Saturday, January 31, 2009

This Week in DVD

Vicky Christina Barcelona: This one's on my Must-Rent list, and I should be--hey, whaddya know, it just arrived, via Netflix, at the Fortress of Sharkitude. I realize that I claim a lot of DVDs are on my "Must-Rent List," and I assure you that it's pure coincidence that the one that features Penelope Cruz kissing Scarlett Johansson is the one that rockets to the top of my queue.

Pride and Glory: Gritty drama about police corruption--OK, hardly a fresh topic, but if it's well done, so what. This one is also on my Must-Rent List, but, ah, it might be a while. A wistful glance or two between Colin Farrell and Edward Norton doesn't do it for me.

Mill Creek TV Collections: Now, these are the DVDs that really intrigue me this week, but these Mil Creek sets always make me want to paraphrase Joni Mitchell: Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you got till it' someone else, who then is kind enough to do the gruntwork and post the details on the Internet.

There is a Sci-Fi TV set that is packed with 1950s shows and the one that I almost pre-ordered, "Classic Games Shows and More." The price is right on that latter set, and I like the mix of old-school game shows and kiddie shows. But if a large number of the kiddie show episodes are the same ones that appeared on the "Hiya, Kids" collection Shout released last year, I'm not as interested. So how do I find out? I wait. If Mill Creek has the details on its own site, it's doing a heck of a job hiding them.

The Rocker:
He might be a nice guy and all, but I don't know how many more times we're gonna see the phrase "RainnWilson vehicle" used to describe a major motion picture.

RocknRolla: Rainn Wilson is NOT in this one, the latest rockin' and rollin' crime flick from Guy Richie. I heard this was an upgrade from Mr. Madonna's recent efforts, but honestly, I'm not sure how people can keep them all straight.

Cannery Row: Warner Brothers links this with several other new-to-DVD titles in a tenous romance collection. Fun Fact: I happen to be rereading the John Steinbeck novel from which this is adapted.

(Disclaimer: Fact may not be as fun to the reader as it is to the blogger)

Lakeview Terrace: An intense, intimidating Samuel L. Jackson menaces people. Isn't it great when veteran performers really stretch their acting muscles?

WWE Legends of Wrestling: A collection of roundtable discussions that premiered on WWE 24/7. I don't know about their rewatchability, but these programs provide some of the most entertaining content that pay service offers.

Cheers Season 11: Good news: With the release of this final season, Paramount completes the run of the classic sitcom. Bad news: Those of us who taped the entire night of the series finale on NBC, including the Bob Costas special and the cast's drunken sitdown with Jay Leno after the episode, are going to be keeping our VCRs a while longer. Extras consist of original promos but none of that cool stuff.

The Invaders Season 2: I've only seen a few episodes of season 1 (and enjoyed them), but I think it's safe to say Paramount did a quality job with this short-lived but well-regarded show. The episodes are all out there, largely intact, and they're not split into ridiculous half-season volumes.

The Love Boat Season 2 Volume 1: And then there's this. Regardless of how you feel about "The Love Boat," you have to think if the show is gonna hit DVD, it's ridiculous to split seasons like that. I don't know if I've ever typed a DVD title as absurd as "The Love Boat Season 2 Volume 1."

The All-New Superfriends Hour Season 1 Volume 2: Guess I spoke too soon.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Score one for the little guy

By now you may have heard that Exxon Mobil reported a record $45.2 billion in profit for 2008.

Well, guess who's getting some of it back? ME, that's who.

I signed up for a SpeedPass at my local Esso gas station today and got 5 cents off per gallon AND a free cup of hot chocolate.

Take THAT, Big Oil! You're sharing the wealth whether you like it or not!

Premio Dardos

Many thanks to Ivan, he of the outstanding "Thrilling Days of Yesteryear" for honoring me with a Dardos award and, more importantly, honoring me with such generous praise. If any of you are visiting Cultureshark on his recommendation, I welcome you and urge you to check out the other great sites Ivan has assembled on his blogroll. I appreciate just being linked to, let alone singled out for such attention.

I feel like a novice professional wrestler getting the chance to work a match with the seasoned veteran. Win or lose, he knows he "gets a rub," or gains an elevated profile, just by being in the ring with his opponent. Except we're not bashing each over the head with chairs. And we're not winning or losing or even in direct competition of any kind with each other. And in wrestling, the veteran can just as easily make the newcomer look bad by not cooperating with him--ah, the analogy sounded a lot better when I first thought of it.

Anyway, there are rules for a recipient of this award, mainly bestowing the honor on 5 other worthy blogs. I feel awkward about passing the Dardos on their way because, after all, none of these established sites needs any kind of "rub" from this humble operation, but rather than let this spiffy tuxedo I just happened to have laying around go to waste, I formally accept the Dardos and maybe give these destinations a few more eyeballs:
*Classic Television Showbiz: It's simple, actually: Tons of fascinating clips from TV history. There's always something amazing to see here.

*Classic TV History Blog: Stephen Bowie's analysis, reviews, and obituaries would be reason enough to visit his site, but he also contributes some outstanding original research, such as the "Studio One" material posted this week.

*Baseball Musings:
An essential, continuous assortment of links to compelling baseball stories and info, accompanied by the observations of David Pinto.

*Hacking Netflix:
Not some kind of criminal enterprise, but an invaluable collection of news links and information helping us Netflix subscribers get the most out of the service. The lively discussion will teach you all you need to know about controversial topics like "throttling."

*TV Obscurities: I just discovered this one and plan to make it a regular stop. In addition to the actual "blog," there are periodic articles about, well, TV obscurities--that is, lesser-known programs from television history.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Recall the Article!

"Entertainment Weekly" ran a "special" story a few weeks ago titled "And the Oscar Should Have Gone To..." as part of its "Recall the Gold" project. Given it's mention on the cover (though you can only see the promo text if you can avert your eyes from the amiable YET INTENSE gaze of departing "CSI" guy William Peterson) and the fact that the mag has done this before, I expected it to be a big deal.

It's a fun idea: Ask a bunch of people to go back 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 years ago and "re-vote" in the major Academy Awards categories. This kind of thing goes on all the time in the Internet, and it can lead to spirited discussion and heightened awareness of a wide range of films and performances. "EW" stuck to the nominees that were given, which limited the scope of the exercise, but they surveyed "Hollywood," that is, "agents, producers, directors, actors, and other film professionals." That slant should have given this project some oomph. Each year, when "EW" publishes the ballots of several anonymous Hollywood big shots, the resulting article is one of the most entertaining and insightful pieces you'll see in the magazine all year; the voters really share some unique opinions, and the story gives them adequate space to explain their choices.

I guess I wanted something similar here, but as John Belushi (not nominated for "Animal House" in 1978) would say, "But nooooooooooooooo!"

