Friday, December 31, 2004

Fast away the old year passes

So much for 2004.

We got — or, more accurately, condemned ourselves to — four more years of Bush 43.

The Boston Red Sox finally got off the schneid after 86 years and won the World Series. Halley's Comet comes around as frequently as BoSox champuionships.

At the box office, we got more. More Shrek, more Spidey, more Harry, more Bourne, more Ocean. Can we possibly get a major motion picture that isn't a retread of something we've seen before? Not that any of these five sequels were bad — they all, in their own ways, exceeded their predecessors. But what fun it would have been to see these same five groups of talented filmmakers do something entirely original for a change.

We also got Mel Gibson flogging the Lord to a bloody pulp, which I'm still not sure is a good thing. (The film, not the event itself. Horrific as it is to contemplate, it's still the signal event in the history of humankind. But a movie about it...? I dunno. I'll stick with the book, thanks.)

On the tube, we got even more of the same old, same old. Yawn. Wake me when someone decides to put something truly innovative on the idiot box. Then again, if that's when you wake me, I'll be Rip van Winkle.

In the news, lots of people died, not the least of which were the 120,000 and counting poor souls who were lost to the year's most horrific event, the Boxing Day earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean. Among the names, they didn't get much bigger than Ronald Reagan and Yasser Arafat. Pierre Salinger and former Queen Juliana passed from the world stage. Francis Crick, the co-discoverer of DNA, was DOA. The self-destructive Ken Caminiti and the tragic Pat Tillman both departed, under dramatically different circumstances. Marlon Brando died, after years of having survived his career, and Janet Leigh died, for real this time, and without the screeching violins. Captain Kangaroo and Detective Lennie Briscoe died. So did Felix Unger and Superman. Weezie Jefferson "moved on up." Ray "The Genius" Charles and Rick "Super Freak" James moved...well, in Rick's case, perhaps not "up." Julia Child said her last "Bon appétit" and Rodney Dangerfield his final "I don't get no respect." Astronaut Gordo Cooper took his last celestial trip, as did Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who'd probably talked as much about death as anyone who'd never done it.

And far, far too many young Americans courageously sacrified their lives defending a bankrupt foreign policy built on an intelligence failure that has yet to be adequately explained.

For my part, I'm very much alive, thank you very much. Another year older. Wiser, not so much. I kept (sometimes in spite of myself) the business afloat for another 12 months — if you knew me at all, you'd know that my ongoing successful self-employment is little short of miraculous. KJ changed jobs after nearly two decades and, to no one's surprise, became instantly indispensible in her new company. KM climbed back onto the honor roll after a challenging freshman year, and continues to love horses.

I taught a couple of hundred lessons, some of them even worthwhile. I edited a bunch of reviews for DVD Verdict, and wrote hardly any — a trend I'm determined to reverse in the coming year.

I built my comic art collection. More cool stuff is on the way.

And I started this blog. Not only started it, but kept it alive long after I had to. Now, some days, it keeps me alive.

May the coming year bring you and those you love health and peace, dear reader. May the world catch a break or two now and then, for all our sakes.

Thanks for tuning in. Let's keep up our acquaintance in '05, shall we?

Thursday, December 30, 2004

You want chips with that?

Two enterprising women operating a mobile hot dog stand on New York's Long Island were arrested for offering a menu of "side dishes" the folks piloting Weinerschnitzel's Wiener Wagon never thought of.

Hopefully the frankfurters served out of this brothel-on-wheels weren't Hebrew National, because I don't think the associated activities were exactly kosher.

I'm also guessing that these ladies didn't realize that the second vowel in "condiments" is not an "o."

You don't tug on Fossilman's cape

Reigning World Series of Poker champion Greg "Fossilman" Raymer is no pushover at the card table, and apparently, not in the halls of the Bellagio, either.

When a couple of would-be muggers recently attempted to brace the Fossilman as he was returning to his room at the swank Vegas joint after an evening of shuffling the pasteboards, the portly Raymer successfully fended off the attack and summoned hotel security.

This incident proves once again the folly of meddling with crazy people. A guy who wears holographic gag spectacles and brings petrified trilobites and crinoids to the poker table is liable to do just about anything.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Ben Casey would have understood


My Aunt Ruby died today.

She was my mother's middle sister. There were seven girls in the family originally; now only the eldest — my Aunt Jannie — and the two youngest — my mother and my Aunt Ethel — survive.

I hardly knew Aunt Ruby — one of the cold hard facts of a transient military upbringing, combined with our settling in California when most of the family is scattered across the Midwest — is that I hardly know any of my parents' relatives. I recall meeting Aunt Ruby, who lived in Detroit, exactly once. I believe I may have spoken to her on the phone a time or two when I still lived with my parents. I don't know much about what she was like, aside from her profession — she was a nurse. She lived with her only son — or, more accurately, he lived with her — and for many years she took care of her aging mother-in-law, who died some years ago.

I'm sad for my mother, whom I know feels increasingly alone in the world with yet another of her siblings gone. I'm sad for my cousin Steve, who has never had to fend for himself and now will have to learn how, in the midst of adulthood. And I'm a little sad that I didn't know my aunt better, and now never will.


KM's new bunny came home today.

The first rabbit, a gray ball of fur KM christened "Fluffy," joined the household one Christmas when KM was five or six, and lived with us for nearly nine years — a good old age, as rabbits go. Fluffy was never the most social of creatures, preferring to sit by herself and only occasionally consenting to sit still long enough to be held and petted. Still, KM loved the floppy old lagomorph dearly, and found her a genuine comfort during the dark days following her mother's cancer diagnosis, and through her chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

In her dotage, Fluffy developed an abscess that impaired her motor function, and she gradually became unable to move about by herself. It was a sad day when we had to take Fluffy to the vet's office for the last time, and come home without her.

The new bunny, a male, was rescued from a local animal shelter. KM named him "Ryan," apparently after a character on some television program she watches. He seems lively and curious, and already shows a good deal more spunk and personality than Fluffy ever did. The dog is unsure about the invader in her territory, but she'll no doubt learn to ignore him in time.

People and things go. People and things come. Eventually, they go again.

Death happens. Life happens. Not usually in that order.

Funny old world.

End of Watch: Det. Lennie Briscoe

As an inveterate Law & Order junkie, I'm deeply saddened this morning by the passing of Jerry Orbach.

Although news of Orbach's death came as a complete surprise, it makes sense out of a series of events over the past year or so: his "retirement" as Detective Lennie Briscoe from Law & Order, supposedly to lead the cast of the new L&O spinoff, Trial By Jury; the failure of the much-heralded L&O:TBJ to appear on NBC's fall schedule, and its ongoing lack of an official midseason starting date; the impending reintroduction of Chris Noth's Mike Logan character into the franchise as a guest star on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. (I now suspect that Logan is being revived to fill the role Lennie would have assumed on the new series.)

Although Law & Order has always centered on stories and minimized the importance of its continuing characters (the reason the flagship series has been able to weather numerous cast changes during its lengthy run), Jerry Orbach's Lennie was in many ways the heart and soul of the franchise. It wasn't a demanding role, but Orbach carried it with good humor and grace for more than a decade.

Many who only know Orbach from Law & Order may not realize he was a much-lauded, Tony-winning Broadway actor. He originated the role of El Gallo in the long-running musical The Fantasticks, and was the original Billy Flynn in the stage production of Chicago. And of course, he was the voice of the singing candlestick Lumiere in Disney's greatest musical, Beauty and the Beast.

He'll be missed.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Wham! Bam! Van Damme!

The "Muscles from Brussels," film star and all-around irritant Jean-Claude van Damme, claims in an interview with a Romanian newspaper that he is a "superhero in bed."

Mr. van Damme did not, however, specify which superhero he is in bed.

In an effort to bridge this shameful information gap, offered herewith is SwanShadow's Top 10 Jean-Claude van Damme Superhero Identities for the Bedroom:

10. The Punisher: You've gotta figure a guy who made his name as a kickboxer probably likes it a little rough.

9. Strong Guy: You know those Continental fellows and their bathing habits.

8. Iron Man: He's the coolest cat with a heart (or something) of steel.

7. The Prowler: Late at night when you're sleepin', Jean-Claude comes a-creepin' around.

6. Mighty Thor: If you know the joke, you'll get the punch line. If you don't know the joke, get a kid from your local junior high to tell it to you.

5. Sgt. Rock: All this and World War II.

4. Mr. Fantastic: Like you didn't see this one coming. No pun intended.

3. Steel: If Jean-Claude had a hammer, he'd hammer in the morning, he'd hammer in the evening, all over this land.

2. War Machine: Force Works, baby. That's all I'm saying.

and SwanShadow's Number One van Damme Bedroom Superhero Identity...

1. Giant-Size Man-Thing. 'Nuff said!

In the interest of equal time, we now present The Top 10 Jean-Claude van Damme Superhero Identities for the Bedroom, As Reported By Mrs. van Damme:

10. Ant-Man

9. The Atom

8. Doll Man

7. The Heap

6. Sandman

5. Bouncing Boy

4. Quicksilver

3. The Flash

2. Speedy

and Mrs. van Damme's Number One Bedroom Superhero Identity for her husband...

1. Shrinking Violet

Monday, December 27, 2004

Ode to Tull

As I was driving home through the rain this afternoon, the local "classic rock" station was playing "Aqualung" by Jethro Tull. There aren't many bands in modern music history of whom it can be said that no other ensemble could record the same material and have it seem anywhere near the same, but Tull would certainly be one.

