Friday, October 31, 2008

Journey Into DVD: My Three Sons

Paramount strikes again with its notorious music replacement strategy, butchering "My Three Sons" Season 1 Volume 1 (really, I wince each time I say or write that title) by stripping the original underscore on most episodes and replacing it with a new one. This tactic, of course, ruins the most recent release of "The Fugitive."

I certainly wasn't looking to buy this overpriced, overedited set, but I did want to check out the show again. It had been a long time since Nick at Nite aired the first black-and-white episodes with William Frawley, and in fact I hadn't seen much of the color ones lately, either. While the score was certainly vital to a tense drama like "The Fugitive," it couldn't be AS important to a family sitcom, right? Besides, I was curious to see if, not having seen the series in so long, I would even recognize the new music. So I rented the first disc from my good friends at Netflix (but if they were really good friends, they'd give me a freebie or two for plugging them).

Turns out, yep, the new music is noticeable, and it is bad. Even if you've never seen "My Three Sons," you'll be able to pick out the replacement scoring. If you watch any TV from that era, you'll probably cringe in places.

I had read that most but not all episodes had monkeyed-with soundtracks, with the pilot standing out as one that was intact. So I picked another title at random, hit play, and started fast-forwarding through looking for musical cues. Turns out "Countdown" wasn't loaded with a lot of tunes, but within a minute or so, I saw Bub getting sprayed in the face with a stream of water from a washing machine. Naturally, I had to see this. So I backed it up, watched the scene unfold, and--bam--when the water hits, the hilarious moment is accompanied by a grossly modern-sounding tuba blast.

Maybe that tuba would have been apt had Frank Cannon been washing his clothes, but here it seemed modern and jarring. I went online to confirm my suspicion and found that, yes, the original orchestra sting had been dubbed over.

After starting the episode over and watching it from the beginning like a normal person, I put on another one, and almost right away, I heard the blatantly contemporary new underscore as it wrecked the whole mood. Yep, I almost hoped I wouldn't notice the replacement music--I wouldn't have bought the DVD, but I could have enjoyed renting it--but it really is a travesty.

What a shame that is, because the show itself holds up pretty well. It's not a belly-laugh kind of sitcom, but if you appreciate it as the gentle family show it is and not compare it to the adult-oriented TV comedies of the day, "My Three Sons" is pretty good. "Countdown" paralleled the family getting ready for work and school with the televised film of a rocket launch Chip watches. It's not subtle, but it's a clever approach and well executed. It shows that there is some room for creativity within the basic series framework.

Fred MacMurray arranged for as many of his scenes as possible to be filmed at the same time so as to minimize his time on the set, but his bemused, laid-back manner is perfect and looks natural in the finished product. Then, of course, there's the great William Frawley, who ensures there is something cool in every episode just by showing up. Whether he's griping, meddling, or singing an old drinking ditty, Bub always provokes at least a chuckle.

This long-running sitcom deserves a better DVD release than Paramount is giving it. The show itself is fun, but the music replacement, lack of extras, and the exorbitant price for a limited number of episodes make it difficult to recommend that even die-hard fans buy Season 1 Volume 1.

Oh, and one more note: Ken Tucker in "Entertainment Weekly" gave this set a nice blurb, but, even given his space limitations, couldn't he have mentioned the music replacement? It's sad that we can't even rely on a major media outlet like "EW" to raise flags when a DVD release butchers a popular show.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Wonderful World of TCM: Fools for Scandal (1938) and Ralph Bellamy

Turner Classic aired this 1938 Mervin LeRoy film as part of its October salute to Carole Lombard. It's a breezy, somewhat pedestrian romantic comedy, with the standard mistaken identity, squabbling between lovers, etc. Lombard certainly deserves Star of the Month treatment, and she is always fun to watch. Fans of that type of movie and/or that era of filmmaking will enjoy it.

I enjoyed it myself, but something about it bugged me--still bugs me, in fact, a week or so later. I think I'm finally tired of seeing--spoiler alert if you've never seen a Ralph Bellamy movie--Ralph Bellamy get screwed over.

See, Bellamy is in seemingly dozens of these kinds of movies ("His Girl Friday," "The Awful Truth," who knows how many more), generally playing a swell fellow who has a thing for the lead actress, thinks he has her in the bag, then winds up holding the bag while someone like Cary Grant walks off with her.

It's no surprise to see this happen in "Fools for Scandal." Even Leonard Maltin's "Movie Guide" devotes some of the meager space in its capsule description to saying, "Bellamy plays the sap again." Only this time, he loses out to Fernand Gravet. Fernand Gravet! Now, being bested in romance by the likes of Cary Grant is one thing; no man can reasonably argue that decision. But Fernand Gravet?

Poor Ralph Bellamy gets stuck playing the lifeless stiff; the sensible, decent sort who good gals are told they should marry. What's wrong with this kind of man? Absolutely nothing, but because the movies are the movies, this character is basically a villain, and audiences root for the heroine to run off with the free-spirited, funnier, Cary Grant-ier gent.

For some reason, seeing this happen again in "Fools for Scandal" just triggered a reaction in me. I felt more than sorry for ol' Ralph. I felt kind of angry. It's not his fault he doesn't have a charming (possibly fake) Euro accent. What's so bad about being solid? I don't think I want to see Ralph Bellamy get the shaft any more.

Fortunately, I have a few episodes of "Man Against Crime" AKA "Follow that Man" in my collection. In that early-fifties TV show, Bellamy is Mike Barnett, a rough-edged P.I. who doesn't have to worry about getting stranded in his tux like a fool while some dame runs off with a dandy. Most importantly, there's a good chance that in any given episode, Bellamy will get to punch someone's lights out. That makes me feel better.

So, yeah, "Fools for Scandal" is OK, but I think I'm gonna watch some "Man Against Crime" now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

DVD I'd like to see: "Cheers Bar Wars"

I normally don't have any interest in those themed compilations of TV show episodes; they're usually overpriced, and besides, if I like the show enough to purchase multiple episodes, I'd probably rather just get season sets. However, as Halloween approaches, I can't help but wish Paramount would put together a package of the "Bar Wars" episodes from "Cheers." After all, one of the best of these installments was a Halloween-themed show that led to the apparent death from fright of Sam's bitter rival Gary. Plus, several years ago, TV Land ran a marathon of these to celebrate the holiday. So, yeah, I'm in the mood to see these, and it would be great to be able to buy a disc of 'em for 10 bucks or so.

I have a few of the "Cheers" season sets already and plan to keep buying them...eventually...but as that marathon proved, this is a case where you can enjoy similar-themed episodes in one or two sittings without getting bored. There was a great deal of variety in the "Bar Wars" saga. The wild one-upsmanship in the prank contests between Sam's gang and the Gary's Olde Towne Tavern crew made for some of the best episodes and moments ever. I'm talking Kevin McHale, Harry the Hat, the Bloody Mary recipe, and all the great elements that made this set of episodes one of the best "series within a series" in TV history.

BTW, former "Cheers" scribe Ken Levine posted a "Bar Wars FAQ" a few years ago on his excellent blog. It's a must read--this post and the blog, for that matter--for fans of the show and especially these great episodes.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

This Week in DVD

Journey to the Center of the Earth: This DVD is allegedly in 3-D. Is it actual cool 3-D or lame, free glasses at 7-Eleven for some commercial gimmick 3-D? I sure don't know.

Guess I should try to find out that sort of thing before I post, huh?