The whole piece devotes one page to each year of re-voting, and most of each page is taken up by big photos. There's usually a nice, big full-page ad flanking each year, too. There are no comments from the voters and little analysis of any kind. Only one result gets any kind of accompanying written context, and that's merely a few sentences.

Now, at first I saw this as just the latest indication of the recent editorial approach of "Entertainment Weekly," which can be summed up as, "More pictures, less of those pesky words." Sure, the Oscars aren't the most serious enterprise in the world, but still, this kind of concept merited a bit more substance.

When I read the article, though, I quickly discovered another possible reason for the flimsy presentation: Hollywood voted again, and not much changed!

OK, so Geoffrey Rush beats James Coburn this time. Whoopee. Take 5 years times 6 major categories, and you get 30 total awards. Of those 30 re-votes, only 6 1/2 resulted in a different winner--hardly the shocking turnaround suggested by the phrase "Recall the Vote!" (I count 6 1/2 because one re-vote, the 1983 Best Supporting Actress, ended in a tie, with real winner Linda Hunt for "The Year of Living Dangerously" now sharing the honor with Cher for "Silkwood.")

Oh, yes, "EW" also "empowered" its readers by letting them vote online and publishing the winners in teeny print below the results from the Insiders. Maybe here we'd see a fascianting disconnect between the insular Hollywood community and the devoted fans. Uh, no, we wouldn't. Out of 30 winners of the re-vote, the online readers disagreed with 3--not that the story bothered to point that out.

So the whole exercise seems pointless, doesn't it? The vote accomplished nothing, and perhaps because of that lack of change, the article added nothing, and all we ultimately get is another reminder that "Shakespeare in Love" shouldn't have beaten "Saving Private Ryan" in 1998.

And now I'm continuing the cycle of pointlessness by contributing little with this post. But at least it does give me the chance to rip on the "Lord of the Rings" movies by writing that they are overlong bores and that the original voters, the re-voters, and the EW.COM readers are all nuts for picking "Return of the King" over "Mystic River."

If just one key grip had said something like that in this article, it might have been worthwhile reading.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

American Life Network: Home of the Classic Re-Rerun

A few years ago, I finally got access to American Life Network, and it quickly became one of my favorite channels. TV Land was already on a rapid decline, and American Life offered all sorts of cool old Warner Brothers shows. There were even some uncool ones, but, hey, most of the stuff wasn't on anywhere else, and it was good to see someone making an effort to show TV of the 1950s-1970s, even if you had to sift through a bunch of original "lifestyle" programs supposedly aimed at baby boomers.

Then the network signed a library deal to gain rights to a bunch of old Fox and MTM programs, and though I missed some of the departing shows, I appreciated the effort to freshen things up. Plus I welcomed "Newhart," "Lou Grant," "WKRP," and even the old Irwin Allen sci-fi. It was a pretty good lineup, though it was frustrating that most shows only aired once a week.

It still is, actually. The problem is, American Life is running the same episodes over and over again. At first, it was an occasional thing, with early episodes sprinkled in every month or so, followed by another "new to the channel" installment the next week. It's been months, though, since a new "Newhart" or "Lou Grant," and I'm thinking we're not gonna get any more.

I don't know if the library deal was only for a few seasons of each show, if they are repeating heavily now to save fresher episodes for later on, or what, but I'm watching less and less of American Life. Hopefully things will pick up there. I realize "Newhart" is now on WGN and that some of these programs, like "Lou Grant," are now online, but come on! American Life can do better.

RTN=Return to Normal?

Well, the good news is, my local Retro Television Network affiliate is back on its local schedule, so I can once again turn there and know what is on at a given time. Yes, we kind of take that granted with most channels, but no so with RTN lately.

The bad news is the local schedule isn't always as fun as the national feed RTN's affiliates had been running in January. I'll miss shows like "Delvecchio" and "O'Hara, U.S. Treasury." Neither is a classic, but neither gets much exposure anymore, and if you want to find one of them on DVD, you're gonna have to go through a Google ad or some other non-Walmart path.

I'm curious if RTN is picking up where it left off before this mess started (I still don't quite understand it all, but there is a quick summary here) or where it's been this. I was enjoying "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" in sequence, and I think around the time the schedule went haywire, we were about to get to the fourth season--the beginning of the not-on-DVD episodes.

Time will tell, and it may be a long time, indeed. Last night when I checked on old Hitch, I saw a bunch of funky green lines. It was either the most avant-garde episode ever, some misguided attempt at an early tribute to St. Patrick's Day debauchery, or another reminder that RTN doesn't yet have his act together.

Yeah, I'm betting on the last one.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Brooks on Books: "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy"

I've enjoyed Leonard Maltin's work for years, whether it be his short "1 to 10 scale" movie reviews on "Entertainment Tonight" back in the day, his appearances on numerous DVDs telling us not to write angry letters because a cartoon character says "damn," or his widely used Movie Guides. with the two-sentence summaries.

Well, I had a bit of a falling out with Mr. Maltin's guides when they started dumping older movies (and unfortunately, his so-called "Classic Movie Guide" doesn't do much better; tons of stuff airing on TCM doesn't even make it to THAT book), but the man compensates with "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy," a compilation of material from his newsletter of the same name. It's a fun book, difficult to put down, and a real treat for classic movie lovers.

One of the enjoyable things about this collection of interviews, articles, and photos is its breadth. In these pages are discussions with actors, cinematographers, and composers. You'll read about the connection between sheet music and early cinema. You get discussions of animation, westerns, and silents. There's even some Old-Time Radio stuff here. The personalities covered in the book range from legends like Barbara Stanwyck to lesser-known actresses like Grace Bradley Boyd (perhaps better known today as Hopalong Cassidy's widow).

Maltin originally wrote these pieces for his newsletter, and his style reflects a friendly kinship with his readers, who he knows must be some hardcore buffs. It's fun to read Leonard "let his hair down" and confess to finally seeing obscure 1942 film "Johnny Doughboy," as he puts it, "Thanks to a bootleg tape (ssshhhhh!)"

I enjoyed all the interviews (Robert Young is a surprisingly candid and entertaining subject), but I think my favorite sections in the book are essays on subjects like "lost" films and the traveling road shows used by studios to promote movies like "Dodge City" and "42nd Street." It's all illustrated with great stills and publicity photos and supplemented with some really cool pics of classic movie memorabilia. "Movie Crazy" is a visually appealing book as well as a great read.

It's fun reading the book and just coming across bits of info about your favorite personalities. I was delighted to come across multiple references to Cultureshark favorites like Wallace Beery, Dick Powell, the Ritz Brothers, and The Boys (Sorry, L&H fans, but that's how we refer to Wheeler and Woolsey around these parts).

I have only two minor gripes about "Movie Crazy": No index. I read it cover to cover and found those references to some of my favorites, but it would be nice to not have hunt for them in the future. The other problem is the binding. This is a thick paperback, which makes for a good value, but after one reading, I fear the book won't hold up to many more.

