Monday, February 28, 2011

This Week in Instant Watching: SNL reruns

Netflix has been kind of funny lately. It goes days without adding anything of consequence to its streaming roster, or even adding anything at all, then it dumps a ton of stuff at once. Instead of making any kind of attempt to be comprehensive, I'm going to mention a few titles I think may be underrated or lesser known here or there, or just ones that amuse or excite me, and from time to time, I'll talk generally about content that is on Netflix Instant Watching. That, in fact, is what I want to do today.

One of the coolest areas of the vast Instant Watching library is the collection of "Saturday Night Live" episodes dating back to the beginning. Now, I'm not so interested in the first 5 seasons, even though I like them the best, because they are on DVD. Far more compelling is the presence of those forgotten seasons of the eighties, ones that may never make it to disc, like, well, season 6, the infamous non-Lorne Michaels year featuring Charles Rocket and Denny Dillon as well as emerging stars like Joe Piscopo and Eddie Murphy.

Before I get back to season 6, let me give this caveat about all the "SNL" series on IW: The episodes are eviscerated. Some installments are as short as 20-some minutes long, and no one is really sure why. All musical performances are gone, not surprisingly, as are sketches with music that NBC/Universal didn't want to bother clearing, and I'm not sure that this drastic hack job is necessary for digital streaming, but apparently someone figured it best not to take any chances.

But there are plenty of embarrassing moments that are left in the shows--horrible sketches, flubs, and the Queen Mother of All Embarrassments, the moment when Rocket said a clear "F-bomb" at the end of the Charlene Tilton-hosted episode. So if someone is making edits for reasons of aesthetics or standards and practices, that person is doing a horrible job.

So the rationale behind the ridiculous editing remains a mystery, but that said, it's still a trove of fascinating viewing. I'm making my way through that sixth season now, and, yes, the show is terrible. But there are moments here and there, and no matter how bad things get, it's interesting watching the product on screen both as a time capsule of the era and as the result of the backstage turmoil that has been talked and written about so extensively.

Oh, and there is one good reason to wade through season 6, and that is the young Edward Regan Murphy. Maybe it's just the advantage of hindsight that makes him stand out today, but watch those first several episodes, then see Murphy's first appearance (or at least the one represented in these versions) and marvel at just how fresh and exciting he seems. They must have known, you can't help but thinking, even though Murphy overcame resistance from the show's then producer to make it on the air in the first place.

The fact is that these shows aren't all that great, and sometimes I watch one and am almost thankful someone went to the trouble of whittling it in half, but "Saturday Night Live" endures as one of those programs that is disproportionately more interesting to follow than to actually watch. Even when the comedy isn't firing on all cylinders, there is enough going on, especially in these older seasons, to make viewing the show a fun experience, especially if you educate yourself as to what was going on behind the scenes.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Brooks on Books: Sarah Silverman

The Bedwetter: Stories of Courage, Redemption, and Pee by Sarah Silverman: Silverman is a lot savvier than her persona would indicate, and here she crafts a memoir that is deeper and more insightful than that persona might indicate. She puts the bedwetter thing right up front--hey, it's right there in the title--and she is courageous enough to include embarrassing details about that aspect of her life and others that may be seen as less than exemplary.

She also speaks with candor and self-awareness (but not the self-obssession and narcissism of her TV character) about her experiences in standup comedy, on "Saturday Night Live," and as a performer and producer of a very funny but underseen sitcom on Comedy Central with her name in the title. She explains her side of controversies in her life such as when she used an ethnic slur on Conan O'Brien's show, and what's more, she uses that incident to explain her philosophies on the use of offensive material and language in comedy. I was both gratified and horrified that she used the book to out a prominent 1980s music star as being apparently racist (though I wonder if there's any way she is missing some kind of context that would change her view, much the way people who attack her often miss the context). I appreciated that she put it in there as a blind item but basically told us who it was.

One aspect of her life is largely absent from this book, though, and that's her romantic life. Oh, she mentions sleeping with guys and makes broad statements about that sort of thing, but it's odd considering how forthright she is that there is so little mention of the high-profile relationship she had with Jimmy Kimmel. And I may not really want to know what dating Dave Attell was like, but it was odd to learn that by reading a photo caption and not see anything in the actual text.

Still, it's a revealing book, and the only reason it's not as funny as, say, Silverman's act is that instead of assembling a collection of bits, she took the time to tell her life story in a thoughtful manner. She even offers some life philosophies that make sense, like her belief in "keeping it special," i.e. not overdoing things that give you pleasure. She does it all with humor, of course, but the book is not just a yukfest. I recommend it without reservation to any fan of Silverman, and fans of comedy in general can appreciate the insights into the world of standup and television, and they can also feel relief that, no, she isn't really the character she plays in public.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

In theaters this weekend

Hall Pass: I've seen the ads for this, you've probably seen the ads for this--heck, we've all seen the ads for this. Someone is selling this one hard as the goofy breakout comedy hit of the year. What's not being sold hard--at least not that I've seen--is the involvement of the Farrelly brothers. Interesting.

I chuckle at some of the bits in the ubiquitous ads, like the guys attempting to cruise for women at Applebee's, but I have an uneasy feeling that this is one of those movies that is not nearly as funny as you think it's going to be. It has that aura of funny about it, and it has funny moments in the trailer, but it ends up disappointing you.

