Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cultureshark Cares

Last week, a judge ruled in favor of Hulk Hogan in his continuing legal efforts to get Gawker and its properties to remove the sex tape footage it posted last year.

Gawker is defying the ruling so far, but this means if you have yet to see the Hulkster doing the wild thing, you ought to do it now in case the video is pulled.

Cultureshark Cares!

Saturday, April 27, 2013

From the Hip (1987): Judd Nelson IS Stormy Weathers

No doubt it is a cliche to say that in a given movie, a certain actor IS a certain character, but believe me when I say there is no more apt summary of "From the Hip." After all, it is SO essential to the film that we know that Judd Nelson IS Stormy Weathers that we hear it over 400 times by my unofficial count during the course of the film.

"You're Stormy Weathers," people keep telling him. He knows he's Stormy Weathers. The characters addressing him are really addressing US, reminding us that he has a "cool" name. You see, this is a film where someone came up with the idea to call the main character Robin "Stormy" Weathers, and then everyone else ran with it and felt we needed it reinforced, else the movie might not amount to much.

I blame credited screenwriter David E. Kelly because it's fun to blame him and because it seems like the kind of the thing he'd do. Let's not absolve the director of "From the Hip," the late Bob Clark, who was never known for his subtlety. One scene in particular displays Clark's heavy touch, one you might well expect from a project built around a character named Stormy Weathers. Judd Nelson (who IS Stormy Weathers) is celebrating in his apartment with his best friends/colleagues, and they are all getting rowdy, when his sensible girlfriend, played by Elizabeth McGovern, reminds them of the gravity of the situation, asking them to calm down and show some dignity. Then the camera pans out so we can see McGovern plod into the room wearing giant hairy gag monster feet. Now, there may be a subtle way to execute this gag, but this ain't it.

Nelson is a hotshot young attorney who, through various machinations we won't get into here, ends up defending accused murderer John Hurt in what is thought to be an unwinnable case. He deals with the prickly Hurt, legal partners who want to see him fail, and--awwww--his own self-doubts as he pursues the case...and maybe, just maybe, the right thing.

The story has kind of an odd ebb and flow, especially outside the courtroom, but I will say the trial scenes are highly watchable, and the cast is interesting. John Hurt is compelling, but he often seems to belong in a different film. In addition, there's Darren McGavin, Nancy Marchand (who gets to remind Nelson that he's Stormy Weathers), and the late Allan Arbus (I was gonna ID him as "the guy who played the shrink on M*A*S*H*," but the man especially deserves some respect now). And in a random bit of pop culture confluence, those lawyer pals Weathers consorts with are played by Dan Monahan of "Porky's" fame and by a young David Alan Grier.

But the problem is we are supposed to think Nelson is cool, with his irreverence and his floppy hair, but it's hard to escape the reality that, well, Stormy Weathers is kind of an a-hole, which is interesting given an early showcase scene features him instigating a debate over the word "a**hole." Ray Walston as the presiding judge becomes indignant, and we are supposed to enjoy the irreverence and admire his wacky but accessible logic. In short, we're supposed to really get behind Nelson's character right from the start, much the way we supported 80s mavericks like Axel Foley.

But while Nelson IS Weathers, Weathers is no Foley, and  his wild courtroom antics look good on film, but, several citations for contempt notwithstanding, are received with a lot more tolerance than they would be in the real world. He destroys things with a hammer, he brings live animals and vibrators into the courtroom (thankfully not at the same time) and generally showboats without an iota of shame. So if you don't buy into Stormy Weathers and his shtick, you might as well not even bother adding this to your Instant Watching queue.

There is one scene that made me laugh out loud the first time I saw it (I had never seen the whole movie before catching it on Netflix) and still makes me laugh, though maybe not for the right reason: During testimony, a prosecutor throws out a lofty-sounding quote, adding, "Henry David Thoreau said that." From his table, Judd Nelson (IS Stormy Weathers) says, "Yabba Dabba Doo. Frederick Flintstone said that. So what?"

Friday, April 26, 2013

Vault of Coolness: Vintage Steve Martin, Author

I picked this up at a library used book sale for either 50 cents or a buck.

Remember when you used to be able to get cheap pocket-size paperbacks like this that weren't genre novels?

I haven't read this yet, but I like Steve Martin, and so I will. But more important at the time I bought this, I like the idea of it: A slim paperback with a cool photo cover that I could have found at K-Mart at an affordable price back in the day.

