royal Rumble, and was cut a few months later after toiling at Ohio Valley Wrestling. For all intents & purposes, Puder is out of the wrestling business and is more involved in other pursuits these days. He didn't even consider giving TNA a sniff, which was a smart business decision, given their erratic business practices.

For Leavine, it's a different scenario. No one really knows why he regressed instead of progressed in Florida. However, with some of the other contestants in the indies, capitalizing on the brief flirtation with the national spotlight for however long they can, Leavine may still get a call from TNA or even Ring of Honor, or follow the rest of the Tough Enough class of 2011 onto the hard roads of the independent circuits.

As it stands now, WWE only has 2 Tough Enough alumni left on their active talent roster: 2004 runner-up Michael "The Miz" Mizanin, who has racked up an impressive resume the last few years, with a WWE title, 2 US titles, and 3 tag team titles, all in the last 5 years, and Josh Mathews, who traded his tights & boots for an announcer's blazer & microphone, though he did get 2 matches in the ring in 2004. As for the rest of the winners:

Season 1: Maven Huffman retired from the ring a few years back while on the indy circuit after he was cut by WWE in 2006. He recently made the news for the wrong reason a week ago with a DUI bust. Nidia Guenard also retired after she was released in the winter of 2004-5.

Season 2: Jackie Gayda left the company around 2005, married Charlie Haas (now with Ring of Honor), and spent a little time in TNA as a valet for Jeff Jarrett before leaving on maternity leavem and never returning. Linda Miles spent a few months in 2003-4 under the name, Shaniqua, but was released in 2004 and was never heard from again.

Season 3: John Hennegan, better known now as John Morrison, was released last year after nearly 9 years with the company, counting his TE stint, with 3 Intercontinental titles, a ECW title, and 5 tag titles to his credit. Matt Cappotelli, after some rent-a-jobber appearances, won the OVW title, but retired after it was discovered he had a brain tumor.

USA Network & WWE haven't yet decided if Tough Enough will return again. If the ratings weren't that strong last year, I could understand the reluctance, but now there's the stigma attached, given how the winners have been cashiered out rather unceremoniously, with Leavine the latest victim. Under the right conditions, it could work, but as long as Vince McMahon continues to micromanage things behind the scenes, the right conditions aren't going to be there.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Seussology: The Cat In The Hat (1971)

The Cat in The Hat may be the most iconic of Dr. Seuss' characters, aside from, of course, the Grinch. In 1971, DePatie-Freleng took over the license to produce cartoon specials based on Seuss' books, and Cat, it happens, was their first project. Chuck Jones and his staff, including director Hawley Pratt and musical director Dean Elliott, came over from MGM, where they'd produced the first two Seuss specials for CBS, How The Grinch Stole Christmas & Horton Hears a Who!, the latter of which had previously been adapted by Warner Bros. as a short several years earlier.

Humorist Allan Sherman voiced the Cat and also narrated, with Daws Butler lending his voice to the fish. Pamelyn Ferdin (Curiosity Shop) was the voice of Sally, one of the two children. Something got lost in the translation when Mike Myers ("Austin Powers") adapted the story into a feature film some years later and essayed the title role himself in a live-action film.

Universal, by virtue of acquiring the license for live action adaptations of Grinch and the Cat, holds the rights to this classic:

The cartoon hasn't been seen much in recent years, even after the movie was released, which speaks volumes about cablers' lack of interest. The Cat, of course, has since returned in a pair of daily children's shows, the current one airing on PBS and starring Martin Short (ex-SCTV, Saturday Night Live).

 Rating: A.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Musical Interlude: Major Tom (Coming Home)(1983)

In 1969, David Bowie told the story of Major Tom in "Space Oddity", and didn't return to the character until 1980's "Ashes to Ashes". Three years after that, German singer-songwriter Peter Schilling decided to finish the story that Bowie started.

"Major Tom (Coming Home)" was the only major single to chart in the US from Schilling's album, "Error In The System". It was released in both English & German, but the English version, understandably, is the one most viewers will remember. 

Friday, April 20, 2012

Musical Interlude: No Way Out (1983)

"No Way Out" was the last major hit record for Jefferson Starship under that particular configuration. Soon, after, the band name was shortened to Starship, but they only managed three more Top 40 hits before fading.

Keep an eye open for comic Don Novello, as Fr. Guido Sarducci (ex-Saturday Night Live), who makes an appearance in the video. The only other time he would turn up in a video was in Rodney Dangerfield's "Rappin' Rodney".

