Thursday, March 31, 2011

Aw, shucks

I am the proud recipient of a bona fide MAJOR AWARD, and unlike the one the Old Man got, this honor ain't fragile. I took special care when cutting-and-pasting the jpg, anyway, just to be on the safe side. After all, I don't get awards every day, you know.

I must thank pal o' mine and Friend of the Site Ivan Shreve, proprietor of the essential Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, for bestowing this award and offering some much-too-kind words in the process. I am in a rush tonight and am probably violating the spirit, the letter of the law, and the whole darn raison d'etre (how's THAT for some stylish vocab?) by neither revealing more about myself, nor sharing the generous spirit by passing it on to other, undoubtedly more deserving blogs, but I felt it would be rude not to acknowledge Ivan's wonderful gesture. I believe that when a man extends such praise, it is unkind not to at least--aw, heck, who am I kidding, I just wanted to put the award up.

I hope that at some point in the not-too-distant future, possibly even before CBS finishes putting out "Sgt. Bilko" on DVD, I'll pay it forward and fulfill my duties. For now, I just want to say thanks, and welcome to anyone who was lured over to my corner of the web by attending the prestigious awards ceremony at TDOY.

This Week in Netflix Instant Watching

I wanted to chime in with a few notes on Netflix's recent IW additions before a huge dump of titles comes April 1. Hey, don't get me wrong, there is some great stuff coming the first of the month. Maybe I shouldn't use the word "dump." Well, too late. Not like I can go back and edit it out or anything.

I'll tell you who takes a big dump all over Netflix for abandoning the physical DVD in its rush to force us drones--er, customers to streaming: Classic TV History blogger Stephen Bowie, who writes a scathing attack on the company for deserting the format all too soon. Bowie does an outstanding job of explaining why the approach is so hurtful, and his focus on the lack of vintage TV releases being offered by Netflix is particularly alarming.

I was aware that product from VCI and Timeless, among others, was not being picked up, but I didn't know Netflix was so blatant about not stocking it. And while I was impressed when a ton of old B-movies and rarities not available on video started popping up this year, I haven't seen as many old-school flicks of any kind lately.

I say bravo to Mr. Bowie and kudos for an essential piece, but I also plan to enjoy the streaming while I can, too. After all, I am paying for it. Here are some interesting titles now on the IW:

*WWE Films: Netflix signed a deal late last year to offer World Wrestling Entertainment's original films on its streaming service. OK, that DOES seem more like a cruel punishment than a kind reward for customers--"Hey, we aren't gonna get the new "Mannix" set, but enjoy Triple H in "The Chaperone"--but the best part of the deal is the offering of a slew of documentaries put out by the company. Unfortunately, the matches of the DVD sets are NOT included, nor other extras, but the documentary features, such as the just-released "True Story of Wrestlemania," make for good watchin' for fans. And you non-fans, please stop snickering at the notion of the phrase "pro wrestling documentary" offering a contradiction in terms.

*Rocky and Bullwinkle: I can't vouch for picture quality or completeness yet, but Netflix is touting all 5 seasons of the show available for streaming, presumably the Classic Media DVD versions.

*Mystery Science Theater 3000: It's irritating that Netflix is not carrying the 4-episode Shout Factory box sets on DVD anymore, BUT the pain is eased by the fact that several months or so after street date, the last couple batches have come to streaming. In fact, there's a whole slew of great MST3K episodes on IW. I don't feel the need to own these (not that I begrudge those who do), and I think this kind of programming is a perfect option to have at the ready on Instant Watching. Let's hope this continues.

*Gangs of New York: I don't care what anyone says, this is a great movie. Well, I loved it, and I make no apologies for it.

*Invaders from Mars: Yep, it's the trippy 1953 version, a great early sci-fi thriller.

I'll try to write more next week after the standard first-of-the month onslaught of new titles...

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A "younger, hipper" Miss Marple?

Yesterday, news spread that Jennifer Garner was slated to star as a "younger, hipper" Miss Marple in a big screen incarnation of Agatha Christie's legendary sleuth. I believe I first saw the story on Yahoo, but I also believe that every outlet that reported the info used the phrase "younger, hipper." Now, just because word came today that maybe this isn't a done deal after all doesn't mean we shouldn't make fun of it.

Do we really need a younger, hipper Miss Marple? Isn't the older, unhip version kind of the point of the whole thing? Just because you can make something shinier doesn't mean you should. Yet Hollywood, which is all about making itself shinier, constantly tries this sort of stunt. I'm already dreading Emily Blunt as a younger, hipper Jessica Fletcher in "Murder, She Wrote: The Movie."

