Thursday, October 05, 2017

The Live PD Phenomenon

The Bride and I are hardcore "Cops" fans, for well over two decades.  We have even had "Cops" parties watching best of tapes (yes, tapes).  The show is one of the reality television genre that actually is reality as cameras follow law enforcement as they do their jobs.  Certainly however there is an editing process to produce the half-hour program with its three segment formula. 

Still we love it, The Bride to see the good guys doing their job, and myself with the darker sense of humor just for the schadenfreude, a German word meaning taking pleasure in the misery of others.  I have no shame as I know I’m not alone.  If I was alone, no form of reality TV would thrive at all in this country.  We’re all sick voyeurs to one degree or another. 

This past summer we discovered a new series on A&E that goes "Cops" one better.  On Friday and Saturday nights, the busiest of the week for police officers, "Live PD" follows various law enforcement from across the country live as they do their jobs.  This is not an edited down version of a week spent on camera, this is the police on the job, live.

Hosted in the New York studio by Dan Abrams, a legal consultant for ABC News, and veteran police officer Tom Morris, Jr., the show is pulled from precincts across the country as they happen.  Dan and Tom are sometimes joined by Sean “Sticks” Larkin, an officer from the Tulsa Gang Unit and fan favorite, as well as officers featured on the show live, who offer color commentary and explanations during breaks. The hosts and the cops have become stars in their own right. 

The show has become so popular that A&E not only repeats it constantly but has also spun off two or three shows from it, some postscripts to what happened in the real show.  Ironically the show being live, sometimes it ends in the middle of it getting good.  We have waited a whole week sometimes to find out what happened after the cameras go black. 

The Twitter phenomenon of "Live PD" however is something else altogether.  Imagine if "Cops" was not only live, but interactive. That's what is happening here. On Friday and Saturday nights, Twitter is on fire with this show as thousands of viewers Tweet as they watch, they have even helped the police, seeing things on television the cops on the scene missed, like a baggy of drugs thrown out a window in a police chase. Don't forget to use the hashtag #LivePD.

Various places on the show, like bars and hotels and stores in the precincts monitored have become famous, and a bizarre and fun bingo game has developed based on what happens typically on the show. Google LivePD Bingo for a variety of different versions and cards to play along.

"Live PD" returns Friday, so get ready, get your phone out to Tweet along, and your Bingo cards printed up to play along. It's a blast!

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Rest in Peace, Tom Petty

In the shadow of one of the worst shootings in American history, in between the news network full coverage, and the madness that follows such things, we have lost one of our great musical lights. Tom Petty was found unconscious yesterday morning, and finally, after much heartache and misinformation, pronounced dead of cardiac arrest at the age of 66, early last night.

The first time I saw or heard Tom Petty, or Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, was in the movie FM, friends had referred to him as the new Mick Jagger. I don't know how accurate that is or was, but it was memorable. His music was the sound of my teens, my twenties, and so on, it truly mapped the 1970s, the 1980s, and 1990s for me. Hard Promises was one of three albums I bought with my very first paycheck. The great thing about Petty albums consistently is that you not only got the hits like "A Woman in Love (It's Not Me)" and "The Waiting," you also got AOR tunes and hidden gems like "A Thing About You," "Kings Road," and "The Criminal Kind." Yeah, I wore those grooves out.

I can remember having two, not just one, cassettes of Tom Petty's songs recorded from the radio when I first got a cassette recorder. He was an FM rock favorite and almost all of his music got airplay. Even before I graduated high school in 1982 (and Petty was white suburban FM rock and roll then) he had a catalog that included some of the best of the time, from "American Girl" and "Breakdown" to "Listen to Her Heart" and "I Need to Know." He was not a favorite, like Bowie or Prince, but man, he was always there, and always rocking. Yeah, he was a favorite, I just didn't know it.

Later favorite albums would include Long After Dark, which holds a special place in my heart for getting me my first date with a college girlfriend. She was a Petty fan, and my inside knowledge of when the album was coming out (easily found in Billboard magazine which I read obsessively when I worked at the college radio station) dazzled her enough to date me. This album also included Petty's move into the MTV era from that of FM AOR. I remember loving the post-apocalyptic music video for "You Got Lucky," the red vinyl single for "Change of Heart," and my favorite tune off the album, the B-side "Between Two Worlds."