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Levon Helm (1940-2012)

Earlier today, the music world lost another icon with the passing of singer-songwriter-actor Levon Helm, who was the drummer and one of the lead singers of The Band, the seminal folk-rock group who started as a support band for folk singer Ronnie Hawkins before going off on their own. Helm lost his battle with cancer at 71.

MrYouTube1954 uploaded the Band's performance of "Up On Cripple Creek", taken from a 1969 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show:

A line from another Band classic, "The Weight", somehow seems prophetic right now. The song opens with the line, "I came to Nazareth, was feeling about half past dead.". Helm sang those words, and now, he's left us.

Rest in peace, Levon.

Jonathan Frid (1924-2012) & Greg Ham (1953-2012)

While the passing yesterday of Dick Clark got all the headlines, there were a couple of other celebrity passings that slipped under the radar.

Jonathan Frid is best remembered as Barnabas Collins in the ABC soap, Dark Shadows, which aired from 1966-71, spawning two movies in the process. The new feature film version, starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas, will likely be dedicated to the memory of Frid, whose last film role will be a cameo in the movie.

Krstrahm uploaded this classic scene from a 1966 episode of Dark Shadows:

Frid passed away, perhaps fittingly, given his iconic role, on Friday the 13th. Frid took the opportunity in taking speaking engagements to read the works of William Shakespeare, among others, perhaps to prove he could avoid typecasting. I regret that I never saw Shadows back in the day. I was either napping, playing, or, toward the end of the series' run, doing homework.

And, then, there is Greg Ham, multi-instrumentalist for the Australian group, Men at Work, which had a huge run of success in the early 80's. Ham passed away at 58. He provided the flute solo on the band's biggest hit, "Down Under", and was front & center playing the dual title roles in the video for "Dr. Heckyll & Mr. Jive"........

We will miss both of these talented gentlemen. Rest in peace.

Weasel of the Week: Verna McClain

We've heard stories like this before. A woman, unable to have a child for some reason, steals someone else's baby and/or kills the mother, then tries to pass the newborn off as her own. What makes this story worse is that the suspect in this case is a nurse!

Verna McClain, according to police, had suffered a miscarriage, but told her fiance that she just had a child. What that says all by itself is that she was too ashamed to admit the truth. She leaves her husband, with whom she had three kids, for some other fellow, and miscarries #4. To ensure she kept her word to the guy, she has to steal a 3 day old infant and kill his mother. And you think this only happens in the movies? Ohhhh, no!

McClain even tried to scam her own family. She told her sister she was planning to adopt. One lie after another creates more holes in the story than a cake of swiss cheese. The police had no problem closing this case. I feel sorry for the hospital where McClain worked, but then again, some of those other stories of baby abductions have also involved nurses.

Look, it takes a lot of courage, not to mention honesty and humbleness, to admit something went wrong. If she just told the baby daddy she lost the child, I don't think he'd have had a problem. He hasn't been heard from----yet-----, but figure he eventually will. After all, there's probably some fly-by-night filmmaker who wants to turn this into a movie of the week for Lifetime, since the broadcast networks don't do this sort of thing anymore. Instead, McClain hid her shame and embarassment behind lies, and now must pay the price. Our gift is a set of weasel ears. Sorry, but they don't come with diapers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Dick Clark (1929-2012)

"America's oldest teenager" has gone to the sock hop in the sky.

Dick Clark, synonymous with American Bandstand and The $10,000 (later $25,000 & $100,000) Pyramid from the 50's through the 80's, passed away this morning after a heart attack at 82.

Clark was one of the busiest men in show business for years. In addition to the above franchises, he dabbled in primetime with a blooper series that aired on NBC, partnered with close friend Ed McMahon (The Tonight Show, Star Search), and also was the producer of the American Music Awards for several years.

Here is a 1967 clip from Bandstand:

After a stroke in 2004, Clark ceded another long-running franchise, his annual New Year's Rockin' Eve specials, now hosted by another busy fellow, Ryan Seacrest (American Top 40, American Idol, etc.). New Year's Eve for a lot of people won't be the same again. Look for GSN, which has been airing Pyramid marathons on Friday nights, to pay tribute to Clark this weekend.

