Thursday, April 29, 2010

The engima that is Ken Berry

So the other day I noticed that "The Cat From Outer Space" was coming on, and I suddenly got the urge to host a Salute to Ken Berry Film Festival.

(This is a good example of why I need to either have another child or get a hobby that has absolutely nothing to do with pop culture.)

I figured a handful of those live-action Ken Berry Disney flicks I watched as a tyke would make for an interesting lineup. I'll confess that I was only about 11% sure I'd actually do this--the fact is, I do have one small child, and that plus the fact that my wife isn't insane would make the actual execution of such a marathon difficult--but, hey, if we can't dream about programming a Ken Berry Film Festival, why dream at all?

A quick research jaunt to IMDB stunned me. Ken Berry, it turned out, wasn't in as many movies as I thought. I mean, unless I'm missing something, it was "The Cat," a "Love Bug" sequel, and that was pretty much it. Where in the world did I come up with my conception of Ken Berry: Box Office Matinee Idol for the Family Crowd?

You know what it was? It was television. Ken Berry was all over the tube when I was growing up. The frequent airing of "The Cat from Outer Space" was but one component of a bigger picture that apparently implanted Ken Berry: Icon into my impressionable brain. Funny thing is, I didn't even care for most of the stuff that was on. I never got into "F Troop" or "Mayberry RFD" back then, and though I can remember watching it sometimes, I was not a fan of "Mama's Family," either.

In fact, one of my strongest memories of TV's Ken Berry is his starring role in one of my least favorite "Brady Bunch" episodes ever (and now we pause for you Brady haters to add your own wise-ass remark here), the backdoor pilot for "Kelly's Kids" that seemed to be on a disproportionate number of times.

Here's an interesting thing that pops out when you study Ken Berry's resume (and I realize I tread on familiar ground here, as surely countless scholars before this humble blogger have pored over, analyzed, and discussed Ken Berry's curriculum vitae) is his 7 appearances on "Fantasy Island." 7 appearances! Talk about a friend of the show. I just love the notion of the staff casting a certain part and someone piping up, "Why don't we just bring Berry in again? He always nails it."

This tidbit, I think, epitomizes the apparent ubiquity of Kenneth Ronald Berry on 1970s/1980s television screens. "Fantasy Island" was a popular anthology-type show of its day, and it often featured average Joes who thought they wanted something but, as it turned out, were doomed to perish in a horrible explosion of some kind about 17 minutes after they got their wish. Or something like that. Who better than the Kenster to play an average Joe, someone generally likable but with maybe one big flaw, that of not knowing what he really wants?

Given the actor's everyday guy persona and the popularity of this kind of show back then, the stunner is that according to IMDB, he made but one "Love Boat" guest shot. If you think maybe that one was a little too bawdy to utilize his wholesome image, I remind you of his long stint playing against "bombshell" Dorothy Lyman on "Mama's Family." No, I prefer to believe that "Fantasy Island" staff had some influence here:

"Ken, we're not telling you to not go on that show. We're just telling you that, well, gosh, we love you so much here, we kind of think of you as our guy." And then they gave "Love Boat" the rights to use Grant Goodeve in a few more episodes.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that the Ken Berry Film Festival will not go on after all, but if anyone wants to run those "Fantasy Island" episodes, I'll give them a shot. Oh, yeah, and I might watch "The Cat from Outer Space" one of these days. And by the way, 249 episodes of "Love Boat"? That's just staggering.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Panel Discussion: Oh, you silly girl!

One of Superman's lesser publlicized (but not lesser used) powers in the Silver Age was his potent super sexism, as seen in this moment from "Justice League of America" #18:

Yeah, Wonder Woman! Jeez!

My annual rant against the TV Land Awards

TV Land stinks nowadays, blah, blah, blah.

The TV Land Awards are bogus, etc., etc., etc.

If TV Land is gonna give awards to shows like "Love Boat," it ought to actually SHOW some episodes of yada, yada, yada.

OK, I got that out of my system. Now let me contribute a positive comment about the show.

(I just can't get into the mindset to properly dissect the show-closing spectacle of luminaries like David Hasselhoff, Marilu Henner, and Richard Karn--yes, Richard Karn--singing Don't Stop Believin', so let's just forget about it, OK?)

