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Spirit of West Point [VHS]
Spirit of West Point [VHS]
4 used & new from $4.94

2.0 out of 5 stars Davis & Blanchard's Final Opponent, October 2, 2009
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During the eighteen-year tenure of Earl "Red" Blaik as its head coach, the Army football teams were among the strongest college teams in the land. The years 1944-46 brought Colonel Blaik three of his most dominating squads. These squads did not lose a single one of their contests, and they played to a tie just once. Two of his players, Felix "Doc" Blanchard and Glenn "Junior" Davis, won Heisman Trophies in consecutive seasons for their play (Blanchard won the Heisman in 1945, while Davis won that award the following season). Both were high on the NFL's draft list, but military commitment also awaited. The story of their lives, their college football careers, and their desire to someday take their game to the pro level is chronicled in the 1947 docudrama, "The Spirit Of West Point."

The star running backs play themselves in a movie that focuses primarily on their four years at the Academy in New York. Each found their way to path to the West Point gridiron in different ways. Blanchard sought enlistment after Pearl Harbor. He was rejected by the Navy, but was accepted by the Army, serving on a Texas base until he was accepted for college. He received his appointment to West Point with a bit of help from his father, Dr. Felix Blanchard (William Forrest), a South Carolina physician and West Point graduate. Meanwhile, Glenn struggled with his grades as a freshman and was "found" (i.e., he had some unsatisfactory marks). However, he continued with athletics and college back in his native California. They came into the Cadets football program together, coached by Blaik (Robert Shayne). Before long, Davis was the starting halfback, and Blanchard was the starting fullback. Blanchard would become known as "Mr. Inside," while Davis became known as "Mr. Outside."

Along the way, they make friends with a speedy end named Roger "Mileaway" McCarty (Michael Browne) and the team's top lineman, known as Oklahoma Cutter (Alan Hale, Jr.). As the wins keep coming, the teammates face obstacles that are bigger than not gaining an ivitation to participate in a post-season bowl. One of them is found, another wants to marry his girlfriend, and pro agents want the top Army players to seek furloughs and spend their autumns in the National Football League, should they be selected in the draft. Davis and Blanchard are offered $25,000 signing bonuses, and encouraged to pursue permission with West Point to play in the pros. Before they make any decisions on what they're going to do after college, they seek advice from former Heisman Trophy winner Tom Harmon (as himself). Each wants to play professionally to help themselves and their families financially, but each has a commitment to the service as well. Harmon tells the pair what to expect when agents come calling.

Getting the opportunity to view the highlights of Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside is fun, as these runners and defenders (Blanchard was also a linebacker, while Davis played defensive back) made their marks on college football. They proved that they could score on defense as well as on offense. The rest of the film, however, is problematic for two reasons. First, the drama part of this docudrama is not very convincing. Over the years, a number of Army players have been drafted by NFL teams, including Davis and Blanchard. However, they are required to serve full time active duty after graduation. In 2008, for example, the Detroit Lions drafted Army defensive back Caleb Campbell. He looked forward to practicing with his NFL team, and was even on the verge of signing a three-year contract with Detroit. However, his superiors gave him different marching orders which will not allow him to try out for any NFL team until at least 2010 (He is a free agent, as he never signed his deal). He could still have a pro future, just as Davis, who played for the Los Angeles Rams in 1950 and 1951, did (Injury, though, cut Davis's pro career short). Also, I doubt that cadets such as Mileaway McCarty and Oklahoma Cutter could simply leave West Point and not owe some commitment to the service. I'm not sure what the policy was back in those days (I know the furlough part is accurate), but I know that most military players who were good enough to go pro had to stay in the service for awhile before pro sports got their shot (Blanchard, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, opted to stay in the military for a quarter century, eventually serving a tour of duty in Vietnam).

The other problem is that Davis and Blanchard can't act their way out of a huddle. They first meet on a practice field where Blanchard punts a ball with a hang time long enough for Davis to have a conversation with a teammate. Later in that practice, Davis stops Blanchard for short gains on two consecutive plays. After the second tackle, Davis and Blanchard deliver their scripted introduction with all of the conviction of young men who are completely unfamiliar with the concept of scripts or acting. They always have a smile on their faces during the movie's lighter moments, giving away the staged nature of the movie. The dog who was cast to play Rusty, the Davis family pet, delivers barks and tail wagging better than his master can emote. Blanchard and Davis would like for viewers to hope their smiles and charm can cover for their deficiencies, but to no avail.

The actresses who were cast as members of the Blanchard family all sound as though they are trying to channel Scarlett O'Hara. Also, viewers would be hard-pressed these days to understand why these ladies call Doc by his middle name, Anthony, as the film never explains how they came to call him Anthony. Another actress who has a thankless job is Tanis Chandler, who plays Mildred, a young British woman who meets Blanchard after experiencing her first American college football game. Mildred asks questions that make her sound as if she were naive as a little girl. The biggest blunder, however, comes at the 1946 Army-Navy game, where the play-by-play announcer declares he'd like to see a play in slow motion - and it happens. Director Ralph Murphy couldn't bring cohesion to the intercutting of game action and story, and the story from Margaret Mary Howard and Tom Reed never rises above the level of cliche.

