Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Instant Gratification Theater: Documentaries Return

It's been a while, but let me return to some quick takes on documentaries I watched on various streaming video platforms:

Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years: The Beatles are the best everything everywhere in all of history, so if you put a movie about them up on Hulu, I'm going to watch it. Add the pedigree of acclaimed director Ron Howard and a promise to focus on the live concert experience of the band, and, actually I didn't expect all that much. I expected to enjoy it, but I kind of feared a safe, middle-of-the-road approach that would be designed for a more general audience as opposed to the hardcores.

That's what the movie is. Despite the subtitle  and the announced emphasis on the Beatles as a touring act--I remember the early calls for fans to share any footage they had--Eight Days a Week veers off a bit into more general territory and becomes almost a watered-down version of the epic Beatles Anthology. Personally I would have rather seen more vintage footage. What is in here looks and sounds great, and really if you want to provide a sense of the group as live performers, here's a novel concept: Show us more of the group as live performers. No disrespect to the likes of Elvis Costello, but the real thing is much more effective than talking heads telling us about it.

That said, the documentary is professionally put together, though I could have done without pointless "modern" touches like colorization of archival footage (I was marveling at how good one of the clips looked, and then I thought, hey, wait a minute...) and bizarre cigarette smoke effects added to old stills. It's nice to hear from Paul and Ringo in new interviews. most importantly, it's the Beatles.

I imagine this would be a great experience in a theater surrounded by Beatlemaniacs. At home on Hulu, it's worth seeing but not at all revelatory. I still think I would be more excited by an official release of the Let It Be film, but I will (and did) gladly take something like this and enjoy it.

Crossfire: The Plot that Killed Kennedy: A low-budget documentary focusing on JFK assassination theories from the point of view of famed conspiracy theorist Jim Marrs. Back in the heady days of Oliver Stone-induced conspiracy fever, I devoured Marrs' book of the same name. I caught this documentary version during a trial of Amazon Prime many moons ago, but it's still available.

The movie isn't sophisticated, and it throws a lot of stuff at you without being as absorbing as the book, but it is entertaining. Marrs is a real character, and his guided tour of sorts through conspiracy facets of the assassination is a fun watch.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

My favorite Vin Scully moment

Writing about an old episode of Alcoa Theatre called "Flashing Spikes" a few years ago, I described long-long-longtime L.A. Dodgers broadcaster as America's unofficial most beloved broadcaster. Well, it's Vin's final season, and I think it's now official. As Scully goes out in his usual classy fashion (you just don't hear stories that begin with, "Remember the time Vin had to apologize for..." or "Did you hear him in the eighth? More like GIN Scully..."), players, fans, and fellow media members are sharing their favorite memories of the legendary announcer.

I'm pretty sure I fall into the middle category--I try not to brag about my "B" League pitching/third base experience back in the day--so let me join the chorus. My favorite Vin Scully moment is a simple one. It's not an elaborate turn of phrase, and it's notable as much for his restraint as anything, but it's a moment that gives me chills each time I see it.

Game 1 of the 1988 World Series is one of the all-time classic baseball moments. The Dodgers rallied in the ninth inning against the heavily favored Oakland A's, and injured star Kirk Gibson hobbled off the bench to deliver a pinch-hit home run off closer Dennis Eckersley. It was a storybook ending as long as you weren't rooting for the A's, and you still see the home run over and over again, accompanied by Scully's perfect narration, a combination of awe and respect for the moment.

I like to back it up before the actual home run, though, to when Gibson starts walking out of the dugout. I can't say why, exactly, I love this so much, but the way Scully says, "And look who's coming up," as he sees Gibson gets me every time. The crowd is buzzing, and everyone at home and in the booth knows what a big deal it is. Yet Scully doesn't belabor the point. With one simple phrase--"And look who's coming up"--he manages to set up the moment in a perfect manner, conveying a certain sense of, "Oh, wow," without yelling or otherwise ruining the drama. Then he and partner Joe Garagiola let the drama build for a minute while the Dodger fans go nuts.

If you haven't seen this, especially in context, it might seem ridiculous to identify "And look who's coming up," as the single best moment in a career that spanned over 60 years and countless events.  It's one of my all-time favorites, though, and it's something I like to watch every year or so. It's hard to describe just why I love it so much, but to me it blends my favorite sport, a great announcer, and history in a moment that never fails to rekindle my love of baseball.

