Tuesday, May 31, 2005

"Deep Throat" is my homeboy

The most incredible part of today's revelation by Vanity Fair magazine that former FBI second-in-command Mark Felt was the mysterious Watergate informant "Deep Throat" is that the guy lives in Santa Rosa, the next town up the road.

I suppose this is what's meant by the old adage, "Better Felt than told."

Felt, who's now 91 and apparently in ill health (which he's entitled to be at 91), is one of several people who have been targets of speculation over the past 30 years, ever since the identity of the source who tipped Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to the skullduggery in the Nixon White House came to be masked by the code name taken from the title of a pornographic film. Other notables whose names were floated as possible "Deep Throat" candidates were Pat Buchanan, Alexander Haig, Ben Stein, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, the first President Bush, and Diane Sawyer.

But of all the suburban gin joints in all the towns in all the world, who knew the infamous whistle-blower (no pun intended) was living next door to mine, right here in beautiful Sonoma County wine country? It fairly boggles the mind. (Is there any other part of a person that can be boggled? Hmmm...)

So now we know. I hope that after the initial fuss and furor has faded, people will let the old man live out his remaining days in peace.

Maybe even with the thanks of a grateful nation.

Rubbin' is racin', but I'd rather rub than race

Good on ya, Indianapolis 500 tyro Danica Patrick, for becoming the first female driver (and the first rookie of either gender) to take fourth place in the annual Memorial Day weekend auto race. (I know I'm 48 hours behind on this bit of news, but you'll have to forgive me — I've been overworked and underhealthy the past few days.)

Now, I'll be honest: I couldn't care less about the Indy 500. I'd forgotten they were even contesting it this past Sunday. Auto racing is a spectator event (it isn't a true sport in my estimation, as I've written previously) whose attraction I have never understood. It's cars. Driving in a circle. For hours. Any Bay Area freeway offers a similar thrill every day during normal waking hours, if thrill in this you find. Why hundreds of thousands of people would turn out for such an event baffles me.

But then, I don't drink beer, smoke cigarettes, or crave country music, all of which places me securely outside the target demographic.

One thing that's changed about auto racing from when I was a wee lad is that race drivers always had some of the coolest names in sports: Gordon Johncock. A.J. Foyt. Mario Andretti. Emerson Fittipaldi. Many, especially on the drag racing circuit, had colorful nicknames: "Big Daddy" Don Garlits. Don "The Snake" Prudhomme. Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen. Shirley "Cha-Cha" Muldowney (whose 1983 biopic, Heart Like a Wheel, should be on your must-see list, even if you don't much care for auto racing — Bonnie Bedelia delivers a stellar performance in that film, earning a well-deserved Oscar nomination). And let's not forget the legendary Willy T. Ribbs, who not only had a cool name (which at the very least should have been parlayed into a profitable line of barbecue seasonings), but was also one of the few non-Caucasians ever to make a dent in the game.

Now racing is dominated by Jeff Gordons and Mark Martins and Rusty Wallaces. (Snore.) It's no surprise that a British driver, Dan Wheldon, won at the Brickyard this year. The Brits are accustomed to boring sports, like soccer and cricket. A Danica Patrick may just be what the old boys need to shake things up and put some interest back in the dull business of cars chasing one another's rear bumpers until someone gets killed, or everyone gets weary of public drunkenness and rebel yells and goes home.

Incidentally, the entire concept of drag racing never made sense to me. Who'd pay money to watch men stumble down the track in cocktail dresses and stilettos?

Age: It's all relative

I felt old when I learned that Brooke Shields, the Pretty Baby from The Blue Lagoon, is 40 years old today.

But I felt younger when I discovered that Clint Eastwood, one of my boyhood heroes, is 75 today.

And I wasn't sure how I felt when I did the math and realized that Clint is five years older than my mother, who turns 70 today.

Happy birthday, Mom! (And Clint and Brooke too, though I confess that I didn't get either of them so much as a card.)

Monday, May 30, 2005

This just in: Aliens are coming, and they're planning to tour Vegas

Remember about three years ago when well-known psychic fraud "the Amazing Kreskin" predicted that UFOs were about to invade Las Vegas?

Apparently, Kreskin was just a little off in his schedule.

A self-styled prophet named Ramon Watkins — but who prefers to be addressed as "Prophet Yahweh" (and who wouldn't?) — says that within the next 45 days, a ginormous spacecraft will hover over Sin City for a day and a half. The aliens, says Watkins, have told him so.

Let me make a prediction of my own: Anyone betting on Watkins's veracity is about to lose money.

According to the Prophet's Web site:
Prophet Yahweh has resurrected the lost, ancient art of summoning UFOs and actual spaceships on command. Over 1,500 sightings have appeared to him since 1979.
The site offers to let you peek at videos of these "sightings" for a "broadcast membership fee" of only $7.95 per month.

If you decide to fork over the cash and sign up for this service, please let me know immediately. I have a few bottles of snake oil you might be interested in purchasing.

Friday, May 27, 2005

You go, Supergirl!

Our local high school handed out its annual academic awards this morning. KM earned recognition twice:
  • She made the Principal's List, which honors students with a 3.74 or higher grade point average.
  • She also earned a special certificate for having a cumulative 4.0 GPA for the first two years of high school.
Is her dad proud? Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope...wait, I seem to have that backwards. Never mind.

KM deserves the accolades, even if her father says so himself. She takes her schoolwork seriously (but not obsessively) and works hard to do well. She certainly does much better academically than did her "underachieving genius" dad, who despite having the highest SAT scores (and, according to one faculty member, the highest IQ) in his graduating class, pretty much coasted through high school on native intelligence and charm. (At least, I think that's what it was.)

In KM's honor, here's a Comic Art Friday extra: Supergirl, courtesy of the great Legion of Super-Heroes artist Jeffrey Moy.

KM's favorite shirt is a pink hoodie with Supergirl's "S" logo emblazoned across the chest. She was wearing it today when she picked up her awards. Describes her pretty accurately, I think.

(Sidebar: I've given up trying to figure out the arcane manner by which GPA is computed nowadays. When I was in high school, you couldn't have a GPA over 4.0, because that was the maximum value. Today, KM's class had nine kids with GPAs ranging from 4.29 to 4.35. Must be that "new math" we used to hear about.)

Freedom isn't free

As we head into Memorial Day weekend, Comic Art Friday pauses to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of the rest of us.
I watched the flag pass by one day,
It fluttered in the breeze.
A young Marine saluted it,
And then he stood at ease.

I looked at him in uniform
So young, so tall, so proud;
With hair cut square and eyes alert,
He’d stand out in any crowd.

I wondered how many men like him
Had fallen through the years,
How many died on foreign soil?
How many mothers' tears?
How many pilots' planes shot down?
How many died at sea?
How many foxholes were soldiers’ graves?
No, freedom isn’t free.

I heard the sound of taps one night
When everything was still.
I listened to the bugler play,
And felt a sudden chill.

I wondered just how many times,
Taps had meant "amen."
When a flag had covered a coffin,
Of a brother, or a friend.
I thought of all the children,
Of the mothers and the wives,
Of fathers, sons, and husbands
With interrupted lives.

And I thought about a graveyard,
At the bottom of the sea,
Of unmarked graves in Arlington,
No, freedom isn’t free.

-- Kelly Strong, LCdr, U.S. Coast Guard
The powerful battle scenes above were penciled by comics artists Michael Jason Paz (Wonder Woman) and Geof Isherwood (Captain America).

Have a safe and thoughtful Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Star Wars makes you stupid

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Brad Rutter: Ultimate Champion

Congratulations to Brad Rutter on his crushing victory in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions. "Bad Brad" simply couldn't be stopped, winning all three installments of the final series over fellow legends Ken Jennings and Jerome Vered, who also played with admirable aplomb.

Does this win grant Brad the title of "Best Jeopardy! Player Ever"? Personally, I think such titles are pointless — as I wrote recently on the official Jeopardy! discussion forums, at this level of competition, all of the players are almost equally invincible and vulnerable. It all comes down to three key elements: (1) which player's specific knowledge base is favored by the categories that appear in a particular game; (2) which players locate and successfully solve the three Daily Doubles in each game, on which the player can bet up to his or her entire bankroll; and (3) which player masters the always-tricky signaling device. In this final match, that player was Brad Rutter. Given different material, better Daily Double hunting, and more effective synchronicity with the buzzer, either Ken or Jerome could have emerged as champion.