Has anyone read this?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Gangster Squad: This just looked like it should have been cool: Gangsters, period setting, Sean Penn hamming it up, Emma Stone vamping it up...I don't know, that all sounds kind of cool, but this one got terrible reviews.

A Haunted House: So let me get this straight, the "Scary Movie" franchise was SO hilarious, it couldn't contain Marlon Wayans, who broke off and started his OWN franchise?

The Impossible: I can't wait to see how they did the special effects for the coil guy in this adaptation of the 1960s Hanna Barbera--Oh, wait, this is a harrowing, inspirational story about a family struggling in the face of a tsunami? Jeez, that's not funny at all.
Promised Land: It turns out movies about controversial topics like fracking aren't really all that controversial if nobody knows they exist.

Jurassic Park 3D: Forget the dinosaurs, I want to know how scary Jeff Goldblum's mannerisms are in 3-D.

Richard III: Criterion may be loading this up with extras, but I'm not impressed if it's not III-D.

The City That Never Sleeps: This Gig Young noir is perhaps the highlight of a new batch of releases from Olive Films, which is glad to put out the good stuff that Paramount can't be bothered with.

China Gate: Olive also releases this Sam Fuller early (as in before we got into it) Vietnam War flick with Angie Dickinson, Gene Barry, and Nat King Cole (!), and it sounded so good I thought I might have to try to see it. Then I found out it's already been on Netflix! O happy day!

Mr. Selfridge: I said it before and I'll say it again: When I first saw a promo for this, I figured, "Ooh, a new Masterpiece," and when I heard, "Jeremy Piven stars..." it was, "Ah, never mind."

Restless Gun Complete Series: Another forgotten Western series hits DVD thanks to the good folks at Timeless. Keep putting them out, Timeless, and I'll keep...uh, thinking maybe I should give them a try sometime but probably not necessarily buy them right away. I guess I'm really not incentivizing them much, am I?

In streaming, the big news this week is the debut of all episodes of the new original Netflix series Hemlock Grove, which features an apparent werewolf and Famke Janssen, and if there is to be any hope of me watching this, the werewolf better not be Famke Janssen.

This is generating buzz but not good critical notice, but if it drives subscriptions, then good...I guess. But personally I'd rather see Netflix spend the dough on acquiring more catalog titles. For example, is there gonna be any effort to replace/renew some of the hundreds of titles expiring in a few weeks?

We also get The Paperboy, and no matter whether Nicole Kidman won an Oscar for it, yet this still would be known as the movie in which she pees on someone. She didn't win an Oscar, as far as I know, though maybe there was a peeing Oscar given out in the technical awards ceremony.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Awesome 80's Video #1: "No Way Out" by Starship

(Full disclosure: This post springs from an e-mail I wrote to a few friends. Personal references and in-jokes may have been deleted. Awesomeness is hopefully retained)

Welcome tp yet another new recurring feature here at the blog, a periodic look at the best music videos of THE decade for music videos, the 1980s. This week, let’s look at Jefferson Starship’s "No Way Out," a song from the album that was reportedly so cheesy that Paul Kantner finally said, “I’ve had it,” and left the band, leading directly to the formation of the Starship we all know and love that Built [insert your city here] on Rock and Roll and made “Mannequin” a hit.

I will spare you a blow-by-blow of this video and will instead highlight some of the features that make you wonder how much blow was consumed during the shoot. Besides, I can’t really explain what’s going on here except in broad strokes. It’s a concept video that combines mad scientists, Catholic confessionals, geisha imagery, and Mickey Thomas’ ill-suited mustache, yet it doesn’t all come together very well. In fact, in this upload of the video I link to, the clip actually freezes for a second—surely the result of a flaw in the recording, but it seems as if the video itself is saying, “Wait a minute, let’s take a timeout and figure what the hell is going on here.”

First, let’s talk about the song, which is actually not bad and, one has to admit, is catchy as all get-out. It starts with a very 1980s-sounding keyboard hook, then goes into some funky time shifts and some guitar solos to complement that constant keyboard sound. In other words, yep, it’s the eighties.

And of course, it being Mickey Thomas, he’s gonna sing his ass off. I only wish in this case he sang his ‘stache off, because it just bugs me for some reason. Is he trying to pull off an Oates look? Because, sir, I know John Oates. I rocked out to John Oates. I recently bought a vintage Rolling Stone with John Oates featured on the cover. And you, Mickey Thomas, are no John Oates.