There are some things of positive interest in the movie, though. Shayne and Hale rise above the material to deliver the film's best performances. Shayne shows both toughness and concern as Blaik, a disciplinarian who always has the best interest of his players in mind. Hale, who would later play the Skipper on "Gilligan's Island," does well as the affable, but academically struggling, Oklahoma. Another good performance comes from George O'Hanlon as Joe Wilson, a sports reporter whose beat is Army football. He would later become best known as the voice of George Jetson on "The Jetsons." In addition to Harmon, announcers Bill Stern and Harry Wismer appear as themselves. Wismer would later become the founding owner of the pro football franchise known today as the New York Jets (In Wismer's time, they were known as the New York Titans).

"The Spirit Of West Point" is a well-intentioned film, but ultimately it is a misguided one. Much of the acting is laughable, and none of the recreations have the same one-two punch those backfield stars had when they played together for real. Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard served their country well, and created gridiron memories for generations of football fans. This is a memorable film for some, but not for the reasons intended by the filmmakers, or the greats of the college game themselves. This is one of the worst college football films I have ever seen, and is definitely number one in terms of camp value. If "The Spirit Of West Point" was supposed to be a tribute to two of Army's greatest football stars, it was a very undistinguished effort. This film, in military parlance, deserves a dishonorable discharge.

This review also appears on Viewpoints. A shorter version of this review first appeared on Epinions in August 2009.

Johnny Cash: Hurt
Johnny Cash: Hurt
DVD ~ Johnny Cash
30 used & new from $4.92

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Nine Inch Cash, January 5, 2005
This review is from: Johnny Cash: Hurt (DVD)
Some people still find it hard to believe that Johnny Cash recorded a Nine Inch Nails song. For those who followed the "American Recordings" series Cash released during his final years, it comes as no surprise at all. Cash not only covered "Hurt," but he also covered songs by artists such as Depeche Mode, Soundgarden, and Danzig. It's not that Cash was in search of a new musical direction. He always searched for songs that he could give his own spin.

Not only does Cash give his own spin to the Trent Reznor composition "Hurt," but video director Mark Romanek, whose big screen credits include "One Hour Photo," creates a portrait of bright light and extreme darkness to accompany the song's message. The video shows Cash in a sadly reflective mood, wondering what has become of his life. He sadly reflects, "Everyone I know goes away in the end" as he sits among the possessions of his life in his own museum, which is closed to the public. Romanek also includes old footage of Cash in a range of moods. The newest footage shows him in a state of resignation, convinced he has been a failure in his life.

Yet, when Cash sings "What have I become, my sweetest friend?" June Carter Cash sadly, but faithfully, stands by her man. This is the one sign that his life is not as much of a failure as he might think. The man has made mistakes, and seeks atonement. However, he's so focused on his pain, he doesn't realize how close he is to atonement. In the song's final verse, Romanek turns up the sound to emphasize the pain and the desire for atonement. It's a powerful video with its combination of sights, sounds, and performances. Johnny Cash takes this song and makes it seem that Reznor had written it specifically for Cash. The video also shows that Cash never stopped trying to be a musical influence, when he could have easily have settled on being a musical patriarch.

This DVD is not only available separately, but it is also included on expanded version of his CD, "American IV: The Man Comes Around," a title which I also highly recommend. "Hurt" is one of the great moments in music video. Not only does Johnny Cash sell the song, but he sells the emotion marvelously. "Hurt" is one of the final pieces of a 50-year musical career that began strong and ended stronger.

Originally published on

Frosty the Snowman/Frosty Returns
Frosty the Snowman/Frosty Returns
DVD ~ Jackie Vernon
Offered by Magic SuperCenter
Price: $8.92
65 used & new from $0.01

8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Two Faces Of Frosty, December 25, 2004
Do not let the double feature release of "Frosty The Snowman" and "Frosty Returns" fool you. Even though the titles appear together on video (and are aired back-to-back each Christmas season on CBS), they are, by no means, a series. The tone of "Frosty The Snowman" differs from the tone of "Frosty Returns." The animation of the two features is different.The actors are different. Most of the characters are different. All that remains the same are Frosty and his song.

"Frosty The Snowman" marked the first animated feature where the direction and production team of Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass used traditional cel animation. As Rankin explains in one of the few DVD extras, Rankin wanted "Frosty The Snowman" to have a greeting card feel - and these characters look like they'd be found on a greeting card. They were designed by Paul Coker, Jr., who had made greeting cards prior to joining Rankin/Bass. The story is based on the song by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins, and is simply and faithfully adapted to the screen by Romeo Muller, who wrote on many a Rankin/Bass project. On the last day before Christmas vacation, a grade school teacher (voiced by June Foray) brings the magician Professor Hinkle (Billy De Wolfe) to school to entertain her class. Hinkle, though, is so inept, he can't even pull his rabbit, Hocus Pocus, from his hat. Hocus comes out while the Professor is messing up another trick. The frustrated Professor throws his hat in the garbage.

