Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Oh My Gods: The Offbeat and Forgotten Saturday Morning TV Show, "The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!"


by Michael Lyons


Shazam! Fury of the Gods opened last weekend, and the eagerly awaited sequel to 2019's film starring DC's most lovable superhero was said to have a surprisingly lackluster performance at the box office, bringing in "only" $30 million.

Those who may feel this is disappointing and strange for such a popular part of DC's canon of characters have never seen The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!

This short-lived Saturday morning TV show combined live-action and animated segments, along with a musical variety show vibe, providing Shazam! with a most offbeat backdrop.

While Shazam! Fury of the Gods continues its run in theaters; it seems the perfect time to re-visit the superhero's somewhat forgotten entry on Saturday mornings.

Produced by Filmatuion studios (who brought Shazam! to Saturday mornings in a live-action 1974 show and gave us such shows as Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and He-ManThe Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! debuted in 1981.

The show centered on two animated segments; one was Hero High, which was about high school superheroes (who looked like Archie Andrews and the gang with capes), and the other was the adventures of Shazam! a/k/a Captain Marvel and his family (or "Shazamily") of superheroes, such as Mary Marvel and Uncle Marvel, as they square off against enemies, such as Black Adam.

What was unique about The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam! was that live-action segments introduced the animation. These resembled the Donny and Marie variety show, where live-action counterparts of the Hero High cast appeared on a stage (in front of an audience of cheering kids) like a rock band wearing superhero costumes, playing their latest tune.

And the superhero names? They all seem like something out of a DC brainstorming session: Captain California, Weatherman, Misty Magic, Glorious Gal, Punk Rock, Rex Ruthless, and even Dirty Trixie (!).

Thrown in for good measure were some groan-filled jokes:

Rex Ruthless: "What kind of job is easy to stick with?"

Weatherman: "What kind?"

Rex Ruthless: "Working in a glue factory!"

[Cut to the audience of kids laughing hysterically while a laugh track blares]

At least the Shazam! animated segments of the show feel more aligned with traditional superhero adventures. Oh sure, there's plenty of mildness to action (this was Saturday morning, after all) and cute "cartoony-ness" thrown in. But Filmation's animation, which always seemed a little "fuller" than other TV fare at the time, combined well with a traditional comic book feel.

Long before comics books meant movie franchises and mega-box-office, The Kid Super Power Hour with Shazam!, even with all of its quirks, is a fun flashback to a comforting era when heroes had the power to make Saturday mornings super.

Looking for more of my articles and podcasts? Head over to my website: Words From Lyons !

My book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is now available at Amazon , with signed and personalized copies available at Words From Lyons !



Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Gold at the End of the Rainbow: The Oscars and Irish Films

 by Michael Lyons

When it comes to movies about Ireland and Irish culture receiving recognition by Academy Awards, there truly is a lot of luck well as a lot of deservedly recognized talent.

Through the years, films about the "Emerald Isle" have had a long relationship with Oscar, as evidenced by last year's The Banshess of Inisherin, which has received nine nominations, including Best Picture.

The story of two friends (Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleason) living in a small isle on the coast of Ireland, whose crumbling relationships sets in motion a battle that becomes the focal point of their small town, is a powerful parable for everything from toxic relationships to civil war.

It's one of many films set in Ireland that has not only enchanted audiences but the Academy, as well.

With the Academy Awards and Saint Patrick's Day coming up next week, it's the perfect time to look back at Irish films that struck Oscar gold.


Belfast (2021)

Kenneth Branagh deservedly won the Oscar for Best Screenplay for this heartbreaking story of a family trying to live their life during "The Troubles," the civil war raging in the city of Belfast in 1969.

Filmed beautifully in black-and-white, Belfast also received seven nominations, including Best Picture, Supporting Actor (Ciaran Hinds), and Supporting Actress (Dame Judi Dench), as it told much more than political history, but is also about familial power and the difficult decisions that must be made to keep a family together.

In the Name of the Father (1993)

Daniel Day-Lewis and Pete Postlethwaite both received acting nominations in this re-telling of the true story of four men wrongly accused and convicted of car bombings by the Irish Republican Army in 1974.