That Tom Hanks showed up to this third-rate blend of nostalgia and blatant attempts to lure younger demos ("Glee" getting an award?) shows what a class act he is. Not only did he attend with castmates Peter Scolari, Holland Taylor, and Thelma Hopkins, he--I think--stuck around and acted like a "regular guy" while they made jokes about how much bigger a star he was. Hanks grabbed his trophy with good spirit and acted happy to be there.

I think that's pretty "Big" of him. Clearly he was the big dog in the room, but he didn't act like it, at least on camera. He did a lot better job of enjoying himself at the awards show than I did just watching it. So I give Tom Hanks an award of my own: The Cultureshark Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Achievement in Livening Up Industry Events While Remaining an All-Around Good Sport. I'll bet if I asked him nicely, he'd visit this blog and accept it, making a gracious and witty speech as he did.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What was I thinking? Part 2: "Small Wonder"

I thought I might get a little nostalgia-fueled kick out of seeing some "Small Wonder" episodes from the recent Season One set issued by Shout Factory. This despite the fact that I never liked the show, never felt a strong desire to see it again in the intervening years, and had no reason to believe it was some kind of buried treasure unjustly consigned to the kitsch corner of time.

What was I thinking?

I made it through the first episode partly because my wife was in the room to share the experience. I made it through a second because I was on a stationary bike and didn't feel like getting up to stop the disc and turn the TV to something else. Even then, I relied on a nearby "Sports Illustrated" to divert my attention.

"Small Wonder" is bad. Oh, I don't mean to disparage the people involved, all of whom surely tried hard and meant well. But this is a classic example of a mediocre sitcom gone wild. Every minute is packed with a cutesy moment, a standard misunderstanding, a precocious kid, a punchline you can see coming almost before the set-up...Maybe there is some humor to be mined out of the premise of a guy inventing a robot and passing it off as a young niece. It ain't here, though. Trust me.

I tried listening to an audio commentary, figuring maybe, just maybe, I missed something. Or perhaps there would be some worthwhile stories of hedonism behind the scenes during production of "Small Wonder." Instead, I just listened to amiable people chatting about the good times they had while making the show, and it made me feel guilty about hating it.

That guilt dissipated, though, as soon as I contemplated loading up a third episode. I just couldn't do it. "Small Wonder" might hold up for kids, who were probably the intended audience all along, but to me it just seems, at the risk of sounding all Holden Caulfield, phony. The jokes are phony, the characters are phony, and the situations are phony.

In fact, if Holden Caulfied were alive today, he'd definitely buy--not rent--this DVD set, but then quickly condemn it for being so phony.

(I realize the above sentence makes zero sense, but I needed a little something to jazz up the post, and I really don't have anything to say about Edie McClurg.)

There is one fascinating thing about "Small Wonder," and that's the conspicuous absence on the DVDs of star Tiffany Brissette. Is she distancing herself from the role of Vicki? Is she unavailable for comment? Is she actually a herself a robot and shunning publicity to avoid disclosure? These questions are far more fascinating to ponder than whether or not the annoying redhead girl that lives next door will catch Vicki in the act of coughing up a lugnut.

What was I thinking? I'll tell you what it was: That damn theme song. "She's the smaaall wonder..." It's catchy, it's cheesy, and it stays with you enough to obscure any memories you have of how bad the rest of the show was. I'll bet if you ever saw "Small Wonder," you're humming the song now. I'm here to tell you now: Just look up the opening on YouTube. Don't sit through an entire episode.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Brooks on Books: Nick Hornby trio

Nick Hornby is, in my opinion, one of the BESTEST writers ever. Excuse me for the highfalutin language, but since we're being literary here, I beg your indulgence. I recently read 3 Hornby/Hornby-related books, and here are my thoughts:

How to Be Good: Somehow, this novel slipped through the cracks for me even though I had read and loved "High Fidelity" and "About a Boy." What was wrong with me?

