Tuesday, August 30, 2005

So much for the Father of the Year Award

Some people should not become parents because they don't like children; others because they have no parenting skills and will never develop any; still others because their habits or predilections make them either a potential danger to children, or a poor example.

Then there's Michael Lyons of Savannah, Georgia, who should never have become a parent simply because he's a moron.

For his daughter's birthday, Lyons took his child and several of her friends to a local bank, where he instructed one of the 13-year-old girls in the group to hand a teller a note reading, "Give me all of your money, this is a stick-up." This was apparently Lyons's idea of appropriate birthday party entertainment for budding adolescents.

Not surprisingly, neither the bank staff nor the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police concurred with Lyons's assessment.

Lyons is being charged with criminal attempt of robbery by intimidation. If I were the father of the kid to whom he gave the holdup note, he'd be darned lucky if jail time was all the punishment he received.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Baby, you can drive my car

The Big Three American automakers are doing their part for skyrocketing petroleum prices by reintroducing a trio of classically styled muscle cars: the Dodge Charger (the pride of Dukes of Hazzard fans everywhere, assuming people who watch The Dukes of Hazzard actually have pride), the Pontiac GTO (now the initials stand for Gasoline Too Outrageous), and a revamped Ford Mustang, a throwback to the original pony car.

This story put me in mind of the cars I've driven over the years. Travel with me now down my own personal motor vehicle Memory Lane...
  • 1968 Buick Skylark (powder blue). The Blue Bomb was my first car. Previously owned by a little old lady who only drove it to church and bingo, or so the guy who sold it to me wanted me to believe. A tank of a car with power to burn, as I discovered the day I plowed it into a highway sign at about 75 mph and blew up the engine.

  • 1976 Chevy Vega Estate Wagon (lemon yellow with faux woodgrain paneling). A hand-me-down from my father, and easily the most embarrassing car in automotive history. The Vega was notorious for rusting on the showroom floor. Even without that, it is impossible to look cool driving a car that looks like the nerdy little brother of Chevy Chase's Family Truckster from National Lampoon's Vacation.

  • 1974 Plymouth Gold Duster (gold...duh). Now this was a car: A high-performance Slant-Six engine, metallic gold (all right, so it looked more like bronze, but still...) paint, and a vinyl half-roof designed to look — in the words of the commercial — "like it came off a gold reptile." A honey to drive, right up until the day it threw a rod through the engine block and transformed itself into the world's hottest-looking lawn ornament.

  • 1983 Renault Alliance (white). Winner of the Motor Trend Magazine Car of the Year Award, which goes to show you how clueless the editors of Motor Trend are. Cheap in every sense of the word, the interior of the Alliance was crafted out of plastic so thin you could almost see through it. A useless piece of junk that gave me nothing but trouble almost from the day it left the showroom. Dorky-looking to boot.

  • 1986 Chevrolet Nova (medium blue). Not the sexiest car on the road, but it ran like a top. The latter-day Nova (afterward known as the Geo Prizm) was in fact a Toyota Corolla in Chevy packaging, built at the New United Motors plant down the road in Fremont, California. The only car I ever leased, I was a trifle sad to let it go at the end of the contract.

  • 1988 Ford Probe GT (white). The Jeopardy! car. I bought the turbocharged Probe with a chunk of my original Jeopardy! winnings. Originally, this purchase was supposed to be a Mazda RX7, but when KJ and I discovered that our firstborn was on the way, the RX7 and its microscopic rear seat became an impractical fantasy. Easily the fastest car I ever owned, the Probe blew up 35 miles from home on a stormy night when I was returning from a speaking engagement in Sacramento.

  • 1994 Mercury Sable (white again). The Sable was the Probe's emergency replacement. In short, it was the best, most affordable option at the dealership to which the late great turbo beast was towed. A lemon from jump street, we had to replace the head gasket in this monster three times (it died once on the lower deck of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge on the way to an A's game) before I totaled it driving home from chorus rehearsal on the morning of our 15th wedding anniversary.

  • 2000 Mazda MPV ("sand mica," sort of a metallic tan). The insurance settlement from the Sable's demise made the down payment on my current ride, the anti-chick magnet that identifies me unmistakably as a suburban dad. Flawlessly dependable — I've put over 76,000 miles on it without a hitch or glitch — and handy for ferrying my barbershop quartet back and forth to gigs.
KJ's current car, incidentally, is a steel blue Chrysler PT Cruiser. It was her gift to herself for surviving radical mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment back to back to back. A gift well earned, to my way of thinking.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

I wanna jack you up

Another one of those "how the mighty (or in this case, the mighty Badd) have fallen" stories...

Bryan Abrams, former lead singer of the spelling-challenged boy band Color Me Badd, whose so-much-for-innuendo hit "I Wanna Sex You Up" infected American pop radio airwaves back in 1991, now works as a clerk in a tire store in Oklahoma City.

He's also allegedly a deadbeat dad who's $16,000 in arrears on child support to his ex-wife, a New York City newscaster named Shon Gables (apparently no relation to the House of Seven You-Know-Whats).

I was going to work a line about lug nuts into this somewhere, but I think I'll just let it be.

Thanks to Gina over at the RantSpot for tipping me to this bulletin.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew

It's the end of the work week, and you know what that means: It's clobberin' time! Umm... I mean... it's Comic Art Friday.

I still haven't found the time to hit my local multiplex to see the Fantastic Four movie on the big screen. But I will. The Fantastic Four occupy a special place in my personal history as a comics aficionado — the first superhero comic I ever read was the landmark Fantastic Four Annual #3, in which Reed Richards (the self-styled Mister Fantastic) and Susan Storm (still the Invisible Girl in those pre-feminist 1960s) tied the knot, with practically every other character in the Marvel Universe in attendance.

My favorite member of the FF has always been the Thing, né Benjamin J. Grimm. Ever-lovin' blue-eyed Benjy, as he often refers to himself, can be accurately described as the flipside of the Hulk — he may be a horrific monster on the outside, but he's still a sweet-tempered, lovable galoot underneath the rock-like orange hide. Ben suffers from the fact that, unlike his teammates, his awesome powers transformed his appearance irrevocably — despite Richards' periodic attempts to change him back into his normal human form. In an essential way, Ben personifies the approach to superheroism that rocketed Marvel to the forefront of the comics industry in the early '60s — despite his incredible strength (he can lift 85 tons), he can't go out in public without drawing stares and gasps. With great power comes great responsibility, and even greater personal problems.

The power-packed pinup below pits our clobberin' hero against Sabra, the first (and only, so far as I'm aware) superheroine from Israel.