Rest in peace, Dick. They're opening a malt shop in Heaven just for you.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Musical Interlude: The Safety Dance (1983)

You couldn't escape Men Without Hats' debut hit in 1983, as it was in heavy airplay on MTV. "The Safety Dance" had a bizarre setting, leading to a medevial fair, from the looks of things. The band would score one more big hit, "Pop Goes The World" a few years later, and that was it. "Safety" was covered by Crazy Frog just a few years ago, but lacked the punch of the original.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Three Stooges Week: The Three Stooges (2012)

Given the reputation of Peter & Bobby Farrelly ("There's Something About Mary"), one had to approach their reboot of "The Three Stooges" with some trepidation. Contrary to earlier rumors, the Farrellys never intended on doing a biography of the comedy icons. That, after all, had been done in a made-for-TV movie a while back with Michael Chilkis (ex-The Shield, "Fantastic Four") as Curly. No, what they decided to do was create an entirely new legend. Then, the question became one of, was this trip really necessary?

"The Three Stooges" landed at 20th Century Fox, which was curious in and of itself, considering that the Stooges, before they launched their own production company in the 60's, had been with MGM & Columbia, and it stood to reason that those studios, which are now under the same roof, would've/should've had first crack. However, it was Fox that released "Mary" more than a decade ago, so that mystery is solved. I digress.

What the Farrellys did as a positive was create three chapters in the format of the classic shorts we all grew up with. What that does is open the possibility of having the film air as three half-hour episodes of a miniseries when it hits broadcast television within the next year or two. Otherwise, you run the risk of each "chapter" title card being edited off in the transition.

Now, on to the film. Larry, Moe, & Curly are abandoned by their folks (whom we never really see) at the Sisters of Mercy Orphanage. Sister Mary-Mengele (Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm) is greeted with an eye poke. Now, you'd never expect that from a toddler now, would you? Anyway, Mother Superior (Jane Lynch, Glee) and Sisters Rosemary (Jennifer Hudson, "Dreamgirls") and Bernice (Sports Illustrated Swimsuit covergirl Kate Upton) take the boys in. Just when it looks like they're about to be adopted, they get separated instead----for all of about 5 minutes. Moe makes a request of his adoptive dad (Stephen Collins, ex-7th Heaven), and it leads to Moe being swapped for another little boy. Moe lies to Larry & Curly to cover himself, and so the boys remain in the orphanage........

Time passes, and, approaching middle age, the grown up Moe (Chris Diamantopoulos), Larry (Sean Hayes, ex-Will & Grace), & Curly (Will Sasso, ex-MadTV) are still the world's oldest orphans. The monsignor (Brian Doyle-Murray, ex-Saturday Night Live) arrives with bad news, but the guys mistakenly think he's harassing the nuns, and proceed to lay the smack down. The bad news? The orphanage is about to be shuttered unless they can raise some major cash within a month. Moe volunteers to do the fund raising, but of course, that leads to all sorts of calamity, including-----prepare to cringe---Moe having a falling out with Larry & Curly, especially after being reamed out by a suddenly assertive Larry. They leave, and Moe discovers that they weren't alone after all, but rather in a theatre that was housing auditions for a certain overexposed MTV reality show.

Meanwhile, the boys' childhood pal now works for his dad's law firm, but his wife (Sofia Vergara, Modern Family, "The Smurfs") and his best buddy (Craig Bierko) are plotting to kill him, and recruit the boys, who mistakenly try to off the buddy, thinking he's the spouse in question. However, in a classic case of bait & switch, it turns out someone else was the real brains behind the scheme, and it's for the predictable reasons.

Moe's interaction with the Jersey Shore crew came off as an excuse for the Farrellys to use Snooki, The Situation, et al, as fall guys, and exposing Shore for what it's become, a cash cow for the once-respected MTV. At least it came off better than when the Stooges showed up on Monday Night Raw to plug the movie, which was met with little cheer. Literally.

We knew going in that Diamantopoulos & Sasso had nailed their parts, but Sean Hayes, who inexplicably got top billing, probably because Will & Grace is more well known----and currently readily available on cable, as opposed to MadTV----was a question mark. It turns out he hit all the right notes with Larry, and had the best lines in the movie. Diamantopoulos was an unknown commodity, at least at this desk, but he captured the very essence of his character. The only mistake Will Sasso might've made with Curly was the fact that Jerome "Curly" Howard had a noticable limp when running. Whether this oversight was by design or not, I cannot say for certain. Factor in that Sasso is a bigger physical presence than even Curly was. I can't fathom why Larry David was cast. His role could've easily gone to a more abrasive female comic, like, say for example, Roseanne Barr or Rosie O'Donnell. However, his presence lends itself to a possible sequel as a recurring foil for the boys.

Here's a trailer:

Speaking of trailers, we saw a teaser for the sequel to "Despicable Me", due next year, plus the following:

"Dark Shadows". Tim Burton. Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, awakened in the early 70's, after the original series was cancelled. And it's being done for laughs. The Collinses aren't exactly the "Addams Family", so approach with caution.