After school, the students build a snowman, using the discarded hat, which they don't realize has been brought there by Hocus. Once the snowman has his hat, he exclaims "Happy Birthday!" The children decide he should have a name. A little girl named Karen decides Frosty is the appropriate name for their creation. Hinkle, though, sees his hat is magic and takes it from them. Hocus, hiding in the hat, hops off Hinkle's head and returns to the children. Frosty (Jackie Vernon) spends time with the kids as they play around on the streets of the town. The weather doesn't stay cold, and Frosty knows he has to head to the North Pole so that he won't melt. Frosty, Karen, and Hocus stow away in a refrigerated boxcar headed north, with Hinkle in pursuit. Their intent is to get to the home of Santa Claus (Paul Frees), where neither heat nor Hinkle can hurt Frosty. Santa, of course, is not oblivious to the plight of the trio.

Their tale is narrated by Jimmy Durante, who sets a lighthearted ease befitting the story. He also takes the honors of singing the song for whom the feature is named.He shows how Karen understands the world differently than adults, and how her sense of fair play stands in contrast with the adult world. Karen's encounters with a police officer and a station agent (both voiced by Frees) provide some of the many sweet and amusing moments of the cartoon. My only complaint is that neither the feature nor the DVD release give credit to the young woman who voiced Karen. The credit has been given to Foray, but the veteran voice actress best known as the voice of Rocket J. Squirrel has said it's not her voice we hear. A small search of the internet, including IMDb, did not provide a clue to the girl's identity. Vernon is perfect as the innocent, but fast-learning, Frosty. When he sees that Karen needs to get to someplace warm, he knows he can't start a fire for her. With help from Hocus, he finds a solution. De Wolfe and Frees are also strong in support.

"Frosty The Snowman" remains the video greeting card that Rankin and Bass had imagined for the feature. It incorporates the elements of the song into a story that captures the song's essence. "Frosty The Snowman" is a welcome holiday visitor every Yule season, and will be for many families for many years to come.

The song closes on this note of promise: "I'll be back again someday." In the case of the animated "sequel" entitled "Frosty Returns," that note should be taken as a note of warning. It's not the fault of the actors - they do what they can with this feature, which first aired in 1992. By this time, all of the adults who had done voices for "Frosty The Snowman" had died, with the exception of June Foray. Rankin/Bass was no longer doing animated features. Frosty, apparently, doesn't even return to the place where first created him. I'm not sure how any actor familiar with the original feature might see this working on this follow-up as any sort of honor. Frosty (John Goodman) has been created in the town of Beansboro right around the time the town is preparing for its annual winter carnival. Young magician Holly DeCarlo (Elisabeth Moss) is trying to perfect her magic act for the carnival with her friend Charles (Michael Patrick Carter). When Charles complains that Holly's house is too hot, she opens the window, and her hat blows out the window and onto Frosty's head.

Frosty's arrival, though, coincides with the invention of a product called Summer Wheeze. Its creator, Mr. Twitchell (Brian Doyle-Murray), promises to make snow vanish when people spray his product on it. All of the adults, who have been complaining about the snowfall, welcome the opportunity of a snow-free winter. Even Holly's mother (Jan Hooks) encourages Holly to use it. Holly's not a fan of the product, and even confronts Twitchell about Summer Wheeze. Charles, who is the science expert in his class, has different objections to the product. Twitchell, though, dreams of riches and being crowned the king of the winter carnival. He's out to silence the opposition, and even sends someone after Frosty with a can of Summer Wheeze.

"Frosty Returns" is almost completely devoid of cheer. I live in a city where winter snowfall is a fact of life, but I have never heard as much bellyaching about the snow in my own life as I did in this cartoon. Even Holly's classmates get into the act, as one student says snow shoveling leads to heart attacks, and another welcomes Summer Wheeze as a way to have ten months of summer vacation every year. "Frosty The Snowman" was about the joy of the Christmas season. "Frosty Returns" makes Ebenezer Scrooge look like a happy man. When the citizens of Beansboro aren't complaining about the weather, others like spinster schoolteacher Miss Carbuncle (Andrea Martin) are just perpetually complaining. Given this, I don't know why the narrator (Jonathan Winters), a traveling spirit in love with cold weather, would ever go to a locale like Beansboro. "Frosty Returns" isn't even a lesson about the true meaning of Christmas. It's a lesson about not interfering with the environment.

The animation itself is completely uninspired. Directors Bill Melendez and Evert Brown, who spent many years working behind the scenes on Peanuts animated features, present a community filled with characters that look like rejects from Charles Schulz's famous comic strip. Mark Mothersbaugh, whose composition credits include work on the "Rugrats" series and the films of Wes Anderson, offers up the utterly forgettable "Let There Be Snow." He works so hard to make it memorable, each character takes a verse of the song, offering their take on wintry weather. The script by Oliver Goldstick meanders so far from the song "Frosty The Snowman," we get scenes where Frosty doesn't have to wear a magic hat in order to walk and talk. I suppose a little contact with a magic hat goes a long way.

"Frosty The Snowman" and "Frosty Returns" are as mixed a blessing as someone can get in a DVD double feature. "Frosty The Snowman" celebrates the joy of Christmas, while "Frosty Returns" complains much more than it celebrates the season. The only DVD extras available for "Frosty Returns" are chapter selection and the option to view it in either English or Spanish. Even Sony Wonder and Classic Media, who released this DVD, give more time to listing credits on "Frosty The Snowman" than they do on "Frosty Returns." It appears even these distributors don't think much of this pairing. I have some words of advice for those considering this DVD purchase: think of this as purchasing "Frosty The Snowman" and getting "Frosty Returns" for free. This way, you can consider your money well spent.