The concept for this scenario springs from the fact that, a couple of years ago, Ben Grimm publicly revealed his Jewish heritage in a now-classic issue of Fantastic Four. Given the number of Jewish artists and writers who contributed to the rise of the American comic book industry (including the creators of the FF, writer-editor Stan Lee, born Stanley Lieber, and artist Jack Kirby, born Jacob Kurtzberg), it's a little surprising that there aren't more Jewish heroes and heroines in comics. Among the relative handful of prominent characters of Jewish background are Kitty Pryde of the X-Men, the X-Men's chief adversary Magneto (at least in the popular film adaptations — officially, Marvel Comics can't decide whether Magneto is Jewish or Gypsy by birth), and Colossal Boy of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

The Thing and Sabra clash here courtesy of veteran comics artist Rich Buckler, who spent a lengthy run as the illustrator of the FF's adventures, in addition to working on practically every other comic book published in the 1970s.

For a more modernistic take on Big Ben and his teammate the Human Torch (aka Johnny Storm), here's a stellar pencil portrait drawn by Hannibal King.

So that's another Comic Art Friday. Go clobber something. Preferably the Yancy Street Gang.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Uncle Swan rips 'n' reads

Random synapse-firings from the pop culture cosmos...

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Thou shalt not kill, unless thou hast a clear shot at the president of Venezuela

See? This is why we don't put people like Pat Robertson in charge of anything important.

Robertson, the televangelist who runs the Christian Broadcasting Network, suggested on his 700 Club program this week that the United States should assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. "It's a whole lot cheaper than starting a war," says the cost-conscious former presidential candidate.

I guess Pat was out sick from Sunday school the week they covered the Sixth Commandment, or Jesus' commentary thereon in Matthew 5:21-26.

Even Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has proposed and endorsed far stupider actions than taking out antagonistic foreign dignitaries, knows that Robertson's is a lame idea: "Our department doesn’t do that kind of thing. It’s against the law." Not that illegality has ever stopped Rumsfeld before, but that's beside the point.

For his part, Chavez has frequently accused the U.S. government of working to overthrow his administration or to bump him off, whichever comes first, allegations the White House has denied with bluntness.

Maybe Hugo just needs to quit watching The 700 Club.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Stating the painfully obvious

A hearty SSTOL "thank you" to Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel for saying out loud what most of us (at least, most of us not surnamed Bush) are thinking:
By any standard, when you analyze two and a half years in Iraq... we're not winning.
In a rare moment of transcendent lucidity for (a) a Republican, (b) a Nebraskan, and (c) a grown man who calls himself "Chuck," Hagel, appearing on this morning's broadcast of ABC's This Week, said concerning Iraq:
I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur.
Brilliant. But obvious.

Which reminds me...

Some things in life are so incredibly obvious that one wonders why everyone can't see them. Examples:
  • Adam Sandler is not funny.

  • He can't act, either.

  • Julia Roberts is not a pretty woman. That was just the name of a movie.

  • Comb-overs do not fool anyone, nor do they make the comber-over appear more virile.

  • No woman looks feminine with her hair pulled severely back from her face in the manner of a spinster librarian. Not even at the Oscars.

  • Liver is not food. Even with a French name.

  • Men over 45 dating women under 25 have maturity issues.

  • So, with few exceptions, do women over 45 dating men under 25.

  • Brown shoes with blue slacks don't make it.

  • White shoes with anything don't make it, unless the shoes in question are sneakers.

  • Men should not wear sandals, unless acting in a Biblical epic.

  • Lara Flynn Boyle needs a sandwich. Maybe her own Quizno's franchise.

  • Unless you're a burn victim, or have otherwise been disfigured congenitally, surgically, or accidentally, cosmetic surgery serves only to make public your desperate insecurity. It does not make you look better.

  • Yes, that includes breast implants.

  • Maybe especially breast implants.

  • There will never be another James Bond except Sean Connery.

  • White guys wearing do-rags or backward baseball caps look ridiculous.

  • Britney Spears cannot sing.

  • Neither can Hilary Duff or Lindsay Lohan, and both of them should stop trying.

  • The popular success of Paris Hilton is a crime against humanity.

  • No one who co-starred in either Seinfeld or Friends has any real talent. As their subsequent ventures attest.

  • Batman and Robin really are gay. No matter what DC Comics says.

  • People who poke holes in their anatomy where holes were never intended to go are seriously disturbed.

  • Reviving the fashions of the 1970s is a bad idea.

  • We're not winning in Iraq.

  • No one is.

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Friday, August 19, 2005

This is not a Comic Art Friday for little boys!

It's been a hectic week here at Uncle Swan's playhouse, but never fear:

It's Comic Art Friday, at long last.

Today's artistic spectacular is presented in honor of the late, great Will Eisner, whom we eulogized here following his death in January.

Although I didn't discover Eisner until I'd been reading comics for several years, his work completely changed my view of the medium from the moment I picked my first Warren Publications Spirit reprint magazine in the early 1970s. Eisner's gift, aside from being a magnificent artist, was his ability to see the world of the comic page in the same way a movie director sees the world through the camera's lens. He used comic panels like frames of film, as part of the narrative device rather than merely as a means of separating one image from another.

Eisner was also one of the first comic artists to realize that the cartoon medium need not be limited to funny tales aimed at children. Indeed, in a famous opening panel published in 1946, the Spirit's raven-haired nemesis-slash-seductress P'Gell — lying on a chaise and wearing a slinky red dress with decolletage cut almost to the navel — looks directly at the reader and intones, "I am P'Gell — and this is not a story for little boys!"

The hero of Eisner's adventures, detective Denny Colt alias the Spirit, was a figure unlike any comic hero before him (though he spawned an interminable number of imitators). Like Batman, the Spirit had no superhuman powers; unlike the Caped Crusader, he relied mostly on his fists to overcome evildoers. Like Superman and his legion of successors, the Spirit wore a costume of sorts (though it amounted to nothing more than a baggy blue business suit, a fedora, gloves, and a domino mask); unlike the Man of Steel, he got the stuffing whomped out of him on a fairly regular basis.

And unlike practically every other male adventure hero in the comics of the 1940s, the Spirit displayed an active interest in beautiful women, in stark contradistinction to the asexual Superman and Captain Marvel, or the preferentially ambiguous Batman and Robin. Many of the key characters in the Spirit strips were female — including several of the recurring villains — and they were invariably both stunningly beautiful and intellectually complex.

Will Eisner is one of two artists — Jack Kirby is the other — who has, to one degree or another, influenced every artist who's worked in the field after him. For this homage to Eisner's trademark creation, I turned to an artist whose individual style is not especially Eisneresque, but who shares Eisner's cinematic perspective and storytelling ability — Geof Isherwood.