My favorite Petty song comes from the next album Southern Accents, an album full of oddities mixed into the usual southern rock and roll highlights. This one had the hilarious country ditty "Spike" about a punk rocker, as well as the hit single with acid trip video, "Don't Come Around Here No More," coolly co-written by genius co-producer Dave Stewart from Eurythmics. But it was the weird dance vibe of "It Ain't Nothin' to Me," also with Stewart, that still blows me away. I don't know why, but I love this song even today and turn it up whenever I hear it.

Later Tom Petty, already a superstar in his own right, would officially go solo from the Heartbreakers, and also join with Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, Roy Obrbison, and George Harrison to form the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys. Petty, with and without the Heartbreakers, would continue to release albums and singles through to 2014. He was always producing and always innovating. We have lost another legend, a man who filled my life with music, creating a soundtrack of memories. We will all miss Tom Petty. Rest in peace, man.







Friday, September 29, 2017

Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere

Kansas: Miracles Out of Nowhere ~ I stumbled across this documentary the other night on one of the MTV channels, and it brought back some great memories.  The doc tells the story of the band Kansas from its beginnings to their commercial success through individual interviews with the original six members. 

I remember hearing Kansas on the FM AOR radio, mostly WMMR and WYSP in the mid-seventies, and thinking they were okay.  I wouldn't change the station if they were on, basically, but I didn't really appreciate their music or their artistry until I heard them played in a neighbor's basement that had a killer stereo system.  That brought Kansas to life for me. 

I also remember a trip to the Ocean City boardwalk and a busker who refused to play "Dust in the Wind" because it was 'the hardest song ever to play properly,' and he 'didn't want his fingers to bleed.'  He got booed by both those who requested it and wanted to hear it.  True or not, it gave me added awe for the tune. 

My favorite Kansas song was "People of the South Wind" from the album Monolith, a song and an album both considered failures, but its content pulled at me.  Native Americans shoved aside by the white man, and wearing space helmets on the cover of the album drew me just like the fantastical elements of the cover of Point of Know Return.  It's still one of my favorite songs from that time. 

The doc is compelling, and tells stories of their early days, composition of songs, dealing with Don Kirshner, fighting with Steven Tyler, and the internal struggles of the band.  This is one of the better rock docs I've seen, cool for Kansas fans old, new, or fans not at all.  Check it out.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The Orville

Yesterday, I talked about how cool I thought "Star Trek: Discovery was, so today I'm going to talk about the other, unofficial, Trek show being talked about lately - "The Orville." There has been a very vocal group of Star Trek fans out there saying that "The Orville" is more Trek than "Discovery," and while that might possibly be true, you all know how I feel about Star Trek fandom.

The first hype that was out there about "The Orville," from creator Seth MacFarlane of "Family Guy" fame, was that it was a plagiarization of Star Trek, with fart jokes. But as reviews began to come in on "Discovery," with its wholesale changes to the Klingon mythos, weird ship designs, and shaky retcons of established Trek timelines… the Trek fans began to warm to "The Orville," almost as if in retaliation. Some may say it's about content, but I think it's about paying for it, because "Discovery" airs on the pay service CBS All Access. Apparently, Trek fans will take fart jokes as long as they’re free.

Personally, as I said yesterday, I think "Discovery" is brilliant, but, hold on to your drinks, so is "The Orville." I think with the involvement of Seth MacFarlane, most folks expected a big joke-filled parody of Star Trek, but the fact is, he is a huge Trek fan himself. He not only created a loving homage to Trek mythology, but did it so well, that when vulgar humor does show up, it feels out of place. Yes, it's true, MacFarlane has out-Trekked Trek. This show is damn good.

The humor has brought up situations that we know must happen in the Star Trek universe, but no one has tried to tackle before. Not only is it hilarious in those moments, it's thoughtful, refreshing, and in some cases, daring. In the space of three episodes, we have seen on "The Orville" both the best elements of the original series and TNG, with fart jokes. That is impressive. This is a show to watch, and you should watch it because it's good, not just because it's free. Two thumbs way up.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Star Trek: Discovery

There have been reports before the fact about this series that are the stuff of nightmare, and there is of course the whole concept of having to pay for it as part of CBS' new All Access network, so even before it started, "Star Trek: Discovery" had a hard road ahead of it. First imagined as an anthology series, taking place at any time or place in the mainstream Trek universe (as opposed to in the Kelvin timeline of the last three cinematic films - here, here, and here), this series now might just be about one ship, one crew, and one time - time will tell.