Little Rascals Collection: It's a pleasant surprise to see this release show up in the Best Buy flyer this week. Everything I read indicates this collection of 80 "Our Gang" shorts is the real deal.

UPDATE: Since I first wrote this, I have read discussion at the Home Theater Forum of quality-control issues and inferior prints on some of the shorts. The set seems like a good value overall still, but it's apparently not the dream package many fans anticipated.

You know, Turner Classic Movies makes admirable efforts to introduce kids to classic movies, including a regular Essentials for Kids showcase and the departed "Cartoon Alley" series. I think they run the MGM Rascals shorts every now and then. Bu I'd like to see them put these earlier editions in a regular timeslot each Saturday or Sunday morning, along with some cartoons and maybe a comedy movie like a Bowery Boys flick or one starring Abbott and Costello. Hey, speaking of them...

Abbott and Costello "Will Play in Your Players Without Freezing" Collection: Er, also known as "The Complete Universal Pictures Collection." To stick daggers in the hearts of loyal A&C fans who bought the franchise collections, Universal sweetens the pot by putting everything on single-sided discs, a book (an excellent one, I might add), and the long-unavailable and previously unreleased "It Ain't Hay." Well, it ain't for me, as I already own most of the movies, and I own the book to boot. Not worth a double dip for me. And don't tell me, like so many wags on the Internet tell those who bemoan these kinds of upgrades that are done without compensation for those who bought the first releases, that I should "Just sell the originals on Ebay." Why should I have to go through the trouble of doing that? Let Universal pay me for them, I'll buy this new set, and then THEY can sell them on Ebay.

Mystery Science Theater 3000: 4 new-to-DVD episodes arrive as the franchise moves from Rhino to Shout. This can only be a good thing, as Rhino seems to have lost its interest in the business and Shout can put out a great product when it wants to.

Donna Reed Show Season 1: Thankfully, someone besides Sony owns the rights to this old-school family sitcom; otherwise who knows when we'd see it? I don't remember this as a particular favorite of mine on Nick at Nite, but I was young and stupid then. I'd like to at least take a look at the show now. Are these uncut episodes with original music? Well, reviews are trickling out, but unfortunately, we'll probably have to wait till the hardcore fans get their copies and report back. After all, if Ken Tucker can't be bothered to report on the music alterations on "My Three Sons" in 'Entertainment Weekly," how can we expect other reviewers to be on the ball with "Donna Reed"?

Monday, October 27, 2008

5Q Movie Review: Bee Movie

Q: Is this basically a collection of bad "bee" puns?
A: I was afraid of that, too, especially considering the title, and even the beginning of the movie makes you think the screenplay is going to put "The Flintstones" to shame with its puns--and that it will be like that for the whole movie. It soon settles down, though, and becomes less about that and more about some of the weirder plot elements.

Q: Weirder plot elements? Hey, isn't this a kids' movie?
A: Well, yes, it is, unfortunately. I'm just speculating here, but "Bee Movie" plays like a mostly unsuccessful clash between the kind of off-kilter sensibility Jerry Seinfeld brought to his often-surreal sitcom and the kind of corporate sensibility that steps in and says, "Hey, we ARE making a movie for families (i.e. kids) here."

Bee-human romance? Class-action interspecies lawsuits? There are certainly some offbeat elements here, but they fade in the face of simpler kid-friendly messages about conformity and finding your niche in life.

Q: Is Chris Rock as funny in animated form as he is in live action?
A: Well, don't forget he's also in "Madagascar." Actually, do forget that dull flick. Rock has one of those great voices that can inspire laughter on its own. The problem is, while the marketing indicates (at least to me) that the comedian has a significant role in this film, he's really just a bit player. In reality, Seinfeld's sidekick is voiced by Matthew Broderick.

Talk about a bait and switch! Expecting Chris Rock and getting Matthew Broderick is like ordering a porterhouse steak and getting a Sloppy Joe.

Q: Is the animation impressive?
A: In a word, no. Well, it's not bad-looking. But since CGI animation has become so commonplace, it takes a little more to stand out, and "Bee Movie" squanders some opportunities. Perhaps it's because the story soon moves on from this theme, but I expected more dazzling visuals as Seinfeld's Barry explores the outside world after leaving his bee community. There are some flying scenes and some "gee whiz, this is fun," type stuff, but not enough, and nothing that makes you really take notice.

Q: Well, gee, is "Bee Movie" just a total waste of time, then?
A: Well, while I see it as an unsuccessful attempt to marry Jerry's humor with the kind of blockbuster aimed at kids, it has its moments. John Goodman is hilarious as a bombastic Southern-fried lawyer. The movie is pleasant and amusing. It might not have been worth full ticket price, but as a cheap rental or a diversion on TV, it's fine--particularly now that we can distance ourselves from the ubiquitous marketing campaign.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

This Week in DVD

Incredible Hulk: Finally, on DVD, relive the biggest battle to hit screens this summer: No, not Hulk vs. Abomination--Edward Norton vs. the producers.

Warner Gangsters Volume 4: Now, I know the films featured here have their own fervent fans, and I do not mean to disparage them at all, but I think when we see "The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse" on DVD, it's safe to say WB is getting into the second-tier of its gangster pictures now. I think it's also safe to say...who cares? Every Bogart movie should be on DVD, and the Edward Robinsons are always welcome, too.

Besides, let's face it, they could take 5 absolute stinkers from the 30s and 40s, call it "Warner Absolute Crap Collection," and if they packaged it like these sets, it would still look damn good at Costco.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection Volume 6: It's a shame that this release marks the end of this great series. On the other hand, maybe it'll give me a chance to get caught up. WB did an excellent job with these box sets of classic toons, and though we've been assured that Looney Tunes will continue on DVD in some form, we still don't know what form that is. Hopefully it's something loyal fans can appreciate.

Sold Out: A Threevening with Kevin Smith: You know the deal with these "concerts." Smith takes questions from worshipful audiences, somehow managing to seem both above and below his fans with a potent bled of exaggerated self-deprecation and edgy sarcasm. You can always play along and count the number of actual dick jokes vs. the number of times Smith mocks himself for making dick jokes. And, oh, yeah, it goes on for about 10 hours. Don't get me wrong, though; these DVDs are always entertaining, and this one will be a must-rent.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Clark Kent was Bluto Blutarsky before Bluto was cool

Apologies for the scan quality here, but I'm still figuring out my scanner, and the darned Showcase Presents books make it difficult to get the inside panels on a page. But I wanted to point this one out, a gem from the classic tale originally presented in Superman #129 (cover dated May 1959, reprinted in Showcase Presents: Superman Volume 1).

Check out this wild "fraternity initiation" at Metropolis University: Clark must endure the humiliating, dangerous, and potentially soul-draining rush activity known as...reading! And not just any reading, but indoor reading!

I never pledged, myself, but I was close with enough people who did to raise an eyebrow at the lowbrow hijinks of "Eye Amma Dorka." Don't these crazy kids know that curling up in front of a roaring fire, or gazing contemplatively out the window, is liable to summon The Man? These hellions are risking the freedom of the whole Greek system at Met U. with their hard-partying ways!

When I saw this panel, I hoped that since Clark looks about 35 years old in this story, he would suddenly assert his maturity, put his foot down, and demand that his frat break it up, already. Unfortunately, poor Kent is so besotted with Lori Lemaris that he can only go along for the ride, not only encouraging but actively participating in this raucous fraternity initiation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Cultureshark Cares: We are all Rays

Ladies and gentlemen, let me take time to address a serious issue. The World Series opens tonight, with the Tampa Bay Rays hosting the Philadelphia Phillies. Regardless of your normal baseball rooting interest, I hope you'll join me in supporting the Rays.