Movie buffs will find a lot to enjoy in this one. I highly recommend "Leonard Maltin's Movie Crazy."

Sunday, January 25, 2009

On the Radio: Bread "Everything I Own" and "If"

Who are the sensitive soft-rockers of today? The Fray? Keane? Coldplay?

Well, the Super Seventies Superstar Band known as Bread makes all of those bands look like Motorhead.

I don't really have much to say about Bread as a group or "Everything I Own" as a song, but today, just two days after my last Bread experience, I heard "If," and, folks, let me tell you, nothing stokes the romantic fires like listening to that song with your wife in the car. At least, I think it was a romantic reaction when she responded with convulsive laughter as I tried to warble the high notes in that song, then the higher ones, then the highest at the end.

I wonder if any radio DJ anywhere at any time ever introduced one of their records with a big round of snappy patter. You know, something like this, delivered in an obnoxious "radio guy" voice:

It's the witching hour on YOUR rock station, WHICH means it's PARTY TIME, and I just have one question for you: Are you hungry for some rock and roll? Well, let me satisfy that hunger, daddy, with a big, old helping of BREAD!

And then we go right into "If." To me, that would be the best song introduction of all time.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

First Impulse: Oscar Nominations

Unlike in past years, I haven't seen most of the nominated films, so my reactions aren't so much about who I think should win as about who I might be rooting for or how the nominations affect my desire to see them. I'll admit that, yes, the lure of the Academy Awards does make me more likely to see movies that are recognized--at least for a while. Eventually, it doesn't really matter. I mean, I never did get around to seeing 20004's "Vera Drake," but I'm OK with that.

For many reasons, it's a shame that the big storyline is going to be the late Heath Ledger's all-but-certain win for Best Supporting Actor. I watched "Showbiz Tonight" on Headline News Thursday just to see some Oscar Talk (Don't I have a channel that's supposed to be all about movies? Oh, yes, it's called Reelz Channel, but it canceled its news show a few months ago), and it felt like 85% of the discussion was Ledger talk. I understand that's gonna look like the best angle, especially with a series of "races" that look like foregone conclusions. But it's a disservice to the other films and performers to overlook their work.

Overall, it looks like an uninteresting ceremony, and I think poor Hugh Jackman is walking into a perceived ratings bomb. Maybe I would feel differently had I seen more of these movies.

BEST PIC: Its surprise entry in this category notwithstanding, I still have little if any interest in seeing "The Reader." "Milk" is one of those movies that only interests me because of its rapturous critical acclaim, so I'll eventually see it for that, not necessarily for any awards. "Benjamin Button" might be interesting, but it's so damn long...The only two in this category I may really make an effort to see before the ceremony are "Frost/Nixon," which I really wanted to see, anyway, and "Slumdog Millionaire,' which should be the big winner of the night.

BEST DIRECTOR: No backdoor surprises here, as all 5 Best Picture directors get the spots here.

BEST ACTRESS: I was interested in seeing Angelina Jolie in "Changeling," but did that movie actually even come out yet? Meryl Streep gets nominated for everything. I'll say this: "Doubt" is the kind of movie for which all the acting nominations does pique my interest. I like Anne Hathaway and Kate Winslet, and I know at least one diehard "Homicide" fan who has to be happy for Melissa Leo.

BEST ACTOR: I'm rooting for Mickey Rourke just because he plays a professional wrestler. I really need to see "The Wrestler." I'm sure Frank Langella does a fine job, but whenever I see a notable thespian "do" Richard Nixon, my first reaction is laughter. It's no exception when I see those commercials for "Frost/Nixon."

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: Is there any way Ledger doesn't win? Not that I'm complaining; it was a memorable performance that will endure. I haven't seen "Tropic Thunder" yet, but the Robert Downey Jr. nod sure seems like a "We're happy to see your umpteenth comeback" thing and a choice more strictly sentimental than Ledger's.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: No strong opinions here, but I love Amy Adams, I'm glad to see Marisa Tomei follow "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" with another strong role, and I need to see Cruz in "Vicky Christina Barcelona," and not just because she kisses Scarlett Johansson.

Friday, January 23, 2009

This Week in DVD

Max Payne: Not a biopic of the former WCW wrestler, but an action flick based on a video game. Yes, I would have rather seen the biopic! Handy quick guide to knowing your Mark Wahlberg movies: If he has a colorful supporting role and is directed by Martin Scorcese, it's a great one. If he's starring in the movie, safer to just avoid it.

My Three Sons Season 1 Volume 2: You know the drill by now, right? Split seasons, overpriced sets, replaced underscore. I've watched some season 6 episodes lately, and this show is way more entertaining than I remember. It's a shame that Paramount is screwing with this show so much it likely won't make it to season 6 in a decent form, if at all.

Magnificent Obsession (Criterion Collection): I confess that the films of Douglas Sirk comprise one of the many glaring holes in my movie-watching resume. I kind of liked that one with Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid, though.

Spain...On the Road Again: TV chef Mario Batali finds time to eat, cook, and sample the local sights in between hitting on travel companion Gwyneth Paltrow. For reasons I can't divulge, this show makes me break into a cold sweat. Why do I even mention it at all, then? I'm hoping this is part of the long healing process.

Rockford Files Season 6: Nice to see a quality show nearing completion.

Chris Rock: Kill the Messenger: Rock's recent HBO standup special shows that, much like fellow legendary comedian Ralph Malph, he's still got it!

MGM When the Lion Roars: Epic documentary of the legendary studio. There had better be a lot of Wally Beery in it. Now available on DVD, which comes in handy for me since I was a dope and didn't record it off TCM for later viewing.

The Express: This underseen football picture about the first African-American Heisman Trophy winner is on my must-rent list. When this was opening in theaters, one ad started with a voice-over: "The first African-American..." and then something happened to cut it off. So my wife and I amused ourselves with the notion that this movie purported to be about "The first African-American."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Page Ought: George Clooney is a nice guy?

Welcome to the debut of Page Ought, the hard-hitting Cultureshark gossip column!

OVERHEARD by one observer early Thursday morning at a well-populated public spot...

OK, OK, it was me, I was at the pediatricians', and I was listening as some of the receptionist/administrative staff were talking about the celebrities in D.C. for the inauguration.

One said that her friend was with George Clooney the whole day (not a "Pretty Woman" arrangement but some kind of minder/assistant function, I gather) and he "is the nicest guy." Another woman echoed that sentiment, saying, "That's what I hear from everyone," and then they both agreed that Clooney's a great person as others nodded assent.

So, Clooney haters, and I know you're out there, much as you might like to paint him an elitist out-of-touch Hollywood egomaniac, among this sector of "the people," he's a a helluva bloke.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Brooks on Books: "Not So: Popular Myths About America From Columbus to Clinton" (1995)

I was wary of this book, as I am of all history books that purport to set us straight on what "really happened" and why we've been bamboozled by teachers, the mainstream media, and the liberal-historical establishment or whatever. Sure, I'm interested in exploring bogus myths and false conventions, but I don't want to read a few hundred pages of some conservative using the platform to tell me how wicked liberals are.