I have been impressed with the previews myself, especially the acting and casting, but not so much with some of the designs, particularly the Klingon ones. Further while I was very happy with the casting of "The Walking Dead"'s Sonequa Martin-Green as First Officer Michael Burnham and one of my favorite actresses Michelle Yeoh as Captain Philippa Georgiou, I was disappointed that Green would take lead as the POV protagonist with Yeoh in a more background role. That said, as with all such things, I should have an opinion until I actually see it, right? It's what separates the Trekkers from the Trekkies, I suppose, pre-perception.

I loved the opening of the first episode, "The Vulcan Hello," as well as the new theme. The composition by Jeff Russo incorporates elements of the original theme, and while it's no country song like in "Enterprise," which I found original, refreshing, and catchy, it is adequate. The visuals are much less exciting, and disappointing. But as noted, the acting and lesson of the intro with Green and Yeoh showed much promise and dedication to the cause. It had my hopes up that I was able to get through the less-than-stellar credit sequence.

Ten minutes in, introduced to Doug Jones' paranoid science officer Saru, and others in the diverse crew of the USS Shenzhou, this was feeling very Trek, from the dialogue, to the uniforms, to the procedural, and I was digging it. This crew gets along, knows each other's quirks, and has a camaraderie similar to later seasons of "TNG." There is however an annoying Motion Picture conceit of showing off special effects and model building, almost like a child jumping up and down and yelling, "Look what I can do!" and it results in scenes dragging and taking much longer than they should.

And then there are the Klingons, some might say drastically different in appearance and conduct to what we have known before. They have been known to change their physical appearance in the past, but this is quite different, and quite possibly what drove fans up the wall when images surfaced. We have more gothic, more bestial, more feudal Klingons here, with a darker, larger, more sinister and menacing bird of prey. I am willing to accept this, after all, who knows how much and how fast Klingons might evolve physically or change culturally.

A more sophisticated explanation from the showrunners suggest that the Klingon Empire is huge, and not all Klingons come from Kronos. Their various cultures and styles and even physical manifestations vary from house to house, their system of power, similar to that of "Game of Thrones" in a way. Just like a New York businessman would look different from an Aborigine shaman for instance, these Klingons are just as different as say Kang and Worf are to each other. Seems like a lot of dancing to just make more fearsome alien monsters and not change the name. And once the thought that they were more like "Doctor Who" monsters than "Star Trek" villains entered my mind, it would not leave.

The setting is ten years before the original series, and the USS Shenzhou has discovered a Klingon ship. Burnham, who has a history with the Klingons who haven't but rarely been seen in generations, goes to investigate and ends up killing one of their Torchbearers. Burnham, we learn was the only survivor of a Vulcan-Human space station attacked by Klingons. Her parents killed, Sarek (yes, that Sarek) took her in, educated, and trained her. So this discovery is a hot issue for Burnham.

As the episode continues we see more of Burnham, as well as Saru and Geogiou, all doing fantastic jobs. The performances are on mark. Meanwhile we are also learning of Klingon culture and how one house is trying to unite all twenty-four houses against the Federation. The cliffhanger on the first episode is a tight one, and must have been very frustrating for those not subscribed to CBS All Access. My take on this however, based on the first episode, would be it's worth it.

Lucky folks outside the United States got to see it on Netflix, it should be noted. And in watching the second episode, "Battle at the Binary Stars," it's evident that the structure of the show fits Netflix to a tee. This is a binge series, and watched best as a binge. It's episodic, with a binge-worthy flow, interspersed with character-revealing flashbacks - this is a Netflix show, and CBS couldn't have found a better formula to copy. It's damn good. I dug this a lot, recommended.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Cat in the Hat Ride at Universal

The last time we went to Universal in Orlando, there were more than a few disappointments, not the least of which was the food, but on our way out of the parks, The Bride and I, both Dr. Seuss fans from waaay back (pre-school really), saw the Cat in the Hat Ride and thought we'd check it out. Sure, it's for kids, but we're just big kids.

