Friday, October 30, 2009

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas (whether you like it or not)

I always say I like Christmas as much as the next guy, unless I'm standing beside Mick Foley, but this year, the early onset of the yuletide season deserves a particularly potent SHEESH!

It all began when I saw a busy display of Christmas trees at Macy's...several weeks ago. OK, it was cool-looking, and my daughter loved it, but still.

We're all hearing how desperate retailers are eager to start pushing the holiday shopping season even earlier this year--yes, even before Halloween. Remember when it used to be a big deal to hear Christmas songs on the radio before Thanksgiving?

But of course, we here at Cultureshark believe nothing is official till it be validated by television, so this next item will stand as the true sign that we've all lost our minds and the season is here too early. Last week, Sitcoms Online ran a story discussing ABC Family Channel's plans for holiday programming. You see, not only does the network roll out its annual 25 Days of Christmas lineup, it offers a COUNTDOWN to the 25 Days of Christmas.

First of all, while the festival of lame TV movies and classic Rankin-Bass specials is always a hit and a better use of the channel's resources than many other ventures it could trot out there, is it really so daggone notworthy as to merit a COUNTDOWN to itself? If the commercialization of the holidays isn't enough for you, here's a little self-importance courtesy of ABC Family.

Second, it starts November 10! November 10 is just too early to roll this stuff out, and I say that as a relatively new parent who realized last year how quickly the season flies by and how hectic it can be without preparation. November 10!

Third, the story tells us one of the movies premiering in the Countdown to the 25 Days of Christmas is "The Dog Who Saved Christmas," with Dean Cain, Mario Lopez, and Adrienne Barbeau. 'Nuff said.

Hey, if this is where we're headed, though, Cultureshark will have to adapt. Look for round 2 of my Classic TV Christmas Festival in December, only this year, you'll really love the Countdown to the Classic TV Christmas Festival, starting...3 DAYS AGO!

That's right, this blog has been counting down to its Classic TV Christmas Festival for several days, and you didn't even know it! Don't feel too bad, though. I only just realized it myself. Ho ho ho!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

This Week in DVD and deception

Here's something a bit different this week: I am going to give an untrue statement about each entry this week except one. See if you can guess which one is sincere. The correct answer is on file in the third unit from the left in the big row of lockers closest to the main terminal at the bus depot in Springfield, Illinois.

Ice Age 3: Ray Romano has one of the most appealing, entertaining, and dare I say SEXY cartoon voices of all time. It's amazing when you consider what a departure it is from his normal showbiz persona voice.

Nothing Like the Holidays: John Leguizamo is welcome in my household anytime, whether it be for the holidays or merely as a star in this delightful Christmas movie.

Orphan: This movie received terrible reviews, but it has special meaning for me since I myself was orphaned when my scientist father launched me away from our dying planet in a rocketship.

Whatever Works: The idea of Larry David in a Woody Allen just makes my skin crawl. Now, every time I watch "Curb Your Enthusiasm," I'm gonna be thinking about Larry David nailing Soon Yi.

Sam Fuller Collection: Sony really irritates me these days, scraping the bottom of the barrel for stuff like this when it could be devoting its resources to more versions of, say, "Casino Royale."

The Fugitive Season 3 Volume 1: Paramount has set the gold standard with its treatment of classic TV shows, and its thoughtful substitution of original underscore music with new synth-heavy replacements is just one example.

Mannix Season 3: You know, I just can't get into this show, and I think it's because of the fey performance by Mike Connors.

Saturday Morning Cartoons The 1960s Volume 2 and 1970s Volume 2: Since, oh, just about as soon as the format BEGAN, I've been going around telling anyone who'll listen that what DVD needs is more "Hair Bear Bunch."

The Barbara Stanwyck Show Volume 1: Barbara Stanwyck was born July 16, 1907.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Box Office Preview: This Is It

(Note: The following post is the result of exhaustive market research, precise scientific analyses, and our own top-secret box office prediction formulas. Don't mix us up with those other scrubs that just guess.)

Tomorrow sees the debut of the highly touted Michael Jackson "concert film," or at least "rehearsal for a concert" film, "This Is It," and many people are curious as to how much it will earn at the box office. These people are, of course, mostly Jackson family members, corporate stooges, and other hangers-on all interested in exploiting the dead pop star for a buck or two.

But even those of us not in that category can take an interest in predicting the box office success of this anticipated event. We shouldn't, but we can. Here, then, are Cultureshark's official predictions.

*If "This Is It" reaches the $10 million mark in the first few days, it will go on to gross much more than that over the course of the weekend. We are confident in saying on record that this will happen.

*If it eventually reaches the $25 million mark, Michael Jackson really will be the King of Pop, as he declared himself. It'll be official, cold, hard fact, and no one will be able to dispute this.

* That $25 million mark, however, is a mere glass of Jesus Juice compared to what we see as the ultimate number this movie will reach: Our analysis indicates that "This Is It" will gross $87,340,754.