Besides, Jennifer Garner ain't that young and hip. Oh, compared to most traditional (read: correct) screen interpretations of Miss Marple, she is, but big deal. My grandmother's hope chest is younger and hipper than the average Marple.

This project just has disaster written all over it, and who wants to go see a movie called "MISS DISASTER MARPLE"? Not I, said the first little blogger.

Monday, March 28, 2011

I think I found the perfect foe for Batman

I have been out of touch with the ongoing comic book world for a while now, especially the DC corner of it, but I have read enough Batman in the past decade or so to know that the character at some point became basically unstoppable. The World's Greatest Detective has been portrayed as capable of bad-assing and conqering pretty much any threat, no matter how powerful, clever, or even cosmic in nature.

So I'm excited to report that I have found elsewhere in the world of popular culture an opponent formidable enough to pose a challenge to the Caped Crusader. I refer to that force of nature known as TV's Hazel Burke.

Yep, I've been watching a lot of "Hazel" lately thanks to Antenna TV, and repeated exposure to the titular character has confirmed much of what I already knew would make her a worthy adversary even for the Dark Knight: She's a prize-winning housekeeper, an acclaimed chef, a successful football coach, and a championship-level bowler. That skill set alone would force Bats to reach into his utility belt to try to stop her.

But you can add to those qualities her uncanny awareness of human nature (some might call it mind-reading ability), her unparalleled stubbornness (a trait which would make her hard to finish off in any showdown), and of course her masterful passive-aggressive manipulation skills (which serve her well when she wants something, say a raise, from Mr. B).

I've learned even more relevant data, however, about the Baxters' domestic engineer, info that really has to put Hazel on at least an "even odds" basis against Batman. When she was trapped in the lair of a group of disreputable gangsters, she revealed that her awareness of the situation was boosted by the "private detectin'" class for which she paid 90 bucks. Take that Bruce Wayne, you billionaire, you. 90 bucks for Hazel is the equivalent of about 90 million for you. Hazel is constantly improving herself, no matter the cost, and she might well rival you in the sleuthing department. Plus there's the fact that she conked a thug over the head with a frying pan--off camera, sadly, but still ample evidence she can handle herself in a tussle.

Speaking of Hazel's combat prowess, in a later episode, she told a friend that in the past she had given judo lessons at the local lodge hall. All this and judo, too? I know Batman is stronger than Olympic-caliber at all martial arts--in fact, he excels at seemingly every form of combat known to man and even some unknown to man, plus a few not even invented yet--but I wouldn't bet against Hazel.

One thing that hurts Ms. Burke in this theoretical match-up, however, is quality of opposition. The Dark Detective has scored victories over luminaries such as The Joker, Lex Luthor, even Crazy Quilt. Hazel's main opposition consists of softies like Mr. B. and the volatile but ultimately easy tamed Mr. Griffin. I mean, come on, when your rogues gallery consists of your boss and a fat business magnate who buckles at the sight of a plate of homemade brownies, well, you're not seasoned against big-league villainy.

Still, I would never bet against Hazel. Her occasional signs of weakness only make her more fascinating and all powerful a character. When she struggled to get a stain out of the carpet, I was relieved because it indicated that Hazel Burke was in fact a mere mortal and not, as I had suspected, a temporary shell hosting an otherworldly deity. Batman is allegedly mortal, but he just came back from the "dead" last year and will likely never be truly beaten...unless he faces a certain irrepressible 1960s TV maid. Shirley Booth has long since passed, but her character can live on in the medium of comic books. DC, make this happen.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Brooks on Books: Looking at the Bowery Boys

There's a reason I titled this post "Looking at the Bowery Boys." Richard Roat's book "Hollywood's Made-To-Order Punks" is a heartfelt tribute to the actors who inhabited the Dead End Kids, Little Tough Guys, East Side Kids, and Bowery Boys series as well as a decent filmography. What it is not is a comprehensive text history of the cast or the films. There are a ton of great pictures though, and the book does its job.

As a relative newcomer to Bowery Boys fandom, I found that this book both surpassed my expectations and came up short. I got more photos than I expected and enjoyed them more than I could have hoped. On the other hand, I didn't learn as much about the Bowery Boys as I hoped.

One of my main goals going into "Hollywood's Made-To-Order Punks" was to find out what the heck happened to Billy Benedict, AKA "Whitey," who abruptly left the series without explanation. Well, at least it felt abrupt to me as I followed along with Turner Classic Movies' sequential screenings of the Bowery flicks. There's a nice biographical sketch of Benedict, a few head shots, and some warm memories the author shares of his own personal relationship with the actor. But there is no explanation of why he left or under what circumstances. This is a pretty good encapsulation of what the book is about. It delivers what it does but is far from comprehensive, nor is it intended as such.

