Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Half-Assed Gourmet: Cheez-It GRIPZ

Continuing our country's trends of miniaturizing things (by making them smaller for no apparent reason) and of infantilizing them (by spelling them with Zs instead of Ss in a misguided attempt at edginess), the Kellogg corporation has created a product called Cheez-It GRIPZ. Fortunately, these crackers are still "made with 100% real cheese," but in this form they are now presented in crumb form.

Image result for cheez-it gripz

The now-tiny crackers come in a small bag that encourages snackers to tear off a corner at the top and presumably drink them. It's too small to fit fingers in there, even if you ARE an infant, so the options are to pour the GRIPZ  bits into your hand or dump them directly into your mouth. If you do tilt the pouch into your piehole and remember to chew the numerous tiny bits, you just might get the equivalent of tasting one regular cracker.

I must admit my kids enjoy this packaging, and maybe this product is better marketed to those who are too young to make intelligent nutritional decisions, anyway. To me, though, this seems an unnecessary creation. I can create my own GRIPZ, if I so desire, by filling a baggie with regular Cheez-Its, sealing it up, then throwing it down on the ground and stomping it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

If only there were, say, I don't know, a video store where I could rent a movie...

Out of curiosity, I checked the invaluable  to see if any movies featuring the late Gene Wilder were available for streaming on Netflix. Here's what I found:

         Search for 'Gene Wilder' 0 matches

It's not like the other usual suspects are  much help, though. I saw a Decider story touting "how to stream the top Gene Wilder movies"  or something like that. Don't bother. First of all, the shameless feature lists the films but makes you click through each title to see the streaming options. Plus they are all lame. You can't actually "stream" them as part of an existing service. You can PAY TO RENT them for like 3 bucks for a non-HD video from Amazon (not part of Prime Video) or Google Play or some other rental option.

Remember the days when, if you wanted to see a movie more than 2 years old, you could go to your local video store and, for a small fee, borrow it for several days?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Summer of Angst: The Trouble with Father

Sitcoms aren't supposed to be hyperealistic, but I have an issue with the episode of "the Trouble with Father" on the Lost Television Legacy of James Dean" DVD collection.

Dean has a small role as a nervous schmuck who doesn't know how to deal with girls. Hey, Martin Milner was an attractive man who was surely no slouch with the ladies, and I can buy Dean as jittery, but I don't know if I buy him as a lovelorn loser asking Marty for tips.

It's a reasonably amusing episode with a dose of typical sitcom misunderstanding. I wish Dean had a bigger role so he could be more directly in the hijinks.

Here's a shot of a young Sheila James, who causes her share of trouble in the story:

Overall, it's an interesting watch for fans of early TV, and I loved seeing it on the disc, but it's not essential Dean, and it doesn't offer quite as much angst as his anthology appearances of the era.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

I feel sorry for Britney Spears

A lot of the hype about tonight's Video Musi--Wait, we have to call them the VMAs now, I think--about tonight's VMA show on MTV concerns the potential SHOCK generated by Britney Spears' performance. Will she lip-sync (Uh, yeah)? Will she make an inappropriate gesture of some kind (perhaps)? Will she wear something revealing (Magic 8-ball says...signs point to yes).

I long ago stopped caring about the MTV Awards (If I were younger and angrier, I'd say that MTV stopped caring about ME, man!!!), but I'll admit I still care whether or not Britney Spears is going to dance on TV in something revealing, and I might even watch the YouTube clips the next day. But it's a shame that this is all the media is talking about.

One might argue that it's her choice to do this, and to an extent, of course that's true. However, she has a history of mental issues, was stripped of the ability to control her own career (her own life, even), and now spends much of her performing career at a residency in Vegas to keep her off the road, presumably because she needs a stable, controlled environment. Every time you see her post on a red carpet or in some kind of publicity deal, she dons a fake-looking smile that makes her look like a prisoner. I don't think she hates her fans or any BS like that, but I think she is genuinely trying to play the part, which makes it even sadder to me.

You know when she does look really happy to be there (I'm not a psychiatrist, but I play one on Blogger)? When she is with her kids. I hope she really loves being a mom, and I think she does. To a lesser extent, I get the feeling she enjoys performing sometimes, maybe a lot of the time given the right circumstances. Yet if she really had the choice, would she really be doing this? What really makes her happy at this point in life?

I've seen enough accounts of her demeanor offstage to wonder if it's at best a "grin and bear it" situation or at worst a "lights are on, but nobody's home" situation. I can't help but wonder if the ongoing media narrative about how controversial her high-profile performances are going to be is part of the problem. She recently released a music video, and with suspicious rapidity, stories circulated about outraged fans complaining that the "sexier" version was scrapped. I suspect that whole incident was a publicity stunt, but here's the thing: Was it Britney Spears' publicity stunt, or was it "Team Britney's" stunt, with her being dragged along?

Perhaps I am underestimating Britney Spears and she is a canny manipulator who knows exactly what she is doing and relishes any kind of attention. But based on her complicated history, I wonder if maybe she'd be happier out of the spotlight, raising her kids, doing what she wants to do, and not feeling pressure to be outrageous on an awards show.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Streaming Video Power Rankings: Week 22

Welcome back to the weekly power rankings. As a reminder, the list is based on a combination of buzz, news, my own personal watching, my own personal whims, and the position of Mars in the nighttime sky. I tend to judge most streaming video channels by how they perform on Roku.