Back in the day, I was a serious devotee of Tull, along with such other so-called "progressive" rock groups as Kansas, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Rush, and Electric Light Orchestra before they became just a more pretentious electropop band. In fact, I still have floating around somewhere a ticket for an early '80s Tull concert at the Oakland Coliseum Arena (on the Broadsword and the Beast tour...sigh) that I never got the chance to use because my car died the day before the show, leaving me without transportation.

If you ask me why I enjoyed that genre of music, the answer is simple: Progressive rock was the aural equivalent of comic books, and appealed to that part of me that craved superhero fantasies and cosmic adventuring. It wasn't all I listened to — I dug everything from Parliament-Funkadelic to the Eagles, from the Doobie Brothers to Queen, from Santana to Steely Dan to Earth, Wind and Fire, from Bill Withers to Blood, Sweat and Tears to the Blue Öyster Cult. But there was a reason why I spent my 19th birthday at a Kansas concert at San Francisco's Cow Palace (the opening act was Alvin Lee, formerly of Ten Years After, who shared the same birthday), and why, when the second of the three great loves of my life came to visit me one summer, I took her to a Genesis concert where I knew all the words to "The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway."

But I digress.

Jethro Tull — the band, not the 18th century agronomist and inventor — was more than just a quirky folk-rock ensemble with a flute player who stood on one leg. Their music, featuring obtuse and serpentine lyrics by lead vocalist and flautist Ian Anderson, represents a singular creative vision unparalleled in the annals of music. When you hear a Jethro Tull song, you immediately know who recorded it. No other band could have. Close your eyes and try to imagine any of these landmark songs being performed by other artists: "Aqualung." "Thick as a Brick." "Skating Away On the Thin Ice of the New Day." "Too Old To Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young To Die." "Something's On the Move." "Fylingdale Flyer." "Living in the Past." "Clasp." And, perhaps the group's pinnacle number, "Locomotive Breath." Not a song on that list could be covered by anyone else. Only Tull could wring not only sense, but passion out of these lyrics:
In the shuffling madness
Of locomotive breath
Runs the all-time loser
Headlong to his death
He feels the piston scraping
Steam breaking on his brow
Old Charlie stole the handle
And the train, it won't stop going
No way to slow down
It's probably just a coincidence that KJ's oncologist's name is Ian Anderson. But it may not be. The power of Tull can cure anything.

Anything, that is, except a Plymouth Gold Duster with a blown Slant Six.

There's no need to fear — GravyBoy is here!

Perhaps I'm too easily amused, but I thought this hilarious when I stumbled upon it today: a comic book entitled GravyBoy.

Apparently, GravyBoy chronicles the adventures of a 13-year-old superhero prodigy whose alien-bestowed power enables him to control gravy (it was supposed to be gravity, but the alien power-bestower accidentally spilled something on the instructions, resulting in a tragic miscommunication) with his mind.

Now there's a superhero to whom I can genuinely relate.

The book's official Web site reveals that GravyBoy artist Brian Shearer is also a Rockapella fan. Anyone who loves superheroes, Rockapella, and gravy is A-OK in my book.

I may just have to order an issue of GravyBoy, if only to see whether the execution lives up to the premise. If you also are so inclined, be sure to mention where you heard about the doggoned thing.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The last pass rush

They called Reggie White "the Minister of Defense" because he was both a Pentecostal minister and the best defensive lineman in the NFL during his heyday with the Philadelphia Eagles and Green Bay Packers.

Reggie was always quick with a quote, even if it wasn't always clear whether he knew what he was saying before he said it, like the free agent summer he spent trumpeting his desire to join a team in a community where he could make a positive impact on African American youth, only to sign for serious Benjamins to play in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the black population of which could probably fit comfortably in a Cadillac Escalade.

By all accounts, though, he was a genuinely nice man who did, in fact, do quite a bit for the people around him. Now he's gone.

Some things you can't defend against.

Reggie White's small significance in my life was easy to identify — he and I were born on the same day. We celebrated our common 43rd birthday a week ago today. If you suppose that my own mortality seems all too crystalline just're correct.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

There's no place like home for the holidays

It's been a quiet, soothing Christmas here at SwanShadow Central. We were supposed to go to my mother's for lunch, but one of her sisters back East had a serious heart attack this week and remains in intensive care. Given that Mom's had a ton on her emotional plate — and practically nonstop phone calls with medical updates — this week, I suggested she attempt to get some rest today, and we'll catch up with her another time soon. (Anticipating a last-minute change in plans, we had already laid in provisions for an easy-to-prepare Christmas repast of pork tenderloin and suitable accompaniments. It pays to think ahead.)

As it happens, this was all for the best. KJ's been sick with a URI the past several days, and needed more than anything to just recline on the couch and sleep, which is exactly what she did most of the day today. KM and I entertained one another playing some new games: the interactive TV trivia game Scene-It (one of KM's top requests this year), and an excellent word game called Huggermugger that a couple from church bestowed upon us. We also watched I, Robot on DVD, and several repeats of A Christmas Story, thanks to the marathon showing of the latter on TBS. (I keep waiting for Ralphie to shoot his eye out, but he never does. And I can never quite get beyond the realization that this sentimental trifle was directed by the same guy who made Porky's.) This evening I made big pots of hot oatmeal and fragrant tea, which just hit the spot.

People are always too kind to me in their holiday gift-giving, and this year was no exception. With no slight intended to any of the fine consumer products bestowed upon yours truly by family and friends this fine Yuletide, here are a few of Santa's greatest hits.

One of those programmable digital clocks (generally spotted in The Sharper Image, Brookstone, Spencer Gifts, and other overpriced gadgetry outlets near you) with the little LED wand that whips back and forth, appearing to make the time, date, and assorted cutesy sayings float in midair, thanks to the miracle of persistence of vision. The kitsch-loving Vegas geek in me adores cheesy stuff like this, although rarely enough to actually shell out cash American for it. Some friends from church knew I would love this gizmo, and they were right. It seems like the kind of fragile toy that will survive perhaps a week or two, but it'll be a kick to watch while it lasts.

A sharp winter jacket from the in-laws. Now that my best outdoor jacket is outdated — it bears the chorus's recently retired logo on the breast — it'll be nice to have a new one. Not that I'm outdoors a lot, or that our winters are especially severe, but it likely will rain here from time to time between now and April, and even more likely on days when I have to go somewhere.

A cute little laser-engraved display piece with a Giants logo on it that KM found for me at a crafts fair. It's a mate to the howling wolf piece she gave me last year. Daughters are cool.

As usual, I received several nifty tomes for bathroom contemplation over the next weeks and months. The best of this year's crop appears to be The Complete Armchair Book of Baseball, a compilation of essays from a variety of noteworthy scribes who follow the Greatest Game Ever Invented.

Looking about the living room at the tsunami of opened gifts, and my family relaxing in front of the television, I'll join Tiny Tim Cratchit in saying, "God bless us, every one."

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Merry Christmas, and stuff

I believe the great lyricist Sammy Cahn said it best:
The little gift you send
On Christmas Day
Will not bring back the friend
You've turned away
So may I suggest
The secret of Christmas
Is not the things you do at Christmas time
But the Christmas things you do
All year through
Even as inveterate an anti-Claus as I can get behind that sentiment.

May you and yours share good things today. Even if it's nothing more tangible than a hug, a kiss, and a heartfelt "I love you."

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Thursday, December 23, 2004

I've got a secret!

I received some exciting and unanticipated news via a FedEx package that arrived today. It may be several weeks before I can reveal the mystery, but believe me, it's a doozy.

That phrase, "it's a doozy," contrary to popular belief, predates the founding of the Duesenberg automobile company of the early 20th century. The Duesenberg brothers' monstrously large and ostentatious cars, however, certainly popularized the saying.

Just keeping the record straight.

Friendly neighborhood Spider-Women

Here's a little early Christmas cheer courtesy of the incredible Michael Dooney, best known for his work on the various Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles projects.

The idea for a team-up of Marvel's two characters called Spider-Woman first came to me when Mike Dooney created separate commissioned drawings of Saturn Girl and Ms. Marvel for me a while back. When an opportunity to commission Mike again presented itself, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask for.

Initially Mike was a bit hesitant: "I usually steer clear of two-character sketches..." But the holiday spirit overcame his objections, and he agreed to team Jessica Drew (Spider-Woman I, in the upper left) and Julia Carpenter (Spider-Woman II, in the darker costume at lower right) in this spectacular tableau that Mike himself devised.

Trust me, I was blown away when I saw the original in person. The total art area is much larger (there's a considerable amount more of the brick building at bottom right) than my scanner can accommodate. Not only is the composition of the drawing amazingly dramatic, but the detail of Mike's pencil art is stunning. You can check out a larger image here.

That Marvel ever had a character called Spider-Woman, never mind a pair of same (and I'm told there's a Spider-Woman III, but I can't recall ever seeing that one), was much less a creative decision than a marketing call. In the '70s, as superheroes were starting to come to film and television more frequently, the top brass at Marvel became fearful that someone would snipe the concept for a female version of their most popular character out from under their noses. So Spider-Woman was born, for no better reason than to secure the trademark on the name. SWI had her own comic for a few years, and even a short-lived Saturday morning cartoon, then disappeared. Later, SWII arrived on the scene, appearing most regularly in West Coast Avengers (the title of which later turned to Avengers West Coast, then to Force Works).

I may be mistaken about this, but I believe Julia Carpenter, the second Spider-Woman, was the first superhero single mother in comics history.

When Moises was in Giant-Land...let my Giants go

Moises Alou, the fifth member of his family to play for the Giants, rejoins his father Felipe in San Francisco for what will likely be the twilight of both their careers. Big Mo previously played for his dad when Felipe was managing the Montreal Expos (soon to be the Washington Nationals, if the District of Columbia can get its sorry act together so the team can finalize the move).

