Friday, January 29, 2010

Not the Zsazsa You Think...

Zsazsa Zaturnnah Ze Moveeh ~ Take colorful Filipino comic book superheroics, Bollywood and Broadway musical sensibilities and a gender-bending hero/heroine - and mix well, and you’ll get this movie version of Carlo Vergara’s Zsazsa Zaturnnah.

The secret origin of Zsazsa is one unique in all of comics – meek crossdressing beautician Ada eats a space rock, a big space rock, and becomes the superpowered and female Zsazsa Zaturnnah. It’s even more disturbing than you think, especially the eating the space rock part.

My favorite part is where Zsazsa gets served by the Queen of the dayglo Amazonistas and they have a dance off, I mean, fight, and keep fighting, and dancing, and singing. And apparently the Amazonistas (think Spice Girls from hell) come from the planet where 300 was filmed. Their battle scenes are like the Power Rangers on acid at Wigstock, and that’s a good thing.

There are also zombies and a giant frog, as if the Amazonistas weren’t enough. It’s crazy good fabulous fun, and you won’t believe your eyes, or ears.

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger 1919-2010

This is another hard one for me. This man’s writing was brilliant, the work of a genius, whose words exist on many levels for many people. Author J.D. Salinger has passed away of natural causes yesterday in New Hampshire.

Salinger’s best known work is the legendary “The Catcher in the Rye” with its controversial protagonist Holden Caulfield. This book, despite the screams of parents and right wing nutjobs, has become mandatory reading in high schools and colleges.

“The Catcher in the Rye” is a work I have always thought should be read several times at different ages. You get a different perspective on the characters and the story when you read it at fourteen than you do at twenty-four or at even forty-four. It’s the difference between a cool kid and a sociopath. Unfortunately, over the years, several unbalanced folks have not seen the difference, and used the book as a guide for their madness. John Lennon’s assassin stands out as only one dark example.

“Catcher” is not Salinger’s only work, it should be noted. I highly recommend especially “Nine Stories” and “Franny and Zooey.” Unfortunately Salinger has not published since 1961. And therein lies the other reason he has become famous – his self-imposed exile from public life. He has rarely been heard from except regarding legal matters to protect his work.

We have lost one of the true greats. Fortunately the work of J.D. Salinger lives on.

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RIP Zelda Rubinstein

Zelda Rubinstein passed into the light today after being hospitalized for over a month. Weeks ago she suffered a heart attack and was taken off life support when her lungs and kidneys failed. Her recovery was valiant yet unfortunately short-lived.

She was probably best known as the medium Tangina in the Poltergeist film series but also had a three decade-plus acting career in television and film as well as voiceover work. She was 76, and will be missed.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010


Twilight ~ I’ve never had the pleasure (or displeasure depending on your perspective) of reading Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” books so I really had no idea of what to expect here other than teen angst and sparkly vampires. That said, I have to say that Twilight is really not bad at all. I had actually expected a bad movie from all the trashing it’s received and the critics’ usual contempt for anything with a pop culture vibe. This was a good movie however, not a great one, but a good one.

Twilight does skew to a younger demographic and while I had heard it was cast with all “90210” type pretty people, I have to say I found no one in this flick particularly attractive or unattractive, but that may just be me. The vibe of the flick is definitely “Afterschool Special” meets Judy Blume with some vampire stuff and intriguing special effects thrown in, but again, that’s not to say it’s bad.

The plot is pretty typical teenage fare. New girl in a new school trying to fit in, only the weird kids aren’t Goths, punks or geeks – they’re vampires. But that’s beside the point, everyone’s just trying to get along. Twilight high school is a whole lot different from the Mean Girls or “Lord of the Flies” high schools the rest of us went to apparently. And when the plot does take a turn toward something meatier, the good news is that Twilight doesn’t disappoint. Much. It just goes by too quickly. Good thing there are sequels.