Well, that's not worth exploring, but in this book, Hornby explores what's wrong with a troubled relationship. He writes from the POV of Katie, a doctor whose marriage to a passive-aggressive crank named David is in trouble. David undergoes a sudden spiritual transformation one day, and Katie and their two kids must deal with his desire to be a good person, which sounds great except that he wants to give away material possessions, lend spare rooms to random homeless people, and generally do all sorts of things that, while well intentioned, are really inconvenient. And he does this all with the help of an oddball healer/guru type who moves in.

Katie's hand-wringing over what it means to be good is an entertaining journey into the world of liberal guilt. I don't use that phrase as some kind of political statement here; I'm just saying that Hornby describes the conflict between what we say we want for the world and how much we're actually willing to do. Katie becomes increasingly annoyed with David's plans, even though they're sincere--sometimes maybe because they're sincere--but she always remains a likable, identifiable character.

This is a sharp, funny novel which appears to head towards a pat ending, but ends in a place a lot more ambiguous and unsettling than you expect--well, at least than I expected. It's provocative and entertaining, but I don't see myself revisiting it like I do Hornby's classic "guy" novels that preceded this one.

I've written before about the cool little paperbacks that collect Hornby's book columns for "The Believer" magazine. The latest, 2008's "Shakespeare Wrote for Money," is also the last, as the author discontinued the feature. Each column lists what he read and what he bought in a particular month, then explains his choices and his takes.

These books are breezy and addictive, and I love them all. I must admit I love "Shakespeare" a tad less than the others, though. After all, he seems to be cruising a bit in these pieces, and one month he doesn't even write about books. Still, I'll take Hornby on cruise control over many others at their peak. After all, the guy is one of the bestest.

One refreshing thing about "The Believer" columns in this last collection is their touting of young adult fiction. Hornby was writing a YA novel of his own at the time, "Slam," and the process inspired him to explore the genre. One of the books he raves about in "Shakespeare" is David Almond's "Skellig."

"Skellig" is a charming story about life, death, mysterious beings, spirituality, and...uh, growing up, I guess. Isn't every YA novel about growing up? I enjoyed it, but I can't say I loved it so much I sought out other such books. I don't mean to be snobbish about young adult fiction; I just have a lot of other stuff in the hopper, and this didn't blow me away like I would have hoped after reading Hornby's comments.

This doesn't make me think any less of Nick. Don't let me make you think any less of "Skellig." It's a good book. It' s just not the bestest.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What was I thinking? Part 1: "Meet the Spartans"

What was I THINKING when I sat down to watch "Meet the Spartans"?

Well, I kinda know what I was thinking, I guess. I was thinking, "It's on HBO. It might be funny. If not, it's not like I'm out the price of a rental or, Bogart forbid, the price of a movie ticket."

(Let's not try to calculate how much one movie factors into the monthly HBO subscription fee. That's way too much thought for a post on "Meet the Spartans.")

I was also thinking, "I haven't liked any of these spoof movies in what seems like ages, and I have no reason to believe this experience will be better. It's been panned, after all, and it looks like the same old thing."

Oh, "Meet the Spartans" was terrible. It wasn't just not as funny as I would have hoped, it was grosser than I would have feared. I can only digest so many off-putting "gags" about body fluids and such before I gag, and the verbal wit wasn't exactly Oscar Levant. It's not that I have some kind of devotion to movies like "300" that are lampooned here. I hated "300" and could have appreciated a quality buggering of that misfire.

Perhaps worst of all, this is the kind of movie that makes you think Carmen Electra will be naked in it (in other words, just about any movie with Carmen Electra) and teases that event, only to deny you even that simple pleasure. So "Spartans" isn't just unfunny, it's...It's unpatriotic!

I think I lasted 19 minutes before finally realizing life was too short to expect "Meet the Spartans" to somehow become tolerable. Did I learn my lesson? Well, yes and no. I'm not gonna rent "Superhero Movie," but if it comes on TV and I have a free hour and a half...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

5Q Movie Review: In the Loop

Q: Hey, this is based on a TV show? So it's just a puffed-up version of a Britcom?
A: "In the Loop" is a loose adaptation of a brilliant Britcom called 'The Thick of It," one shot "Office"-style in documentary format but with a bureaucratic setting. This movie similarly skewers politics and government, and it does so very well. I'm really complimenting it when I say it does the TV series justice.

