Monday, August 31, 2009

What in the heck is wrong with June Allyson in "A Woman's World"?

Seriously. I think she's supposed to be a certain character type, but that character comes off as socially inept at best and borderline mentally handicapped at worst--and I say "at worst" not as a swipe at mentally disabled people, but as a swipe at the screenwriters.

"A Woman's World'" is a 1954 Fox picture directed by Jean Negulesco, known for directing some pretty darn good noirs and for being European. Well, that's an idiotic simplification, of course, but I can't help but wonder if Allyson's character is the product of his European background or just the typical Hollywood sensibility that equates "Middle America" with stupid.

This movie focuses on a fictional auto manufacturer whose general manager dies, leaving his brother, played by a very Clifton Webbish Clifton Webb, to select a replacement. He finds 3 capable candidates, then invites them and their wives to New York so he can meet with them, spy on them, etc. You see, Webb believes the quality of a man's wife is as critical to his executive suitability as he is. I can't tell if this movie's premise is incredibly sexist or refreshingly empowering.

So we see 3 couples "competing" with each other at social gatherings and meetings with Webb: Fred MacMurray and Lauren Bacall, Van Heflin and Arlene Dahl, and the token "nice" couple from Kansas City, Cornel Wilde and June Allyson.

Everyone is out dancing at a nice restaurant when someone tells Allyson that crossing your fingers is a good way to get what you wish for, and since she doesn't want to leave Kansas City, she crosses 'em and hopes her hubby doesn't get that great promotion, salary bump, and prestigious position at a major American car company that should thrive for decades to come (hey, this is the movies, remember). This is supposed to be endearing the way she plays it, on;y she keeps her fingers crossed after the dancing and spills her drink back at the table because it didn't occur to her that, you know, it might be tough to imbibe that way. This is an embarrassing moment, to be sure, but left unsaid is the implication that had she NOT spilled the drink, she presumably would have kept her fingers crossed the entire time they were in New York. She also drinks a few too many martinis and hiccups her way through a speech by Webb.

Later, the women are sent on a day trip around the city with Webb's assistant as their driver, and in the car, she badmouths the boss, not realizing that the assistant is Webb's nephew. Oops! She acts mortified, but, nephew or no, didn't it at least occur to her that the guy was an employee of the company and that maybe she should watch what she says around him? Apparently, she's just too "plain-spoken" to worry about that high-falutin' big-city stuff like being tactful about your husband's boss around his subordinates.

Allyson's character seems so much like a refugee from an "I Love Lucy" knockoff that it's no surprise when she dejectedly tells Wilde, "Oh, I did it again," and you expect to hear a muted trombone on the soundtrack while he shakes his finger and goes, "Oh, Katie, what'll I do with you," as they hug and we fade on the studio applause.

Instead, we get more hijinks. Wilde keeps telling her to get some nice, sexy clothes for the events they have planned, but she takes the money and buys it on a barbecue set she sees in one of the first store windows she passes because, gosh, the family would love it so. Evidently, they don't sell barbecue grills in Kansas City.

You have to wonder how in the world this couple has children, because it's difficult to picture Allyson being capable of sexual intercourse, let alone interested. Wilde even suggests she ask Bacall for help shopping because she is a woman who knows about clothes. Yeha, right, Cornel--she knows about clothes.

In fact, the writers do give Allyson's Katie a small triumph later, as she purposely spills a drink on herself to get some alone time with Webb's sister. Here she impresses Evelyn with that plain-spoken Midwestern know-how...or something. I still can't wrap my head around the fact she deliberately spilled the tea.

"A Woman's World" looks like part of the long Hollywood tradition of portraying Middle America types as rubes. It would be one thing if Allyson's character were seen as a deceptively sharp one, cannily subverting her husband's chances of getting the job on purpose, or if she were used more as a tool to puncture the stuffiness of urban corporate culture. But instead, she is a dimwit, an "Aw, what are you gonna do?" kind of wife Wilde puts up with because he loves her.

The movie itself is an amusing reflection of 1950s attitudes and lifestyles, but Allyson is a real oddball.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

This Week in DVD

Adventureland: Didn't see this yet, but I'm grateful for its non-start at the box office. See, people ignore smart movies about teenagers just as much as they ignore smart movies about adults! I don't have anything else to say about this one, but it gives me an excuse to quote that "Honeymooners" episode in which Alice told Ralph their sink was Adventureland, while the icebox and the stove were Frontierland. I love "The Honeymooners."

Sunshine Cleaning: I don't know if this one if those smart movies about adults, but it sure seemed to fall off the face of the earth despite some early talk it would be a breakout hit. Now we can rent it, ignore all talk of "buzz," and enjoy the delightful Amy Adams. She's always welcome to clean up around here. Not that I want a crime scene to develop or anything,, never mind.

Duplicity: Speaking of smart movies about adults, you ever notice how when a movie like "Dupicity" underperforms, it's always because "audiences are ignoring smart movies about adults"? It's never, "Eh, our movie just didn't look all that good."

Corner Gas Season 5: Can we skip ahead to season 6? Now that WGN America has pulled the series (moment of silence, please), it looks like DVD is the only way we'll get to see the last batch of episodes.

The Rise and Fall of WCW: History is written by the victors, and we'll find out just how generous Vince McMahon and Co. are in this official WWE version of its former competitor's story. I'm just impressed they got Jim Crockett to do interviews for the documentary, and that won't mean anything to most of you, but I throw it in here for the others.

Thirtysomething Season 1: You can either buy it, rent it, or be true to the spirit of the show and spend 40-some angst-ridden minutes talking about whether to rent or buy it and how the ramifications of each alternative make you feel.