However, as winner of both this Ultimate Tournament and the Million Dollar Masters event three years ago, if anyone deserves consideration as Jeopardy!'s greatest champion, Brad is The Man. He is certainly the best player I have ever seen play live in the studio, and I've witnessed some of the great ones — Chuck Forrest, Bob Verini, Dave Traini, John Cuthbertson, and Bruce Naegeli — and played against others — Bob Blake, Leslie Frates, Mark Lowenthal, Rachael Schwartz, Grace Veach, and Brian Weikle. And having met Brad during my Round Two taping session in the UTOC, he's a fine ambassador for the game: bright, personable, and a devastating player.

People have been asking me for months who I thought would win the UTOC. Going into the tournament, I had a list of six players I believed would survive to the semifinals and compete for the right to face Ken. Three of my predictions made the semis: Jerome Vered, Brad Rutter, and John Cuthbertson. The fourth was eliminated in the same second round game that marked my exit: Brian Weikle. The other two were eliminated in the first round: Bob Blake and Leszek Pawlowicz. So I batted .500 on my semis picks.

Of those six players, I felt that any two could advance to the finals, given the right combination of the three factors I mentioned earlier. With my feet held to the fire, I'd have probably guessed Brad and Leszek. And I believed either of them had a good chance of beating Ken, who with 74 victories had played more games than any player in J! history, but none against tournament-tested veterans of this caliber. I was actually pleasantly surprised that Ken was as competitive with Brad as he turned out to be. He's every inch the champion his record-shattering run made him appear.

What? you ask. You didn't think you'd go all the way?

In a word, no.

I thought I had a decent chance to catch lightning in a bottle and win my first round game if all the breaks went my way, and they did — I hit two Daily Doubles, bet intelligently, and got the right answers. Had my opponent, Rachael Schwartz, hit either or both of those DDs, she could have mopped the floor with me, the way she was acing me consistently on the buzzer. Going into the second round, I knew that without an extremely favorable contestant draw and board material, I was in for a tough go. I got neither, and my stellar opponents beat me like a redheaded stepchild. (No offense to redheaded stepchildren intended.) I certainly competed as vigorously as I could — I always do — but I couldn't have beaten Grace Veach and Brian Weikle on my best day in my mid-20s (I was 26 when I became a Jeopardy! champion) without a ton of help from the categories. Out of my knowledge element (19th Century American Art? NASCAR? Puh-leeze.) and with the reflexes of a 43-year-old, I didn't stand a ghost of a chance.

That, really, is the fallacy of setting up the UTOC winner — whether Brad Rutter or any of the other 144 of us who participated — as the "best ever." Many of the legends of Jeopardy!'s 21 seasons are now well past their prime as players. Such greats as Chuck Forrest, Bob Blake, Bob Verini, Dave Traini, Eugene Finerman, Mark Born, Tom Nosek, and many others (and I'd include myself in this bunch) showed the effects of age in this tournament. (I was extremely impressed with those post-40 players from the early seasons of the Trebek era — especially Jerome Vered, John Cuthbertson, and Frank Spangenberg, plus Dan Melia, who came along somewhat later but is around 60 today — who still possessed most, if not all, of the talents that made them stars.) If you could put us all in Mr. Peabody's Wayback Machine and play us against one another at our peak of prowess, the results of the UTOC would have been dramatically different throughout the field. I guarantee that the Chuck Forrest of 1986, the Bob Blake of 1990, and the Verini-Finerman-Traini triumvirate of 1987 would have done serious damage in such a field.

But you can't undo time. It is what it is.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn today that my UTOC winnings ranked 23rd overall in the field of 145. Not too shabby for a guy who got his hat handed to him in the second round. I'm pleased to note that in the 21-year history of the current version of Jeopardy!, only about 60 players have career winnings totaling more than $100,000, and I'm one of them. (Barely -- my overall total is a shade over $103,000. But hey, I won 60% of that between 1988 and 1990, back when $62,000 was real money.) And, in a bizarre but very real distinction, I'm still Jeopardy!'s all-time leading champion of African-American heritage. (Okay, I only half-qualify, but you take these little honors where you find them. I keep hoping that one day the Jeopardy! Powers That Be will stage an Ultimate Tournament of Ethnic Champions — perhaps during National Brotherhood Week — just so I can get another chance to play.)

Can I complain even one iota about any of the above? Not on your sweet life, bucko. I have been blessed beyond belief, and certainly far beyond what I deserve.

So congrats to Brad, and kudos to Ken and Jerome as well. The best man, on that day at least, won.

What's Up With That? #21: Cruising for teenyboppers

Is there some good reason why every actress being considered for the role as Tom Cruise's love interest in Mission: Impossible 3 is practically a stone's throw north of jailbait?

Originally Scarlett Johansson (age 20) was slated to costar opposite America's favorite grinning Scientologist. (Oh, please, don't write me letters — I'm actually a Cruise fan.) When Johansson abandoned the project due to scheduling conflicts, Lindsay Lohan (who won't be 19 until July, but has already been lapping the track with Bruce Willis) was rumored to be in line for the part. Now Tommy Boy's new main squeeze, Katie Holmes (26, but capable of sneaking back into high school like Cameron Crowe did while researching Fast Times at Ridgemont High), is reported to be the front-runner to ace out Lohan, with Elisha Cuthbert (22, and with all the acting talent of a Brillo pad, as any regular viewer of 24 can attest) hot on her heels. (For the record, I'm six and a half months older than Tom Cruise, so I'm on solid ground to talk here.)

Does any filmgoer, of any age, really enjoy watching middle-aged guys making time with girls in their teens and 20s? I mean, any filmgoer other than a middle-aged movie studio executive who would really like to be making time with girls in their teens and 20s himself.

Asked it before, will ask it again: Can we please stop assigning all the good female film roles to the Junior Miss Pageant? Many of us in our 40s still watch a ton of movies, and some of us actually find mature women more attractive (and, generally speaking, more talented, though that's not my issue with either Scarlett Johansson or, to a lesser degree, Katie Holmes) than the kids.

Hook us up, Hollywood.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005


They say one picture is worth a thousand words. It occurs to me that this maxim is true only if you and the picture speak the same language.

Here's an example of what I mean.

I was discussing with a friend of mine the other day an incident in which I was involved back in my college years — an incident catalyzed by a photograph. In the incident, another student and I became involved in a heated exchange because both of us looked at the same photograph and drew markedly different conclusions. I looked at the picture and saw a thousand words. He looked at the picture and saw, at most, a handful of words, none of which could be found among my thousand.

Why the difference?

When I looked at the picture, I saw the subject, because the subject was well known to me. I viewed the photograph through the lens of my experience — hundreds of thoughts, emotions, and memories that connected me with the subject, and that superimposed themselves upon my visual impression. I saw truth and beauty beneath the surface of the image, in the subtext, because I had intimate knowledge my disputant did not possess. I saw life and worth in the background because I had deep personal investment in that environment.

To my antagonist, who had no prior experience with the subject, the picture was just a picture. He could therefore only judge it on a superficial basis by the values he brought to it.

This is the reason, of course, that we say that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder." It's the reason one art collector will pay thousands of dollars for a piece of cardboard or canvas with some ink or paint applied, where another wouldn't dream of spending a dime for the same piece. What speaks to one collector, who finds a visceral connection with the artist's vision or technique, or with the subject matter, may leave unimpressed one with different perspective.

What occasions this seemingly random musing, you ask? It so happens that as I compose this post, I'm looking at a recently created photograph depicting the same subject as the picture that caused such inflamed debate when I was but a lad. As things transpire in this world, much has changed in the subject since the original snapshot was taken more than 25 years ago. And yet, it's remarkable how little the changes affect my perception of — and appreciation for — the subject at hand.

If anything, my growth as a human being (in a quarter of a century, I should think I've grown) enables me to see even more in this picture than I could in the original, even as a lifelong admirer of the Renaissance masters perceives nuance and detail in their work that the uneducated eye cannot hope to find. I understand the subject better now than I did once. That understanding colors and flavors and enhances the time-altered image captured by the uncompromising eye of the camera, like Photoshop for the mind.