As individual features, I give "Frosty The Snowman" five stars, while "Frosty Returns" gets one star.

Originally published on

Elvis Stories [VHS]
Elvis Stories [VHS]
Offered by Infinite 8 Juan
Price: $18.88
10 used & new from $2.37

1.0 out of 5 stars Burning Love?, December 25, 2004
This review is from: Elvis Stories [VHS] (VHS Tape)
The comic creations of Ben Stiller fall into one of two categories: strangely amusing and just stange. Stiller made his debut as a director with the 1988 video "Elvis Stories," which appears to have been inspired by David Byrne's quirky 1986 comedy, "True Stories." Byrne has said his movie was inspired by tabloid aricles, and perhaps Stiller was, too. "Elvis Stories," unfortunately, lacks narrative cohesion. It appears that Stiller was attempting to link his tales, but he abandoned that strategy, and he created a series of vignettes that are sad, but scarcely funny. For the most part, Stiller and writing partner Jeff Kahn present a collection of people who are as sad as their stories.

The skits begin with "Corkey's Elvis Patties," Lenny (Jeremy Piven) tells the story of Corkey (John Cusack), a burger chef who makes hamburgers in the shape of Elvis Presely. People who have purchased Corkey's creations contend that the food is a channel for the voice of The King. Next comes "The Melvis Footage," where a grocery store cashier (Amy Stiller) claims her nephew (Granville Thompson) shot footage of Elvis shopping at her store. The third sequence is "Paxton Busby: The Elvisman," where the title character (Paul Greco) is a folk singer who has to perform songs about Elvis, as a court has enjoined him from looking like the singer or singing his songs. In "Elvis Lennon," a writer named Hal Moldman (Dave Pasquesi) shares his theories of how Elvis and John Lennon are the same person. "Possessed" tells the tale of a hairdresser named Bruce (Ben Stiller) who gives his companion Allen (Andy Dick) fits when Bruce suffers blackouts and believes himself to be Presley. Allen is further appalled when he meets Dr. Lundy (Bill Cusack), the therapist Bruce sees to help him with the blackouts. The final skit, "The King Of Lunken," tells the tale of two Cincinnati area golfers (Joel Murray, Ron Dean) who claim they were a part of a hole-in-one aided by Elvis (Rick "Elvis" Saucedo).

These skits share a common trait - all are funnier in print than they are on film. In "True Stories," Byrne breathed humanity and humor his characters. Stiller and Kahn wrote their characters as if they only existed in a tabloid universe. Their world is not one of curiosity as much as it is of pity. They live with their obsessions of Elvis, and seem to have no other raison d'etre. The one funny moment comes when a grocery store manager (billed only as Ed) orders Amy Stiller to go back to work and to quit making her Elvis claims. Stiller seems to have made attempts to incorporate commentary by Ed, Amy Stiller, and a British tourist (Mike Myers) throughout his sketches, but these actors are nowhere to be seen after the third skit. Saucedo introduces and concludes Ben Stiller's film, but it's not humorous, and adds little narrative cohesion.

Ben Stiller's biggest sin, though, is that he gave more speaking lines to Bill Cusack than he did to his sibling, John, who only makes loud noises as Corkey. The cast is talented, but their talents can't save this piece. Stiller's style eventually served him better in other projects, including his FOX-TV series.

"Elvis Stories" was eventually released by Rhino Home Video, who added two segments to the beginning of the presentation. The first is of a lady holding a photo of a cloud that seems to look like Elvis. The other is the "Elvis Is Everywhere" music video by Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper. Nixon and Roper capture the fun in the Elvis obsession, showing shots of The King and odd Elvis memorabilia. They jokingly proclaim Elvis is found in all people and creations, except for Michael J. Fox, who's the anti-Elvis. "Elvis Stories" is a rough directorial debut for Ben Stiller - especially when the video that includes his work proves the adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction."

The Black Six
The Black Six
DVD ~ Lem Barney
9 used & new from $18.74

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Blaxploitation Fumble, December 25, 2004
This review is from: The Black Six (DVD)
Football players don't always make great thespians, but sometimes players will try their hand at the big screen. In 1974, six of the biggest stars of the NFL appeared in "The Black 6." San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Gene Washington stars as Bubba Daniels, a Vietnam veteran home from his tour of duty, making up for lost time with his five closest friends from the Army. They are Jr. Bro Williams (Carl Eller), Bookie Garrett (Mercury Morris), Frenchy LaBoise (Lem Barney), Tommy Bunka (Willie Lanier), and Kevin Washington (Joe Greene). One day, after completing some work on a farm with his buddies, Bubba checks his general delivery box, and learns that his brother Eddie (Robert Howard) has been killed. Moose King (John Isenberger), the leader of a motorcycle gang in Bubba's home town, killed Eddie because Eddie became involved with Moose's sister, Jenny (Cynthia Daly).