The other three Alous, of course, were Felipe's brothers (and Moises's uncles) Mateo "Matty" Alou, Jesus Alou, and Roberto Alou.

Don't recall Roberto, you say? That's probably because he preferred to be addressed as Bob.

You do remember Bob Alou, don't you?

(Yeah, yeah, you're groaning now, but you'll be telling that one over Christmas dinner before this weekend is over. Just be glad I didn't mention the jazz trumpeter in the family...Be-Bop Alou.)

I'll say this, with 40-year-old Barry Bonds and 38-year-olds Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou manning the Giants outfield this coming season, I suddenly don't feel so old in the aftermath of my recent birthday. Giants clubhouse man Mike Murphy had better keep plenty of Geritol and liniment handy for the aging warhorses.

Has any team in baseball history ever started an older outfield?

Are those explosives you're carrying, Miss, or is it just chilly in this terminal?

The Transportation Security Administration (motto: "We Grope Your Fellow Passengers, So You Don't Have To"), in its infinite(simal) wisdom, decided today that it's really not okay for its minions to get to second base with female airline travelers whenever they (you know it's coming...) feel like it.

In a related story, TSA is mounting an all-out recruiting drive in the wake of a sudden and unexplained mass resignation of disgruntled airport security personnel.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

This just in: Todd no longer a god

I'm not one to revel in the misfortunes of others, but it's tough to drum up sympathy for comics maven and noted baseball memorabilia collector Todd McFarlane.

Oh, I'm sorry...I meant Todd "The Man Who Single-Handedly Destroyed Spider-Man" McFarlane.

Todd's comic book enterprise, Todd McFarlane Productions Inc. filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last week in the wake of a bizarre lawsuit filed, and ultimately won, by an ex-NHL hockey player named Tony Twist who sued McFarlane for naming a mob boss in his Spawn comics after the player. I guess Todd didn't learn anything from former Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty's legendary public rumble against record producer Saul Zaentz, after Fogerty wrote a song called "Zanz Can't Danz" in which a character obviously based on Zaentz is portrayed lyrically as a thief, a con artist, and a pig (you know...the other white meat). After legal pressure from Zaentz, Fogerty changed the song lyric to "Vanz Can't Danz."

Personally, I think the U.S. Circuit Court made a stupid decision in the Twist vs. McFarlane affair, but McFarlane has been such an insufferable, egomaniacal gasbag for so long that his comeuppance seems almost like poetic justice.

Although...if anyone should sue Todd and win, it ought to be Peter Parker.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Clean Slate

I'm glad, for a number of reasons, to see Microsoft sell its online magazine Slate to the Washington Post.

For one thing, it's a good fit. Slate is pretty close to the top of the online publishing heap in its unique niche of political-slash-entertainment news, and the Washington Post is as solid a news organization as this country can boast. Plus, the Post people are smart enough to leave the Slate people alone to do what they do, rather than muck up something that's working pretty well without any mucking up.

Secondly, when I heard that Slate was on the auction block, I feared that it might simply go away. I'm confident that the Post bought it to help it be successful, not to gut it. And hopefully, they'll continue to find ways to keep it subscription-free.

Third, it's gratifying to see one more thing Bill Gates doesn't own. Of course, his wife is on the board of directors of the Post, but at least Bill won't own it outright. That's a good thing.

Monday, December 20, 2004

A lump of coal for Josh Brolin's stocking

No charges will be pressed, apparently, but the very idea of Josh Brolin raising a hand to his wife, the dazzlingly talented (and yeah, okay, heartbreakingly beautiful) Diane Lane, crisps my biscuits more than a little bit.

I can categorize in a single word a man who uses physical violence as a means of self-expression against the women in his life.

It rhymes with "Howard."

Sunday, December 19, 2004

It's my birthday and I'll blog if I want to...

...and if I don't want to, I won't. So, no promises about the rest of today.

Before you ask, I was born on this date in 1961. Do the math.

And I know you probably weren't planning on splurging for a gift or anything, but in case you were, a copy of Men Of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones would hit the spot nicely, thanks.

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Saturday, December 18, 2004

Christmas carols confuse me

Among my many perpetually unanswered questions at Yuletide:

Why did the little drummer boy think the baby Jesus was a sub sandwich? "I am a poor boy too..."

Who is Don, and what's up with his gay apparel? Isn't it true that most cross-dressers are heterosexual?

"Up on the housetop reindeer paws..." I thought reindeer had hooves?

Why didn't the shepherd boy say to the little lamb, "How can I hear anything when you keep singing in my ear?"

Does anyone you know roast chestnuts on an open fire?

If the Herald angels sing "Hark," how are the Times and Chronicle angels reporting the news?

Am I the only one who feels underrepresented by "White Christmas"?

What games do reindeer play?

"He sees you when you're sleeping, he knows when you're awake..." Is Santa stalking me?

When we sing "Joy to the World" at Christmas time, why do we leave out the verse about Jeremiah the bullfrog?

What did the Halls do that makes us want to deck them?

If one of the three kings left, would the others be disoriented?

If all that kid wants for Christmas is his two front teeth, can I have his presents?

Why was Mommy kissing Santa Claus?

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All in color for an eight-dollar ticket

I wish I could say that photos such as this one from the upcoming Fantastic Four film made me feel more optimistic about it.

But they don't.

I am, on the other hand, intrigued by the news that David S. Goyer, most recently the director of Blade: Trinity and writer of the currently-in-post-production Batman Begins, has signed to write, produce, and direct a big-screen version of The Flash for Warner Bros. Even though it appears that Goyer's Flash will be Wally West and not the late, great Barry Allen.

Of course, when the TV series The Flash appeared in the early '90s — one of the true lost classics of the decade, in my opinion — the producers went for an amalgam of the two. The TV Flash received Barry's name and occupation (police scientist — think Gil Grissom, only infinitely faster), but his powers were much more like Wally's were in the comics at the time (limited speed, no transtime or transdimensional abilities, out-of-whack metabolism that kept him eating everything in sight).

Speaking of The Flash, when in the name of Gorilla Grodd are we going to get a box set of that series on DVD?

It's a's a's Superman's cousin

It's been a while since I showed off any new additions to my comic art collection... mainly because there haven't been many new additions lately, funds being what they are this time of year. But thumbing through the old portfolio, I see a few pieces I've had for a while but never displayed here. I'll showcase one just to liven up the page.

This is another gorgeous sketch by Michael McDaniel, the artist who also drew the Mary Marvel piece of which I'm awfully fond. When I acquired this rendition of Supergirl, I had a chance to exchange a couple of e-mails with Michael and find out a little more about him. He lives in the Atlanta area, and apparently had some of his work published by a few minor-league comics companies back in the early '90s. He's still hopeful of latching onto an opportunity with one of the major outfits, but right now he contents himself with selling an occasional drawing on eBay.

As you can see from this example of his work, this is one talented artist. His linework is absolutely stunning, and he shows a real flair for both naturalistic anatomy and subtly nuanced facial expression. If nothing else, Marvel or DC should latch onto him to illustrate covers, a la Adam Hughes or Brian Bolland.

Meanwhile, I'm going to think up a really nice commission project to do with him next year sometime. Suggestions?

Friday, December 17, 2004

The coolest name in America...

...belongs to Kimber Rickabaugh, one of the principals of the television production company RickMill Productions.

Together with her partner, the more prosaically nomenclatured Paul Miller, Ms. Rickabaugh produces an apparently endless stream of comedy and variety programs for all of the major networks, and several of the larger cable entities as well. In fact, it seems as though half the shows on Comedy Central are RickMill Productions properties. Nice work if you can get it.

Me, I just like saying "Kimber Rickabaugh."


The Coca-Cola Company yesterday announced the impending arrival of a new energy drink called "Full Throttle."

I don't know who's doing the branding workup for Coke these days, but as an ad writer who does this sort of thing on occasion, permit me the following observations:

1. According to my Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th Edition, the word throttle means "to compress the throat of; to choke; to kill by such action." Hey, that sounds like something I'll want to drink — a soda that will choke me to death.

2. Naming a consumable product after a film directed by McG is a bad idea. Just the thought of sitting through another Charlie's Angels movie starring Cameron Diaz and Lucy Liu makes me nauseous.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

New on the DVD rack, 12/16/04

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King: Extended Edition. And you thought the theatrical version of the final act in the LOTR trilogy went on forever. Welcome to four hours and ten minutes of Hobbit-chasing, Gollum-scheming, Uruk-Hai-battling, heroic derring-doing goodness. And that doesn't even include the kajillion hours of supplementary material packed into this four-disc set. Anyone who does get his or her fill of Tolkieniana, Peter Jackson style, by the time the last platter stops spinning simply didn't try.

I never had a review assignment for this last installment in the series, but if you want to peruse my thoughts on the Extended Edition of the first film, LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring, use this link to my review at DVD Verdict. For my critical analysis of the theatrical version of the second film, LOTR: The Two Towers, use this link to check out the review I wrote originally for the online magazine California Fine Arts.

I, Robot. Back in my science fiction reading days, I was a huge Isaac Asimov fan. The Good Doctor couldn't create human characters or write realistic dialogue to save his life, but the man could tell a story like nobody's business. (My favorite Asimov works actually aren't sci-fi at all — they're the short mysteries he wrote about an exclusive gentlemen's club called the Black Widowers. Great fun if you like mysteries and logic puzzles in story form.)

Cinema has not, in the main, been kind to Asimov's work. Both of the previous theatrical films based on his writings, Nightfall and Bicentennial Man, reeked like something your dog dug up in the backyard after a hard rain. I understand that Nightfall was remade a few years ago in a cheapjack direct-to-the-cutout-bin production that's even worse than the original — mind-boggling, but apparently true. I heard some nice things about I, Robot, though, so I'll go into watching it with at least a modicum of hope.