The Adventures of Robin Hood Season 4: Available online today, available in the $5 bin at your local Wal-Mart next year. I don't mean to rip on the show, I got season 1 that way and was happy to do so.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold Volume 1: This is a fun TV show, but come on, 4 episodes? Only 4 episodes? Get with the times, WB. I thought ripping off consumers was one of the casualties of the recession. I guess this is a company with confidence.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Panel Discussion: World's Finest #73

I don't know if I can say enough how much I love "World's Finest," but regular readers are sure gonna find out as I make my way through the first Showcase Presents collection of the classic Superman/Batman team-up book. I like the panel above because as a longtime newspaper reader, I feel a warm nostalgia. Remember the days when the industry was so healthy that "The Daily Planet" could afford to send two of its top reporters to another city to dig for stories at a carnival?

Later, Robin is captured by thugs who contact Batman and tell him he can save the Boy Wonder if he brings a scimitar they want. Batman meekly says he'll have to trust them and asks for the address. So, armed with the scimitar, the location of their hideout, and of course all his resounding Batness, what is the Caped Crusader's plan to save his old chum?

That's right--he KNOCKS ON THE DOOR!

"Um, hello? Criminal gang? It's me, Batman! Come on, guys, it's cold out here!"

I hope Chris Nolan introduces Robin in his next Batman film so that Christian Bale can recreate this scene.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Celebrating daytime excellence?

While perusing Sunday's TV listings to see what kind of sports action will be on the tube Sunday night, I noticed the Daytime Emmy Awards are set for 8:00 P.M. on the CW. Remember when this ceremony was on a real network every year? Now it must settle for a spot on whatever the CW is.

Just for fun, let's look at how the local CW affiliate hauled in at Cultureshark Tower, WDCW in the nation's capital, exemplifies the spirit of excellence in daytime broadcasting.

At 8:00 A.M., we start the day with that classy mainstay Jerry Springer. I'm not making an arbitrary pick with that 8:00 start time, either. You see, the channel shows infomercials for several hours prior.

Then it's an hour of Judge Mathis, followed by another hour of courtroom drama with "The People's Court." At this point, apparently everyone at WDCW breaks for lunch because instead of doing something creative, they just pop in another episode of "People's Court" at 11:00.

After 3 hours of court-related hijinks, we're ready for some variety, right? WDCW recognizes this and offers up at noon "The Steve Wilkos Show," which is hosted, of course, by the former bodyguard from...Jerry Springer's show.

The variety CONTINUES, though, as the CW follows the exploitive chat show with...another exploitive chat show! This time, it's Maury Povich. But hey, Maury's been doing this a long time, so I'll give him squatter's rights in the daytime here. As long as we get something new at 2:00, I won't complain.

At 2:00 is another episode of "Maury."

Maybe after 3 hours of similar programming, you're tired of this faux talk show drama. So what will wash the taste out of your mouth and recharge you for the rest of the day? WDCW knows. Why, it's another court show, of course--Judge Jeanine Pirro this time.

At 4:00, the channel--amazingly--switches gears and broadcasts a pair of sitcoms--"The Jamie Foxx Show" and "The Wayans Brothers." Something different! Imagine that!

Hey, I didn't say good sitcoms.

Then to close out the daytime lineup and ease us into the evening, WDCW makes a brilliant programming move, giving its loyal viewers the perfect show to bring this exhilarating daylong journey full circle:

Yep, it's "Judge Mathis."

What better channel to showcase the best of daytime programming?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Vault of Coolness: TV Channels December 1977 (Baltimore area)

My friend found this newspaper TV supplement while doing some housecleaning, and, boy, am I glad she thought of me and passed it along, because it's a great read. I'll probably refer to it more in future "Vault" posts, but for now let's look at the closing paragraph of the cover story highlighting Christmas specials such as this version of "Annie":

"...good programing (sic) is so often in conflict with other good programs that one wishes to see"?

Thankfully, much has changed since 1977, thanks to the landmark FCC mandate in 1983 that networks devote 90% of their schedules to utter crap, thereby ensuring viewers will rarely, if ever, have to choose between good programs they wish to see.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Michael Jackson article in "Rolling Stone"

The "Rolling Stone" cover story a few weeks back on "Michael Jackson's Final Days" proved me both right and wrong. I was wrong to be skeptical that those comeback concerts would have gone off; there is plenty of evidence that this time, erratic as his work habits could be, Jackson was determined to pull it off. It may not have gone all according to schedule, but it would have happened in some form.

I was wrong. Sorry about that, Magic Johnson and Kobe Bryant (Theirs is the only clip I saw from the funeral coverage, so I'm making them de facto Jackson spokesmen).

I was right about one aspect, however: Jacko's massive ego, the only thing bigger than "Thriller's" sales numbers. One example should suffice: According to this story, Jackson chose the original figure of 31 concerts in London's O2 Arena "so he would have 10 more shows than Prince, who had opened the arena with a series of spectacular concerts in 2007." Writer Claire Hoffman adds that Jackson had feuded with Prince since he refused to duet with him on "Bad" in 1987., and in 2009, he still wanted to "upstage his rival and remind the world who was King."

That would be the King of Pop--a self-proclaimed title, I might add.

This is why it was always so difficult for me to feel sorry for Michael Jackson. For whatever reason, he had a massive ego, even by rock-star standards, that rendered his whole persona increasingly off-putting, especially as the music declined.

I mean, come on, you mean to tell me this guy was a joke in the entertainment biz for years, and then when he is finally on the verge of putting it back together--maybe--he's engaging in petty one-upsmanship with Prince?

(Incidentally, wouldn't it be funny if he were engaging in petty one-upsmanship with Tom Petty? Michael Jackson would be all like, "I'm gonna name my album SUPER Highway Companion, and Tom Petty would be all like, "Eh. Whatever.")

I don't expect pop stars to be humble, but they can at least give it a shot. This article shows to me that Michael Jackson's drive to return as a legitimate performer was not for artistic reasons or for a passion for music. It was to "prove to the world," blah, blah, blah, "King of Pop," blah, blah, blah.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Fairly Wonderful World of Fox Movie Channel: Smoky

Fox Movies isn't nearly as wonderful as The Greatest Cable Channel Known to This or Any Other Civilization, TCM, but it has its merits. Last week, I watched Smoky, the 1946 version of an oft-filmed tale of the love between a man and a horse. No, not this kind, the chaste kind.