This compelling, frustrating film earned seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director, for Jim Sheridan, who had just been nominated three years prior for...

My Left Foot (1989)

Daniel Day-Lewis won his first of three Oscars, and received a standing ovation on awards night, for his stunning performance in this true-life story of Christy Brown, an Irish man born with cerebral palsy. Brown could only use his left foot and went on to a career as a painter and writer.

It's staggering to watch Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, as well as Brenda Fricker, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, as Christy's mother, Bridget, who shared her son's strength and determination.

Ryan's Daughter (1971)

This epic of Ireland came from director David Lean, who gave audiences such sprawling films as Lawrence of Arabia (1962) and Doctor Zhivago (1965).

Set in an isolated village in County Kerry, Ireland, a married woman named Rosy (Sarah Miles) begins an affair with a British Major (Christopher Jones) that culminates in scandal in their small town.

Ryan's Daughter features some opulent sequences of the Irish countryside that won cinematographer Freddie Jones that year's Oscar.  Additionally, veteran actor John Mills took home the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his touching performance as Michael, the (for lack of a less offensive term) "village idiot."

The Quiet Man (1952)

A staple of Saint Patrick's Day each year, director John Ford's masterpiece was also a major contender at the 1953 Oscars, taking home awards for its cinematography by Winton Hoch and earning Ford his fourth Best Director Oscar.

The story is about an American, Sean Thornton (John Wayne), who returns to the small town of Inishfree, in Ireland, where he was born, and falls in love with a local girl, Mary Kate (Maureen O'Hara). In the process, their romance wreaks havoc on the small village.

Featuring one of film's most extraordinary ensemble cast, including Barry Fitzgerald, Victor McLaglen, and Ward Bond, The Quiet Man illuminates the magic and majesty of Ireland, its culture, and its people like no other film.

 And so, as red carpets give way to green shamrocks, these are just some of many films that can help us all celebrate an Oscar-winning Saint Patrick's week!



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Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Fan Fatale: The 40th Anniversary of "The King of Comedy"



by Michael Lyons    

 In our current world, filled with fandom that ranges from obsessed to "toxic," it's fascinating to watch 1983's The King of Comedy, forty years later.

Director Martin Scorcese's dark comedy is not just ahead of its time; it's almost scarily prophetic. A box-office disappointment that has faded from memory for many over the past four decades, this original, skewed, tragic movie is so worthy of a re-visit.

The King of Comedy centers on Rupert Pupkin (Robert DeNiro), an amateur - very amateur - comedian who is obsessed with talk show host Jerry Langford (Jerry Lewis), a Johnny Carson-like, legendary TV icon, who has hosted his show for many years.

Rupert desperately wants to appear on Langford's show and perform his stand-up routine, so much so that he works with his friend Masha (Sandra Bernhard), who is equally obsessed with Langford. They hatch a plan to kidnap the talk show host, and as part of the ransom agreement, Rupert wants to be the headlining act on Langford's show.

DeNiro is perfect in a role much different than any he had done before, almost a "gentler" version of Travis Bickle from one of his other Scorcese collaborations, Taxi Driver. He creates Rupert as the ultimate fanboy, seemingly safe one minute and unknowingly dangerous the next.

As a nice, added touch, he still lives in his parent's basement, where he records his stand-up act and even has a recreation of The Jerry Langford show set, where he pretends to be a guest.

Jerry Lewis is, interestingly, the "straight man" to DeNiro's off-kilter performance. This is a role audiences aren't used to seeing Lewis in, and he does a great job at playing the simmering slow burn that eventually boils over.

Then, there is Sandra Bernhard, in her major debut, as a fierce force of nature, as she crafts Macha into a unique, unhinged character. 

This is also a much different outing for director Scorcese.  His sweeping, kinetic camera work is nowhere to be found.  And in its place is a very straightforward, grounded direction, which makes The King of Comedy more realistic, and chilling at times.

While it didn't ignite the box office, The King of Comedy has been very influential for several filmmakers, including Todd Phillips, who has credited the film as an inspiration for 2019's Joker (which featured DeNiro in a supporting role).