The Asimov novel I'd really like to see filmed — and Alex Proyas, who directed I, Robot, would be an excellent choice for the task — is The Caves of Steel. It's my favorite Asimov novel, and has the potential to make a spectacular motion picture. Its hero, Elijah "Lije" Baley, is the closest Asimov ever came to creating a genuine human character with real emotions and thoughts.

Isaac Asimov was a fascinating man. I've read most of his autobiographical works, and found them both moving and compelling. He was not, apparently, an easy guy to get to know. He liked working alone, and at a frenetic pace — he authored more than 1,000 books, if you include all the compilations of his short stories and other non-book-length writings. Although he wrote about rocketship journeys to far-flung planets, Asimov was afraid of flying and rarely traveled far from his New York City home. Asimov contracted HIV from a blood transfusion during cardiac surgery and kept his HIV-positive status a well-guarded secret for more than 15 years; only after his death did his condition become public knowledge.

In an ironic twist, Asimov's son David, who lived in the same Santa Rosa neighborhood as my parents-in-law, was busted a few years ago for trafficking in child pornography. I say "ironic" because the senior Asimov was well-known for his ribaldry and eye for the ladies, and his stories frequently appeared in magazines "for mature audiences." His Union Club mysteries, for example, were originally published in the T&A rag Gallery, best known for its pioneering "Send Us Nekkid Pictures of Your Wife / Girlfriend / Neighbor" feature. Or so I've heard.

Lisa Marie says, "Thank yew... thankyewverymuch."

Old and busted: Owning the rights to your famous deceased father's name and image, American icons that rake in about $45 million in revenue annually.

New hotness: Selling dear old Dad to a corporate raider for $53 million in cash, $20 million in stock options, and the offloading of $25 million in debt.

At least Lisa Marie kept the house. She'll still be able to wander the hallways of Graceland in the wee hours and listen to the voice of her father's ghost whispering, "You sold me for how much? And you married Michael who?"

Hey, Bob, I think she's hiding aces down there

Embrace the irony:

Caesars Atlantic City yesterday was gobsmacked with an $80,000 fine because two members of its surveillance staff were caught using the casino's overhead security cameras to record compromising views of female patrons wearing low-cut blouses and other "revealing clothing."

I'm not, by any stretch of the imagination, justifying what these two clowns did. Playing "Peeping Tom" is juvenile at best, and immoral, intrusive, and violating at worst.

But let's think this through.

Casinos have traded on the appeal of "revealing clothing" — and the lack thereof — since time immemorial. Is anyone surprised that they might attract — even promote — a culture that would foster behavior such as that being rebuked here? What a shock.

Also, a reasonable person would suppose that the purpose of wearing "revealing clothing" is to...umm...reveal. Can you justly complain that someone read your diary if you left it open on the seat of a city bus, or publish its contents in the New York Times?

Here's an oddity: Caesars fired both the two peepers and the two female coworkers who ratted them out. How does that work? Certain behavior is punishable by termination, including blowing the whistle on behavior that's punishable by termination? You can't have it both ways, Caesars.

And finally, how long do you suppose it will be before those surveillance tapes are downloadable on the Internet somewhere?

I like peanut butter, I like toast and Super Love Jam

Because I've purchased tickets online at various times, I occasionally receive e-mail bulletins from the good folks at Ticketmaster promoting upcoming events that, for whatever arcane reasons, they think I might enjoy. Usually I trash these notices without even opening them, but this morning's offering caught my attention:

Valentine Super Love Jam. Can you not dig that name?

It was as though Don Cornelius himself had sent me a personal invitation.

The Valentine Super Love Jam (I get a bit giddy just typing it) will get down with its funky self on Saturday, February 12, at Sacramento's Arco Arena. For a mere $25.50 (plus Ticketmaster service charges, of course — which can total almost as much as the face value of the tickets themselves), you can shake your moneymaker to the R&B sounds of such near-legends as Midnight Star ("Freak-a-Zoid"), Heatwave (I'm sure they'll be riding on the "Groove Line" that night), the Mary Jane Girls (featuring JoJo, the ad says — the last I heard, he'd left his home in Tucson, Arizona for some California grass), James and Bobby Purify (who, after all these years, can still "Shake a Tail Feather," hopefully without winding up in traction), and A Taste of Honey (who will no doubt encourage attendees to "Boogie Oogie Oogie" till they just can't boogie no more).

As Don would say, you can bet your last money it's all gonna be a stone gas, honey. I'm wiping a tear to think that Barry White won't be there to see it.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


Ever the perceptive one, DL sent me a note concurring with my observation about the irony of DefSec Rumsfeld sticking around for W, The Sequel: Back to the Bush. In part, quoth she:
I think #43 refuses to back down and ax Rumsfeld because it appear to the public that he made a mistake in taking us into Iraq. You and I both know now that going in there was wrong...we questioned attacking Iraq from the get-go. But based on what we the public knew, we had to believe our President and his cabinet knew what the hell they were doing. I think a man ought to be big enough to admit when he's made a mistake, no matter what it costs him. But, as you and I know, ol' George ain't gonna 'fess up. Geez Louise, it's like Bill Clinton stating publicly that he and "that woman" didn't have sexual relations. We knew the pants weren't always zipped!
Here's my thought about the Bush/Rumsfeld deal. I've written previously that I don't believe the President is a very intelligent man. But I think he's just smart enough to know that other people view him as being less sharp than a Miracle Blade. As a result, he steers away from actions that he perceives will give his critics license to say, "See? Told you he was stupid." Actions, for example, such as admitting he made an error and moving to correct it. Better to be decisive and be thought a fool, than be indecisive and remove all doubt, to paraphrase Twain.

It's a common human phenomenon, among males of the species especially. Small men try to make themselves look bigger than they are. Meek men attempt to seem macho. Insecure men resort to bullying, domestic violence, or virulent racism — among other negative behaviors — to craft the illusion of supreme self-confidence.

Similarly, dull-witted men will go to extreme lengths to convince others that they really are brilliant. In this, George the Second reminds me of the Pakleds, the dim-bulb alien race in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Samaritan Snare." The Pakleds would try any tactic to mask their mental deficiencies and have the rest of the galaxy think them intelligent. Like a Presidential Pakled, Bush 43 sits in the Oval Office, pounds on the desktop, and murmurs to Rumsfeld, "I need things to make me go."

Unfortunately, as an anthropologist once observed, though a civilized man may portray a barbarian effectively for a time, a barbarian cannot long pretend to be a civilized man. A genius can play the fool, but the fool can't play the genius. Woe to the world when that fool wields power.

This is Megan me uncomfortable

California's new Megan's Law Web site went live today.

Now you, my fellow Californian, can thrill to the fun and excitement of viewing the photographs and home addresses of registered sex offenders (or RSOs, as we like to call them) living right in your vicinity. If that doesn't make you sleep warmer and cozier at night, it's time to ask your doctor about Ambien.

I notice that RSOs, in our burg anyway, tend to be a rather motley and surprisingly grandfatherly-looking crew. One of the RSOs in my neighborhood is 90 years old. I don't want to be overconfident or anything, but I'm thinking that if that fellow puts a move on me, I can probably take him.

Hey, wait a minute — I know that guy...

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Five for Fame

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame elected five new members today. Let's see who's on the invitation list for March 14:

U2. Hard to argue, even if they have become annoyingly ubiquitous over the past several years. No band in history has made as big a reputation for being political and social activists, yet spent as much of their time flacking for various consumer goods, as has U2. When you can get an iPod with your signatures engraved on it, don't come pretending that you're not all about the Benjamins...or whoever the heck's picture is on the hundred euro bill.

The O'Jays. It's not their fault they happen to share a name with a guy who slashed his ex-wife and her boytoy du jour to death. Even if one of their biggest hits was entitled "Back Stabbers." Seriously, though: "Love Train." "For the Love of Money." "Give the People What They Want." "Now That We've Found Love." "Use'ta Be My Girl." Oh yeah, O'Jays.

Percy Sledge. Ehhh, I dunno. "When a Man Loves a Woman" was classic, sure, but what else did Percy ever do? "I'll Be Your Everything," I suppose. Borderline pick, in my opinion.

The Pretenders. Chrissie Hynde and her boys never did much for me, but staying power counts for something. The fact that I never figured out what the song title "Brass in Pocket" means annoys me to this day. What, are you packing a French horn in your BVDs?

Buddy Guy. Eric Clapton said it best: "Greatest blues guitarist ever." Buddy Guy taught Jimi Hendrix...well, maybe not everything he knew, but pretty darned much. Should have been chosen years ago.

He doesn't write the songs, but he does play Vegas

Here's some good news: Barry Manilow signs a long-term deal to perform five nights a weeks at the Las Vegas Hilton, beginning February 24.

Now you're wondering: Hey, I thought you despised Barry Manilow. How is that good news?

The good news is that Manilow's show (a) is at the LV Hilton, which is the one major hotel I always avoid like leprosy when we go to Vegas — it's too far from everything and is usually packed with conventioneers from places like Dubuque and Poughkeepsie; and (b) doesn't open until a month after KJ and I will be home from Neon City. Huzzah!

Incidentally, if anyone ever wanted to record the world's most boring CD, this would be it:

"Michael Bolton Sings Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits, With Special Musical Appearances by John Tesh, Chuck Mangione, Kenny G, Yanni, and Zamfir, Master of the Pan Flute."

Where's K-Tel Records when you need them?