It's a pleasant enough family-friendly flick, with Fred MacMurray showing his versatility by convincing us he shares a genuine affection for the titular equine. But the guy that steals the film is Burl Ives, who plays a ranch hand who works alongside Fred. Well, I think you'd call him a ranch hand. Is there a name for that guy on every cowboy ranch who sits around and strums a gee-tar and dispenses folksy witticisms and advice all day? That's him.

The cool thing about this Ives performance--well, apart from EVERYTHING--is his character is named "Willie." Granted, Burl Ives' parents already blessed him with the perfect name for who he would become, but Willie is a darned good runner-up.

He sings "On Top of Old Smoky" to open and close the picture, but the best scene in the whole movie comes when Burl is sitting around playing a guitar (naturally), while Fred is, uh, messing with his saddle or some other kind of cowboy business. When it comes to the Way of the West, I'm a hopeless landlubber. The point is, Burl's got his business and Fred has his, but for a few minutes, they come together as one awesome musical act.

Ives sings a ditty in which he wishes he were an apple in a tree, and so forth, and soon Fred joins in, echoing the last part of the line:

"Oh, I wish I were a squirrel with a big, long tail"
"Big, long, tail!"

You know, that kind of stuff.

It's mesmerizing--two pros with an innate knack for casual coolness. Watching this scene, oh, how I wish I were a young cowpoke at that ranch. I'd race through my chores, then wolf down my sarsaparilla and tumbleweed stew so I could go out and join the fellas in the barn. I'd grab a comfy pile of hay, pull it over in front of Burl and Fred, and sit rapt as they entertained me. The best thing is, they wouldn't be performing just to entertain me; they'd be performing just because.

The West must have been a magical place.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Brave and the Bold..and the Produce

So as the family headed out to do some grocery shopping yesterday, I donned my red Flash t-shirt because 1) I felt like kickin' it casual-style, and 2) my daughter isn't old enough yet to be embarrassed by my fashion choices.

At the store, I was pushing my cart down one of the many too-narrow aisles on this busy Saturday afternoon when I nearly collided with a fellow customer. Only, he wasn't a mere fellow customer. This guy was wearing a Captain America t-shirt!

He gave me an affable nod and said, "Hey, I like your t-shirt," to which I replied, "Yeah, you, too!" I wanted to say, "You know, maybe we ought to join forces sometime," but I kept pushing my cart.

The thought did cross my mind, and probably his as well, that our being together in the same place at the same time could well be the result of some stunning change in the space-time-rival comic book companies continuum, possibly related to a collaboration by our nemeses Gorilla Grodd and the Red Skull. But I chose to accentuate the positive: With the two of us on the scene, that supermarket must have been the single safest place for miles around.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Brief (lack of) programming note

I gotta "take care of bidness" at the homestead, what with some work to do and some mildly under-the-weather family members to take care of (including myself), so instead of rushing something half-assed post and just sticking it up here, I'm gonna wait till later this weekend to put stick a half-assed post up here.

In other words, I'll be back Sunday night, and I'll return with a vengeance next week.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

My wife reads 'People" so you don't have to: Internet sensation?

I hesitate to poke fun at the August 10 issue of "People because it actually features a cover story that interests me: A "Where Are They Now" piece on the cast of "Saved by the Bell." Yes, I would have typed that in 2-point-size font if I knew how to, but let's face it, when the choice is between "Bell" and Entertainment Weekly's "Top Vampires of the Last 15 Yea--Uh, ALL TIME!" list, well, I had a clear preference that week. Much as I rip "EW," it's rare that its cover story is less compelling than that of its sister rag.

But in the upper corner of that intriguing cover is a blurb about something far less interesting: "WEDDING DANCE! THE COUPLE BEHIND THE VIDEO HIT!"

OK, the video received "over 9 million hits" according to the brief article inside. But is this worthy of a cover mention? I don't know which is more disheartening: simply that "People" put it on the cover or that "People" thought it would sell copies of the issue.

Pardon me for going all grumpy old man here, but have we run out of faux-reality-show "celebs" now so that we have to resort to hyping "stars" of home movies that are uploaded to the Internet? Nothing against the couple in the clip, but I'm perfectly capable of enjoying (or ignoring) their wedding video without reading their backstory.

This is only gonna get worse. In a few years we're gonna be sitting around wondering, "Remember when our Internet stars were really STARS? They just don't make them like the cat playing the piano anymore."

Special and not so special guest stars

I've said it before, and I'll say it again--right now in fact--one of the joys of watching old TV shows is seeing the faces that pop up out of nowhere. Take any show from the 50s or 60s, and you never know who you'll see. Well, if it's a Western, it'll probably be John Dehner, but you get my point.

A few days ago, I was watching the final episode of season 1 of "The Invaders," and while Ralph Bellamy understandably received top billing among the guest stars, I really marked out to see a
police detective played by a pre-"Odd Couple" Garry "Speed" Walberg!

Hey, nothing against Ralph, who had a distinguished career in films, then beat people up on TV, but Garry Walberg, man! Even familiar faces in big (Murray Hamilton) and not-so-big (Seymour Cassell) roles in the same episode were overshadowed in this case.

But that's the fun of watching an old show, especially if you've never seen it before. Even the "Tonight's guest stars..." bit at the beginning usually excludes a familiar face or two.

Monday, August 17, 2009

7th Annual Young Comedians special on HBO

If you get HBO Comedy, check your listings for this 1982 curio. Home Box Office seems to rerun the 1990s installments of the Young Comedians, but I don't recall seeing these older ones on there a lot.

The special isn't all that hilarious, in my opinion, but it's worth a look-see if only to see host Alan King trying to lend his old-school gravitas to the lineup of raw comedians. The atmosphere is also compelling, as this was taped in an actual dingy comedy club, unlike later versions that took the franchise to larger venues.