Quite a bit of it is a bit predictable, even transparent, like the set-up for werewolves in the sequel New Moon, but it kept my attention, kept me watching, and now I am interested in the books, and the movie sequels, both finished and impending. Great soundtrack and worth seeing.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pernell Roberts RIP

For one generation he was the oldest of the Cartwright boys, and for another he was the doctor who came home from fun and games in the Korean War to help folks Marcus Welby-style, but however you remember actor, singer and activist Pernell Roberts, he passed away Sunday after a long battle with cancer.

Other than "Bonanza" and "M*A*S*H" spin-off "Trapper John, M.D.," Roberts starred frequently on television and even won awards for his stage work. He was 81, and will be missed.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

How to Save Heroes

The TV series “Heroes” has outlived its welcome for most of us. What started as a hopeful presentation of superheroes into mainstream dram television has now deteriorated into nonsense and derision from its own desired fanbase. In recent weeks however the series may have gotten a brief reprieve from cancellation thanks to Jay Leno forcing NBC to find five more hours of prime time programming every week. If it’s going to stay on the air however, there have to be changes. Here are my thoughts on how to save “Heroes.”

Let Hiro be Hiro. He works best as fun and powerful, not sick, not dead, not lost, not amnesiac. His exuberance with his powers, his joy at using them, and his determination to be a hero is one of the great charms of the character, and of the series.

In a similar vein, let Matt and Peter be the good guys they should be. We love them when they are on point and positive - and we want to change the channel when they are obsessive and self-doubting. We want heroes we can root for.

Enough Sylar already. A little goes a long way. The show isn’t and shouldn’t be about him. The show is called “Heroes” for a reason. And yes, I know that heroes are defined by their villains, but ease up on the guy, will you?

Enough with the carnival. Sorry, but it’s way too Circus of Crime/Brotherhood of Evil/Mutant Utopia for me. Robert Knepper is a hell of a great actor, but he’s no Magneto.

Speaking of bad guys, bring back HRG as a bad guy. He was always a better bad guy than he was a good guy. Want to give Claire some depth and edge? There you go, make Daddy back into the beast we feared in the first four or five episodes.

More Star Trek cameos would not be frowned upon. This is a good thing.

On the same subject, sort of, embrace the comic book and genre references. It’s what we love about Hiro, it’s what half of your audience is into, and look what it’s done for “Big Bang Theory.”

Get Jeph Loeb out and get Bryan Fuller back in. No, wait, they tried that…

Less season long continuity that not only feels like it was developed in the “Lost” writing sessions, but even we know they have no idea how it ends. Think like a Silver Age comic book and do single episode stories. Just a hint, single episode stories get Emmys, whole seasons don’t.

Let the good guys win every once in a while. As I said, we want someone to root for.

More superhero humanism and less superhero deconstructionism, and definitely no more emo characters. No one likes whiny metahumans.

This isn’t Watchmen. Everything doesn’t have to be so dark and dismal all the time. Be bright, be shiny, be positive – be “Heroes.”

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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Mighty Avengers #33 Reviewed

"Deus Ex Machina" - my comic book review of Mighty Avengers #33, by Dan Slott and Khoi Pham, is now online at Avengers Forever.

Henry Pym vs. Norman Osborn, the Mighty Avengers and the Dark Avengers vs. the Absorbing Man with the power of the Cosmic Cube, Sentry vs. the Void, the returns of Iron Lad and the original Vision, and Loki no longer in drag - all this and more - check out my review here:


If you want to discuss this review, this issue or anything Avengers, please check out the Avengers Forever Forum.

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Jean Simmons Dies at 80

Legendary actress Jean Simmons passed away yesterday from complications of lung cancer at the age of 80.

The Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress not only held some of the most coveted roles in Hollywood but she also played opposite some its greatest leading men, like Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier.

After her stellar career in film Jean moved onto television where she won an Emmy for "The Thorn Birds" and even played in the much-maligned remake of "Dark Shadows." We have truly lost one of the greats. She will be missed.

