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PCR #459 (Vol. 10, No. 2) This edition is for the week of January 5--11, 2009.
Mike's RantMike's Bust
Hello gang! Dealing with crazy weather - Friday 65 - Saturday 16 - yes, I DO miss Florida! Shall we begin?

"Gran Torino"  by Mike Smith
2008 Was A Year to Forget, But--December was a Month to Remember!  by Will Moriaty
Welcome 2009 and 1969 Revisited!  by ED Tucker
WPIX Channel 11  by Chris Woods
Today It's Your Birthday .... Christmas Bounty .... Football Playoffs ....  by Matt Drinnenberg
Enough Already I Beg You .... I Said Enough! .... Stop It! Stop It! .... If You Can't Beat 'em .... Passing On .... The Best Of 2008 .... And The Winner Is .... .... My Favorite Films, Part 2...  by Mike Smith
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It's weird that cigarette commercials are against the law but they can run as many "I'm Montell Williams, please buy these Obama coins" ads as they want. Jesus, how many ways can you deface American currency? Gold dollar/Obama smiling. Kennedy half dollar/Obama frowning. Lincoln penny/Obama giving Honest Abe a fist bump. According to United States Code 18:

"Whoever fraudulently alters, defaces, mutilates, impairs, diminishes, falsifies, scales, or lightens any of the coins coined at the mints of the United States, or any foreign coins which are by law made current or are in actual use or circulation as money within the United States; or whoever fraudulently possesses, passes, utters, publishes, or sells, or attempts to pass, utter, publish, or sell, or brings into the United States, any such coin, knowing the same to be altered, defaced, mutilated, impaired, diminished, falsified, scaled, or lightened- Shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both."


Damn you, Marvel Comics. This coming Wednesday, January 14, the comic company will release a special edition of Spider-Man featuring, you guessed, President-elect Obama. Seems there is some highjinx going on in DC on inaguration day and it's up to Spidey to get the Prez-elect to the capitol steps on time. Of course when he does our favorite web slinger gets to share a fist bump with Mr. O. No sign of Joe Biden in the comic, however Spider-Man does confess to having one time confused Biden with old arch enemy The Vulture.

In an attempt to drain every last penny out of their only hit song, Ashford and Simpson have retooled "Solid (Like a Rock)" for Mr. Obama. With re-written lyrics praising the new commander in chief, the song is now called




(Like Barack)

Please kill me now.

OK, I give up. As a songwriter I've decided to jump on the bandwagon and will submit the following tunes to the Obama camp:





and, for our Christian readers,


Ray Dennis Steckler, cult filmmaker, passed away at the age of 70. Responsible for two of my favorite film titles of all time - "Rat Pfink a Boo Boo" and, named the funniest title of all time by Roger Ebert, "The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies!!?" I won't even begin to summarize Mr. Steckler's career. Rather, I will leave that up to his friend, and PCR contributor, ED Tucker, who I'm sure will share his memories next week.

Edward D. Cartier, graphic artist who illustrated "The Shadow" series, died from Parkinson's disease. He was 94. Cartier also illustrated many of the works of Robert Heinlein and Issac Asimov.

Pat Hingle, veteran character actor, died this past Saturday. He was 84. After making his debut in Elia Kazan's "On the Waterfront," he spent the next 50 plus years working steadily in episodic television, usually as a military man or police officer (or sherrif if the show was a Western). Among his film credits: "The Gauntlet," "Norma Rae" and the first four "Batman" films, in which he played Commissioner Gordon. He also played the King of Rock and Roll's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, across from Kurt Russell in John Carpenters' television film, "ELVIS."

Cheryl Holdridge, one of the original television Mouseketeers, died after a bout with lung cancer. She was 64. After leaving "The Mickey Mouse Club" she spent two years playing Tony Dow's girlfriend on "Leave It To Beaver." She also appeared on such shows as "The Dick Van Dyke Show" and "Bewitched."

Jon Hager, who with his brother, Jim, formed the popular Hager Twins on televisions' syndicated "Hee Haw," died in his sleep this week. He was 67. He had been in poor health and was quite depressed since Jim died in May 2008.

As 2008 begins to become a memory it's time for me to look back at all of the hours spent in darkened theatres and pick the ten best films of the past year. Due to advance critic screenings, some films listed may not have opened yet, but keep your eyes open for them. With the exception of the first film listed, the list is in no particular order.

1. FROST/NIXON I was shocked to learn that director Ron Howard has just celebrated 50 years in the film business. From "The Music Man" to "Andy Griffith" to "Happy Days" to Academy Award winning director, Howard has yet to disappoint me with his work. Here he dramatizes the events that led up to talk show host David Frost's historical interviews with Richard M. Nixon. Though the studio requested bigger names in the cast, Howard stuck with Frank Langella and Michael Sheen, who starred in "Frost/Nixon" both on the London Stage and on Broadway. Two actors haven't held the screen this successfully since Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine squared off thirty-six years ago in "Sleuth."