More sequels to "Madagascar" & "Ice Age", plus "The Pirates: Band of Misfits", which has had a subtitle change since the first teaser came out last summer. Hmmmmm.

Will there be a "Three Stooges 2"? Maybe, but I wouldn't hold my breath just yet.

Rating: B-.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Three Stooges Week: Grips, Grunts, & Groans (1937)

This was originally posted on my other blog, Saturday Morning Archives:
Has anyone ever stopped to consider that maybe, just maybe, the reason Vince McMahon hires failed Hollywood writers for the WWE, and refuses to teach them the basics of the business, has something to do with The Three Stooges?

"Grips, Grunts, & Groans", released in 1937, but carrying a copyright date of 1936, might be a primer on how not to script a wrestling match. 

Don't be too surprised, pilgrims, if one day, McMahon really decides to throw folks a curve and induct the Stooges posthumously into the celebrity wing of the WWE's Hall of Fame. Given that his on-camera persona is a few fries short of a Happy Meal, coupled with the fact that he is at retirement age for most normal folks, well, stranger things have happened.

As for "Grips", it's a variant on an earlier short, only this time, Curly is in a wrestling match, instead of boxing, but the results are similar.

Rating: A.

Retro Reading: I, Vampire (1980-83)

In the summer of 1980, DC Comics expanded the page count of their monthly series, in addition to raising the cover price to a mere 50 cents, which by today's standards is chump change. Six books from that era would be the equivalent of one of today's, you see, since the average cover price now has swollen to $3.

Last fall, DC revisited a popular serial from the early 80's, rebooting I, Vampire for the "Twilight" generation. After four issues, I decided I just couldn't deal with it anymore, and stopped reading it. Around that same time, I became aware that DC was finally getting around to collecting the original serial that debuted in House of Mystery (1st series) #290, ending 3 years later in issue 319. House of Mystery ended its run 2 months afterward, but had it not been cancelled, would they have been able to extend the serial, since it felt as though it'd been rushed to its conclusion? We may never know.

I, Vampire was the creation of writer J. Marc DeMatteis, and told the story of Andrew Bennett, a titled nobleman who'd fallen prey to a vampire, but was unwilling to give in to the dark side. His girlfriend, Mary Seward, asked him to turn her into a vampire, but, oh, did Andrew ever regret that decision. Mary became the vile Mary, Queen of Blood, corrupted by her newfound undead status. And so began a chase that had gone on unresolved for 400 years until both Bennett and his estranged lover-turned-enemy were now in then-present day America. Along the way, Mary had nurtured a following, a sect known as the Blood Red Moon. Bennett's only allies were Dimitri Mishkin, a Russian whose mother, we'd learn, had become one of Mary's allies, and Deborah Dancer. Like Mishkin, Deborah was rescued from the Moon's clutches by Bennett when she was a child, and she grew up to become not only a trusted ally of Bennett, but also his new girlfriend.

DeMatteis left the series early in the run, leaving fellow writers Bruce Jones, Dan Mishkin, & Gary Cohn to finish the story. Veteran artist Tom Sutton drew most of the series, with Ernie Colon filling in for a couple of issues, and others lending a hand when deadlines became an issue. Had DeMatteis not departed for reasons unknown, who knows if his vision was really different from what the final product presented?

After appearing every other month for the first year, I, Vampire became the lead feature in House of Mystery until the end of the serial. Mishkin & Cohn did seem to bring things forward a bit sooner than you'd think, first by having Dimitri succumb to his love for his mother, and ultimately become a vampire himself. Bennett obtained an untested serum that he thought might cure his vampirism from a Russian vampire who was only interested in seizing control of his native land. Turns out the serum was meant for mortals who hadn't been turned yet, and Bennett discovered the hard way that the serum was in effect fatal to him. Mary sank her fangs into Deborah, but that turned out to be a fatal mistake as well, as Deborah, so smitten with Bennett as she was, had asked him to turn her, but this was after she'd taken the serum herself.

Now that she, too, was a vampire, Deborah had all of the vampire's powers, but none of its weaknesses as a result of the serum. One final battle with Mary led to the Queen's final demise, just before Bennett breathed his last. With her two closest friends now gone, Deborah was all alone. Just as Bennett had been.

I cannot say for sure if a follow-up serial starring Deborah Dancer was in the offing, had House of Mystery not been cancelled, but it would've been great reading.