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Siege #1 Reviewed

"War in Comics" - my comic book review of Siege #1, by Brian Michael Bendis and Olivier Coipel, is now online at Avengers Forever.

Volstagg gets fried, Ares gets stupid, Thor gets thumped, Loki gets what he wants, Norman Osborn attacks Asgard, and why war in superhero comics just doesn’t work - all this and more - check out my review here:


If you want to discuss this review, this issue or anything Avengers, please check out the Avengers Forever Forum.

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Friday, January 22, 2010

Pepsi Throwback

When I first heard of this I was intrigued and had to find some. Pepsi Throwback is basically Pepsi Cola with sugar instead of the corn syrup normally used. Supposedly it tastes like Pepsi used to back in the day, before the Health Nazis ruined everything that was tasty in this country.

Just for the record, Pepsi Throwback is a different formula than the sugar-for-corn-syrup variation that is kosher for Passover once a year. It should be noted that while I’ve never noticed a taste difference between kosher and regular Pepsi, there is a significant and yummy difference over at the Coca-Cola camp. Kosher Coke rocks.

After much searching I finally found some Pepsi Throwback at a local Wawa. At the first taste, it was as if it was 1975 again and I was drinking from a swirled glass bottle. The taste was a rush of flavor, flavor I hadn’t had in decades – now this was Pepsi! I really did not expect the taste to be so different and exhilarating.

A second gulp and a third made me a bit dizzy. This stuff was out of the range of Jolt and perhaps more Red Bull. I was surprised. Great for a sip, but not for a whole bottle. Bring on the regular Pepsi. For those who enjoy the Throwback, it’ll be out there throughout April. And for the record, a Mountain Dew Throwback is also available, but my mind boggles at what that tastes like... possibly a twenty-four hour sugar high per ounce...

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Long Dark Knight

The Dark Knight
~ I wanted to like this, I really did. Hell, I wanted to love it. And based on the record-breaking box office, and the renewed interest in comics as fodder for Hollywood, I really wish I did… But it was not to be. This could be one of the biggest disappointments of the summer, if not the year.

I don’t get it. How could this be that nearly two decades after Tim Burton’s Batman when comics readers breathed a collective sigh of relief when we finally got what many of us perceived as the real Batman – a dark creature of the night – how could it be that now … my reaction is “it’s too dark,” how could this be?

The problem is, that’s the least of the problems I have with The Dark Knight. There are sequences, dialogue and characterizations that are dead on, and in some cases, perfect. But those do not make a whole movie.

Perhaps part of the blame goes to director Christopher Nolan for hiring his brother to help with the screenplay. David Goyer runs hot and cold for me. The first Blade is perfect yet his Dark City does nothing but give me migraines just thinking about it. Why not hire someone who has his feet firmly within both camps, film and comics, to help write the thing? Alan Brennert must be in the loop somewhere as he wrote one of the episodes in “Gotham Knight,” the anime that bridges Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, and it should be noted he’s one of the better comics and TV writers around. His “Twilight Zone” work rivals Rod Serling’s and his Earth-Two stories are second only to Roy Thomas, if not better. He understands comics, and the characters.

Another thing that bothers me is the Oscar for the late Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker. Yeah, he’s good, but was he that good? Hard to say. He certainly nailed the Joker, personality-wise at least, if not the visuals, and Ledger’s Joker definitely is frightening. Anyone else get the shivers every time he clicked his tongue? Yes, Ledger was brilliant, absolutely brilliant. He shines whenever he’s on screen, even in nurse drag. But personally though I think Aaron Eckhart and especially Gary Oldman were just as good. If the late Heath Ledger gets an Oscar, then at least Oldman should have gotten at least a nod as well.

Christian Bale’s Batman growl has got to go. In the previous movie it was annoying, here it’s just downright infuriating. How about just a tonal change of voice like Christopher Reeve used to do with Clark Kent and Superman? That’s all that’s needed, really.