Some of the comedians hold up better than others--I don't care for Arleen Sorkin and the High-heeled Women or the Fun Boys*, but the whole thing is interesting. Comedy-wise, that would sort of the problem if you were paying for HBO in 1982 and seeing this as a NEW SPECIAL: it's more interesting than funny. Then again, maybe in '82, it was a lot funnier.

Among the "youngsters," the highlight is Steven Wright, who goes on last and entertains and is even then clearly the Steven Wright we knew and loved in the eighties, despite some material that's just a tad less sharp than what he'd deliver later on.

Overall, though, the highlight is King, who conducts the whole affair seeming simultaneously above the whole thing and just one of the comics. He works to get some laughs himself between acts, at one point even turning behind him and grabbing a prop off of which to riff. On camera, at least, he couldn't be more gracious to the comedians, offering enthusiastic intros and generous praise for some acts that, quite frankly, don't necessarily deserve it--that is, to this viewer of 2009.

On the other hand, there's something about his persona that suggests he relishes not just being the elder statesman, but also the kind of guy who could make or break them with his support. I get a kick out of seeing him make pronouncements like--I'm paraphrasing here--"Judging from these folks, the future of American in good hands." He looks almost sentimental about it at times. Still, he acts like someone who is kind enough to pass the torch but egotistical enough to think it's his to pass.

Purely as a comedy special, the Seventh Annual Young Comedians Special isn't the best hour you'll see on HBO, but it's an entertaining trip back to a time when Alan King really was King, Steven Wright had hair--well, more of it--and King could reduce one of the stand-ups to hysterical giggles by saying, "I'm David Begelman--Screw me!" (You got to see this to get it; there's a great bit at the beginning where King supposedly meets the comedians, all lined up in a row, for the first time before the show).

*A duo consisting of Jonathan Schmock and Jim Vallely, later on that 80s sitcom with the twins, "Double Trouble," and Vallely, amazingly, went on to become one of the major forces behind "Arrested Development."

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Brooks on Books: Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough

I dunno about Michael Mann's recent film, but the source material is outstanding. Subtitled "America's Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34," "Public Enemies delivers with vivid characterizations of the men and women involved, compelling accounts of the crimes, and sharp writing and analysis that puts it all in context of the Depression and the rise of a new approach to federal law enforcement.

Burrough worked hard on this one, going through a variety of sources and filtering out some of the myths and legends to provide a thorough account of this wild span. Not only is it credible as history, though, it's exhilarating reading. I found the book a tad hard to follow at first, not because of any lack of clarity by Burrough, but because there are so many players to follow--federal agents, policemen, two-bit hoods, and of course the "stars" of the book such as John Dillinger. Burrough chooses to tell the story chronologically, which I believe is ultimately an outstanding approach, but it necessitates some jumping around and juggling of the roster of names.

However, Burrough tells the story so well, you never really get lost. Most importantly, he includes invaluable supplemental material at the front of the book, including a chart listing all the major criminals with headshots. It took me a while to get a handle on everything, but at a certain point, I was hooked, and "Public Enemies" became difficult to put down. When the criminals are on the lam, with the nascent FBI desperately struggling to track them down, this is an amazing story full of twists and remarkable little details. It's a nonfiction thriller.

The biggest thing that jumps out at me in this book is how incompetent the FBI was. Burrough is not unsympathetic, frequently mentioning how overmatched and undertrained the feds were before they got powers even as basic as the authority to carry guns. Still, it's shocking to see the blunders that men like Melvin Purvis--adored in the press of the time--made time and again that allowed their targets to escape. And there's no excuse for the pettiness and dishonesty--and perhaps worse--that characterized J. Edgar Hoover's leadership and placed personal considerations over the public good. Burrough also described the corruption that plagued local law enforcement and often hampered legitimate crimefighting efforts.

The FBI grows, though, and it's fascinating to see their progression in tactics and strategy over the course of the book. Instead of glamorizing the criminals, Burrough shows proper respect for the hard-workers among the G-Men, offering nice touches like the footnotes that detail the agents' time spent in the Bureau and what they did afterwards. The title characters, though, and the draw of this work are the crooks.

The star among stars here is John Dillinger, the most charismatic of this bunch, even on the page. His saga dominates the narrative, but there are others who precede him. It's in no way just his book, as Burrough does his best to give the Enemies the coverage they warrant. Machine Gun Kelly is not much of a player in this period and doesn't appear much; similarly Pretty Boy Floyd is more a name mentioned than one actively appearing here.

There are plenty of other luminaries, though. Bonnie and Clyde engage in their share of mayhem before they're caught (and not by the Feds) , but Burrough makes a good case that they "have garnered an artistic and cultural relevance in death they never found or deserved in life." There is an unsettling portrait of the volatile Baby Face Nelson, who was so violent and wild he made Dillinger uneasy when they worked together.

Then there is the Barker Gang, a group of misfits purportedly headed by Ma Barker. As Burrough relates, though, Ma Barker was a doddering old lady interested in jigsaw puzzles, and her status as "criminal mastermind" was wholly fabricated by Hoover to save face after his men killed her. More significant and more compelling is Alvin Karpis, the last survivor of the major criminals, who Burrough calls "probably the smartest Depression-era criminal." He doesn't get a lot of ink today, but "Enemies" portrays him as one of the more effective, if not colorful, of the era's bad guys and worthy of more attention than he received then and since.

Bryan Burrough's "Public Enemies" combines outstanding writing and comprehensive research, and it's the kind of book that satisfies but it so good you almost want more. This is certainly a compelling topic, but the author lives up to it with a fascinating account. I highly recommend it, and I can only hope Michael Mann's film is as exciting and full of depth as this version of the real story.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Lost Treasures of Yore: "Thanks! I needed that!"

Welcome to a new feature, Lost Treasures of Yore, in which we celebrate those great standbys so common in pop culture back in the day, but now sadly M.I.A.