Fortunately, "Not So" is...not so. One could take entries here and there and argue an agenda towards or against politically-correct thinking, but I didn't find one slant to the book as a whole. In fact, I believe he takes on sacred cows of both the left and the right. This was written during the Clinton years, mind you, and Boller actually kind of defends the former First Couple.

More importantly, he emphasizes debunking the original story and explaining the truth, as opposed to ranting about why the original story has taken hold. His list of myths includes both matters of trivia and matters of more intellectual debate. It's a light read with 40-some short chapters, each on a single topic. Boller talks about whether America "lost" China to the Communists, but he also discusses the love lives of figures like Lincoln, James Buchanan, and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Boller doesn't write like an academic, either. Sometimes he's quite the opposite, as when he writes about Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.:
In January 1989, when the two men parted after Bush's inaugural ceremony, they exchanged brisk military salutes that looked awesome on television.

The book doesn't go into depth, but it's not designed to. It stimulates some thought, disproves a bunch of myths, and will likely provoke interested readers to get more info. However, I'm not sure that, even in 1995, all these beliefs were as commonly held as Boller indicates. Do a lot of people really think FDR knew Japan was gonna bomb Pearl Harbor? Is the legend of Washington's false teeth still famous for anything besides being a falsehood?

Embarrassingly, at least for present-day readers, Boller is probably wrong on at least one "myth." He asserts that Thomas Jefferson did not father a child with slave Sally Hemings, and his scholarship is a little weak in that chapter even if you don't know that it's generally accepted now that he or one of his close relatives did. At the very least, there's enough evidence to make Boller's matter-of-fact tone on this look dated at best and agenda-driven at worst. It makes you wonder what else in the book is wrong, and a book that is so assertive about righting wrongs and changing misconceptions doesn't need that kind of baggage.

So I would approach this as a light read for someone interested enough in history to enjoy exploring the myths, but maybe not a rewarding experience for someone well versed enough to know this stuff already.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Congratulations, Rickey Henderson

Congratulations to baseball great Rickey Henderson, who was elected last week to the Hall of Fame. He was always one of my favorite players, and I'm excited about the honor and the renewed spotlight he's enjoying.

It's easy to feel jaded about the Baseball Hall of Fame these days, especially when several dozen voters have the gall to leave an all-time great like Henderson off their ballots (A lot of fans are bent out of shape out of this, but I think it's just mainly due to the fact that writers vote on this, many writers don't like Rickey, and many writers have this weird hangup about certain players being "worthy" of going in "on their first ballot), but I'm charged about this.

Rickey in fact was the very first "favorite" individual athlete I had as a kid. I wish I could tell you with certainty that the young Ricky Brooks was captivated purely by Henderson's dynamic blend of speed, power, and charisma. I wish I could tell you that my reason for not liking him WASN'T that his name was the same as mine. But you know what? The name thing wasn't all of it, but it was a big part of it. The extra "e" somehow was the bit of extra spice that made the aural similarity even cooler.

Oh, when I was 7, 8 years old, I guess I tried to "pattern my game" after Henderson. But my game was whiffleball, and while you can screw around with replicating signature batting stances and baserunning styles in whiffleball, you can't do that in Little League. Yep, organized baseball was the end of that weak attempt at imitation, as I wasn't really allowed to steal bases, I didn't play the outfield, and working the count to draw walks wasn't so much a skill but something that just happened for you when the kid on the mound had the jitters.

Henderson, though, was a great major leaguer, probably the best leadoff hitter of all time, and a guy who seemed to dominate on his way to awards and stolen base records. He had a panache about him that could be seen as hot doggin', and he got some bad press for perceived selfishness. Yet teammates generally seemed to like him, and he was indisputably an outstanding performer by both statistical and observational measures.

A threat to hit a home run each time up, a threat to steal a base each time he was on, Henderson had an aura about him that made the game exciting. Statheads often get frustrated when people build a case for a player around a so-called immeasurable quality like "aura" (as many voters wanted to do for Henderson's fellow inductee Jim Rice), but I think those of us who watched him in the eighties would find it hard to argue the effect Henderson's presence could have on a game.

Then there was the off-the-field stuff, the stories and quotes that lingered on as he lingered on, refusing to leave the game until he exhausted every last chance he had to play in the big leagues. Some of the stories were even true. There's an awesome summary of the Legend of Rickey Henderson right here if you're interested.

In the wake of the big announcement last week, Henderson was all over the media, and I found him appropriately humble, charming, and engaging. In particular, his appearance on MLB Network's "Hot Stove" show was a treat. In some ways, it's hard to believe it's only been 5 years since Rickey finally retired, because his election to the Hall of Fame takes me back to the 1980s, when I once dreamed I could be like him...if only I could hit a whole lot better, were a whole lot more athletic, and weren't so slow.

Disappointed already

I saw President-elect Obama's speech today and was disappointed: Not ONE word about preventing evildoers like Paramount from altering original musical scores in classic TV shows like "The Fugitive" and "My Three Sons."

Could it be possible that our new leader is already in the pocket of Big Video?

Monday, January 19, 2009

TNT: We Know Essentially Lighthearted Comedies with Dramatic Elements

Last week, I heard a few radio ads for TNT: We Know Drama. The ads were virtually identical except they switched the order of the shows they were hyping.

First up: New series "Trust Me," starring Eric McCormack and Tom Cavanaugh as ad guys. " In introducing us to these gents, the announcer makes assertions about the characters which they then disprove with their own dialogue snippets. Oh, so ironic and funny, right? And in case we miss the point that this is funny, TNT helps us by playing "Feelin' Alright" in the background throughout, the universal musical shorthand for "off-kilter and irreverent" reinforcing the wackiness in store for us.

Then it's the hit show "The Closer." We're told that Kyra Sedgwick's Bobbie Jean Sugarbush (or whatever her name is) can chase down criminals...but can she walk down that aisle? Apparently there's a wedding in The Closer's future. Or is there? Again, in case we miss the comic overtones, there's another clue: a clip of The Closer playfully asking someone something like, "Are y'all ready for a little confession?"

TNT: They know drama?

Thank you, NFL!

We all get the Super Bowl match-up we wanted to see: Pittsburgh vs. Arizona. The nightmare scenario of a Philadelphia-Baltimore game did not materialize, and now I can comfortably enjoy both my mother-in-law's traditional big game buffet AND the game itself. Go Steelers!

(I wanted to thank God for keeping the Eagles out of the Super Bowl yesterday, but after a few minutes, I came to my senses and realized what a stupid and blasphemous act that would be. After all, any Higher Power that cared about football surely wouldn't have let Philadelphia get that close in the first place.)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

This Week in DVD

Last week I yearned for a more exciting week full o' DVD. Will I get it?