As was true of the original picture — whose existence is now lost to time and distant tide — this new photograph speaks to me a thousand words or more. Not surprisingly, in 25 years many of the words have changed. More surprising is the number that have not.

Like a rewritten arrangement of an old familiar standard, some notes are different. But I still recognize the song.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Thurl Ravenscroft (1914-2005): He was grrr-r-r-r-eat!

Mark Evanier is reporting the passing of legendary voice actor and singer Thurl Ravenscroft at the age of 91.

You may not know the name, but you definitely know those melodious basso profundo pipes. Ravenscroft was the familiar voice of Tony the Tiger of Kellogg's Frosted Flakes fame, as well as that of the Ghost Host in Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. He also sang the holiday classic, "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch," in the perennial Yuletide TV favorite How the Grinch Stole Christmas. You can hear Ravenscroft's distinctive tones in more than a dozen Disney animated films, beginning with Dumbo in 1941 through The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in 1977.

A titanic talent, Mr. Ravenscroft will be missed, though his inimitable voice will live on through his work. My friend Paul E. — a veritable font of Thurl Ravenscroft lore — has, sadly, lost a source of numerous relatable anecdotes. I'm sure, though, he'll be telling them all the more in the days ahead, in fond memory of Mr. Ravenscroft.

I've got a little list...

Everybody loves a list.

Now Time Magazine has compiled its list of the 100 greatest films of all time.

Usually these lists make great cannon fodder for what they do not include, because everyone always has a favorite film or three they feel is neglected by the pundits. Time's list, though, leaves me baffled by some of the choices that actually made their cut:
  • Drunken Master II? Hey, I'm all for martial arts films getting some love, but if you had to pick one, you'd choose this instead of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, or Hero, or even Enter the Dragon?

  • The Purple Rose of Cairo? That's not even Woody Allen's best film (Manhattan is, though one could make a credible argument for either Annie Hall or Hannah and Her Sisters). In fact, clever premise aside, it's not even a particularly good Woody Allen film.

  • Finding Nemo? Please. It's not even Pixar's best film (that honor goes to Toy Story 2), though it is a pretty good Pixar film. But if the purpose is to represent animation (the only other such film on the list is Pinocchio), Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away would make stronger choices.

  • David Cronenberg's grotesque, nausea-inducing remake of The Fly? Get serious.

  • Star Wars? Yes, I know it's produced five sequels/prequels — only one of which (The Empire Strikes Back) works even somewhat, but it's still badly written, dreadfully acted, derivative claptrap. You shouldn't give extra credit just for spawning a franchise, or else Francis the Talking Mule should be on the list.

  • Kubrick's Barry Lyndon? Did someone actually stay awake long enough to find out whether that was any good? It's the cinematic equivalent of reading Moby Dick.
At any rate, any "best films" list that doesn't include The Princess Bride and Picnic at Hanging Rock is soulless anyway.

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Armed Forces Day: Hug a serviceman or servicewoman

As I've mentioned numerous times in this space, I grew up in a military family. My father served 20 years in the U.S. Air Force, at duty stations around the world.

Our armed services personnel are called upon to make great sacrifices; sometimes in noble causes, sometimes in stupid causes. One thing to remember, however, is that they never get to choose the cause. Those decisions are made by people whose lives aren't on the line — and, in many cases, never have been — and who make the calls thousands of miles from the heat of the action.

Whether I always agree with the cause — more often than not, I don't — I always agree with this:

The men and women of the United States Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Reserves deserve our respect and appreciation for answering the call and doing their best under challenging circumstances and for meager wages.

On this Armed Forces Day, our prayers are with them. May those in harm's way return home safely and soon.

Stay frosty out there.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Elektra: Before and after

This week's Comic Art Friday we share with our Canadian neighbors to the north. We stand on guard for thee.

Previously on SSTOL, we've looked at the dramatic improvement a talented inker can bring to a piece of unadorned pencil art. In this example, the original artwork was a rough (or "loose") pencil sketch by Bob McLeod that was later finished in ink by the same artist, who just happens to be one of the best inkers in the comics business. It's strikingly clear how much sharper and more detailed McLeod's finished art is than his original rough.

But what about an artist whose pencil drawings are extremely detailed (or "tight"), to the point of being finished art even in their original pristine state? Can an inker bring anything new and worthwhile to this artist's party?

Judge for yourself.

This sharp pencil portrait of Elektra was created by the incredibly talented Brazilian artist who goes by the nom de plume Al Rio. An amazing stylist, Al's pencil work here is finished quality. This drawing is visually satisfying without any additional embellishment; it's a fine piece of comic art just as Al drew it.

Now take a second look.

This is the exact same drawing after undergoing the magical inking touch of one of Comic Art Friday's perennial favorites, Geof Isherwood. Notice that here, unlike the McLeod example, the finished artwork bears almost all of the recognizable hallmarks of the original piece. In fact, at a casual first glance, one might even think that the second picture is merely a darker scan of the same penciled art.

But the closer we examine the two versions, the more we see how — without masking or diluting the essential character of Al's drawing — Geof has lent the piece powerful new life, by:
  • Removing some of the heavy shadows on Elektra's face, brightening her appearance.

  • Adding depth and dimension to the background elements: more textured rocks and more abundant grass.

  • Eliminating the artificial white outline between the character and her background (note her left arm and right leg). As Geof noted when we were discussing his approach before the inking began, this "halo" effect became especially common in pinup-style comic art in the early 1990s. Artists such as Rio often use the halo to make the character stand out more prominently from the background. It's problematic, though, because it robs the drawing of depth, while inserting a distracting visual element that serves only to remind us as viewers that we're looking at a drawing and not at reality. (If you watch many films on DVD, you may have noticed a visual effect called "edge enhancement" that adds a similar halo around objects in the foreground, particularly in more brightly lit scenes. It's every bit as jarring on your TV screen as it is in a comic artwork.)

  • Streamlining the chunky disco-era heels on Elektra's boots into more stylish stilettos.

  • Cleaning up the shadows on Elektra's chest so that we can't tell how chilly it is as she poses for her portrait, and making her bustline more natural and proportional. (Geof made these last alterations at my request.)
The differences between the original Rio pencils and the finished Isherwood inks are subtle. Any devotee of comic art familiar with Al Rio will still immediately recognize the picture as his work. And yet, there's no question that — as brilliant as the original is — the inked version enhances and improves upon that brilliance.

For the benefit of the artists in our reading audience who like getting the nitty-gritty technical nuts and bolts, Geof accomplished the fine feathering on this drawing with a .005 Sigma Micron pen ("You can't beat it for small details," Geof says). Thanks to the archival-quality ink used, this artwork will retain its glory in my collection for years to come.

My sincere thanks to Geof Isherwood for his invaluable contributions to today's Comic Art Friday. Now go outside and play, you crazy kids!

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Fox says, "Let's go crazy"

The Fox Network, whose programming selections veer wildly between outhouse (American Idol, Cops, The Simple Life) and castle (24, the surprisingly fine House), ends Fall Preview Week with a slate of new shows that appear to, well, veer wildly between outhouse and castle.

Here's a sampling of what Rupert Murdoch and company have in store for next season:
  • The Gate: Inside the "deviant crime unit" of the San Francisco Police Department. There's a punch line just waiting to happen — "isn't 'deviant crime in San Francisco' redundant? — but as a longtime Bay Area resident who loves me some Babylon by the Bay, you won't hear it from me.

  • Bones: Forensic anthropologists solve crimes by studying skeletons. Anyone here remember Gideon Oliver?

  • Prison Break: The life and times of a Death Row inmate. Now that sounds fun and exciting. Kind of like Charles in Charge, only the "Charles" isn't Scott Baio — it's Charles Manson.

  • Reunion: This has the potential to be a novel concept — each episode will check in on the lives of six high school friends in a different year of their adult lives. But what do they do if the series gets renewed for another season? Seems as though this would be a difficult premise to sustain for very long. But I said that about 24 too.

  • Head Cases: Chris O'Donnell stars as an attorney with mental health issues. Maybe that's why he signed that contract for Batman and Robin.

  • The War at Home: A kids-against-parents generation-gap sitcom of the kind that's been done to death in a thousand variations (Family Ties, Boy Meets World, Malcolm in the Middle, et al.).