Part of what worries me is how unbelievable it seems. The notion of a couple of schlub husbands getting "hall passes" as temporary freedom from their marriages is of course a ridiculous one. Yet it's a funny one, so I'll go along with it. But these guys look really stupid in these ads. I mean, really stupid. The sight of them stuck among senior citizens and families with kids at an Applebee's when they were expecting hot singles is amusing, but who would get into that situation? And these guys aren't supposed to be Lloyd and Harry, right? They're supposed to be identifiable, basically likable average guys...or so I assume. If they're total idiots, then that kind of changes the whole movie.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this. Maybe this is nothing more than a silly farce of a movie with guys who are total idiots doing unrealistic things. If that's the case, then fine. I don't have trouble with that kind of flick. But it had better be really funny. I'm a little worried about "Hall Pass."

Drive Angry: Anytime you get Nicolas Cage in antic mode, you have a decent shot of producing a movie at least as funny as "Hall Pass."

Allow me to borrow the synopsis from Wikipedia because this pretty much says it all:
John Milton (Nicolas Cage) is a criminal that has broken out of Hell to kill Jonah King (Billy Burke), a cult leader that tricked Milton's daughter into joining his followers in the wake of Milton's death only to kill her and her husband and steal their daughter - Milton's granddaughter - to be sacrificed in a Satanist ritual.

Got to say, folks, even if this is total crap, it's got to be entertaining on some level, right? When I first read about this movie, I thought maybe "Hell" was a nickname for some maximum security prison. Apparently not! And that makes the movie sound all the more fun. But then again, I found "Ghost Rider" pretty dull, so...

Oh, and this one is available in 3-D if you like your Nicolas Cage even antic-er and in-your-face-ier than in standard format.

Friday, February 25, 2011

This Week in DVD

This week's post is dedicated to the memory of the late Dwayne McDuffie, a talented comic book and animation writer who died suddenly this week just as his adaptation of comic hit "All-Star Superman" hit DVD shelves. Unfortunately, my biggest exposure to the man's comic book work came on his ill-fated run on "JLA," which should have been DC's flagship title but was plagued by editorial interference and chaos which hampered McDuffie's work. The coverage of that situation and McDuffie's exit from the company overshadowed the book itself, but I have seen enough of his animation writing in efforts like "Justice League Unlimited" to recognize the man's talent and to be shaken up by his untimely death. Reading the outpouring of grief and kind words from his colleagues makes it even more heartbreaking, but I still look forward to sitting down soon and enjoying "All-Star Superman."

Megamind: Will Ferrell and Brad Pitt square off in animated form, and I'll be darned if I'm not kind of interested in this one. It seems like it was heavily hyped but flamed out relatively quickly, but it looks like a solid rental.

Due Date: I won't say I was gratified when I read James Woolcott claim he didn't "get" Zach Galifinakis, but I'm just saying, at least I'm not alone. The marketing for this buddy comedy with Robert Downey Jr. was clearly going for a "Hangover" vibe, but it didn't get anywhere near it. This one looks more like a "wait for pay cable and hope for the best" kind of title.

Get Low: Bobby Duvall stages his own funeral, while he's still around, mind you, and that sounds at least worth a look, doesn't it?

Have Gun Will Travel Season 5 Series 2: I can't say that I understand why CBS brought this back into regular rotation while shelving "Rawhide"--can it really be just a pure numbers decision, given the unpredictable schedules? But at least the show is getting out there.

BCS football games: A series of presumably complete games from this year's college football BCS. I find the system totally illegitimate, but I welcome the release of high-profile big sporting events on DVD.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Yep, must be pledge time

A couple weeks ago, I stumbled on a pair of new--well, new to me--Britcoms airing on one of the local public broadcasting stations. "The Old Guys" is about--spoiler alert--two old guys who exchange banter about old guy stuff while fantasizing about a neighbor played by Jane Asher. It's chock full of familiar and talented performers, so that's a good thing. It's a funny show, one I plan to check out each week.

I also enjoy "Outnumbered," a comedy about a harried husband and wife who struggle to keep on top of, or at least just keep up with, their 3 young children. I really like the POV of this show. As opposed to most family sitcoms, which take a broader view of the world in and outside the subjects' houses, this one takes place entirely in the brood's flat. There are definite traces of the adult world in the conversations Mum and Dad have, and the adult world sometimes makes its way inside, but most of the show revolves around the kids, just as life itself must necessarily revolve around the kids when you have 3 of them. It has a certain realism about it that hits home with me; more importantly, it's quite funny without being cloying. In fact, the kids are not standard cute kids at all, and they certainly seem to be working against the parents, not with them--hence the series title.

So this week I sat down and watched episode two of each of these series, and afterward, I looked at the program guide to make sure I had the series recorded and that I would get next week's installments. Turned out, there would be no installment next Tuesday. OK, some Motown at the White House concert thing. That's kind of a big deal. Can't get too bent out of shape about a preemption there.

Moving on to the next Tuesday, though, I saw ANOTHER week without the two Britcoms. Here I saw a Suze Orman special. Uh-oh, I thought, I see what's going on here. Finally I logged on to the channel's website and discovered each series will resume with its third episode...on Tuesday, March 22.