This is a significant number because it exceeds the $87,340,000 figure needed for Michael Jackson himself to return to Earth, greet his minions, and reclaim his throne as the rightful terrestrial King of Pop. There will be mass hysteria and confusion, followed by a peaceful euphoria, then finally an extended state of bliss as the citizenry acclimates itself again to life in the Kingdom of Michael Jackson.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The new TV season summarized

I've written a lot of posts about new TV lately, and I'll try to throw in some more variety soon, but now I think it's time to assess what's going on with the new shows. If you've been reading the blog lately, especially my Should You Watch? posts, you've seen many of my thoughts, but I've also sampled some other series and maybe changed my take on some I already covered. I divide the new shows into several categories:


By this, I mean new shows that are actually saved as series to record on my DVR. This is a prestigious honor given to less and less network shows each year, mind you, but nevertheless I find it sad that out of all the TV I watched in September and October, only two efforts are week-in, week-out watches for me: Modern Family and Community. The former hasn't always lived up to its pilot but is funny each time out, while the latter continues to improve. Each show is also trying to demonstrate that elusive quality of "heart," and while it doesn't always seem organic, hey, at least these guys are trying. Bravo to each of those shows, although that word is inappropriate because they're way too good to be on Bravo.


Yeah, it might make more structural sense to build this post up until we get to the real stinkers, but why make you wait? Many new shows are so bad, they can only be deemed disasters. Brothers is terrible execution of a bizarre concept: Let's build a sitcom around former New York Giant Michael Strahan!

The Forgotten doesn't strike me as a terrible show, but its ratings were a disaster, and you have to wonder who thought it was a good idea to build a procedural around Christian Slater so soon after "My Own Worst Enemy" bombed. Now, I don't think it's a bad idea to give Kelsey Grammer another chance at a sitcom, but the public and the media strongly rejected Hank, and based on the pilot, I can't blame them.

I thought Mercy was just mediocre at first, but I saw another episode recently and decided it's downright bad. If you're into that kind of corny female-centered medical show, though, and ABC doesn't give you enough, hey, have at it. There are also corny female-centered sitcoms around, too, though--witness Accidentally on Purpose.


Trauma's first episode was too ridiculous to warrant another viewing, despite some exciting explosions in the first 10 minutes. Eastwick is another one of those "not my cup of witches brew" kind of deals. If it were on after "Desperate Houswives" and I got stuck watching 10 minutes of it, it wouldn't kill me. Cougar Town surprised me with a funny pilot, then got sillier and less effective, and I bailed. The Middle may be an OK show, but I didn't find the first episode all that funny, and I just don't see the appeal of tuning in to a Patricia Heaton vehicle each Wednesday.

I already wrote about my problems with Glee.


There are a few shows which were well done but not compelling enough to make me seek them out each week. The Good Wife is a decent legal drama with the hook of Julianna Marguiles as a wife victimized by a scandal involving her cheating hubby. CBS seems to think we're fascinated by the idea of what happens to the wife in that kind of situation after she stands by her creep of a spouse in front of the cameras. Me, not so much. But I like Marguiles, and the show is entertaining and well produced.

Flash Forward delivered an entertaining first hour, but the intriguing premise didn't pop enough to keep me around, and I have to admit that, yes, part of my reluctance to keep up was a fear that the show would suck me in and then get canceled, or suck me in and then wander aimlessly without advancing plotlines.

I liked the pilot of The Cleveland Show much more than I anticipated. It definitely looks, sounds, maybe even feels like "Family Guy," but it's more focused and consistent--at least that episode. I may catch up on this one eventually.


Three Rivers, NCIS: Los Angeles, Melrose Place, Vampire Diaries

Am I really missing anything there? I think not.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Panel Discussion: The Man of Nonchalance

Maybe I'm reading too much into this, but these back-to-back panels in Superman #147's "The Legion of Super-Villains" seem odd.

Unless this story is leaving out a whole lot of material in between panels, Superman is so unconcerned that a mysterious scoundrel bullied him away by threatening to electrocute a whole bus full of innocent people that he not only is not looking for the villain, but he's hanging out at the fair pitching toy planes to the crowd!

"Oh, well, I'm sure that guy learned his lesson yesterday when I, uh, flew away and let him go about his business. Surely he'll never do anything like that again, and I can go ahead and fulfill my important duties for the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce!"

I'll bet BATMAN would have stayed up all night trying to track down that dude, and if the Gotham Fairgoers went without toy planes the next day, that would just be too bad.

Friday, October 23, 2009

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

The other day, I happened to trip over the October 5 edition of "People," and I accidentally read several pages, including a seemingly innocuous section of "Star Tracks" featuring a few photos of LeeAnn Rimes and Eddie Cibrian.

The smaller picture showed the couple boarding her tour bus. Simple enough, right? Stars are just like us--they board tour buses.

Well, no, there is something far more significant going on here. "People" is sending a message here, not just by what it says--more on this in a moment--but what it does NOT say. There is no reference to the messy circumstances that brought these two together--you know, the whole two marriages being broken up thing.

By avoiding any reference to that situation, when it's the first thing that jumps into anyone's mind when seeing a pic of the couple, "People" is signalling to us that it's time to move on. The mag is using its huge influence in the gossiposphere to loosen up on the two and bestow on them credibility as a "normal" couple.

Now, the bigger picture right next to it, with a topless Cibrian and a bold caption about his "BUFF BOD"? There's no larger symbolic meaning to that. "People" just wants us to know about his buff bod.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This Week in DVD

I believe this is one of the most intriguing DVD release weeks in quite some time. Will this post live up to the occasion? Well...