Really, what more do I need to say? The guttural noises coming from Bale lessen the character. The Batman character comes as much from Doc Savage as he does from the Shadow. Where is the Savage intellect? In this version of the dark knight it seems that either Lucius or Alfred do all the thinking for him.

Why do the movies hate Two-Face so much? He is easily one of the Batman’s deadliest foes, not just because of his insanity, or his loyalty to that coin, but because he was Bruce Wayne’s friend. He is not just the Riddler’s sidekick or the Joker’s freakish revenge – and he never was – why reduce such a opportunity-filled nemesis by linking him to others?

And Two-Face’s make-up/appearance… wow, it’s horrific, and pretty close to the comics for once, in theory. I think the idiots that brought their infant children to see this flick paid for their mistake with numerous nights of their children screaming awake from nightmares. Ratings are there for a reason, idiots. Just because it’s based on a ‘funny book,’ doesn’t mean it’s for kids.

I suppose that somewhere in this dreck written by Goyer and the director’s brother there might have been a good movie somewhere, but in my opinion it doesn’t make it to the screen. There are, despite my contempt for this film, parts I liked. The Joker’s interactions with the underworld elements of Gotham City are priceless and the entire Hong Kong sequence is amazing, but that’s only a small percentage of a very long movie. Too long.

I suppose I can hope that the next film in the series will be better, but that tact didn’t work back in the 1990s when Joel Schumacher took over the franchise. Perhaps Batman will be the opposite of the Star Trek film series and the odd-numbered ones will be the good ones. I hope so. I really don’t want to hate going to see Batman movies again...

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Robert B. Parker 1932-2010

Robert B. Parker, the author of the Spenser novels, who revitalized the hard-boiled detective fiction genre, passed away yesterday.

Besides the Spenser series, he also created the adventures of Sunny Randall and Jesse Stone. Spenser was made into the ABC TV series "Spenser: For Hire" in the 1980s and even spawned a spin-off. He also finished Raymond Chandler's unfinished Philip Marlowe novel and even wrote a sequel to "The Big Sleep."

The prolific award-winning writer is said to have died at his desk, at work. The man and his legacy of work will be remembered for years to come. He'll be missed.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

A Little Late Night Stargazing

My favorite line of the current late night wars so far has to be “NBC – Never Believe your Contract.”

There’s really not much news on this front that hasn’t already been said, or you can’t read somewhere else, but I just wanted to say a few things. I’m a big supporter of Conan O’Brien. I’m sad to see him go, or as things might turn out, to have seen him go. Something tells me NBC isn’t going to actually let him do another week of shows. We’ll see.

I like Conan, I really do, and I think his past week of performances on “The Tonight Show” have easily been his best. That said however, just as a cornered animal is at its most vicious, so is a cornered comedian at his funniest. Would we really be that entertained had NBC not backed Conan into a wall? Seriously, testify. How many of us watched his Tonight Show before this? Or even his Late Night Show? If it was on, and we wanted to see one of the guests we were there, but not for him alone.

The drawing power no longer exists in the late night landscape. It used to, but no longer. I can remember sneaking down the stairs, just behind the living room door, just to hear Johnny Carson’s monologue. I remember loving school holidays and summers because it meant I could stay up to see “The Tonight Show.”

I’ll take it further and direct you to a time when Philadelphia was one of the last markets to pick up “Late Night with David Letterman” and I would stay up and actually hold onto the antenna of my bedroom TV to get channel 4 out of New York just to see the show. But Johnny retired and has since moved on, and Dave, well, Dave is just not that funny any more, especially since moving on to CBS.

And so here we are. I was never really a big Jay Leno fan, although I respect what he was trying to do in prime time. He should just have the balls to take his beating and move on though. As Conan himself said, "Kids, you can do anything you want to... as long as Jay Leno doesn't want to do it too."

Good luck, Conan, I’m pulling for you.

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Sunday, January 17, 2010

Low Budget Lacrosse

I am a huge Philadelphia Wings fan, I love lacrosse and I love the Wings. I’ve been a season ticket holder for nearly two decades. Now I realize that the team hasn’t won a championship in nine years but in the years before that, they nearly scored every one. There’s a long history here. The team has unfortunately fallen into that terrible losing pattern most Philadelphia sports teams get caught up in – almost to the play-offs.