Released on February 18, 1983, The King of Comedy speaks to how being a fan, and trying to live out your fantasies, can quickly consume your life. It resonates, even more today, as social media has turned so many into celebrities and has brought celebrities that much closer to their fans.

As critic Roger Ebert perfectly stated, The King of Comedy is "...frustrating to watch, unpleasant to remember, and in its own way, quite effective."


Looking for more articles and podcasts about movies and TV? Head over to my website, Words From Lyons !

My book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is currently available at Amazon with signed and personalized copies available at Words From Lyons



Thursday, February 9, 2023

You've Gotta Love Football: Celebrating The Super Bowl and Valentine's Day with "Frasier"


by Michael Lyons


Just as they did this time last year - worlds are about to collide, as The Super Bowl and Valentine's Day will happen just days apart. 

While these two extremely popular and special days couldn't be more different, there are ways to celebrate both, with none other than the noted psychiatrist Frasier Crane.  Two separate episodes of the hit, long-running sitcom Frasier have centered on the big Super Bowl game, and he day of love, Valentine's Day, along with the love and neurosis that comes with both.


"Our Parents, Ourselves," Originally aired:  January 21, 1999

A very poignant episode in which Frasier (Kelsey Grammer) and Roz (Peri Gilpin) attempt to play matchmaker between Frasier's Dad, Martin (John Mahoney), and Roz's mom Joanna (Eva Marie Saint).

It all falls apart, as Martin isn't interested, and Joanna is.  To make matters worse, Frasier secretly invites Roz and Joanna over to Martin's Super Bowl party, not knowing that Martin has invited another date, Bonnie (Alice Playten).

There lots of good jokes sprinkled throughout, centering on Frasier and Niles knowing nothing about football. This includes a great opening in which Roz has to mime different plays so that Frasier can converse about football with one of the callers on his radio show.

"Our Parents, Ourselves" ends on a very touching note. After their matchmaking has gone awry, Frasier and Roz have a very frank discussion around the fact that they did it because they not only hate seeing their parents alone, but they're also afraid of being alone someday.

A feeling that's as universally shared as the Super Bowl itself.


"Three Valentines," Originally aired:  February 11, 1999

This Valentine's Day episode centers on three stories.

In one that opens the show, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) is preparing for a Valentine's Day date, for which Frasier has loaned out his apartment.  What follows is brilliant physical comedy from Hyde Pierce, in a sequence almost devoid of dialogue, where one hysterical mishap after another happens and snowballs out of control.  What starts with Niles looking to iron a wrinkle out of his trousers ends with him setting fire to Frasier's couch, all while Eddie the dog watches on.

The second story is about Frasier, who has been invited out on a Valentine's Day date with the station's new marketing manager (Virginia Madsen), or has he?  Frasier can't quite get a "read" on whether or not Cassandra is interested in him, made funnier by sharp dialogue, where Frasier's hopes are high one second and dashed the next.

Then, in the third story, Martin and Daphne (Jane Leeves) go out to dinner, as they have no plans for Valentine's Day. As they try to cheer each other up, they wind up inadvertently (and humorously) insulting each other.

One of the best Frasier episodes, "Three Valentines," is crafted like a great Hollywood screwball, romantic comedy.


So, Frasier can help you gear up for the Super Bowl or get ready for Valentine's Day. If you’re looking for a fun way to celebrate both, to quote this wonderful sitcom's main character, "This is Dr. Frasier Crane. I'm listening."


 Love reading this article and want to see more, or listen to podcasts? Head over to my website: Words From Lyons

Looking for a last minute Valentine's Day gift? Consider my book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance, available at Amazon , or signed and personalized copies are for sale at Words From Lyons .

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

It’s Yesterday Once More: Celebrating the 25th...wait, no...the 30th Anniversary of “Groundhog Day!”

  It’s Yesterday Once More: Celebrating the 25th 30th Anniversary of “Groundhog Day!”

 By Michael Lyons

“What if there is no tomorrow?!?  There wasn’t one today!”


This line of dialogue from 1993’s “Groundhog Day” is not only witty, it’s the theme of film’s most original comedies.