Tuesday, March 22?

I looked at the rest of the program listings and saw more financial advice shows, the ubiquitous My Music concerts, some self-improvement program called "The Amen Solution"...looks like the kind of show that spreads throughout a public broadcasting lineup every other month or so. What kind of channel dumps its quality programming in the middle of its limited run and replaces it for weeks with overplayed boomer-baiting "specials"?'

Yep, a public broadcasting station during pledge week/month/whatever. This channel apparently wants to lure my dollars by yanking the shows I like for a month so it can harp at me to support those shows. It's either a misguided form of blackmail or just a stupid form of marketing.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Roundup of New Shows (Part 3)

Working Class: CMT's new sitcom is a Melissa Peterman vehicle. I don't have a problem with either part of that sentence. If CMT wants to make sitcoms, that's fine, and if they want to build one around the former second banana from "Reba," hey, that's all right, too. I think the world needs more quality sitcoms, and if the networks are gonna spend so much time on reality shows and other time fillers, let cable fill the void.

But we need quality sitcoms. This one is bland and not all that funny. So I appreciate the (I guess) effort, but I can't really endorse "Working Class." If CMT wants to try again, I'll give their effort a chance, and I do thank them for at least managing to build a show around someone NOT in the Blue Collar Comedy Tour. But, hey, I thought Ed Asner was in this series, and he was nowhere to be seen in the episode I checked out. What a ripoff!

Retired at 35: TV Land has proven itself practically incapable of producing solid scripted programming (I include its myriad cheapo "reality" shows in this statement), with "Hot in Cleveland" one possible exception. This series is another indication that cable networks aren't gonna be the saviors for us sitcom fans. It is filled with sex humor in an apparent effort to alienate all the people who actually DO turn into TV Land during the day for "Bonanza."

So, yeah, the show itself is pretty much worthless, and one wonders what audience TV Land is really going for. It hedges its bets by bringing in some old pros like George Segal, Jessica Walter, but it features as its lead--the guy who is "retired at 35" and living with his dad in his retirement community--Johnathan McClain, the former, not-so-long-ago host of a monstrosity on Nickolodeon called "Sponk," a show so heinous that when I had reason to encounter it in a professional capacity, I was forced to write its name using asterisks so as not to somehow jinx me and my colleagues into bringing it back into our lives.

OK, "Retired at 35" had one big strike against it before I even saw an episode. But that episode was enough to retire the side in order.

Onion Sports Dome/Onion News Network: Hey, two shows I actually like! These were pleasant surprises for me after the disappointment that was "The Onion Movie," a failed effort that made me question whether the humor newspaper's style could translate to a filmed format.

Fortunately, it can! "Sports Dome" is a fun, fast-paced, irreverent parody of cabinetmaking. No, it's a sports parody, of course. I find it amusing enough, but the use of more generic humor and recurring characters as opposed to heavy emphasis on specific parody of actual athletes inhibits the show somewhat. At least, I found the first couple installments funny but not captivating enough to add the series to my DVR. I may catch up with it at some point. If comedy Central were to pair it with something else I watched regularly, I might see "Sports Dome" on a regular basis.

The "Onion News Network," on the other hand, quickly became a weekly must-see. I am worried about IFC ruining itself by adding series like this instead of, well, movies, but I have to admit this is a great one. The show is just as fast and frenetic as "Sports Dome," but seems sharper and more effective, even though it relies heavily on fictitious people and events.

The brilliance is in the mockery of cable news, and even though one might think that target would have been stripmined for all the comedy it could bear years ago, "ONN" scores every week, and a big part of that is anchor "Brooke Alvarez. " The slender, attractive, and blonde Suzanne Sena pulls off the look of a typical cable news anchor while delivering rapid dialogue with superb timing and skill, all while getting over her character as vain, self-absorbed, and condescending to the viewers, newsmakers, and even (or maybe especially) her colleagues. I wasn't surprised to learn Sena had a background in cable news, but it's impressive that someone from that realm could pull off this character--and she stays in character the entire "newscast"--so well. Alvarez's cynical asides after the stories she introduces or the interviews she conducts are some of the clear highlights of the show.

Spearheaded by her outstanding performance, "ONN" blends sharp social and political satire with spot-on parody of media--much like the print "Onion." The series does the original proud, and that's quite a statement, I think. Even if you're wary of IFC's increasing foray into original series programming, give this one a shot.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Putting the "fantasy" in fantasy baseball

Anyone else find something odd about this ad in "The Sporting News" 2011 preview magazine for FanBall's fantasy baseball game?

Why is a woman in her underwear thrusting a handful of cash at us? What does she, or scantily clad women in general, have to do with fantasy baseball?

I don't want to complain about females in their bras appearing in print ads in my magazines, but this looks like a attempt to shoehorn sex into something that really doesn't need it. Actually, it's more blatant than GoDaddy, come to think, because GoDaddy is selling Internet domains, 78% of which will be used to display pornography.

Nobody actually believes the woman is part of the prize, I would assume, but still, it doesn't hurt to put the idea in your subconscious, does it?

