Friday, February 23, 2018

5Q Movie Review: The Post

This semi-regular feature returns with a look at a movie I actually saw in a theater! Hey, it's a big deal for me since the last time I saw a film on the big screen, D.W. Griffith wasn't even problematic.

With the 5Q Movie Review, I try to get the essence of what a movie is about by asking and answering the truly important questions about a film.

Q: Does Meryl Streep turn directly to the camera and say, "Get it, current administration?" and then pause for audience applause?
A: I'm not saying that Streep, who plays former Post publisher Katharine Graham, does do this, but I'm not saying she doesn't. Stick through the ending credits!

Q: Does Tom Hanks play former Post editorial head honcho guy with a rascally twinkle in his eye?
A: He sure does. Unfortunately, I don't think there is one scene of Hanks pecking at a typewriter while holding a pen or a cigar with his teeth. Not one! What a ripoff.

Hanks and Streep are entertaining, and while Streep gets the kudos, we need to salute Hanks, too, because Ben Bradlee was some kind of demigod according to the way people  talk about him.

Q: Is that--is that David Cross along with Bob Odenkirk? Does Ronnie Dobbs make an appearance?
A: I'm aware that this is an unfair question, but I must be honest. As soon as I heard Cross' voice, I chuckled that he was in the film. Odenkirk has "crossed over" in my mind; Cross hasn't. The casting of the movie in general was a little distracting, actually.

No, Ronnie Dobbs isn't in The Post.

Q: What is the history like? Is it accurate?
A: I'm no expert, but many have criticized the movie for lionizing The Washington Post and downplaying the major role played in the release of the Pentagon Papers--perhaps by far the most important role--by The New York Times.  Of course, many of those critics are people who worked for The New York Times.

Q: Are newspapers still the best?
A: Most of the actual newspapers still around are not the best, but newspapers as a thing are still the best, and it's tempting to say that I would trade the Internet to have newspapers around, thriving, and affordable. That would mean the end of this blog, though--an existential dilemma I choose not to ponder.

I am all in favor of Hollywood making a big prestige movie about newspapers every single year.

Overall, I thought the movie was a nice crowd pleaser, but I was disappointed. I am a fan of media history but thought that Steven Spielberg sacrificed some narrative power in order to serve an agenda. I don't say that from a liberal vs. conservative angle, either. I enjoyed The Post, and it made me want to read more about the time period and the events depicted, but I can't picture myself seeing it again.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Brooks on Books: Boys' Toys by Jed Novick

I found this compact 128-page 2005 hardcover at the liberry and couldn't resist exploring the world of classic "boys' toys" like G.I. Joe, Lionel Trains, and even less stereotypically gender-specific items like Viewmaster. Jed Novick's text is sharp, and the design is outstanding. I just wish the book were bigger.

128 pages, including an index, intro, and table of contents, doesn't leave a lot of room. Novick includes a lot of mostly Baby Boomer-era toys, but he lacks the space to really get into them. So each section has a brief origin of the toy and maybe a fun fact or two, plus a picture, but, man, it really leaves you wanting more.

Novick's a clever writer who could do a lot more, and he tries to make the most of the limitations. It's amazing that the book reads as a tribute to All-American childhoods when he himself is English and the book was developed in the U.K. Many toys don't even get a full page, though, and few get more than one. We're not talking about one specific thing, either--I mean, like, Matchbox cars get a two-page spread. It's frustrating to see a reference to a rare variant or a famous action figure in a line and not see a pic.

Let's focus on the positive, though: Boys' Toys shows affection for its subject but is not too reverent. Novick keeps things light and includes some funny comments but strikes the right tone and doesn't sacrifice information. As I said, the design is eye-catching, loaded with color and vivid photographs.

Subtitled "An Illustrated History of Little Things That Pleased Big Minds," Boys' Toys succeeds in providing an attractive survey of famous playthings like Mego figures, board games, and erector sets It doesn't aim to be encyclopedic, and it serves as a great gift item or appetizer for people wanting a warm blast of nostalgia. It sure would be great to see Novick get a chance to do something a little more detailed, though!

Monday, February 19, 2018

'Mooners Monday: "Lost" Norton appearance?

I wasn't aware of this until I saw it on Decades back in November, and now that Laugh-In is streaming on Amazon Prime Video (see yesterday's post), it's a good time to take a look at this "lost" 'Mooners (sort of) sketch.

The great Art Carney visited Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In on September 14, 1970, as the show began its fourth season. Johnny Brown was a newcomer to the regular cast, and he and Carney performed in a little sketch to start the proceedings:

In today's installment of Dialogue You Won't See on Network TV Today:

NORTON:  Hey, Ralph! Come on upstairs. I want to watch Laugh-in.
RALPH (OFF-CAMERA): Norton, are you crazy? You don't have a set.
NORTON: That's the best way to watch that show.
All right, we'll use your set. Come on out, will you?

(Brown walks in)

NORTON: Hey, Ralph, if you ask me, I think you've been out in that Miami sun a little too long."

Here are a few other shots of Art Carney in the episode:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Behind the Rankings: Amazon Prime adds "Laugh-In"

This is a new feature in which I will, when events warrant, discuss in a little more detail an item in the weekly SVOD power rankings. By "events warrant," I mean I might have a bit more to yak about than I want to cram into the regular post.