The first time I saw the Cat in the Hat in this ride, I knew I would be having nightmares. Universal managed to take the more scary parts of the old Snow White and Mr. Toad rides and injected them with Dr. Seuss surrealism, and a healthy (or unhealthy) dose of crazy eyes. A rather pedestrian ride, but with psycho eyes, and just a touch of technicolor Cabinet of Dr. Caligari… is this for kids?

As much fun as the kids book "The Cat in the Hat" seemed when I was a wee one, I would not want to be in that book, and that's what this ride does. Sure, on that last trip to Universal, I was dying to get out of the sun, and this ride is air conditioned, but consider this - so are the retail stores and they don't have giant cats in hats with crazy eyes you'll be seeing in your nightmares for days to come…



Tuesday, September 19, 2017

F is for Family

Like many of the television situation comedies of the 1980s and 1990s - like "Seinfeld," "Home Improvement," or "Roseanne" - "F is for Family" is built around the stand-up routines of a popular comedian, in this case, Bill Burr.  What makes this one unique is that it's animated, and set squarely in 1973.  And as a child of the 1970s suburbs, let me assure you, they got this right.  This is no That 70's Show. 

Now I have to admit that I was never really a big fan of Bill Burr.  I always enjoyed when he was a guest on the late great Opie and Anthony radio show, and never turned the channel when his stand up was on, but I never sought it out either, and I've never heard his podcast although I know it's quite popular.  Burr always seemed fun, and funny, but a little mean spirited and pessimistic.  In this format however, I think it works. 

Bill Burr voices the father, Frank Murphy, who in the opening credit sequence set to Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love," we see go from hopeful young man with dreams to the crushed spirit of a family man with responsibilities.  The wordless bit actually reminds me if the beginning of Disney-Pixar's Up in that it conveys so many feelings in an economy of dialogue and time, brilliant. 

Frank's wife Sue is voiced by Laura Dern, and burnout son Kevin by Justin Long.  Sue fights for her rights as best she can as a housewife in 1973, and Kevin tries to better himself but it never seems to work out thanks to his other burnout friends.  Frank struggles with his wife, his family, which also includes a younger son and daughter, and a job that is quickly headed toward disaster. 

Besides Bill Burr, who voices, writes, and inspires, there are two other executive producers who may be of note, Vince Vaughn and Peter Billingsley.  Vaughn you all know from his many acting roles, including Swingers and "True Detective," and Billingsley was Ralphie in Jean Shepherd's A Christmas Story, who since then has does considerable work behind the camera. 

As I said I grew up in the suburbs of South Jersey in the 1970s, with the show taking place in nearby Pennsylvania, and this is dead on.  I not only know these people, in some cases I was them.  The comedy is funny but the people and the situations are real, sometimes too real, and at times override the jokes.  The ongoing subplot of a strike at the airline where Frank works is a serious concern. 

My favorite episode of the first season is "Bill Murphy's Day Off" where the parents take Kevin to a rock concert so he and his friends can see the opening act, Shire of Frodo.  Fans eager to see the headliner Lifted Riffs don't let them even start a song but Riffs is a hoot.  While both bands are parodies of different aspects of Led Zeppelin, Riffs really takes it to town with a song called "Lick My Pickle," a clever and hilarious riff on "The Lemon Song."  Loved it. 

The second season became available, all ten episodes of it, just a couple months back.  Frank adjusts to new jobs and old, Sue fights the glass ceiling, and Kevin tries to make a go if his own band.  There are bigger parts for Frank's rich swinger neighbor played by Sam Rockwell, and his two younger kids as well, one a bullied boy standing up for himself, and the other a smart girl up against many of the same barriers as her mom. 

"F is for Family" is coming of age, it's nostalgia, it's emotional, it's funny, and it's definitely worth checking out. If you grew up in the seventies, ever didn't want to turn into your parents, or tried to turn everything into a bong, this show is for you. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Fleabag

I have to admit that until her name came up as a possibility for the role of the thirteenth incarnation of The Doctor on "Doctor Who," I had never heard of Phoebe Waller-Bridge.  She's apparently an award-winning playwright as well as an actress, but I didn't know.  Neither she nor the other favorite Kris Marshall of Love Actually, got the role, it going instead to Jodie Whittaker.  We'll have to wait until at least Christmas to see how that goes.