  • Kitchen Confidential: Another sitcom, this one about a former superstar chef reduced to hurling hash in a franchise restaurant because he's a self-destructive alcoholic. (Obviously, someone didn't learn a lesson from Emeril Lagasse's ghastly sitcom of a few seasons back.)
What is it with Fox and crazy / deviant / whacked-out people this season?

Oh, I forgot...Rupert Murdoch. Never mind.

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

CBS: Those aren't initials, they're self-critique

Now it's the Eyeball's turn.

CBS, this TV season's top-rated network, followed its competitors in unleashing a preview of its new programming offerings for this fall. Frankly, we're underwhelmed. Creativity is apparently a dead issue in television studios and boardrooms these days. It's as though they aren't even trying to come up with original ideas anymore.

Launching on the Orb Web later this year will be these morsels of questionable entertainment value, all of which sound depressingly familiar:
  • Ghost Whisperer: Jennifer Love Hewitt is a woman who talks to dead things. (Perhaps at some point during the season she'll have a chat with her film career.) This offering is peculiar for two reasons: (1) NBC already has a show on the air exactly like this (Medium, starring Patricia Arquette); and (2) CBS just canceled another program, Joan of Arcadia, with a remarkably similar premise (yes, that was about a girl who talked to God, not ghosts, but you see my point).

  • Criminal Minds: Tracking down deranged evildoers with the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit. Didn't this used to be called Profiler?

  • Close to Home: A attractive young woman attorney juggles work and family life. Didn't this used to be called Judging Amy?

  • Threshold: Undersea scientists discover aliens living in our oceans. Didn't this used to be called seaQuest DSV, and before that, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea? And didn't NBC already announce a new show called Fathom with a — you're way ahead of me — remarkably similar premise?

  • Out of Practice: Henry Winkler, decades beyond his leather jacket and motorcycle days as The Fonz, stars in this sitcom about a crotchety aging physician. Didn't this used to be called...well, it's been called many things, including The Practice, which starred Danny Thomas as a crotchety aging physician, and Doc, which starred Barnard Hughes as a crotchety aging physician, and Frasier, which starred Kelsey Grammer as a crotchety aging psychiatrist.
All together now: Ho hum.

Like I said, it's as though they aren't even trying.

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

Riddle me dead, Batman

I just heard through the comic art collectors' grapevine that Frank Gorshin has passed away at age 72. He'll always be recalled as the Riddler from the campy Batman TV series of the 1960s (he was nominated for an Emmy for one of his guest appearances), and for his memorable performance in an episode of the original Star Trek ("Let That Be Your Last Battlefield"), in which he played a refugee from a planet destroyed by a never-ending racial conflict.

Gorshin was best known within the entertainment industry as a master impressionist — an art form largely passé today, when so many of our pop culture celebrities look and sound alike. (His Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster imitations were especially accurate.) He played Las Vegas frequently, and even in his later years appeared on occasion in character roles on various TV shows. He also toured for several seasons in a one-man show in which he played the late George Burns — I never saw the performance, but I'm told that Gorshin's characterization was spot-on.

I understand that Mr. Gorshin appears as himself in the CSI episode airing this Thursday night. You might want to drop in and pay your respects. (This is also the two-hour season finale directed by Quentin Tarantino, which makes it must-see television even without the sympathy vote.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

ABC: Already Been Canceled

Continuing the parade of fall network schedule announcements, ABC and the WB ran their new slates up the flagpole in search of salutes.

ABC's bundle of warmed-over retreads — I mean, brand spanking new series — includes:
  • Commander-in-Chief: Geena Davis as POTUS. Nothing against Ms. Davis, whose work I happen to enjoy, but don't we already have The West Wing? How many shows set in the White House can America possibly need? If this is a diversionary tactic, it's not working — we know old Captain Clueless is really still the President.

  • Freddie: A sitcom starring Freddie Prinze, Jr. Pretty much tells you everything you needed to know right there, doesn't it?

  • Hot Properties: Four women working in a tony real estate office. You hated this before when the characters were interior decorators, and the title was Designing Women. If this show's supporting cast includes an ambiguously gay black man played by Meshach Taylor, be afraid. Be very afraid.

  • Speaking of afraid, ABC's resurrecting (ha! I made a funny!) Kolchak: The Night Stalker. This was wicked cool and innovative back in the early '70s, when Darrin McGavin played the title role. Today, after seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Elvis has left the graveyard.

  • And still more fear: Invasion is a sci-fi epic about aliens from outer space trying to take over the world. Previously, this series was known as The Invaders ('60s version), V ('80s version) and The X-Files ('90s version). Oh, and Tom Cruise, you're wanted on line two.
For its autumn menu, The WB will be offering up...who cares, really? When's the last time you watched something on the WB? Here's how desperate these folks are: They're renewing 7th Heaven for a tenth season.

Did you even know that show was still on the air?

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

If you can't beat 'em, kick 'em

My home town doesn't make the big city news very often, but when it does, it's usually something like this: A local girls' rugby coach and some associated hooligans beating the living tar out of a referee and a couple of rival coaches.

Now the kids lose the opportunity to play their game, as the entire program is suspended while the justice system does its work. Great example for America's youth.

Yes, nothing teaches the kids the valuable lessons of sportsmanship (or sportswomanship) and fair play quite like mob violence.

It's another example of something I've been saying for years: There's nothing wrong with youth sports programs that wouldn't be fixed immediately if all the doggoned adults stayed home.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Another season, another tired NBC schedule

Ah, sweeps.

Not only do we traditionally some of the broadcast networks' biggest programming blockbusters in May, but we also get the new fall schedules from those selfsame webs.

NBC, which ran in fourth place most of this season, became the first of the networks to release its new lineup. From the perspective of this viewer, it looks as though the Peacock Channel is settling in for another year of bringing up the rear.

Here are some of the new offerings NBC plans for the fall:
  • Fathom: Oceanographers chase sea monsters. Jacques Cousteau on steroids — yeah, that'll be exciting. This certain loser stars Lake Bell, late of Boston Legal, perhaps the least appealing actress on television. NBC, you're gonna need a bigger boat.

  • Three Wishes: Amy Grant travels the country doing nice things for people. (Hopefully not including stealing their husbands, which is the nice thing Amy did for Vince Gill's previous wife.) Think of this as Extreme Makeover: Cloying Country Singer Edition.

  • E-Ring: Jerry Bruckheimer sends Benjamin Bratt and Dennis Hopper to work at the Pentagon. Could be interesting, but that title sounds eerily like the gizmo that made Space Shuttle Challenger blow up.

  • My Name is Earl: A slacker wins the lottery. I laughed when I heard about this one because the legendary a cappella group The Bobs once recorded a song called "She Made Me Name You Earl," about a guy whose girlfriend hangs a new affectionate nickname on his (according to the lyrics) "precious family jewel." I'm guessing the people behind this series have never heard that song. At least, I hope that isn't what they have in mind.

  • Inconceivable: Ming-Na headlines this medical drama as a doctor working in a fertility clinic. I don't think this show means what you think it means.

  • The Apprentice: Martha Stewart: Exactly what it sounds like. As if The Donald weren't obnoxious enough.
Two big surprises on the Peacock sked, at least to me.

First, NBC canned the newest Law & Order iteration, Trial By Jury. Too bad — TBJ (not to be confused with the similarly initialed sandwich) is an intriguing show crippled by the oversaturation of its corporate brand (had it not been tagged as an L&O spinoff, lowered expectation might have given it a better chance of survival) and the ghost of Jerry Orbach. Bebe Neuwirth deserved better.

Second, NBC reupped the new Stateside version of the British sitcom The Office, despite abysmal ratings. Good for them for taking a shot at keeping alive a quality show that, due to its quirky nature, needs extra time to find its own level and audience. Most TV critics had written this one off as a goner.

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Movie quotes, anyone?

The American Film Institute — but we can call them AFI, 'cause we're friends — is putting together another of their "100 Years, 100..." television specials. Previously, they've covered such topics as 100 great movies, movie stars, comedies, thrillers, love stories, heroes and villains, and movie songs. Sometimes AFI's choices fly in from left field (Fargo is a comedy? Yes, there are a number of hilarious moments in it, but I wouldn't call it a comedy), but the lists of "100 Whatevers" always result in excellent conversation fodder for film aficionados. That's us, isn't it?