Here is what you DO get in "Hollywood's Made-To-Order Punks": A brief essay about the films of the gangs in their various incarnations, followed by a series of brief castmember bios and selected filmographies (starting with the more significant players, then filling in some of the supporting members and even the "Lost Players" Roat couldn't track down), a general photo gallery, a chronological look at the films, and a brief list of trivia questions.

I don't think this is Roat's full-time vocation, and I don't want to be too harsh here, but I do wish he had offered a little more in the "Feature Films" section. Each entry contains a release date, an excerpted "Variety" review, and a photo or movie poster reproduction from the film in question. Occasionally there are extra "Notes" with more tidbits about the movie, and I would have loved to have seen many more of those.

Roat clearly knows these guys, and I get the feeling he has a little more he could share. Many of the castmember entries are peppered with Roat's personal anecdotes and experiences with the performers. They provide a unique point of view for the book and make it something richer than a mere photo book or a mere filmography. It's not a cheap book, and I was left wanting just a bit more, but I still recommend it for any Bowery Boys fan who can appreciate the personal slant and the photographs. It's not a comprehensive history or a critical look at the films, but maybe some other book out there provides that.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

This Week in DVD

The Tourist: I tried to come uo with a smart-ass remark for this movie, but Ricky Gervais used them all up at the Globes. All I know is Depp + Jolie should have added up to something better.

Yogi Bear: I think casting Justin Timberlake as Boo Boo must have been a middle finger to everyone who grew up watching the original show. I read some griping somewhere that Dan Aykroyd snubbed the advice of Daws Butler when preparing to voice Yogi, but I am not going to rip Aykroyd when Timberlake is around to be ripped.

Skyline: A sci-fi thriller starring...Eric Balfour? Oh, Eric Balfour, must you sully cheesy B-movies as well as seemingly a new mediocre series every single fall TV season?

How Do You Know: James L. Brooks used to be a reliable creative force as a writer/director, but, boy, did this one tank. Nicholson doesn't do enough movies anymore to be able to waste 'em like this. Still, there's something oddly compelling about casting Reese Witherspoon as a world-class softball player.

Hawkeye: The Complete Series: I know little about this series, but I know not to pass up a chance to get my Lee Horsely on! Did Tom Selleck ever do a show about the pre-Revolutionary American frontier? I think not!

I'm going to close out this week's short DVD post with a few titles I highlight only because of their, well, titles.

Kid Rock: The Complete Story: Shouldn't his "complete story" take about 30 seconds to tell? He made music, he got high, he partied with a bunch of chicks. Isn't that about it?

Uncle Farts' 70s Grindhouse Sleazefest: No, that's not a typo. There really is a DVD out this week called "UNCLE FARTS' Grindhouse Sleazefest." That title is low-rent and sleazy even by the standards of low-rent sleaze. I refuse to learn anything more about this video because, after all, how can it possibly live up (or down) to that name? Not even Uncle Fart, but Uncle Farts. Yeah, I'm a tad curious about this "Uncle Farts" character, but maybe he's better left as an enigma who will loom in my imagination as a larger-than-life figure...who happens to be named Uncle Farts.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

That A-List keeps getting bigger and bigger

A featured article on Yahoo last week proclaimed that President Obama was feeling pressure from "A-listers" on gay marriage. Accompanying the headline were 3 head shots of, from left to right, Scott Fujita, Anne Hathaway, and Sean Parker.

That A-list is getting bigger and bigger every day, isn't it I guess it goes to show what Andy Warhol said: "In the future, everyone will be lumped into a vague conception of an 'A-list' for 15 minutes." Or something like that.

Anne Hathaway is an A-lister. She just hosted the Oscars. The other two guys might get into a nice Oscar night party, but not the "Vanity Fair" one, I'll bet.

Fujita is a linebacker for the Cleveland Browns. 'Nuff said. The Browns haven't had an A-lister since the Nixon administration.

Sean Parker, the founder of Napster, can maybe buy his way into the cool spots, but the only way he is an A-lister is when he's Justin Timberlake, who played him in "The Social Network."

Does Yahoo really think the weight of these people is building the pressure on Obama to consider fighting for gay marriage legislation? "Mr. President, Scott Fujita has gone on record as supporting this legislation..." "Damn it, they've got Fujita? That does it, I don't care what happens to the budget, we're putting everything into gay marriage!"