Monday, December 13, 2004

Sweet catch for the G-Men

The Giants signed three-time Gold Glove-winning catcher Mike Matheny to a three-year deal today.

With the signing of Matheny following hard on the acquisitions of superstar reliever Armando Benitez and perennial Gold Glove shortstop Omar Vizquel, no one can say Giants GM Brian Sabean is letting moss grow on his side of the oak tree.

Matheny's not much of an offensive player — he's a lifetime .239 hitter who averages five home runs per season — but he's a terrific defensive catcher who works well with pitchers. That's more than one can say for the Gyros' incumbent backstop, A.J. Pierzynski, a solid batsman but a sloppy fielder. Worse, A.J.'s a self-important slacker with lousy work habits, who immediately alienated most of the pitching staff upon his arrival last year. He and starter Brett Tomko engaged in an infamous dustup when Tomko couldn't pry Pierzynski loose from a card game to study film on opposing hitters. Inside sources say that Tomko was only the most public of several pitchers who became fed up with A.J.'s attitude.

With Matheny on board, Sabean will likely nontender Pierzynski, who is arbitration-eligible this offseason. Good riddance.

This just in: Great minds think alike

Senator John McCain, a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has no confidence in Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Hey, John: Me too.

What took you so long?

And am I alone in wondering why everyone is vacating the Bush Cabinet for Round Two (that by itself means nothing — most two-term administrations experience a high volume in Cabinet turnover between terms) except the one guy who ought to be told not to let the White House door hit him in the posterior on the way out? While the Prez is busy accepting resignations from his executive staff, why doesn't he ask for one from the person almost everyone else would like to see gone — the person whose ineptitude has endangered our men- and women-at-arms for the past two years?

Seems to me it's a mite foolish to replace the entire crew of a sinking ship except for the guy who drilled the hole in the bottom of the boat.

At least he's not going Scott free

As one of the jurors who sentenced Scott Peterson to death said, there are no winners in a case like this.

This morning, when I heard on the news that the jurors had asked to view the photos of Laci and Connor's remains, I knew what the verdict in the penalty phase would be. I can't imagine how difficult it would be, even in the face of such gruesome, graphic images, to order that someone be put to death. But after six months of trial, I'm sure each of the twelve people given that responsibility discharged it to the best of their ability. I wouldn't be surprised if they endure a sleepless night or two over the next weeks. Maybe months.

But now, it's over. Move along, America. Nothing more to see here.

UW — where the W stands for Willingham

Good on ya, University of Washington, for signing Ty Willingham to a five-year contract to coach your football team. Ty, recently given the bum's rush at Notre Dame, is one of the true good guys in sports, and an outstanding coach to boot.

U-Dub now employs two of my favorite coaches in all of collegiate athletics, the other being Lorenzo Romar, once the head hoops honcho at my old school, Pepperdine University. (By the way, Pep just ended a seven-game winning streak on Saturday, losing to UCLA by a mere two points. Roll Waves!)

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Good Guy of the Week Award: Dusty Baker

I've always said Dusty Baker is a class act, and here's proof.

No one was a bigger pain in Dusty's backside in all the years Dusty managed the San Francisco Giants than Barry Bonds was. Barry was the guy who wouldn't stretch with his teammates, ducked out on team photos, commanded four locker spaces to everybody else's one, and compelled Dusty to answer a never-ending stream of questions from media types about why Barry could flout team rules and discipline when no one else could.

Given the heat that's coming Bonds's way now due to the BALCO steroid scandal, it would be perfectly understandable if Dusty, now managing the Chicago Cubs, decided to fling a pint or two of gasoline on the flames licking up at Barry's backside.

But not Dusty.

Say what you want about the man's managerial skills — and I believe he's one of the best in the game, particularly in getting difficult players to excel for him — but you've got to admit, he's a good egg.

Unlike Jeff Kent, the Dodgers' new second baseman. If you look up "jerk" in the baseball lexicon, you'll find Kent's picture there.

Bernie don't disco...or do homeland security

You would think, after the much-publicized (over-publicized, in my humble opinion) Nannygate problems that scuttled previous Cabinet nominations for Zoe Baird and Linda Chavez, people being considered for these top-level government jobs would have their act together regarding the domestic workers they've hired, before getting into the kind of dilemma that Bernard Kerik, the President's erstwhile nominee for Homeland Security secretary, now finds himself in.

Personally, I think these situations are little more than an opportunity for gleeful, self-righteous finger-pointing, regardless of whether the fingers being pointed are Democratic or Republican. If you slapped down every employer in America who has ever hired an undocumented foreign worker, the agricultural, garment manufacturing, and hospitality industries — among others — would crumble like cellophane overnight. And if you really wanted to get nitpicky about whose governesses, gardeners, and cabana boys are in the country on the down low and taking cash under the table to keep it that way, there would be a plethora of rich folks of all political persuasions in Beverly Hills, Scarsdale, and Kennebunkport suddenly doing their own laundry, washing their own cars, and pruning their own azaleas.

I'm not saying it's okay to hire illegals, or to fail to pay the appropriate taxes for one's domestic help. I'm just saying it's naive to think millions of households and businesspeople aren't doing it. And I think it's a little silly that someone, regardless of political affiliation, can't get a government job because they gave work to someone who wanted and most likely really needed it.

On the other hand, if Kerik were in charge of homeland security, part of his job would include overseeing immigration enforcement. I guess that's what we call a conflict of interest.

Mad magazine, many years ago, published an article designed to explain political terminology to children, in words they could understand. This was the definition of conflict of interest: "When you get appointed hall monitor to keep people from stealing stuff out of lockers, and you're the main one who's stealing stuff out of lockers."

See, Bernie? You should have spent less time studying for police exams, and more time reading Mad magazine.

Friday, December 10, 2004

"I don't feel good!"

Best wishes to the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, who will undergo surgery for prostate cancer next week.

That "OW!" you just heard from Butane James was the result of insufficient anesthesia.

I was fortunate enough to see Mr. Please Please Please live on stage when I was in college. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business was in his early 50s then, and already had dropped his trademark splits from his act. Soul Brother Number One still exuded more performance energy than any dozen rock stars half his age, and there's no denying the Original Disco Man's charisma and vocal power even when you can't quite make out all of the words to his songs.

Here's hoping Flamin' James makes a complete recovery. Let a man come in and do the Popcorn and the Mashed Potatoes one more time.

Soap flakes and snake oil

Jay Van Andel, co-founder of, the world's largest pyramid scheme-slash-materialistic quasi-cult masquerading as a legitimate business enterprise, has died at age 80. There is apparently no truth to the rumor that all Double Diamond Distributors now move up one notch in the food chain.

More than 20 years ago, when KJ and I were dating, a mutual acquaintance tried to recruit me into Amway. Because this person was nominally a friend of ours, he allowed me to peruse some of the company's training materials — the stuff people outside the Amway cabal are never supposed to see. I could scarcely believe that an organization based almost entirely upon getting people to deceive and manipulate their friends, associates, and family members (i.e., "Never tell a prospect you're recruiting him for Amway until he's sold on the concept"; "If asked, 'Is this Amway?' respond with a question, such as, 'Why? What have you heard about Amway?'") could exist, much less succeed, without getting taken down by every bunco squad in American law enforcement.

Then, during our first year of marriage, I was an assistant manager in a retail store when I was approached by a customer — a business traveler from Oregon — who wanted to talk with me about a "unique business opportunity." I knew right away, just from the furtive way the man described his "opportunity," that he was an Amway distributor. But I figured that what was sauce for the goose was sauce for the gander, so I didn't let on that I knew. That evening, I went home and told KJ, "I met a guy today who wants me to sell Amway."

This fellow flew down from Portland to central California just for the purpose of taking KJ and me out to dinner so he could pitch his proposal to us. I accepted the invitation — at the time, we were subsisting on five-boxes-for-a-buck supermarket-generic macaroni and cheese, so I wasn't about to turn down a free meal that included actual meat. He met us at a swank local restaurant (hey, when you're flat broke, Stuart Anderson's Black Angus is pretty darned swank) and plied us with prime rib to get us in an agreeable mood.

For about an hour, KJ and I sat with our eyeballs glazing over like Krispy Kreme doughnuts as the snake oil salesman rattled off his vague, no-specifics spiel about limitless earning potential and financial independence. When, as Popeye would put it, I'd had all I can stands and I can't stands no more, I leaned across the table, looked the man in the eye, and asked him, "So...when do we get to the part about Amway?"

He sat back in his chair as though I'd slapped him. "When did you know?" he asked.

"The first day I met you," I replied.

"Are you interested, then?"

"Mr. [name deleted to protect the guilty], you couldn't rope me into Amway if we were homeless and Amway was the last business on Earth."

Our mysterious benefactor then got huffy because I'd accepted his invitation to dinner and allowed him to make a lengthy and expensive trip just to speak with us, knowing all along that I had no intention of accepting his proposal. "Blame yourself for that," I told him bluntly. "Had you been forthright enough on the day we met to say, 'I'd like to talk with you about Amway,' I'd have told you then and there that I wasn't interested. But because you decided to play this deal like a CIA covert op and not admit what you were up to, you just cost yourself a round-trip plane ticket and dinner for three."

He was still peeved, but he also knew that a snot-nosed kid had just outscammed the scammer. We wrapped up quickly, like a couple having just realized they're on the blind date from hell, and parted company in the parking lot. I never heard from the guy again.

According to Forbes magazine, Jay Van Andel was the 231st richest person in the world, with a net worth of $2.3 billion. Now you understand the tactics by which he and his partner Rich DeVos gained such enormous wealth. And to think, your mom always taught you that honesty was the best policy.