The upcoming special, which airs on CBS on Tuesday, June 21, is "100 Years, 100 Movie Quotes." You can download a list of the the 400 nominated quotes here. They're listed in alphabetical order by film title.

Go see what you like, and second-guess what's missing. You'll be glad you did!

My initial thoughts, based on a quick scan of selected portions of the list (it's 103 pages, so that was the best I could do for starters):
  • Several films deserving of multiple nominations (i.e., Blazing Saddles, The Princess Bride, This is Spinal Tap) got stuck with only one in order to spread the wealth.
  • A few popular flicks seem overrepresented. I mean, I'm glad Airplane warranted three possibilities — there are dozens in that film from which to choose — but did we really need five quotes from Gone With the Wind?
  • For several films (The Maltese Falcon being one example, Pulp Fiction another), I would have chosen different quotes from the ones nominated.
  • A few quotes, such as Al Pacino's "Hoo-ah!" from Scent of a Woman, barely qualify as quotes, in my estimation. Yes, everyone remembers Pacino making that noise a hundred times in that film, but it's a noise, not a line.
  • The bits of schtick from Wayne's World originated on Saturday Night Live, and thus shouldn't be considered "movie" quotes. Call it a quibble, but I'm a quibbler.
At any rate, it'll be fun to see which classic quotes make the final cut.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Amazon Queen of the Bayou

Hey, Pogo! Comic Art Friday done come on Friday the 13th this month!

Have you ever wondered what superheroes do on their days off? In the imagination of comics artist Peter Krause, Wonder Woman likes to head down to a quiet bayou and pretend she's Claudia Jennings in 'Gator Bait.

Many of you are much too young for the name Claudia Jennings to mean anything to you. But for a few years in the 1970s, she was the Queen of the Drive-In — that's drive-in movies, kids, where your parents used to sit in a car and watch (or pretend to watch) cheesy films on a humongous screen in the middle of a giant parking lot.

Born Mary Eileen "Mimi" Chesterton, Claudia Jennings was one of the few starlets to begin her career as a Playboy centerfold (Miss November 1969 and Playmate of the Year 1970 -- at least, that's what I'm told...) and go on to a non-pornographic film career, even though most of her flicks did involve her getting nekkid at some point. She appeared mostly as trailer-trash RAPs (Redneck American Princesses) in low-budget exploitation pictures with titles like Truck Stop Women, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, Moonshine County Express, and the aforementioned 'Gator Bait, wherein Claudia changed forever the way young men would think about denim vests and cutoffs.

Despite her (to put it charitably) limited range as an actress, Claudia twice narrowly missed out on starring roles that would have vaulted her to the forefront of mainstream entertainment. She was the second choice to Lynda Carter when the latter was cast as Wonder Woman in the '70s TV series. She also was passed over after almost being cast as Kate Jackson's replacement in Charlie's Angels — ABC executives were concerned about handing so prominent a prime-time role to a former Playboy Playmate, and insisted that the appropriately surnamed Shelley Hack (then appearing in ads for a fragrance called Charlie) be cast instead.

My key Claudia Jennings memory, however, has little to do with her acting. In October 1979, when I was a freshman at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Claudia was killed in an automobile accident barely a stone's throw from our campus. She had apparently fallen asleep at the wheel of her convertible while driving to her ex-lover's home to collect her belongings. She was two months shy of her 30th birthday, which would have been the day after my 18th.

For those of us who always imagined what the late Ms. Jennings would have looked like in the famous tiara and eagle-emblazoned garb of our favorite Amazon, this gorgeous artwork by Peter Krause may be as close as we get. I don't know whether Krause (best known as the penciler of DC Comics' The Power of Shazam!) had Claudia in mind when he created this custom drawing for his colleague, colorist Buzz Setzer, but the clothing, the setting, and especially the haunted eyes certainly suggest her influence.

And that's your Comic Art Friday the 13th.

(A special thanks to Buzz Setzer for allowing me the privilege of adding this marvelous treasure to my Wonder Woman gallery.)

All your base are belong to us

Seeing today's list of recommended military base closings spurred me to run down my own personal list of Air Force Bases Where I Grew Up and check off the Actives vs. the Closed. Here's the semi-official tally:

Selfridge AFB (Mount Clemens, Michigan): Active. My birth parents were both Air Force enlisted personnel stationed here, and I was born -- I think -- in the base hospital. Due to the circumstances of my birth and the nature of closed adoption, the details are somewhat sketchy. As is true of many things in life.

K.I. Sawyer AFB (Marquette, Michigan): Closed since 1995. This is where my father was stationed when I came to live with my parents. We left when I was less than two years old.

Hickam AFB (Honolulu, Hawaii): Active. Due to its strategic (and highly desirable) location, Hickam's one of those bases that will never be in danger of closing.

Andrews AFB (Prince George's County, Maryland, near Washington D.C.): Active. The Home of Air Force One. As long as the President and other top government officials utilize air transportation, there will always be an Andrews.

Dow AFB (Bangor, Maine): Closed since 1968. Dow was actually already closed when we were stationed there in 1969. My father was assigned to the team responsible for helping convert the former base to civilian use. Bangor International Airport occupies most of the site today.

Iraklion Air Station (Iraklion, Crete, Greece): Closed since 1993. I've written previously about the two years we accidentally spent in Greece. I understand the site of the base is now under the control of the Greek military and is essentially unused.

Hamilton AFB (Marin County, California): Closed since 1976. Hamilton was already scheduled for shutdown when we arrived in the early '70s. The site, which is just a few miles south of where I now live, has been the subject of dispute between various interests for the past 30 years.

Clark Air Base (Angeles City, Luzon, The Philippines): Closed since 1991, when the base was buried under volcanic ash by the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. There's a resort hotel, golf course, and shopping area on part of the site today.

Dyess AFB (Abilene, Texas): Active, if you can call living in West Texas being "active." My father's final duty station before mustering out after 20 years of service.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Another auld lang syne

My first girlfriend called me the other day.

To put this event in perspective, you need to appreciate a few key facts about me:
  1. I was rather a late bloomer in matters of the heart. Although I was definitely interested in girls from an early age (I had my first crush at age ten — her first name was Lisa and no, I have no idea what became of her), I didn't have an actual date until my high school senior prom, and that was with a girl who was merely a friend and not a romantic partner.
  2. The entire number of actual girlfriends I had during my bachelor years can be counted (literally) on the fingers of one hand. That includes the girlfriend I married.
  3. My relationship with PK, my first girlfriend, began the day I graduated high school (it was a big day for me in more ways than one). It ended — at her initiation — during the second semester of my freshman year of college when the "Dear John" letter arrived. (Okay, my name isn't John, but you know what I mean.)
  4. Aside from a brief angry, epithet-laden interchange or two around the time of the breakup, I haven't seen or spoken with PK since. I'm 43 now. You do the math.
Now that you're up to speed, welcome to Days of Our Lives.

I didn't pay any attention when the phone rang that morning, because it was the house line. I typically don't answer that line during my work day because the phone is all the way at the other end of the house. Anyone who's likely to call me during the day — and to whom I'd actually wish to speak — knows to call on the business line during office hours, because that's the phone within arm's reach of my workstation. So I didn't know who had called until some time later when I wandered back to the bedroom.

I didn't recognize the woman's voice, and for a few moments, I didn't react to the name. More accurately, I knew the name immediately, but it took me a bit to register that this was in fact a certain particular person by that name. (It's not an unusual first/last name combination, so there are probably a few thousand of them scattered about the English-speaking world.) She left her telephone number and asked for a return call.

Next question: Now what do I do?

Answer: I'll take "Do Nothing" for a thousand dollars, please, Alex. (It's what I always do when I don't know what to do. Impulsive and spontaneous, I'm not.)

I was still doing nothing later in the day when my friend DL called — serendipitously, as it happens, given that she was the one who first introduced PK and me all those years ago — from Maine. I told her about the mysterious phone message, and we kicked around the obvious question: What could PK possibly want after all this time? Neither DL nor I had a good answer, though the most likely scenario was that PK had seen my Round Two match in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament a few days before and was inspired to call — to gloat over my loss? to ask for a loan? to simply say, "Hey, I saw you on TV, and by the way, after a quarter-century, I still hate your intestines"?

DL thought I should return the call. I was less sanguine. So after she and I hung up, I went back to doing what I do best in these situations.


