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Blog, TV
Posted on May 13 2010 by Greg
Among the reasons that so many Marvel comic book characters make a successful transition to film and TV is that the viewer can live vicariously through their super feats yet feel reassured that having super powers isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

Television's longest running Marvel series is X-Men, and with the new Volume 5 of X-Men the Animated Series, fans can now own all 76 episodes by completing their library with this 14-episode, 2-disc set.  And they can hear a slightly different version of the oh-so-cool theme song.

Four episodes are two-parters ("The Phalanx Covenant" and "Storm Front"). The others are self-contained and their are quite a few gems. The challenge with a long running series is keeping the stories fresh and avoiding repetition and this collection is some of both. "No Mutant is an Island" focuses on the tormenting social and family issues of Nightcrawler. Being an outcast is at the core of being an X-Man or X-Woman.

For changes of pace, look for Wolverine fighting in WWII with Captain America in "Old Soldiers," or Jubilee telling a once-upon-a-time super story to children.

The oddest episode is perhaps "Descent," a Victorian era combination of Frankenstein, Jekyll & Hyde and...evolutionary theorism? Yes, an animated Charles Darwin has a guest role in this story about an experiment gone mad and resulting in lots of misunderstood mutants. it does not come as a total surprise to see him, since  the premise of X-Men is about mutation, genetics and socio-political dynamics, but imagine if he was on The Flintstones! How would he explain Fred and Wilma, much less The Way-Outs?

Posted on May 11 2010 by Greg
Several blogs back, I talked about the DVD release of the 1966 NBC TV musical special Alice Through the Looking Glass starring Agnes Moorehead, Jimmy Durante, Jack Palance, Ricardo Montalbán, The Smothers Brothers and many others, with Emmy-winning costumes co-created by Bob Mackie.

In Carol Burnett's new autobiography This Time Together -- a funny, touching and memorable book which is made even better when you hear her read it -- she talks at length about Mackie and especially the hysterically funny Scarlett O'Hara "curtain dress" that she wore in a sketch called "Went with the Wind" on her legendary variety show.

This is the Barbie version:

In the book, Ms. Burnett says she and her then-husband Joe Hamilton learned of Mackie from watching the credits after a mid-sixties Mitzi Gaynor special and...Alice Through the Looking Glass (she calls it "Alice in Wonderland," but we know she means this special because her own show premiered in 1967). It pays to read the credits. Why would folks want to leave the theater before they're over? The credits are a treasure trove -- and sometimes offer extra surprises.

Blog, TV
Posted on May 10 2010 by Greg
The second time Marvel's Iron Man was adapted for a TV cartoon (the first being the kind of cheesy 1966 version), was in this two-season syndicated series that premiered in 1994 as part of The Marvel Action Hour. Stan Lee appeared onscreen as host, and though these intros are not included on the new DVD, Iron Man: The Complete Animated Series, the end credits mention it.

This is actually, in effect, two series with the same actor, Robert Hays, as the voice of Iron Man. The first season was produced by Rainbow Animation with scripts largely by Ron Friedman. The animation is a sort of lower budget ThunderCats, with recycled action and somewhat limited scope. The stories are a bit overloaded with characters so numerous they weigh down the chance to develop them.

There are also plenty of pop culture references (David Letterman?) and Bill Clinton himself is depicted rather than a generic President (voiced by none other than Jim Cummings, the voice of Tigger, Pooh, Darkwing Duck and many more including Ray, the beloved firefly in The Princess and the Frog). This set of episodes also allows you to see the origins of Iron Man and his arch nemesis, Mandarin and his henchman, MODOK (also Cummings).

Once you hit episode 14, there is a distinct difference in style and a totally different theme song. This season was produced by Koko Animation and written by such comic book veterans as Len Wein. The animation is more elaborate but what is particularly noticeable is the dialogue. While there is a lot of action, an effort seems to have been made to flesh out the personalities, conflicts and, most of all the inner turmoils that are the Marvel trademark.

The cast, by and large, provides outstanding performances of what could potentially be campy. Robert Hays is given the opportunity as the voice of Iron Man to deliver more depth and complexity than many of his best-known characters in TV shows like Angie and the movie Airplane!

Most of the voices were recast in the two series. James Rhodes (aka War Machine) is played by James Avery in season 1 and by Dorian Harewood in season 2. Ed Gilbert (Baloo in Disney's TaleSpin) as Mandarin is recast with Robert Ito (Quincy).

In season 2, when the Incredible Hulk appears in an episode, Ron Perlman (of the Bill Bixby live action series), voices the Hulk and Dr. Banner. Also this season, Wanda/Spider Woman is voiced by Jennifer Hale, who is the current voice of Disney's Cinderella.

The episodes look and sound great on the three discs. It would be nice if there was a printed episode guide in the package. I know budgets are an issue, but surely one panel of the enclosed Blu-Ray flyer could be used. That way, it's less likely to be tossed away!

Posted on May 09 2010 by Greg
As a special feature on the new Honeymooners Valentine Special DVD, there's a sketch from ABC's The Hollywood Palace in which host Ray Bolger introduces guest star Audrey Meadows and wonders out of the blue, what it would be like if "Alice Kram-Dom" was the bus driver and he was the husband at home.

The sketch opens with the music, "Love Nest," which was actually the Burns & Allen theme, but fittingly ends with "Always," just as the early Honeymooners sketches did. The show was broadcast in 1967 so Bolger does some groovy dancing and refers to the "LBJ Ranch." Cool stuff!

Posted on May 06 2010 by Greg
The second of three albums released by Disney's Buena Vista Records division based on American-International "beach party" movies has just become available as an mp3 download on (Annette's Beach Party is available on iTunes; the third, Annette at Bikini Beach is not yet released on CD or download, though it was a title in the short-lived Wonderland Music system in the Theme Parks).

Muscle Beach Party was the second film in the wildly successful low-budget series directed by William Asher, who also directed most episodes of Bewitched. Asher's then-wife Elizabeth Montgomery made a cameo in Beach Blanket Bingo, which is considered by afficionados as the Citizen Kane of the beach party series (but Annette did not do an album from it -- that was left to Donna Loren on Capitol Records).

And yes, that is Peter Lupus of TV's Mission: Impossible on the right. Don Rickles co-starred in Muscle Beach Party as a fitness coach. Neither Lupus nor Rickles appears on the album, of course. The album is actually a re-creation of the movie songs, including "A Girl Needs a Boy" and "Surfer's Holiday," with additional songs that include the theme from the Disney comedy Annette made with Tommy Kirk, The Misadventures of Merlin Jones. Kirk himself is heard on the very last track, "The Scrambled Egghead," one of Kirk's few appearances on Disney records.

The music was produced by Disney Legend Tutti Camarata at his renowned Sunset Sound studios, a Hollywood landmark that is still very much an active entity under the direction of Tutti's son, Paul Camarata. Sunset Sound hosted many music giants from Herb Alpert to The Doors -- in fact it is the actual studio that Jim Morrison trashed with a fire extinguisher (the setting you may have seen in The Doors movie was a studio re-creation).

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