If they buried the late Mr. Van Andel in a pyramid like the pharaohs of Egypt, nothing would be more fitting.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Ten who should get paid

Now that you've had time to contemplate the Hollywood Reporter's list of the ten highest-paid actresses in film, let us now praise a like number of female thespians who aren't upper echelon superstars, but who, judged strictly on talent, ought to be.

In narrowing this list to ten, I eliminated a number of actresses who, while I still believe they are criminally underappreciated by the filmgoing public and the studios who pander to them, have at least gained recognition in the form of Academy Awards or multiple nominations for same. That set aside such deserving practitioners of the thespian craft as Frances McDormand, Jennifer Connelly, Diane Lane, and Joan Allen. Each of these actresses gets plenty of play in the annual Oscar voting, but doesn't have the marquee power of the ten on the Hollywood Reporter list. This despite the fact that McDormand and Allen may be two of the most accomplished film actors of the past half-century, and that Lane and Connelly — especially Connelly — combine conventional beauty and superlative acting talent to a degree rivaled by few others in cinematic history.

I also decided to omit a few names who have done, or are doing, their best work on television. This group included Lauren Graham, who is nothing short of marvelous every week on Gilmore Girls; Allison Janney, the real star of The West Wing; Mary McCormack, Janney's newest costar; Kathryn Morris, whose show Cold Case I don't care for much, but who is an arresting and compelling actor with star quality; and Law & Order: Criminal Intent's Kathryn Erbe, who, as I've written previously, may be the most underrated actor of either gender on TV today.

A third group I kept off this list, but who ought to be on a list somewhere, are actresses should have become bigger stars, but whose opportunity for appropriate recognition is probably now past. Such ought not to be the case, but I don't make — nor do I agree with — the "rules" of Hollywood's age-exclusive POV. From what little I've seen of these women recently, they're still capable of many years of stellar work, but that work will likely come in smaller roles as mothers and grandmothers, as is the youth culture's wont. Among those I checked off reluctantly in this category were Karen Allen, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Annette O'Toole, Judy Davis, and Debra Winger. (By the way, if you've not seen the documentary Searching for Debra Winger, which deals insightfully with the age issue for women in Hollywood, you should.)

That leaves us with the following worthies, each of whom should be a far more major star than she is, and certainly than many of the lesser but better-known talents at the top of the food chain are. I didn't attempt to rank these; they're in alphabetical order by last name.

1. Viola Davis. One of the finest American character actresses working today. She's done a series of recent guest shots on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, for which I'm delighted that she's getting paid. But I'd rather see her doing rich, powerful yet subtle film roles like those she assayed in Out of Sight, Antwone Fisher, and Steven Soderbergh's remake of Solaris.

2. Zooey Deschanel. She's probably too young to brand as "overlooked," but she has the kind of unique talent that will likely fly under the radar her entire career. Her amazing turn in All the Real Girls revealed the depth of her range.

3. Linda Fiorentino. I'm told that she often isn't considered for major roles because she's regarded as "difficult." Perhaps she is, but her scheming antiheroine in The Last Seduction is one of the 10 best female roles of the past decade, and Fiorentino slams it out of the ballpark like Barry Bonds on BALCO. She's also been terrific in such little-seen pictures as Gotcha! and Liberty Stands Still.

4. Catherine Keener. She seems incapable of a bad performance, even though she's been stuck in quite a few lackluster, if high profile, films (S1m0ne, Death to Smoochy, Full Frontal). But make it a point to see her in something really good (Lovely and Amazing, Being John Malkovich) and you'll see something truly special.

5. Natascha McElhone. Easily the most memorable thing about a great film (Ronin) and several less-than-great ones (The Truman Show, FearDotCom, Solaris). A combination of solid acting ability with a singular look and voice.

6. Emily Mortimer. She plays a scene in Lovely and Amazing that may be the toughest thing I've ever seen an actress do on screen: stand exposed to the camera as another actor criticizes all of the things about her body that are imperfect. And she plays it beautifully.

7. Samantha Morton. Okay, she's been nominated for Oscars twice (for Sweet and Lowdown and In America) and could easily have been nominated a third time (for Minority Report), but mention her name to most people and they'll say, "Samantha who?" She can disappear into a role like no other actress of her generation.

8. Molly Parker. Like Chloë Sevigny in The Brown Bunny, Parker will probably always be thought of — and in many quarters, scorned for — taking a role (in Wayne Wang's The Center of the World) that required her to commit acts on camera most mainstream actresses would refuse. But it's that daring spirit that makes her such an intriguing presence to watch.

9. Imelda Staunton. Like Viola Davis, Staunton can take the tiniest of roles and transform it into a showpiece without stealing any thunder from the other actors around her. Her starring turn in Vera Drake may finally earn her some recognition on this side of the Atlantic.

10. Lili Taylor. I know at least one SSTOL reader was waiting for this name to come up — the downside of a last name near the end of the alphabet. Taylor's gift is also her curse: she's so skilled at creating and embodying a character that it's easy not to recognize her as she moves from role to role. I still like her best as Jojo in Mystic Pizza (and I wish her Mystic costar Annabeth Gish were getting more quality roles, too), though she's done tons of outstanding work since then, in films as varied as Ransom, Pecker, and High Fidelity.

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What's Up With That? #10: I'll take Law & Order characters for $1000, please, Alex

Law & Order executive producer Dick Wolf must have a superfine babe named Alexandra in his past.

NBC announced this week that Annie Parisse, who next month replaces Elisabeth Röhm's Serena Southerlyn as the show's junior assistant district attorney, will be playing a character named Alexandra Borgia.

For those of you not keeping score, Parisse's role will be the third female character named Alexandra in the L&O franchise. Stephanie March, also known as the girlfriend of Iron Chef Bobby Flay, played an ADA named Alexandra Cabot on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit for several seasons before departing the show last year. On Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Kathryn Erbe plays a police detective named Alexandra Eames.

Now we have Alexandra Borgia.

For the love of mercy, someone please buy Dick Wolf a book of baby names for Christmas. Preferably, one with the "A" chapter discreetly excised.


Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Ten who get paid

The Hollywood Reporter just released its annual list of the most highly paid actresses in motion pictures. Let's dish, shall we?

10. Jennifer Lopez ($12 Million per film): I'm not among the J-Lo haters. I think she has a pleasant screen presence, and does just fine in roles that don't demand too much from her. I'm just not the audience for the chick-flicky stuff for which she's best suited (i.e., Maid in Manhattan, The Wedding Planner).

9. Renee Zellweger
($12 Million): As much as I loved Chicago (and I did, as you can read in my review here), she was the weakest link in it. I've never seen her in anything that really made me say, "Wow." I'll be interested to see her as Janis Joplin when Piece of My Heart comes out next year.

8. Angelina Jolie ($12-15 Million): Enjoy her on screen — I even liked the universally panned Tomb Raider pictures — but don't think I'd want to spend an evening at dinner with her. There's something very weird going on inside that woman.

7. Sandra Bullock ($12-15 Million): She's delightful, maybe even underrated as an actress, but when was the last time she was in a good movie? I would love to see her star in a big-screen adaptation of Wonder Woman.

6. Halle Berry ($14 Million): Stunningly gorgeous and supremely talented — yes, she deserved the Oscar for Monster's Ball, you small-minded nay-sayers, and if you've never seen her in Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, you've missed another stellar performance — but needs to (a) get over herself, and (b) fire her agent. Yesterday. Catwoman? Gothika? Now a remake of Foxy Brown? Egad.

5. Drew Barrymore ($15 Million): See Angelina Jolie — I like watching her, but wouldn't care to be around her. See also Sandra Bullock — when was she last in a really good movie? And don't you dare say Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, or I'll throttle you.

4. Reese Witherspoon ($15 Million): I find her chirpy and annoying, but I have to admit she's a darned fine actress within her sphere. The pointy chin bothers me, though.

3. Nicole Kidman ($15 Million): I know it's fashionable now to rip on the former Mrs. Cruise, but I admire her acting quite a bit. She's not afraid to take chances onscreen, which is one of the marks of a great actor. I do, however, want to take Nicole to Quizno's for a big sloppy sandwich everytime I see her lately. And I'm secretly grateful that she was injured 12 days into the filming of Panic Room, because I thought Jodie Foster was incredible in it as her last-minute replacement.

2. Cameron Diaz ($20 Million): Ugh. Just...ugh.

1. Julia Roberts ($20 Million): See Cameron Diaz.

"Hello, Mr. Braithwaite. Have some tea."

It only comes out at Yuletide, but at our house, it's one of the most eagerly anticipated arrivals of the season.

Along about this time every year, the fine folks at Celestial Seasonings roll out a fragrant concoction they call Nutcracker Sweet Holiday Tea. It's a rich black tea, redolent with vanilla and cinnamon. The aroma alone makes sugarplums dance in one's head. It's KJ's favorite, and even I, a dedicated Earl Grey man, have become rather partial to it. Sharing a steaming pot with someone special elicits all manner of holiday cheer, even from an anti-holiday curmudgeon such as myself.

And it makes a terrific stocking stuffer.

If you like tea, or Christmas, or both, grab a box of this stuff and brew yourself a dose. You'll be ready to carve the goose at Bob Cratchit's in no time flat.

Speaking of tea, I need to get my periodic fix of Enter the Dragon sometime soon, lest I forget all the marvelously bad dialogue I've memorized.

We'll leave the menorah on for you

Happy Hanukkah (or Chanukah, if you prefer that transliteration) to Max, Bruce, JK, Shari, and all my other friends and associates of the Hebrew persuasion. May your Festival of Lights bring joy to you and yours. Save a latke for me.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Yakkity yak, Tony talks back

Tony Danza has a talk show now.