Just think how insufferable Philadelphia sports fans are. Now imagine them with a world championship to brag about.

For the good of baseball, for the good of sport, for the good of America, Tampa Bay must win this series. I ask you to pool your karmic energy to help this happen.

Remember that right now, we are ALL Tampa Bay Rays.

Cultureshark cares.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Brooks on Books: The Forgotten Network: Dumont and the Birth of American Television by David Weinstein

I don't know exactly why I think the long-defunct Dumont Network is so cool. Maybe it's just my general bias toward things that are old, black-and-white, and at least somewhat forgotten. Yet I'm not alone, as it seems there is a small but strong cult which appreciates and remembers Dumont. In this great book, David Weinstein draws on interviews, personal research, and a variety of valuable source material to relate the network's history. Along the way, he makes a strong case for its significant legacy and its role in the creation of modern television.

Dumont gave us personalities like Ernie Kovacs, Jackie Gleason, and Morey Amsterdam; programming innovations like daytime schedules geared towards stay-at-home moms and housewives; and production techniques like the first-person perspective camerawork of "The Plainclothes Man." Weinstein shows that the influence of the network goes far beyond what one might expect given that it went belly-up in 1955.

In the first quarter or so of the book, he explains the troubled business history of Allen Du Mont's creation. Du Mont was a scientist, not a businessman, and he created the TV programming end primarily to support the TV manufacturing part. When he was forced to sell part of the company to Paramount, it was the beginning of the end, as the studio didn't give Dumont the network the support it needed to compete. Television was much different back then, and lining up affiliates was a difficult process.

I enjoyed this history of the biz, and Weinstein includes many fascinating details about the practices of early TV, such as local stations picking and choosing programs to air from multiple nets. Yet I must admit that part of me was anxious to "get through" it so I could read about what really interested me: the programming.

Indeed, the last 75% or so of "The Forgotten Network" tells us about the rich variety of programming aired on Dumont in its brief history. Weinstein tells the story of a different genre or star in each chapter, covering everything from Captain Video to Bishop Fulton Sheen. This is where the book becomes not just well written and researched but flat-out fun. The author analyzes programs in depth without lapsing into rote plot summaries; he is adept at explaining the appeal and influence of a particular show in an entertaining fashion.

One of the best things about reading this 2004 book in 2008 is that since its publication, many of the shows discussed have been either released on DVD or uploaded to an Internet site. Weinstein actually had to work a bit to get access to some of this stuff, but we can see some of it on our laptop with a few clicks. For example, after reading the fascinating chapter on Dennis James' sometimes bizarre "OK, Mother," I found the very episode Weinstein saw on the Internet Archive.

Seeing that installment made me appreciate Weinstein's writing even more, as his observations were insightful and relevant. In fact, the (hopefully) increasing availability of Dumont programming should only make this fine book even more valuable, as viewers can seek out history and context; similarly, readers of "The Forgotten Network"can see samples for themselves.

Only one thing is missing here. I do wish Weinstein had addressed the oft-told tale that much of the Dumont kinescope archive was thoughtlessly thrown away. It's a shame that so much history was tossed out like that, but thankfully this book puts much of that legacy back together.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Introducing the Half-Assed Gourmet

Welcome to the Half-Assed Gourmet, a new regular feature in which I take you into the world of what passes for cuisine at Cultureshark Tower, or at least in the takeout/delivery radius surrounding Cultureshark Tower.

I'll also cover restaurants, usually of the chain variety, and every now and then, maybe I'll make a meal or two and report back on it. That's right, I'll discuss the best in pre-packed, frozen, and/or microwaveable chow.

Let me relate some of the precepts on which the Half-Assed Gourmet is based--a manifesto, if you will.

*Frozen food may not be tastier or healthier, but it's usually a hell of a lot easier.

*Those fancy meals prepared by those TV chefs? Look great, but who has time?

*Fresh ingredients are the best, but it's a pain to go to the store every day. And then, the ingredients, like, go bad and stuff.

*Cooking for one can make you question whether it's worth the effort. My wife and I are normally on completely different schedules, so I am always dealing with these kinds of issues.

*Sound lazy? Yeah, maybe. But I prefer "Half-Assed."

*When it comes down to it, sometimes nothing beats a good restaurant experience.

*Yes, "good restaurant experience" can include the Olive Garden. I don't personally like Olive Garden all that much, but there's nothing wrong with places like that. So cut us chain neighborhood-casual-style restaurant goers some slack, you food snobs!

So watch this space for the kind of keen culinary insight you'll only get from a Half-Assed--nay, from THE Half-Assed Gourmet.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cultureshark Remembers Levi Stubbs

Boy, this one hurts: Levi Stubbs, lead singer of the Four Tops, passed away at 72, and though he is gone now after being in failing health for a few years, there is no doubt that his music is immortal.

The Four Tops is the group that got me into the wonderful world of Motown Records. Specifically, the song "Reach Out (I'll Be There)", though probably not the first Motown tune I ever heard, was the one that made me notice. It introduced me not just to artists like the Tops, Temps, Smokey, etc; but to soul music itself and to the concept of sad songs making you feel good.

No record combines despair and hope like "Reach Out," and it's all there in Stubbs' vocals. OK, maybe I'M reaching here, and the lyrics certainly tell the story, but if it is at all possible to distill into a man's voice the concept of reaching into the abyss and extending an arm to pull up a woman from the darkness at the very last minute, it's there in the way he sings "Reach Out." In fact, he does it in one word when, just before the whole group comes in with the "Reach Out" chorus, he pleads, "Darling..."

Just the longing in his delivery of that single word gives you the essence of what that number and what the Four Tops are about--an urgency, a desperation to love and to be loved. If I needed to describe Levi Stubbs' vocals in one word, it would be "yearning."

It's a cliche to say you get chills while hearing a piece of music, but I do each time I listen to "Ask the Lonely." The end of the song tears my heart out.

Group: Just ask the lonely

Levi: Just ask the lonely

Then, alone, he takes it to another level:

Ask ME
I'm the loneliest one you'll see

His searing voice chokes me up, all right, but, man, it's one of those "feels so good to feel so sad" moments that great music can provide.

Stubbs was perhaps best at the end of songs, when his yearning grew even more palpable as he belted out improvised-sounding lines while the music climaxed around him. But he often brought that same effect throughout the whole recording. Take "Bernadette," in which the singer apparently has the girl already and is expressing his gratitude and pride. But he's also warning her about other men, with less honorable intentions, who want to control her, not just love her and appreciate her. You can't hear Stubbs go...

I'll tell the world

You belong to me

I'll tell the world

You're the soul of me

I'll tell the world

You're a part of me

without thinking, whoa, this guy may not be so secure and content after all. Stubbs reminds us that passion can make a man desperate not just to get love, but to keep it. Even more moving is the way he gets down on his hands and knees at the end:

So whatever you do, Bernadette,

Keep on loving me


Keep on needing me


But it wasn't all "doom and gloom" (though "A Cellarful of Motown" provides a great lesser-known treat with "7 Rooms of Gloom") with the Tops. There's "Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch," of course, but right now, go back to "Reach Out" and enjoy the way they sing those two words, then marvel at Stubbs begging, "Reach out for ME." Then, with a simple but forceful, "HAH," he turns the whole song around. The guys come in and promise, "I'll be there," and from the darkness comes assurance that everything's gonna be OK. The song itself is suddenly optimistic, cheerful, even exhilarating.