OK, maybe I'm nitpicking, but it's bad enough the C-list is increasingly overlapping with the A-list in today's mass media culture. Let's preserve some exclusivity for the A-list.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Wonderful World of TCM: A trio

It's been a while since we've done one of these, so I wish this one were more exciting:

The Story of Mankind: How can a movie with the three main Marx Brothers (Sorry, Gummo) be so dull? I can understand bad--things happen--but dull? I had long wanted to see this Irwin Allen-directed tale of an argument over the future of the species between "the human spirit" (Ronald Coleman) and the devil (Vincent Price). Come to think, how can a movie with Vincent Price as the devil be so dull? I found myself fast-forwarding through some of the historical vignettes to get to the Marx segments, which were all too brief.

My thinking is, if you cast Chico Marx as Christopher Columbus, you might as well go more than 4 minutes or so with it. I mean, I'd sit and watch that for...well, maybe not for 95 minutes, but it was a hell of a lot more interesting than listening to Price and Coleman debate the worthiness of mankind. If you're a Marx Brothers fanatic, this is a must-see...but only for the 3 brief segments with Chico, Groucho as Peter Minuit, and Harpo as Isaac Newton (And the brothers don't appear together, either). Keep that remote handy.

Room for One More: This 1952 film co-starring Cary Grant and one of his real-life wives, Betsy Drake, premiered on TCM a few months back. Yeah, you read that right, and it begs the question: Why the hell did it take so long for a Warner Brothers Cary Grant movie to debut on the channel?

Unfortunately, pondering that question provided more stimulation than did the movie itself. It's a pleasant effort, with Grant and Drake a couple that frequently takes in foster children, but it gets pretty sappy and Cary Grant is not, you know, Cary Grant in it. So I didn't love it, but the wife and I didn't regret having spent the time on it. I still wonder what took so long to air it, not that I dare question The Greatest Cable Channel Known to mankind.

Cover-Up: Hey, a TCM movie I really DID like recently! Dennis O'Keefe is an insurance company rep investigating a strange death, and encountering a lot of resistance, in a small town in this 1949 mystery. I would have liked more noirish elements, or at least plain, old dark ones, but this is an entertaining little flick. O'Keefe apparently wrote this, too, and while I give him credit for wearing two hats, William Bendix walks away with the whole thing. His wise-ass sheriff, who is blatantly unwilling to assist O'Keefe's inquiries, gives "Cover-Up" most of its edge and its wit. Really, just those two guys bickering and bantering would have been enough for a pretty decent crime/noir film.

As "Cover-Up" progresses, it gets a little too smooth for its own good, and those darker aspects I alluded to fade pretty quickly. This isn't unusual for movies of the era, but it's a little disappointing nonetheless. But I still recommend it for the fine work of the cast (Barbara Britton also stands out as an attractive young woman O'Keefe befriends in the town), some fun dialogue, and enough mood and atmosphere to trick you every now and then into thinking it actually is noir.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

In theaters this weekend

The Lincoln Lawyer: I'm pleasantly surprised to read many good notices about this legal thriller starring Matthew McConaughey and based on one of the best-selling novels of Michael Connelly. I want to see it just for the scene where Matt leans against the courthouse and tells a colleague, "That's what I love about these paralegals, man. I keep getting older, they stay the same age." I wonder if he gets held in contempt for refusing to wear a shirt.

Paul: This sci-fi comedy stars one of my favorite modern comedy teams, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. I'm always happy to see those two in films. However, "Paul" also features this roster of oveexposed comedy stars: Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, Jason Bateman, Kristen Wiig--in other words, a bunch of people who I always see in films.

Limitless: The tagline is "What if a pill could make you rich and powerful?" Well, unless it also cured erectile dysfunction, we'd never hear about it.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

This Week and Last Week in DVD

Morning Glory: So help me, folks--and this is not something a guy who just admitted having seen parts of "The View" and "The Talk" should concede--I somehow kind of want to see this one. Sure, it looks like it could be a mediocre, limp, cliched romantic comedy. But Harrison Ford is Harrison Ford, no matter how cheesy movies he makes. If the earring didn't kill him, "Extraordinary Measures" surely won't. And if done right, this could be entertaining, right? Well, that's what I'll tell myself when my wife and I sit down to watch it some weekend.

The FightAH: Just got this from Netflix, and by the time we get around to watching it. I'll try to let you know what I think. So, yeah, I'll see you back here in about...oh, probably May or so. I have high hopes, though, as I enjoy boxing movies. Then there's Melissa Leo's endorsement. I think the DVD box has her pull quote on the front: "It's F***** great!