Doesn't look like it, but there is one clear winner of DVD of the Week. Dear readers, I present to you an early candidate for DVD of the Year:

Balls Out: Gary the Tennis Coach.

No, I haven't seen this yet, but the title alone should be sufficient proof of its greatness. But if ye need more, shall I mention the cast includes Randy Quaid, Seann William Scott. And on the cover, it looks like Scott has two giant tennis balls for testicles. Huh huh huh.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Why should I buy this now when I'll only be tempted to get the inevitable Criterion Collection edition in a few years?" That's a legitimate question, and I can only respond that a film so great DEMANDS not just multiple viewings, but multiple purchases.

I should probably link to an online retailer and set up some kind of some revenue sharing deal where I can reap the benefits from spotlighting this title, but, dear friends, just knowing I am exposing you to this gem is reward enough.

Anticlimactic though it is, let's look at some other DVDs out this week:

Appaloosa: I must admit that when I hear the words "thoughtful" and "meditative" in conjunction with a modern oater, part of me fears they are euphemisms for "boring." In this case, I'll bet Ed Harris' underseen Western got a bit of a raw deal on its theatrical release, and I'd like to check it out eventually.

Shut Up and Shoot: Speaking of great casts, this week there was a great banner ad somewhere, I believe DVD Talk, touting the roster of stars in this movie: Roddy Piper, Joe Estevez, niel Baldwin, Gary Busey, and others (not necessarily in that order). I have no idea what this movie is about, but does it really matter?

Breakfast at Tiffany's Paramount Centennial Collection: I'm not sure if that means it's celebrating 100 years of Paramount or if it's the 100th time this movie has been packaged on DVD. Maybe both.

Swing Vote: I'm kind of embarrassed to say I wouldn't mind seeing this Kevin Costner dud. Not as much as if I were to say I wouldn't mind certain other Kevin Costner duds, mind you, but I do feel a twinge of shame.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Panel Discussion: Comics were a bit faster then

Comic books sure were different in olden times. Check out the caption atop this panel from page 12 of "Amazing Spider-Man #5."

The glimpse of Spidey swinging around is cool enough, but I like that caption. Granted, this issue touted Spider-Man vs. Dr. Doom on the cover, and though we're 12 pages in, it hasn't happened yet, but I think it's hilarious that Smilin' Stan Lee feels obligated to apologize.

Look at it this way: We're only on page 12, but already:
*J. Jonah Jameson denounced the webslinger on TV.
*Doom recapped his last encounter with the Fantastic 4 and laid out his plan to recruit Spidey to battle them.
*Doom lured Webhead to his lair and had a conversation with him, followed by a brief skirmish before Spidey made a strategic retreat. Then Doom blew up the building and took off before Spider-Man went back in.
*Peter Parker sold his pictures of that building fire to Jameson and noticed Betty Brant sticking up for Spider-Man...and noticed "how pretty" she was.
*Flash Thompson and his friends set up an elaborate ruse to prank Parker, putting Flash in a Spider-Man costume.
*Doom mistakenly captured Flash.
*Doom seized the airwaves and broadcast a message that he was holding "Spider-Man" (really Flash) until the FF surrendered to him.
*Peter realized what happened and schemed to get out of the house despite the worrying, overprotective Aunt May's concerns.

Not bad for a prelude, I think.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

We're Not Married!

Sure, I love to write about The Wonderful World of TCM, but every now and then Fox Movie Channel shows an oldie and goodie as well. 1952's "We're Not Married" is an effective light comedy with a great cast, a fun premise, and a sharp script by Nunnally Johnson. FMC tends to be a bit liberal with the reruns, shall we say, so I recommend you check it out next time it's on.

The film consists of a series of vignettes spotlighting married couples who find out they're not married. You see, the bumbling judge (a perfect Victor Moore) who conducted their ceremonies a few year s ago did so before his appointment was official. So as the judge and his wife go down memory lane while preparing refunds for the couples they charged for the service, we see where each pair is and what happens when they (or one of them) gets the letter from the state telling them their marital status is not what they've assumed.

Opening and closing the film are the top-billed team of Fred and Ginger. That's right, it's the classic team of Ginger Rogers and Fred...Allen. You know the old saying--she gave him sex appeal, and he gave her sass. Though they're fun as ostensibly lovey-dovey radio co-hosts who bicker and sulk off air, I can't help but wish Allen were paired instead with Eve Arden, who is barely utilized in her vignette with Paul Douglas. I'd rather have seen her trade quips with Allen.

Check out these other names in the cast: Eddie Bracken, Louis Calhern, Jane Darwell, Zsa Zsa Gabor...oh, and some young dame named Marilyn Monroe might interest a few of the fellas out there.

It's no surprise that the movie, while poking fun at the institution of marriage and poking gentle fun at social mores that make (made?) it scandalous to, for example, birth a child out of wedlock, ultimately supports and approves the notion of matrimony. Indeed, this is one of those old-school films that would have to be drastically reworked were it made today, but not just because the prevailing morality is so different.

In today's society, what would be the first thing everyone would do if they found out two years after the fact their marriages had never been official? That's right: Sue, sue, sue. The husbands and wives of "We're Not Married" find ways to fix their sudden circumstances or even take advantage of them. In 2009, they'd fire off telegrams to their attorney as fast as they could get to the local wireless operator. Or whatever form of communication the kids use these days.

The judge, the judge's wife, the governor, the state itself, the company that manufactured the book the judge read from--all would be targets of some hotshot lawyer. Happiness would be defined by the size of the settlements and the size of the separate mansions that would result for the not-groom and not-bride.

"We're Not Married" is a nice piece of entertainment. The individual segments are too brief to become anything substantial, but the movie ain't going for substantial.

Monday, January 12, 2009

It's no mystery: Sleuth Channel stinks

Albert Einstein is often credited with saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results. He surely would call me out for checking out the Sleuth Channel TV listings every month even though I'm always disappointed by how unimaginative this NBC-Universal network is.

Well, crazy ol' me looked at the Sleuth schedule again the other day. However, I actually feel a little less crazy this time because Sleuth's programming isn't the same old boring mix of overplayed 80s and 90s cop shows. No, it's actually WORSE. Apparently, Universal or NBC or whoever is running the show has just given up on this network--much like it has thrown in the towel with its other properties--and turned it into USA Network 2.

Look a few of the shows in heavy rotation on the New-Look Sleuth this month:

*The Dead Zone

I swear I saw "Walker Texas Ranger" on there a week ago, too. Other than "Da Vinci's Inquest" and "Cold Squad," there's nothing on there you wouldn't have seen on USA...last week!

Oh, how naive I was to think this channel was an opportunity for airing seldom-seen cop and detective shows. Now even the 80s are too old for Sleuth.

