Blogs > Tuned in to Pop Culture

They’re not standing around the watercooler, but Cheryl Sadler, Mark Meszoros, Mark Podolski and Nicole Franz are talking about what they’ve been watching, listening to and playing during their free time.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Kirk, Spock: Enough said

Can you imagine a series of Star Wars movies without the names Darth Vader or Anakin or Luke Skywalker?

The same rule should apply for Star Trek. When you say the words, you think Captain James T. Kirk and Mr. Spock.

Still, a franchise that's over 40 years old has seen its share of reboots since William Shatner and Co. made their final voyage on the USS Enterprise after a successful TV show run in the 1960s, then a series of equally successful movies well into the 80s.

Since then, the names Kirk and Spock have been pretty much just that, names from the past, and dormant for a while. That is until now.

The 11th Star Trek movie, simply named "Star Trek" opens in two weeks with a relaunch that brings back the original crew of Kirk, Spock, Sulu, Chekov, Bones, Uhura and Scotty and chronicles how the crew was formed and their early adventures on the USS Enterprise.

Director J.J. Abrams of "Alias" and "Lost," hopes to bring back the charm of those familiar characters, which cannot be an easy task. Apparently, he's well on his way. If trailers and early reviews are any indications, Abrams has a blockbuster waiting to explode onto the screen.

Abrams is no dummy. Bringing back the characters of Kirk and Spock, played by Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto of "Heroes" had to be a must in his mind before even approaching the project. For any Star Trek fan, Kirk and Spock's back story is well overdue.

You can bet we the fans won't be the only ones watching. William Shatner, who played the original Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy, who played the original Spock and plays an older version of the character in the new film, will be watching just like everyone else.

- Mark Podolski

Monday, April 20, 2009

Gil Thorp: The Internet’s newest star

Through years of putting together Page C2 in the Sports section, I became a loyal follower of “Gil Thorp.”

With his square jaw and closely cropped crew cut, the strip’s namesake is a throwback – a three-sport coach who also serves as athletic director at Milford High School. Most of “Gil” is fictional, but occasional references to real people and schools get thrown in from time to time. Heck, good old Willoughby even got a shout-out two years ago!

Thanks to its timeless nature, most stories told in “Gil” could fit in today or an episode of “Happy Days” and never look out of place.

But “Gil” has taken a decidedly modern turn in recent weeks. For those not familiar, Coach Thorp got bonked on the head by an errant foul ball at baseball practice, and the blooper was caught on film by a local news crew. Footage was posted on YouTube, and Gil became an Internet sensation, even if he didn’t quite understand what that meant.

Turns out somebody in the real world decided to have some fun with Gil, recreating the mishap in the Mudlarks’ practice. The hit count on the real YouTube video has a lot less hits than the fictional one – for now.

- Tom Valentino /

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

24: Exciting end game ahead

Around 10:15 last night, I got a text message from my sister:


Translation: “Tonight’s ‘24’ was awesome!” (It’s become generally accepted between the two of us that any texting done around 10 on Monday nights is going to be “24”-related.) I was over my buddy’s house getting rolled in yet another 3-point contest on “NBA Live 09,” so my dose of “24” was on hold for a couple hours.
Figuring that my sister never leads me astray on these matters, though, I made sure to watch last night’s show before bed. Good move, indeed.

* SPOILER ALERT: Discussion of Monday’s plot ahead *

- GREAT, old-school “24” writing last night, capped off by Tony going back to the dark side in a turn I did NOT see coming. For all intents and purposes, this season has been divided into four parts based around different villains: Col. Dubaku, General Juma, Jonas Hodges (and, wow, does Jon Voight play a great jerk, or what?) and now Tony Almeida. Given the amount of hype before the season about Tony returning from the dead as a bad guy, we probably should have expected his brief heel run at the start of the season wasn’t going to be enough. Now, it all comes back full circle, with Tony being a bad dude, after all. This pretty much has to end with Jack putting a bullet in Tony’s head, making good on the promise he delivered at the beginning (“I will shoot you, and this time you will STAY dead!”).