In 2011, Bennett & Mary were reincarnated, if you will, by writer Joshua Hale Falkiov, but the current series was clearly designed to lure the "Twilight" audience. Whereas Bennett met Batman in the pages of Brave & The Bold (and that story is included in the I, Vampire trade paperback) during the original story, in the present, he has met the members of Justice League Dark, including Shade, the Changing Man and Zatanna the Magician. I don't think the crossover was really needed this early in the run, but that was DC's call. Batman has also made the inevitable appearance, in a nod to the previous serial.

The Brave & The Bold story was included in the trade, but printed out of sequence because the editors didn't know where it fit in correlation to the original serial. That, really, is the only qubble I have. As for the current book, there is no sign of Dimitri Mishkin or Deborah Dancer---yet, and I am not sure if Falkiov has plans for either one. After all, as the original story wore on, it was a reversal of the "Twilight" central plot, although there were no werewolves involved. Deborah was Bella Swan before there was a Bella Swan.

In 1980, I, Vampire attempted to fill the gap between the seminal gothic soap, Dark Shadows, and Marvel's award-winning Tomb of Dracula, which was into volume 2 by the time Andrew Bennett made his debut. In effect, Bennett was the anti-Dracula, a precursor, if you will, to Angel because of his moral conflicts. Could it be that Joss Whedon and Stephanie Meyer had both read I, Vampire? Whedon, I'd almost imagine, since he is another Hollywood creator moonlighting as a comics writer. Meyer, I'm not so sure, but I'd say they both owe J. Marc DeMatteis a great deal of thanks for the inspiration.

Rating: A.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Musical Interlude: Somebody Told Me (2004)

"Somebody Told Me" is the debut single from The Killers' 2004 CD, "Hot Fuss". I shan't be surprised to learn if most gossip columnists use this song for their ringtones......!

Uploaded by the band's VEVO channel to YouTube:

I'll let you add your own gossip jokes.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Three Stooges Week: Disorder in the Court (1936)

Perhaps the single greatest Three Stooges short of all time would be 1936's "Disorder in the Court". I previously posted this on my other blog, Saturday Morning Archives, several months back when reviewing the Stooges' cable run. uploaded "Disorder" to YouTube.

Nyuk, nyuk, nyuk. After seeing the 2012 version appear on WWE Monday Night Raw earlier this week to a tepid response, I chalked it up to WWE fans not understanding the team's brand of slapstick humor, even though classic footage had been used as recently as a few years ago in promoting MasterCard. We'll know by the end of the weekend if this generation's Stooges can actually measure up to the original model.

Rating: A+.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

A collection of Weasels & Dunces

Rather than just hand out one set of weasel ears and one dunce cap this week, we've multiples of each. We'll deal with them one case at a time.

Weasel #1: Kim Kardashian. Her divorce from hoopster Kris Humphries of the New Jersey Nets hasn't been finalized, but that hasn't stopped the publicity-obsessed Kardashian from calling more attention to herself, this time leeching onto rapper Kanye West, no stranger to controversy in his own right. While some media outlets are buying into the belief that West is Kim's latest squeeze, others are claiming it's another publicity stunt. However way you slice it, Kim is better off doing something more worthwhile, like, you know, working for a living!!! All she's doing is extending her 15 minutes that comes mostly from her exaggerated backside, once parodied by Eminem, among others. Sorry, kid, but it's time to get a real job.

Dunce #1: Ozzie Guillen. What was the Miami Marlins' manager thinking when he told a Time Magazine reporter that he had respect and admiration for Cuba's Fidel Castro? Has he already forgotten that his team's new stadium is situated right in the middle of Miami's Little Havana district, and that the citizens there absolutely despise Castro? Apparently. The Marlins benched Guillen for 5 games, as of last night, but the bottom line is, this is just Ozzie being Ozzie. He was a magnet for trouble while managing the Chicago White Sox, leading with his mouth. It doesn't help that the Marlins got off to a 1-3 start after all the hype. It wasn't so long ago that Major League Baseball censured then-Cincinnati Reds owner Marge Schott for speaking in positive terms about Adolf Hitler. One wonders if MLB suits will add to Guillen's punishment, or if they're satisfied that Marlins owner Jeff Loria, who spent a ton of money to upgrade his roster, policed things himself.

Weasel #2: Bobby Petrino. Petrino was dismissed as football coach at Arkansas on Tuesday, this coming after a motorcycle accident involving a 20-something woman identified as Petrino's mistress who was riding with Petrino. He was cited for lying to his bosses at Arkansas about the incident and trying to cover up his infidelity. This is the same guy who wore out his welcome in the NFL in half a season in Atlanta, perhaps setting a record of a sort. I'll be happy to award a Dunce Cap to the next school administrator that takes a chance on this duplicitous dweeb.