It's Garry Shandling's Show The Complete Series: This is great, great news for Shandling fans, although it's not exactly a great, great price. The show holds up well, although many of its postmodern elements aren't as fresh now as they were back in the eighties. My thanks to Shout Factory for doing this show up right and including extras, but until I have the coin to afford this package, I may have to stick with my "alternative" set.

Vega$ Season 1 Part 1: The $plit $eason $cam a$ide, not to mention the fact that I have dim memories of this show and would probably think it kind of stupid if it were around today...part of me thinks it's just cool that Vega$ is coming to DVD. Maybe I'm just excited to finally see what all the Bart Braverman fuss is about.

Best of the Smothers Brothers Season 2: Season 3 arrived last year, so I guess we'll have to wait till 2011 for the really good stuff in "Best of the Smothers Brothers Season 0."

Darn Good Westerns Volume 2: I guess "Darn Good Historical Costume Dramas" just wouldn't seem right, but I'd be tempted to buy it for the name alone.

Plastic Man Complete Collection: I own and enjoy a lot of Plastic Man comics, but I can't say I'm often tempted to break open the old giant clamshell case and pop in the VHS tape I have of these cartoons. Still, I might be tempted to give these a look-see. Unlike Vega$, I DID watch this show as a kid.

William Castle Collection: Sony delivers a big ol' batch of the producer's best-known flicks, just in time for Halloween. The guy did more than thrillers, to be sure, but hearing the name of the man that brought us "The Tingler" doesn't exactly conjure visions of Labor Day.

Wrong Turn 3: I remember enjoying the original "Wrong Turn" because it seemed a simple, unpretentious (if derivative) B-movie. I don't know what's going on here, but squeezing a third one of these out seems neither simple nor unpretentious.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen: On Wednesday, my DVD player rejected a movie. Then my car stereo wouldn't play a CD. Dear Lord, are the machines now after ME?

Sherlock Holmes Archive Collection: Wow, there are all kinds of goodies in this box set--everything from cartoons to Karloff. I wouldn't be surprised if Sherlock the squirrel from "The Magic Garden" made an appearance.

WWE: Batista: I Walk Alone: I don't want to engage in any gossipmongering or anything, but...I suspect this guy just might be on the juice.

Peanuts 1970s Collection Volume 1: Finally we reach the time when the Peanuts gang quickly succumbed to the ravages of social strife, economic downturn, foreign war, and the general malaise that festered in their psyches during the late sixties.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Weather Channel to show movies, too?

This is even worse than Travel Channel showing feature films: The Weather Channel, which used to be a reliable source of information about, you know, weather, is now going to start showing movies. Because everyone wants movies on all channels instead of a variety of programming across the vast cable landscape.

These films supposedly have weather themes, and I can understand "The Perfect Storm," but it's stretching it to include "Misery" and "March of the Penguins."

Remember when you could go to the Weather Channel at any time of the day, wait a few minutes, and get a local forecast? Is this concept passe now? I don't believe it is. Local digital subchannels are broadcasting weather info now, but even they can't seem to take this simple concept and execute it right. But Weather Channel has been around for years, and it's becoming irrelevant, if it isn't already, not because of competition, but because it's worthless.

Of course, this is no surprise when you remember NBC/Universal owns this network now. It's only a matter of time before Weather is loaded with reality shows, repurposed programming from other crummy NBC cable channels, and--natch--lots and lots of played-out, hacked-for-TV movies. Yippee.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Community: An actual decent show on NBC!

Yep, after a handful of episodes, it's safe to say "Community" is a double rarity: a new sitcom that's really funny and a new NBC series that's really good. It impressed me by improving on its pilot, and I believe this series shows real potential if it can stick around.

The premise is simple: Take a bunch of quirky characters and make them into a sitcommy de facto family, this time as a study group at a community college. NBC seemed to be pushing Joel McHale as the clear star, and while his cocky ex-lawyer is the center of the show, it's much more of an ensemble than the marketing indicated. This is a good thing because McHale, apparently trying to walk the line and do a smarmy Bill Murray kind of rebel character likable enough to anchor a weekly show, isn't quite there yet. But I'm willing to see him develop in the role.

The supporting cast features an attractive blonde McHale wants as more than a friend, if ya know what I mean, Chevy Chase as a socially clueless entrepreneur, and some who seem like stock character types at first but get more fleshed out each week. The writing is self-aware enough to poke fun at the fact that some of those characters look stock at first, but sometimes that self-awareness is annoying. For example, one of the characters actually told McHale's character he thought he was going for a Bill Murray vibe.

Yet this all works because the writing is consistent, and most importantly, rather than rely solely on McHale, "Community" is making a strong effort each episode to expand the character relationships so that they interact in different combinations. This approach is making each individual more interesting and opening up even more possibilities. No character is overexposed, either--an especially salient concern when your cast features Chevy Chase.

I like the community college setting. There's a lot of comic potential here, and it feels like a relatively fresh territory. You might wonder how long the premise of a group of Spanish classmates studying together--at a presumably transitory community college, no less---can sustain itself. I say, don't worry about it. In this day and age, shows can't afford to worry about what they'll do 5 years down the road (and many clearly don't).