I can't comment on the quality of the program, because I haven't seen it, but I'm curious: Who thought this was a good idea? I've seen Danza interviewed on various entertainment magazine shows in the many years since he first came to prominence on Taxi, and he's never struck me as a scintillating conversationalist. Perhaps he is, but I can easily name a few dozen other minor celebrities who impress me as being more the type I'd want to spend an hour with than the guy from Who's the Boss?

I bring this up because I'm always curious about how programming decisions like this are made. At some point, some executive with access to some syndicator's pursestrings said, "I think we should do a talk show with Tony Danza." That executive then had to convince some number of his or her management peers that a talk show with Tony Danza is exactly what the American televiewing public has been clamoring for. A marketing department then had to canvass the corporate community and persuade other executives with money to toss around that they should toss some of that money into a talk show with Tony Danza. Additional marketing types had to blanket the country's TV stations and find enough of them willing to carry a talk show with Tony Danza to make the project feasible.

The common factor in all this should by now be obvious. We're talking here about a talk show with Tony Danza. The least funny character on both of the shows that made him a household name.

And this many influential people thought this was a fantastic idea? It boggles the mind.

Remember back in the early to middle '90s, when everybody and his brother, his sister, and their maiden aunt had a talk show on television? One of the Cosby Kids had a talk show. One of the airheads from Beverly Hills, 90210 had a talk show. A fourth-rate game show sidekick had a talk show. An insufferably lame female stand-up comic had a talk show. Trash journalists had talk shows. Cheesy unknown actors had talk shows. Carnie Wilson and Ricki Lake had duelling "cute fat girl" talk shows. The annoying Australian guy from the Campbell's Soup commercials had a talk show. Anyone with a peculiar first name, like Rolonda or Leeza or Bertice, had a talk show. People who could not possibly have been of even the remotest interest to anyone outside their own immediate families had talk shows.

Most of the above died quick, merciful deaths. (The shows. Not the hosts. Although in some cases, that seems like justice poorly served.)

And now, ten years after the boom, Tony Danza has a talk show.


In related news, David Letterman's production company settled on Craig Ferguson, the Scottish actor who played Drew Carey's pompous boss on Carey's old sitcom, to replace Craig Kilborn as host of The Late Late Show. I was pulling for DL Hughley, whom I thought was the funniest and most potentially interesting of the people under consideration, but I'm sure Ferguson will be fine. It sort of keeps the whole Craig continuity in place. Hey, if Craig Kilborn -- a man with absolutely no discernable talent and no apparent charm whatsoever -- could hold down that seat for five years, anyone could.

Monday, December 06, 2004

"Beef jerky time!"

Early this morning, during my caffeine-loading hour, random channel-flipping landed me on one of the HBO iterations (and to think, there was a time when there was but one HBO channel, and we were happy) where the movie Trading Places was unspooling. I stopped to check it out over the remainder of my first megacup o' joe, and enjoyed a number of hearty chuckles, even though I've seen the movie literally dozens of times.

You've no doubt seen the picture, as it's been a TV staple for nearly 20 years (it was released in 1983). Eddie Murphy is a street hustler and con artist named Billy Ray Valentine, whom we first meet while he's masquerading as a legless Vietnam-vet panhandler. Dan Aykroyd is a commodities broker name Louis Winthrope III, who lives in a mansion overseen by his faithful butler Coleman (Denholm Elliott) and works for a pair of super-rich brothers by the name of Duke (Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche). Unbeknownst to Valentine and Winthorpe, the Dukes have made a bet between themselves about what will happen to the con artist and the preppy broker if forced to switch lives. The plot revolves around the results of that wager, and how, once the Dukes' plot is revealed, Valentine and Winthorpe conspire together to get revenge. As Valentine puts it, "You know, it occurs to me that the best way to hurt rich people is by turning them into poor people."

For me, Trading Places falls into that category of films that define the cinematic equivalent of comfort food. It's not the highest quality fare, and it's probably not all that good for you, but it sure feels warm and cozy going down. Whenever I stumble across it on my rambles along the cable menu, it's always good for momentary entertainment value if nothing else is on. I never quite tire of its inexhaustible wealth of immortal scenes:

1. Frank Oz, better known to millions as the voice of Miss Piggy, as a venal police officer inventorying Winthorpe's personal effects at the station house, finds a pair of theater tickets.

"Two tickets to...'La BO-heem,'" he says.

"La Boheme," Winthorpe corrects him. "It's an opera."

Oz, to his police crony, in the snootiest manner imaginable: "It's an OP-ER-AH."

2. Winthorpe, describing the horrors of jail to his socialite fiancee who has come to bail him out: "Those men wanted to have SEX with me!"

3. Winthorpe, desperate for cash, attempts to hock his seven-thousand-dollar Swiss watch at a pawn shop owned by blues legend Bo Diddley. Diddley offers fifty dollars for the watch, causing Winthorpe to launch into a feature-laden sales pitch, culminating in a list of cities for which the watch will display the current time: "Monte Carlo, Beverly Hills, London, Paris, Rome, and Gstaad."

Diddley, unimpressed, intones, "In Philadelphia, it's worth fifty bucks."

4. Having hit rock bottom, a drunken Winthorpe dresses up in a Santa suit and smuggles a whole filet of smoked salmon out of the Dukes' office Christmas party, then eats the beard-and-fuzz-encrusted fish on a bus while his fellow passengers' stomachs turn handsprings.

5. Winthorpe, Valentine, Coleman, and Winthorpe's newfound lady love, a prostitute named Ophelia (the always watchable Jamie Lee Curtis), infiltrate a New Year's Eve costume party on an Amtrak train in the most outlandish get-ups imaginable: Valentine becomes an exchange student from Cameroon with a passion for beef jerky, Coleman a tipsy Irish priest, Ophelia the reincarnation of Heidi — albeit with a faux Swedish accent that clashes with her lederhosen — and Winthrope, with brown shoe polish smeared on his face a la Gene Wilder in Silver Streak, is a jovial Rastafarian. Hilarity ensues.

None of this, nor any of the other dozen or so equally humorous bits sprinkled throughout the film, sounds especially funny as I write about it. But Murphy, Aykroyd, and the rest of the cast have a great time with the thin material, and the byplay among the characters is splendid. Plus any flick in which four guys stand at a bar and sing pretty creditable a cappella glee club harmony is aces in my book.

Trading Places isn't Shakespeare, or even La Boheme. But I'll probably pause to watch it again the next time I find it on the tube.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Bonds unclear on the concept; may get creamed

Barry Bonds, it seems, failed to learn the first lesson of public misconduct: 'Fess up first.

If the travails of Pete Rose and Bill Clinton illustrate anything, it's the fact that the American public dotes on shamefaced acknowledgment of wrongdoing. It's not that we're an especially forgiving lot — we aren't — but rather that we love to see people grovel, and to extend them our high-minded pity when they do.

Had Pete Rose come forward years ago and said, "Yeah, I bet on the Cincinnati Reds while I was managing them; it was wrong and I'm sorry, but I was weak and stupid and overwhelmed by lust for the almighty dollar and the adrenaline rush," his ugly, chili-bowl-coiffed pan would be leering at Hall of Fame visitors from a plaque in Cooperstown this very day. Had Bill Clinton never said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," but instead confessed, "Yeah, I did her; it was wrong and I'm sorry, but I was weak and stupid and overwhelmed by cigar fumes and a taste for strange," he'd have escaped impeachment, and might even now still be sleeping in the White House, albeit on the opposite side of the Presidential bed.

Bonds, having missed the point of these precedents, is choosing to take the route of, "Yeah, I guess I took steroids, but I didn't know what they were." This tactic makes him look disingenuous at best, and at worst like the most gullible sap this side of the O.J. jury.

Seriously, Barry, you're a superstar athlete whose body is his multimillion-dollar livelihood. Do you really expect us to believe that you let some clown pump that glorious body full of illicit pharmaceuticals — the so-called "clear" and "cream," and you never once asked, "Hey, Greg, what is this stuff? It's not steroids, is it?"

Barry, I love you, man, but give a brother some credit.

What you should be saying is this: "Yeah, I used steroids and I knew full well what I was doing; it was wrong and I'm sorry, but I was weak and stupid and overwhelmed by visions of Josh Gibson and Sadaharu Oh dancing in my head." If you know what's good for you, you'll do exactly that, and sooner rather than later.

On the bigger question of Bonds's legacy, regardless of what he says or doesn't say from here forward, I agree with the perspective of a former sports editor for the San Jose Mercury News, whom I heard interviewed on KCBS radio yesterday. Drug use has always been a part of the baseball subculture. Babe Ruth, Grover Cleveland Alexander, and Mickey Mantle, among others, excelled at their positions despite being sloppy, fall-down drunks. The Oakland Athletics of the 1970s, winners of three consecutive world championships, are alleged by many (including the aforementioned former Merc editor) to have accomplished their historic feats under the considerable influence of "greenies" and other chemical enhancements. Mark McGwire, who held the single-season home run record before Bonds broke it, admitted having done so while taking steroid-related muscle-building supplements. The legacies of all of the above remain none the worse for wear, and Bonds will in all likelihood follow in their cleatprints, irrespective of any admissions of guilt.

Here's an even better example. Californians not too long ago elected a governor who admits that he competed illegally as a bodybuilder via the use of anabolic steroids, after having denied such use for decades. Are we going to hold a baseball player, even as prominent a player as Barry Bonds, to a higher standard than we hold the head of our state government?