Weasel #3: Milande Wilson. They finally announced the winning ticket holders of the $656 million dollar Mega Millions jackpot, and Ms. Wilson wasn't one of them. Wilson claimed first to have had a winning ticket, then lost it, then had to weather the storm of a lawsuit filed by another woman, which now will be withdrawn for obvious reasons. Ms. Wilson was looking for her 15 minutes, which have quickly evaporated. I feel sorry for her lawyer, who got dragged into this like a Dunce.

Dunce #2: Walter Chambliss. Mr. Chambliss is a track coach at Homestead Sr. High in Miami. He also happens to have a suspended license, and despite it, he was able to rent a car to transport members of the track team to a non-league meet. Problem was, Chambliss was busted for not only the suspended license, but also for speeding. The rental car was towed away, and Chambliss was hauled off to the slammer, leaving the trackmen behind with no way of getting to the meet. You'd think Chambliss would've been aware of his license issue, but he opted to ignore. Coaches are supposed to teach responsibility and accountability, and he was neither responsible nor accountable for his failings, only in his own mind.

Weasel #4: Homestead SHS faculty. Speaking of lacking responsibility, Chambliss' bosses at Homestead left those kids in the lurch, refusing to provide alternate transportation to the meet because it was "not an official event". As in, unsanctioned. Probably a clandestine deal put together by certain sponsors more interested in exploiting the athletes to make a few bucks, but we'll never know that. This cold hearted approach fails because it goes against the whole idea of ensuring the students' safety. Parents are upset, and rightfully so.

What does this tell us? An unsanctioned event involving high school athletes should still be under the school's jurisdiction, regardless. The athlete isn't just there for himself to draw the attention of college scouts, but he is a representative of his school. In that context, the school should still be looking out for his well being, not worrying about bottom lines that they're not entitled to and avoiding responsibility when those kids need them in a time of need.

Monday, April 9, 2012

On The Air: Ring of Honor Wrestling

Ring of Honor (ROH) is aspiring to be Avis to WWE's Hertz in terms of wrestling, if you get my drift. TNA has tried for the last decade, but they keep tripping over themselves with bad writing, bad booking, and an over-reliance on faded stars, a good number of whom came down from WWE.

ROH took over the Philadelphia market that had been home to ECW until it was absorbed by WWE in 2001. They're not extreme, but rather, more of an old school promotion with some of today's wrinkles mixed in. Former WWE announcer Kevin Kelly was brought in late last year as the promotion's new play-by-play man, coinciding with the change in television. ROH lost its deal with Mark Cuban's HDNet, shortly after the network was dropped by Time Warner Cable in much of the country. Sinclair Broadcasting bought ROH last year, and has since continued to purchase television stations to increase not only their visibility in the marketplace, but also ROH's. In my home district, Sinclair acquired CBS affiliate WRGB and CW affiliate WCWN a few months ago, and right before Easter, ROH made its debut in the Albany market, airing on WCWN Saturdays at 9 pm (ET), with a replay on Sunday nights at midnight.

Edit: 10/28/15: Here's an episode from April 2012:

Aside from Kelly, there aren't that many familiar faces in ROH. Veteran manager-promoter Jim Cornette, better known for his many years with WCW & WWE, is the executive producer of ROH-TV. Jay Lethal returned to ROH last year after spending a few years with TNA. Sexy Maria Kanellis, dropped by WWE 2 years ago after nearly 6 years there, has resurfaced, billed as the "First Lady of ROH".

All that's left now is ROH making an inroad into the Albany area for a house show or television taping. TNA & WWE have shared the use of the Times Union Center in Albany and the Glens Falls Civic Center. That leaves venues with old school auras like the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany and the RPI-James Houston Field House in Troy, neither of which have hosted pro wrestling in years. In fact, it's been 22 since WCW's last visit to Troy. Vince McMahon may not think TNA is competition, and they've given him no real reason to think otherwise, but ROH is another story altogether.

Rating: A.

Mike Wallace (1918-2012)

If there was ever anyone in television or radio news that defined the term, investigative reporter, it would be Mike Wallace, who was one of the original anchors of CBS' long-running 60 Minutes until his retirement in 2006. Wallace's last interview on the program aired in 2008. On Saturday, Wallace passed away at 93.

Before 60 Minutes, Wallace had been well established not only on television, but in radio, having been not only a newsman, but also an actor and announcer. Shifting over to television, Wallace, like some of his CBS contemporaries, hosted quiz shows on the side, and was the MC for the pilot of what would become To Tell The Truth, with radio actor Bud Collyer tapped as host when it went to series.