I had become quite accomplished at doing nothing by the time the phone rang again two days later. (It's now yesterday, to reconnect with the real universe for just a moment.) I let the answering machine pick up the call, and when I heard PK's now-unmistakable voice, I lifted the receiver.

I said the first thing that came into my mind: "Hello."

She’d had more time — two days, at least — to prepare a response, and it showed: “Hi.”

And we went from there.

Her reason for calling wasn’t at all what I had imagined. In fact, I don’t believe I would ever have imagined her saying what she said next: “I wanted to apologize for being such a jerk to you back then.” (I may be paraphrasing the word “jerk.”)

I’m a trifle fuzzy on the particulars of my reply. I think it came out something like, “Oh. Well. Um. Ah. Hmm.” When I had recovered my wits sufficiently to string these random syllables into actual words, and those words into actual sentences, I believe I said something suitably snappy and incisive, on the order of, “If anyone owes anyone an apology, it’s probably me that owes you one.” I’m not entirely certain what I meant by that, but it seemed the gracious thing to say. At any rate, it was far more appropriate than doing what my instincts told me to do: Slam the receiver back into the cradle and run. Far, far away. Like, to that galaxy in those lame George Lucas films.

Still, I maintained my composure. I am, after all, a nominally successful veteran of a syndicated TV quiz show. I’ve been embarrassed in front of an audience of millions. Being embarrassed alone in my own home should be a piece of cake. Specifically, the honey-almond kind the bakery near my old workplace bakes. Mmm…cake.

But I digress.

So we talked. No easy task for me — I have a difficult time talking on the phone anyway (social anxiety — remind me to tell you about it sometime), and this was especially awkward. But when PK told me what spurred her phone call, I was touched. (I know, I know — you already knew I was touched. Wisenheimers.)

Apparently, she and her family had been shopping at Costco one day last week, and she had seen me there with my daughter. (We’d gone to shop for Mother’s Day gifts — KM wanted to get her mom a car-wash kit they had seen on a previous visit.) When PK recognized me, I guess it started her thinking back to what happened in the spring of 1980, and the more she thought, the more she felt — I don’t know quite how to characterize it — a need for resolution. So she called. And, on the second go-around, I answered.


I learned about PK’s family. I knew she’d married a friend of ours from high school. I didn’t know they had two children, a daughter and a son, both quite a bit younger than my teenager. I’d known that her sister had had a child out of wedlock many years ago — she had dated my best friend for a while, but their breakup was too early in the timeline for him to have been involved in the conception — but I didn’t know she’d had a couple of other children and a bad marriage and had more or less drifted through adult life as a lost soul. I didn’t know that PK’s father, whom I rather liked, had passed away. I didn’t know her parents had divorced before his death. I didn’t know a lot of things that I learned as we talked.

Several of the things I learned weren’t even about her.

We chatted for a surprisingly long time. When we finally said goodbye, I was stunned at how many minutes had elapsed while we’d been on the phone. A significant chunk of time for a conversation I’d never expected to have, and wasn’t at all sure I wanted to have even as I was in the midst of it.

I’m still processing my thoughts and emotions about the — what shall I call it? — interaction. I’m sure I’ll be processing for a while. When it comes to my feelings, I tend, as the saying goes, to incubate my eggs for a long time. I’m still trying to figure out a number of events from my late adolescence and early adulthood — why certain things happened, and how I feel about them: a disappearance, a death, a kiss, a couple of relationships, decisions made, moments of brilliance, moments of tragedy, moments won, moments lost.

I couldn’t even write at all about this yesterday, after the phone call.

I can barely write about it now.

And I can’t get Dan Fogelberg to shut up in my head.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Pam 2, Chimp 0

Pamela Anderson refused to appear in an episode of her new TV series, Stacked (they wanted to call it Hooters, but apparently that name was already in use), because the PETA-affiliated star didn't want to play opposite a live chimpanzee.

At least, that's how Polythene Pam is spinning the story.

Maybe the chimp told his agent, "Pamela Anderson? Are you kidding me? I'm a professional actor, man. I'm not going to ruin my industry cred by sharing the screen with that bimbo."

Order was restored when the producers of Stacked (and wouldn't you just love to have that credit on your curriculum vitae?) retooled the script, replacing the chimp with a robot.

Too bad they couldn't do the same with Pamela Anderson. Then again, who could tell?

And another thing: Is Christopher Lloyd, a near-legendary comedic actor, so desperate for employment that he'd agree to costar in a Pamela Anderson sitcom? How far you've fallen, Reverend Jim.

My favorite Ignatowski zinger:

Jim: I was arrested once, back in the '60s.
Tony: Did they get you on drugs, Jim?
Jim: Naw, I was already on drugs.

(This article is cross-posted to my film/television blog at DVD Verdict.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Lifetime Moronic Achievement Award: John Rocker

I was going to give baseball's John Rocker a Moron of the Week Award for his latest lamebrained comments to the press, but I figured: Why not just give him the Moronic Lifetime Achievement Award, and save myself from ever having to mention him again?

Rocker, who in an infamous interview with Sports Illustrated some years ago let loose with a barrage of ill-thought and bigoted remarks about ethnic minorities, gays, and women, is now comparing his frequent lambasting by fans and sportswriters with the struggles of Jackie Robinson and Hank Aaron.

Get a whiff of what the Rocker is cooking:

"I've taken a lot of crap from a lot of people. Probably more than anybody in the history of this sport. I know Hank (Aaron) and Jackie (Robinson) took a good deal of crap, but I guarantee it wasn't for six years. I just keep thinking: How much more am I supposed to take?"

Okay, let's see...

Robinson and Aaron were phenomenally gifted players whose achievements in the major leagues, coupled with the color of their skin, made them the targets of open bigotry, verbal abuse, and even death threats throughout their stellar careers. Both overcame these obstacles to be numbered among the greatest heroes in baseball history, on and off the diamond.

Rocker is a marginally talented nitwit who can't keep his numbskull opinions to himself. His constant oral-pedal insertion makes him the target of righteous indignation from baseball-loving Americans who wonder why any team would waste money employing this creep. He's currently serving up gopher balls for an independent minor league club on Long Island.

Yeah, that looks pretty equal to me.

I suspect that both Hammerin' Hank and the late Jackie Robinson would, given a chance, wrap a Louisville Slugger around Rocker's concrete cranium. And be justified in so doing.

Rocker has every right to his views. That's what America is all about. But he's a living corollary to Carolla's Rule. (I've coined Carolla's Rule in honor of comedian and radio talk show host Adam Carolla, who once told a Loveline caller who was tired of getting stares due to his multiple tattoos and exposed piercings, "If you don't want people to look at you like you're a freak, don't do freaky things to yourself.") Rocker's entitled to spew all the idiotic blather he wishes, but he can't expect people not to treat him like an idiot when he does.

In the meantime, John, why don't you go listen to Warren Zevon's "Poor, Poor Pitiful Me" about 892,000 times — a thousand spins for every major league home run hit by Aaron and Robinson, whose honor you besmirched by piggybacking your self-induced and well-deserved bad reputation onto their good names. And don't come back until you're done, loser.

Jesus is my co-pilot, but he can't drive in West Virginia

A man who calls himself Jesus Christ can't get a driver's license in West Virginia, apparently because he can't prove to the state's satisfaction that Jesus Christ is really his name.

What's peculiar is that Peter Robert Phillips, Jr. has already convinced the U.S. State Department, the Social Security Administration, and the State of Washington that he's Jesus Christ, because he already has been granted a passport, a Social Security card, and a Washington driver's license under that name. Authorities in West Virginia, however, say that until Phillips's birth certificate says his name is Jesus Christ, he's still Peter Robert Phillips, Jr. And that's the only name under which the state will issue Phillips a driver's license.

Seems to me this should be a pretty simple matter to resolve. Bring Mr. Phillips six stone pots of twenty to thirty gallons capacity, fill them to the brim with water, and see what happens.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Still ain't got no band

Saturday night some friends and I attended one of the events I most enthusiastically anticipate each year: the Harmony Sweepstakes national a cappella championships in San Rafael. KJ fell ill with a tummy bug on Friday and had to stay home -- her first miss in the 13 years we've attended the Sweeps finals. I went to dinner with the couple from church who always go with us; the baritone in the quartet joined us for the show.