(Incidentally, do you think Al Einstein was a Dumont Network kind of guy? I bet he was.)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dream Theater

Time to share a real, honest-to-goodness dream I had recently. I was at a restaurant when I saw Adrian Brody across the room. Our eyes met, we shared a moment,, I'm kidding. But in the dream, I did see Brody. I wanted to go over and talk to him not because I was particularly interested in his autograph or his career in general, but because I wanted to ask him when the hell "The Brothers Bloom," his upcoming movie by "Brick" director Rian Johnson, was coming out.

But I hesitated and missed my chance, or so I thought, because I looked back over at his table and he was gone. However, a few moments later, I glanced over towards the bar, and Brody was over there. This time, though, he was making my life easier by getting up and walking right by my table.

So as he approached, I yelled out (not at all like Sly Stallone, I might add), "Adrian!" But the dude totally ignored me, blowing past the table without so much as an acknowledgement.

It was only then I realized my error. It hit me instantly, if too late. Chagrined, I turned to my wife and asked, "That was Matt LeBlanc, wasn't it?" She gave me a confirmation I didn't need, and I woke up.

Adrian Brody and Matt LeBlanc look nothing alike, not even in a dark, crowded restaurant (well, I'm assuming they don't), and when I awoke, I was really ticked off that I confused the two of them, even in a dream.

What does this all mean? Well, I looked this specific scenario up in a dream interpretation book, and it said I'm worried about financial issues and that I have a lingering concern that Brody didn't deserve his Best Actor Oscar for "The Pianist."

Football Follies

The Philadelphia Eagles are set to desecrate yet another NFC Championship game next weekend. This means they are 4 quarters away from sullying the Super Bowl. Hasn't the sports world suffered enough in the wake of the Phillies' World Series victory?* The NFL uses its game-fixing powers to screw with gamblers and alter Patriots games, but not once has it stepped up and nipped an Eagles threat in the bud. I am very disappointed with the NFL.

Thank goodness the Steelers won today and played well. I dread playing the Ravens because it is difficult to beat any team 3 times in the same season, and Pittsburgh was fortunate enough to win both teams these two bitter rivals fought it out already.

It's difficult for me to even concede this possibility, but if it's Baltimore and Philadelphia in the Super Bowl, then for the first time in umpteen years, I will not watch the Super Bowl. I'm not even kidding. Oh, I'll go to my mother-in-law's annual party, but I'll camp out by the buffet and sneak back into the den to watch the commercials.

*I, of course, refuse to recognize this so-called "championship," but I will concede that most observers consider them reigning champions.

Friday, January 9, 2009

On the Radio: 5 songs I DON'T want to hear again on True Oldies

Some months ago, I saw a change for the better on the local radio dial as Smooth Jazz exited its home at 105.9 and Scott Shannon's syndicated True Oldies Channel service entered. Now, I know many radio lovers hate canned services like this one, and I can't blame them, but this kind of music left the area several years ago when Big 100 switched to Classic Rock, and I'm glad to hear it back. Plus, True Oldies, while imperfect, is much better and richer in material than the Big 100 oldies.

The True Oldies Channel does fun things like theme weekends, forgotten oldies that really could have been forgotten by people who have seen a movie in the last 20 years, and even--GASP--actual music from the 1950s every now and then. Oh, you still get a lot of the same overplayed oldies we've heard for decades, but I think those songs deserve a slot on the radio, and better they're heard over and over again than some of the newer stuff I hear over and over again.
Hey, speaking of "Over and Over Again," I heard that Dave Clark Five gem recently on True Oldies and was quite glad all over.

OK, now here come the complaints: There's way too much disco and dinosaur rock. I still think "oldies" should be 50s, 60s, maybe some 70s, but since there is so much 70s rock elsewhere on the radio, I don't need it on the True Oldies Channel, and I turn the dial in frustration whenever I hear "Taking Care of Business." And I LIKE a lot of dinosaur rock. I just don't need it here.

Yet I sort of understand it's appearance there. It seems most of that stuff is in drive time, and maybe they're chasing a slightly younger demo then. When Shannon himself is heard on the air, you have a better chance of hearing rarer stuff and older stuff. But they have to play the 70s hits, too, I suppose, and I'll accept that the Me Decade is considered "oldies" now.

But there are some tunes that should never appear in this format. Most of these I am going to list are songs I only heard once or twice; perhaps they were experimental spins for test purposes. Whatever the case may be, I don't want to hear them again:

1) "You Got It" by Roy Orbison: I can almost see the rationale here. It's a popular song by an oldies artist, and it sounds reminiscent enough of earlier work to not embarrass anybody. But it came out in 1989 and was played into the ground then. Granted, it was in part a celebration of the life of the legendary singer, who died months before the album and single appeared, but it's 20 years later now. Leave this one to the soft rock stations.

2) "Kokomo" by the Beach Boys: Good Lord, no. The very existence of this song is enough to make me call for a blanket rule forbidding all modern songs by newer artists. I had one of the best times in my life on my honeymoon in Aruba, but the whole experience was nearly ruined by a bar band's rendition of this terrible song soiling the night air as I walked on the beach. It was a mere days before I escaped the island without hearing "Kokomo." I should be able to feel safer when listening to True Oldies.

3) "Bette Davis Eyes" by Kim Carnes: 1981, folks. 1981. I am not ready to concede that the 80s are legit ground for oldies radio. This song doesn't even sound oldies. Again, leave this one to Adult Contemporary/Light Rock/80s/Hit Mix formats.

4) "Bille Jean" by Michael Jackson: Hearing this one threw me. The only Jacko I want to hear on this station is the one backed by 4 of his brothers. Well, maybe "Ben" is acceptable, but not "Billie Jean."

5) "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins: AAARGH! Why don't we just play the whole "Footloose" and "Top Gun" soundtracks while we're at it? "Billie Jean" is bad enough, but at least it was a great song in its time. "Footloose" was...not. I think I need another decade or two to forget it.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Half-Assed Gourmet: The Awesomeness of Chik-Fil-A

Evidence that Chik-fil-A is awesome:

*The food is tasty as all get-out.
*I don't even mind the relatively sparse menu: It's chicken sandwich or chicken nuggets for me, and that's fine. They concentrate on what they do best.
*I love going there despite that ridiculous name.
*They're worth it even though they're closed Sundays.
*I kind of respect that they stick to their guns and close Sundays, by the way. Brassy move in today's world.
*That honey-smoked BBQ sauce or whatever it is I love so much in those little packets. I always have to ask for a handful of it, but it's always delicious.
*I will actually stand in line for it on a busy shopping day at the mall when there are other options literally in front of me.

The other day, in fact, I actually did wait in a huge line, with the wife and baby reserving a seat for us inside the tiny, jam-packed mall version of Chik-fil-A. I hate lines. But it was OK. When I finally reached the counter, I ordered my own value meal only to discover the place was out of iced tea! This kind of outrage would normally drive me over the edge, but I overlooked it because, well, it was Chik-fil-A.