Hereafter: Just pulled from theatrical release in Japan due to unsettling similarities to the real-life catastrophe, and I don't blame Warner Brothers for yanking it. No further comment from me. Hey, I'm no Gilbert Gottfried.

The Next Three Days: Remember when Russell Crowe was a huge movie star? I like seeing the guy, but he's in danger of becoming just another guy. Do you even remember this movie? Oh, sure, it might turn out to be a perfectly acceptable thriller on DVD, but Cuba Gooding Jr. stars in perfectly acceptable thrillers on DVD*. Crowe is supposed to be a movie star!

*Note: This comment is not intended to be an endorsement for any direct-to-video Cuba Gooding Jr. movie. I haven't actually seen any of them.

The Switch: How many bad romantic comedies does it take to get to the bottom of a career? Apparently Jennifer Aniston still has a way to go. Unlike Russell Crowe, she can probably do this same kind of movie whenever she wants...until of course Hollywood cruelly decides she's too old. Hmm, I guess maybe the guys have it better than the gals.

Jackass 3: I don't consider myself a prudish fellow. I enjoy "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia" and "South Park." One of my all-time favorite shows is "Beavis and Butt-head." But I'll be damned if I'm gonna sit through 90 minutes of these guys putting things up their asses and lighting them on fire.

Inside Job: A documentary detailing how we got screwed by Big Business. This one is from 2010, but, really, wouldn't that topic have been valid pretty much every year since the advent of cinema?

Every Day: Yep, Helen Hunt is still making movies. We just don't hear about them, I guess. Not that she's Russell Crowe or Jennifer Aniston or anything. This flick from auteur Richard Levine also stars Leiv Schrieber, Eddie Izzard, and Carla Gugino, and it is about the hectic life of a TV writer. Hey, this doesn't sound terrible.

Mystery Science Theater Volume XX: 4 more episodes from Shout Factory, which is doing an admirable job at cranking these out on a reliable schedule. The fact that they're not appearing as disc rentals at Netflix is tolerable given that they are showing up eventually on streaming.

Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Champions: GRRR! Let's move on...

Walking Dead Season 1: Hey, it's something I actually saw already! I watched this series on AMC and recommend it. They're probably charging too much for 6 episodes, though, whatever they're charging.

Friday, March 18, 2011

My wife watches female chat shows so you don't have to

Hey, first of all, Mrs. Shark is on maternity leave, so let's cut her some slack for watching these programs.

Having said that, sheesh, any dose of "The View" and/or "The Talk" is enough to give me the shivers the rest of the day. However, I was exposed to a little bit of each chat show in recent weeks, and I developed a theory as to why "The View" is much better.

Forget inessential factors such as production values, the talent of the hosts, the quality of the guests, the chemistry, and the overall show quality. No, I make my pick based on the fact that one of these programs seems "in the tank" for its network, while another is apparently allowed to show some independence.

See, according to my wife--and she only misleads me a few times a week, and it's always for my own good--the biggest story in frivolity this year has been the Charlie Sheen saga. Well, "The Talk," which of course airs on CBS, as does Sheen's "Two and a Half Men," avoided this story day after day, which is pretty silly for a show that purports to keep viewers engaged in the latest developments in the culture's frivolity.

"The Talk" is also hosted by Julie Chen, and guess who she's sleeping with? No, not Charlie Sheen, but rather Les Moonves, her hubby and head honcho of the network. You just get the feeling that it ain't a coinkydink that Sharon Osbourne--a woman who ought to know a thing or two about the phenomenon of the addled manchild--apparently isn't unloading on the whole story.

I don't claim that "The View" is akin to "60 Minutes," but when the ladies were discussing ABC program "The Bachelor" recently (Note: Yes, I actually saw this discussion live), Barbara Walters was clueless and not really feigning interest, Whoopi Goldberg clearly wasn't into the reality show, and Joy Behar was openly mocking it.

So at least the ladies of "The View" don't suffer from any obvious content restrictions, at least not in the vital world of pop culture frivolity. Therefore I declare the seasoned veteran the clear winner in its battle with the upstart counterpart on CBS.

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

OK, so I just happened to be leafing through the recent double issue with Charlie Sheen on the cover, and when I got to the Oscars coverage, I was stunned to see a pic of Mandy Moore. I was stunned because it sure as heck didn't look like her. She looked a little...I don't know, off, which concerned me a bit because, hey, hasn't she had eating disorder issues in the past?