Back on track I was surprised to see Phoebe's name again recently as I was browsing Amazon Prime.  She is the star and writer of a show called "Fleabag."  The ongoing saga of a young single woman in London as she tries to make her way through life after the death of her best friend might not sound like anything special, but Waller-Bridge makes it work wonderfully. 

As the title character, Phoebe's dry sarcastic wit, self-deprecating humor, and breaking of the fourth wall bring this series to a level above most sitcom dramas.  The characters, situations, and problems are all very real, her caustic wit severing them all with precision.  It feels like the later meaner seasons of "Seinfeld" and the earlier more earnest seasons of "Girls," mixed with "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "I'm Sorry," with just a touch of Britcom sensibility and "Sex and the City."  Yeah, all that. 

I love this show, so funny, so clever, and so tragic.  My mind reels to wonder what she would have been like as The Doctor.  Perhaps someday we'll see, until then we have "Fleabag," definitely recommended. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Marvel's New Animated Spider-Man

The worst part of superhero reboots is retelling of the origin story over and over and over again. Despite the official Marvel Cinematic Universe version of Spider-Man thankfully skipping over that detail in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming, when the folks at Disney XD rebooted the animated version, based on the new movie Spidey, they felt the need to beat us over the head again with that same origin story that we all know now. 

The animated shorts, how Disney XD leads into their Marvel shows these days, tell that story all over again, adding very little to the tale we all know.  Even the terrible Amazing Spider-Man gave us something new in that area.  Peter Parker in this new 'toon is less geeky and nerdy as much as he is annoying and obnoxious.  He's almost arrogant.  Unlike the Parker of the comics who we sympathize with and identify with, I really don't like this guy.  I almost want him to fail. This is so not Spider-Man.  Simply spouting science does not make a Peter Parker.

As we watch this annoying kid learn his new powers and video document them with complete arrogance in the "Origins" shorts, the showrunners carefully insert appearances of cast members like Harry, Liz, Smythe, and even a Stan Lee cameo, but key characters like Aunt May and Uncle Ben are rarely seen.  Not seeing May or Ben until the last of six shorts completely diffuses the tragic lesson of "With great power comes great responsibility." 

Whether it is network rules to protect children or misguided writing, but we never get to see the actual origin of Spider-Man with the burglar.  It's diluted, and we feel nothing as we don't know Ben or May.  Add this in to the fact that this version of Parker is already unlikable, this was not a great start, and perhaps, as in the MCU version, the origin should have been left untold, rather than told badly. 

The actual show is better in both execution and presentation of Peter Parker.  He still spouts science, but he's a little more humble.  The depiction of the Vulture is less than stellar, especially after his terrific MCU revamp, this animated mash-up of the Beetle and Black Canary is a bit embarrassing. Much time is spent on school stuff, including introductions of Miles Morales and Anya Corrazon (Arana). Without those name drops, I might have been bored. 

Other name drops include vibranium and Wakanda, placing the series solidly within the wider Marvel Universe.  One supposes we will just have to imagine the "Ultimate Spider-Man" cartoon never happened, just like all those early animated appearances of the Guardians of the Galaxy.

In the second official episode, continued from the first, we are once again more concerned with the school than with the superheroics.  We're introduced to Dr. Otto Octavius as a teacher, and Max Modell's Horizon is lifted from Dan Slott's comics run.  Spider is still in his homemade costume and the Scorpion is considerably less interesting than his Homecoming counterpart. 

Even after finally perfecting his costume and facing off against a pseudo-Spider-Slayer, the episode is more about the school soap than the superhero saga.  Horizon seems more like a breeding ground for potential future Spider-villains and their tech.  Still this is more origin stuff when I would rather have adventures of the fully formed hero. Later we see the Rhino and the Black Cat, revamped versions, and of course their episodes focus more on school than superheroics.