I can best sum up the awesomeness of this fast food franchise with this anecdote: While I was standing in the line, a queue which extended well into the walking space of the mall, a late-teenish girl and a middle-aged gentleman--presumably her father--walked by, each with a shopping bag in hand. The girl looked at the crowd, scrunched up her face, and said, "Look at that! Who likes Chik-fil-A THAT much?"

And the guy, without missing a stride, glanced at her and raised his hand straight up into the air. As he continued towards the door, he surely envied those of us who also liked Chik-fil-A but, unlike himself, were actually about to taste that scrumptious chicken.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

This Week in DVD

After a few oddball weeks during the holiday season, DVDs return with a BANG!

Well, actually, the slate is none too impressive this week, but here are some of the highlights. Maybe NEXT week DVDs return with a BANG!

Pineapple Express: OK, I know this is supposed to be a laugh riot and all, but I saw a bunch of ads for the theatrical release and never saw anything that looked funny. Now the DVD is on the way, I see a ton of ads for IT, and I still don't see anything funny.

Mannix Season 2: Mannix leaves Intertec and becomes a P.I., in other words the Mannix we all know and love...or at least, in my case, the Mannix we would have known and loved was in reruns more often in the 80s and 90s. Oh, one other thing about this set: FULL SEASON! WHOO-HOO!

Rona Barrett's Hollywood: Nothing But the Truth: I have no idea what this is other than it's apparently a collection of Rona celebrity interviews from the 1970s. And that somehow intrigues me.

Rivalry Series Basketball: North Carolina Beat Duke: Rumor has it there's a version of this DVD set titled "Duke Beats North Carolina" which features match-ups in which the Blue Devils win, but why would anyone want to buy that kind of garbage?

Righteous Kill: Remember when Al Pacino and Robert DeNiro starring in the same flick was a big deal?

Bangkok Dangerous: Yawn. Another month, another bad Nic Cage movie.

Babylon A.D.: Yawn. Another month, another bad Vin--wait a minute, I totally thought this came out, like 5 years ago. Guess I'm just way out of the loop on the Vin Diesel movies.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What is going on with RTN?

There is some kind of financial snafu going on with RTN, leading to a total disruption of the network. While I was on vacation, the channel actually went dark for a day or so in my area. Now it's back up, but whenever I flip there, one or all of these conditions prevails:

1) A show is on other than that which is scheduled for that time.
2) The channel is "off the clock," meaning programs start not at the top or bottom of the hour but at weird times.
3) The audio and video are out of sync.

I sure hope things get back to normal soon. I was glad to spot "Kojak" on there. Theo Kojak should be on RTN, especially while it's so Universal-centric...but not at the expense of Quincy.

LATE-BREAKING UPDATE: I just checked the local RTN channel, and there is a still from some kind of debt-servicing commercial up while in the background audio plays from a "Knight Rider" episode. Stay classy, RTN!

Monday, January 5, 2009

One of my favorite comic book panels ever.

I pondered building up to a reveal of this panel, explaining why I liked it before presenting this scan, but it's just too awesome and eye-catching (if my scan doesn't totally ruin it) to avoid.

This is of course from Spider-Man's debut story in "Amazing Fantasy" #15. A crook just raced by and got away scot-free because Spidey decided it wasn't hs concern and didn't bother trying to stop him. Of course, since Webhead doesn't carry a gun, and since he's not even really a superhero yet, you have to wonder if he really deserves a reprimand for not pursuing an apparent dangerous criminal.

No matter, though. The point is that when the cop scolds him, Spider-Man gives him the hand! This panel may well be artist Steve Ditko's apex. Check out the body language: The tensed posterior, the arm flexed and bent behind him, and of course that back of the hand. Clearly Ditko is anticipating the sassy "Talk to the hand" posture that would become popular decades later.

Peter Parker's words are disdainful enough, but I like to think that immediately after this little rejoinder, he adds an emphatic "MM-HMM," snapped the fingers on that left hand, and sashays his way off panel.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

5Q Movie Review: I Love You, Beth Cooper

Q: Is this as good as the book?

A: No, it isn't anywhere near as good. The book is a riot, one of the most entertaining novels I've read in some time. The movie...not so funny. It tries, but it just can't get it quite right. Now, it doesn't "desecrate" the source material or anything; it just can't capture the comic tone that works so well in print.

Q: Who is this Beth Cooper, and why is she so danged lovable?

A: Cooper is the most popular chick at braniac valedictorian Denis Cooverman's high school--blonde, cheerleader, etc. Cooverman's impulsive blurting out of the title phrase during his commencement speech sets a whole chain of wild and wacky teen movie events in motion. If you love Hayden Panettiere, you may love her character as well. The movie tries to flesh her out and show her to be more than just a fantasy object, but while she comes off as a bit more complex in the novel, on screen she still seems like a cliche.

Q: Hey, speaking of "fleshing out," this is an R-rated movie, so we have to ask...

A: Oh, come off it. Hayden is not naked, though she wears insanely short shorts in one of her earliest scenes, and later in the film there's a locker room in which she (I'm assuming it's not a double, though her face is unseen) shows enough side boobage to reinforce how airbrushed she is on the DVD box cover.

Q: Why is the word "boobage" only ever used in conjunction with the word "side"?

A: I don't know offhand, and I fear now that William Safire has left us, we may never get the full explanation.

Q: Back to the (lack of) quality of the film: This is because of that hack director Chris Columbus, isn't it? Come on, just tell us, HE botched this, didn't he?

A: No, I don't know if that's the case. I know he's unpopular in many circles, but I just never got a sense while hanging with "Cooper" (sorry) that, "Wow, this would be so much funnier if the Coen brothers directed it." It may well be that a more skilled, creative auteur could figure out how to translate the arch ominiscient narratation that drives the novel to the big screen. Perhaps such a filmmaker would pull off the trick of presenting coming-of-age cliches while seeming fresh. Maybe this director could, like the original text, reference other popular movies and works of fiction without seeming to ape them. Columbus isn't that person, but the movie is not a disaster. It just never quite gets it, providing an amusing experience at best.

Do I look like a "Sparky"?

I love flying Southwest Airlines, and when you combine their general efficiency with their low prices (all relative to the other carriers), it's the clear number one air travel option for me. I feel sorry for people who aren't served by Southwest. We drive an hour-plus away just for the privilege. It's worth it.

This Christmas, the flight attendants on my family's journey were bursting with Christmas cheer. I enjoy flying around the holidays because the staff is usually in a good mood. Sometimes they're in a GREAT mood, hopefully because they're getting double time and a half and not because they discovered a secret cache of mini liquor bottles.

On our way up north, a friendly attendant asked us what beverage we wanted. My wife wanted a Dr. Pepper that we could share. The attendant asked why we didn't just get one each, and we replied we didn't want too many cups in case our baby tipped one over. Well, she told us, she could give us a lid on one. Great! Problem solved.

"So what do you want, Sparky?" she then asked me.