2. THE WRESTLER As a fan of director Darren Aronofsky ("Requiem for a Dream"), to say I was disappointed in his last film, "The Fountain," would be an understatement. But all is forgiven thanks to this well crafted film that is, in it's purest form, a true symbol for the power of redemption. No longer movie star handsome after a career as a boxer, Mickey Rourke delivers an Oscar worthy performance as a former professional wrestler still searching for the spotlight.

3. CHANGELING For the second time in three years, director Clint Eastwood has put two films on this list. First up is this true story of a young mother whose son disappears. When he is returned to her months later there is only one problem: it's the wrong kid! Angelina Jolie is heartbreaking as the mother who keeps fighting for the truth.

4. GRAN TORINO Here's Eastwood film number two. In what could be his final role in front of the camera, Eastwood delivers one of his greatest performances. That Eastwood makes his work seem effortless at the age of 78 only begins to tell the story of his talents both in front of and behind the camera. Leave it to Dirty Harry himself to craft a tale of tolerance.

5. THE DARK KNIGHT In looking back at some of my past year's "Best of" lists, I could only find one film that derived from a comic and that was "The Simpson's Movie." Meet number two. Not only did director Christopher Nolan have to deliver the goods to the fans who expect so much but the film carried the added weight of the death of Heath Ledger. Almost from the day he died, Ledger's performance as the Joker was heralded as brilliant. And he was. As was the film. Enjoy this one. It will probably be another few years before I put a comic book film on this list.

6. IRON MAN What the...? A brilliant performance from Robert Downey, Jr. (the first of two this year), a great supporting cast and non-stop action made "Iron Man" the first "must see" film of the year.

7. SHINE A LIGHT What do you get when the worlds' greatest rock and roll band teams up with one of the greatest directors of his generation? The greatest concert film ever made. Mick, Keith and the Stones team up with Martin Scorsese and the result is magic. Extra credit for containing one of my favorite movie lines from 2008. When told how hot the flood lights being used on stage can get, Scorsese tells his assistant, "We cannot set Mick Jagger on fire."

8. TROPIC THUNDER Who would have thought that a comedy starring such clowns as Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Danny McBride would be stolen from them by a couple of Oscar nominated thespians? A film about the making of another film, "Tropic Thunder" features brilliant Robert Downey, Jr. performance number two as a caucasian method actor who undergoes pigmentation surgery so he can play an African-American NCO. Add an unrecognizable Tom Cruise as a disco dancing, foul mouthed studio head, and you have the funniest film of the year.

9 STOP-LOSS The only problem with releasing a film in March is that it tends to get lost in the end of the year awards shuffle. As a reviewer I usually receive 35-50 movies in the months of November and December and I wish Paramount had thought to send this one out as well to remind award voters of how good this film is. Ryan Phillippe and Joseph Gordon-Levitt star as two Iraq war veterans who are sent home to start their lives. For those unfamiliar, Stop-Loss refers to soldiers whose service is extended even after their discharge date passed.

10. MILK Another film buoyed by a stellar cast, "Milk" tells the story of the late San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to serve in a political office. Milk and the city's mayor, George Mosconne, were later assassinated by fellow elected official Dan White. Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and James Franco are only a few of the stars that shine here.

This week the Kansas City Film Critics Circle, of which this reviewer is Vice-President, held its annual end of year vote to choose the best of the 2008 film offerings. The winners:

Best Film
Slumdog Millionaire

Robert Altman Award for Best Director
Darren Aronofsky - The Wrestler

Best Actor
Mickey Rourke - The Wrestler

Best Actress
Meryl Streep - Doubt

Best Supporting Actor
Heath Ledger - The Dark Knight

Best Supporting Actress
Penelope Cruz - Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Best Original Screenplay
Robert Siegel - The Wrestler

Best Adapted Screenplay
Simon Beaufoy - Slumdog Millionaire

Best Foreign Language Film
Let the Right One In (Sweden)

Best Documentary
Man on Wire

Best Animated Film

Vince Koehler Award for Best Science Fiction, Fantasy
or Horror Film
The Dark Knight


Starring: Sylvester Stallone and Dolly Parton
Directed by: Bob Clark

FIRST SEEN: Bel Air Twin Theatre, Bel Air, Maryland
FAVORITE LINE: "Why that was scary, son."