The new series is not bad, but it's not what I want, so until we get a seasoned Spider-Man doing the superhero thing with the cast in place and rogues gallery established, I may give this a pass. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Len Wein and the Golden Age of Comics

There's a saying among comics fandom, a play on words really, that the real golden age of comics is ten. Traditionally the Golden Age is considered roughly from 1938 to 1951 when all the great characters were created and things were simpler and better in general. Also as implied, when most folks start reading comics they are a magical age when they believe all the wonders they read, and that nostalgia stays with them, forming the basis for their love of the genre. For me, that love came roughly between the ages of six and twelve, and most of the good comics that formed my magic time were by a guy named Len Wein.

The man passed away this past weekend, and many folks have memorialized him, in personal blogs, comics press, and even the mainstream media. Most mention his huge triumphs in the field. Len Wein created Wolverine, Swamp Thing, co-created the New X-Men, and edited Watchmen - all events that advanced, shaped, and transformed comics as an entertainment medium - and all true. However, that's not really what I remember him for. I remember him for the comics that shaped me and my thinking, and my love of comics.

As I was beginning to learn to read, more from comic books and Dr. Seuss than from any of the Dick and Jane readers at school, Len Wein wrote the comics that thrilled and amazed me. When comics were coming down off the social relevance trend of the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wein sought to bring back the characters that made comics fun for him. He re-established the paradigm of superheroes and super-villains, and returned a fun Silver Age and even Golden Age vibe to the oncoming Bronze Age of comics.

In Justice League of America, a comic he was only on for a short time, he turned these characters from a group of heroes who sometimes worked together into a team of friends who were a finely tuned fighting unit, who knew each other, watched each other's backs, and even socialized together. Wein returned not only traditional Silver Age villains like Amazo, the Key, Felix Faust, T.O. Morrow, the Shaggy Man, Eclipso, (and indirectly the Queen Bee and the Lord of Time), but also revived Golden Age superheroes like Earth-Two's other super-team (a decade before the All-Star Squadron) the Seven Soldiers of Victory, and gathered the old Quality Comics heroes as the Freedom Fighters of Earth-X, a parallel world where Germany won World War II - soon to be featured in an animated series on CW Seed. In an age where young readers were being newly introduced to these characters in the reprints of the 100-Page Super-Spectaculars, Wein brought us new stories of these greats.

Wein also, in his all-too-brief fifteen issue run on JLoA, expanded the membership for the first time in years. He added the Elongated Man, a move that was a long time coming; moved the emotional android Red Tornado over from Earth-Two, after killing him in one of comics' earliest hero deaths; and inducted the mysterious and seemingly out-of-place Phantom Stranger into the team's ranks. He was able to make the Stranger work within the team better than any later writers, probably because Wein himself was writing the character in his own title at the same time. He always had a mastery of these new members, as well as guest-stars, the Justice Society, when under his pen. Speaking of the JSA, Wein had the honor of writing the hundredth issue team-up of the JLA/JSA, as well as introducing the concept of adding a third team to the annual mix, and even wrote the only one-issue teaming of them. Speaking of guest-stars, he also helped engineer the first unofficial DC/Marvel crossover at the Rutland Halloween Parade.

Speaking of the JSA, another story that resonates with me to this day is Flash #215, written by Wein during his short stint on that title, which I've briefly talked about before. With a dramatic Neal Adams cover and interiors by Irv Novick, in my opinion, the Flash artist, this story told the tale of Barry Allen waking up in bed with his Earth-Two counterpart's wife Joan, finding that he'd replaced Jay Garrick. After that weirdness, Barry goes on the find Jay in the limbo dimension and fighting the Vandal Savage, yet another Golden Age character that Wein breathed new life into. This remains one of my favorite Flash stories, and made me love Jay Garrick.

Also notable from this era were his Adventure Comics stories with Supergirl and Zatanna respectively, which I still love. I bet if he'd stayed on JLoA longer, he would have brought Zatanna on to the team much earlier than she ended up joining. While they were going on at roughly the same time, and I did not read them at the time, I did eventually read Wein's fantastic stories of the Swamp Thing, Phantom Stranger, and Korak, and dug them. And let's not forget that he also co-created the Human Target, a back-up feature I never understood as a kid, but loved as an adult.