But then I looked at the rest of the article, and she looked like herself in all the other shots. The pics came from the same time frame, I think, which was the day of the Academy Awards. So what was up with that first photo, which made her look more like a sickly Jennifer Garner (not intended as an insult to Jennifer Garner, by the way)?

Well, look for yourself. Get that issue and turn to page...turn to, I don't have the mag handy anymore. Sorry. I guess I'm making it so you actually DO have to read "People," huh?

Well, I'll make it up to you by answering the question posed on the cover without even looking at the article myself: "What happened to Charlie Sheen?" Well, he drugged and partied himself into a state of incoherence. Duh. There you go, no need to read that story.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Whither RTV's Facebook page?

The RTV Facebook page wasn't exactly a must-see stop for vital info and news. After all, there is so little news with that programming service to report, and whoever manned the page wasn't jumping in with a lot of detail. Still, it was fun to read people request shows that had no business being on RTV or were not reasonable acquisition options at the time, and it was a riot seeing one Steven Russo patiently respond time and time again as to why people's requests were pointless.

There were some intelligent comments, though, and really it was good just to have a social media destination for RTV fans. This is why it alarms me to find that, at least as far as I can tell, the page is gone.

Is this a temporary thing, or did RTV get tired of hearing people request it add "The Facts of Life"? I hope it's a technical issue and not a reactionary decision to avoid legitimate feedback and criticism. I hadn't checked in for a few weeks, and maybe things were out of hand as far as griping and whatnot. On the PBJ (another programming service coming from the company, this one aimed at kids) Facebook page, a rep asserts March 5 that Facebook is working to restore the RTV page.

But in this era, isn't a Facebook presence pretty much mandatory for a media company that wants credibility with the public? I realize RTV sacrificed its shot at lasting credibility years ago with some of its messy transitions, but yanking a Facebook page (and again, I stress that I'm speculating here) isn't a good way to build goodwill and brand loyalty, something RTV sorely needs given its reliance on a limited assortment of programs from Universal as competing services like Antenna and ME-TV jump in with potentially fresher and/or larger library deals. If it's simply a technical problem...well, isn't that kind of typical? Sadly, RTV has been plagued by glitches and mix-ups seemingly since its launch, or at least since I've had access to it.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

In theaters this weekend

Little Red Riding Hood: Casting Amanda Seyfried in the title role ensures that in this version, the wolf will be the one exclaiming to Red, "My, what big eyes you have." It would be too glib to assert that since Catherine Hardwicke is directing, this is basically a fairy tale version of "Twilight." So I won't assert it. I will leave it there in my standard blog font, though.

Battle for Los Angeles: I'm gonna go ahead and list it even though after seeing the ads, I honestly have no idea whether it's a theatrical movie, a SyFy original weekend movie, or a video game.

Mars Needs Moms: I just found out this is based on a book by the guy who did the comic strip "Bloom County." That doesn't really change my initial misgivings about this animated 3-D film, though. I mean, it's also based on a book by the guy who did the comic strip "Outland."

Jane Eyre: I'm a dolt and have never read the book, so maybe this comment is just totally ignorant, but isn't there a version of this on TV every few years? What makes this version so special? The presence of Billy Elliott?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Brooks on Books: The Wicked Wit of the West

Continued from Monday's post...

The late Irving Brecher, one of the subjects of Mike Sacks' "And Here's the Kicker," has his own book on shelves (well, virtual shelves, most likely), and that is "The Wicked Wit of the West," a series of transcribed conversations with writer Hank Rosenfeld. The result is more or less a biography of the accomplished screenwriter, who remained a razor-sharp wit until his death at 94.

The book covers Brecher's many adventures in show business, from writing jokes for Milton Berle to writing Marx Brothers films ("At the Circus" and "Go West"--not my favorites, no, but after reading Brecher's thoughts about how the direction may have hurt those movies, I really want to see them again) to "Meet Me in St. Louis" to creating "The Life of Riley" in its radio and television incarnations to just performing for appreciative and varied audiences as an elderly man.

Brecher's memory throughout the book is precise--assuming he's right, of course. He has strong opinions about many of the people and events that he encountered and witnessed, and he is unafraid to share them. The result is an engaging blend of memoir and showbiz history, with a healthy dose of gossip sprinkled throughout.