After all, this IS NBC we're talking about, and it's no big stretch to think the Peacock could pull this solid newcomer any week in favor of "Weekend Update: Health Care Debate Edition" or "Best of Jaywalking." I know critics are gaga for "30 Rock" and to a lesser extent "The Office," but it would be a shame to see this funny, engaging comedy lost in the shuffle.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Vault of Coolness: Found Money (1983)

Don't you miss the days when something like this could be the TV event of the week?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Worst movie title of this or any other year

No beating around the bush here: The worst movie title in quite some time--and that may be understating it--is the buzzed about showcase for the "acting chops" of Mo'Nique and Mariah Carey:

"Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Saaphire."

Here I must confess I know very little except this except that it's depressing as hell, Mo'Nique is said to "keep it real" with her performance, and Mariah Carey earns credibility by going without makeup and looking frumpy.

None of this matters. Let's talk about that title. Granted, the full title won't appear on the marquee at your local multiplex, and most people will refer to the film simply as "Precious." But we have to judge a movie by its title around here, and that means its full title.

There aren't many movies out right now or on the way that are called "Precious." So why cram the book into the title? If the fans of the novel are gonna see it, they're gonna see it. If you haven't read the novel, then the "based on" means nothing to you.

And because I'm ignorant of the book and its origins (except I do realize it's rooted in some horrible circumstances suffered by the author, none of which I want to make fun of at all), I won't even bring up the spelling of "Saaphire." Nope, not even gonna mention it in this post.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

This Week in DVD

The Proposal: So a Sandra Bullock movie comes out a while ago called "All About Steve." It looks terrible. It's panned. It tanks. Yet "The Proposal" looked almost as terrible (not quite, I concede), and it is now considered one of the most successful films of her career. What does this prove? Absolutely nothing, but it gives me a chance to mention how stupid "The Proposal" looks without just blurting it out.

Land of the Lost: Well, the good thing about this Will Ferrell movie is--is--uh...DVD reissues of the old series, also out this week?

Drag Me to Hell: They're already releasing the family movies for the holiday season, I guess.

Jackass: The Lost Tapes: There's MORE "Jackass"? Yet they're still trying to find the tapes of Super Bowl I.

Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection Volume 7: Bad news is, this is another cut-rate version of the "good" sets, a collection of previously released 'toons aimed at the casual fan. Good news is, TV Shows on DVD reported that Jerry Beck said there were releases aimed at "collectors" on the way in 2010. The good news is a lot vaguer than the bad news here, but we got to take what we can get.

The Stepfather: This remake may be scary, but I can't even begin to think about it without flashing back to the original, saying, "Terry O'Quinn with HAIR!" and giggling like a schoolgirl...with an angry stepfather...who will probably get mad and tell her to shut up...AAH! I just DID get scared!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

ABC's Wednesday comedies

Don't look now, but ABC has built a respectable night of sitcoms. Well, "night" in this case meaning from 8:00 to 10:00, because "Eastwick" isn't really a sitcom. And maybe we should shorten that night and start it 8:30 because "Hank" is a critical and commercial failure. Andr I don't watch "The Middle," either. Come to think of it, I bailed on "Cougar Town" after being disappointed by the follow-up to the solid pilot.

So really, ABC has one really good comedy on Wednesday, and that's "Modern Family" at 9:00. But, hey, that's something.

"Hank" stars Kelsey Grammer, which is a plus, but it doesn't surround him with enough funny ensemble players. The pilot episode seemed to offer nothing apart from Kelsey getting flustered in his patented imperious way, and from what I've read, subsequent episodes don't add much.

"The Middle" stars Patricia Heaton, which is neither a plus nor much of a minus for me, and I can't help but note the vague resemblance to "Malcolm in the Middle," a resemblance which would be a lot vaguer had ABC not called it "THE MIDDLE." Heaton is a busy mom and wife with wacky types as her kids. I didn't find the pilot terrible or anything, but it's not my kind of show.

"Cougar Town" has a terrible title. I mean, the word "Cougar" as it's used here got old about 3 days after it "blew up," and I just realized "blew up" got played out at about the same time, so I apologize. I think Courteney Cox is a solid TV actress, one funny and appealing enough to carry her own show. But the notion of her running around living out her 20s (she "missed out on them" while being a mom and wife) might not hold up each week. Crista Miller's best friend character, who is still married and sort of resents Cox sexing and clubbing it up, got on my nerves early in the second episode. I do like Cox's teenage son, played by Dan Byrd as if he were a young, sincere Eddie Kaye Thomas.

The jewel of the night is "Modern Family," which borrows elements from a lot of other good sitcoms but somehow avoids staleness. It shows the lives of an extended family, focusing on 3 couples and their children. The characters frequently talk to the camera in a confessional format, and I really expected this gimmick to grate, but the show manages to make it work.

The casting is spot-on, led by the great Ed O'Neil as the patriarch of this clan, now married to a much younger, much hotter wife (Sofia Vergara). The writing relies on awkwardness and people looking liking idiots, yet each episode brings at least one moment or two of solid affection. The show mocks but ultimately affirms the concept of family and expects you to like, not resent, its characters. I believe "Modern Family" earns that like, and it's simply funny enough to earn a regular slot on my DVR.