Q: The previews made this look like a bunch of people standing around and talking. Is that what we have here?
A: Well...yeah, but sometimes they're walking! Hey, just because the film is jam-packed with dialogue about the process of going to war as opposed to scenes of actual war doesn't mean it's not exciting. The characters are playing out their own vicious dramas and mind games, but they happen to be doing it with words--that is, insults, leaks, innuendos, etc. Sure, "Loop" is talky, but it's great talk delivered by fine performers.

Q: Does the Americanized setting hinder or hurt this?
A: "Loop" gets luminaries like James Gandolfini (as a general) and David Rasche (hilarious as a right-wing Assistant Secretary of State) by focusing on the Anglo-American relationship, satirizing the way the US and Britain entered the Iraq War together. It gets many of the Brits physically over here in a rather contrived manner, but who cares? Overall, it stays faithful to the spirit of "The Thick of It," and the Americanization of the setting expands the scope and helps sustain a feature-length story.

Q: What's the deal with that scary guy who looks to be yelling at everybody?
A: That's the great Peter Capaldi as the Prime Minister's pit bull, Malcolm Tucker. I don't even remember his actual title, but his job is basically yelling and swearing at everybody to make sure they stick to the official game plan. Capaldi reprises his role from the TV show and is mesmerizing every single moment he's on screen. This is a movie crammed with hilarious dialogue, but it would be a must-see if only to enjoy the various ways Malcolm incorporates the f-word into his sharp rants and putdowns.

Q: What if we're fatigued by or never wanted to see Iraq War movies? Is this still worth checking out?
A: It's not like this takes you into the desert in Humvees. It's a sophisticated political satire, fast-moving and funny as hell. It doesn't deal with war itself so much as the machinations and maneuvering that lead to it. I'll admit this would have been a tad fresher 3 or 4 years ago, but if you're at all interested in a movie that exposes the idiocy of politics and the self-serving nature of its participants, then this is for you, "Iraq fatigue" or no.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

This Week in DVD

Avatar: OK, how about the 5 other people that haven't seen this yet, either, come on over to my house, and we'll sit down and take a good 4 hours or whatever to watch this thing. Problem is, I'll still feel left out because it's not IMAX and 3-D. So you know what? Let's call the whole thing off. We'll get together soon and watch something else, I promise. "The African Queen" is on disc now. Let's watch that.

Crazy Heart: I didn't see this one, either, but I paid attention during awards season, and from what I gather, Jeff Bridges plays a pot-smoking actor who goes around to black-tie events and gets standing ovations. You know, typical indie flick.

The Lovely Bones: Peter Jackson screws up yet another popular book.

The Young Victoria: This week's Official "Watch it; it's good for you" Selection, endorsed by the Librarians for Costume Dramas Association.

The Bill Cosby Show Season 2: Kudos to Shout for finishing the series, but a thumbs down for exiling it to the "online exclusive" territory. This lesser-known but high-quality sitcom should be more widely available because it's just that good...because of respect for The Cos...and because I want to rent it instead of paying 40 bucks to get it online.

44-Inch Chest: The movie's not about what you think it's about, unless you think it's a crime caper with a Who's Who of crime caper guys like Ray Winstone, Tom Wilkinson. The flick's own promo copy describes it as "outrageously profane and surprisingly tender"--just like Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's house.

Perry Mason Season 5 Volume 1: I'm not saying these sets have been coming out for a while, but in this volume, Perry Mason solves a bunch of cases while taking the time to enjoy an occasional brandy and cigar with his good buddy James Spader.

I'm just asking...

TCM ran a day's worth of Ann Miller movies last week, I myself wrote about one ("Texas Carnival") recently, and so I figure it's a good time to bring this up. David Thomson's "New Biographical Dictionary of Film" is a fun, often provocative work, but it's hardly definitive. I don't think it claims to be, but still...

As my wife and I were watching "Carnival," I was trying to remember another musical we had seen with the lovely Ms. Miller. Sure, we have a thing called the Internet these days, and I'm well aware of it, but unlike our TCM-giving TV, the computer has to warm up first, and I didn''t want to turn it on and shut it back down just for something easily found in one of those older research tools: books. You remember books, right? Those thingies with all the words on paper and stuff?