This was the mid-1970s now, and Len Wein had moved across the street to Marvel Comics, where he would create Wolverine as a Hulk foe; assemble the New X-Men, reviving that title which had been in low-selling reprints for a while; and had longer (if not as memorable, to me at least) runs on titles like Amazing Spider-Man, Thor, Fantastic Four, and Marvel Team-Up. What I do remember him on was Defenders, which he picked up on after Steve Englehart left the book. Wein would recruit Nighthawk to the team, one of my favorite Defenders, after an eerily familiar clash with Marvel's parallel universe evil Justice League, the Squadron Supreme (or was it Sinister? I always get confused).

Len Wein would return to DC Comics however as an editor. He was editing both Justice League of America and Flash ironically when I met him at a Creation convention around the time of those two titles' 200th and 300th landmark issues respectively. I told him how much I enjoyed his Justice League stories, but also expressed, perhaps too cockily, an opinion that the 200th issue shouldn't be so full of guest-stars as the 100th issue was. He took the left-handed compliment well, smiled, and said I would be pleased with Justice League of America #200. I was, the tale, which pitted the original members against all the later members of the team in a retelling and return to their origin, is not only one of my favorite stories, but also a lot of folks' too.

Later Wein would go on to edit Watchmen, write the new Blue Beetle series, and oversee the Who's Who project, all wonderful stuff. He continued to write and edit for years to come, including Batman, Wonder Woman, and After Watchmen. He won many awards, even wrote for television animation, the last work I saw from him was the adaptation of Harlan Ellison's script for Two-Face on the 1966 "Batman" television series. We have lost one of the greats in the comics field, and we are all poorer for it. Len Wein was and is a legend, and he'll be missed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

GAR! on Twitter

Don't call it a comeback, we've been here for years...

After over one hundred and seventy episodes, five long years, and multiple nervous breakdowns, we have finally broken down and started our own Twitter account for The GAR! Podcast. Sure, Ray and I will continue to promote and discuss GAR! on our own separate Twitters, but now we have a dedicated stream for the podcast right here.

For those unaware, The GAR! Podcast is the Glenn Walker and Ray Cornwall weekly podcast where they talk unrehearsed about whatever happens to come to mind. It’s an audio-zine for your mind, a nerd exploration of a nerd world, coming to you from the suburbs of New Jersey and the sunny lakes of Florida via Skype.

GAR! is also available on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher. We're also on Facebook here and here, and on Pinterest. Contact us directly here.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

RIP Jerry Lewis

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Jerry Lewis earlier today. Not just a Hollywood legend, but an award-winning actor, writer, director, producer, author, philanthropist, and film innovator. He was the whole package, and he will be missed.

My first memories of Jerry Lewis were of someone who was just there, a Hollywood legend as I said, who would sometimes pop up on talk shows and variety shows. I remember having him pointed out by my brother when he made his cameo in It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, but I never really got a good look at the man until I started watching his Labor Day telethons for muscular dystrophy(which he did for over four decades), there I saw what kind of man he was and how respected and gracious he was. The telethons were always big ratings blockbusters, so when a rival local channel started running Jerry Lewis movies opposite it one weekend, that's when I really saw what he was about.

My eyes were opened that weekend with Way… Way Out, Hook, Line, & Sinker, Who's Minding the Store?, The Ladies Man (a tour de force in which he not only starred, wrote, produced, and directed, but innovated new cinematography that still boggle the mind), and a film that remains a favorite, in my top ten of all time even, Boeing Boeing. I wonder if WCAU Channel 10 knows that in the name of money they introduced me and probably hundreds of others to the genius of Jerry Lewis that weekend.

As the years went by, I would appreciate his work more and more. While I never found him very funny in his original incarnation as half of Martin and Lewis with Dean Martin, I loved his other films as I discovered them on television, and later when I managed a video store. Other favorites include The Big Mouth, The Bellboy, Cinderfella, and The King of Comedy. Perhaps now, we might also finally see a complete version of the infamous The Day the Clown Cried, a film about a clown in the Nazi concentration camps, that while controversial, Lewis locked away because he felt it was not his best work.

Although he has proven himself difficult and a perfectionist in the field, Lewis' genius behind the camera remains, and his films are a legacy to that. There's an old joke that he was a genius in France, but let's face facts, in this, the French are not wrong. He changed, and improved how Hollywood makes films, and how we see them.