Perish the thought.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Shameless plug: Las Vegas Advisor

If you travel to Las Vegas — or think you might someday, in hope that you'll either break the bank at the Monte Carlo or maybe just get spotted by your friends in an exterior crowd scene on CSI — you should subscribe to the Las Vegas Advisor, Anthony Curtis's monthly publication delivering the latest and greatest news, travel tips, and gambling advice (my advice: don't) from the Neon Metropolis. LVA is available in print format, or you can subscribe to the online version, which I prefer. The information in LVA is always up-to-the-minute current, and often available nowhere else. LVA also offers scads of discount coupons and special deals for subscribers only.

(And no, before you ask, I'm not in any way affiliated with LVA, other than as a subscriber. So if you decide to sign up, I don't get a commission. You can rectify this injustice, however, by sending me money via PayPal, care of SSTOL.)

LVA has a weekly e-newsletter called Advisor Lite that you can sign up for at their site. Usually it drops on Fridays, packed with short blurbs about current Vegas goings-on. Especially valuable to those of us on budgets, Advisor Lite is a terrific source for updated price info. They'll often alert you that tickets to a certain show or the lunch prices at a given buffet have gone up long before the casino gets around to updating their own Web site.

All of this to lead into a funny item in today's Advisor Lite. The Westward Ho, the casino next door to Circus Circus on the north Strip, is debuting a new casino annex on Industrial Road. The Advisor's headline on this story:

"New Ho Opens."

Well, I thought it was funny.

Incidentally, friends often ask KJ and me why we enjoy Vegas so much when we neither gamble nor drink, which are two of the main activities people go to Vegas to indulge. It's atmosphere, really. We love to see the sights — I'm a big fan of bright lights and outlandish, kitschy architecture, with which Vegas is rife — and to people-watch, and we enjoy the shows (especially the comedy clubs) and the gaudy shops in the big hotels. We always have to pay our own way, because only gamblers — and fairly spendthrifty gamblers at that — get comped, but we've found that we can have more fun on an "extended date" in Vegas, and for relatively less money, than almost anywhere we've traveled.

Guess where we're going for our 20th anniversary, coming soon?

Cabinet hemorrhage continues; film at eleven

Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson stunned America today when he became the eighth member of the Bush 43 cabinet not to re-up for W, The Sequel.

Stunned, because the overwhelming majority of Americans had no idea we even had such a thing as a Health and Human Services Secretary. Or that his name is Tommy Thompson. Or that two parents named Thompson could be so linguistically challenged that the only name they could think of to give their son was "Tommy."

And what are "Human Services," anyway? Are not all the services the federal government provides for the benefit of humans? Or are there services our government is rendering to non-humans? Is there some top-secret department of Alien Services hidden away in the bowels of Washington, where men in black suits, skinny ties, and Wayfarers toil away to make our nation safe for interstellar visitors? Or was I just imagining that, before some little flashy thing robbed me of my short-term memory?

Runaway childbirth

Congratulations to Julia Roberts, who gave birth to twins earlier this week. Heaven knows I'm no fan of Ms. Roberts, but any woman who successfully toughs out a dual birth gets major props from me. You go, mommy!

Julia named the new additions Hazel and Phinnaeus. Hmmm...with millions of options to choose from, she named her kids after a maid in a comic strip, and a guy who owned a circus. Whatever trips your trigger, Erin Brockovich.

Someday, someone will explain the Julia Roberts phenomenon to me in terms I can comprehend. Why is this woman so popular? She's not an especially gifted actress — in fact, I'd go so far as to say she's not really much of an actress at all. Her brother Eric is a far superior thespian, but doesn't get nearly the accolades.

And while I'll allow that beauty is subjective — "eye of the beholder" and all that — I don't think she's beautiful, either. She has lopsided features, as though she stepped out of a Picasso cubist fantasy. With that Brobdingnagian, Jack O'Lantern mouth, she could swallow a banana sideways — when she grins, I fear that the corners of her smile will meet at the nape of her neck, at which point the top of her head will simply fall off. Plus, from the neck down, she's gangly and awkward-looking.

Pretty Woman? More like Pretty Homely Woman, in my humble estimation. (Not that I'm any George, Brad, or Denzel myself. I'm just saying, is all.)

But clearly, despite my perceptions, Julia Roberts appeals to a multitude of people of both genders. Women want to be her and men want to be with her. Me, I don't see the attraction.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

What's Up With That? #9: Angelina's Secret

This just in from World Entertainment News Network:
Angelina Jolie has become the latest star to suffer a "wardrobe malfunction" — she was mortified when she discovered her bra was on show to a crowd of photographers. The actress wore a black coat down the red carpet at a preview screening of her latest film Alexander in New York, but when she took it off inside the cinema, her top revealed flashes of her lingerie. A source told British magazine OK! that Jolie was so upset, she sent her publicists to make the photographers erase the offending photos. Then she adjusted her top and posed again.
Why the sudden burst of modesty, Ange? You've appeared what my grandmother used to call "butt-nekkid" in any number of films seen by millions of ticket buyers and DVD owners/renters, and you're panicked because a couple of paparazzi snapped photos of your brassiere?

At least you were wearing one, honey-chile. If you were Jennifer Aniston or Kirsten Dunst — whom I don't believe own a single bra between them — maybe you'd have cause for concern.


Birthday greetings to a comics legend

Happy 80th birthday to one of cartooning's greatest artists: Jack Davis. Although best known today for his hyperkinetic drawings in Mad magazine, on the cover of such publications as TV Guide, and hundreds of commercial advertisements, Davis first came to prominence as one of the key artists at EC Comics, the firm whose horror stories almost led to the death of the comic book industry.

Davis, in fact, drew perhaps the most notorious tale in EC's history. "Foul Play," like many of the stories that appeared in such EC titles as Tales from the Crypt, Haunt of Fear, and Vault of Horror, was a revenge tale, this time centered around the game of baseball. In a series of panels that Dr. Fredric Wertham highlighted in his anti-comics screed Seduction of the Innocent, and that Senator Estes Kefauver would put on trial as examples of the imagery comics were using to pervert the minds of American youth, Davis depicted the zombified victims of a villainous ballplayer dissecting him and using his body parts as baseball equipment: His limbs became bats; his intestines, baselines; his heart, home plate; his head, the ball.

Gruesome stuff, to be sure, and probably in that instance edging beyond the boundaries of good taste, at least for the 1950s. But ironically, the same Jack Davis who so vividly portrayed such frightful sights later became universally renowned as a humor cartoonist. He received the Rueben Award as Cartoonist of the Year in 2000.

There's a great bio of Jack Davis at Bud Plant's Comic Art site, if you'd like more insight into the career of this enormously talented artist.

Best wishes, Mr. Davis.

He was a quiet man, good neighbor, kept to himself, killed his wife and son

The Scott Peterson trial has officially entered its "Hitler painted posters and loved dogs" phase, wherein everyone who ever brushed up against Scott without his cutting his or her head off will be called to the witness stand by the defense to tell the court what a decent guy Scott is.

For example, the old high school buddy who recalled Scott as "truly sincere, very, very gracious, and very, very thoughtful." (Yes, and now we know exactly what he was thinking.)

Or the story Scott's dad told about the time his son rescued a baby rabbit that had fallen into the family's swimming pool, and carefully nursed the little lagomorph back to health over a period of several days. (The PETA folks would be proud. Kill the wife and child; save the bunny. I get the unshakeable image of Nicolas Cage in Con Air, intoning, "Put...the the box.")

Or the report by Scott's sister that her 14-year-old daughter corresponds frequently with Scott in jail, and that he writes back to offer his niece advice about her problems. ("Dear Jenny: If Teddy won't let you date other boys, have the chainsaw handy." Keep that girl away from sharp objects and fishing boats.)

Look, I'm the next-to-last person to trumpet the death penalty. I believe that irrevocable action should be taken — if indeed it's taken at all, given that I'm not entirely certain our often wobbly justice system can be trusted to exercise such power appropriately — to execute those unrepentant serial murderers who have represented a clear and present danger to the general public, whose crimes are not the least bit in question (as in: witnessed by dozens, or caught on videotape), and who are likely to kill others even while incarcerated. Were I on the Peterson jury, I'd vote against death in Scott's case, because he doesn't appear to meet any of these three criteria.

But let's not forget that this guy has been convicted — by a jury of his peers — of dismembering his pregnant wife, pitching her and their unborn child into San Francisco Bay, and preparing to take a powder to Tijuana with a suicide blond 'do and $10K in cash American. Let's not pretend he's Gandhi.

We don't have to slip him the permanent Mickey. But we ought not nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize, either.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

New on the DVD rack, 12/1/04

Spider-Man 2. Embarrassed as I am to admit it, lifelong Spider-Man fan that I am, I never got around to seeing this in the theater. KJ took KM to see it, and KM raved about it. Still does, in fact. I've heard good things from others, too. I'm looking forward to watching it — I thoroughly enjoyed the first installment, despite its divergences from the established mythos, and Doc Ock was always one of the best villains in Spidey's rogues' gallery. I'll see how alert I feel after Law & Order.

Speaking of Spidey, did I ever show you the wicked cool piece Alex Saviuk hand-colored for me a while back? It occupies the corner of my workstation formerly occupied by the John Romita Sr./Jr. recreation print of the Amazing Fantasy #15 cover that came in the first Spider-Man DVD deluxe box. It is, as you can see, beautimous. (That's not really a word. But you knew that.) Alex was kind enough to enclose a cordial handwritten Thanksgiving greeting — on his own personal Web of Spider-Man stationery — which I plan to have framed alongside the artwork.

Frost on the punkin

It's the kind of first-day-in-December morning in Sonoma County that might cause some locals to opine, "It's as cold as a well-digger's butt."

To which comedian George Wallace replies, "I don't want to know my well-digger that well."