Bubba comes home to get answers and justice. The police and most of the locals know that the motorcycle gang had some involvement, but nobody's willing to challenge the gang's alibi that they were out of town when Eddie died. The only people who are willing to help are an old barfly and Ceal (Rosalind Miles), Bubba's old girlfriend who started turning tricks when Bubba didn't come straight home from the service. With their help, Bubba goes to the biker bar where Moose and his gang frequent, and Jenny works as a waitress. Bubba and Moose nearly settle the score in the bar, but the police break up the confrontation and advise everyone to leave unless they want to get arrested. That gives Moose time to meet with Thor (Ben Davidson), the leader of another local motorcycle gang, for help in dealing with Bubba on a permanent basis. Bubba's friends, concerned for their friend's safety, come to town to provide muscle for Bubba. Thus, the stage is set for the predictable showdown between the gangs and the Black 6, with equally predictable results.

First, let me give you the bad news about "The Black 6." There isn't a single credible performance in this movie. In addition to The Black 6, Moose, and Thor, several other pro football players and baseball great Maury Wills make equally thankless appearances. Neither writer George Theakos nor director Matt Cimber try to give any dimension to any character besides Bubba. The music by David Moskoe is a poor imitation of Curtis Mayfield's "Superfly" score. The title song says the guys don't look for trouble, yet it also says they love "ladies, bikes, and fighting." That confusion never ends. The climactic fight scene is horribly lit, making it impossible to distinguish the good guys from the bad. When Moose's gang is killed by The Black 6, Thor's gang decides to burn them to death with road flares. The Black 6 throw them back with hits that cause bikers to burn, and their bikes to explode. The rest of the bikers get wiped out when their attempt to play kamikaze fails.

Now here's even worse news about the film. It's as dismissive of black people as it is of whites. Most blacks are dismissed as drunks, gamblers, and hustlers, and most whites are dismissed as hateful of non-whites. The more "The Black 6" dwelled on these traits, the more vile I found the film. Thankfully, I only had to endure this filth for only about 85 minutes. The only thing that trumps the ineptitude of the film in general is its misguided, misanthropic view of human beings. I had low expectations for this DVD, but I don't want my $4 curiosity investment to make me feel as repulsed as this movie did. The movie ends with this ominous warning: "Hassle a brother...and the Black 6 will return."

"The Black 6" makes Fred Williamson films look like high art in comparison - and both cost the same price. "The Black 6" is one of the worst movie experiences I've ever had. Avoid this film, even at its cost. Nothing good will come of viewing it. This isn't just blaxploitation. This is total exploitation. Shame on the filmmakers.

Originally published on
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Don't Worry About Me
Don't Worry About Me
Offered by CDWarehouseOnline
Price: $21.94
34 used & new from $1.10

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Once A Punk, Always A Punk, December 21, 2004
This review is from: Don't Worry About Me (Audio CD)
The name punk rock has been around since the sixties, with bands like the Barbarians and the Stooges drawing that label (They and other bands also have been given a "pre-punk" label). The genre, however, didn't really take off until well into the seventies, with bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and The Ramones. While The Clash and Sex Pistols had their heyday during that time, The Ramones continued making albums until 1996, when they issued "Adios Amigos." Lead singer Joey Ramone (born Jeffrey Hyman in 1951), though, wasn't about to give up the persona that he had established with his band. He began work on his first (and sadly, last) solo album in 1999. Even though Ramone didn't complete the work he'd intended for his solo album, his guitarist and producer, Daniel Rey, released eleven tracks from those sessions in 2002. The title, ironically, is "Don't Worry About Me." The title track, though, has nothing to do with the lymphoma that killed him in 2001. It's a song about a relationship that had more drama than he could take.

The one song that does reflect on illness is the optimistic "I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)." The message that's repeated in its chorus is "I want my life." The messages in the songs from this album, are simple and direct, and filled with the three-chord guitar melodies that were a staple of the Ramones' work. "Don't Worry About Me," in fact, sounds a great deal like a Ramones album, with hard-driving guitars and furious drumming. In addition, Mark Bell (aka Marky Ramone), plays drums on about half of the tracks here. Joey's brother, Mickey Leigh, plays guitar and sings backing vocals on the album's title track (The brothers did release an EP under the name Sibling Rivalry in 1994). Although the album has a running time of just under 35 minutes, it's about the same length as most of the single albums The Ramones released in more than two decades together.

Some of the songs are reflective on how times have changed. "Reality today is much stranger than fiction," he reflects on "Venting (It's A Different World Today)." His eye is cynical, but his voice is sad as he watches accounts about youth crime and politicians who accomplish nothing but talk. "Searching For Something" is the song's "softest" track, with acoustic guitar work reminiscent of The Ramones' "I Want You Around." It's about a person who gave up drugs and has been on a quest for a better direction in life. Ramome voices the opinion of everyone who knows this person who is impressed by the change this person has taken for the better when he sings "Everybody needs you." They're reflections of mixed emotions, and gratefulness that he somehow survived, in spite of himself.

No album with Joey Ramone would be complete, though, without him showing off his fun side. On the opening track, he turns "What A Wonderful World," which was made famous by Louis Armstrong, from a ballad to a rocking number in a way only Ramone could. He had the sound and the look of a punk, but he had the passion to deliver any song with conviction. He even wrote the song "Maria Bartiromo" about the TV reporter who has gained note by her delivery of financial news. Ramone is so taken by her coverage of the Stock Exchange, he proclaims, "I watch her every day/ I watch her every night/ She's really outta sight." It's not just Ramone having fun with these songs that make them work. The musical delivery has the sense of daring that defines punk music. Some might be outraged by the hard edge of the tunes, but I enjoy that Ramone had a distinctive voice in punk and knew how to use it. He may have, on the surface, sung with a voice that conveyed dispassion, but the truth is that his voice and his style was his instrument of passion.