Hey, this post is starting to get too positive. Better inject some negativity here: Last week's "Modern Family" featured its worst plotline yet, in which the gay male couple heads to Costco. It essentially gave us a big ad for the warehouse shopping chain with no comic payoff. Ooh, the snobby guy loathes the place until he actually goes there, and then lo and behold, he loves it and is filling his cart with all kinds of bulk merchandise. Har har har. Stock sitcom scenario plus product placement = uh, I wish I could think of some combo of "S" and "p" words here. Suffice to say it brought down the whole episode. Let's hope it was an aberration. I'd hate to see the one really good comedy in ABC's really good night of comedy dragged down by stuff like that.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Should you watch: Trauma

OK, dude, if you want to roll with us "Trauma" watchers, you gotta feel the need for speed! See, those of us who watch this show are ADRENALINE JUNKIES, and you'd better come strong and come hard or don't come at all, brutha.

I mean, the pilot alone gave us 10 minutes of BLOWING STUFF UP before it settled into some boring scenes about the aftermath of stuff getting blown up. I hope the rest of the series isn't about feelings and crap like that because the way I see it, we could go at any minute, and so we might as well GO ALL OUT AND WATCH TRAUMA, BABY! And when we watch it, we want to see EXPLOSIONS! We want to live on the EDGE, man!

Why? That's just the way we roll, bras. If you think you can hang with us, go ahead and cowboy up and strap yourself in for some HIGH-OCTANE television. Otherwise, if you expect intelligent dialogue, characters that are more than cliches, and a general emphasis on stuff not getting blown up, then STAY HOME! Or if you are home, STAY ON CBS!

'Cause here at "Trauma," you gotta lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way, man! I'm so STOKED to watch the next episode because I LIVE FOR THIS STUFF! HOO-HAH!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Leatherheads, or How to annoy your wife

HBO was playing "Leatherheads" a lot recently, and Mrs. Shark and I decided to check it out. The movie exceeded my expectations, but I think I exceeded my wife's patience.

As the movie started, I announced like a true showman--if you cant be a true showman in your own basement, where can you be one--"Ladies and gentleman, now for tonight's feature, 'Leatherheads,' starring George Clooney, the guy from the fake 'Office," and Squinty!"

For some reason, Mrs. Shark took umbrage at my calling Renee Zellweger "Squinty." Hey, I mean nothing by it. Well, except for the obvious part about her looking like she always squints. I did mean that. I never knew my wife was a big fan of Renee. Part of me is gratified that she still has a fanbase, as her career has been a little quiet lately, and I think she has a lot to offer. of course, there's always the very real possibility that Mrs. Shark was just annoyed that I was being a jackass.

There's the even realer possibility she was getting in a pre-emptive "Rick!" to prevent me from being a jackass during the whole film.

If so, it didn't take at first, because since "Leatherheads" is a period piece set in the world of 1920s professional football, when the movie started, we were treated to old-timey 1920s music on the soundtrack, and you know what THAT means. That's right, I'm dancing the Charleston! It's hard enough to avoid busting out those moves when you're in a movie theater, but darned near impossible to resist in the privacy of your own home.

Of course, I wasn't alone in my own home, either, and I could tell by the look on my wife's face that she kind of wished I was--like with her in a different zip code. Ever tolerant of me, though, instead of telling me directly what an idiot I looked like, she asked me, "Why are you doing the female version of it?"

You know, I've never been 100% sure there WERE "male" and "female" versions of the Charleston, but as Coolidge is my witness, if that's the reality, I was surely doing the feminine moves. But who can blame me? It's much more fun to wave your arms theatrically and do those loosey-goosey steps, whether you look like a flapper or not, than to do some kind of stiff, self-conscious "masculine" Charleston.

Maybe I shouldn't have been doing the Charleston in front of the TV, period, you might say, and you would have a fair point, one Mrs. Shark would likely appreciate.

The hijinks in "Leatherheads" are at times as silly as my own movie "enhancements," but overall, the film works. As a football fan, it's surprising to find the football scenes less interesting than the romantic comedy ones. While George Clooney and the gang don't always reach the heights of the classic screwball films they're trying to emulate, they come close enough often enough to create an enjoyable experience.

Clooney and Squin--er, Zelwegger make a solid pairing, able to spit out rapid dialogue without drowning in it. John Krasinksi is less effective as a coveted collegiate football star, and in fact the film doesn't even try to make an equilateral triangle here. Really, the tension is whether George and Renee can get together without killing each other, not whether she'll run off with a callow young punk. Her sassy reporter makes a nice match for his seasoned, roguish football vet, and while the movie maybe tries a little too hard sometimes to capture that retro feel, my thinking is, at least it's trying. Case in point: Clooney's character is named Dodge Connelly, and if that annoys you, better find another movie.

The old-timey football scenes provide some broad physical comedy, but the real period feel is evident more in the relationships. Maybe "Leatherheads" is more trying to recreate how Hollywood presented life back then than how life really was, but again, I have no problem with that. How could I? I mean, my Charleston is totally based on what I've seen from Hollywood.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Brooks on Books: Classic Rock Stories by Tim Morse

This 1998 book is a compact, breezy volume--just over 200 pages--that reads fast but satisfies if you're looking for a pick-it-up-every-now-and-then deal or maybe a plow-through-it-fast-without-much-effort deal.