Besides asking the questions and prompting Brecher's anecdotes and explanations, Rosenfeld adds context and commentary throughout the text, usually set off in italics. He does a good job of arranging this material, but really Brecher is so entertaining, the book would be entertaining even if it didn't have quality structure. I was actually surprised throughout the book by Rosenfeld's apparent ignorance of some things to which Brecher referred. They get explained one way or another, but for a guy with comedy and entertainment experience, Rosenfeld seems to be lacking in his knowledge in some areas. But then again, it must have been difficult for anyone to keep up with someone like Brecher, whose personality and comic brilliance, even in his freaking nineties, come through on every page.

This is another must-read for fans of comedy and especially of classic showbiz, and as an aside, let me mention that it's a great read for Groucho Marx fans such as myself. Brecher has enough cool Groucho stories to make the book worthwhile reading only for them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Brooks on Books: Comedy writers

This week, let's look at two books by, about, for, on, with, about, to, fro--if I'm missing any other prepositions I can use, let me know--comedy and comedians. Both are excellent, both are educational, both are entertaining.

"And Here's the Kicker" by Mike Sacks is a wonderful compendium of, as the subtitle denotes, "Conversations with 21 Humor Writers On Their Craft." It's an addictive read, with nary a dud of a chapter in the whole book. Sacks is a savvy writer who asks good questions and draws good answers. While the subjects are funny people and often provide funny responses, the goal is not to produce a bunch of "bits," but rather a series of informative conversations that offer advice to aspiring comedy writers. There are also sidebars featuring more direct advice from writers to those looking to get into the field. But one need not BE a writer to enjoy "Kicker;" one only needs to enjoy comedy or show business in general. Possessing that simple qualification will make this book a joy to devour.

Perhaps the only flaw of the book is that each chapter is, if anything, a little too short, but you only get that impression because it's so well done. Over the course of the 21 interviews, you get more than your money's worth. Indeed, the breadth of this book is remarkable. Subjects range from young to old, white to black, and male to female. I like "Kicker's" wide range of types of comedy writers included. There are plenty of screenwriters, as might be expected, but there are also scribes like "Mad" magazine's Al Jaffee and a founder of "The Onion." You read the thoughts of cartoonist Roz Chast as well as essayist David Sedaris. You may like some chapters more than others, but you will enjoy the diversity of comedy styles and mediums discussed in here.

The discussions get into the mechanics of writing comedy but remain accessible and easy to read. This book is a great accomplishment by Sacks and a must-read for any comedy fan.

I recently read a separate book featuring one of the comedy writers Sacks interviewed, and I'll post about that one later this week.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

In theaters this weekend

Johnny Depp IS Rango: I am actually hearing some pretty good things about Johnny Depp IS Rango, and I think this one might be worth seeing. In this animated feature, Depp voices a chameleon who finds his own identity after being accustomed to blending in during his life as a household pet. And this role is so appropriate, too, because isn't that what Depp does, is completely blend in in his iconic performances? For example, there's the eccentric outsider pirate, the eccentric outsider candy factory owner, the eccentric outsider hat fanatic...

The Adjustment Bureau: Matt Damon and Emily Blunt find themselves in weird situations and end up running around a lot. What, don't I have the gist of it?

Beastly: Great, another version of "Beauty and the Beast," aimed at the youth crowd. OK, as long as they don't make a feature-length version of "Little Red Riding Hood" and promote the heck out of it and release it in a bunch of theaters.

Take Me Home Tonight: Comedy set in the 1980s, and judging from the reviews, that's about all it has going for it...and some of you might not even think that's such a big deal.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

This Week in DVD

127 Hours: You know, for the longest time, I thought the notion of a movie that culminates in a man cutting off his own arm was too unbearable to consider watching it. After watching James Franco host the Oscars, though...

Faster: The Rock and Billy Bob Thornton (whatever happened to him?) star in this action movie about an ex-con seeking revenge for his dead brother. You see, the stakes are high because they were involved in a--You know what? It's hard to talk about "stakes" in any movie when you were just thinking about a guy cutting his own arm off. Now, THAT'S "stakes."

Love and Other Drugs: From what I gather, there are plenty of body parts visible in this romantic dramedy, but fortunately, they're all attached to one and/or two people. Seriously, to hear the hubub about Anne Hathaway being naked in this one, you'd think she showed up naked on a white horse as the opening credits rolled and didn't put on any clothes before the "no animals were harmed in the making of this movie" disclaimer. Oh, yeah, there's a dude in it, too.

Burlesque: There are some movies in which you hope for some nudity from certain performers (see previous entry). Then there are some in which you hope they keep their clothes on (see this entry).

Leave it to Beaver Season 6: Let's get to more wholesome pursuits, like Shout Factory's release of the final season of this classic sitcom, wrapping things up for those who didn't purchase the big ol' complete series box set. It's nice to report a positive item every now and then.