Geof shot photo reference for this scenario near an aqueduct in Montreal. (I trust that, unlike the Spirit, Geof didn't actually encounter a corpse in the water during his photographic sojourn.) He also posed for the Spirit figure himself, to make sure he captured the folds in Denny's suit perfectly. All of the inking, except the crosshatching in the night sky, was done with a brush in the Eisner style. And, true to Eisner's signature trope, Geof worked the name "The Spirit" into the background. (Because the Spirit strips originally appeared in Sunday newspaper supplements, Eisner developed a host of creative ways of introducing his title character in the strip's opening panel.) The temptress P'Gell observes Denny's plight from an upstairs window.

For a different, but equally evocative, take on our hero du jour, here's a Comic Art Friday repeat from the pen of the artist known as "Briz" (Brian Douglas Ahern). The Spirit is joined in this tableau by the X-Men's Kitty Pryde.

Whether you enjoy superhero adventure, sophisticated comedy, film noir, or just the beauty of sequential art at its maximum potential, you owe it to yourself to check out one of the many reprint collections of Will Eisner's Spirit currently available. It's a joy to watch a master at work.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Shaken, stirred, and out

We've heard this before, but it seems this time they're serious:

Producers of the James Bond films have advised star Pierce Brosnan that his license to kill has been permanently revoked.

If Eon Productions, the company that owns the film rights to the 007 trademark, really doesn't bring back Brosnan for the next Bond flick (scheduled to be a remake of Casino Royale), they could do worse than Clive Owen, most recently on view in director Robert Rodriguez's comic book adaptation, Sin City. Owen would, in my rarely humble opinion, make a fine Bond.

Then again, I liked Timothy Dalton and George Lazenby.

Stick a fork in that Blowfish: It's done

First Darius Rucker, lead singer of once-popular rockers Hootie and the Blowfish, got caught crooning a wimpy ballad in praise of a Burger King chicken sandwich while duded up in cowboy togs that, to be brutally honest, appeared to be masculinity-challenged.

Now Rucker and his fellow Fish are seen performing and signing autographs in front of a Wal-Mart in Jacksonville, Florida.

Memo to Hootie and company: The undertaker called. The memorial service for your career is next Tuesday.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Diddy expect us to take this seriously?

Rapper/clothing manufacturer/entertainment mogul/king of all media P. Diddy is changing his stage name yet again. Henceforth, the erstwhile Mr. P. would like to be known simply as Diddy. According to the newly christened Diddy, "The P was getting between me and my fans."

Yeah, I hate when that happens.

Let's see now...

So far in his meteoric career, the man born Sean John Combs has been variously known as:
  • Sean Combs
  • Sean "Puffy" Combs
  • Sean John
  • Puff Daddy
  • Puff
  • P. Diddy
  • Diddy
Just for the record, D, it's probably not a good idea to give oneself a single name that sounds like a question. You may not like some of the answers.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

What's in your comic book shopping cart?

If you've cruised by SSTOL on any given Friday, you know that I collect original comic superhero art. Knowing that, it may surprise you to learn that I only recently began reading comics again, after a hiatus of about 15 years. Collecting art spurred my interest in seeing what was happening in the industry currently, so I dropped in at a local comic shop and found a few series that intrigued me enough to garner my attention (and my three bucks) on a regular basis. The experiment will last as long as the books remain interesting to read and attractive to look into.

Here's what's currently landing in my comic book shopping basket each month.

The Amazing Spider-Man (Marvel Comics). I gave up on Spider-Man when Todd McFarlane spun the character in a dark new direction in the late '80s. But the Spider-Man films reminded me just how much I've missed connecting with my boyhood hero. I was stunned to see that where once there were but a few Spidey titles — the original Amazing Spider-Man, the companion book Spectacular Spider-Man (which was originally intended to focus more on Spidey's everyday life as mild-mannered Peter Parker, but quickly became indistinguishable from the main title), the weaker sister Web of Spider-Man, and the McFarlane-spawned Spider-Man (no adjective necessary) — there now seems to be a veritable plethora of series featuring the Wall-Crawler. I decided to stick with the horse I rode in on, and sample the original series, currently being written by noted TV scribe J. Michael Straczynski (creator of Babylon 5) and penciled by Mike Deodato Jr. I enjoy Straczynski's character development enough to tolerate Deodato's evocative but maddeningly inconsistent art (I suspect that a lot of the work that bears Deodato's name is actually being done by his legion of assistants). I was thrilled to see the recent logo change away from the grotesque McFarlane-era lettering to something cleaner and classier.

Black Panther (Marvel). One of my favorite characters, in the process of being reinvigorated by screenwriter and director Reginald Hudlin. Now that the starting run of six issues that teamed Hudlin with artist John Romita Jr. — never on my list of faves, though I was a huge fan of his father's Spider-Man work in the late '60s — I'll be interested to see whether the promise of the series holds up. One of the few comics I followed during my years away from regular reading was writer Christopher Priest's earlier Panther series — thus far, the Hudlin version pales in comparison.

DC Special: The Return of Donna Troy (DC Comics). A revamp of the original Wonder Girl character, with eye-popping art by industry legends Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez and George Perez. The story by artist-turned-scripter Phil Jimenez makes little sense, but the pictures are doggoned pretty.

Defenders (Marvel). A miniseries from the team that recently finished a six-issue run in DC's JLA Classified: writers Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis, and pencil artist Kevin Maguire (this time sans inker Joe Rubinstein, and the worse for it). I'm not usually a fan of humorous takes on otherwise serious heroes, but I enjoyed the JLA storyline ("I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League") so much that I'm giving its creators another chance. The first issue was clever, so I'll be intrigued to see where this goes.

Fantastic Four (Marvel). Nostalgia value — the first superhero comic I ever read was a Fantastic Four summer special. J. Michael Straczynski is writing this one, too — less effectively, in my opinion, than Amazing Spider-Man, but it's entertaining even if not terribly original. A monthly visit with Reed, Susan, Johnny, and Ben still makes me smile, after nearly 40 years.

Gravity (Marvel). A new series showcasing a teenage hero in the mode of the early Spider-Man (and such later Marvel characters as Nova and Darkhawk). Enthusiastically written by Sean McKeever and drawn with Silver Age overtones by penciler Mike Norton and inker Jonathan Glapion. I've very much enjoyed the first three issues of this book.

Green Lantern (DC). An aggressively retro look at one of DC most enduring characters. I've always thought Green Lantern — actually, all of the Green Lanterns, because DC has featured at least five characters by that name — was kind of a silly idea (a guy with a mystical power ring that can create anything he imagines), but I loved the series in the early '70s with Denny O'Neil writing and Neil Adams (later Mike Grell) drawing. Current writer Geoff Johns and artists Carlos Pacheco and Jesus Marino are taking Hal Jordan back to his stylistic roots, and after two issues, I'm digging the ride.