So I reached for the weighty Thomson tome to find the Ann Miller entry, only to find there was none! There may have been Penelope Ann Miller--I couldn't tell you for sure, as I wanted to get back to "Texas Carnival"--but nothing on the brassy brunette.

Now, I enjoy the book and respect it's deliberate non-comprehensiveness, but this begs the question, what good is a biographical dictionary of film that doesn't have an entry for Ann Miller? Shouldn't it be called something like "A Really Big Book of a Bunch of Movie People"?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

This Week in DVD

Crazy on the Outside: This Tim Allen-directed bomb is billed as a Target Exclusive in the store's weekly ad circular. Hey, that's gonna get folks in the stores! It's about as thrilling a store exclusive as Archer Farms Meatloaf Jerky.

Pirate Radio: Speaking of the Target ad, does the DVD cover of this one really look like the circular indicates? Because I'm getting excited about "Pirate Radio" again, forgetting all the negative reviews, and then I see "From the Creator of Love Actually and Notting Hill" at the top of that picture, and suddenly I'd rather buy a box of Archer Farms Meatloaf Jerky.

Defendor: In this offbeat-looking feature, Woody Harrelson plays a non-superpowered dude who becomes a costumed superhero to figh. crime. Well, Woody doesn't have superpowers, but he of course has the ability to feel no pain, heightened chilling-out skills, and he can devour a half-dozen bags of Doritos in a single sitting.

The Great Mouse Detective: Looking around the Net for opinions on this release, I'm stunned to see how popular it is. I was gonna come in here with a blase "well, every Disney cartoon is somebody's favorite" attitude, but now I think I need to see this.

The Slammin' Salmon: I knew just from seeing the title that this was some kind of "improvisational" comedy. What I didn't know before today was that it came from Broken Lizard, makers of "Super Troopers" and others. Now I know I don't want to see "The Slammin' Salmon."

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Vault of Coolness: Hey, look who that is!

So I was watching Volume 1 of "Brenner" from Timeless Video the other day, and this is a great, unheralded half-hour cop drama.

(I really enjoy half-hour cop shows like this and "M Squad." Is there any way a half-hour cop show would work today?)

I always say one of the great pleasures of watching 50s and 60s TV--besides the writing, acting, and immediacy of much of it--is seeing familiar faces pop up out of nowhere. Case in point: The episode "Laney's Boy" on disc 1 of "Brenner." Check this out:

I know what you're thinking: Is that really notable character actor George Mathews of "HARRRRR-vey" on "The Honeymooners" fame talking to "Brenner" star Ed Binns? Yes, it is! And his cop is totally unlike HARRRRR-vey or The Beast from his "Bilko" appearance. It's a treat seeing him here. The "Brenner" episodes I've seen don't run down all the guest stars like a Quinn Martin show, so if you go in cold, you can really get a nice surprise or two.

Oh, yeah, and I'm pretty sure that's Gene Hackman in the middle of the shot.

(Note: I give Hackman his due at the end of this post for effect, not because I don't think it's cool to see him turn up in a random old TV show. Actually, I marked out big time to see Mathews, then marked out even more to see the great--and uncredited--Gene Hackman.)

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Wonderful World of TCM: Texas Carnival (1951)

I'm going to say this right at the top here, and it's important that you read this carefully because The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind is running "Texas Carnival" again this Monday, and this information may be vital:

You have to love a movie that leads to a climactic chuck wagon derby.

That's right, you may come to "Texas Carnival" for the songs, the farce, or co-stars Red Skelton and Esther Williams, but you'll stay for the chuck wagon derby.

A chuck wagon derby is a contest in which teams drive a horse-driven wagon across miles of expansive desert, pause to prepare and serve a meal, and then get back in the vehicle to race to the finish.

Why is this not a regular program on CMT? Surely the network that kicked music aside for endless reruns of "Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" and "Wife Swap" isn't too upscale for the American Chuck Wagon Derby League. You know what, though? Come to think of it, the Viacom network would probably preempt the ACWDL for "Trick My Truck." Let's put this exciting new sport on RFD-TV, which could be not just a network, but a home for all the exciting chuck wagoning.