Here's the concept: Morse gathers a bunch of quotes from the songwriters and musicians who created a host of the most famous classic rock songs of all time--and they ARE by and large famous, as there aren't too many rarities discussed here--and lets them speak for themselves. None is longer than a page or so, and most are a mere paragraph or two. He doesn't supplement them with anything but some brief facts such as year of release and album of origin. In his acknowledgements, Morse thanks someone for helping to set up interviews, but he doesn't provide specific details for any of the stories, just a big list of sources at the end. For all we know, he grabbed all this stuff from secondary sources like the magazines and books he cites.

OK, so it's not a scholarly work or anything, but it's a fun read for anyone who grow up on heavy doses of classic rock. Some of the insights are humorous, a few are poignant, and some are actually insightful. Then there are the "No kidding, Sherlock," comments, like Jimi Hendrix on his "Hey, Joe": "It's about a cat, he shoots his old lady because he catched her doin' wrong, she's messin' with everybody else." I think we got that, Jimi!

Then there's Elton John's "Take Me to the Pilot." John himself says, "I have no idea what that's about, and neither does he!" And the "he," lyricist Bernie Taupin, adds, If anyone can tell me what the song is about--that would be great!"

You could quibble with the organization of the book, perhaps--Morse divides the songs into sections such as "Love and Lust," (self-explanatory, "Cocaine," (about substances in general providing impetus for songs) and "A Quick One" (songs that seem to write themselves). And Morse, whose previous book was about the songs of Yes, is clearly a fan of prog rock, including way more Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, than the man on the street might demand. Some of the song choices feel odd, too--does Rod Stewart's "You're In My Heart" really belong in the same book as "My Generation" and "Tumbling Dice"?

Morse pads the book a little with his personal ranking of the 25 best rock albums of all time and a sort of update on what the "dinosaurs" covered in the book were doing in 1998. It's a little indulgent, but so what? It's his book. I would like to read a book like this with more depth and some precise sourcing, but again, this is Morse's book, and he did it his way. It's an enjoyable read if you find it at a used book store for a few bucks.

Friday, October 9, 2009

WHY? (Special all-TV edition)

It's Friday, and I got a whole bunch of gripes--gripes that raise questions. So let me just get them off my chest and wonder...WHY?

*The previously pretty-darn-good "Modern Family" featured a terrible storyline this week that doubled as a big advertisement for Costco.

*People eat Chipotle despite getting blood-stained underwear.
(note: this item is in tribute to "South Park," which offered a much, much better example of "product placement" this week than did "Modern Family.")

*Comedy Central is promoting a new Nick Swardson comedy special titled..."Seriously, Who Farted?"

*In a promo for last night's Jay Leno Show," NBC acted like it was a real "How cool is this?" moment when Jack Black and Ben Harper jammed together.

*The organizers of the new United Football League (airing on Versus and HDNet) decided it would be a good idea to run games in the the same time as the NFL.

*NBC renewed "Southland" almost immediately last season, then canceled it this week before its second season even aired.

*'Playboy" to put Marge Simpson on its cover next month to appeal to younger readers.
(didn't they ever consider, I don't know, getting a really hot celebrity younger readers want to see naked to pose for them?)

*There is a new reality show about the family of Lorenzo Lamas.

*The owners of Fine Living Network are going to shut it down and relaunch it as Cooking Channel...even though they already own Food Network.

*NBC decided to launch promising new sitcom "Community" by running it for a few weeks at 9:30, then suddenly moving it to 8:00.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Should You Watch: Eastwick

I never saw "The Witches of Eastwick," never read the novel, never attended the play (was there a play? Well, I was on a roll there, and it seemed right). But I did see the first episode of ABC's new Wednesday night light drama "Eastwick."

So while I'm sure for some the "Witches of Eastwick" nostalgia is strong with this show, it reminds me more of a little number called "Charmed." 3 women with supernatural abilities, an evolving mythology, a light tone...seems like that's the deal here.

But let me tell you, "Eastwick." I knew "Charmed." I frequently flipped to
Charmed" to see what ridiculous sexy outfit Alyssa Milano was wearing in a given episode. And, 'Eastwick," you are no "Charmed."

You should watch "Eastwick" if...

*You loved Charmed, but you just wish it had been a little blonder.

*You think every troubled woman just needs a little (possibly) satanic intervention to unlock her full potential.

*Suburbia just isn't entertaining enough anymore without magical powers.

*You like "Witches of Eastwick" enough to see a TV version of it...but not enough to be offended if it's nowhere near as good.

*You see the new TV season as nothing more than a vehicle to get you ready for the real event of the fall: Halloween!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mr. Ed(ited)

Shout Factory has done it again, licensing a neglected classic TV property and getting it out there on DVD so the fans can enjoy it again.


Shout Factory has done it again, licensing a neglected classic TV property, getting substandard materials, and sneaking out a flawed set without bothering to inform the fans.

You can look at it one way or maybe both, but the fact is, while Shout pleased a lot of fans with its decision to license "Mr. Ed" from MGM/Fox and issue a Season 1 set (a Best Of was released years ago), it angered many by including edited episodes (this review allows for the fact that there may be time compression, too, which is not much better). Not all are cut syndicated versions, but about a third are--enough to necessitate some kind of heads-up or disclosure, wouldn't you agree?