House of M (Marvel). Marvel's summer crossover series, which spans four separate titles, is an interesting enough idea that, even though I typically hate big crossover concepts, I rather like this one. The art in all four books is hideous — the Iron Man spinoff, drawn by Pat Lee, literally gives me a headache — but the scripts are engaging, tightly written, and inventive. I'm eager to see how the intersecting storylines will resolve.

Jon Sable: Freelance (IDW). Creator Mike Grell is doing everything but the colors and letters on this book, which resurrects his classic hero from the '80s. Grell, like many great artists before him (Jack Kirby and Gil Kane leap to mind), has reached the point in his career where his distinctive penciling style has begun to parody itself. When Grell's good, however, he's still very good, and greasepainted swashbuckler Sable is still as fascinating a character as he ever was. It's clear that Grell is pouring his heart and soul into every issue.

Legion of Super-Heroes (DC). Always a favorite of mine when I was a kid, this often ridiculous series (which I sometimes refer to as Legion of Stupid Heroes for its history of characters with goofy codenames and ludicrous powers) is still fun to read, thanks to writer Mark Waid. DC keeps shuffling the art team around, so I have no idea from one month to the next how each issue will look, but I'm sure the script will be nicely done.

New Avengers (Marvel). I just started reading this one, mostly because I've heard so much about the writer, Brian Michael Bendis. After a couple of issues, the jury's still out.

Ororo: Before the Storm (Marvel). Just as Superboy used to be "the adventures of Superman when he was a boy," Ororo is the adventures of the X-Men's Storm before her mutant powers manifested. It's been long established that Ororo Munroe survived her youth as a thief on the streets of Cairo (Egypt, not Illinois), and this series reveals some of the happenings of Storm's years as a sort of Artful Dodgerette. With fun, all-ages-appropriate scripts by Marc Sumerak, this is the book I'm trying to persuade my teenage daughter to read.

Rann-Thanagar War (DC). Part of DC's buildup to a mega-crossover called Infinite Crisis, this miniseries features two of my favorite heroes from the DC Universe: Adam Strange and Hawkman. Classic storytelling by writer Dave Gibbons, coupled with dynamic art by penciler Ivan Reis and inker Mark Campos. I'll be sorry when this one is over in a couple of months.

Seven Soldiers (DC). Writer Grant Morrison has assumed the Herculean task of writing seven miniseries featuring seven different protagonists (not all at once; three of the series have yet to begin), working with different artists in each title. Only two of the current series are on my reading list: The Manhattan Guardian (art by the talented Cameron Stewart) and Zatanna (art by the equally talented Ryan Sook and Mick Gray). The two books are lightyears apart in concept, but share a similar realistic flavor that I like.

Supergirl (DC). A brand-new series that just began this month, and I'm hooked already. I've long thought that the deaths of Supergirl and the Flash during the 1985 Crisis on Infinite Earths series helped sound the death knell of superhero comics as I once knew them. Supergirl's return, 20 years later, gives me reason for hope. I'm glad that Kara is back, and I look forward to her continuing adventures.

Wonder Woman (DC). This will come as no surprise to anyone who's seen my art collection. I very much appreciate the dignity with which scripter Greg Rucka portrays my all-time favorite heroine, who has probably suffered from more flat-out lousy writing than any major character in the history of superhero comics. Penciler Rags Morales, the current artist on the title, has an appealing approach that suits Rucka's words beautifully.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Winn some, lose Woody

Congratulations to San Francisco Giants outfielder Randy Winn, who hit for the cycle tonight in the Gyros' 7-3 victory over the Cincinnati Reds.

Winn becomes the first Giant to collect a single, double, triple, and home run in the same game since Jeff "I'm Not a Clubhouse Cancer" Kent accomplished the feat in May 1999, and only the 21st "cyclist" in the annals of Giants lore.

A pickup that didn't seem like much at the time, Winn has given the Giants' anemic season a shot in the arm since he came over from Seattle in a recent trade. Way to go, Randy!

On a less celebratory note, the Giants bid adios to the third-winningest pitcher in San Francisco history. Kirk "Woody" Rueter, so nicknamed because of his unmistakable resemblance to the cowboy doll in the Toy Story films, was designated for assignment by the team over the weekend. Only Hall of Famers Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry won more games wearing the San Francisco orange and black.

Woody, a junkball specialist who couldn't throw his way out of a wet hotdog wrapper, was often a frustrating figure on the mound these past couple of campaigns. He hadn't won a game since May 13, and he sported a 2-7 record for this season. But no one could question his competitiveness or his heart. He took the ball with courage every time manager Felipe Alou handed it to him, even after it was plain to everyone but Woody that he's left his best pitching days back up the trail.

Thanks for the 105 victories, Woody, and a lot of great baseball. See you around the old corral.

Life in the fast lane

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Uncle Roger layeth the smacketh down

Last February, comedian (and I use the term advisedly) Rob Schneider took Los Angeles Times film critic Patrick Goldstein to task for describing Schneider's 1999 film Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo as "sadly overlooked at Oscar time because apparently nobody had the foresight to invent a category for Best Running Penis Joke Delivered by a Third-Rate Comic."

Schneider fired back at Goldstein in a full-page ad published in Daily Variety and the Hollywood Reporter:
"Maybe you didn't win a Pulitzer Prize because they haven't invented a category for Best Third-Rate, Unfunny Pompous Reporter Who's Never Been Acknowledged by His Peers."
In his review of Schneider's just-released sequel, Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo, the dean of American film critics, Roger Ebert, gets in the last word. Quoth Uncle Roger:
Schneider is correct, and Patrick Goldstein has not yet won a Pulitzer Prize. Therefore, Goldstein is not qualified to complain that Columbia financed Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo while passing on the opportunity to participate in Million Dollar Baby, Ray, The Aviator, Sideways, and Finding Neverland.

As chance would have it, I have won the Pulitzer Prize, and so I am qualified. Speaking in my official capacity as a Pulitzer Prize winner, Mr. Schneider, your movie sucks.
And, as Ebert points out, Goldstein has garnered plenty of recognition, in spite of Schneider's claims. Goldstein has won a National Headliner Award, a Los Angeles Press Club Award, a RockCritics.com award, and the Publicists' Guild award for lifetime achievement. By contrast, Rob Schneider has won... well... the right to keep his career afloat by making lame, unfunny trash.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Teenage mutant ninja superheroines

As many of you probably know, August 12 is International Ponce de León Day, a celebration of the Spanish explorer who spent his career searching in vain for the legendary Fountain of Youth. In honor of Señor de León, Comic Art Friday today salutes superheroes that typify the joy and verve of youth.

Because, silly rabbit, comics are for kids.

To kick off the fun, we present a dynamic duo of playful young heroines, Jubilee and Jesse Quick.