I attended the home opener on Saturday and was a bit shocked by what I found. It seems the Wachovia Complex (or whatever the hell they are calling it this week) has decided to put the squeeze on the Wings. I guess no wins means no money, but this is just ridiculous. It feels like they are trying to tight-ass Major Indoor Lacrosse out of Philadelphia.

Prices have gone up, not just a little but a lot. Parking up by 30% and most of the food up by a buck. That’s not a big thing really, that’s business as usual for a sports complex, but it gets worse. Let’s start with the tickets. They didn’t send them out via snail mail so we would have real tickets – they went out via email, to save paper I suppose, and that was just the start of the cheapness.

The program which are normally thick books of articles and stats was now basically a folded over flier. They had closed off the entire upper level and turned out the lights up there. A grade school choir sang the National Anthem rather than a big or local name singer. Only the starting line-up of the team was announced as opposed to all the players participating in the game. Our mascot, Mad Dog, who had previously been stripped of his ATV a couple years back, lost his whole costume save just a dog mask. And then the kicker, not that our half-time shows have ever been all that spectacular, but – there was no half-time show!

What the hell is up, Wachovia Complex?

The Wings won Saturday’s game 12-8. The players gave as good as they usually do. I have no complaints in that department, at least I don’t now that Jacobs is no longer on the Wings. There could have been more fights, but then again, there could always be more fights.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010

Mandrake the Magician

Mandrake the Magician is perhaps one of the first of the comic strip superheroes. Created by Lee Falk (who also created the Phantom) in 1934 and based on a real life stage magician of the same name, Mandrake was the template for the comic book magicians that proliferated in the comic books of the 1930s and 40s. Mandrake and his faithful companion Lothar adventured for decades in the comic strips, books, stage and screen. The year 1939 brought the Magician to the silver screen in a twelve-part movie serial from Columbia.

Warren Hull was a veteran of the hero business in the movie serials having also played the Green Hornet and the Spider. His Mandrake unfortunately comes off as the most dull of the three. Al Kikume, who played Lothar, is also no stranger to the heroic serials, having parts in the Captain Marvel and Nyoka ones respectively and later appearing on Superman on television. It’s kind of odd though that Lothar who was probably the first non-stereotyped African-American in comics is portrayed here by a Hawaiian. Their chemistry when it happens is a highlight, but a rare one indeed.

The plot of this serial is an old one and has been quite recycled in the genre. Scientist builds a device to benefit mankind and villain steals it to use as a weapon against the world. In this case, the villain is the Wasp, and in another old serial cliché, we have to guess from episode to episode which of our cast is really the Wasp in disguise. It has some good action and suspense, but suffers in comparison to today’s offerings and even to its contemporaries - Adventures of Captain Marvel being the best of the genre.

Much like the Phantom on Syfy, and Flash Gordon recently before that, Hollywood will soon be raping, um, sorry, I mean ‘re-imagining’ Mandrake for an upcoming production starring Hayden Christensen and Djimon Hounsou, possibly for the big screen. Yep, I’m already cringing. Should make this movie serial seem like gold though.

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Friday, January 15, 2010

Coming Soon

The remake of Clash of the Titans opens March 26th.

Kick-Ass opens March 12th.

And Tim Burton's reimagining of Alice in Wonderland opens March 5th.

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

R.I.P. Teddy Pendergrass

Teddy Pendergrass, soul star and sex symbol of the 1970s and beyond, passed away yesterday.

The Philadelphia native and Grammy nominayed superstar rose to fame as the lead singer of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. His success continued after going solo in 1977 and even the tragic car accident that paralyzed him from the waist down in 1981 didn't slow him down.