Maybe this woman pictured here is the actual commissioner of "Draft and Play," and perhaps if you win, she comes to your door and hands you a cash prize in the manner (and garb) depicted above. If so, I apologize for the suggestion that this ad is an attempt to mislead or otherwise distract gullible males into shelling out their coin for the chance to grab more than just a backup middle infielder.

The Rock says...why can't anyone find me a better movie?

Last week, The Rock made a triumphant return to WWE's flagship program, "Monday Night Raw," and raised the buzz to a level not seen in the company for a long, long time. He merely stood in the center of the ring and yakked for 20 minutes, but that was enough to captivate the live crowd and draw raves from fans and industry followers everywhere.

Seeing the clip and recalling his massive charisma makes me again wonder, why is this guy not a bigger Hollywood star? Granted, he has had a successful movie career thus far, but he's more known for mid-level hits and has yet to find that signature franchise blockbuster smash. I don't think it's a case of Dwayne Johnson being a big fish in a small pond who is unsuited for larger stardom in the larger world of motion pictures. I believe that somehow the movie industry has squandered his gifts.

I mean, whether or not you enjoy pro wrestling--and I might as well declare now that I don't watch the current WWE product--you must concede Johnson possesses a strong blend of presence, comic timing, and cleverness, all in a physically imposing package. Maybe Rock has hurt his own cause by "settling" for REALLY light roles in family-oriented comedies, but when I look at what's going on in movies, I have to wonder, what is it? Hollywood thinks it doesn't need credible action heroes with actual personality?

I've made this call before, and I will repeat it here: Hollywood, you need to come up with a suitable star vehicle for this guy. Don't worry about pleasing pro wrestling fans. Worry about pleasing millions of movie fans who are starved for legitimate ass-kicking cinematic heroes they can buy a ticket to see without feeling embarrassed.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

In theaters this weekend

Unknown: Sometimes it pays to NOT pay close attention to what's going on in the motion picture realm. For example, I know very little about "Unknown" except that it stars Liam Neeson--who looks more or less like regular Liam Neeson, as opposed to being gimmicked up or anything--and it is some sort of actioner or thriller.

That is enough for me to go ahead and assume that this is at least an informal sequel to one of my favorite B-movies (in style if not prestige) of recent years, Neeson's "Taken." I wrote back in the summer about how much I love the Stone Cold Liam Neeson character and welcome more of it. So rather than educate myself about "Unknown," I will convince myself that's what's going on here--more Stone Cold--and when it comes to video, maybe I'll pick it up and be pleasantly surprised.

I Am Number Four: This is some kind of thriller, evidently, but I'm gonna go the other way and assume it is NOT worthwhile. It just has a CW kind of feel to it, and I am too snobbish about this kind of movie when it's populated by teens and teen bait. So I will pass.

Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son: I wonder if the Black Community has heated debates over whether the rise of Tyler Perry's Medea character has rendered Big Momma passe. Or maybe the Black Community shakes its collective head each time either character makes another appearance.

As for this installment of the Martin Lawrence franchise, well, I will conceded that many cross-dressing performers have brought laughs over the years--Bugs Bunny, Jack Lemmon, Kelsey Grammer...but I can't see this as anything more than a cash grab. To think I actually kind of liked Lawrence's lower-key performance in "Wild Hogs."

You know, I'd much rather see a "Wild Hogs 2" than a "Big Momma Anything," but I will say this: Of crummy sequels that make me quiver, "Big Mommas" pales in comparison to the true terror looming on the horizon: "Bad Boys 3" in 2012. Let's hope the Mayan prophecies of doom come to pass before that one actually infests theaters.

Friday, February 18, 2011

This Week in DVD

Just to be different this week, I'm going to pepper my comments with inane, pointless, not necessarily genuine political messages.

Unstoppable: Denzel Washington and New Captain Kirk are involved in some kind of caper involving a speeding train they have to stop as it races down tracks and through the tunnels--uh-oh, is this some kind of extended sexual metaphor? 'Cause if so, I'm getting off this Tony Scott train. Or maybe this movie is a coded liberal plea for us to sink billions of dollars into Obama's high-speed rail proposals.

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger: Whoa, I totally forgot that this movie was a Woody Allen movie, or that it even came out, period. What kind of world are we in where we can forget that Woody Allen had a movie out in the fall? Clearly the kind of world in which Sarah Palin can be taken seriously by a large segment of the population.

Waiting for Superman: A documentary about the problems with education in this country. Sounds like a heartfelt, thoughtful movie. Sounds depressing, too, to be honest, and I'm tempted to just pick up an old Superman comic book instead. Hey, instead of waiting for Superman, why don't these liberal filmmakers wait for global warming? They'll be waiting a long time!

The Fugitive Season 4, Volume 2: "February 13, 2011--The day CBS/Paramount's shoddy treatment of a classic series stopped." Well, it's finally out in its entirety, sort of on DVD, and we can see the famous final episode again and see if Richard Kimble can catch that one-armed man. Kimble was probably really running from Obamacare and the Democrat-imposed death panels!

Murphy's Law Series 3: I have to catch up and watch the rest of this British cop show, but I can tell you the third series is what got me into the show. It's good stuff--how could it not be, since it stars the great James Nesbitt--and it's loaded with crime, violence, torture, and the authorities obliterating boundaries. You know, kind of like the Bush administration.