We start with Mickey and his gal going to the castle/lab/whatever, and we get one of those great non-musical intros that used to make videos look so pretentious—I mean, cool. They’re greeted at the door by Grace Slick, who has little to do in this entire clip except make ghastly faces. What did I say about cocaine earlier?
Then Mickey is led up to a confessional booth. See, the song is about his woman not buying the story he came up with as to where he was last night. So we get a confessional/lie detector thing going with some exaggerated effects and noises (the sound design cracks me up in this video—watch this clip and notice how ridiculously noisy all the sound effects are) and oh, yeah, SPECIAL GUEST STAR Father Guido Sarducci. Well, he is a priest, so he fits here, but really all he does is smoke and sit around with no discernible purpose...yes, pretty much like every Father Guido Sarducci appearance ever.

There is some weird stuff going down in the laboratory part, and Grace Slick is still being creepy, but the most bizarre sequences are when Sarducci starts watching some scene play out in front of him. It’s a dude who I am pretty sure is the drummer being entertained by a geisha-like woman trying to be “mysterious.” He digs it, though, so the drummer, who looks like either an eighties porn star or an eighties pro wrestler—wait, is there a difference?—watches her get out of bed and start swaying, so his reaction is to pick up a nearby dumbbell (back then, all swingin’ singles kept one on the nightstand) and start doing bicep curls while she “performs.”

Well, it’s better than watching Mickey Thomas do it. At least this guy’s moustache suits him.

From this point on, it’s more creepy bedroom scenes, more special effects, several re-used shots, footage of Mickey Thomas out on the town with a bevy of beauties, and a weird exchange of cash between Grace and Mickey’s video girlfriend that I can almost certainly assure you is not a drug deal.

I could go on, but please, experience this for yourself.

Friday, April 19, 2013

ME-TV and Antenna swap shows while I yawn

Sitcoms Online ran the best explanation of this that I saw here and here: Antenna is removing "Leave It to Beaver," "Dragnet," and "Adam-12" from its lineup, but fear not, fans of those shows, because they are merely migrating to Me-TV. If you love those shows and aren't sick of them, I guess this is a good thing, and if you're a fan who has Me-TV but NOT Antenna, it's certainly a good thing. But for the rest of us, this is kind of--excuse me for using a little industry jargon again here--lame.

When the rerun-oriented digital subchannel trend started a few years ago, I looked forward to a wide variety of programming. Wait, that's not entirely true. I hoped for a wide variety but feared we would actually get the same old stuff eventually. Now, there are still great old shows on both Me and Antenna, but this kind of swap is the thing I worried when the two "competitors" made their library deal with Universal a few years ago: Exchanging the same series instead of digging deeper and showing rarer programs.

Oh, Me-TV and Antenna accomplished something else with that deal: They effectively killed off RTV, which suffered a crippling amount of defections shortly after it lost rights to the Universal library. Personally, I could do without most of the Universal library at this point, or at least most of what we've seen lately. "Beaver" is on Netflix now, as is "Adam-12." I've seen the whole run of "Alfred Hitchcock." I love, love, love that Antenna still runs "Burns and Allen" and "The Jack Benny Program," but unless they unearth some new episodes, I don't see them as so special now that they have gone through multiple cycles of the ones they have. Let's try a little harder, folks, please, to put some different programs on the air.

I'd rather see Me-TV look elsewhere than at Antenna's leftovers. As for Antenna, here are the brand-new program acquisitions it will add to replace the 3 departing Universal shows:


That's right, nothing! Oh, it has shows filling the time slots. "Married With Children" and "The Nanny," both of which have had ample exposure elsewhere, but more importantly have already been on Antenna, are coming back.


I fear these two channels are stagnant and will remain so. I hold out more hope for Me-TV to at least sprinkle its schedule with rarities like "The Rebel," but Antenna in particular is stale, and I expect it to look more to the 80s and 90s than the 50s, 60s, and 70s for future programming additions.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Django Unchained: Not a lot of extras on this, so I'm assuming there's a better edition on the way by the end of the year. But if the agonizing 3 month wait since this left theaters has been too much for you...

I remember when I went to see "Lincoln" with my folks around the holidays. Given the option of choosing the movie, I went with the safer bet, reasoning there was no way I could subject my mother to 165 minutes of Tarantino. But now that it's out on video, I realize, yeah, I don't think I'm all that hot on seeing it, either.