Today I want to call for the return of this classic comedy convention: Someone is in "hysterics." In the immediate vicinity, another person takes the initiative and smacks him or her in the face. Usually the hysterical person is calmed after a second or two of displaying a dopey stare, and he acknowledges this by saying...

"Thanks! I needed that!"

My personal favorite version is when someone slaps TWO people at the same time, and then they get the dopey look, maybe rub their cheeks, and look at each other before turning back to the slapper and saying in unison...

"Thanks! We needed that!"
Why does this not happen so much anymore? Is it because we're less hysterical? Are we less tolerant of slapping each other around for comic effect? Has the slap to reality been discredited as a legitimate cure for temporary hysterics, even in a comedy setting?

My personal opinion is that we can blame Cher. I trace the decline of this lost treasure back to "Moonstruck" and her famous "Snap out of it!" broadside across the face of Nicolas Cage. Granted, I am biased because unlike much of America, I don't like the film. But while I don't think this scene is funny, I can't deny its impact.

I think Cher's comic whap of Cage subtly killed off the "Thanks, I needed that," reaction, undercutting it before it can even occur with her bellowing, "Snap out of it!" and doing so not just in one particular part of "Moonstruck," but in films and TV for years to come. Oh, I'm sure it's happened since then, though I can't think of examples offhand, but I'll bet it's ironic and done to poke fun at the lost treasure of yore.

Because people don't realize how lame "Moonstruck" is, they are blind to this unintended side effect. Now, though, years later, perhaps we can take back the slap. I challenge the filmmakers out there to include a "Thanks! I needed that!" (I'm not even asking for the more complicated double; one person getting slapped and responding thus will do) in a movie--and not in a way that deliberately mocks itself, but in a way that is supposed to be a legit punchline in its own right.

I'll settle for a TV show, though. The sitcom may be a dying breed, but this might be one modest step toward bringing it back.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

This Week in DVD

I Love You, Man: You know this trend of adapting TV to movies is out of hand when they make a feature presentation based on a Bud Light campaign. Next up, straight from the popular "Ocean's" movies, Eddie Jemison IS Dr. Galazkiewiecz in "Yes, I am!"

17 Again: Obviously this is the long-awaited prequel to the delightful George Burns "18 Again," but I gotta say, Mr. Zac Efron, you are no Charlie Schlatter, sir.

Super Friends: The Lost Episodes: These 1980s installments of the long-running cartoon series were feared lost forever, but fortunately Aquaman stored the kineoscopes in an underwater vault.

Road Trip: Beer Pong: I went to Netflix to try to discover how the hell "Road Trip" has become a franchise, and I saw this user review:

This movies going to rock because my hot wife is naked in it.Shes the beer pong girl with the biggest breasts.Enjoy!

Need I say more?

Alien Trespass: Billed as a tribute to the sci-fi invasion flicks of the fifties. Not to speak on behalf of everyone, but I'd wager most people would like you to pay tribute to those movies by actually releasing all of those ones on DVD.

Michael Jackson: Moonwalking: The True Story of Michael Jackson: Just a hunch here, but I'll bet we see an awful lot of this kind of thing before the year is through. What cracks me up about this one is the number of times they cram "Michael Jackson" into the DVD title, like otherwise people wouldn't get that "Moonwalking: The True Story of Michael Jackson" is about Michael Jackson.

Philadelphia Eagles 10 Greatest Games: Your misnomer title of the week.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Cable Movie Roundup #1

Here are some thoughts on a few movies I watched recently as part of my effort to take advantage of a free premium channel deal I got goin' on through FIOS...

Jumper: This is the one in which Hayden Christensen can teleport himself all over the globe, I guess because of his high midi-chlorian count or something. It's kind of a cool concept, with an attempt to develop a "mythology" for these Jumpers and those who pursue them, but it's a disappointing movie. The relationship between Christensen and Rachel Bilson never works, serving only to take time away from cool teleporting stuff. I'm never a big fan of Christensen, anyway. I enjoy some of director Doug Liman's other films, but this one never comes together for me. At least I never heard the dumb Third Eye Blind song of the same name, or if I did, I blocked it out.

You Kill Me: Another disappointment from a talented director, John Dahl's "You Kill Me" is an offbeat story of an alcoholic hitman who heads out of town to dry out, finds love, but may find he can't totally leave the past behind. This blend of low-key comedy and gangster hijinks has its moments, but it doesn't really go anywhere. It's more of a pleasant time filler than a must-see. Still, you have to love the casting of "Hey Now" Ben Kingsley in the lead as a Polish hitman, with Tea Leoni as his love interest, and if that pairing strikes you as at all interesting, you should see this.

Into the Wild: This is the most disappointing of these films. After all, it got all the acclaim and the attention. But though there is some beautiful scenery, I just can't get into the lead character enough to care. Perhaps it's director Sean Penn (and of course the writers') decision to make him look like such a self-absorbed bozo so early, then pile on the "his parents suck" angle throughout, but Christopher McCandless annoys me early and never wins me over despite an earnest performance by Emile Hirsch. This problem is especially acute given the long running time.

Plus Penn keeps doing things to separate me from the story: Letting Hirsch, in character, look directly at the camera, putting obvious overplayed oldies on the soundtrack when the Eddie Vedder original songs are so much more effective, and casting Vince Vaughn and apparently asking me to take him seriously.

"Wild" has some virtues, such as the cinematography, the Vedder music, and I'll be damned if Hal Holbrook doesn't nearly make the whole thing worthwhile with his all-too-late and all-too-brief appearance. Overall, though, I was glad I never saw this in a theater, though perhaps I might have felt more involved in that setting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

On the Radio: Sammy Hagar goes "Over the Top"

I know, I know, when does Sammy Hagar ever NOT go over the top, right? But today I refer to "Winner Takes It All," his classic theme song to the Sly Stallone movie "Over the Top." I got way too excited when I heard this the other day in, of all places, a grocery store.