What a fantastic range of emotion in just one 3-minute single. It's no wonder that it's arguably the group's most celebrated work. I don't mean to slight the essential contributions of the other singers, nor of the amazing studio musicians and songwriters who crafted this incredible music, but I wouldn't feel the same impact without the singing of the incomparable Levi Stubbs. He'll always be one of my absolute favorites of all time.

TBS: Still not ready for prime time?

Because of a power outage in Atlanta last night, TBS started its coverage of the key game 6 of the American League Championship series about a half-hour and an inning late. This begs several questions:

*Hasn't anyone at Turner Sports heard of a generator?
*How in the world could Major League Baseball have let a game this big go untelevised for so long?

You'd think that with the tail wagging the dog as much as it is with TV and baseball these days, someone would have thought, "Hey, maybe we should delay the game until the problem is resolved." Yet this high-profile elimination game started as planned, and viewers hoping to see it instead "enjoyed" a scroll apologizing for "technical difficulties" while TBS rolled out bloopers and Steve Harvey.

TBS is a national service with years of experience delivering professional sports and other live events. It just amazes me that something like this could happen. If I were a Red Sox or Rays fans, I'd be incensed, especially if I didn't have web or radio access to the game. Even those of us who are just plain baseball fans should be worried about the increasing role TBS is playing in MLB's postseason. Talk about unreliable.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

A Non-political comment about a political figure

I realize Barack Obama is trying to win an election here, but I don't think it's cool that he's buying TV airtime during the World Series, causing Fox to bump October 29's Game 6 (if necessary) a half-hour later. For one thing, the games start late enough as it is; and for another, I don't like the idea of the World Series being bumped for anything besides a national catastrophe (and I don't mean another episode of Fox's "Do Not Disturb").

Couldn't he have picked an off night? I guess I'm one of the stubborn, grizzled few who still bother to take umbrage at the influence television has on sporting events.

Since I don't want to get all political here on Cultureshark (unless "I GO POGO" counts), let me say something kind of negative but non-political about John McCain. You ever notice how, no matter how hard you try, you just can't get McCain french fries to get all that crisp without burning them? The instructions on the bag make it seem like you can cook them under 20 minutes, but invariably, they never get good and tasty by that time. Matter of fact, they never get good and tasty at all.

I buy them every so often because they're on sale for about half the cost of Ore-Ida, but there's a reason for that: they're about half as yummy. They may be a notch above store brand, but I keep telling myself I'd be better off with Ore-Ida fries, which cook consistently and get crisp and brown. Unfortunately, I always tell myself that AFTER another unsuccessful batch.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Wheeler and Wollsey: "Hold 'Em Jail" (1932)

Yesterday, I wrote about the love my dad and I have for the comedy team of Wheeler and Woolsey. Unfortunately, we didn't see their "Hold 'Em Jail" (1932) together, but I wish we had. I think even my wife and my mother might have found some chuckles because it's a really good one, possibly the best one I've seen yet.

Before seeing it, I couldn't help but think of the Marx Brothers classic "Horsefeathers" because it was shown as part of a daylong college football theme on TCM. I feared it would fall wayyyy short of that standard. Even that title, "Hold 'Em Jail," sounds pathetically illiterate, a sad reminder of where The Boys fall in the pantheon of movie comedy teams. "Hold 'Em Jail" sounds cheap, crude, maybe a little forced, doesn't it?

After seeing it--dare I say it--I think it stacks up quite favorably to "Horsefeathers." It ain't quite that good, mind you, but it's a very funny movie that reminds me how good The Boys can be--as well as what is great about the best efforts of the Marxes.

Bear with me here. 'Hold 'Em Jail," unlike many other W&W vehicles, does not slow the action down with sappy musical numbers. Unlike many other W&W movies, it doesn't treat the plot (particularly the romantic subplot) as anything more than an excuse for zaniness. The Boys are mostly free to be silly and annoy people, and that's when they are at their best.

Remind you of anyone? Think how good the old Paramount Marx Brothers movie were, how flat-out crazy and hilarious they were before Irving Thalberg got hold of them and gave them PLOTS and MUSICAL NUMBERS and molded their screen personas into SYMPATHETIC PEOPLE. Not that "A Night at the Opera" and "A Day at the Races" aren't great movies, but they're just not in the pantheon that includes "Duck Soup," "Horsefeathers," and "Monkey Business"--wild movies that focused on getting laughs (imagine that).

Getting back to "Hold 'Em Jail," though, it builds to a long climactic football game that is packed with gags, many of which probably appeared in other films before and after. It's a great sequence, and one that actually stacks up pretty well with the similar routines in "Horsefeathers." There are both expected and unexpected jokes, along with good pacing and an effective variety to the comic business in the big game. One of the best gags illustrates the madcap tone of the whole movie, as Bert Wheeler, with chloroform in his back pocket (today's movies don't use chloroform as a comedy device nearly enough), crawling up the line of scrimmage with his butt in the air, causing players to keel over as they get a whiff!

There's also the great Edgar Kennedy, who of course stands out in "Duck Soup" and therefore reminds you of the Marxes in this picture. As the jail's warden, he puts his patented exasperated reactions to good use in his scenes with zany new inmates Wheeler and Woolsey. Bob has some good interplay with Edna May Oliver, and their scenes remind me of the Groucho-Margaret Dumont teaming. There's all this and a young Betty Grable, too, as Bert's love interest. The supporting characters get room to score points, but once The Boys get going in the picture, they are never on the sidelines too long.

Here, as in many W&W vehicles, some of the humor comes from puns, some of them groaners. Of course, the Marx Brothers get away with that sort of thing because they're the freaking Marxes, but if you just looked at the words on a page, a lot of the lines that Wheeler and Woolsey deliver in their movies aren't all that different. For some reason, though, they often appear to die on the screen, whereas if Groucho says it, there might be a much different reaction. Really, though, when it comes down to it, are these comedy teams really all that different?

Well, yes, they are. I'm not saying The Boys are the equal of the Marx Brothers, but "Hold 'Em Jail" at least puts them in the same league, if distant runners-up, and makes me wish they had made more films this good. They didn't have to "be" Groucho, Chico, and Harpo (which would have been difficult, considering there were only two of them) to make fine comedies that hold up today.

I wrote yesterday that many W&W flicks have surreal moments of misfiring comedy, and indeed that's what makes watching them such a kick on one level. But there's another level in "Hold 'Em Jail," and at times in other movies, of legitimate comedy that works. This particular film is an example of Wheeler and Woolsey at their best, proof that they're a top-rate screen comedy team when given the right ingredients.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Wheeler and Woolsey: The Boys

Ivan's post at TDOY about Wheeler and Woolsey a few weeks ago reminded me that it's been a while since I saw their "Hold 'Em Jail," and I've been meaning to write a few words about that little picture. I intend to do that tomorrow, but first a few words about Wheeler and Woolsey.

My dad and I have a complex relationship with "The Boys," as we recently started calling them. We figure Laurel and Hardy needn't be the only comedy team with that appellation. Anyway, it started a few years back when we watched one of their flicks on Turner Classic Movies. There was an oddball appeal about them that struck us--Bert Wheeler with his singing AND his sing-songy speaking voice, Robert Woolsey with his ever-present cigar. Maybe most importantly, they weren't always all that funny. We love watching old movies, even when they make us wonder what the hell is going on--sometimes ESPECIALLY when we wonder what the hell is going on--and no one gives us more "What the..." moments than these two guys.