Jubilee is most familiar as a member of Marvel Comics' super-teams, the X-Men and Generation X. She is also known as the character with perhaps the most ridiculous secret identity in the history of comics: Jubilee's real name is Jubilation Lee. (She is apparently no relation to Jubilation T. Cornpone of Lil' Abner fame.) Jubilee is one of the very few ethnically Asian heroes in mainstream comics — she's an American of Chinese descent — which makes her important in another way as well.

A mutant in true X-Men style, Jubilee possesses the metahuman ability to generate energy plasma from her fingers. These plasma eruptions manifest with brilliant light, hence Jubilee terms them her "fireworks." Typically portrayed as a girl between 13 and 15 years old, Jubilee shares a special bond with the X-Man called Wolverine, and often is partnered with him in adventuring.

Jesse Chambers, whose superhero code name is Jesse Quick, is the teenaged daughter of two other superheroes, Johnny Quick and Liberty Belle. She shares with her father and other DC Comics heroes, including the various incarnations of the Flash, the ability to tap into the transdimensional Speed Force and utilize it to travel at incredible velocity. For Jesse, like her dad, the Speed Force can be expressed as an equation: 3X2(9YZ)4A. (No, I don't understand what it means, either. Which is why I can't move much faster than a Galapagos tortoise on Valium.)

This cute and clever teaming of two teenaged heroines sprang from the talented pen of artist Brian Douglas Ahern, who signs his work "Briz." Briz has a delightfully cartoony style that I thought would be perfect for these two jubilant (ahem) characters, and I was correct. It was Briz's masterstroke to show Jesse's mystical speed formula materializing within Jubilee's fireworks. A brilliant (all right, now cut that out) addition to the scenario, in my opinion.

In case you wondering what inspired me to team these characters together: I was surfing the 'Net looking for character reference images, and I just happened to notice the similarities in Jubilee's and Jesse's costumes, in eyewear (both sport goggles) and in overwear (both sport jackets over their superheroing outfits). Yes, I know... I have way too much free time.

And now, so do you, because that's the end of our Comic Art Friday.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Battle of the Network Has-Beens and Never-Weres

My pal Damon alerted me to this bit of folderol from those incorrigible pranksters over at The Onion:
Entertainment-History Buffs Re-Enact Battle Of The Network Stars

SAN BERNADINO, CA—Entertainment historians from across the country gathered Sunday on a field near Hollywood to recreate the original 1976 Battle of the Network Stars. "We dedicate our re-enactment to the brave souls who fought it," said Network TV Historical Society co-founder and insurance-claims adjuster Drew Kamen, who played the part of CBS team wiseacre Jimmie Walker in this weekend's event. "Let us never forget the pivotal foot race between CBS's Robert Conrad and ABC's Gabe Kaplan." Kamen, like the other re-enactors, wore exact replicas of the striped tube socks and nylon running shorts used in the original battle.
Why does this satiric tidbit make me chuckle? Because I — yes, I — was an eyewitness to four — count 'em, four — Battles of the Network Stars back in my college days. I was a little late for the inaugural Battle in '76, but I was on hand for Battles VII through X.

And since I can tell you're absolutely dying to hear the story of how these brushes with celebrity came to be, here's the scoop.

From the fall of 1979 through the spring of 1981, I was a young lad busily matriculating at Pepperdine University in beautiful Malibu, California. Thanks to the scenic location of the Pepperdine campus and its proximity to Los Angeles, we were frequently invaded by film and television crews lensing some project or other. One such invasion that occurred on a regular basis was Battle of the Network Stars, which shot two specials per year at Pepperdine, using the university's athletic facilities.

Eager as I was in my callow youth to hobnob with the beautiful and famous, I signed up to work on the student security detail. The TV production crew used us to escort the celebrity participants to and from the various events, and to keep autograph seekers from overwhelming the stars. My duties at the four Battles for which I was present put me up close and personal with such long-forgotten '70s and '80s TV personalities as Diana Canova (one of the stars of Soap, the series that launched Billy Crystal's career), Gil Gerard and Erin Gray (the title character and his love interest on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century), and Randi Oakes (she was the blonde hottie du jour for a couple of seasons on CHiPs, and later married Gregory Harrison of Trapper John, MD). Somewhere amid my memorabilia I have snapshots of me with these folks, all of whom were extremely nice, despite what you often hear about celebrities. In fact, most of the Battle guests went out of their way to be gracious to the students and the audience, and seemed to enjoy the games and the adulation.

That's not to say some of Battle's stars weren't royal pains in the proverbial keister. In particular, I recall that Robert Conrad, Valerie Bertinelli, and the aforementioned Gregory Harrison behaved like self-important jerks. Harrison participated in all four of the Battles for which I was present, and he was always stand-offish with the fans — I believe he thought he was a bigger star than he was. That was a bummer, because I'd enjoyed him as the star of the TV version of Logan's Run. (Truth to tell, I actually tuned in that show every week to ogle Heather Menzies, who played Logan's girlfriend. But Harrison was okay too.)

Valerie Bertinelli was only present for the first Battle I worked, though she'd been involved in a couple of episodes the previous season. She was terribly rude, refusing to sign autographs or take photos one-on-one with fans (both of which all of the other celebs did gladly, as long as people were polite and orderly about it), and even snapped at people (including yours truly) who tried to take her picture as she was walking from one event venue to the next. Maybe she was just having a bad weekend. Of course, she was a kid then — she's almost two years older than I am, so she'd have only been 19 in the fall of '79. Hopefully, she matured. (Of course, she married Eddie Van Halen...so maybe not.)

I keep hoping that one day some enterprising producer will release the old Battle of the Network Stars programs on DVD, for no other reason than so I can hunt for myself in the crowd shots.

A shout-out to my buddy Damon for triggering this post, and also for not minding terribly that I cannibalized a fair bit of it from e-mail conversations he and I had about my Battle experiences. A good writer never throws anything away.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Blue light special

This week's winner of the SSTOL Lousy Timing Award is Marvin Williams of Tampa, Florida. Marv thought it would be a hoot to slap a phony rotating police light on his dashboard and pull over a fellow motorist in a phony traffic stop.

Oops Number One: Marvin's intended victims turned out to be a pair of undercover police officers, Sean Kruger and Jason Degagne.

Oops Number Two: Marvin's police light may have been bogus, but the seven-gram baggie of blow parked on the center console of his ride apparently was not.

According to a police department spokeswoman, officers Kruger and Degagne hauled Marvin and his female passenger off to the hoosegow "with a real blue light."

Often wrong, seldom in doubt

KNBR 680, the flagship radio station of the San Francisco Giants (as well as the Golden State Warriors and, as of this upcoming season, the San Francisco 49ers), has dumped controversial sports-talk host Larry Krueger, program director Bob Agnew, and morning show producer Tony Rhein in the wake of Kreuger's ill-advised remarks last week about certain Giants players of Latin American heritage.