Monday, September 26, 2016

TV Time Bonus: More from Dragnet: the movie (1954)

I know, I know: I'm getting so much mileage out of that ClassicFlix article about movie adaptations of classic TV shows, I should take the blog in for an oil change. I can't let it go, though, without sharing some of my favorite moments from Dragnet, a fun flick that expands on the concept of the classic radio/TV drama and makes a credible feature-length extension of the world Jack Webb created.

Don't see a lot of shots like this one on the TV show!

This is the beginning of the movie, folks! Hard-hitting!

Webb's interrogation of Stacy Harris' character is one of the highlights of the film.

I kind of want to hang out at the Red Spot.

Time for a good old-fashioned brawl! This fight scene is one of the best action sequences Dragnet ever delivered.

Took its toll on the boys, though.

That crumpled up paper? That's what Friday thinks of namby-pamby concepts like the Fifth Amendment (some suspects used the papers to declare their intention to invoke it).

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 26

Here we go!

1) Hulu: Not a huge week for Hulu in terms of buzz/news, but content is king in these power rankings, and this is the time of year we remember that, hey, all the new TV (except CBS shows, and that may be a plus) is gonna be here. I also give Hulu credit for the Ron Howard Beatles doc and this weekend's debut of Sicario.

2) Netflix: Another week full of announcements, but I am hoping that the guy who said Netflix plans to have 50% of its content originals was misinterpreted. I'd hate to see them achieve that by continuing to shed catalog stuff.

Still, Netflix scored a few key Emmy wins and debuted new series Easy plus Zootopia (as in, "Hey, see, we get new movies, too!")

3) HBO Now: Emmys for outstanding comedy (Veep) and drama (Game of Thrones) give everyone a reminder that, hey, HBO Now has all episodes of two big favorites.

4) Amazon Prime: In the wake of some Emmy love, flagship series Transparent returns for its third season. More importantly, Prime video apparently added a bunch of old NBC Real People episodes. What a wonderful random add that is! Almost makes me want to sign up for a month.

5)  TuneIn: Hey, did you know you can find the new, exciting Battle of the Network Shows podcast here? Play it on demand! That and Deep Oldies Radio is enough to merit a ranking. I love Deep Oldies. Not every song is an obscure one, but when was the last time you heard The Idle  Race (with a young Jeff Lynne) and Days of the Broken Arrows on any radio station?

6) YouTube: Boy, did I go down the rabbit hole watching old videos of The Motels this week...and I loved it!

7) MLB.TV: Still plenty of drama this last month even though most division races are all but settled. Pirates had a good week, but it's too little too late.

8) Pub-D-Hub: Added a Richard Diamond episode this week. That's always welcome.

9) Shout! Factory TV: Hey, Shout!, howzabout adding The Norm Show next month?

10) PRO Classics: I finally got a chance to watch something on the revamped version of this one, and I was pleasantly surprised that the episode of The Comedy Shop was not riddled with commercials. Unfortunately, programs aren't loading as I write this, so I probably shouldn't rank this, but here's hoping it's just a blip. Free plus ad-free (or at least low-ad) is a great combo.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Shameless Self-Promotion (again): New review at ClassicFlix!

Hey, folks! Sorry to run plugs for myself two days in a row, but ClassicFlix  posted my review of the frst season of the long-running but oft-forgotten Western anthology Death Valley Days.

Here's a little preview: Hit the link to see the rest, and tell 'em Cultureshark sent you! Don't ya dare miss it! (Also, come back this weekend for the SVOD Power Rankings, and I will have more actual content here on the blog next week)

Death Valley Days - Season 1
It's All in a Day's Work: Death Valley Days, Season 1
09/21/2016 | by Rick Brooks
With eighteen seasons and well over 500 episodes, Death Valley Days is one of the longest-running television programs never to receive a legitimate season set on DVD...until now! Through its Timeless label, Shout Factory has brought the first season of this half-hour Western anthology in a 3-disc set containing all eighteen half-hour episodes.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Battle of the Network Shows is here!

If you enjoy what I do here, I'd urge you to give my new podcast a shot. My friend Michael Cowgill and I revisit television of the 1970s and 1980s with spontaneous discussions about hand-picked episodes.

You can get Battle of the Network Shows, which is totally free, on iTunes, via RSS, Stitcher, on TuneIn radio...anywhere  you get podcasts, but hit for direct downloads plus show notes and other content from us!

We published episode 0, the "Primetime Preview Special," last week, but this week is the official debut of the show, with a look at a great episode of The Incredible Hulk.