Punchlines that don't go anywhere, situations that make no sense--it adds up to a surreal viewing experience at times, especially when you're watching them after midnight. Some of their material just hasn't aged well, perhaps, but much of it probably wasn't all that ripe at the time, either--or at least not on the big screen, as opposed to the Vaudeville stage.

Sure, our enjoyment is on some level ironic, but The Boys often provide genuinely funny moments, and besides, we have a genuine affection for old-timey comic conventions and cliches, and that's a big part of what makes these movies so much fun. We still make sure to remind each other whenever one of their films is run. Fortunately, TCM, despite not ever really hyping them with a festival or anything--not that I remember since I've had the network, at least--has to have shown a dozen or so different ones since we started seeking them out

We've managed to clear many a room by screening one of their movies, as the womenfolk in the family just don't "get" The Boys. Moreover, they don't get what WE get about them, since we appear to be mocking them on occasion. It's unexplainable. Either you appreciate them, or you don't.

Some of their movies are pretty lame, but some of them are legitimately solid comedy flicks. Discovering which ones fall into which category is a great shared experience. Sometimes from scene to scene, it can change. It doesn't get much better than sitting down late at night after everyone else is in bed, cranking up a W&W movie on the DVR, and proceeding to do all of the following: Laugh, repeat Woolsey's catchphrase, "WHOA-oh!" and sometimes just look at each other and go, "What was THAT supposed to mean?" Good times. Good times.

Tomorrow, I'll talk about "Hold 'Em Jail," possibly the best W&W movie I've seen yet, one that can be enjoyed on just about any level.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

This Week in DVD

Indiana Jones and the Final Cashgrab: I haven't seen this one yet, and I'm not so sure I'm ready to, either, after seeing "South Park's" interpretation of what George Lucas and Steven Spielberg did to the franchise.

The New World Extended Edition: I haven't seen this or the regular edition, but I can't help but chuckle that no matter how long a Terrence Malick film is, there's always a longer version somewhere around the corner.

NFL Greatest Games: Steelers Super Bowls: You might be thinking, "OK, yes, we know the Steelers are the awesomest franchise in NFL history, but I don't want to buy the highlight packages that have been shown thousands of times." Ah, but this is NOT a set of those Super Bowl films; it's a collection of the full broadcasts! Sounds cool, and I'm sure it is, but buyer beware: some customer reviews on Amazon criticize the picture quality.

WWE Hell in a Cell: In case you don't know what a "Hell in the Cell" match is, it's kind of like a steel cage match, only bloodier, more barbaric, and more dangerous. In other words, a great DVD to buy now and save for when the kids come over for the holidays.

Should you watch: Testees, Kath and Kim

No, no, no. Don't watch either of these. Sometimes I'll take a bad show and try to get cute with some circumstances in which you should watch it, but other times, I can only warn you away. Pretending otherwise is just too difficult.

OK, maybe you loved the original Australian version of "Kath and Kim" and you feel you simply must see NBC's remake. In that case, go ahead. I didn't laugh one time during the half-hour premiere, and I'm not entirely sure where I was supposed to laugh. The title characters are played by Molly Shannon and Selma Blair, and while I'm sure they're trying, I'm not fond of either performer, and they don't seem to be bringing much to the table here.

I think that we're supposed to see this show as a satire of American culture because the ladies make comments about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie or stuff like that. Oh, and talented veteran of Chris Guest movies John Michael Higgins is here as Shannon's boyfriend, but he has nothing to do, either. From what I gather, we're supposed to laugh at him because he...really, really loves Shannon's character. Yeah, I don't get it, either.

I didn't see the Aussie edition, but I already like it better after seeing the American copy. In fact, I think more of just about every other TV show on right now after seeing this witless, lame "comedy."

Every show except "Testees" on FX, a sitcom about two guys who work as test subjects for drugs. If you didn't snicker at the title, that's fine--I'm not judging here--but in no way should you watch the actual show. It's rude, crude, and socially unacceptable--not a dealbreaker for me, really, but the problem is what it ISN'T--funny.

I delayed writing this post almost a week to see if I could expunge from my brain some of the images from the first episode. I'm talking about a man lactating, a guy peeing, and a fat dude dressed up (barely) like an infant. I don't even think these were the worst ones.

"Edgy" comedy doesn't scare me away. Before "Testees," I watched an episode of "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" which was about poop. Literally, it was about poop. It offered bad language and shady characters, but it made me laugh many times. That's approximately, well, MANY times more than I laughed during the appalling "Testees."

To summarize: No, you should not watch either of these sitcoms.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Should You Watch: The Tony Rock Project

Maybe I should ask CAN you watch this new sketch-comedy series, since it airs on My Network TV, an outlet whose buzz level currently falls somewhere between pro darts and Dom DeLuise.

But just in case you do have a MyTV affiliate in your area--and you can find it on your TV--let me share my experience of watching the debut episode. What follows is a list of the things that I learned from that premiere:

*Prince is a bit eccentric.
*It's funny when people of different ethnic backgrounds dance to music not traditionally associated with their own ethnicity.
*Cops sometimes pull over African-Americans without just cause.
*Guys use cheesy pickup lines.
*Gary Coleman has a temper.
*It's funny when white chicks try to "talk black" and/or "act black."

So, then, let me review what I learned so far from "The Tony Rock Project." I learned...ABSOLUTELY NOTHING because this unoriginal show offers nothing we haven't seen before--possibly decades before--and funnier.

You should watch "The Tony Rock Project" if:

*You can't afford HBO, which shows big brother Chris' specials, but you have to get your Rock fix somehow.
*You're too busy Friday nights to watch "Everybody Hates Chris," but you have to get your Rock fix somehow.
*You've never seen "The Rundown," "Game Plan", or WWE television from about 1996-2003, but you have to get your Rock fix--you get the idea.
*You've never seen "In Living Color," "Saturday Night Live," or any standup comedy routine from the last 30 years.
*You believe the absence of "Chapelle's Show" leaves a void too great in the Mocking Prince media slot.

As for me, I don't think I'll watch the second episode this Wednesday, but I'm almost curious to see if this groundbreaking program tackles such hot-button issues as rap videos with women in skimpy clothes or the quirks of Michael Jackson.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Brooks on Books: Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball

Ed Delahanty was an outstanding hitter and renowned baseball superstar in the late 19th century. Despite his exploits on the diamond, including a .346 lifetime batting average and other accomplishments which earned him Hall of Fame membership, he is perhaps best known today for the tragic end of his career, which came when he fell over Niagara Falls under mysterious circumstances. The Baseball Project's recent album, which I discussed yesterday, bases a whole song on this infamous death, and when I first heard it, I figured the artists had got just about all the known details in there. I was inspired to read Jerrold Casway's bio, though, and learn more.

The biography is a fine work for hardcore baseball followers interested in the era, but perhaps a little too dry for casual fans. Casway's book is a straightforward account of Delahanty's life, and though it's ghoulish of me to admit this, I was anxious to get to his death. Casway builds up to it, but when it is time to describe the fateful event, it comes as a bit of anticlimax and not necessarily worthy of the significant (if low-key) foreshadowing. The author almost treats the the numerous contract jumping that Delahanty did as the biggest tragedy in the player's life; to be fair, he does make a strong case that the business aspects of baseball helped contribute to his untimely demise, so maybe he has a good point. But let's face it: Superstar athlete falling to his death=much more interesting than contract disputes and the changing influence of player unions.