Shout Factory gets a lot of praise for its willingness to "rescue" underappreciated properties like "Mr. Ed" from larger companies. It certainly deserves credit for getting product out there. Plus the company encourages consumer feedback and does a good job of responding to questions and suggestions on its web site and in other forums.

Or at least, until a DVD set is actually released. Then it seems like the company goes into Maintain Radio Silence mode. This is what I don't appreciate about Shout Factory: The fact that we have to learn about fiascos like the horrible Rhoda Season 1 set or the presence of edited episodes on this "Mr. Ed" collection from online reviewers and other fans. When things are going well, sure, communicating with the public is hunky-dory. But when a set has issues, where is the heads-up? Shout is, in the immortal words of Sean Connery in "Entrapment," playing both SHIDES. It wants the good vibes generated by fostering an accessible, friendly image, but is less enthusiastic about dealing with potential discontent.

I don't blame Shout for not wanting to hire skywriters and trumpet the fact that, "Hey, folks, we've got a crappy DVD set coming out Tuesday! We got crummy elements, so look for faded prints and major edits!" Still, I can't help but conclude that Shout is hoping to draw as many fans as it can as soon as possible BEFORE they find out about the quality of the product. Uneducated buyers who aren't fortunate enough to read online reviews sites and forums won't be any the wiser, and the hardcore fans? Well, maybe once they have the set, they won't bother returning it, and Shout will have its sale.

There are surely legitimate reasons for a company, especially one that is dependent on another to receive physical materials, to release a TV on DVD set with problems. If so, why not be more up front about it? Casual fans who don't care about edited episodes won't bail on a set if you come out and say, "Look. What happened is, MGM couldn't find the originals." In fact, they might never even notice or care. But you know the hardcore fans, the ones who likely are buying other Shout Factory sets, WILL notice, and they will be ticked off. Yeah, you might get the sale, but you lose some goodwill, and you do your own company an overall disservice. If there's some legal reason you can't be more forthcoming, well, maybe you need to rethink the licensing agreement.

So, come on, Shout Factory, just level with us, preferably BEFORE you release the set. Some people will be upset no matter what if the set is substandard. However, others will appreciate knowing the full story ahead of time and will take it into consideration when planning their purchases. And in the future, they'll be able to buy a Shout Factory set with confidence, or they'll be able to enjoy the news that Shout is planning a release of one of their favorites without groaning, "Oh, no, I hope they don't screw THIS ONE up."

Having said all that, Shout, you can go a long way toward winning me over by delivering another season of "Room 222"...

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

This Week in DVD

Year One: Come with Jack Black and Michael Cera back to a time long, long ago...a time before being funny was invented, apparently.

My Life in Ruins: I just don't have the heart to make fun of Nia Vardalos today. I don't know how many times since I sat through "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" I have mentioned her, but I bet I've made fun of her each time. Not today.

But, yeah, this looks terrible.

Assassination of a High School President: I know nothing about this movie except that Bruce Willis is on the DVD cover. How many films can Bruce Willis be in? Seriously, I've heard "The Surrogates" might not be as terrible as its seeming dump by its studio would indicate, but he shows up pretty regularly in stuff like this, and you just thing the guy may be cool, but he needs to take up Facebook or something.

Imagine That: Well, at least this time, Eddie can't point to a ton of money the movie made and rub it in our faces. It's good that Family Eddie Murphy makes some bombs, too--it lessens the chance of a PG "Beverly Hills Cop IV."

The Lola Falana Show: Hey, maybe now I'll understand all those Lola Falana references on "Sanford and Son." If she's good enough for Fred Sanford, she's got to be good enough for me.

Karloff and Lugosi Horror Classics: I tag my posts about old movies "classic movies" even though many of them are really not "classics" per se. Similarly, not every single film on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind is a classic by everyone's (sometimes anyone's) definition of the word. See what I'm getting at here?

But I say, who cares? You think I'm gonna gripe about Warners releasing a Kay Kyser flick AND a Brown and Carney flick on DVD--real, honest-to-goodness, pressed, NON-Archive discs, no less? Oh, yeah, that Karloff and that Lugosi are cool, too.

Murphy's Law Season One: Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the first season of an acclaimed British drama, seen years back on the American Beeb but presented here on our soil on DVD for the first time. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the immortal James ~NESBITT~. And as former AWA great Baron Von Raschke used to say, "That is all the people need to know."

Ken Burns' National Parks: America's Best Idea: What? It's not the buffalo wing? I chickened out of watching 12 hours of this on PBS, but maybe I'll sit down one month and catch it all on DVD...with a plate of buffalo wings.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Should You Watch: Mercy

Is it just me or are about 90% of the new shows on network TV this season aimed squarely at the female half of the population? I'm just saying, is all. Case in point: "Mercy," a new NBC hospital show with a core of female characters and a seeming commitment to emphasizing...feelings as much as medical action.

I wasn't impressed by the pilot episode, but you might want to check out. Here is why you should watch "Mercy":

*You just can't get enough of shows about nurses.

*Though you love shows about nurses, you don't want to see things you haven't seen before in shows about nurses.

*One hour of "Grey's Anatomy" per week just isn't enough for you.

*You look forward to spending the next couple of TV seasons agonizing over yet another "Will they/Won't they? couple. The lead, a nurse who served in Iraq, has discovered her doctor fling over there just took a job at her hospital--and she's engaged to her longtime stateside boyfriend! Hoo boy!