Alonzo Bodden: Who's Paying Attention: I saw this on Showtime a few weeks ago and was impressed. It's a solid hour or so of comedy from a solid performer.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

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

So the latest issue of "People" magazine, or at least the most recent one which has happened to be open when I've walked by and seen it, has a review of "Hall Pass." It's a negative review, which is not surprising given the generally poor critical and commercial reaction to the film.

What catches my eye is the little sidebar the mag places under the review, a box proclaiming that Christina Applegate is "Rom-Com's Best Best Friend" or something silly like that. She is apparently the best thing about "Hall Pass" and all the other crappy movies she's played the "friend" role in over the last decade or so.

Why does "People" need to highlight Applegate's performance in an underwhelming comedy that will soon be forgotten? I don't know, but, say, did I mention who was on the cover of the magazine the week before? Appearing in a big cover story after giving access to photos of herself with her new baby daughter? After giving the mag the scoop that she was expecting in the first place way back in the summer?

Give up? It was...Christina Applegate. Hmm.

Just sayin'.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

An amateur's thoughts on Laurel and Hardy

For years, I have underestimate Laurel and Hardy, influenced, I believe, by too many encounters with their inferior work. January's tribute to Hal Roach on the Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind offered a chance to take another look at the classic comedy team and enjoy some of their best shorts and features, and I have to say, I have been missing out a bit. Though I stand by my belief that the affectionate title "The Boys" should go to Wheeler and Woolsey, I don't want to take anything away from the legendary Ollie and Stan.

I mainly focused on the shorts this time around, though I did enjoy the heck out of the classic feature-length "Sons of the Desert." After seeing a healthy chunk of L&H, I feel confident in offering the following observations, though I retain mere amateur status in discussing the guys (see what I did there?) and their films:

*I remain an Ollie man as opposed to a Stan man: OK, it's goofy to feel you have to be a devotee of one over the other because, after all, they are a team, but I'm just sayin'. While I appreciate and enjoy the fine work of Stan Laurel, I find Oliver Hardy more effective as a pure laugh-getter. I think I always had this opinion, dating back even to those terrible "Scooby-Doo" episodes which guest-starred "Laurel and Hardy." As a kid, I simply laughed more at Ollie, and I remain more captivated by him as an adult. It's not something I can easily break down, but I always did have an affection for the overdog for some reason. For example, I rooted for Tom against Jerry, Wile E. Coyote against the Road Runner, and I guess I just took more to Hardy's put-upon big-guy act than to Stan Laurel's innocent, doltish little guy act. But I can give you one specific reason I laugh more at Ollie, though...

*I love Ollie's breaking down of the fourth wall: I can remember even as a kid loving it each time the big guy followed some boneheaded action or insult by staring at the camera with a classic indignant expression on his kisser. After seeing so many shorts in a relatively short period of time, I can say that Hardy didn't just break down the fourth wall; he dynamited it, gathered all the pieces, tied them in a sack with bricks, and dropped them into the Potomac River. I mean, in some of the early sound shorts, he's looking at us practically every other time Stan does something. But you know what? I love it. I'm a sucker for it, and each time he does it, it kills me.

*I don't know if this is considered sacrilege or if this is going to be a "duh" kind of statement, but I believe Laurel and Hardy weren't necessarily well served by their directors: Perhaps I'm thrown by the primitive filmmaking techniques of the early sound area or the choppy editing that may sometimes be necessitated by deteriorating source material. I don't know if I should single out Laurel and Hardy here. I absolutely love the Marx Brothers, but when I watch their classic Paramount films, I often can't help but wonder, "Why doesn't the camera MOVE?" or "Why was there a cut there?" But when I watched the Stan and Ollie shorts, I kept thinking the timing was off, maybe in terms of a reaction shot held too long, or maybe a directorial choice was odd and we weren't getting the full impact of a gag.

I know, I know, who am I to question the men who created so many classic comedy shorts? Well, I am a humble amateur, but I can tell that Laurel and Hardy are comedians of immense talent, and it is my opinion that the filmmaking did not always utilize those talents to their full potential. One could say this about many of the greats of that era when looking at the work with a modern eye, but I just think that as good as those shorts are, they could be even better with some better editing or maybe directing.

I don't want to end this post on an even slightly negative note, so let me reiterate: While I never denigrated Laurel and Hardy, I think in recent years I grossly underestimated their work, and so the recent flood of L&H films on Turner Classic Movies opened my eyes far more than a guy who says he loves classic movies should have had to have done.