Slow week, and next week will be more exciting when many channels get their September adds, but I'm sure I'll find something to say:

1) MLB TV: Folks, if I am being honest, the Pirates had games all week, and I watched very little else. A word of praise for this excellent service: I rarely have buffering issues, there are plenty of useful options, and it's just great to be able to watch all the games on the Roku (other than the ones blocked by inane MLB blackout rules). Contrast this with the NFL, which once again took down its Roku channel and is promising something by the beginning of the season...when we will not be able to watch live games. Right now, though, there is nothing--no highlights, no season previews, no NFL Network clips...nothing.

2) Netflix: I could make a wise-ass remark about the new Jeff Foxworthy/Larry the Cable Guy special, but instead I will cite it as another example of the broad array of entertainment Netflix is offering. I'll make my wise-ass remarks offline.

Actually, Netflix made a ton of announcements this week. Some of it sounds kind of intriguing, some doesn't appeal to me at all, but the company does a good job of creating the perception that there is always something going on and always something coming.

3) Hulu: Added a "bonus poop" portion to last week's successful Triumph Election Special, and I'm man enough to admit I can giggle like a kid when I see that.  I'm finally finishing 11/22/63, and it's amazing how--what's the word--likeable James Franco is in it. Hulu is making some announcements, too, but it seems to be focusing on its cable alternative package than on catalog acquisitions. Next week is gonna be rough as more people start realizing all the CW shows are leaving in September.

4) YouTube: The Roku version made yet another change in its interface--a minor one, but still.  Stop fussing with yourself, YouTube. You look fine. We're already 15 minutes late, so can you just finish getting ready so we can go?

5) Crackle: Slides down two spots, despite the continued presence of "Grady," because even though the service continues to not crash my Roku, the constant commercials are starting to wear on me.

6) Pub-D-Hub: I enjoyed a solid episode of the old Kate Smith show featuring a Grand Ole Opry segment. Yep, I love this channel.

7) Shout! Factory TV: I love how on the second appearance of Ray Charles, he is only the second guest, following Mayor John Lindsey. Shout! is really cranking out these Cavett episodes, adding a "Directors" category. I hope it has a little bit more in store for September, but I love the continued rollout of this series.

8) My Retro Flix: Unusual Roku channel of unknown origin with a fantastic selection of public domain and (a surprising number of) studio classics. Is it licensed? Who knows, but I suggest you check it out while you can.

9) Dumont Days: I didn't get much chance to enjoy Dumont Days this week, but I promise to do better soon.

10) Watch TCM: I'm tempted to stop ranking this since, being unavailable on Roku, it often slips from my radar. Plus, as great as the selection is, the movies all disappear after a week. Yet, man, so many great things to watch right now if you're lucky enough to be authenticated and can tolerate watching them on your laptop or whatever.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Fall Book Preview (that is, a list of upcoming books that I want to read)

Nothing against literary fiction, mind you, but I'm focusing on the books I really want to buy this fall.
Here, in no particular order, are books I might actually read and would love to get this season:

1) American Heiress by Jeffrey Toobin: An account of the Patty Hearst case, loaded with social context, no doubt.

2) Powerhouse by James Andrew Miller: The guy behind the oral histories of ESPN and "SNL" (what exactly did credited co-author Tom Shales do on those books, anyway? Nobody ever seems to talk with HIM about them) returns to tell the story of Creative Artists Agency.

3) Monsters in the Movies by John Landis: OK, the guy may be liable for a few movie set deaths here and there, but he knows his monsters! This is actually a paperback reissue of a book that came out 5 years ago. I confess I totally missed the original.

4) Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hell's Angels, and the Inside Story of Rock's Darkest Day by Joel Selvin: Title says it all.

(Note: Books 1-4 are all out now)

5) Four of the Three Musketeers: The Marx Brothers on Stage by Robert Bader: I think we can count on this Marx expert to deliver a fantastic read. (October)

6) That's Me, Groucho: the Solo Career of Groucho Marx by Matthew Coniam: Sounds great, but it's from McFarland, so unfortunately, it's 40 bucks MSRP for 188 pages. (September)

7) The General vs. the President: MacArthur and Truman at the Brink of Nuclear War by H.W. Brands: I enjoy Brands' works of popular history, and this should be a good read. (October)

8) Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen: I'm not a hardcore fan of the Boss, but I'm curious to see how this book turns out. (September)

9) Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy by Mike Love and James S. Hirsch: Yes, Brian Wilson has a memoir coming out, too, but I have to admit I'd much rather this one even if I won't believe all of it. (September)

10) Disco Demolition: The Night Disco Died by Steve Dahl and Dave Hoekstra: Tells the story of the infamous disaster known as Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park in 1979, an event that got out of control and actually led to the cancellation of the second game of a doubleheader. What a great idea for a book! (August 30)

11) Based on a True Story: A Memoir by Norm McDonald: How could this not at least merit a look?
(September 20)

12) The Best of Shoe by Jeff MacNelly: On one level, a hardcover collection almost seems inappropriate for this strip, but since nobody's making pocket-size paperback reprints anymore, it'll have to do. (October)

13) Super Weird Heroes (Various) Giant Yoe Books anthology of oddball Golden Age comic book stories.

14) TV: The Book: Two Experts Pick the Greatest American Shows of All Time by Alan Sepinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz: That title is a lot more pretentious than these guys' actual writing. Two perceptive and entertaining critics use this gimmick to survey all of TV history. I expect an addictive read.(September)

15) A Thousand Cuts: The Bizarre Underground World of Collectors and Dealers Who Saved the Movies by Dennis Bartok and Jeff Joseph: This sounds fabulous: An exploration of film collecting and a history of the FBI's efforts to harass the collecting community in the 1970s. (August 25)