You see, one of the best places to rediscover cheesy eighties rock songs is in your local supermarket. I find that Muzak is a thing of the past in most of these places. Now that the 1980s are, you know, old and stuff, pretty much anything from the decade counts as soft rock, or at least rock inoffensive enough to not disturb shoppers while they're picking a jar of marinara sauce.

I think I was in the soup aisle when I realized what was playing. It was all I could do to keep from singing along, especially since I was shopping alone and would only embarrass myself (unless you count all of humanity).

You may remember that "Over the Top" is perhaps THE definitive arm wrestling movie, and, boy, does Hagar capture the grandeur, the intensity, and the sheer adrenaline of the sport. As I strutted towards the front, I was so pumped I didn't even feel my customary annoyance at the lack of manned checkout lines. I did, however, feel like going down to the express line and challenging the cashier to a quick arm wrestling bout to let me go through there. But that wasn't about my dislike of self-checkout; it was just the spirit of Hagar running through my veins (and since his spirit is usually about 20% tequila, I probably shouldn't have driven home right away, now that I think about it).

Oh, yeah, I was on an emotional high, but I had no outlet for my sudden competitive urge. As Groucho Marx said in "The Cocoanuts," "I'll wrestle anybody in the crowd for $5.00." I don't know if that directly relates to this story, but it's hilarious when he says it, and I want to quote him.

I made it out of the store with my groceries, my self-respect, and my right arm, but even now, several days later, I'm still a little amped. I apologize for not having a slam-bang finish to this post, one that involves a championship, an inspirational comeback, and maybe a Kenny Loggins tune over the end credits, but I'm going to make it up to you by sharing the lyrics to the chorus of "Winner Takes It All" so you can get some of the vibe for yourself.

You may not be one of the dozens of Americans in a professional or recreational arm wrestling league, but if you need to, I don't know, hoist a car or something today, this song could get the juices going.

(Reprinted without permission but with confidence that Sammy Hagar is a pretty cool guy and wouldn't mind sharing)

Winner takes it all
Loser takes a fall
Fight to the beginning of the end
Winner takes it all
Till he breaks the fall
In time he'll make it over the top

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cultureshark goes naughty again: "Hot Saturday"

I watched the rest of Universal's Pre-Code Hollywood set, an excellent package of fun early-1930s flicks, and I'm still impressed by one in particular: "Hot Saturday," featuring a young Cary Grant as an apparent cad.


I say "apparent" because while the movie strains initially to put him over as a first-class heel, he sure seems like a swell guy. OK, so he likes the ladies. And maybe he discards them rather quickly and even crudely--if you consider writing a big, fat "get lost" check a crude brush-off. But after his initial scene, in which we see him leaving one gal in the car outside so he can go into the bank and "make time" with another, well, he is pretty decent.

Turns out that, despite his reputation, he's a nice gent, and female lead Nancy Carroll is not uninterested, though she has a suitor or two already. And how could she not be interested? He's Cary Grant!

There's not much to do on a hot Saturday in this small town, so when Grant invites the gang to his big place for a party, everyone eagerly accepts, including Carroll. So maybe Cary wanted to see her and chat with her a bit. Well, what's the harm in that? The important thing is that everyone has a great time helping themselves to the swank estate and its surroundings, plus oodles of free booze--all thanks to the so-called cad.

Long story short, the party goes on, and while nothing happens between Cary and Nancy, this being a small town, circumstantial evidence and gossiping minds (plus the real jerk of the story, the idiot who thought he was Carroll's beau but got a hearty rebuff when he got fresh with her) create a scenario that something DID--he DOES have that reputation, after all--and the whole place is abuzz with talk.

Meanwhile, Randolph Scott comes back to town and rekindles his old chaste but meaningful relationship with Carroll. He's a nice guy, loved by her parents and devoted to her, but when he hears this gossip, he drops her like a bad habit, as the late Gorilla Monsoon would say.

Things are cleared up eventually, and you expect Scott to apologize, Carroll to forgive him, and the two of them to get married and live happily ever after. But that's not what happens. Scott does eat some crow, but Carroll has already gone back to Grant's place. As tells Scott, that thing that everybody thought she did? Well, she did! And she enjoyed it. Nyah, nyah, nyah, and pbbt!

So while Scott is chastened and humble, Carroll runs off with Grant! Yes, he reconsiders his aversion to commitment and drives her off so they can get married. Scott is left holding...well, he doesn't have a bag, but I think he's probably holding Carroll's parents' dishes; he's a decent sort who is glad to help out.

It's not the ending I expected at all, but it is a great one. Scott gets no reward for his nasty yet albeit souring on his childhood sweetheart. Carroll gets no real punishment for getting it on with Cary; on the contrary, she gets a guy to take care of her emotional AND physical needs. The two of them driving off is the ultimate kiss-off to the idiots in the gossipy small town. "Hot Saturday" is telling the hypocrites who shunned Nancy to stuff it. I think THIS is the kind of thing that makes Pre-Code Hollywood so enjoyable. It's a happy ending in which the characters are happy without having to give up what makes them happy, and the finger-waggers are the ones who get the comeuppance.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Half-Assed Gourmet: Chain Restaurants

OK, a lot of of you out there probably loathe so-called "neighborhood casual" chain restaurants--you know, your Friday's, Ruby Tuesdays, Chili's, and so on. It's quite cool to rag on them, not at all cool to praise them. Well, you won't me see dumping on these places. Sure, they offer a homogenized menu with little to distinguish one from the other. But isn't that kind of the point? A little familiarity isn't always a bad thing, and if the food is good and reasonably priced, I'm happy. I'll let others bemoan the dumbing down of America and that sort of thing.

A few weeks ago, I went to an Applebee's as part of a family experience, and you know what?

It was really good.