My first memory of Wallace was the syndicated anthology series, Biography, produced by David L. Wolper. It was still in reruns as far back as the early 70's as far as I can recall. Here's a clip introducing an episode on Pope Pius XII:

Wallace is the 2nd 60 Minutes personality to have passed within the last year, following Andy Rooney. Now, they can start swapping old war stories all over again. Rest in peace, Mike.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

On The Air: Santino's Foreign Exchange (2012)

Santino Marella (real name John Anthony Carelli) may be the court jester of the WWE these days, as well as its US champion, but giving him his own YouTube show may be asking for trouble.

On this installment of Santino's Foreign Exchange, taped in England late last year, Marella tries to claim that he actually submitted some songs to the Beatles when  he was a child. Uh, that would be impossible. You see, if my math is correct, Marella wasn't yet born when the Beatles were one of the biggest acts in show business. This is where the running gag of this episode fails. Any educated fan, be it of music or WWE or both, can see right through Marella's scam. See if you can figure out where he trips himself up........

He should try to do stand-up comedy. I hear they are looking for someone to be the next Norm Crosby (part of Marella's schtick is his malaprops)...

Rating: C.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday Night Raw, 4/2/12: A new era, and an old nightmare

We went 6-2 with our Wrestlemania picks on Sunday. Not too shabby, I'll admit, but the one match I didn't want to be on the wrong end of was the 12-man tag match. Thanks to the duplicity of Eve Torres, who had been on the losing end of a women's tag match earlier, Teddy Long is out as GM of Friday Night Smackdown. John Laurinaitis gets to run both Smackdown & Monday Night Raw into the ground until the next panic attack. In other words, when Vince McMahon finally realizes he made a mistake, he'll send Laurinaitis either back to the front office, or down to the bushes to relearn charisma.

US champ Santino Marella retained in a handicap, billed as a triple threat, title defense over Jack Swagger & Dolph Ziggler. WWE Champ CM Punk was counted out in a loss to Mark Henry, then had to deal with Chris Jericho afterward. Jericho smashed a bottle of Jack Daniels on Punk's head, still trying to sell the idea that Punk would eventually renounce his straight edge beliefs. Like that'll ever happen. It's a lost cause, but the writers don't know that. (Gee, what a shock, eh?)

Cody Rhodes got a taste of his own medicine after losing the Intercontinental title to Big Show at Wrestlemania. Show disrupted Rhodes' match vs. Kofi Kingston to show stills of his KO victory over Rhodes. So, of course, Rhodes lost again.

The Rock (Dwayne Johnson, to be seen next in "GI Joe: Retribution" this summer) said goodbye for now, vowing to win the WWE title for the first time in 10 years upon his return. Heh, that'd be worth the price of admission if it actually happens, and knowing the senile McMahon, it probably will. John Cena, who lost to Rock, wanted to publicly congratulate him, but was reintroduced to an old friend instead. Let me give you a little visual aid.......

Yep, he's baaaaaaaackkkkkkk!! Brock Lesnar, after retiring from UFC, has returned to WWE, and will resume hostilities vs. Cena after hitting the F-5. It's one of those things like riding a bike. You never forget, and even though it's been a while since Lesnar has actually wrestled, well....! Now you wonder if his wife, Sable, will return, too. Uh, I don't think so.

Speaking of returns, the artist formerly known as A-Train (Matt Bloom) returned, now operating under the handle of Lord Tensai. In his first match back in America in 8 years, he squashed Alex Riley like a bug. The caveman hair is gone, replaced with tattoos. I think Cena or Punk will be seeing this guy real soon, too.

I give them less than 6 months before they realize at last that Laurinaitis just isn't the long term answer. As Stone Cold Steve Austin used to say, that's all I have to say about that.

WWE welcomes its 2012 Hall of Fame class

On Saturday, the WWE opened the doors, if you will, to its Hall of Fame for its 2012 class. At present, there is no physical building to house the Hall, but the word is they are thinking of building one, which would, in fact, make a lot of sense, given the company's rich history, even if Chairman-CEO Vince McMahon selectively ignores said history. Here's a look at this year's class. The highlights of the ceremony air later tonight on USA Network.