The Rich Little Show: MPI releases this curio, a variety show starring--well, it stars everybody if it stars Rich Little, doesn't it? Hey, this DVD set is too important to mar with political commentary, so I'll just direct you to one of Little's old routines. Now, there was a man who did incisive political humor. (OK, I'm being kind of a wise-ass for no apparent reason, but I am genuinely curious about this release and look forward to getting some real info about it and the show itself.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brooks on Books: Morning Miracle by Dave Kindred

If you love newspapers, you'll likely enjoy "Morning Miracle," acclaimed writer Dave Kindred's look at "The Washington Post's" struggle to redefine itself in the Internet era. But you have to really love newspapers. As Kindred admits, this book, subtitled "Inside the Washington Post: A Great Newspaper Fights for Its Life," is a valentine to the profession, a mostly admiring look at the paper itself and the whole idea of journalism itself and especially working in journalism. What this book is NOT is a blueprint for how newspapers can survive in this digital age. In fact, I wrote the book was "mostly admiring" because Kindred indicates, despite his massive respect for the journalism skills of the individuals involved, that part of the reason for the "Post's" economic losses and massive layoffs, buyouts, and such that have depleted the staff in recent years is that the folks steering the ship were slow to adapt.

There is a tone of melancholy throughout "Morning Miracle," but not of the depressing variety. It's more the "folks getting together at the bar and singing sad songs but enjoying the hell out of reliving their memories" kind of sadness. Kindred loves the "Post," loves the industry, and he clearly hates the thought of print going extinct. But as he tells the story of how we got to the point where we have to entertain that kind of thought, he includes plenty of strong evidence for what makes newspapers at their best essential components of not just the media, but of our lives. You have to already share that view on at least some level, though, or you might be a little turned off by some of the pedestal-placing of newspaper journalism.

Kindred, best known as a sportswriter, takes a broader approach in his look at this single publication. He basically hung around the "Post" for a while and talked to all sorts of people, and he mixes his own reporting with the accounts of Posties past and present and a good dose of history. I think the early part of the book, in which Kindred writes an effective, entertaining account of the newspaper's origins and development, including the fascinating saga of its most notable publishers, the Grahams, makes this a worthwhile read by itself.

Then, however, Kindred serves up profiles of a variety of "Post" individuals and some of their most influential works. I like the variety in this section, as the writers range from investigative reporters like Dana Priest to feature writer/humorist Gene Weingarten.

After that section, Kindred delves into the various strategies used over the years to try to integrate "The Washington Post" into a post-Internet media landscape. There is a lot of inside baseball kind of stuff here, perhaps not as compelling to the average reader as to news junkies, but I thought it was great. I canceled my subscription a while ago after getting fed up with the price increases and the content decreases, but I do have some nostalgia for the glory days of "The Post"...or at least the "not-dying" days. This is a fun book for those of us who appreciate the value of a good newspaper and regret the medium's decline.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

In theaters this weekend

Just Go With It: From what I gather, 55% of this movie is Adam Sandler gawking at Brooklyn Decker with his mouth open. One could argue, well, can you blame him? If Adam Sandler wants to stare at a bikini-clad Brooklyn Decker on his own time, that's one thing, but asking us to pay 12 bucks to see him do it sounds a little much. Not to mention that it's pretty damn hard for us to enjoy gawking at Brooklyn Decker if the movie keeps cutting to his mug. What I'm trying to say is that I don't want to see this movie.

Gnomeo and Juliet: Is the presence of garden gnomes enough to enliven the "Romeo and Juliet" concept? I don't know, but I do know I overheard some of Matt Lauer interviewing exec producer Elton John the other morning, and one of his questions went something like, "I didn't expect the music to be so outstanding. How did you make such a monumentally awesome collection of music, perhaps the best assemblage of words and tunes ever presented on film?"

The Eagle: This just looks like one of those cheap, half-assed attempts at period adventure/action. Maybe I'll be tempted to see it if there are some "decrapitations," as Beavis and Butt-head would call them.

Justin Beiber: Never Say Never: I'm sure you're as appalled as I am by the way every talk show on the planet has sucked up to the junior set the past few weeks by booking Beiber for appearances. I thought advertisers didn't care about that crowd. Whatever happened to the good, old bias for 18-34-year-old males?

Friday, February 11, 2011

This Week in DVD

Paranormal Activity 2: Somehow it feels like this one's already been out for weeks and weeks. Yet here it is on the new release list, hitting shelves for the first time...OR IS IT? MWHA HA HA HA! (I have no idea if this is the kind of scare that is in these movies or not, but what the hey)

Life As We Know It: Don't let the title fool you. This is a feature film, not a sitcom. Don't let the premise--mismatched guy and gal find themselves raising a little girl--fool you. This is a feature film, not a sitcom. Don't let the cast, which consists of Katherine Heigl, Josh Duhamel, and Christina Hendricks, fool you. This is--Hey, wait a minute. Are we really sure this isn't a sitcom?