Until that day, we must settle for the thrilling footage in "Texas Carnival." Now, you may think I'm being facetious, but let me tell you, those wagons are really chuckin'. Oh, there's more than a bit of comedy involved, as one would expect when a drunken Red Skelton is one of the participants, but, hey, considering the event is supposed to be a lark, there's some real action. Apparently the idle rich like to do things like this at fancy Western resorts. It's sort of like the poor man's America's Cup, only without the poor. It's not quite the chariot scene from "Ben Hur," but it is fun to watch. I only wish the cooking didn't get short shrift. I can only imagine the filmmakers presumed audiences would rather see wagons tipping over than hardtack sizzling on a griddle.

What comes before this classic film sequence? There is plenty of entertainment outside the derby. Skelton and Williams are carny workers who, after an encounter with eccentric drunken tycoon Keenan Wynn (there's a lot of drunkenness in this picture), end up staying in his suite at a fancy resort. Much old-fashioned mistaken-identity humor ensues as Skelton is mistaken for Wynn and then decides to go with it. After all, he and Esther are hungry, and...why not?

Now, most people might be interested in the two stars, but I recorded this movie to see my boy Howard Keel, a cowboy who falls for Williams, and Ann Miller, who--spoiler alert--shows off her gams in a nifty dance or two. Keel and Miller may not be top billed, but they are the main attractions for me--well, at least till that derby.

I have to say, though, that while I underestimated the appeal of Esther Williams in the past, the more I actually see her, the more I get it. She's delightful in and out of the water (yep, she gets wet in this one, too) and has a lot more charisma than I expected. Look, there are a lot of silly situations in this movie, but it's all good, clean fun, and Williams and Keel pull off their romantic/comic tension credibly enough. But if they don't do it for you, enjoy the physical comedy of Red Skelton, the musical numbers, and a fun outright comic role for Wynn. There are even appearances by great character actors Hans Conreid and Donald MacBride.

"Texas Carnival" will never be included on a list of the great MGM musicals, but it sure is a lot of fun, pardner. And did I mention the chuck wagon derby? When you see the Albilene Cowpokes against the Round Rock Rustlers on RFD-TV, remember you read about it here first.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Brooks on Books: Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx

As a big Marx Brothers fan, I kept asking myself two questions while reading this autobiography:

*How in the heck did it take me so long to get and read this book?

*Where in the heck are the Marx Brothers?

This classic memoir, originally published in1961, is a delight for any Marx Brothers fan, and I'd dare say a much broader audience as well. It's warm, funny, and full of self-deprecating charm. However, the Marx Brothers, especially as film performers, barely appear in this 480-page-plus work. Harpo discusses the early days and shares some amusing anecdotes about their life as stage performers, but once the boys go to Hollywood, not only do we not get a lot about the films and their productions, but we don't get a lot about the Marx Brothers, period.

In fact, eventually, the films kind of just fade from the narrative, and we get Harpo's story of himself, Harpo Marx, the man. So we get tales of his performances in Russia (and his stint as an espionage agent of sorts), but not of his routines in some of the most beloved comedy films of all time. I'm OK with that because what we DO get is so entertaining, but buyer beware.

If you can accept not getting 500 pages of "What's Chico like?" and can accept lots and lots about his good friend Alexander Woolcott, then you'll enjoy "Harpo Speaks." There is more croquet (Harpo loved the game) and golf than "Duck Soup," and Oscar Levant is a bigger player in this text than Groucho. Marx and Rowland Barber create a great sense of the man's life, building around some great stories along the way. The account of growing up in New York City in the early 20th century is often fascinating, providing a rich account of life in that particular setting. To me, this kind of material more than compensates for any disappointment over the lack of Marx Brothers coverage.

Towards the end of the book, things threaten to get depressing as Harpo seemingly has more heart issues than Bill Swerkski at a butcher's convention, but the overwhelming impression you get is of the love Harpo feels for his wife Susan and his kids. Harpo was never my favorite Marx--I always tilted more towards the more verbally inclined brothers--but "Harpo Speaks" gives me a renewed appreciation for the man and makes me want to rewatch his work. That the book can bring me back to the work without really being about it is testament to how compelling the autobiography is and how likable the subject.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

This Week in DVD

This week's release slate is so thin it could fit in my iPad (I don't think that even makes sense, but I'm just trying to be hip this week), so this could be a short post.

Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans: When director Werner Herzog wanted to update Abel Ferrara's 1992 movie, he thought of Nicolas Cage in the Harvey Keitel over-the-top seedy policeman role. You know what? That makes perfect sense. Whether that's a compliment or insult for Cage, I'll let you decide.

National Lampoon's Ratko: The Dictator's Son: It's sad that we can tell from the titles alone nowadays that the "National Lampoon" name means absolutely nothing anymore.

Abbott and Costello: The Complete Series: I know many DVD sites listed this as coming out last week, but distributor E1 issued a press release a while back declaring it was pushed back to April 6, so here we are. I somehow missed the Passport release of this series a few years go--well, I say "somehow," but it's quite simple; I didn't spend money to buy it, therefore I didn't get it--and now I have a second chance.

Fortunately for late adopters like me, the out-of-print status of those earlier sets means the way is clear for what are reportedly better discs. The DVDs lack some of the quality control issues that plagued first incarnation of the Passport set, and some report improved picture on the episodes. Plus there's an extra extra not heretofore included on any release: 1978's "Hey, Abbott," a TV special hosted by Milton Berle.

So this is a good thing, unless, of course, you already bought the show in those previous season sets or in the form of the individual "volumes" that came out long ago. In that case, yeah, you might be a little irked. As for me, I don't plan to let this opportunity pass me by, as this is one of my favorite shows, one that's never on TV anymore. It's the clear choice in a meager week of DVD releases.

24: Didn't anyone think of this?

As "24" finishes its multi-year run this season, many of us agree it's running on fumes, recycling familiar situations and character types as it squeezes all the life it can out of its gimmick. I thought last season was great fun, but it's pushing it to keep the show around any longer, so I think it's good to get out now.

But reading about the proposed "24" movie in the new "Entertainment Weekly" made me think two things: 1) Don't make a "24" movie. 2) Why is it the ideas for the movie can only be used on the big screen?

In the story, Keifer Sutherland is quoted as being excited about the possibilities a feature film can bring. Because of the series' real-time format, he explains, the action always has to come to the main characters, but in a movie, there will be the freedom to move around and go where the action is.

Sounds good. So why couldn't we do that on the show? I don't think there are a bunch of irate fans, especially at this point, who would cry bloody torture if "24" mixed things up a bit and got away from its real-time format. I wish they had done that several years ago. Sure, many would have complained about the show straying from its roots and whatnot, but it might be a thriving action show now instead of a fading parody of itself (well, check that, "24" has been a parody of itself since...oh, season 2?).

I would rather see some of these new, fresh ideas in the show itself than in some blown-up big-screen adaptation. The only people excited about the prospect of a Jack Bauer Power Hour movie are the people who make "24." I say shake things up on the show, get away from the 24-hour concept, and if the hardcore fans complain, send Jack himself to "persuade them" to give it a shot.

I guess no one wants to be the one to be accused of screwing something up in TV, hence the adherence to the old format on the tube. So instead of taking a risk and maybe extending the series creatively and commercially, some folks are gonna risk 9 figures on a possible bomb even Jack couldn't defuse.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

This Week in DVD

Sherlock Holmes: Hey, finally, someone made a film with Sherlock Holmes in it! Now, if only someone would do a Robin Hood movie or a Dracula movie...

An Education: Sorry, Academy Award nominee Carey Mulligan, but the real draw for me is that it's written by Nick Hornby, and when Hornby talks, I listen. And when he writes, I read it. Unless it's a screenplay. Then I watch it. Unless it's not in many theaters, then I wait for the DVD and I--oh, hell, Nick Hornby could say this so much better.

Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel:
It would be much easier to tolerate these movies, and even these titles, if they gave Paramount a reason to release more of the old cartoons on DVD.

Alice in Wonderland: You know, I really do admire the sense of humor Disney displays in titling this "Special Un-Anniversary Edition," but I'd admire even more if it were called the "Cashing in on the Live Action Version Edition."

Rhoda Season Two: Shout Factory issues a set with uncut episodes this time after a botch job on season 1 made fans irate. But they're "only working with what Fox gives them," right? How fortunate that Fox just happened to give them uncut prints this time!