We've lost one of the good ones, he'll be missed.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Quickies 1-13-2010

(500) Days of Summer ~ One of the better films of the year, this is a day by day examination of a relationship, sometimes in order, sometimes not. The story and the acting are great and the music and literary references are delicious. This flick also has one of the best impromptu dance numbers (to Hall and Oates of all things) this side of Enchanted or Clerks 2. Do not miss.

9 ~ More ugly animation from Tim Burton, while visually interesting it quickly got boring after about twenty minutes. It was originally created as a short, perhaps it should have stayed such.

Family Guy: Something Something Something Dark Side ~ This second Seth McFarlane “Family Guy” feature parodies the second Star Wars film The Empire Strikes Back. This one is notably more Family Guy than Star Wars but still damned accurate and damned funny. The one thing that does get me is how fantastic and detail-oriented the animation of the ships and background look. How come this parody looks like this, but the real thing – the “Clone Wars” cartoon on Cartoon Network, looks like crap. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

A Thousand Clowns ~ This classic 1965 film is proof positive of Jason Robards’ talent, as well as getting an Oscar for Martin Balsam’s performance and a handful of other nominations including best picture too. A simple story – a woman convinces an out of work imaginative writer to get his job back in order to maintain custody of his gifted nephew. Robards and the young Barry Gordon as well as most of the rest of the cast reprised their roles from the stage play by Herb Gardener. He also wrote the screenplay, that while still feeling stagebound, is an amazing tour de force for all the actors involved. The chemistry of all the actors is incredible. Must see.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Legend of the Lone Ranger

The Legend of the Lone Ranger ~ 1981, at a time when other heroes of yesteryear were being brought back from the dead and onto the big screen, like Superman, Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and Little Orphan Annie – the Lone Ranger might have seemed like a natural to the folks trying to cash in, but somehow I think the project may have been cursed from the start.

Much like the very recent Sherlock Holmes, the Lone Ranger suffers a recognition problem. You might know the name but there are clearly multiple generations that have gone by without knowing what that name is about. And of course, director William A. Fraker also made the tragic mistake of all superhero movies – boring the audience to death with the unnecessary origin instead of just telling a good story. Also at the time of the film, actor Clayton Moore, who had portrayed the Ranger for decades on television and in movies was banned by the Wrather Company, owners of the character, from appearing in public as the Lone Ranger. If the film had any audience interested in seeing it, this action alone alienated them.

The string of bad luck did not end there. The young unknown hopeful-soon-to-be-superstar set to play the Lone Ranger, Klinton Spilsbury, was not only a terrible actor with bad seventies hair, but also had to have his voice dubbed throughout the film by the uncredited John Keach. He never went anywhere after this, his only acting role, and perhaps that’s a good thing. Spilsbury is probably better known as an obscure trivia answer than actually portraying the Lone Ranger.

Now that’s not to say that it’s all bad. The film has an old school 1950s-60s American western feel to it, except for the violence which alternates between excessive and over the top to fake and ridiculous (sometimes the blood is obviously strawberry jam). Christopher Lloyd does a surprising turn as villain Butch Cavendish and Jason Robards is as ever excellent in his role of President Ulysses S. Grant.

Michael Horse, also a bad actor here as Tonto, is still miles better than Spilsbury in the title part. And for the most part the movie is more Tonto than Ranger, which acting-wise was a good idea, but an epic fail for a movie about the Lone Ranger. For the record, Horse became a better actor and went on to a recurring role on “Twin Peaks” and a career doing voicework in animation.

There are too many unintentionally funny moments. One, in what should be the most dramatic and triumphant moment, where John Reid finally puts on the mask and rides off into the sunset with Tonto to the beats of the William Tell Overture, is completely ruined as they ride past the mountain where Captain Kirk fought the Gorn. I know I laughed out loud.

And forgive me, but I love the theme song "The Man in the Mask" sung by Merle Haggard with lyrics by Dean Footloose Pitchford, someone else who went on to better things. This tune is the best thing about this movie in my opinion. This one is a miss unless you’re curious or a hardcore Lone Ranger fan.

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