In a musical sense, Joey Ramone refused to die quietly. He was a rebel with causes, both serious and not so serious. "Don't Worry About Me" aptly delivers the goods that he had made a career of delivering. Time may have changed Joey Ramone's messages, but his musical persona remained consistent from start to finish. "Don't Worry About Me" shows one final time the talent of one of the men who gave a face to punk. Ramone may have considered this album an incomplete work, but his final release shows that he was a singer who remained true to himself and his unique musical vision.


1. What A Wonderful World

2. Stop Thinking About It

3. Mr. Punchy

4. Maria Bartiromo

5. Spirit In My House

6. Venting (It's A Different World Today)

7. Like A Drug I Never Did Before

8. Searching For Something

9. I Got Knocked Down (But I'll Get Up)

10. 1969

11. Don't Worry About Me

Originally published on

Pro Football Funnies/Lighter Side [VHS]
Pro Football Funnies/Lighter Side [VHS]
Offered by duppyday
Price: $6.98
2 used & new from $6.98

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars More USFL Follies, December 21, 2004
In between the release of "Pro Football Funnies" and its sequel, "Pro Football: The Lighter Side," the folks at Halcyon Days Productions seem to have spent some time watching some time watching some of the "Follies" films produced by NFL Films and tried to imitate their humor. It's a tall order to find anyone with the comic talent of Mel Blanc and the unwavering professionalism of John Facenda. Unfortunately, the people Halcyon Days used for comic relief in this 1989 video seem to have been recruited from their local public access station. They have no sense of how to embellish the USFL footage of "The Lighter Side" with humor. At one point, one of these commentators resorts to something unoriginal - he quotes Andy Griffith's "What It Was Was Football" record. I assure you this man is no Andy Griffith. Others think it's cute to call the USFL the WFL, mispronounce the word "annals," or to say that the Denver Gold fans have assembled at their home field for a game that's being played in Los Angeles. Fortunately, main narrator Curt Chaplin does not make the juvenile remarks the other speakers make. He does bring some air of dignity to the production.

"The Lighter Side," unlike "Pro Football Funnies," lacks a narrative structure. Football scenes are pieced together at random. A lot of scenes involve hard-to-handle pigskins and players losing their footing. The video simply meanders from one segment to another, and throws in old film footage for no purpose apparent to me. Other footage comes from the USFL, but has nothing to do with the games. For example, Halcyon Days devotes one segment to a montage of USFL cheerleaders set to generic dance music. Others go the practice field of the Tampa Bay Bandits, where offensive lineman Nate Newton fights a battle to keep his playing weight under 300 pounds, and even jokes about his situation. The Bandits linemen are also seen relaxing by playing a game of "walk touch," where they play touch football, but never run. The game is one of the more interesting segments, as these linemen get their own opportunity to be the skill position players.

Also, Halcyon Days did little to identify the players included. Newton is the only player mentioned by name, but future NFL stars, such as Steve Young and Reggie White, can briefly be seen. The Denver Gold coach, who comes across as a buffoon in this video, is Craig Morton, who played in the NFL for nearly two decades with the Cowboys, Giants, and Broncos. One of the more exciting plays in "The Lighter Side" involves Michigan Panthers cornerback Fred Logan. After intercepting a Birmingham Stallions pass, Logan rolls into the end zone, and celebrates the interception before he's downed for a touchback. He's stripped of the ball by Stallions receiver Ron Frederick, and the ball is recovered by Birmingham's Darryl Mason for an apparent touchdown (Though not seen, officials later called the play a touchback). Other shots include hard hits and miked conversations of huddles, but don't show football's light side. A little bit of the footage, including the Logan interception, was also a part of "Pro Football Funnies."

"Pro Football: The Lighter Side" lives up to its name in a most dubious way. Apparently, Halcyon Days made enough of a profit on "Pro Football Funnies" to make a sequel. The sequel, though, is light on new material, humor, or much new insight to the fun side of football. This video, I suspect will appeal most to hardcore football enthusiasts, especially those who want to own footage from the USFL. Chaplin states at the end that fans crave blooper footage. That may be, but fans want the footage to do the majority of the talking. This presentation, though, has more bloopers off the field than it does on it.

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Pro Football Funnies [VHS]
Pro Football Funnies [VHS]
Offered by Cantey Dealz
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The USFL Follies, December 21, 2004
The United States Football League played for just three seasons (1983-85), so very few legitimately released videos exist of its existence. Halcyon Days Productions released at least two videos of USFL footage, the first of which was 1987's "Pro Football Funnies." When I acquired this title about 15 years ago, I didn't know what to expect, save that it would not be an NFL Films video. I'm sure that those who participated in the league would not view their time there as a joke, but there's plenty to suggest that these teams weren't of NFL caliber in any way.