You Again: Unfortunately, this DVD is a chick flick comedy from 2010, NOT a complete series set of the 1980s Jack Klugman/John Stamos sitcom. And if I made that reference on Twitter when the movie came out, well, sorry to repeat it, but the net could use more references to the 1980s Jack Klugman/John Stamos sitcom.

It's Kind of a Funny Story: Eh, let US be the judge of that, huh, mates? I don't have anything to say about this apparently quirky film, but I have to ask, what's the deal with Zach Galifianakis? He's gone from being a cult favorite comic to being in every other movie in theaters to keeping Mel Gibson out of movies to being in every other movie on DVD.

For Colored Girls: Ah, this is a serious movie based on an acclaimed play, so I can't make fun of Tyler Perry for directing it. So let's move to the next entry.

Middle Men: Luke Wilson and some other dudes help bring porn onto the Internet in the mid-1990s. Hey, it sounds like a no-brainer now, but it must have been genius back then, right? Hmm, actually, no, it must have been a no-brainer then, too.

Classical Educational Shorts Volume 3 and 4: Kino delivers another pair of collections of those great old-school "educational films." I use the quotes to indicate their actual educational value, not as a euphemism to imply the films are something Luke Wilson would put on the Internet.

House of Payne Volume 6: Hey, I can make fun of Tyler Perry now! Actually, all I want to point out is that the box cover proudly touts that this set includes "Episodes 101-124," which just looks like a ridiculous piece of info to put on the front of a DVD. Not to mention, 124 episodes and counting of this show? Sheesh...

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

My brilliant idea for Hollywood

It's a simple but surefire-effective concept: Forget about Boston accents unless you have people who are actually from Boston.

I have "The Town" from Netflix, and I haven't been able to see it yet because of various factors, but I will admit that looming over this Ben Affleck movie from 2010 is the ominous threat of Boston accents. I tried to avoid cramming too many reviews into my brain because I knew I wanted to see "The Town" sooner rather than later, but I'm pretty sure nearly all the ones I DID read made some kind of reference to who was and who was not able to pull off the accent.

There is just something about that BAH-stan accent that makes people crazy. Other attempts at recreating regional speech get more leeway, but God forbid you crash and burn on this one. I am not sure how long it's been like this, but I think it really started becoming a hardcore issue with "13 Days," when Kevin Costner transitioned from a star forever judged on his English accent in "Robin Hood" to a star also judged on his "Pahk the cah" work as a Kennedy adviser.

So here's my proposal: Just don't try it. Certain people, like Affleck, can go ahead and try their luck at either acting with the accent or directing people with it. But for the majority of the talent in Hollywood, why even bother? It's a huge distraction, and the risk may not be worth the reward. People focus disproportionately on that aspect of the film at the expense of other components--you know, like the plot.

I still want to see movies set in the region--Martin Scorcese can feel free to go elsewhere for a while, though--but I don 't necessarily need to hear the cast talk "authentically." My advice to the filmmaking community is just drop it. Don't even try. It's much better to get heat for the lack of verbal verisimilitude (and I don't think you'll get too much of it) than to see a slew of reviews pick apart your actors in the second paragraph for taking viewers out of the story.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Roundup of New TV Shows (Part 2)

Traffic Light: Good gravy, another new sitcom about couples in different stages of relationships? Enough, already! I'm ready for another wave of shows based on the acts of standup comedians, or maybe some more comedies focusing on overweight loutish dads and their disproportionately hot wives. I found this a little sharper than NBC's "Perfect Couples" but not enough to get me to come back.

Mad Love: Uh...maybe I spoke too soon about wanting something besides the multiplecouplecoms. This CBS sitcom explores the adventures of a pair of hopeless romantics who meet cute and pursue a relationship. The hook here is that their best friends hate each other. That's pretty much it, but you have to admire CBS for attempting to combine the sweetness and charm of something like "Sleepless in Seattle" with the vulgarity of jokes about masturbation.

At this point in my life and in their careers, I don't think I need to see Jason Biggs and Sarah Chalke as leads week to week. They aren't off-putting or anything, but I find them relatively charmless as stars, and I don't think either has enough to carry a show without some strong support.

In this case, the support is where the comedy is supposed to emanate, and as the best friends, Tyler "No, I'm still not Jack Black" Labine and Judy "Hey, I'm still Judy Greer, and at least CBS is actually willing to cast ME instead of some younger knockoff of me" Greer are individually entertaining but lack the chemistry--even the negative chemistry--the two are supposed to have as the bickering sidekicks. The writing jut wasn't up to speed in the pilot, and so the two had to go through the charade of exchanging witty banter that wasn't really that funny.

The show looks professional enough and has a nice time slot, so it could have time to grow into something more appealing, but I likely won't be there for it even though I love Greer and appreciate her getting a spot on network TV again. She's gonna get into Paula Marshall territory as "ratings poison," though, soon if this one tanks.

Lights Out: This outstanding but low-rated drama is getting it done week after week on FX. It combines boxing, organized crime, economic angst, and good performances. I especially like Bill Irwin's chilling, subdued take on a crime lord who the struggling ex-champ "Lights" must work with in order to--AW, HELL, NO, I just realized FX screwed with the time of the re-air again this week and I missed it. It better be on again soon...