- We all should have seen Larry Moss’ death coming from a mile away. Any time a grumpy, by-the-book, stickler-for-rules authority figure decides to finally take off the gloves and start fighting dirty, he’s pretty much a goner. It happened to George Mason (no, not THAT George Mason, THIS George Mason) in Season 2, Ryan Chappelle in Season 3 and even Senator Mayer earlier this season. So when Larry went along with a directive to attack Starkwood without a direct order from the president, that should have set off alarm bells for longtime “24” fans.

- Of course, the question now is if Tony is in league with the bad guys, why did he blow up 13 missiles at Starkwood or even tip Jack off to this whole thing in the first place? Maybe he’s still a lone wolf looking to get back at the government for the way he was treated the last few years? Whatever the reason, all I know is that we need to get Jack back up to full health so that he can give us the epic Bauer-Almeida showdown at the end of the day that we’ve all been waiting to see.

- In the meantime, you can enjoy this L.A. Times interview with Carlos Bernard, who plays Tony. Don’t get your hopes up for too much dirt, though. Bernard is almost as tough to interrogate as his “24” character.

- Tom Valentino /

Monday, April 6, 2009

A room with a view

Saturday night, I covered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 24th annual induction ceremony for The News-Herald.

Jealous? Well, don’t be. At least not a lot.

Sure, it was cool to say I was there as Metallica, Run-D.M.C. Jeff Beck and others were given what’s perhaps rock’s greatest honor.

Bet when I say I was “there,” you have to understand where there was.

There, for me, was not inside the main auditorium in Cleveland’s Public Hall but instead a makeshift press room – a small theater in the same building. While a small number of writers were seated at a table amidst all the honored invitees and guests, the rest of us press schlubs were relegated to the press room, where we watched the ceremony on four high-def flat-screen monitors.

I’m not too upset that I wasn’t given better access. Surely, the organizers had a finite amount of space they could devote to the media. Truth be told, I was given a pair of balcony tickets late last week, but when I arrived at Public Hall Saturday afternoon, I was told I would not be able to bounce between the pressroom and my seats in the auditorium. With writing the best story I could on deadline – something I am rarely called on to do these days – I chose the press area, where my laptop could be plugged in nearby and the wi-fi signal was strong.

My only real beef was how they ran the press room. They wanted to give us access to the inductees and the artists who inducted them so we could ask hard-hitting questions and get really thoughtful answers.

Question: How does it feel to be inducted into the Rock Hall.

Answer: Great!

So that’s all well and fine. Problem was, they brought these people to us whenever they were ready, regardless of what was happening in the auditorium. And, of course, the sound was cut in the press room so a Q & A could take place. What does that mean? Well, it meant, for example that instead of what guitar great Jimmy Page was saying about his old Yardbirds mate Beck, I was listening to reporters throw pity questions to Spooner Oldham, whom I sure is a great keyboardist but, sorry, wasn’t one of the night’s headliners. I missed everything Page and Beck said to the crowd, all of their jam together and most of the song Beck played afterward.


I was given access to the red carpet, where stars (the guys from Metallica, Joe Perry of Aerosmith), local celebrities (WKYC-TV 3 news anchor Romona Robinson, Indians General Manager Mark Shapiro and Cavaliers GM Danny Ferry) and lots of folks I couldn’t put a name to filed in over the course of an hour and a half by now. Surrounded by professional still and video photographers, I stood there taking poor photos with my iPhone. Check them out here.

It was a special night for Cleveland, to be sure. It just wasn’t all that special for me. It really was … what’s the word? Oh yeah. Work.

You can see why I was a little disappointed.

Anyway, if you missed it in Sunday’s paper, check out my story here.

- Mark Meszoros

WrestleMania 25: One shining moment

One of great traditions of my high school days was gathering up my buddies once a month and watching the latest WWE pay-per-view. Of course, back then it was the WWF, but that's another story for another day.

Anyway, there were a few things you could count on with every show:

- My buddy J-Dub would confidently predict that Shawn Michaels, despite a crippling back injury, was going to come back one day, wrestle again and reform D-X with Triple H. We laughed this off every month, although Michaels actually did come back in 2002, and he reformed D-X a couple years after that. Who are we to doubt J-Dub?