The inspiration for "Pro Football Funnies" is obvious - NFL Films has done a number of "Follies" films. Writer Jeff Scott has written a production with some structure. Anything that could go wrong during the course of a USFL contest is covered, beginning with a botched coin toss and ending with a power outage that ended a losing streak for the Denver Gold. Miscues on offense, defense, and special teams are included. Games played in rain and snow show how a playing field can turn into one huge slide - and one big mess. Big losing streaks are also a target. Fans and cheerleaders are caught in embarrassing moments. Referees blow calls. Even Steve Young, who started his pro career in the USFL, is shown not paying attention during warm-up tosses.

The motivational techniques of Memphis Showboats coach Pepper Rodgers get a special spotlight. During a pre-game pep talk, he tells his team he has no idea how they'll win a game - they're just going to do it. In another talk, Rodgers promises his players hot dogs if the Showboats win. The video also shows him in very animated moments on the sidelines. It's just as much fun to watch his moves as it is to hear him speak.

Another spotlight is on a series entitled "Fabulous Finales," where one play spells the difference between victory and defeat. My favorite involves Showboats running back Alan Reid. In the closing minutes of a tie game, Reid takes a handoff, promptly loses twenty yards, and gets tackled in the end zone for a safety. That safety was the margin of victory for their opponents, the Jacksonville Bulls. These game-deciding plays show even the pros aren't immune from mistakes.

Narrator Curt Chaplin serves as an adequate guide through the blunders in this 30-minute video, but his delivery doesn't leave the indelible impression John Facenda made when he narrated for NFL Films, including their "Follies" series. It's also clear that a lot of the USFL footage is video, and doesn't have the sharp pictures seen in NFL highlight reels. Still, "Pro Football Funnies" manages to capture the lighter moments of the USFL, even when these pros made high school teams look good by comparison. While "Pro Football Funnies" won't be the sort of highlight footage some USFL fans will want, it's one of the few of the league that can be acquired at all. It shows some of the league's most fun moments. The losing teams may be the only ones who beg to differ.

Originally published on

A Christmas Story: The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film
A Christmas Story: The Book That Inspired the Hilarious Classic Film
by Jean Shepherd
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $11.13
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ralphie Revisited, December 20, 2004
Jean Shepherd shared many a humorous account about his childhood during the Great Depression. Some of those stories served as the basis for the holiday film "A Christmas Story." However, the stories were never collected in one book until "A Christmas Story" was released in 2003. The five stories in this book were originally published in Playboy magazine from 1964-66. These stories, however, seldom involved specific ties to the Yuletide. Shepherd protagonist Ralph Parker draws some nostalgic inspiration by the events from his life in mid-sixties New York. For example, when Ralph visits a pop art exhibit, he's reminded of the winter when his father proudly owned a woman's leg lamp. His Red Ryder tale is inspired by a woman who wore a button demanding "DISARM THE TOY INDUSTRY!"

The other stories go directly to the childhood memories. Shepherd tells about Ralphie's devotion to the Little Orphan Annie radio show and his membership in her Secret Circle. Another talks of the day he'd had enough of neighborhood bully Grover Dill. The book ends with the entire saga of the months Ralphie and his family had to deal with the Bumpus family as neighbors. Those not familiar with the writings of Shepherd will not only notice the lack of seasonal ties, but they'll also see how other things changed, such as Grover being the main bully. One of the stories even refers to Ralphie's family as the Shepherds instead of the Parkers. Still, these stories have the essence of what made the movie so successful. Shepherd waxes nostalgic in great detail, but the nostalgia never gets too warm or fuzzy. Ralphie learns that life has at least one hard lesson for every wish that comes true. Even Santa joined in on the chorus of "You'll shoot your eye out" when Ralphie openly wished for a BB gun.

In his writing, Shepherd found ways to make his childhood relate to the general experiences of American childhood. He may have listened to the radio, but kids have the shows they won't miss, whether they're on radio or TV, complete with sponsors who look for a way to get paid. Many adults survived childhood by somehow surviving the Grover Dills in their lives. Even worse than the smell of the steel mills were the sights and smells that emanated from the Bumpus residence, which included outhouses and tired hounds sleeping with the tired rats they chased. Yet, Ralphie uses his young mind to use Red Ryder ads on his parents in the same way Ovaltine used product placement in Little Orphan Annie. Ralphie's lack of subtlety, though, is absolutely hilarious. The leg lamp story shows even adults have their favorite toys, too. Hohman, Indiana, could have been any American city, and Ralphie Parker could have been any kid. Most readers didn't grow up with Ralphie, but it's not hard to laugh with him and to find common bonds as well.

Jean Shepherd wrote four collections of short stories about Ralphie Parker. Five of the best tales became the basis for both the film and the book versions of "A Christmas Story." The works of Jean Shepherd were among the reasons I decided to try my hand at fiction writing (Three of my stories are a part of my Epinions output). Even though I have all four original titles, I was happy to revisit the world Shepherd created in his fiction. Through his humor and his imagery, Jean Shepherd took people to the sort of place they knew in childhood. Dreams get dashed and egos get deflated, but a nice hot supper awaits at the end of the day's travails. No good day ends without savoring some little victory, and Ralphie Parker had plenty of those to savor.