Save the Date: Alison Brie stars as--SOLD!

For All Mankind: The Life and Career of Mick Foley: It's a clever title because one of the personas Foley used in his pro wrestling career was "Mankind." I've lost 99% of you, haven't I?

Stoney Burke: The Complete Series: Jack Lord as a rodeo performer who works the circuit and finds adventure and drama along the way. This is the kind of series I get excited about upon hearing its release, but I've never seen it, and frankly the trailer Timeless put out there doesn't look all that interesting. Still, I'm willing to be convinced, and kudos again to the company for putting stuff like this out there.

Since it's another light DVD week, let's play another round of Rick Gripes About Streaming Services.

I'm paying each month for Hulu Plus, and I enjoy the content it offers enough to keep doing so. I can't see "Modern Family" on demand, so I have to get it this way, so there is that. A lot of the other shows I watch on Hulu, I could see on demand via FIOS, but I am enjoying assorted other content like Britcoms and old-school shows like "I Spy" as well.

(What? Watch a modern broadcast show each week when it's actually broadcast? What is this, 1909?)

The problem is Hulu Plus is by far THE single glitchiest channel of all those on my Roku. Since securing my Internet connection, I rarely have issues with Netflix, nor with the other assorted goofy stuff I watch, but Hulu Plus is almost always an adventure--an irritating one, not the cool ones like Stoney Burke enjoys.

I like watching the Britcoms with closed captions activated, but I leave them on all the time because fiddling with them during a program so often leads to disaster. Even so, I don't think I have ever made it through a complete "Modern Family" without some kind of glitch. Either the captions freeze or lag, I lose my ability to pause or control the program playback for no apparent reason, or worst of all, I get the dreaded total freeze-up and have to do a complete reboot of the system. After that I can usually get through the show without incident, but that's a pretty big pain.

So why do I continue to pay each month for a gitchy service with ads? Ah...well, I guess it's inexpensive enough with enough quality exclusive content _for now_ that I can live with the glitches and the constant temptation to dropkick my Roku into moving traffic. But, jeez, combine the playback issues with the clunky interface, and it feels like a minor league product considering all the major league power behind it.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Hiding Out (1987)...sort of

A few weeks ago, full of pep and vinegar while composing a "This Week in DVD and Instant Watching" post, I made a foolhardy challenge to all of you. I invited someone to dare me to watch "From the Hip" and "Hiding Out" and make one big I Love the '80s post about that double feature.

Well, I was caught up in excitement over the influx of new titles to Netflix streaming, and I was clouded by nostalgia, even for two movies I had never actually seen. That's the only explanation as to why I would make such a rash move. But one of my faithful readers dared me to go through with it, and being a man of honor, I was committed. Could one man watch BOTH movies in an undefined period of time and produce some kind of content at his own leisure?

Wow, when I put it all down like that, I really can't believe I agreed to do it.

There is one problem, though: While the Judd Nelson tour de force "From the Hip" is still streaming, Jon Cryer's vehicle "Hiding Out" is mysteriously "UNAVAILABLE" according to the Netflix website, and it doesn't show up at all on my Roku channel when I search for it.

Yes, folks, the movie itself is hiding out.

I DID see "From the Hip" (more on that next week), but since I can't track down the second half of the double feature (if only there were some kind of retail establishment where one could rent physical copies of older movies), I can only speculate on what "Hiding Out" is like. Needless to say, this makes my idea of comparing the two stars' characters to determine who is COOLER a difficult one to execute.

So I will do the obvious thing to do in this situation: Write about "Hiding Out" without seeing it nor doing any research, instead relying on my own minimal knowledge and preconceptions of the film.

"Hiding Out" is a 1987 movie directed by Bob Giraldi and starring Cryer and Annabeth Gish. Now, first off, the notion of a "Jon Cryer vehicle" other than the ones he buys himself with his mountains of "Two and a Half Men" cash is inherently amusing, and it offers a welcome reminder of why we like to revisit past decades of pop culture.

As for Gish, she was an 80s presence that never latched onto an inexplicably successful sitcom, and so her profile is considerably lower today. But what concerns me is that according to Wikipedia, Cryer's character is a stockbroker who, his life threatened by the mob, hides in a high school. Now, I don't mean that he literally hides somewhere where nowhere will find him--say, in the school library--but he actually enrolls in a high school as a student. Again, I have never seen this movie, but I know Gish is the love interest, meaning Cryer is an adult stockbroker who woos a high school student.