Some of that is quite compelling stuff, like how and why the American League was created. The fact that Delahanty jumped leagues several times and broke or attempted to break multiple contracts also makes for some good material and clearly was a big part of his life. But this book is devoid of color--ironic for a volume with its title and a snazzy-looking green cover. Much of the book feels like summaries of Big Ed's seasons without much spark.

There are a few incidents that could use some more elaboration, such as an intriguing tale on page 182 of Delahanty, in his role as captain (much like an on-field manager) trying to earn a cheap win by stalling so that darkness could come and force the umpire to call the game. It stands out as a perfect example of Casway's assertion that the player was sometimes called out for his tactics. Unfortunately, the account is only a few paragraphs, and we're told that Delahanty "never commented on the incident."

Now, I realize we're talking about a guy who played over a century ago, and primary sources might be scarce and secondary ones unreliable, but still, I never got a good sense of what this man--as opposed to just the player--was all about. He's cultured enough to love theater, we're told without much elaboration. His family life is largely a mystery. His drinking, which probably leads to his ultimate demise, develops suddenly, making him an unreliable teammate and a threat to himself. It just seems to happen, and though a simple "explanation" might be trite (insert Irish stereotype joke at any time), more explanation would have fleshed out the book. Is it guilt over his contract jumping? Stress over a professional athlete's career? While Casway packs a lot of baseball history in one biography, I would have liked some more anecdotes about Del himself.

Causway is ambitious enough to want to place Delahanty in a larger context, that of an early version of the sport which was in many ways dominated by ethnic Irish. This is an intriguing idea, but for me, too often the Irish presence in the book consists of a list of contemporary players or union leaders who shared that background, and I don't think the premise of an Emerald Age is really proven.

That's a lot of negative-sounding talk for a decent book. "Ed Delahanty in the Emerald Age of Baseball" is well researched and is likely as definitive account of the player's life that we can get, integrating material from family letters, newspapers of the times, and other valuable sources, but I do think that a little more vitality would have made the book go a lot more quickly. As it is, it took me a while to really get into it, and I can't recommend it except to those who would be inclined to pick up a biography of a 19th-century baseballer anyway.

Casway's take on the death is reasonable, but he kind of undersells his conclusion of an accidental fall caused by inebriation. Perhaps it's an academic detachment at work, but even this sensationalistic topic doesn't stir the writing much, even though it's still a mystery with some intriguing angles. This closing chapter would have been a great chance to make Delahanty's tale come alive, but that doesn't quite happen.

Instead, it's the subject matter that sustains interest. Plus Casway has done some excellent research and provided a clear narrative. If you enjoy the song on The Baseball Project album and want to learn more about the tragic Hall of Famer, you might want to exercise caution before plunging (sorry) into the whole thing. This is a solid baseball biography, just one that might be of limited appeal to casual fans.

YOU Make the Call: Sunday Matinee

Situation: Sunday afternoon, just after 1:00 P.M., you settle on the couch for an afternoon of football and maybe a little blogging. Your wife and her friends, who have been working in the garden, come inside, and minutes later, wifey tells you they want to watch a movie.

It's not just any movie, though, it's "Sex and the City: The Movie," which one of her friends brought over on DVD. And they want to watch it. Now. Downstairs. Where you have settled on the couch.

What would YOU do?

A) Stomp your foot and declare, "This TV will be showing FOOTBALL today!"

B) Beg and plead for your wife to have mercy on you and watch it some other time, preferably when you are miles away at work and not at risk for inadvertent exposure to the film.

C) Pack up your stuff and move to another room as quickly as possible, grinning all the while because now this means you don't have to waste a Netflix rental on it for the wife and risk a request to watch it with her.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The Baseball Project

Since I'm saying good-bye to summer this week, how about a word or two about a great baseball-themed album? "Volume 1: Frozen Ropes and Dying Quails" is a wonderful CD that will delight any hardcore baseball fan with a taste for unpretentious jangly rock. Before I say a few more nice things about "The Baseball Project," let me tip my fitted Pirates cap to my buddy Mike, who not only wrote a great analysis of this CD a while back, but he actually loaned me the disc so I could enjoy it myself. I'm only adding to what he wrote when I say this is a fun effort with great lyrics that reward baseballers with a love of the rich history and lore of the game.

These songs are often clever, often humorous, sometimes angry, but all use either a specific real-life player or situation as the foundation for a few minutes of solid musical storytelling. Make no mistake, this is not a novelty album, though the presence of the Spanish-language tribute to ex-Dodger pitcher Fernando Valenzuela might give you that idea. The track which features a list of all MLB pitchers credited with throwing an official perfect game seems a bit of a stretch, too, but it comes off as a sincere plea for official recognition for Harvey Haddix, who had the hard luck to take a perfecto into extra innings only to lose the game (Plus Harv was a Pirate at the time, so this song rules).

Even when the lyrics are so specific as to almost invite ridicule, they never veer into parody, and they are always grounded enough musically so as to remind listeners that they're enjoying an actual record, not a tossed-off ditty or two to be sung between innings at a rain delay, chuckled about, and then forgotten. While the words to songs about topics like the death of Hall of Famer Ed Delahanty and the legacy of pioneering challenger of the so-called "Reserve Clause" Curt Flood delighted and amused me with their rich detail, the melodies also stick in your head.

I was most surprised not by the fact that, for example, someone built a song around pitcher Jack McDowell flipping off the fans at Yankee Stadium, but by the fact that there are moments of real feeling and even poignancy on the album. In 2008, it's tough to say much that's new about how Jackie Robinson broke the color line in MLB, but the Project really moves me with the track "Jackie's Lament." It doesn't provide new details of the story, but it does offer a convincing attempt to capture the frustration Robinson must have felt at having to endure the abuse he received without public complaint. Here, and elsewhere on the album, the power of music gives new meaning to familiar sports lore.

I had two minor complaints with this CD on first listen, then subsequent playings alleviated or erased them. I thought at first the vocals often failed to do justice to the wonderful lyrics, with the emotional nuance of the songwriting not quite captured by the singing. I still believe this to some extent, but those vocals are growing on me.

Also, I briefly considered the idea that it's a shame that some of the tunes featured hardcore profanity (one is even titled "Ted F'n Williams," and I'm censoring one of those words) that might have prevented this from being a kid-friendly album that a father could listen to with his son, maybe with them discussing the stories told and doing a little more research together to learn more. Then I thought, why should baseball in pop culture have the burden of being kid friendly? This is an adult album, with mature themes, language, and subject matter, and I admire songwriters Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn for exploring the dark side of the game. They prove you can love baseball and still be fascinated by some of its less savory aspects, such as drug use, racism, and even death.

Can a casual fan, someone who may not have known the origin of the phrase "Ted F'n Williams" before listening to this CD, still enjoy this music? Well, I refer you again to Mike's review. I recognized most of the sometimes-arcane references and ate it all up. I hope the "Volume 1" means more is forthcoming from the Baseball Project.

Friday, October 10, 2008

This Week in DVD

Three Stooges Collection 4: Can Stooge fans finally accept that this is happening now? That all the shorts are coming to DVD uncut and in chronological order? Well, not quite. Sony is doing a great job of cranking these out, but we still have the Shemp years to get through (and, dare I say, beyond). Hopefully the company really is committed to putting all of it out there, not just the Curly years.