- My dad would fall asleep in his recliner by about 9, snoozing off and on through the rest of the show.

- I would make a comment that is echoed almost verbatim by the commentators five seconds later, prompting looks from around the room and suggestions that I watch this stuff a little too much.

- My neighbor would tell the story of a gory cage match he saw in the 1970s involving Abdullah the Butcher. This would become known as "the bloodiest match of all time."

None of us watches wrestling as religiously as we did at the WWE's peak in the late 90s, but hey, it's WrestleMania we're talking about here. So one more time on Sunday night, we got most of the band back together, this time for a gathering at J-Dub's house.

With that in mind, here are my notes from the show. This is longer than a typical post on this blog, so clear your afternoon schedule, make some popcorn and get comfortable.

- We are live at Reliant Stadium in Houston. A wide shot of the arena shows a full house, and the scene is magnificent. I wish I could have WWE's set designers lay out a few rooms in my next house. ... Our hosts for the evening are good ol' JR, Jerry "The King" Lawler and Michael Cole. Uh oh. Three-man booths are never a good idea, and when two of the guys are doing play-by-play, it's even worse. Put it this way: The play-by-play man is the narrator for the show. How many good movies can you name with two narrators?

- Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls starts the evening with a rendition of "America the Beautiful." It's become tradition to open WM with this song, which I've never understood. Why not the national anthem? Anyway, Scherzinger could be singing a Michael Stanley song and I don't think anybody at our party would be complaining.

- Opening match is "Money in the Bank." As I predicted in my column Friday, Shelton Benjamin again tries to steal the show, this time by taking a dive from atop a 15-foot ladder and wiping out everybody on the floor. ... Kofi Kingston deserves mention here for being the point man on a number of insane spots. ... Christian pulls off a deft maneuver, forcing the ladder he and Benjamin are standing on to tip over, dumping Benjamin out of the ring - only Christian stays on by landing feet-first on the ring ropes and springing back up! That should've been the finish, but, alas, CM Punk knocks off Christian. ... Punk fights off a late charge by Kane to grab the briefcase and the win for a second straight year. ... Punk is normally a solid fan favorite, but this crowd was a Christian coalition, so their reaction for the victory was a bit subdued.

- And now, Kid Rock comes out. Wearing glasses that I think Ben Stein wore in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," Kid chews up almost 20 minutes with five songs. ... It's worth noting at this point that the tag-team match involving local guy The Miz was bumped from the broadcast for this. ... Kid Rock is still singing. There's still nobody who cares. ... Finally, during his last song, a parade of 25 female wrestlers come down the aisle for the "Miss WrestleMania Diva Battle Royal." ... There were a bunch of past favorites mixed in here, but it is pretty much impossible to spot them with all the bodies in the ring. ... Finish comes when the effeminate Santino Marella (dressed in drag) tosses two wrestlers - one of which is his jacked-up girlfriend. Enjoy sleeping on the couch tonight, bud. ... My buddy Rolo sums it up perfectly: "I think this is why I stopped watching wrestling."

- Jericho vs. the old-timers is next. My dad on 64-year-old Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka: "This guy looks like he belongs in a wax museum." ... Jericho dispatches Roddy Piper and Snuka with ease, leaving Ricky Steamboat all by himself. Steamboat breaks out a couple vintage deep arm drags and actually looks pretty respectable in the ring, but Jericho takes over. ... Not much happening in the ring as I'm 99 percent sure the guy sitting across the ring in the third row wearing the LeBron throwback is none other than "The Fantasy Consultant" Nathan Zegura, whom you might recognize from Tony Rizzo's "Really Big Show" on WKNR or Channel 19's Browns pregame show. ... Jericho wins (much to the delight of Zegura), then beats up Ric Flair for good measure. Finally, he calls out Mickey Rourke at ringside. After an eternity, Rourke finally comes in the ring and decks Jericho with a couple punches. This took forever to unfold.

It's worth noting here that the stretch starting with Kid Rock taking the stage through the end of the Jericho-Rourke segment took an hour, and it was one of the worst hours of a WrestleMania I can ever remember. And I've seen 20 of these things in their entirety.