Uh...ick. So Cryer's character loses cool points for this. Early edge for Judd Nelson in "From the Hip," who lives with an actual grownup, Elizabeth McGovern.

Now, I suppose I could be doing "Hiding Out" a grave injustice by allowing this angle to so color my perception of it. Perhaps Cryer's character is like an intern stockbroker and Gish is a 19-year-old super senior who has a late birthday and was held back in first grade. I doubt this, but...maybe. Perhaps both actors were way over high school age at the time of filming anyway and this is just a silly case of Hollywood overadulticizing (I may not have seen the movie, but I can make up for it with the made-up verbiage!) high school students as it often does.

OK, I know I said I wouldn't do any research on this, but I got to take a quick look. Cryer was 22 in 1987, so he was an adult but not a creepy old man, and, come on, he was Jon Cryer, so he probably seems passably high-schoolish when he's HIDING OUT. Let's look at Gish. She was born March 13, 1971 (Sorry for the unchivalrous reveal, Ms. Gish), which would make her...

Oh, dear. She was 16 when the movie was released, let alone when it was shot.

I mean, is there anything inherently womanly about 1980s Annabeth Gish that would make us kind of nudge nudge wink wink and forget about this? 22 and 16 isn't a huge deal in, say, France, but, eh, it kind of bothers me. So Jon Cryer in "Hiding Out" is romancing a 16-year-old high school student, plus is Jon Cryer. I can tell you right now Judd Nelson wins this battle.

So what else do I know about "Hiding Out"? I know it was the launchpad for the career of Pretty Poison, a female-fronted band that scored a huge hit with "(Catch Me) I'm Falling," which remains a surefire (and justified) selection on 1980s-inspired playlists today. The fact that Pretty Poison never did anything else of note doesn't mean we can't still credit "Hiding Out" for kickstarting its career. And you know what? The only footage I've ever seen from the movie was in that music video, so I'm gonna go back and watch that, and maybe the clip will tell me all I need to know about "Hiding Out."

I'm back. OK, Jon Cryer as a stockbroker is wearing a BEARD! This is great! He looks like Curtis Armstrong auditioning for the lead role in "Serpico." I can't take this movie seriously. Uh, even more so, that is. But this music video apparently reveals the entire essence of the story. So, mission accomplished here. In fact, I have no desire to watch the entire movie, but I DO want to see a lot more of Pretty Poison's lead singer. Maybe it's nostalgia for that 1980s look, maybe it's an illusion of the fast editing, but she's something else.

Just please don't tell me she was 16 when she made this.

Friday, April 12, 2013

TV on DVD Wishlist Part 1

If you ask people what unreleased TV shows they'd like to see on DVD these days, you might get one of two responses: 1) They still make TV show DVDs? or 2) There's stuff that's NOT on DVD?

1) For now, they do.
2) Oh, there sure is. There sure is.

I thought it would be fun to compile my own personal wishlist, and sure enough, it was--for me to compile it. Not sure about you reading it. Today I'm looking at programs that had some kind of full season or other significant release but remain stalled. In future installments, I'll get into shows that have had little or no DVD presence.

Here in order of preference is my top 10 list of stalled series I want to see continue:

Sgt. Bilko/The Phil Silvers Show: I mean, come on! We were ticked when CBS went with a Best of set, but at least it did an outstanding job with that collection. Years later, season one finally arrived. Years later...uh, nothing else. I hope CBS continues this because even though I obtained the episodes by--ahem--other means years ago, most of those are butchered versions that ran on Comedy Central, and I'd gladly pay for uncut discs that look as good as what we've seen in the official releases. This is one of the best sitcoms of all time, and it's ridiciulous that it's not available. I don't care what the sales numbers are. I repeat: Come on!

Room 222: This would be my #1 pick if my "alternative set" of "Bilko" was a better one. At least those ones are out there. "Room 222," apparently a scarce show for years, is not easily obtainable, unlike many of the other series on this list. Shout Factory released season one, banished season two to its version of the witness protection program, the exclusive Shout Select, and that was all she wrote. Fans of the show like to think the abysmal sales were due to the substandard prints used for season one, but I think that's a bit of self-delusion. As much as I love the show, its blend of idealism, 1970s social relevance, and low-key humor is a tough sell especially given its low profile. I don't care how much it would sell, I just want to see the episodes, but even seeing them on TV again seems a dim prospect. I'm less optimistic about this one than any other series on my list.