On his Sportsphone 680 broadcast last Wednesday, Krueger made reference to "brain-dead Caribbean hitters hacking at slop nightly." Giants manager Felipe Alou, himself a native of the Dominican Republic, walked off his daily pregame show, and refused to accept an apology from Krueger. KNBR originally suspended Krueger for a week, but management apparently decided that the shoot-from-the-lip host had to walk the plank.

It should be noted that KNBR, in addition to airing Giants games since the late '70s, also owns a stake in the ballclub. According to KNBR mainstay Gary Radnich, the Giants didn't have any say in the terminations, but I've got to believe someone in the Giants organization put a bug in KNBR head honcho Tony Salvadore's ear and let him know that the team was not amused by Krueger's comments, or the comedy segment produced by Rhein that made light of the incident.

I'm not all that surprised that Krueger was fired. In fact, I raised a questioning eyebrow at the fact that KNBR only suspended him at first. You just can't make racially insensitive comments on the public airwaves these days and expect to get off scot-free. But I'm floored by the fact that Bob Agnew was let go. Agnew has been the program chief at KNBR for almost as long as I can remember. His firing will definitely shake things up at "The Sports Leader."

Krueger used to end his show with the sign-off, "Often wrong, seldom in doubt." He was wrong this time, and apparently his employers weren't in doubt about that.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

What's Up With That? #24: The official beverage of the booboisie

Here's the latest sign of the end of the universe as we know it:

Diet water.

Please — for the love of all that's right and decent — tell me no one is going to be stupid enough to buy this.

According to its official Web site, Jana Skinny Water is "a no-calorie water." Hello? It's water. Water has no calories.

Furthermore, the advertising copy says, "Jana Skinny Water is ephedra-free and contains no preservatives, caffeine, calories, or sugar." Hello? It's water. Water has no ephedra, no preservatives, no caffeine, no calories, and no sugar. That's why it's called water.

Only someone with a skinny brain would buy diet water. Therefore, Jana Skinny Water will probably be the best selling product in the history of mankind.

Somewhere, H.L. Mencken is laughing hysterically.


Even Donkey Kong could appreciate the irony

A South Korean man died of heart failure following a marathon video game-playing session that lasted 50 hours. The 28-year-old man, who left his chair only for bathroom breaks and brief naps, had recently quit his job, specifically so that he would have more free time to play video games.

I believe we can rightly call this a case of nature thinning the herd.

This story reminds me of that classic episode of The Twilight Zone in which Burgess Meredith, later the Penguin on the Batman TV series, played a misanthropic librarian who was the only survivor of a nuclear holocaust. Delighted to have the remainder of humanity out of his hair so that he could spend the rest of his days reading in peace and quiet, the librarian settled in with his beloved books... only to discover that he had shattered his reading glasses.

Welcome home, Discovery!

Congratulations to mission commander Eileen Collins and the crew of STS-114 for a safe return home.

That is all.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Man from ABC

As I'm sure you've already heard, longtime ABC News anchor Peter Jennings died yesterday of lung cancer.

He was 67. Which is a lot younger than it used to seem.

Peter Jennings always struck me as the epitome of what James Bond would be like if he had decided to become a television news anchor instead of a secret agent. Jennings always exuded the same sort of cool detachment as Ian Fleming's original vision of Bond: aloof, humorless, unflappable. You were glad he was at the big desk when cataclysmic events happened somewhere in the world. You didn't get the sense that he'd be much fun at a dinner party, but that wasn't his job.

I'll bet that, toward the end, he wished he hadn't gone back to the cigarette habit during the stress-laden days following September 11, 2001.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

I'll take "Championship Weddings" for $2,000, please, Alex

Congratulations to Dr. Dan Melia, winner of the 1998 Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions, and his new bride, Dara Hellman!

Dr. Dan and Dara were married last Wednesday, August 3, on the Jeopardy! set at Sony Pictures Studios in Culver City. Their ceremony was performed by Bob Harris, another finalist in that 1998 tournament. Knowing Bob, I'm sure the wedding was an event to remember.

I had the privilege of joining Dr. Dan on a pub trivia team two months ago today, as recorded by the San Francisco Chronicle's legendary columnist, Jon Carroll. It was my first opportunity to see the Good Doctor in live action, and I can assure you that he is every whit as brilliant in person as he appears to be on television. Dan's the Jeopardy! player I would like to be when I grow up.

Dr. Dan is an associate professor of Celtic studies and rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley. (That sounds scary, just typing it.) His bride Dara, whose acquaintance I've not had the pleasure of making, teaches at Dominican University in Marin County.

My sincere best wishes to the happy couple.

Friday, August 05, 2005

What's Up With That? #23: "My little stoner"

A Montana woman was slapped with a five-year prison sentence for giving her 18-month-old daughter bong hits while a friend took photos of the event.

No, that's not a typo. 18 months old.

According to the mother — and I'm using that word in the biological sense exclusively — smoking marijuana helped the child's appetite. The woman also referred to her daughter as "a little stoner."

I've heard of people doing some pretty asinine things with their kids in the name of permissiveness. Here in our county recently, two teenagers were killed in an accident by a girl who was driving with a suspended license, but whose mother had continued to allow her to drive.

But teaching a baby to toke up?

Someone needs a foot applied to her butt. Swiftly, firmly, and repeatedly.


Good guys wear black (ink), the sequel

Today's Comic Art Friday is sponsored by the Sonoma County Fair, which enters its second and final weekend today. The girls and I made our annual Thursday evening fair-crawl a week ago yesterday and had a blast, then KM the equestrian fanatic took Wednesday afternoon off and hung out at the racetrack, watching the ponies run. Grand fun.

Last time on Comic Art Friday, we took a gander at two artworks recently finished in ink by the redoubtable Bob Almond, one of the truly good guys in the comic art field. Today I've got a couple more of Bob's recent inking efforts to showcase — pieces that, like the previous pair we examined, were also drawn originally by artists I'd categorize as good guys.

This muscular two-shot was penciled on commission at WonderCon earlier this year by Ron Lim, best known for his work on Marvel Comics' Captain America and Silver Surfer. Here we find Cap dashing into battle, accompanied by his imitator, one-time antagonist, and occasional ally, the USAgent.

I say Ron Lim is a good guy — though I've met him only this one time at WonderCon — because of the friendly and accommodating way he handled this commission request. When I approached his table, he greeted me with a jovial "Hi!" and stopped to chat with me, even though he was right in the middle of drawing a sketch for another attendee. Then, when I explained that I wanted to commission a sketch of the USAgent, he seemed genuinely pleased, even though he had a lengthy sketch list already in front of him. He complimented the quality of the scan of the character that I'd brought for reference (for the sketch he was doing when I approached, the buyer had given him a darkly copied, difficult-to-see, eye-strainingly minuscule picture of whatever the requested character was). And best of all, he said, "What would you think about me doing a two-character piece with Cap and the Agent?" To which suggestion I agreed, as you can see.