For the benefit of the uninitiated, the Harmony Sweepstakes holds eight regional competitions around the country every winter, most of them located in places where the university campus a cappella scene thrives (Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Denver, the Bay Area) or other major media markets (New York, L.A., Washington D.C.). Vocal groups ranging from a minimum of three to a maximum of seven members, and representing musical styles from jazz to rock, from pop and R&B to barbershop, vie for the coveted regional championships. The eight regional winners collide on the first Saturday evening in May at the Marin County Civic Center for the national title. A more awe-inspiring three hours of pure vocal music — instruments of any kind are strictly prohibited in the competition — you will not find anywhere.

The competition seems to get tougher every year. For the first seven or eight years we attended, there was always one group that stood head and shoulders above the others, leaving no doubt as to who the victors would be. The past few Sweeps, by comparison, have been extremely close contests. Saturday night, five of the eight groups could have placed anywhere in the top three without surprising me overmuch.

Groove For Thought, a six-man vocal band from the Seattle area, walked away with first prize, as well as a special award for best original song. Another all-male sextet, Face from Boulder, Colorado, placed second, and won the prestigious "Audience Favorite" vote. The Chicago-based quintet Fiveplay landed in third.

I had high hopes for the Bay Area champions, a mixed quartet of jazz vocalists known as Moodswing, but they finished out of the money. Two of the singers in Moodswing, alto Juliet Green and tenor Dave Duran, formerly sang in another excellent group, +4dB (pronounced plus-four-dee-bee), whom I had the privilege of hosting for the afternoon at another local a cappella festival a few years back. Nice folks, and I'm pleased to see a couple of them in this fine new ensemble.

One of the treats of Sweeps is visiting with a number of my barbershopping friends whom I rarely get to see otherwise. It's also my annual opportunity to load up on new a cappella CDs. But the music is the real draw, and this year's Sweeps made for a fantastic show. I'm just sorry KJ had to miss it this time around.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

New logo, same old Identity Crisis

I see DC Comics is getting a new logo.

Now if only DC would throw some of that ingenuity into publishing more comics that don't suck, unlike most of the mean-spirited trash they're peddling these days. (Did I say Identity Crisis? Yes, I believe I did.)

More comics like, for example, JLA Classified, the latest run of which I'm enjoying immensely. Hilarious script by writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, and cleverly expressive art by the powerhouse team of Kevin Maguire on pencils and Joe Rubinstein on inks. Very entertaining, light-hearted and fun, with marvelous (no pun intended) characterization.

You know, like comics used to be.

Like tears from a star

It's rained here all day. Not a heavy, driving rain, but rather a steady shimmering sheet of tiny droplets cascading from a cold gray sky. It almost never rains here after mid-April, but here it is.

We didn't have much of a Mother's Day -- both KJ and my mother are sick with this stomach bug that's been going about. We had four or five people out from church this morning with it.

But Happy Mother's Day anyway.

As I sat at my workstation this afternoon, editing reviews for DVD Verdict and listening to the hiss of automobiles slithering past on the slick asphalt of the main thoroughfare just beyond our backyard fence, I couldn't get Sting out of my head...

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star
Like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are
How fragile we are

I guess I'm feeling ever so slightly fragile today.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Free Comic Book Day!

You know my motto: If it's free, it's for me.

Today is Free Comic Book Day. Independent comic shops across North America will be giving away — yes, giving away — copies of 30 specially published comics, as an incentive for people who aren't already reading comics to check out what all the fuss is about.

No matter what your age or tastes in comics, you'll find something that will appeal to you. Among the special titles available are books featuring such popular characters as Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Batman, G.I. Joe, The Simpsons, Betty and Veronica, and Uncle Scrooge. There's a Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith title if that's what powers up your lightsaber. A number of the books from small presses and independent publishers look mighty interesting too.

So hustle yourself over to your local participating comic shop and latch onto a free comic book today. You'll be glad you did!

And if you happen to look around and see some regular publications you'd actually like to buy, I'm sure the geek behind the counter — and I mean that affectionately — will be delighted to take your money.

Friday, May 06, 2005

We're gonna bring you the power

This week, Comic Art Friday is coming down the line so that you can see, through the courtesy of The Electric Company.

Our featured artwork arrived this week from the phenomenally gifted Darryl Banks, an artist best known for his lengthy tenure as the regular penciler on Green Lantern in the '90s. This is the third commissioned piece Darryl has done for me, and as my friend DO has observed more than once, every superhero(ine) looks amazing when rendered in Darryl's unique, bold style.

As do, by way of example, Elektra and Black Lightning, seen here.

Even if you don't read comics, you probably know Elektra, the character played by Jennifer (Alias) Garner in Daredevil as well as her eponymous sequel. (I was lukewarm about the former film, and haven't yet gotten around to seeing the latter.) Elektra was introduced into the Daredevil mythos in the early 1980s by writer-artist Frank Miller, and was a key facet of Miller's push of DD into an increasingly darker and more violent vein. I've never been a fan of the whole "grim and gritty" direction of comics that Miller (also known for his psychologically dense take on Batman) helped pioneer, but I do think Elektra is a brilliantly conceived character. Too often, female comics characters rely on vaguely mystical or psychic powers that absolve them from hand-to-hand combat, but Elektra can tussle with the best of them.

Black Lightning was DC Comics' first African-American superhero, created by writer Tony Isabella in 1977. Like the Boston Red Sox in baseball, DC came late to the "heroes of color" party — archrival Marvel had brought forth the Black Panther, the first black hero in mainstream comics, nearly a decade before, and had already published four titles featuring black stars: Jungle Action (which for most of its '70s run featured the Panther), Luke Cage, Hero for Hire (later changed to Power Man), Captain America and the Falcon (Cap's partner was a Harlem-based social worker when he wasn't out kicking butt with the Star-Spangled Avenger), and Black Goliath.

(Observant readers will note how frequently characters of African ancestry were tagged as "Black," as though comics buyers wouldn't figure out the hero's ethnicity from the pictures. Conversely, no one ever found it necessary to name a Caucasian character, say, "White Thor." There was a superheroine called the Wasp, but that was more an insect thing, really.)

Unfortunately for Black Lightning fans, the electrically powered hero has never been able to leap past second-tier status in the DC Universe. BL's primary champion has always been creator Isabella, and when he and DC had a falling out some years back, Black Lightning was more or less forgotten. That's too bad, because it's a strong concept (the original character was designed by the amazing Trevor Von Eeden) with a good deal of interesting potential.

It would be nice to see publisher and writer mend fences someday, and get Tony Isabella back working on a regular Black Lightning feature. And if they hired Darryl Banks to draw the book, I'd be one happy hombre. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy this latest addition to my "Common Elements" gallery.

It ain't easy bein' cheesy...unless you're George Lucas

George Lucas, I'm beginning to believe, is one of those people who just doesn't understand irony.

To help publicize the latest — and if there's any justice in that galaxy far, far, away, the last — film in Lucas's increasingly soulless and vapid Star Wars saga, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (the last word of which makes an incredibly unfortunate — or prophetic, take your pick — anagram), Frito-Lay is offering a special release of Twisted Cheetos snacks. The Star Wars Cheetos supposedly turn the snacker's tongue either "Darth Vader Dark" or "Yoda Green," though why anyone would want a snack to turn his or her tongue black or green is not fully explained in the official press release.

Let me make sure I understand this correctly. Lucas agreed to promote his flick by cobranding it with a product that can be effectively described using three words: Twisted. Cheesy. Gross.

That couldn't be any funnier if I'd made it up.

Then again, we're talking about the guy who created Jar Jar Binks. Twisted, cheesy, and gross may be all he has left.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

It's the real thing

Police in Roseville, Michigan busted a woman for speeding and discovered 33 pounds of cocaine in her car.

The woman's name? Denise Coke.

I'm thinking a change in either name or personal habits is in order here, or these arrests are likely to become more frequent.

In other news, little Jackie Paper continues to love that rascal Puff the magic dragon. Jackie's friend Mary Jane denies any involvement.

What's Up With That? #20: Wild, wild West

Let's say you're the 53-year-old mayor of Spokane, Washington. Now let's say you're picking up 18-year-old guys in gay chat rooms on the Internet.

But I repeat myself.