*You're thinking of applying to medical school, and the only way you can know for sure if the profession is right for you is to see it through the eyes of a naive, fresh-faced youngster just starting out (Michelle Trachtenberg).

*You're looking for someone just a little more cuddly than Nurse Jackie, someone who may be prickly at times but that's OK because she's an Iraq vet, man, and besides, nurses get no respect, and she deserves the chance to blow off a little steam by hitting the bar with her colleagues for a night of "You go, girl!" kind of fun.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Brooks on Books: Cooperstown Confidential by Zev Chafets

OK, so this book, full title "Cooperstown Confidential: Heroes, Rogues, and the Inside Story of the Baseball Hall of Fame," often reads like just a collection of dirt about the legends of the game. It is less a cohesive history of the Baseball Hall of Fame than a series of personalized rants and explorations of how the museum (and the sport itself) handle issues like race, drugs, and character. Much of the info in here doesn't exactly blow the lid off the place--even casual fans realize baseball has long had its share of miscreants, many of whom are in the Hall--and some of it is based on hearsay or supposition (For example, there are a lot of sinister motives attributed to the Hall's conservative, family-owned owners, but not a lot of proof).

Still, "Cooperstown Confidential" is an enjoyable book, and its history of the museum is a solid account. Chafets has an engaging style for those who don't mind his interjecting himself into the narrative. His stories about encounters with key baseball figures like pioneering union head Marvin Miller are enlightening, if a bit one-sided, and he offers valuable insights about the impact induction has on a ballplayer's career. A chapter in which he hangs out with recent HOF'er Goose Gossage is one of the best parts of the book. Clearly the effect of the honor is more than sentimental; big bucks are involved, especially for the older guys who played too early to get in on the huge contracts we see today.

Much of Chafets' arguments are based on his desire to eliminate the Hall of Fame charter's Rule 5, which is basically a character clause. He believes controversial figures like Pete Rose and Joe Jackson should be in, arguing that the Hall is full of scoundrels, anyway. The whole notion of a character basis for membership makes for interesting argument. Chafets continues, however, by making the case not just for the entry of players despite steroid use, but for legalizing performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, period. His arguments sort of go hand in hand here, I guess, but I would have liked to have read less about steroids and more about the Hall's internal politics and history.

In fact, the narrower the scope of the book--focusing on the Hall itself and its inhabitants, as well as membership means to its members--the more effective it is. It's less enlightening when Chafets uses Cooperstown as a springboard for tangents about broader aspects of the sport.

Throughout "Confidential," Chafets makes a lot of allegations about why things are the way in the Hall of Fame or why some people are in and some aren't. He doesn't offer a lot of proof, but relies on conspiracy theories and trying to connect some dots. Many fans might yearn for something more substantial. However, I enjoyed reading his take. The best way to go about this book is to treat it as an opinionated, subjective piece with some quality reporting in the mix.

It's been years since Bill James' analysis of the Hall of Fame (14 years since the latest edition, I believe), and while many pontificate on who should or should not be in, there isn't a whole lot out there about the internal workings of the system. Chafets doesn't provide a comprehensive objective look at the institution, but he does offer an entertaining history/rant that adds to the picture. It's a quick read and maybe a little slim at hardcover price, but I'd recommend "Cooperstown Confidential" as a library read or if you can get it at a good discount.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

This Week in DVD

Monsters vs. Aliens: Oh, no, I'm still too bummed out from Nittany Lions vs. Hawkeyes and Steelers vs. Bengals last weekend to get wrapped up in THIS one.

Management: Jennifer Aniston co-stars with that nice, young man Steve Zahn. Oh, I don't care what the movie's about, I just want poor Jennifer to finally find lasting love with one of her co-stars. Don't you?

The Brothers Bloom: I'm a big fan of Rian Johnson's previous film, "Brick," so I'm looking forward to this one, but that title sounds kind of...silly, I guess.

The Girlfriend Experience: Why is it if one of us talks about casting a porn star in an art film, it's considered creepy, but if Steven Soderbergh actually casts a porn star in an art film...well, it's still considered creepy, but less so.

Lies and Illusions: Christian Slater may have seen a TV series tank last year, and he may be on the verge of seeing another one bite the dust any day now, but at least he has this new movie on DVD...What? Cuba Gooding is in it, too? Hmm. Suddenly I strongly doubt this movie can provide any kind of career boost.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies: This latest DC Comics animated feature is based on a wild comic book story from Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness. Admit it, you were kind of hoping that an outlaw Bruce Wayne, preferably in a fedora, would be pursued across the Midwest by a pinstriped Clark Kent, weren't you?

Cagney and Lacey The Menopause Years: I take back what I said about the title of "The Brothers Bloom." Here's a good way to ensure nobody buys your collection of TV movies: include the word "menopause" on the front.

The Wizard of Oz: Yet another release of the enduring, ever exploitable classic. One of these days, maybe they'll get it right. Unless the Wizard gives me a Blu-Ray player, I won't be seeing this version.

Patty Duke Show Season 1: I haven't seen this show in years, but I'm uneasy that she shares a name with my least favorite college hoops team. Let's change it to "The Patty North Carolina Show," and maybe I'll rent it.