I have encountered mediocrity at Applebee's before, and it would never have been near the top of my To-Go list. But I was hesitant not because it was a generic chain eatery, but because it just wasn't all that great. If you don't like this kind of place because you dislike the food, hey, that's your right. If you prefer to make healthier, tastier meals at home, more power to you. But I had a tasty, wayyyyy unhealthy meal at Applebee's, and I loved it. I'd go again. I kind of want to, in fact.

They have this 2 for $20 deal, and with it I got (sharing some of it with the other half of my "2") fried shrimp; fried mozzarella sticks; french fries; and to wash it down, a delicious, refillable glass of fried iced tea.

OK, just kidding about the tea, which was indeed delicious, but not fried. Come to think of it, maybe the reason I had such a great time at The App* was because it had been a while since I had enjoyed such an assemblage of fried crap in one sitting.

Still, it counts. It was a good meal, it was cheap, and the service was outstanding. So here you go, world, here is one person saying something good about Applebee's on The Internet. I don't think it's happened before, I doubt it will happen again, but that's the word I'm spreading today.

(*"The App" is the cool, hip shorthand label I just created for the chain. Feel free to use it, Applebee's marketing wizards, in exchange for a freebie every now and then.)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Panel Discussion: World's Finest

One of the funnies things about the Silver Age version of "World's Finest"--and oh, there are many--is that it seems like Superman and Batman spend more time trying to fool Lois Lane than they do chasing villains. Take a look at these consecutive panels from issue #71, as reprinted in "Showcase Presents World's Finest" Volume 1. Batman, trying to convince Lois he's Superman to protect the Man of Steel's secret identity, is effortlessly hauling around big furniture and a moving van while helping her move. OR IS HE?

...And that we snuck into Lois' bedroom last night and performed surgery on her optic nerve to alter her eyesight. And that we built a time machine and went back 5 years to when she got some of her the stuff and replaced it in the stores with lighter copies. And that we...

I think these panels are even funnier the less context you give the, but I think you get the idea of what's going on here. At some point, no matter how many complications it causes, no matter how difficult it will make life for those involved, it's gotta be easier just to go ahead and tell Lois, "Yeah, Clark Kent is Superman. You got it."

(Not to mention the fact that if Lois is so blind she can't discern a fake van from a real one or papier-mache copies of her personal belongings from the real deal, well, they probably could have found a much simpler way to deceive her.)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to

In this space I am often less than complimentary to "People" magazine, but this time I come to praise the publication. Its August 3 issue does indeed have a ridiculous cover story about the dude from "Twilight" and his MESSY LOVE LIFE (I did not read this story, but my wife assures me it is ridiculous). However, it gives props to Walter Cronkite as well, giving him a small but significant pic in the upper left on the cover.

Inside, there is a modest but tasteful tribute article with pictures. It's not a huge farewell, but it's something.

Contrast this to sister mag "Entertainment Weekly," which gave the legendary newsman no cover mention and one less-than-a-full-page story inside. That "story" wasn't even an obituary or an appreciation by a TV critic or someone who knows something about journalism (probably not many of them left in the EW rolodex). It was a series of brief excerpts from one of Cronkite's own books. "Cronkite In His Own Words."

So "Entertainment Weekly" didn't even bother to do its own writing.

Big-time edge goes to "People" here. I give it a hearty pat on the back, which just happens to make it easier for me to swat the 'Twilight" dude's picture across the room.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

This Week in DVD

Obsessed: If you thought "Fatal Attraction" just wasn't FIERCE enough, well, here you go, it's Beyonce's turn. As for Idris Elba, at some point Stringer Bell must have figured, "I'm never gonna do anything as good as The Wire again, so hell with it," and I can't say I blame him.

The Soloist: So i guess the fact this is on DVD now after being out just a few months ago means Jamie Foxx isn't gonna win another Oscar. Bummer. He played a mentally ill homeless dude for nothing.

Labor Pains: This Lindsay Lohan vehicle, originally intended as a theatrical release, comes to DVD after premiering on ABC Family. How far has your career fallen when straight to video would be a step UP?

Race to Witch Mountain: I don't know why The Rock is in such a darned hurry to get there, but if the witches look like Kristin Chenoweth or Nona, I can understand.

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: An adaptation of Michael Chabon's first novel, but given the terrible reviews this movie received, I don't know that the author is spreading the word about it so much.

The Love Boat Season 2 Volume 2: Here's a perfect example of the unjust nature of Paramount's heinous split-season strategy: "Love Boat" fans have been waiting for months to see the continuation of the intricate storylines and subtle character developments established in the first half of Season 2.

Harvard Beats Yale 29-29: I don't know much about this documentary, but Netflix sure seems to think I'll like it. Maybe I'll rent it just to see how the game turns out.

Actors and Sin: I know even less about this, but it's a double feature with Eddie Robinson and Eddie Albert in Ben Hecht stories. That's got to be worth a look-see.

Icons of Screwball Comedy Volumes 1 and 2: A great release from Sony, which is really digging into the vaults and filling the void left this year by Warner Brothers. I must admit that while I enjoy "screwball comedies" and understand the label, it often takes about 10 minutes of the movie before I quit anticipating Daffy Duck or Woody Woodpecker to bolt across the screen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

5Q Movie Review: Up

Q: After much deliberation, you chose this as the movie to see on your birthday and the first one you had seen in a theater for over a year. Was it worth it?
A: Absolutely! The fact that it could well be the only movie I see in 2009 should not diminish its current status as Cultureshark's Best Movie of 2009. It's an amazing experience that evokes all kinds of emotions and offers the fun of a summer movie without sacrificing the story quality you expect from Pixar. It's up there with their best, and that's saying something.

Q: So this isn't just for kids, then?
A: No way. In fact, if anything, it may be too sophisticated for little kids. Some of the themes in "Up" will stick far more for the older folks in the audience than they will for the young'uns. And unlike in "Finding Nemo," there aren't a bunch of pretty fish to look at. This is not to say the movie is not appropriate for all ages.