Jerry Lewis was one of the greats, and I was glad to have seen him one last time while he was alive on the most recent TCM Classic Cruise when he introduced and fielded questions about The Nutty Professor. He was a legend of stage, screen, and radio, and will be missed by all, whether they liked him or not.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Glen Campbell 1936-2017

I was sad to hear of Glen Campbell's passing earlier today, as I've always felt a weird kinship to the man. When I was but a wee one, the family would watch his television variety show, "The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour," and when I was learning to read and spell, his name was an example of 'the wrong way' to spell my name.

I grew up with Glen Campbell, his songs "By the Time I Get to Phoenix" and "Wichita Lineman" were AM radio staples just "Rhinestone Cowboy" and "Southern Nights" were the same on FM when I discovered that bandwidth. His role as Texas Ranger Le Bouef in the original True Grit was one of the things that made the flick one of my favorite movies.

As I grew older, his participation with the Beach Boys and studio work as one of the Wrecking Crew were more than impressive. He was way more than a country guy my parents liked and a movie cowboy. Much later I was struck by the tragedy of his living with Alzheimer's in the documentary I'll Be Me.

Those not familiar with the man's work should seek out three of his final albums - Adios, Ghost on the Canvas, and Meet Glen Campbell, an album of covers with guest-stars, all proof positive he was vital and vibrant toward the end, even fighting that horrible disease. May he rest in peace.





Friday, August 04, 2017

Sigmund and the Sea Monsters

I remember when the original show of "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" aired, not the first episode, but the preview for NBC's new Saturday morning line-up the Friday night before it officially debuted.  I don't just miss Saturday morning kids TV, but also those preview specials, both for the kids shows and the prime time line-ups as well.  I watched the preview and I watched the first episode the next morning, along with the first version of "Super Friends" and the animated "Star Trek."

And yeah, I watched Sigmund regularly, probably mostly because everyone else did - it was popular.  Comics were twenty cents a piece, you could ride your banana seat bike just about everywhere, and "Delta Dawn" and "Brother Louie" were on the AM radio all day, why not watch Sigmund?  It was wild and vivid (I can't say colorful, we didn't have a color TV yet), and even though we weren't old enough to know about drugs yet, we knew the guys who came up with this stuff were a bit out of their heads. 

The premise of the show, developed by Sid and Marty Krofft, the then-kings of live-action Saturday morning, who swear no drugs were involved in any of their shows, was that two boys had found a sea monster at the beach and kept him in their clubhouse, hilarity ensues.  In the title role was Billy Barty in a leafy seaweed covered rubber suit, supported by Johnny and Scott, having misadventures running from Sigmund's family while the boys kept him a secret from their domineering housekeeper (the parents never seemed to be around). 

Beyond its popularity, I might have also watched because of lead actor Johnny Whittaker.  As Jody on "Family Affair," he was a kid of roughly the same age growing up just like us.  The show had its moments, especially in the all the puns of the sea monster world.  They watched shellavision, and Sigmund's father was a bit of an Archie Bunker type, good fun. 

The show had its flaws as well in the boys' absentee parents, the weird genie character Rip Taylor played in the last season, and Johnny Whittaker trying start a singing career.  I guess he thought if the Patridges and the Bradys could do it, so could he.  The show lasted three seasons then fell into the obscurity of syndication. 

Sigmund lives on in the memories of those who watched however, my wife among them.  The Bride is a huge Sid and Marty Krofft fan.  We own all of their varied TV projects, on VHS, and DVD.  I know hardcore.  The popularity beyond the 1970s and Saturday morning are probably what spurred Amazon to produce a reboot.  The first episode is available now, with more to come. 

The new series has essentially the same premise.  The kids have a Disney channel vibe, David Arquette plays a creepy sea captain who believes in sea monsters, and the monsters themselves have been given a bit of an upgrade, slightly.  Let's face it they still look like rubber suits, but with a bit more life and more abilities.  Johnny Whittaker, looking every bit of four decades wear, even makes a cameo.  And to be honest, Arquette's not looking so great either. 

Like the original, it's not bad, and it's probably doing just what Amazon hoped it would - be great for fans of the 1970s version who are now sharing it with another generation.  Even The Bride didn't mind it, wanting to see another episode before giving a final opinion.  I kinda dug it.  What did you all think who've seen it?