Hard to believe that it’s been 25…wait, make that 30 years, since “Groundhog Day” debuted in theaters.  This anniversary, coupled with the fact that Punxsutawney Phil is about to emerge this week in Pennsylvania to hold our extended winter or early Spring in his little paws, it seems the perfect time to celebrate director Harold Ramis’ comedy masterpiece.


Anyone remotely familiar with movies, comedy, or groundhogs knows the story by now.  Bill Murray plays dour, cynical weatherman Phil Connors, who is sent to  Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, to cover the annual ritual reveal of groundhog Phil and the prediction for our upcoming weather.


A snowstorm traps Phil Connors in the small town, and, for absolutely no reason whatsoever, he finds himself re-living the same day, Groundhog Day, over and over and over and over again...until he realizes just how to make the day, and himself, better.


More than just a gimmick, “Groundhog Day” is one of the most reflective and philosophical comedies ever made.  If life is an endless boring replay of the same places and faces, how do we find our own inner peace and joy in that?


Bill Murray is at his most, well, Bill Murray as Phil.  No other comedic actor could have pulled off the smart-aleck attitude, slow burns, and eventual explosions as he does.  His performance here is a brilliant blend of the comic and the tragic. 


Director Ramis was given a most difficult task within “Groundhog Day.”  The film is a marvel of continuity, as the same scenes from each day are played out again and again with different reactions and scenarios.


All of it to hilarious comedic effect, as audiences are in on the joke, knowing how the scene should play out and waiting to see how it changes during one of the repeated days (It’s still easy to chuckle as the alarm clock changes to 6:00 am and “I’ve Got You Babe” begins to play).


Within these days, we get to meet the solid, supporting cast, including Andie MacDowell, bringing heart to what could have been a thankless role filled with nothing but straight lines.  There’s also the always hysterical character actor Stephen Tobolowksy, as a long lost friend of Phil’s, that he meets over and over again to hysterical effect.


The real wonder of “Groundhog Day” is the script, written by Ramis and Danny Rubin, who came up with the story.  Deep at the core of the film is the unspoken theme to make the most of each day, no matter how mundane or repetitive it may seem.  Like Phil Connors in the film, who pulls himself out of a very dark place to make the most of the small marvels in the small town around him, each of us can find the beauty in each new day.


Released on February 12, 1993, “Groundhog Day” is that rare film that’s become part of our pop culture and our lexicon.  If someone says, “I felt like I was stuck in Groundhog Day,” we know exactly what they mean.


Few movies have done that.  Two and half  make that, Three decades later, it’s safe to say that if there really is no tomorrow, “Groundhog Day” would be the perfect movie to watch...over and over and over and over again!


Sources: Wikipedia


If you feel like every day is the same, maybe you need to read a new book? Check out my book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance, available at Amazon , with personalized and signed copies available at Words From Lyons ...

...or check out more of articles and podcasts at my website: Words From Lyons !




Thursday, January 26, 2023

To "B" or Not to "B": The 30th Anniversary of "Matinee"

by Michael Lyons

Ah, the B movie.  Somewhat dismissed in its day, and truly beloved now.  It's the rose-colored glow of nostalgia, and that's what the movie Matinee is all about.

A film that came and went on its initial release, this film lovingly remembers an innocent time in filmmaking, set against a not-so-innocent time in history, and celebrates its 30th anniversary this month.

Matinee is set in 1962 in Key West, Florida, where fears of the Cuban Missle Crisis have the residents on edge, a William Castle-like film producer and husker, Lawrence Woolsey (John Goodman), decides to choose the theater there for the premiere of his latest, exploitation, shlock horror film, Mant, about a man who is transformed into an ant after a nuclear explosion. 

Gene (Simon Fenton), an adolescent who lives in the town, is a huge movie fan and is incredibly excited about this. He even talks his way into helping Woolsey set up the theater, with buzzers in the seats and a costumed Mant that will run through the aisles.

Playing alongside this are all the real-world concerns of the time - Gene is worried about his father, who is in the Navy, and there are news reports about the threat of nuclear war. There's also a coming-of-age love story subplot involving Gene's friend, Stan (Omri Katz), and Sherry (Kellie Martin), the prettiest girl in school.