- Jeff and Matt Hardy get things back on track with a wild brother-vs.-brother "extreme rules" match. ... I see something in this match that I don't think I can ever remember happening before: Matt Hardy, who had been cut open by a broken picture frame early in the match, is slumped outside the ring. The referee comes over with a towel and wipes the blood off his face. Now, I'm not one for unnecessary graphic violence, but there's a reason they call rivalries like this a "blood feud." Since when do referees work as cut men too? ... Anyway, the finish comes when, like an idiot, Jeff tries standing on one ladder and leapfrogging another to give a legdrop to his brother... only Matt rolls out of the way, causing Jeff to splat on his rear end after a 10-foot drop. OUCH. Matt wraps Jeff's head with a chair and hits his "Twist of Fate" neckbreaker to win. Good match.

- Native Texan John "Bradshaw" Layfield comes out running down his home state before the Intercontinental championship match. His opponent, Rey Mysterio, is known for breaking out ring attire that pays homage to comic book characters. This year's choice is the Joker. Paraphrased exchange between announcers - King: "Rey with a tribute to Heath Ledger's Joker character." JR: "Well, Rey's career is alive and well, King." I'll take comments in poor taste for $200, Alex. ... JBL gets a cheap shot before the bell, but Rey recovers and wins in 21 seconds. JBL is so distraught over losing his title that he quits. Don't let door hit you in the ...

- And now the money match of the night: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels. Taker's entrance at WrestleMania is always a highlight of the night. Only this year, he doesn't have druids lining the aisle. Guess this recession even affects the undead. ... Undertaker gives everybody at our party a scare as he does a swan dive out of the ring toward Michaels, but Michaels pulls a camera man into harm's way to protect himself. Undertaker barely makes contact with the camera man, absorbing most of the impact with his head. That's just sick. Seriously, that could've broken his neck. I couldn't even watch any of the four or five replays without cringing. ... With a flurry of each guy hitting their signature finishing moves, we have absolutely no idea who will win or how the match could even end. ... Undertaker finally finishes it with his second tombstone piledriver. It was about 30 minutes long, and none of us wanted it to end. One of the best WM matches I can ever remember.

- Triple threat for the world heavyweight title is next. ... And now I know why Taker had no druids: They all left him to become John Cena lookalikes for Cena's entrance in the next match. ... Highlight of the match is Cena lifting both Edge and Big Show (combined weight: about 700 pounds) onto his shoulders. Cena is a freak. He slams both to win the title and celebrates by going into the crowd to hang out with NASCAR driver Carl Edwards at ringside. (Edwards must not have taken his foot off the gas after finishing 10th in a race in Fort Worth, Texas, earlier in the day).

- "Stone Cold" Steve Austin headlines the gathering of newly inducted WWE Hall of Famers on stage. Austin disappears for a second before returning on an ATV with a cooler of beer. He soaks the ring downing one Coors Light ("I headline your Hall of Fame segment and you give me a LIGHT beer?") after another to the delight of the crowd. I'm wondering how they're going to mop up the puddles in the ring with one more match to go.

- We learn from ring announcer Lilian Garcia (who is wearing a dress that has a number of viewers in our party mesmerized) that the attendance for tonight's sold-out show is 72,744 (and looking around the arena, that number looks legit). This seems like a good point to mention that thanks to WWE's requirement that you have a domed football stadium, you can pretty much guarantee WrestleMania is never coming to Cleveland (or anywhere in Ohio, for that matter). And whether you're a wrestling fan or not, that's a bummer. According to an article in the Houston Business Journal, WM was expected to generate $51 million for the city of Houston this year. That's the kind of revenue Cleveland could sorely use.

- We see Triple H walking through the hallway backstage, where he is met by Vince and Shane McMahon. The McMahons give him the "you know what you need to do" nod. Triple H returns it with a "yup" nod. ... This was only the second backstage segment all night (the other was Randy Orton and his lackeys nodding at each other in the locker room). So in a four-hour show, we get two backstage segments, zero dialogue and lots of head nodding. OK then.