Ron Simmons: An All-American linebacker at Florida State, Simmons turned from the gridiron to the squared circle when he was unable to make it in the NFL or even the CFL. He became the first African-American World champion when he dethroned Big Van Vader in 1992, and even though that title reign was short-lived, Simmons had etched his place in history. He jumped to WWE 4 years later, adopting the guise of Faarooq, and was attired in Roman gladiator gear. The gimmick was modified to modern times when he was given a stable, the Nation of Domination, a year later, but that gave way eventually to the Acolytes, later known as APA, in which he teamed with John "Bradshaw" Layfield, who inducted him into the Hall. The APA won 3 tag titles before Simmons retired from full-time competiton in 2004.

Yokozuna: Rodney Anoia wrestled under the name Kokina Maximus for the AWA before he signed with WWE in 1992, and won 2 WWE titles from 1993-4, winning the '93 Royal Rumble in impressive fashion. He passed away just a few years ago, and was inducted posthumously by Jey & Jimmy Uso, along with their father, Rikishi.

Mike Tyson: Already inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame, Tyson, whose last WWE appearance was in 2010, appeared as a guest referee at Wrestlemania 14 in 1998. DeGeneration X (Shawn Michaels & Triple H) presented Tyson.

Mil Mascaras: Quite simply, the greatest masked wrestler of all time. Mascaras didn't spend a lot of time in WWE back in the day, but did appear for Eddie Einhorn's ill-fated IWA promotion in the 70's. Alberto Del Rio, Mascaras' nephew, was tapped to induct Mascaras, a consolation of sorts, as Del Rio, sidelined all winter due to a torn groin, wasn't able to compete at Wrestlemania.

Edge: Adam Copeland had a brief cup of coffee as a TV jobber in WCW before he signed with WWE in 1997 and entered their developmental program. As Edge, he debuted a number of months later, and racked up 11 (by their count) World or WWE titles over the course of 5 years (2006-11), this after 14 tag titles with 6 different partners. One of those former partners, childhood best pal Christian, was selected to induct the "Rated R Superstar", whose film debut, "Bending The Rules", is already out on DVD after a quickie, limited edition theatrical release.

The Four Horsemen: These bad guys were marketed as pro wrestling's answer to Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack back in the 80's. Put it another way, they were cool way before the rise of the counter-culture throwbacks of the New World Order in WCW and DX in WWE. Ric Flair was inducted solo in 2008, leading everyone to believe he was finally going to retire, but nearly 2 years later, he signed with TNA after a tour of Australia with old rival Hulk Hogan. Tully Blanchard became a preacher. Arn Anderson is now an agent-producer for WWE after hanging up the tights more than a decade ago. Barry Windham was a tag champ with both WWE & WCW, and gets in because the original 4th Horseman, Ole Anderson, is not on good terms with WWE and likely never will be. Manager James J. Dillon rounds out the 5-man group that was inducted by their most famous adversary, Dusty Rhodes.

The USA broadcast will focus on Tyson, Edge, & the Horsemen, so you'll have to wait for the Wrestlemania DVD to see the whole thing, as they never release the Hall of Fame event as a separate DVD entity.

As per usual, there has been the hue & cry over the exclusion of the late "Macho Man" Randy Savage, and speculation as to why, usually centering around an urban legend having to do with Stephanie McMahon, which I don't buy into, and it may be more about Vince McMahon holding grudges for whatever reason. The same goes for 70's icons Bruno Sammartino & Bob Backlund, who represent a very different era, and have their reasons for not cooperating with McMahon. Everyone has their preferences for who should be next to go. As it is, WWE has already inducted most of the icons of the 80's, save for Savage.

What do you guys think? Who's next?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Rockin' Funnies: Hollywood Indian Guides (2007)

Bill Engvall is one of the busiest guys in Hollywood these days, right along with his Blue Collar TV compadres Larry The Cable Guy & Jeff Foxworthy. Like Foxworthy, Engvall has done a self-titled sitcom, and was hired last year by GSN to revive the game show, Lingo, this in the wake of Foxworthy's success with Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?. Larry? He's the new pitchman for Prilosec these days. Go figure, right?

Anyway, in 2007, Engvall decided to give music a try. Well, not exactly. There is a musical background that goes with a spoken word track from his CD, "Here's Your Sign". "Hollywood Indian Guides" got a ton of airplay on CMT, back when they played a lot more music than they do now (Hey, it's a MTV Networks channel, what did you expect?). Yeah, I know, Foxworthy's done the comedy-music thing, too, with Alan Jackson a number of years back. Seems ol' Larry's behind the curve, don't ya think?

Warner Bros. Records' YouTube channel serves up "Hollywood Indian Guides".

Now, who d'ya think makes an appropriate April Fool? It ain't Engvall, that's for sure.