The Bob Newhart Show:  Widely syndicated for years and available via Me-TV right now, both unlike "Bilko,"  but this one has been a few seasons short for years. Hulu Plus irritated me the other day by showing me an ad touting "The Bob Newhart Show, now on Hulu." So I investigated, and only the first 3 seasons are available. Booooo!

Green Acres: See "The Bob Newhart Show" above, only this one is airing on This-TV today. The early season sets were widely available and have been repackaged and discounted, so it might surprise people to know the series is stalled.

The Paper Chase: Speaking of programs Shout gave up on, here's another one that was exiled to web-only and then predictably fizzled out. Sigh. I don't see any chance of this fine drama showing up in reruns, either, because, well, non-genre drama reruns don't seem to be popping up on these subchannels so much.

Make Room for Daddy: A butchered set of one season, and a much better set from another season, and that's all we have: two years out of the long run of the "Danny Thomas Show," plus scattered public domain episodes.

Mr. Peepers: Two DVD sets of this gentle sitcom from the prehistoric days of TV may be more than we have a right to expect, but that doesn't mean I can't wish there were more. S'Mores Entertainment apparently lost a bundle with this one and "Make Room for Daddy."

Love, American Style: OK, so it's one of the goofier shows in the CBS/Paramount library, and it got a few chances to prove itself in the market and (apparently) failed. But it was saddled with the burden of split season releases, for one thing, and for another...who cares? I want to see the rest. Even though "Love" has dated horribly, or maybe because of it, it remains entertaining in a campy sort of way. The uniqueness of the  format--a comic anthology with different segments each week, plus blackout sketches as interstitials--makes it a fun one to dive into on DVD, and you'd think the massive roster of guest stars would make this at least somewhat marketable. If you're not gonna put this on video, CBS, how about at least leasing it to Netflix, where this show would be a perfect fit for occasional sampling because of its lack of continuity and wide variety of episodes?

The Muppet Show: On one hand, an eventual completion of this one seems inevitable. Then again, I would have said that about 5 years ago. In fact, with the recent big-screen revival and the continued viability of the characters in comics and such, why isn't this even on TV anywhere

Wait Till Your Father Gets Home: A failry obscure animated sitcom, dated in its own early-seventies way (more of that "social relevance," especially stories about youth and hippies), and maybe not all that fondly remembered, but I taped late night/early morning reruns of this some years ago and developed a fondness for it. One season consisting of half the series' 48 episodes is on DVD; I'd expect Warner Archives to eventually get around to putting the last two seasons out someday.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

I forgot to mention a cool-looking new set from Timeless last week: Tombstone Territory, which combines the Old West and newspapers. I've never seen the show, but it is the kind of show I want to mention, so...consider it mentioned.

Also, a new streaming title I missed is The Americano. This is notable if only because it features Salma Hayek, who is the kind of actress I want to...watch act. What? Get your minds out of the gutter, people.

Let me now get on to the business of forgetting notable DVDs that come out this week:

Hyde Park on Hudson: Bill Murray as FDR in some kind of sex romp...but a sophisticated sex romp. How bad could this be? I know Tony Kornheiser hated it. I didn't get a chance to ask anybody else.

Stolen:  Hey, if this is true, it's interesting because this Nic Cage action flick already debuted on Instant Watching. So that makes this a real coup, I guess...unless I'm screwing the order up somehow. Wait, let me get it straight.

Here's the history of movies:
Ben Franklin (who invented everything)
D.W. Griffith
"Stolen" on Instant Watching
"Stolen" on DVD

Yep, I think I have it straight.

Sexcula: This sounds like one of those lame straight to video movies that shows up on pay cable with someone named Misty Mundae, but, no, this is from the early 1970s. I love the bluntness of the title, which makes Blacula sound like brilliant wordplay by comparison. "Uh...we got Dracula, we got sex. What should we call it?" They weren't trying very hard back then, either.

Boss Season 2: I really enjoyed season 1 and totally missed season 1 because, well, apparently when you don't subscribe to Starz anymore, you don't get to watch their shows anymore. Sounds like a scam. It makes me want to stay away from these so-called "DVDs" they're now pushing.