Uh, anyway, this is a great show, but like "Terriers," it looks like a one-and-done for FX. I'll enjoy it while it long as FX can avoid moving it from 11:01 to 11:03 and crap like that.

Roundup of New TV Shows (Part 1)

An Idiot Abroad: In this Science Channel series, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant send their buddy/comic foil Karl Pilkington around the world to visit the seven wonders. I wanted to like this show, I really did, especially since I loved the "Ricky Gervais Show" podcasts so much. The podcasts basically consisted of the two comedians busting Pilkington's chops the whole time. I tried but I just couldn't get into Pilkington on his own, and while the phone calls from Gervais and Merchant helped, I kept thinking I'd rather just watch the 3 guys in a studio B.S.'ing about this stuff than to watch the actual journey. So I'm passing on this for now, but maybe I'll change my mind and give it another shot sometime in the future.

Ebert Presents At the Movies: The two critics on this revamped version of Roger Ebert's movie review program are fresh, at least on a national TV basis, and they are appealing, but they still need to work on their chemistry. Or I should say they need a chemistry to develop, and I think that's quite possible if they get the time to establish it naturally. I'm willing to give them that time because, well, I just like the idea of a movie review program on national TV.

In addition to the chitchat between the two critics, there are segments featuring various contributors talking about themes or specific films they like. Ebert himself, voiced by Bill Kurtis (what happened to the artificial voice he unveiled on Oprah's show?) even adds to the mix and is always welcome. A nice little treat is the tacked-on vintage clip of Siskel and Ebert that runs over the end credits. Yeah, there is a risk that it'll expose how unlike Siskel and Ebert the new hosts are, but I think it's worth it to give viewers a nice treat to close each episode. I will admit, though, I see those clips and I think, "Boy, I wish they'd put original episodes of THAT on somewhere."

By the way, you may notice I'm not mentioning the hosts by name. That's because the dude has a really complicated foreign-sounding name, and I don't trust myself to spell it right, so I'm doing it the American Way and just not bothering. And since I am not mentioning his name, I am not mentioning the woman's name, either. That seems like the gallant thing to do.

Perfect Couples: Yet another NBC Thursday sitcom that fails to bring back memories of "Must-See TV." In fact, this show barely brings back memories of itself--I forgot most of the pilot about 10 minutes after watching it. The show purports to focus on the adventures of 3 couples at different stages in their romantic lives, but ABC's "Better With You" does it much better (at least I'm assuming it does based on the two episodes of THAT I saw). I just don't like any of the "Perfect Couples," and that is kind of a problem. One weird thing I notice, and maybe it's just me: Olivia Munn somehow looks different in every scene. I mean, some of it is just hair and makeup, but really, at least in the first episode, she looks different in every scene. That's not particularly interesting, maybe, but I thought I'd point out. It's not particularly funny, either, like much of this new comedy.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Super Bowl Sunday: Stairway to Seven

Cultureshark is off today in observance of Super Bowl Sunday.

Remember, no matter who wins tonight--and, yes, we all hope it's the Steelers--tomorrow attention will turn to the labor negotiations between the owners and the players association. Just keep in mind that the owners are a bunch of greedy rich people who have been preparing in quiet and not-so-quiet ways for many months to lock the players out. They are the ones who are eager to shut down the sport if they don't get their way.

If there really is a lockout, it'll be a stupid thing, but let's not make the mistake of blaming "greedy players" for it. They may be felons, thugs, and drug abusers, but they are not in the wrong on this one.

No, as you watch the game tonight, remember the men who actually control the sport are the ones who are willing to stop it, and also remember that they don't care about "the fans" any more than the players do. To the contrary, their actions--here I mean actions beyond just those conducted in labor negotiations--indicate they hold fans in contempt.

Enjoy the game, everybody!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Brooks on Books: They Call Me Baba Booey by Gary Dell'Abate with Chad Millman

Dell'Abate, the beleaguered longtime producer of Howard Stern's radio program also known as "Baba Booey," has a pretty interesting life history outside of the show. It's a good thing, too, because his autobiography is surprisingly short on show-related details. It's mostly...well, the story of his life. That's to be expected, of course, but one could hardly fault a fan for wishing for more info about what he does NOW and has been doing for decades, serving as a key behind-the-scenes force and on-air talent on one of the most controversial media products in history.

I personally enjoyed reading about Baba Booey's often-chaotic childhood, coping with a mother who battled mental illness, but I can picture a lot of Stern fans feeling let down by this particular book. It's not that it's a bad read--though I think it may have been rushed together, credited "co-author" Chad Millman is a capable writer who has put together a solid, smooth narrative--you can't help but wonder where all the Stern show stuff is. Millman smartly intersperses chapters about Stern-related topics Baba Booey throughout what is otherwise a straightforward chronological account of Dell'Abate's life. But while stories such as how the nickname "Baba Booey" was born are a lot of fun, there's a lot missing. Gary refers to his colleagues as family, but we don't hear an awful lot about them beyond surface-type glimpses that don't reveal all that much.

Furthermore, I realize how important music was to Baba Booey's life and he does a good job of stressing its role in his life journey, so I don't blame the guy for sprinkling lists like "Top Ten Desert Island Albums" throughout the book. Hey, it's indulgent, but so what? It's HIS book! But why don't we get a list of, say, "Top Ten Best Guests" of the radio show? Or the worst? There is so little insight into what actually makes the show go that I wonder if this is a deliberate attempt to save stuff for a second book.