Sleeping Beauty Deluxe You're Gonna Feel Like a Moron If You Keep the Older Version Edition: I don't know, maybe this is just an excuse to get a Blu-Ray version out there, but that commercial about the "extra" picture supposedly seen in this edition confuses me. Wasn't the old DVD widescreen? Apparently this is super-widescreen. Whether that matters or not is for those wiser than I to determine; I'm sticking with my older version even if I risk feeling like a moron.

Touch of Evil 50th Anniversary Edition: Now, this is a treat, combining all approximately four dozen cuts of the Orson Welles classic in one nifty video package.

Al Hitchcock Legacy Editions: Souped-up reissues of pictures like "Rear Window" and "Psycho." Well, it's tough to complain, especially since these appear to be well done, but unlike, say "Touch of Evil," I already own "Rear Window" and the other Hitch films I really want.

A Charlie Brown Christmas We Just Acquired the Distribution Rights So We're Throwing Out Our Own Version Edition: I personally feel every family that celebrates the holiday--if not every family, period--ought to own a copy of this, but this presentation doesn't seem all that special. I've seen people suggest a broadcast-simulation version with original network IDs and commercials. Now, THAT I would buy in a heartbeat.

The Picture of Dorian Gray: Yet another edition of this movie, and this time I hope--wait. This is a classic movie that HASN'T already received a DVD release. Wow, what a rarity. Carry on, then.

The Smurfs Season 1 Volume 2: I only mention this one so I can ask the rhetorical question, why in the HELL does "The Smurfs" require a split-season release?

Feast 2: Whoa, someone let Gulager make another movie? Awesome, but I only wish there was another season of "Project Greenlight" to chronicle it. Matter of fact, I'd rather see just that.

True Confessions: My summer of (no) movies

So, you remember that whole Summer Crummy Movie Cavalcade thing, the project I hastily wrapped up the other day? The one in which I ripped on a bunch of movies?

Well, I have a confession to make. My credibility as an arbiter of the relative quality of summer movies may be somewhat lesser right now because, after all...

I didn't SEE any movies this summer. Not a single one. I didn't see any good ones, nor any bad ones, and not even any so-so ones. None at all!

This is the first summer in recent memory I haven't been to the theater. Oh, I see stuff on DVD and TV, of course, but since the birth of my wonderful baby girl about 6 months ago, I don't get out to the theater--or at all, really, at least not that much. I either don't have the time, the opportunity, or the energy these days. The Movie Theater has been replaced by Ah, Baby Went to Bed Theater at home.

I knew I was going to be hitting the multiplex less, but I HAD to see "Iron Man." Got to see that. Nope, it passed. Well, the new Indiana Jones movie was a must-see, right? Nope, missed that. OK, but the one movie I really, really wanted to see on the big screen was "The Dark Knight." Well, Mrs. Shark and I came close to seeing that one, but circumstances prevented it.

This isn't to say I'm blaming our daughter or anything. Heck, she might be doing me a favor. I was already tapering off my moviegoing habits for a variety of reasons, and the more I get out of the habit, the less money and time I spend at the theater. I do feel guilty about underserving you, the Cultureshark-reading public, though. I used to be a heavy moviegoer, seeing as many as 2 or 3 a week when I was rolling, but, not so much. Or at all. And I don't feel too badly about that as far as my life goes, but I feel kind of weird calling out so many movies for being crummy when I myself haven;t been actually going to see any of them.

NAHHHHH. Let's face it, a crummy movie is a crummy movie, and one need not actually see it to recognize it. But I just hope I get the chance to see a good one or two eventually to get a vivid reminder of the difference.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The producers of Gary Unmarried must love to gamble

I say this not because they built a sitcom around Jay Mohr, though that certainly seems like a risk. As Gary's ex-wife, the one with whom he will exchange comic banter throughout the series, they chose Paula Marshall.

Marshall is a talented actress and a lovely woman. I'm stunned to learn she's in her mid-forties, and I'm glad she's still getting high-profile work. She will forever have a legacy as part of "The Outing," one of the best "Seinfeld" episodes ever. I actually enjoyed her as a star of many shows in the past--all of which tanked. If anyone deserves the tag of "show killer," it would have to be her. I'm not saying it's her FAULT that "Chicago Sons," "Cupid," "Snoops," et cetera, failed. But doesn't that kind of track record give you pause?

I would think so. But the brain trust behind "Gary Unmarried" not only thrust her into a lead role, but it makes her character unlikable. At least based on one episode (hey, it was enough for me), I can only conclude that they are daring viewers to change the channel.

As much as I like Marshall, I have to say she doesn't exactly radiate warmth as an actress. So it's vital that she play a reasonably appealing character if she is to have a major role on a weekly sitcom, even if that character is supposed to be a foil. Unfortunately, Marshall does the following in the first episode alone:

*Demeans Gary
*Treats him like an idiot
*Complains a lot
*Acts generally shrill at best, cold and uncaring at worst
*Reveals that, after agreeing with Gary not to go into a relationship until everyone's on the same page, she has been secretly dating their marriage counselor
*That counselor she's been dating is played by Ed Begley

Combine those last two alone, and Gary has grounds for a hell of a lot more than divorce.

Despite all this, the show has aired several episodes, and, while I'm no People Meter, it appears it's doing rather well. I guess the producers have won their gamble, but it still seems to me they're taking a chance if they don't tone the character down a bit.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

End of the Crummy Movie Cavalcade

Summer is gone, and it's time to say good-bye to the Crummy Movie Cavalcade. I had a good time ripping on some of the worst movies of the year, but an often-hectic real life got the better of me, and I didn't keep up with it like I anticipated. So many "deserving" movies missed their spotlight, and for that I apologize.

If you'll indulge me, then, I'll just make brief mention of some of the crummy movies I didn't salute this summer:

Mamma Mia!: BROSNAN SINGS! Cultureshark shudders.

Space Chimps: You know, in some studio circles, I firmly believe that there's an attitude somewhat akin to, "Ah, yeah, it stinks, but it's animated, so we'll get some bucks out of it."

The X-Files: I Want to Believe: Apologies to my dad and sisters, who used to watch this show back in the day. But it's 2008, and I don't even know if my dad and sisters knew this movie even came out. I don't think they missed much.

Swing Vote: Got to give Kevin Costner credit for continuing to make movies that strive for to inspire with a strong sense of Americana and decency. The effort would probably have more impact if America still liked him.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars: 3 things I never thought I'd see in my lifetime: 1) A "Star Wars" movie in theaters without anyone caring, 2) Shannen Doherty co-starring with Jennie Garth again, 3) The Cubs winning the World Series. Now, in the span of mere months--well, OK, that third one is still out there.

The Longshots: I don't care how good this movie might be, I can't get past these 4 words: "Directed by Fred Durst." You know, even if I could get past them, I wouldn't.

The Rocker: R.I.P., Rainn Wilson, Leading Man. 2008-2008.

Babylon A.D. I'd rather see "The Pacifier II.*"

Disaster Movie: More evidence that God either doesn't exist or is cruel: We have to wait years between seasons of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," yet one of these "___ Movie" parodies comes out every few months.

*This wise-ass comment is meant to express snide disdain for Vin Diesel and should not be misconstrued as an actual endorsement for the production of a sequel to "The Pacifier."

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Did Kid Rock give us the "song of the summer"?

Every year, about August or so, the entertainment media starts talking about "the song of the summer," trying to find a tune that has defined, dominated, or otherwise symbolized the season. I don't usually worry too much about an unofficial title like "the song of the summer," because it's meaningless and--OK, here's the real reason--the songs discussed usually stink.