- As Orton hits the ring for the main event, I check my watch and see we're already past 10:30. These things normally wrap up at 10:45, and we still need to get the five-minute highlight video at the end of the show (think "WWE meets NCAA tournament's 'One Shining Moment' "). ... After 10 minutes of plodding action playing to virtual silence from a tepid crowd, Orton decides to crank up the intensity with ... a headlock. That is SO not what this match needed, and apparently a number of the people in the crowd agree, as I notice streams of folks heading for the exits. That's NOT a good sign. ... Triple H finally wins by hitting Orton with a sledgehammer while the referee is knocked out, followed by his signature move, the pedigree. ... I have no idea what they were going for with this match, but they totally swung and missed. Crowd was completely apathetic, and the match had no flow at all. In terms of executing moves, it wasn't terrible (although H completely whiffed on a running kick to Orton's head), but it was easily the most boring WrestleMania event that I can ever remember.

- After a rushed version of the highlight package, we're out at 11:00 on the nose.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Undertaker-Michaels was awesome, and the Money in the Bank, Hardy brothers and triple threat matches were fun. But whoever mapped this show out misfired badly. Wasting more than 20 minutes on Kid Rock threw everything out of whack, and the pacing was just all wrong the rest of the night. Some stuff felt rushed, other segments dragged on forever. No shocking character turns, no prematch trash-talking interviews, no running backstage bits, only one comedy bit (Santino winning), and it completely flopped. And while I'm normally the biggest advocate of clean, decisive finishes you'll ever find, this whole show was built on soap opera-esque stories. Yet, outside of Taker-Michaels, every match felt like it existed in a vacuum, completely detached from any buildup coming in. Biggest shocker of the night: My dad stayed awake for the whole show. Nice anecdote to wrap up a blog with ... and a biting indictment of WrestleMania 25.

- Tom Valentino |

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

MLB 09 The Show for PS3

"Tuned Into Pop Culture" guest contributor Nick Carrabine is a News-Herald staff writer.

Contrary to most guys in their early to mid-20s, I have lost almost all interest in playing video games.

Back in high school, I was fond of spending an hour or two a day playing Madden, NBA Live, or Grand Theft Auto. Once I hit college, I for some reason just lost interest.

So naturally, I spent $450 on a Playstation 3 eight months after graduating college.

I justified this notion by telling myself it had a built-in Wi-Fi and a built-in blu-ray DVD player (which at the time, were $300 plus dollars on their own.)

I figured I’d start buying blu-ray DVDs to add to my already stellar standard DVD collection and start experiencing Hollywood in High Definition and also get a little game time in here and there.

So naturally, I’ve yet to purchase one blu-ray DVD in the 15 months of which I’ve had a PS3. In that time span, I’ve probably purchased 25 standard DVDs.

I did, however, receive six “free” blu-ray DVDs with my purchase of the PS3.

Naturally, I have not unwrapped the plastic surrounding one of those DVDs.

Waste of money? Debatable.

Both this year and last, I have purchased the newest editions of MLB The Show, which is for playstation consoles only.

This game makes me feel like a child again.

The graphics on an HDTV are jaw-dropping. These guys look way better than I do, or anyone else I know for that matter.

The ballparks are as real as it gets, the three man announcing team is fluent and barely repetitive.

The game isn’t a walk in the park either, which is nice. Back in my day, they made these sports games way too easy on the rookie and veteran levels. Now, you have to work for the victory, you have to work to get the opponents pitch count up and pitching can be adventurous too if you aren’t careful.

The Show also features each major league team’s entire farm system, it allows for banking, marketing and promoting different aspects of your franchise, purchasing different items to make your ballpark or team more successful, etc.

Of course what MLB The Show is known for is its Road to the Show feature, which allows you to create a player and develop that player from scratch. The idea is to mold your player into a major-leaguer after starting out in spring training and working your way through the minors.

There is also many online features allowing you to download current rosters once a week and even play in online leagues. (I’m not that big of a nerd...yet).

Other unique features include implementing your own music to play during various parts of the game, including batter and pitcher introductions and recording and implementing your own fan chants or taunts during the games.

Obviously, gaming has come a long way since the last time I was interested in sitting in front of a TV with a controller in my hand for 90 minutes.

Now all I have to do is buy a few blu-rays to fully enjoy the PS3 experience.