Amazon Prime quietly added the complete Rowan and Martin's  Laugh-In a few weeks ago, and, boy, is it funny to associate the word "quiet" with that series. Anything with JoAnne Worley is not gonna be a shrinking violet. I'm glad I learned about it, and if you hadn't known, well, you can bet your sweet bippy (Sorry) that it's true.

I don't know how many Prime memberships this addition is going to sell, but it sure might make some of us who already have it happy. Laugh-In is an ideal show for streaming. With all due respect to the massive DVD box set Time-Life released last year--and I can't help but point out that you could buy two years of Prime and have money left over for a few Mannix seasons for the $250 the complete series costs--this isn't the kind of show I need to own.

I love the idea of seeing the episodes, but I don't know about the RE-watchability.  It's not serialized (thank goodness), it is loaded with fast-paced but essentially unconnected bits, and it's easy to dip in and out of the series. With the episodes accessible on a platform like Prime, it's easy to look for guest stars that interest you, that being the main thing that distinguishes installments within a given season.

(Well. it would be easy if Prime Video had a better interface, but...)

Even if you aren't a fan of the series, it's a great time capsule of fashions, attitudes, and whatnot. The series is "of its time" and "dated," but I find that aspect fascinating, It's amusing to see what was considered cutting edge back then, or at least what was sold as cutting edge. The politics seem very tame compared to today's standards or to what we've been hearing about The Smothers Brothers (which also seems a lot tamer today) for years.

I watched a lot of Laugh-In on Decades several months ago, and while I enjoyed checking it out, an hour of the show is probably a bit much for many people. That's another reason to celebrate its presence here. I don't need to bust out a DVD and watch 3 or 4 of these in a row, but it's nice having them streaming when I do want to check one out.

Kudos to Amazon for making this possible. It's another reminder to keep checking these services because they surprise us from time to time.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 99

Welcome back to the longest-running weekly feature in the history of...this blog. Thanks for coming back after a week hiatus. Things are looking good at Cultureshark World Headquarters, and we're ready to start countin' em down--well, up--once again.

(I'm keeping the numerical sequence even though we missed a week because, well, why not?)

1) Netflix: Everything Sucks looks like another pandering, uneven nostalgia-fest...and I will probably watch all of it. I'm intrigued by the Joel McHale show debuting tomorrow, though I still haven't seen the Letterman show (love Dave, but I am just not that thrilled about sitdowns with Obama and Clooney right now).

Still, though, Netflix is top dog, and not just because I finally got around to watching that Eagles documentary and finishing season 1 of One Day at a Time. You notice how when someone like Disney talks about creating a streaming video service, everyone wants to call it a "Netflix killer"? To be the man, you gotta beat the man, I guess.

2) Amazon Prime: I don't know anything about Mozart in the Jungle except that some of the Golden Globes voters apparently love it, but I think it's time for me to start watching Bosch.  What's the deal with this new movie The Ballad of Lefty Brown, a Bill Pullman Western that apparently got a limited (token?) theatrical release?

The main reason for the #2 spot is the recent addition of scores of episodes of a vintage program: Laugh-In. I'll discuss this more in a post tomorrow.

3) Hulu: I have not been using Hulu much lately, but my kids sure have. I like that while we wait for the rest of the MTM library and MASH, random old shows like GaryUnmarried pop up.

4) WWE Network: The giant (if far from complete) Coliseum Home Video drop brings this SVOD service one step closer to being the network it should have been from the beginning. It has many, many El Gigante-sized steps to go, but it's on the way.

5) The CW: News that the network is expanding to Sunday nights worries me. I already feel like I watch too many superhero shows on this channel, and this is just gonna give me more. Hopefully it'll just be more Vampire Diaries spinoffs I can skip without guilt.

6) YouTube: My man SeanMc is coming through in a major way with tons of old promos and ads lately, but I want to talk about MGM posting the original Stargate movie as a way to promote its upcoming Stargate streaming service called "Stargate Command." Whaaaaa? Not for me, but I admire the effort to do something different. For a price, of course--for a price.

7) Shout! Factory TV: I have to give Shout! credit for promoting its collection of Soul! episodes, one of which proved that African-Americans could have conversations on public TV that were just as pretentious as those white people had. Also, Shout! would be higher this week if it celebrated Black History Month by returning Black Omnibus.

8) Warner Archive Instant: In case you were wondering, WAI did not update its Twitter feed while I was off. Nor did it add any content. As long it has Eight Is Enough, it will contend for a spot on this list as it clings to its spot in my heart.

9) Unnamed Roku Channel: Well, I might as well name it now. It was Time Machine Channel, it was awesome, and it is apparently gone. I was afraid it was too good to be true. Imagine offering old TV shows and movies that you can't get elsewhere for free.

10) MLB.TV: R.I.P. "the Chief," who years ago would have been stunned to learn you could access every baseball game that was on at once.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Temporary hiatus

Sorry for the absence of the Streaming Power Rankings and 'Mooners Monday, but a combo of being under the weather and a few other things have made me a take a temporary hiatus from posting. I should  be back next week with more stuff. Thanks as always for your support, and have a great week!