Family Ties Season 6: Finally the Brian Bonsall years continue! This season gives us Courteney Cox as Alex's girlfriend Lauren, and there are Very Special episodes galore. But one description stood out when I went to Wikipedia to see what this season was all about. Check out the plot summary for episode 24, "Spring Reminds Me":

The mother of Mallory's childhood best friend has difficulty coping with her daughter's suicide. Meanwhile, Steven unearths his old kit of magic tricks, and starts driving the family crazy with them.

What an episode, huh? I picture FDR, just after Pearl Harbor, telling the nation it was a day that would live in infamy...but, hey, check out the new linen set Eleanor ordered for the White House!  Of course, I picture Bill Murray as FDR saying it, which makes it both more inappropriate and more tolerable

Howdy Kids: Shout follows up its box set of early television kiddie shows with a set of early television Western kiddie shows. Personally I would prefer another set of general kiddie shows, but I appreciate the effort.

And in streaming...

Lay the Favorite: Bruce Willis, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones in a Stephen Frears movie that...just...came out on...DVD--hey, did I write about this a few weeks ago? Am I gonna have to go through the History of Movies again?

Passion of the Christ: It's back! Just in time to miss Easter, Netflix gives us another option for those Friday nights when you want to relax with a pizza, a cold drink or two, and a fun Movie Night.

Monday, April 8, 2013

My first pack of 2013 baseball cards

With this post, I start a new annual tradition--well, new if you ignore the fact that hundreds of other bloggers probably write the same kind of post every year--in which I open up my first (maybe only?) pack of 2013 Topps baseball cards and write about what I find inside.

I used to be a hardcore collector but went cold turkey for years and have been down to a pack or two a year lately. I loved a lot more individual players back then and were eager to get their cards, plus as a collector, the task of assembling full sets meant there were always certain cards to hunt down. Today when I open a pack, I'm basically looking for 3 things, in this order: 1) Any Pittsburgh Pirates, 2) Superstar players, and/or 3) A $5 bill. Hey, it doesn't hurt to dream, does it? This inaugural pack delivered 1 out of 3, and a .333 batting average is enough to get a guy a whole lot of fins.

It concerns me that the pack says "Series 1" on the front. Do these things trickle out in multiple waves all through the season? Collecting these must be a nightmare, and a pricy one at that. Back in my day (he said, adopting his best Connie Mack voice), there would be an UPDATE or TRADED set here and there, but you saw 700-some cards thrown out there by Opening Day and went at it.

You used to get a stick of gum with a Topps pack, and maybe it didn't taste so good, but it did have a distinctive, somehow comforting flavor, and of course it could also double as a weapon if a bully tried to run off with your Darry Strawberry rookie card. Nowadays you get a white piece of cardboard with a security tag on it, and while it probably tastes about the same, it isn't nearly as handy a weapon unless you nick someone just right with one of the corners.

The first card I saw was Jason Kipnis, and it was a cool action shot of him turning a double play and looking right at the camera as he jumps to avoid someone's slide. You know, there is a huge difference between the cards of today and the cards of 25 years ago, and not just that they're about 4 times as expensive. The card stock is thicker and the photography is crisper, making pics like this one stand out so much more. Is it as cool as seeing a player sneak an obscenity onto his bat handle and face it to the camera? No. But it's pretty cool.

Easily the best player in my pack--apologies to Rafael Dolis and Logan Ondrusek--is Giants catcher Buster Posey, a perennial MVP candidate and arguably one of the top handful players in the game considering how valuable he is at that position. Yadier Molina, another fine backstop, also showed up in this one. The third catcher in this set of dozen cards, though, was the one who got a fancy green border and a shiny gloss. That man was...

Kurt Suzuki?

Kurt Suzuki hit .218 and .267 last year with the A's and Nationals, respectively, yet HE is the one who gets the gaudy treatment? I guess the hobby has changed even more than I can grasp. If this is some kind of golden ticket and I somehow won a million bucks (I've already moved past that puny 5-spot), please let me know in the comments and I'll send you my 2013 Topps Ryan Cook.

One feature of this year's Topps is the fun facts on the backs of many of the cards. Take Dodger Dee Gordon. He was mentored by Barry Larkin. Thanks, Topps! The only thing cooler than a fun fact on the back of a baseball card is a fun facts accompanied by a cartoony illustration on the back of a baseball card.

A 2013 World Series card spotlights Giants P Ryan Vogelsong. I wonder how far Topps digs into the expanded playoffs. This particular subset is a good idea, but 2013 Division Series One-Game Wild Card for a Berth in the Division Series doesn't have the same ring.