Next up is another two-shot that began as a convention sketch, though not one I commissioned originally. As you can see by the date, penciler Dan Jurgens — best known as the artist who killed the Man of Steel in the now-legendary "Death of Superman" storyline some years back — drew the original at a convention in 1999. I purchased it from an art dealer last year.

I've never had any direct communication with Dan Jurgens, but I'm convinced that he deserves "good guy" status. Last fall, not long after I purchased the Thor vs. Hulk pinup above, the dealer who sold it to me e-mailed me to say that Jurgens would be dropping in as an unannounced guest at an upcoming convention in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Jurgens wasn't planning to set up a table and do sketches, but the dealer suggested that, since I liked Dan's art, he'd ask whether Dan would make an exception and do a sketch for me. I asked for a drawing of Booster Gold, a character Jurgens created, and the artist eagerly complied. Any artist who takes on a commission project for a fan he doesn't know on a weekend when he's not planning to work rates a "good guy" ranking, in my estimation.

Bob Almond contributed some mighty fine inking to both of these artworks. Since these were convention sketches, they started out rougher and looser than most of the pencil art Bob gets to work on, so he had to add a considerable amount of linework to finish each piece.

I'm always impressed with Bob's ability to adapt his approach to just about any penciler, without taking anything away from the original artist's vision, yet adding ample strength and clarity of his own. Unlike some inkers, whose technique imprints everything they touch — such artists as Tom Palmer, Klaus Janson, and Terry Austin, to name three — Bob's such a stylistic chameleon I can't always easily identify art that he has inked. I always know, however, that any piece entrusted to him will turn out beautifully. Thanks, Bob!

And that, my friends, is your Comic Art Friday.

You make me feel so young

Maureen McCormick turns 49 today.

When I'm feeling aged, creaky, and decrepit as I roll my voluminous butt off the side of the bed every morning, I can take solace in this thought:

However old I get, I will always be more than five years younger than Marcia Brady.


Oh, Maureen? One word, babe:


Thursday, August 04, 2005

Victory for the fashion police

Martha Stewart gets to wear her electronic anklet for an extra three weeks.

Apparently, Martha got caught violating the terms of her home confinement sentence, which was scheduled to end on August 10. Reports say that the Queen of Decor got caught tooling around in an off-road vehicle and popping out to a yoga class, among possible other no-nos. For her obstreperousness, Martha gets to hang out at the house with her custom accessory for an extra three weeks, through August 31.

That's not a good thing.

Jacko jurors cash in

Two of the jurors who voted to acquit Michael Jackson of child molestation have signed lucrative book deals.

In an interesting twist, both Eleanor Cook and Ray Hultman intend to say in their upcoming exposes that they actually believe Jackson is guilty. In fact, Cook's book will be entitled Guilty As Sin, Free As a Bird. (Perhaps Ms. Cook should be writing an autobiography. She could call it Greedy As Hell.)

I smell a third book coming. Doesn't all this sound like a John Grisham plot to you?

Wednesday, August 03, 2005


One of my favorite bloggers ever, The Real Sam Johnson (as with Porsche, there is no substitute), pinged me on a meme. Now, you SSTOL regulars know I don't do memes here generally — I think I've maybe done one in the year-plus SSTOL has been polluting cyberspace, and I must have been desperate that day. However, because Sam is my second-favorite Johnson (after Magic; what did you think I meant?), I'll play along in my own inimitable way.

Here are the first three sections of this five-part meme, and my responses thereto:

Five Light Reads
  1. Any Spenser novel — Robert B. Parker. My favorites are The Judas Goat and Early Autumn. Parker is, quite simply, The Man. Yes, he's gotten lazier and breezier as he's expanded his repertoire with additional series, but for a great speedy read, there's nobody better.
  2. The Comic Book Heroes — Gerard Jones and Will Jacobs. The most-thumbed book in my bathroom, hands down.
  3. The Caves of Steel — Isaac Asimov. Probably my favorite science fiction novel, by one of my favorite authors.
  4. The Straight Dope (or any of its sequel volumes) — Cecil Adams. Many imitators. No equals.
  5. The Great Movies — Roger Ebert. Uncle Roger is the man who made me want to be a film critic.
Five Reads To Make Me Think
  1. The Bible — God. Do I really need to explain this?
  2. The New Historical Baseball Abstract — Bill James. I learn something new every time I open it.
  3. Exit the Rainmaker — Jonathan Coleman. A fascinating real-life character study about a man who had everything and walked away from it all. Twice.
  4. Why Black People Tend to Shout — Ralph Wiley. I miss Ralph. One of the truly majestic voices of this generation.
  5. The Elements of Style — William Strunk and E.B. White. After #1 (okay, a very distant second), maybe the most useful book ever written.
Five Songs That Turn Me On
  1. "In the Air Tonight" — Phil Collins. Two words: Risky Business.
  2. "Here Comes the Rain Again" — Eurythmics. Two words: Annie Lennox.
  3. "More Than Love" — Los Lonely Boys. Quite possibly, the most evocative love song lyrics of the new millennium to date.
  4. "You Send Me" — Sam Cooke. What can I say? I'm old school.
  5. "Fat Bottomed Girls" — Queen. Well... you asked what turned me on.
The last two sections of the meme Sam forwarded ask for Five Best Movie Dramas and Five Best Movie Comedies. The notion that anyone could pick the five "best" examples of any category of film is, in my not-so-humble opinion, presumptuous and silly. Even choosing only five favorites in each category is a stretch — ask me on a dozen days and I'll give you a dozen different lists, depending upon (a) my mood, and (b) my memory that day.

So instead, I'll offer up:

Twenty-Five Movies Uncle Swan Would Want Along If He Were a Character on Lost

These are 25 films I could watch again and again in perpetuity — not necessarily my list of the "best" (whatever that means) 25 films ever made, but 25 I never tire of viewing repeatedly.