In recent years, it's some rap song I can't stand or a hip-hop novelty song that is hyped as being our national soundtrack because a bunch of teenagers made it their ringtone.

This year, though, I'm forced to consider the case of one Kid Rock, whose smash hit "All Summer Long" was inescapable on many rock and pop radio formats. This number very well may have been the song of the summer of 2008. I'm forced to consider it now, in October, for several reasons: 1) I heard it on the radio yet again the other day, 2) While flipping channels the other day, I noticed it was somehow still in CMT's video countdown, and 3) I hate the song and feel a compulsion to write about it.

You know what Kid Rock would do if he were here and he read that I hated his song? He'd utter an obscenity or two and then punch me right in the nose. Maybe it would be the other way around, but I'm pretty sure he'd react with anger, then make a derogatory comment about my relative (to him) lack of income and/or testosterone, then claim he didn't care what I thought, anyway.

This is all cool--well, save for the punching me in the nose bit; I could do without that--because though I dislike Kid Rock's music, I sort of respect his weird musical integrity. The fact that he doesn't license his songs to iTunes because he is a believer in the album format kind of makes me respect him. At least he believes in stuff, and even though that "stuff" includes Bob Seger and goofy weddings, it's still stuff he believes in at the time.

But, Kid, "All Summer Long" is a terrible song. I think it's a strong contender for the season's standard bearer because it received a ton of airplay and because it has the word "Summer" in the title...and Kid Rock says the word "summer" in it...a lot.

I can understand why it would be popular. On one level, the idea to mash up "Sweet Home Alabama" with "Werewolves of London" is a pretty good one; musically, "All Summer Long" is catchy as hell. On another level, the tune feels unoriginal and generic, and maybe it's not so much an accomplishment at all.

The worst thing about the song, though, is the lyrics. Sure, Kid Rock must have had a great adolescence in Michigan, but I don't need to hear about it. His description of the ideal summer is just lazy. In the chorus, instead of bothering with an internal rhyme, he gives us this couplet:

"We were trying different things
We were smoking different things"

SHOCKER--Kid Rock got a weed reference in.

Then he throws in this clever turn of phrase:

"Sipping whiskey out the bottle
Not thinking 'bout tomorrow"

Rhyming "bottle" and "tomorrow"? Come on, man. No self-respecting anthem should try to get away with that multiple times.

Hey, did I mention that Kid Rock tries to sing these lyrics? Give the guy credit for trying to inject some sincere emotion with a little crooning, but, whoa, his vocals on this one make me wish he were just rapping.

It all adds up to one of the most annoying songs of the year, not just the summer, but I have to admit with a grumble that it was a big success for Kid Rock. That doesn't mean I have to like it, though, and since this summer was otherwise a pretty good one for me, I'm gonna fight like hell to avoid associating the song with its time.

I just had to vent about it, though, even if it means risking a punch in the nose.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

An "Exclusive" I could do without

Last week's Best Buy ad circular offered one of the lamest exclusives in recent memory. In a sad effort to lure in the "Iron Man" crowd, the retailer touted as a special DVD it was offering--ONLY it was offering, that is--"Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD."

I squinted at the tiny photo, thinking surely it couldn't be the 1998 TV movie starring David Hasselhoff as the Marvel Comics spymaster. Surely Best Buy couldn't think comics fans would be such suckers as to spot THIS particular comic book movie on the shelf and then pick IT up to go along with the real one they were in the store to buy. It must have been a new animated feature, right? Or maybe some promotional DVD for an upcoming new feature film starring the character? Right?

Nope, sure enough, the photo represented the Hasselhoff turkey. THIS was the big exclusive? The movie was 10 years old. Hadn't it been on DVD already, been ignored, and shown up at Big Lots for 4 bucks?

I guess not. But even if this was a new-to-DVD title, how much of a coup could it be for Best Buy? The movie was on the Encore channels a few dozen times recently, and it's even showed up on local TV channels as late-night or weekend-afternoon filler.

All right, then, I figured, maybe I was getting too worked up about this. Sure, the movie stunk(not that I ever watched it all the way through, but come on), but as a giveaway for "Iron Man" fans, it was--well, if nothing else, it was an extra DVD case if you striped away the original artwork and tossed the disc.

Only it wasn't a free promo disc for customers who purchased "Iron Man." No, Best Buy had the gall to tout a 10-year-old TV movie, one that even Marvel Comics probably refused to acknowledge, as an "Exclusive" and charge 15 bucks for it!

Somehow, I don't think Circuit City and Target had much to worry about this past week.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

On the Radio: Girls, Girls, Girls

You can make a case for Motley Crue's "Girls, Girls, Girls" being the dumbest song of all time, and, yes, I realize there's a lot of musical stupidity out there as competition. I've heard this song several times in the past few months, and I'm ashamed to say that while I was a captive audience once, at least twice I had an opportunity to turn it off...and didn't.

I'm having troubles finding intelligent things to say about such a dumb song, but why should anyone try to analyze a Motley Crue tune? Really, I'll just break it down like this:

*The theme of the song is dumb.
*The lyrics, replete with shout-outs to strip clubs and such, are dumb.
*The beat is dumb.
*The guitar riffs are dumb.
*The intro is dumb.
*The outro is dumb.
*The spoken-word interlude is especially dumb:

"Hey, Tommy, check that out, man?"
"Where, Vince?

*And while I'm at it, the album cover is dumb, the video is dumb, and I wouldn't be surprised if Elektra released the single with a bunch of dumb promotional material.

It's just a dumb, dumb song, yet I have trouble turning it off. What that makes me, I don't know.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

This Week in DVD

My 3 Sons Season 1 Volume 1: Here we go again. Just when I was all set to complain about CBS-Paramount releasing a half-season of episodes at a full-season price, I see reports at the Home Theater Forum that the studio pulled another underhanded music switch, a la the fiasco with "The Fugitive," subbing a new underscore for the original in most episodes.

Obviously, this is terrible news, but let's not let it obscure that ridiculous price point. I can understand someone saying, "I love the show, and I'll pay whatever," but relative to the rest of the market, Paramount charged too much for this set. If Amazon or whoever discounts it, that's great, but it's still costing the consumer more than similar sets. On top of this, we now have reason to believe it's a butchered release. What in the world is going on at this company? I was planning on renting, anyway, to get my Bub fix, but I feel sorry for fans who preordered this at the ripoff price, not suspecting THIS show would be altered.

Iron Man: I was SO looking forward to seeing this one...but then my baby girl arrived, and it was sayonara, multiplex. I'm cool with that. Besides, it's already here on DVD, and I can check it out at home. By the way, my favorite DVD promotion of the week--I'm not sure why this amuses me so, but it does--is at Sears, where you can get $5 off "Iron Man" if you buy $25 worth of Craftsman tools.

Forgetting Sarah Marshall: Or maybe it should be "Forgetting Jason Segel's Penis," at least judging from the many reviews focusing on his nudity. Did I see this right--there's a 3-DISC version of this? The Judd Apatow Machine is out of control, but at least they didn't save the third disc for a new release next year.

Juiced: Yeah, yeah, I shouldn't even be mentioning this release, etc., etc., but come on. I'm fascinated by the idea that somehow they managed to time this to "take advantage of" O.J.'s current trial. As for the content, well, this product description I cribbed from Amazon says it all:

Get prepared to witness Hall of Fame football player and world-famous freeway driver O.J. Simpson performing hilarious practical jokes and shocking hidden-camera stunts on unsuspecting real-life people all across America!