Here's what I can't figure out. James West has for years been one of the most outspokenly conservative politicians on the West Coast when it comes to sexual issues. In 1986, he authored failed legislation that would have prohibited gays from working in schools and day-care centers. In 1990, he proposed a bill that would have made all sexual contact between teenagers a misdemeanor punishable with jail time. He has ardently opposed homosexual rights for more than two decades in public office.

And he's gay? With a taste for teenaged males?

That's like a black man joining a Klan rally.

Or becoming Ward Connerly.


Starting his own little dynasty

Prince Albert has been the ruler of Monaco for all of — what, a month? — and already he's getting hit with paternity suits.

Heck, it took Bill Clinton the better part of a four-year term before he started swapping Cohibas with the interns.

Albert's accuser, a 33-year-old flight attendant from Togo, claims that a DNA test has proven the newly crowned monarch of Monaco to be the father of her 21-month-old son Alexandre. Says the article published in the London Times, Albert and Nicole hooked up in December 2002 "and ended up in bed. Mme. Coste, who already had two children, fell pregnant." Maybe if she hadn't fallen, they wouldn't be in this fix.

(Personally, I'm impressed that Albert could actually locate Togo. I had to refer to an atlas myself.)

This is not, in case you were curious, Big Bert's first brush with illegitimate fatherhood. A waitress from California named Tamara Rotolo says the prince sired her daughter during a two-week fling in Monte Carlo in 1991.

Which begs two questions: You're the crown prince of an ancient European royal line and heir to a $1.5 billion fortune, and the best you can do for lovers is flight attendants and waitresses? And you can't afford a box of condoms once every decade?

Doesn't say much for Albert's managerial acumen. Or for the future of the House of Grimaldi.

This is why you don't name your boat "Mayo"

Buenos dias to all our readers of Mexican extraction! Hope your Cinco is muy grande.

As was once noted in a Jeopardy! clue, Cinco de Mayo is the biggest day for avocado consumption in the United States each year. (Super Bowl Sunday is second.) Do your part for the avocado farmers today, and whip yourself up a bountiful bowl of guacamole. Don't allow some poor sap with a truckload of 'cados to miss out on his payday because you didn't hold up your end of the deal.

Because everything tastes better with fresh California avocados. Well, maybe not tiramisu. But everything else.

Today also marks a once-in-a-century calendar event: 05-05-05. I'm not advocating going out and blowing the rent money on Lotto tickets or anything, but if five's your lucky number, this might be as felicitous a time as any to shoot the moon.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

What's Up With That? #19: There once was a man named Oedipus Farrell

Colin Farrell tried to seduce his 70-year-old costar?

Dame Eileen Atkins says the Irish rake, with whom she shares the screen in the upcoming Ask the Dust, recently spent more than two hours putting the moves on her in a hotel room. The grame dame alleges that she respectfully declined Mr. Farrell's persistent invitations to carnal bliss.

But think of the story if she hadn't.

Then again, as Benjamin Franklin — the Colin Farrell of his day — once put it, "In the dark, all cats are grey."


Dave's not here, man

Something's missing over at Chappelle's Show. Like Chappelle.

Production was halted today on the show's third season, amid rumors that the headliner hasn't appeared for work for several weeks. This despite star Dave Chappelle having inked a new two-year pact last year for beaucoup Benjamins and a cut of the DVD sales.

I'm not a fan of his Comedy Central program, but Chappelle's a funny guy. Generally, though, I enjoy him most when he's being balanced by other funny people — in supporting roles in such films as Undercover Brother and Robin Hood: Men in Tights. A little Chappelle goes a long way with me. But that little can be hilarious.

I just hope there's nothing untoward behind this odd turn of events.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

If you can read this, kiss a Treacher

Today is National Treacher Day.

I suppose this means that if you live in one of the twelve Eastern states where Arthur Treacher's franchises are located, this would be a good day for some fish and chips, with a dash of malt vinegar to finish them off. Mmmm...tasty.



National Teacher Day.

Never mind.

Fried food is bad for you, anyway.

Runaway bore

Am I the only person in America who thinks it's bizarre that a woman ducking out on her wedding is front page news? For crying out loud, people, it's already been a Julia Roberts movie. Let's move on.

And yet, the evening news opened with footage of Jennifer Wilbanks being shuttled about with a blanket over her head to shield her face from the television cameras. What, she's Charles Manson now? There was less security at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial than at Wilbanks's homecoming. The President doesn't travel in a motorcade that large.

This morning, there are no fewer than seven separate articles about this non-event on MSNBC, one of the key news sites on the 'Net. For most of yesterday, it was the featured headline story there and at CNN. Is there really that much to say about some small-town girl taking the midnight train going anywhere? (See how bad this is? I'm starting to quote old Journey songs.) Are we so starved for excitement that prenuptial jitters now warrant 24-hour coverage?

I can hardly wait for the next development in this trivial trend:

"Chicken crosses road...film at eleven."

Monday, May 02, 2005


Today marks the 41st birthday of the actress with one of the greatest genuine names in show biz: Mitzi Kapture.

Seriously — don't you wish your name had that kind of pizzazz?

Mitzi (born Mitzi Donahue, but married since 1982 to the improbably named Bradley Kapture) has enjoyed one of those something-for-everyone careers in television. For the employment-impaired, she's spent the last several years on the soap opera The Young and the Restless. For the hormonally hyperactive, she served a mercifully short one-season stint on Baywatch (I can only presume this was penance levied by the entertainment Powers That Be for having accepted the starring role in the third installment of a notorious series of hooker-turned-vigilante flicks, Angel III: The Final Chapter).

But for connoisseurs of great trash TV, Mitzi Kapture will always be remembered as Detective Sergeant Rita Lee Lance on the classic crime drama Silk Stalkings.

A brief word of explanation for those of you who spend all your televiewing time devouring nature documentaries on the Discovery Channel. Silk Stalkings was the most successful by-product — all right, the only successful by-product — of CBS' early-1990s experiment in late-night television called Crimetime After Primetime. After Pat Sajak's abortive post-news yakker tanked — and rightly so, I might add — CBS decided to counter-program Johnny Carson and Ted Koppel with low-budget crime dramas, most of which were produced north or south of the border, or offshore. Each weeknight brought a different program under the Crimetime After Primetime banner, though the turnover was high and certain nights burned through several short-run series before the entire affair was dumped with the arrival of David Letterman.

Some of the Crimetime shows were dreadful — softcore porn queen Shannon Tweed as the owner of a charter airline (Fly By Night); yet another tedious and preachy "crusading reporter" exercise (Urban Angel). Others were barely competent yet entertaining in their own uniquely cheesy fashion — the Magnum P.I. ripoff Sweating Bullets; the Continental spy drama The Exile. A few were genuinely creative — remind me to tell you about Dark Justice sometime, one of TV's all-time great hidden treasures. But only one series survived when Crimetime died, and that was Silk Stalkings, a quirky amalgam of Moonlighting and Law and Order: Special Victims Unit that lasted eight seasons on USA Network from 1991 to 1999 — leaving the air, ironically, at about the same time as Dick Wolf's similarly concepted but grittier L&O:SVU debuted on NBC.

On Silk (as the show is known to its legions of fans), Mitzi Kapture and Rob Estes starred as a pair of police detectives in tony Palm Beach, Florida, whose specialty was solving kinky murders (the "silk stalkings" of the title). Rita Lance and Chris Lorenzo bantered and flirted constantly with each other (they called each other "Sam" after the golfer Sam Snead, known as "Slammin' Sammy" — and if I have to explain that metaphor to you in any greater detail, it's past your bedtime), in that way that told you the show would be doomed the day they consummated the relationship. (See? I told you it sounded like Moonlighting.) Which is exactly what happened, though the program soldiered on with other, lesser replacements for another three seasons after Estes and Kapture (in that order) departed.

Kapture did a fine job of portraying the grounded, level-headed counterbalance to her hot-headed male partner. (See? I told you it sounds like L&O:SVU.) In fact, she was the best feature of Silk, which was never the same after she left. Too bad she's mired in soapdom these days — she has the talent to carry a real series.

Now that the early seasons of Silk Stalkings are available on DVD, fans of pseudo-noir cop drama (or of Moonlighting or L&O:SVU) should check it out.

In the meantime...happy birthday, Sam.