In alphabetical order:
  1. The Abyss. 2001, only with water and soul.
  2. The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension and Big Trouble in Little China. I'm going to fudge and count these as one, because the latter was born from the ashes of the script for the sequel to the former ("Buckaroo Banzai Against the World Crime League").
  3. Blazing Saddles. Quite simply, the funniest movie I've ever seen.
  4. Casablanca. We'll always have Paris.
  5. Die Hard. Welcome to the party, pal -- the only action movie you'll ever need to see.
  6. Double Indemnity. One of the three most seductive female villains in the history of the movies. You'll find the others in The Last Seduction and The Spanish Prisoner, two films that barely missed making this list.
  7. Enter the Dragon. Lee... Bruce Lee. "It's like a finger pointing away to the moon. Don't concentrate on the finger, or you will miss all the heavenly glory." More wonderfully cheesy dialogue than you can shake the '70s at. John Saxon does kung fu. Jim Kelly does kung fro. And of course, tons o' Bruce dishing out the jeet kune do.
  8. Fargo. Every time I watch this film, I'm more amazed at just how clever it is.
  9. Heavy Metal. Call it adolescent nostalgia if you must, but I get the jones to watch this at least once a month, like clockwork.
  10. L.A. Confidential. Incredible script, incredible acting, incredible atmosphere. The finest of the neo-noir pastiches, by a Los Angeles mile.
  11. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It's fair, I think, to consider this a single epic film in three parts.
  12. Memento. Had a more profound first-viewing impact on me than any film since I first saw Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
  13. A Mighty Wind. The funniest film since Blazing Saddles.
  14. The Natural. If I can only pick one baseball movie, it's the legend of Roy Hobbs, by a whisker over Bull Durham and Field of Dreams.
  15. Ocean's Eleven. "You're either in or out." Count me in. Just barely ahead of Soderbergh's Out of Sight, only because it's a little more fun.
  16. Once Upon a Time in the West. Greatest. Western. Ever. Though I hate to leave Unforgiven off the list.
  17. On Her Majesty's Secret Service. If I could only have one Bond, it would be this one. Lazenby aside, OHMSS is the best-made film in the series.
  18. The Princess Bride. Perhaps the most perfect family film ever.
  19. Princess Mononoke. Spirited Away is a more monumental cinematic achievement, but Mononoke is a wall-to-wall wonder, and again, more fun.
  20. Psycho. Forty-five years later, horrormeisters are still playing catch-up.
  21. Raiders of the Lost Ark. You can keep the two inferior sequels. The swordsman gag and Karen Allen's bottomless eyes would be worth the honor all by themselves.
  22. Ronin. John Frankenheimer's last masterpiece, and maybe the last time De Niro acted as if he cared about something other than a paycheck.
  23. Streets of Fire. "Tom Cody. Pleased ta meet ya." Wins the Walter Hill spot ahead of 48 Hrs. and The Warriors. Sorry about the career these days, Walter. But you were a giant once.
  24. Tremors. The quintessential monster movie. Whatever happened to Finn Carter, anyway?
  25. The Usual Suspects. One of the cinema's most compelling mysteries, and one of its most amazing ensemble casts.
Are you happy now, Sam?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

So much for low carbs

So let's see...

Dr. Atkins is dead...

The diet products company he founded is bankrupt...

And Krispy Kreme stock is up 4.3 percent.

That sound you just heard was the dripping of irony into hot fat.

Jack's back...and Chloe, too

No surprise here, 24 fans: Kiefer Sutherland returns as our favorite ends-justify-the-means antiterrorist agent, Jack Bauer, in next season's skein of episodes, which begin airing in January.

A few of the other confirmed returning cast members are a little surprising, though. Carlos Bernard is back as Jack's right-hand man, Tony Almeida, even those Tony and his wife Michelle Dessler (played by the swoon-inducing Reiko Aylesworth) appeared to ride off into the sunset at the end of last season. Also back are Gregory Itzen as wishy-washy President Logan, and Mary Lynn Rajskub as Jack's dweeby tech geek, Chloe O'Brian.

I'm glad to see that last-mentioned cast update. Playing one of the goofiest, most off-putting characters on television, Rajskub has carved her own little niche in 24 that no other actor could appropriately fill. She's one of those rare actresses — Kathleen Wilhoite is another — who makes dorky seem almost cute. Almost.

Besides, I keep waiting for the season when Chloe and Jack hook up.

No, really.

Monday, August 01, 2005

'Scuse me while I kiss this guy

Perhaps that oft-misheard lyric was accurate after all.

According to Room Full of Mirrors, a new biography by Charles R. Cross, rock guitar legend Jimi Hendrix escaped Uncle Sam's Army — and, perhaps, eventual deployment to Vietnam — by pretending he was gay.

That tactic didn't work for Corporal Klinger on M*A*S*H, but I guess it turned out all right for Jimi.

Having grown up in an Air Force family, I never really understood the whole "no gays in the military" thing. Regardless of one's views of the morality or immorality of homosexuality, why should being homosexual prevent someone from serving his or her country in the armed forces? The way I look at it, the more people — gay, straight, whatever — who are willing to go off to a foreign land and get shot at, the less chance that someone's going to ask me.

And besides, there have always been gay people in the military. When I was a kid, we knew plenty of people in the Air Force, both men and women, whose homosexuality was more or less an open secret. But even in the days before "don't ask, don't tell" was the official policy, many commanding officers would look the other way as long as a gay serviceman or servicewoman did the job and didn't flaunt his or her sexuality in such a flagrant way that regulations had to be brought to bear.

Interesting story about Hendrix, though. Of course, in 1962, he probably could have gotten kicked out of the Army just for admitting that he was a rock musician.

My father, incidentally, always believed Hendrix was gay, because Dad really thought Jimi was saying, "'Scuse me while I kiss this guy." But you have to understand, this is the same man who once thought a baseball broadcaster uttered a racial slur when he announced that Phil Niekro was pitching for the Braves.

Loyalty is one thing; stupidity is another

I'm appalled — though hardly shocked, the way people raise (or don't raise) their kids these days — that some 18-year-old New Jersey punk invited the girl next door over to watch TV and ended up stabbing her to death in the heat of an argument.

I'm not even all that surprised — though I suppose were I not jaded and cynical, I would be — that said punk dismembered the poor victim's body, placed the severed sections in a steamer trunk, and tried to dump the whole kit and kaboodle into the Passaic River.

No, what stuns me about this sad report is that the punk was able to persuade his brother and a 16-year-old friend into helping him dispose of the body. The brother I can sort of understand — blood is thicker than water, after all — but what was the other kid thinking?

A guy calls you on the phone and says, "Hey, Jimmy. I just offed Jennifer. Could you come over real quick and help my little bro and me hack her body up and toss her in the Passaic?"

Don't you say, "Umm... NO"?

Okay, the punk is your friend. I get that. But you can make new friends. Friends who don't murder teenaged girls. Friends who don't dissect their murder victims and pack them like yesterday's BVDs into a steamer trunk. Friends who don't ask you to become an accessory-after-the-fact to murder. Friends who aren't willing to implicate you in a brutal crime whose commission you had nothing to do with, so that you can spend the next 10 to 15 years of your pitiful existence trying like the dickens to avoid hand-sharpened shivs and Big Louie the tossed-salad man.

Let's see, friendship with prison; no friendship but no prison. I'll take the prison-free option every time.