At the helm for Matinee is director Joe Dante, the perfect choice to bring this story to the screen, as his love for B movies and movies, in general, can be seen in all of his films, from his cult favorites like The Howling to his beloved blockbuster, Gremlins.

Released on January 29, 1993, Matinee, sadly, in the past three decades, has faded in many moviegoers' memories, and its anniversary should spark a revisit.

It's all about a love of movies, from both the audience's and the filmmaker's perspective; how movies can so fondly bring us back to a time and place; and, as they still do today, show us how movies are our escapist refuge in a sometimes crazy world.

It may be about "B" movies, but Matinee ranks an "A."


Visit my web site Words From Lyons for more of my articles and podcasts!

My book Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance is available at Amazon, and personalized and signed copies are available at Words From Lyons !


Friday, January 13, 2023

Get a Fresh (and Funny) Start: New Year's Resolution Support From Classic TV Sitcoms


Jennifer Aniston in the Friends episode, "The One
With All the Resolutions."



by Michael Lyons


No!  Wait!  Don't give up yet!  It's only mid-January.  It's still too early to toss aside those New Year's Resolutions.

It's never easy, but every journey starts with a first step, or maybe, in this case, a funny step.  To help with inspiration, here are some episodes of classic TV sitcoms that pair well with some of the most popular New Year's resolutions.

 Resolution: Lose Weight. I Love Lucy, "The Diet." Original airdate: October 29, 1951.

Lucy (Lucille Ball), always wanting to desperately be in Ricky's (Desi Arnaz) show at the club, attempts to lose weight.  The only problem?  She has five days to lose twelve pounds.

What follows are moments like Lucy running laps around the apartment, demonstrating why Lucille Ball is one of the most brilliant comedians to grace any screen.  Out of desperation, Lucy rents a sweatbox, which allows her to lose weight and perform in the show. But she stays in the sweatbox too long and emerges weak, having to be taken away from the show on a stretcher.

After this comes a last sight gag that's so unexpected, it shows why we will always love Lucy.


Resolution: Save More Money. The Honeymooners, "The  $99,000 Answer." Original airdate: January 28, 1956.

Ralph (Jackie Gleason) gets the chance to be on a game show, The  $99,000 Answer, where he has to answer a series of questions to earn money to get to the titular grand prize continuously.

Alice (Audrey Meadows) begs Ralph to get the first few questions correct and walk away.  But, always with his big dreams, Ralph balks at this; as he practices with Norton (Art Carney), he is determined to go to the $99,000 answer.

His final appearance on the game show and the first question he is asked are still one of this sitcom's most famous moments (and you will never listen to "Suwanee River" the same way again).

Resolution: Exercise. The Odd Couple, "The Odd Decathlon." Original airdate: September 28, 1973.

After a heated discussion about health insurance, Felix (Tony Randall) and Oscar (Jack Klugman) compete to see who is in better shape.  It all culminates with Felix getting Oscar to compete in a decathlon, where they go head-to-head in multiple athletic events, one after the other.

Does Oscar try to cheat?  He does, indeed, with hysterical moments of physical comedy from both stars during the show's finale.

 Resolution: Spend More Time With Friends. Friends, "The One with all the Resolutions." Original airdate: January 7, 1999.

In this episode, centering on the New Year, each one of the friends makes resolutions with one another.  Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) vows not to gossip, Chandler (Mathew Perry) says he won't make jokes, Monica (Courteney Cox) promises to take more pictures, Joey (Matt LeBlanc) wants to learn how to play the guitar, with help from Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Ross (David Schwimmer) resolves to do one new thing a day.

One of these "new things" involves him purchasing a pair of leather pants, which give him trouble while out on a date. Schwimmer's Ross struggling with his new, high-fitting pants provide one of this sitcom's funniest moments (of many) that still provide laughs no matter how many times it's rerun.


So, take heart and time to laugh with these episodes about your resolutions.  Just don't laugh them off; there are still eleven more months to go.  You can do it!



Is your New Year's resolution to read more?  Then, check out my book, Drawn to Greatness: Disney's Animation Renaissance available at Amazon, with signed and personalized copies at Words From Lyons !

For more of my articles and podcasts head over to my website: Words From Lyons !