But don't get me wrong. This is a good read. Dell'Abate comes off as a decent, likable guy, and it is interesting learning how he climbed the ladder in radio and eventually landed a dream job, the one he still has and probably will as long as Howard decides to stay on the air. But if you're not interested in reading about Gary the man as opposed to Baba Booey the character, you will want to skim or borrow this book rather than buying it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

This Week in DVD

Conviction: Hillary Swank does something noble to help someone, but she has enough Oscars, so no one really feels the need to see this.

Never Let Me Go: I don't know much about this one, and I don't think it had much impact as a 2010 theatrical release, but Dave Poland called it his number one film of the year, so that has to count for something.

Mean Girls 2: On the list of "Movies that really didn't need a sequel," I give you "Mean Girls." And that's all I give you today. I'm not made of money, you know.

Lucky Lady: How bad can a movie with Gene Hackman and Burt Reynolds, one directed by Stanley Donen no less, actually BE? Well, maybe pretty bad. After all, this was a big ol' bomb when it came out in1975, and this DVD isn't even coming from Fox itself, the original studio, but from Shout through a licensing deal. So it's not a big property today. But maybe there is something interesting in here.

Red River: When I saw the title on a list of new releases, I thought, "Hey, Criterion is releasing the Howard Hawks classic oater?", at least it isn't this week. I'm pretty sure the Hawks film doesn't feature poster art that includes the phrase "Deviant Cannibal Torture."

Franklin Triple Feature: Don't know what 3 episodes are included, but I do know the kids' show about a lovable but still learning turtle has a great Bruce Cockburn theme song. "Hey, it's Franklin...coming over to playyyyy...." I'm serious, folks. Check it out.

The Prowler: Aaaaaaand right to my Wishlist you go. Thanks to the Film Noir Foundation and VCI for restoring this long-neglected flick. I need to pick up that DVD, too, since I somehow missed each screening TCM gave it last year. My loss is VCI's gain.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Wonderful World of TCM: Just a note

No in-depth or out-of-my-depth movie reviews in this post, but rather this is a note to remind everyone that Turner Classic Movies remains The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind, even though many diehard fans get frustrated in February.

See, February is the channel's annual tribute to Oscar, and while the programmers seem to slip in at least a few surprises each time out, the schedule for the second month of each calendar year is rife with overplayed favorites and underplayed un-favorites that people really don't want to see on TCM.

The occasional "Pretty Woman" sighting, in my opinion, is a small price to pay for months like, well, January, which may have been one of the absolute best since I started getting the channel. There were some lesser-known noirs, the continuing saga of the Bowery Boys, and best of all a monthlong Hal Roach Studios festival. This tribute gave TCM an excuse to run short subjects featuring "The Boy Friends" and "The Taxi Boys," plus an outstanding run of 10 episodes of the ultra-rare 1950s television program "Screen Director's Playhouse," in which A-list directors teamed with movie stars to produce quality half-hour programs each week.

(How in the heck have we not heard more about this show before now, by the way, and where the heck are the rest of the episodes? They look to be in great shape and would make an awesome DVD collection...or would have made a great one 5 years ago when people still cared about that sort of thing.)

I loved January on TCM, and I still have enough of it on my DVR to get me through February. So I am not going to come down too hard on the folks there for slipping in something like "Pretty Woman"...though I do reserve the right to make a wise-ass comment about it every now and then.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Dream Theater: Just Say No

So last night, I had an odd dream, one in which I told Keith Urban, "Dude, you really need to straighten out and get off the drugs, man, like Jimmy Wayne says."

That's pretty much all I remember about this particular vision, but I still find it notable enough that I remember it today. Now, what does this dream mean? It could be that I am worried about the influence of controlled medication on my wife as she recovers from delivering our child. It could be my subconscious is eager to take on the complex relationship between illegal drug use and artistic output. Or it could be my brain just wants Keith Urban to lay off the drugs, dude.

NOTE: The Cultureshark legal department would like to take this opportunity to stress that this post in no way alleges that in real life Mr. Urban is now or has ever been under the influence of any kind of illegal substance. The Cultureshark legal department has seen the tabloids, though, you know.

As for Jimmy Wayne, I didn't know the guy from Reggie Wayne (going with him over the more obvious Bruce Wayne since it's Super Bowl week) until a few months ago when I learned he sang the country hit "Do You Believe Me Now?", which was in my head for the better part of 12 consecutive days. I don't know if that qualifies him in real life to play Drew Pinsky, but in my dream life, yeah, he's apparently on top of this--and concerned.

Posting will resume soon

Another Blessed Event has occurred at Cultureshark Tower, and I apologize that my post rate has gone from every now and then to zero. Hopefully soon I will be back on track and can get it back up to sporadic.

To summarize, there now reside at our humble abode me, Mrs. Shark, a girl, a boy, a loyal pet who only occasionally bites my foot, and of course way too many DVDs. This post isn't intended as a tool to fish for congratulations--that's what Facebook is for--but I do want to urge loyal fans of the site to stick around and expect more content soon.