"Sparky"? What had I done to deserve that? I'm pretty sure that since Charles M. Schulz died, the number of grown men who LIKE being called that is countable on one finger. If a dude called me that, I'd be tempted to slug the blockhead.

But she said it with just the right amount of holiday warmth to make it not a smart-ass remark, but rather a friendly smart-ass remark.

When she returned later with the drinks, she gave my wife the makeshift sippy cup, then presented me my own beverage by announcing, "You don't get a lid, Sparky. You're a big boy, so we're gonna trust you not to spill it."

Still friendly, but it was getting ridiculous. Of course my wife loved it.

The attendant got one more "Sparky" in on the flight, a subtle one as she collected the trash. By that point I didn't even flinch, though part of me wondered...

Do I look like a Sparky? I thought that name was the exclusive moniker of the very young or the very old. In 40 years or so, I might be ready to set a spell on the porch, tilt my mesh cap, and hear the little ones call me "Grandpa Sparky," but as I write this today, it's just too soon, dagnab it.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Half-Assed Gourmet: Brat-loving bastard...

I don't want to sound like an antisocial jerk here, but when I go to the grocery store, I generally prefer to get in, get out, and go home and put the groceries away. There are a few familiar checkout clerks I like, folks I'll exchange a friendly greeting with, maybe a word or two. But I don't often look forward to a big exchange of chitchat in a grocery line, especially one in which I've stood for way too long because the local Giant has all those damn self-checkout lanes and got rid of so many cashiers.


The point is, a week or two ago, I went to Giant to get a few prescriptions filled for my family, and while I was there I grabbed a few groceries. I like Johnsonville Brats. I'll stick 'em on the Foreman grill and make a nice, easy lunch for me or sometimes for both me and my wife. When they're on sale, I get a pack or two.

That's pretty much all there is to it.

On this particular day, a guy I hadn't seen before was checking me out, and when I finally got up there, the brats were among the first items he scanned. I'm staring at the electronic card reader, waiting to execute the financial transcation, when I hear, "How do you cook your brats?"

I was taken aback because, really, any speaking after, "Do you have a Bonuscard?" and "Your total is..." comes as a shock if I'm not familiar with the clerk. This guy's inquiring mind wanted to know my cooking secrets, though. Did he recognize me as the Half-Assed Gourmet?

"I usually just cook them on the Foreman Grill," I said with a sligth chuckle. See, I was already anticipating that my answer was going to disappoint him, and I wanted to use a tone that discouraged any further inquiry. After all, it was the middle of December, I had a sick wife and daughter at home, and I wasn't in the mood for a seminar. I suppose in the back of my mind I expected some kind of remark. But I didn't expect the guy behind the counter to say this:

"What a waste."

He actually said, "What a waste," and not with a jovial lilt, either. He was looking down, there was an edge in his voice, and I could swear he shook his head, though I didn't look at him fast enough to eb sure.

What a waste! Excuse me for not cranking up the gas grill two weeks before Christmas, buddy. Now how's about ringing up my soup and letting me go home to my pathetic Foreman grill and my woefully wasted weiners?

I think he realized he came on a bit strong, as after an awkward pause of a few seconds (I think I chuckled weakly to acknowledge I had received his lament), he told me I should try brining. He followed with a Brining for Dummies primer while I kept an eye on the electronic reader, desperately awaiting the cue to slide my credit card and begin the end of what I had assumed would be a simple grocery purchase.

I was ticked by this Checkout Chef's reprimand, but now that I think about it, I shouldn't have let him bother me. The Half-Assed Gourmet need not apologize for anything. So I like cooking Johnsonville Brats on the Foreman grill. I don't think they're better that way, and I never said as much. That's just how I usually make them.

Does that make me a bad cook? Well, maybe, but it doesn't make me a bad person.

I really need to get my groceries at Wegman's more often.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's Daze

I sacrificed my right to mock New Year's Eve partiers several years ago, but now I really have to swear off any such teasing whatsoever. See, this year, I had trouble staying awake till 11:00, let alone midnight, and while I could blame this on my baby daughter...what does it matter? I'm a lightweight.

I think the only thing that kept me awake to ring in 2009 was WGN America's "Honeymooners" marathon. Even then, I struggled to keep my eyes open while watching episodes of my favorite TV show of all time. Somehow I made it till we could switch over to see Dick Clark count us out of 2008.

There were a lot of great TV options this year for us non-First-Nighters. Besides the Mooners, Sci-Fi had its traditional "Twilight Zone" marathon and a Boston station played a bunch of Three Stooges shorts. Great stuff if you don't feel like sharing the road with the drunks.

It's a good thing those options existed, too, because the networks' New Year's Eve specials get worse each year as they pander to a younger and younger audience. Oh, how happy I was to see Lionel Richie on ABC, not because 2008 felt incomplete without one more "Dancing on the Ceiling," but because, well, I just wanted to see an old guy standing alongside the Jonas Brothers and the like.

These countdown shows consist of teases of what we WILL see, with the lame stuff we actually do see sprinkled throughout the night in small doses until the ball drops. Then the specials reward us for our patience by presenting more lame stuff.
Me, I was in bed at about 12:05 A.M., and then my New Year's Day experience consisted mainly of eating and watching football. Penn State was terrible, but the bacon wrapped beef was delicious.

My only resolution this year is to keep on keepin' on. Know what I mean?

Well, I don't know, either, so why don't I refrain from making any kind of resolution. I can only say I'll try to make it to 12:10 when the next holiday rolls around. Martin Luther King Day, get ready!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

On the radio: New AC/DC sounds a lot like...the old AC?DC

So have you heard AC/DC's latest single, "Rock and Roll Train"?

Yes, you have. No, trust me, even if you haven't heard it, you have. Assuming you've been around for the last 20 years, you've heard this song over and over again on classic rock radio, commercials, stadium loudspeakers...

What I'm saying here, folks, with all the subtlety of "Highway to Hell," is that "Rock and Roll Train" sounds an awful lot like an awful lot of the band's back catalogue. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I am interested, though, by the positive commercial and critical reaction to both the song in particular and the new album (Wal-Mart exclusive "Black Ice") in general.

AC/DC earns praise for "returning to form" and "going back to basics" with this new set. I won't dispute the familiarity of the music, but since when did AC/DC go away? I thought that ever since "Thunderstruck," this group has pretty much been cranking out what its fans want every few years or so with little variation. Yet now this is heralded as some kind of comeback.

The whole thing also intrigues me because I wonder why some bands are "allowed" to do basically the same thing over and over again, while some are castigated as soon as a single album sounds too much like its predecessor. Are there different levels of expectations for different artists? Are they perceived a certain way once they achieve a certain level of longevity?

Again, I'm not complaining about AC/DC; I just don't quite get it. But I'd sure rather come across "Rock and Roll Train" on the radio than something off the guy's country album or Brian Johnson doing a collection of standards.