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Back to School
Back to School
DVD ~ Rodney Dangerfield
Price: $6.15
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thornton Goes To College, December 20, 2004
This review is from: Back to School (DVD)
Thornton Melon has a head for business. Even though he never went to college, he took the family tailoring business and transformed it into a chain of successful clothing stores. It's made Thornton (Rodney Dangerfield) a wealthy man who can send his son Jason (Keith Gordon) to the elite Grand Lakes University. Thornton also shares his wealth with his unfaithful second wife, Vanessa (Adrienne Barbeau), who is unsatisfied with the life Thornton's money could bring her. She not only wants his money, but she wants to control Thornton. The last straw between Thornton and Vanessa comes one evening at one of the parties Vanessa insists on throwing, when he catches her in the act of cheating. Not only does he serve her divorce papers, but he shows her photos of her cheating. Both Jason and Thornton's driver, Lou (Burt Young), say how much better a person Thornton's late first wife was.

Thornton uses the divorce to make a trip to Jason's college to visit him. Thornton discovers that Jason's been lying about how well he's been doing in school. Thornton offers this fatherly advice: "You don't lie to me. You lie to girls." Jason had claimed he was on the school's diving team when he was only good enough to be the towel boy. When Jason admits he's getting mostly Bs and Cs, Thornton is happy that his son is in some of the top three grades. Thornton decides he'd like to see Jason do better in both academics and athletics, and have some fun in the process. In "Back To School," Thornton decides to go to college with Jason in an effort to not only be with Jason, but also to get a formal education himself.

To get into the college without the benefit of SATs, Thornton makes a deal with Grand Lakes dean David Martin (Ned Beatty) to make a sizeable donation to the university - a business building dedicated to Thornton himself. The actions of Thronton and Dean Martin draw the ire of business professor Philip Barbay (Paxton Whitehead), who thinks Thornton's presence undermines the ideals of the university. Thornton further upsets Barbay by taking an interest in English professor Diane Turner (Sally Kellerman), whom he's been dating. Thornton's knowledge of business is merely an extreme distraction to Barbay, who insists on teaching his class how to conduct business legitimately.

Meanwhile, with Thornton's help, Jason makes the diving team. Team captain Chas Osborne (William Zabka) is certain that Jason's father bought Jason a spot on the roster. Coach Turnbull (M. Emmet Walsh), however, is more interested in Thornton's diving experience. Jason also takes an interest in Valerie Desmond (Terry Farrell), a student that Chas also likes. Thornton uses his money to make life as full of ease and fun as possible. However, Thornton takes that too far when he brings his people (and special consultant Kurt Vonnegut, in a cameo appearance) to the school to write papers for himself and Jason. Not only does Jason reject the work, but Barbay also believes Thornton isn't doing the work for class he's been assigned, and demands Dean Martin expel Thornton. Martin, instead, makes Thornton take oral exams with all of his professors. Expulsion awaits if Thornton fails the orals.

"Back To School" is one of the best college comedies I've seen. It's not quite in the same league as "Animal House" or "Horse Feathers," but it's close. The story is filled with Dangerfield one-liners that could easily have been preceded by his trademark line, "I don't get no respect." Thornton certainly doesn't get respect from Philip or Vanessa, but they are people who don't like Thornton as a person. Both have issues that involve Thornton's money. Everybody else sees beyond his money and knows him to be a generous, fun-loving businessman. When he's in the bookstore, he not only insists on buying Jason new textbooks, but he announces to the other students, "It's on me. Shakespeare for everyone." A host of writers, including Dangerfield on the story and Harold Ramis on the screenplay, maximize the joke potential of every scene. Some of the story is a bit stereotypical, but the film's good nature and consistent humor compensate more than adequately for the stereotypes.

In addition to all of the jokes, the actors make the relationships credible. Thornton may not offer Jason tpyical fatherly advice, but Thornton generally offers advice that is beneficial. Diane first takes notice of Thornton at the campus bookstore, and enjoys his enthusiasm. Philip simply dismisses Thornton as "the world's oldest living freshman." It's Philip's stuffiness and dismissiveness that creates trouble between himself and Diane, as well as between himself and Thornton. Dangerfield is not a great actor, but he does well here because the humor is tailored to his comic persona. One of the highlights of his performance is his recitation of Dylan Thomas's famous villanelle, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," and the interpretation of the poem he gives to Diane. In addition to the performers I've already mentioned, three others deserve mention for their comic support. First, Robert Downey, Jr., is hilarious as Derek Lutz, the dormmate of Jason's who puts blue streaks in his hair and stands against any conformity. Sam Kinison is just as funny as Professor Terguson, a history teacher who's not afraid to get sarcastic and loud with his students. His verbal exchange with Thornton is another of the film's best moments. Jason Hervey also makes the most of his brief appearance as young Thornton, doing a good job of copying Dangerfield's mannerisms.

The eighties were a time where Rodney Dangerfield took his brand of comedy to the big screen with great success. College will change Thornton Melon, but not as much as Thornton will change college. He may be one of the oldest people in the school, but his behavior is just like that of the much younger students. "Back To School" stands as Dangerfield's biggest achievement on the big screen. He stayed true to his brand of comedy, with very humorous results. He's the regular guy who found his niche in life, and made a fortune as a result. He's also the family man looking to prove a point to his son, as well as to himself. Thornton Melon is a man of means, yet he knows money isn't everything.

What's not to respect about that?

Originally published on

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