2005 Golden Raspberry nomination as worst musical in the 25 years the awards have been around.

1985 Golden Raspberry awards for Worst Actor (Stallone) and Worst Original Song ("Drinkenstein" written by Dolly Parton)

1985 Golden Raspberry nominations for Worst Film, Worst Director, Worst Supporting Actor (Ron Liebman), Worst Screenplay, Worst Original Score (Dolly Parton and Mike Post-adaptation) and Worst Original Song ("Sweet Lovin' Friends" written by Dolly Parton.)

If you're wondering how it didn't win more, it was the year of Bo Derek and "Bolero," which won a total of six that year.

To many people, the words "Sylvester Stallone sings" may send chills of fright down their backs. But I went into "Rhinestone" unafraid for I had heard Sly sing in the past. He sang the theme song over the end credits of "Paradise Alley" (another film we will be highlighting this year)and he did a credible job. Not great mind you, but tolerable.

The plot quickly: Jake (Parton) is the big draw at Rhinestone, the hottest country western bar in New York City. She is under a long term contract with the clubs sleazy owner, Freddy Ugo (get it - F.U.) played by Ron Liebman. The high point at the club every week is amateur night, when singing cowboys (and cowgirls) try to make it past the usually rowdy crowd. Few, if any, pass. Jake bets Freddy that she can turn the next person who walks into the club into a singer so good he can get past the crowd. Enter cab driver Nick Martinelli (Stallone). And let the fun begin.

If you've not seen "Rhinestone," let me advise you to approach it as two films. One is a musical. Not a good musical, but it has it's moments. Parton, of course, is a natural. And when she takes Nick back to Tennessee to learn his drawl, some of the local bands that help out are credible as well. Of course, they are made up of professional musicians including several of the Parton family. And if you look quickly, you might catch Joey Scarbury, who sang the song from "The Greatest American Hero" (Believe It Or Not), as part of the club's house band. And most of the songs are good as well. Did "Drinkenstein" deserve the worse song award. You tell me:

"Budweiser you created a monster
and they call him Drinkenstein
And the tavern down the street
is the labba-tor-eye-ee
where he makes the transformation all the time
And a stein of Dr. Buuuud is a pint of monster blood
and it does effect me different every time
Budweiser you created a monster
and they call me Drinkenstein"

Show of hands, please.

But other songs are well written. "Stay Out Of My Bedroom," "One Emotion After Another" and "Woke Up In Love" are Parton classics. And another, "The Day My Baby Died" (written by Parton but sang by Rusty Buchannan) is hilarious, telling the story of a bride who felt the need to "fill her duty to her crops" by plowing the fields on her wedding day. In her wedding dress. You can guess the rest.

The second film is a comedy, and not a bad one. Highlighting the cast are two veterans, the late, great Richard Farnsworth as Jakes' dad and Tim Thomerson as her old flame, Barnett Kale. The have some of the best scenes and certainly some of the best lines. Among them is the one I highlighted at the beginning of this piece, uttered in complete sincerety by Farnsworth after hearing Stallone's rendition of "Old MacDonald." I'd love to know who "taught" Sly how to sing because he needs to have his license revoked. What was a soft, deep tone on "Paradise Alley" became a bellowed shriek. And this was AFTER Parton worked with him. It should be said that, though Nick does win the crowd over, he does it during a duet with Jake, and you know the crowd isn't going to boo the home team.

Thankfully the cast and crew were able to go on to better things. Stallone, who had turned down both "Romancing the Stone" and "Beverly Hills Cop" to do "Rhinestone" went on to make three more "Rocky" films, three more "Rambo" films and the underated "Copland." Parton went on to "Steel Magnolias" and an Oscar nomination for her song "Travelin' Through" from the film "Transamerica." Liebman won a well deserved Tony Award for his portrayal of Roy Cohn in "Angels in America." Screenwriter Phil Alden Robinson had to deal with what seems to be a pattern with Sylvester Stallone...sharing writing credit. Screenwriter Joe Eszterhas revealed all of the sordid details of his dealings with Stallone on "F*I*S*T" in his book, "Hollywood Animal," and it appears Sly ws up to his old tricks here. Robinson went on to write and direct "Field of Dreams," earning an Oscar nomination for his screenplay as well as Director and Writer Guild nominations. He also won an Emmy for directing an episode of HBO's "Band of Brothers." Director Clark, who had already given us "Tribute," "Porkys" and the continuing classic "A Christmas Story" never again hit the heights those previous films lifted him to. Clark died, along with his son Ariel Hanrath-Clark, when the car they were driving in was hit by a drunk driver. He was 69.

Next week we'll meet the Brothers Gibb and Peter Frampton as they cause many Beatle fans to turn to the Monkees with their portrayal of "Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Band."

Well, that's all for now. Have a great week. See ya!

"Mike's Rant" is ©2009 by Michael A. Smith.  Webpage design and all graphics herein are creations of Nolan B. Canova. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2009 by Nolan B. Canova.