Q: I heard that there are some saaaaad parts to this movie. What's "Up" with that? Ha! Notice that little joke there?
A: Very little. Anyway, yes, there is a montage near the beginning that tells the story of the marriage of Ed Asner's character, and it is staggering in its impact, yet its done with a delicacy and beauty such that it never seems too manipulative. It establishes this latest Pixar effort as a film with real resonance, and sure enough, the rest lives up to that by offering some thoughtful messages about how we live our lives, what is important to us, and how we process things.

Q: Hey, you're making this sound like some kind of art film instead of a big blockbuster animated film with pretty computer art. You did say this was fun, right?
A: Of course it is! I tried to go into "Up" knowing as little as possible--about the movie, wise guy--and I was pleasantly surprised at the scope it achieves within the framework of a charming story about an elderly guy and a plucky but pestering boy scout. Yeah, they go up in the air, propelled by balloons, and of course they squabble with each other...but there is a significant action element to the story. It's touching and heartfelt and "small" in the best sense of the word, but at times it's thrilling and raucous and big.

Q: OK, you're clearly a huge mark for Pixar. Is there anything they can do to screw up right now?
A: Hmm. A lesser studio would emphasize the wacky animal character Kevin, pushing the creature up front to provide a bunch of kiddie-friendly big moments instead of keeping it in acceptable doses as a supporting player. A lesser studio would crank up the "name" factor in the voice casting instead of building the movie around the "sort of iconic but hardly A-list at the box office" Ed Asner--who is perfect. A lesser studio would favor juvenile humor and story elements rather than the more sophisticated kind of "all ages" approached used here.

Fortunately, Pixar is not a lesser outfit, but one of the best things going together. An "off" movie for them is something like the still-enjoyable "Cars," and more often, we get something like the wonderful "Up."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Vault of Coolness: Star Trek "A Private Little War"

Recently, for professional reasons, I revisited the only "Star Trek" series that matters, the one known as TOS, or The Original Series, but which I simply call "Old-School Star Trek." Really, it should just be Star Trek, period, but there are so many different versions out there, I feel I have to make the distinction.

I'm stretching the definition of the Vault of Coolness here because while I have it and many other episodes on tape via G4's uncut run a few years ago, I didn't watch this episode that way. But I could have, so let's pretend it did indeed come from the fabled Cultureshark Archives, AKA the Vault. Official Site Archivist and custodian of the vault Pappy McGillicuddy has no problem with that. Do you, Pappy?

"No, sirree!"

I want to say a few words about "A Private Little War" because it must surely be one of the kinkiest "Treks" ever, and that's saying something. After beaming down to the primitive planet Neural, Kirk finds a pastoral society where his old pal Tyree lives. Years ago, doing a "survey" on the planet, Jim befriended Tyree. Anyone want to bet the survey as interpreted by Kirk focused on mating rituals of Neuralian females?

The hill people are warring with the village people--note my lack of capitalization; they don't break into "Macho Man" at any time--who are being armed by the Klingons. So Kirk decides the only way to fulfill the Prime Directive to not interfere interfere by giving the hill people equal access to weapons. Don't ask me to explain it.

More important than the political allegory of this episode is the sexual allegory. In their initial foray to the planet, Spock is shot and must be beamed back up. We'll get back to kinky ol' Spock later. Beaming back down later, Kirk and McCoy encounter a goofy-looking beast, and the captain is poisoned by a bite from its fangs. Dr. McCoy is unable to help him, and they can't contact the Enterprise, so they find Kirk's old pal Tyree so that his witch wife Nona can help him.

And what a witch she is! As played by frequent 1960s TV guest star Nancy Kovack, Nona must be one of the sexiest "Trek" babes ever. Sure, she's a scheming plotter determined to pull strings and assert power over the planet by any means necessary, but who cares when she walks around in tight leather pants?

She also explains that in curing Kirk, he will become HERS, and they will be forever linked as a result of the ceremony. This conversation takes place right in front of her husband, who seems OK with it. Our man James T., of course, would be willing to give this a shot even if he weren't dying rapidly and in desperate need of her cure.

So then you have Nona's ridiculous "cure" of a poisoned Kirk, complete with theatrical writhing and groaning as she lays down next to him and performs this "ceremony." They don't even try to hide the sexual parallel there, and it all culminates in her collapsing, spent, next to him (practically atop him) as Tyree presumably remembers the many times he saw this happen last time Kirk was on Neural.

Later, Nona starts to seduce Kirk with the aid of her witchcraft, and Tyree sees them and gets jealous and skulks off. I have a feeling THIS kind of thing happened a lot to Tyree and Kirk last time he was on Neural as well.

Still later, Nona runs away from Tyree's hill people and approaches 3 villagers, offering them Kirk's phaser to advance their side's arsenal, when they proceed to grope and attack her in what would clearly be a gang-rape situation. I don't mean to joke about this aspect of the episode. Jeez, it's kind of intense.

Meanwhile, Spock is semi-conscious on the Enterprise in the care of Nurse Chapel, who clearly pines for him. Annoyingly so, really. When he is on the verge of recovery, a prone Spock asks Chapel to hit him, saying that the pain helps him focus back to consciousness. So the "Vulcan self-healing" involves him telling Nurse Chapel to hit him harder and harder until it jolts him back to, well, some semblance of normality.

A doctor on board (I'd name him, but, come on, he's not McCoy) had already told Nurse Chapel to do whatever Spock tells her to do during his recovery. She didn't think she'd have a problem with that, but then, she wasn't expecting a sadomasochistic ritual as part of their first date. And why should she? The doc, who knew a lot more about that wacky Vulcan physiology than he let on, conveniently forgets to mention that part.

So in the span of 50 minutes, we get lust, adultery, rape, S&M, and that's just the more explicit stuff. As I dig into those G4 tapes and revisit the series I watched as a kid, I may find this episode unexceptional, but right now I find it hard to believe this represents just a routine entry in the Captain's Log.