I got a Jon Rauch card. He's really, really tall, and that's not a fun fact. That's just something I KNEW, some knowledge I thought I'd drop on you. This might good be a place to talk about the design of the 2013 set.  The front features a white background with a border that matches the team primary color (for example, Blue Jay Luis Perez's front has a blue trim around his photo), plus a logo--aw, I'm no graphic designer. Let's just say they look solid but not spectacular.

What stands out to me is more the back of the card. In addition to the fun facts, most players get a "Career Chase" item with their stat lines. For example, this blurb on Dodgers left-hander Paco Rodriguez's #99 in series 1:

"With 6 strikeouts, Rodriguez is 5,708 away from Nolan Ryan's all-time record of 5,714."

I may imitate Topps and put my own Career Chase totals at the top of my blog posts. Myself, I'm only 5,714 strikeouts away from Nolan Ryan's all-time record of 5,714.

Clearly someone at Topps has a sense of humor, and I for one appreciate it.

So there are the dozen cards I got. Was it worth the 2 bucks? Well, I got a mix of stars and not-stars, but the experience of opening that first pack and checking out the year's format for the first time can't be beat.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Does Crime Pay? #2: "The Fire Fiends of Missouri"

(Click here for the first post in this series and an explanation of what this is about; remember, SPOILERS AHEAD in this regular feature)

The second story in "Blackjacked and Pistol-Whipped," the excellent Dark Horse sampler of its Crime Does Not Pay reprint series, is credited only to artist Alan Mandel. "The Fire Fiends of Missouri" starts off well by using a cool flaming font for the title. This feature presents the harrowing tale of a 1927 St. Louis hotel arson that killed 7 women.

Clearly this is not just any ordinary fire, but something otherworldly. This calamity actually makes this poor soul run so fast his feet literally aren't touching the ground:

After some more coverage of the incident and its aftermath (including screaming newspaper headlines), a clerk who was involved in the tragedy develops a guilty conscience. Or is it something more that's bothering him? Could it be something else otherworldly? Could it be...GHOSTS?

The crumb confesses that the fire was the result of an insurance scam, and the conspirators all receive "prison terms for their heartless crime."

DOES CRIME PAY? No, not at all. The culprits get jail time--we aren't told how much, but probably a lot--and they don't even get their insurance money because the hotel isn't actually destroyed.

WHAT MAKES ME CRINGE TODAY: Page 3 of this story shows trapped women in the upper floors of the hotel, then a man below shouting at them to NOT jump out of the windows, and then, in one tall, disturbing panel, ladies doing just that despite there being nothing to cushion their fall below. One of the bloodied victims is already sprawled on the ground. For obvious reasons, this image may even be more disturbing today than in 1942.

WHAT YOUNG ME WOULD SAY BACK IN 1942: I'm glad that dope got sent to jail. He was a sissy, anyway. Imagine being scared a'ghosts!

You know, this story is brief, simple, and pretty grim, and it's tough to get many chuckles out of it. As crude as it is, though, it works. The next story in the book is even cruder and maybe more shocking. Look for #3 in this installment in a few weeks.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

It's another slow DVD stretch after last week's epic slate, a release list that was headlined, of course, by "Lincoln" and "Sexsquatch: The Legend of Blood Stool Creek." So don't get your hopes up.

The Sweeney: Ray Winstone and Damian Lewis star in an updating of the 1970s UK cop show. To me this movie is a complete failure no matter its artistic merits unless its release gets Netflix to start streaming the 1970s UK cop show.

The Baytown Outlaws: I don't know anything about this movie, but it stars Billy Bob Thornton. I feel like I say that exact sentence at least 2 or 3 times a year.

John Dies at the End: I was really hoping this was an alternate title of that last "Die Hard" movie, but no such luck.

Hemingway and Gellhorn: It's not TV. It's HBO. It's Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman in a film about literary--hey, look, I feel like I have to assure that I really do read and stuff when I write what I'm about to, but, yeah, this one looks boring as all get out.

And in streaming...

Hulu added My Living Doll, absolutely worth a look for Julie Newmar if nothing else. This kind of thing usually happens after I buy the DVD, not after I actually finish watching the DVD. So I'm good with this! I'd love to see more short-lived vintage sitcoms on Hulu, particularly ones I don't own on video.

Netflix added a ton of Cartoon Network and Adult Swim content, including Venture Brothers, Justice League, Children's Hospital, and many more, but be forewarned that it ain't whole series runs, at least not yet, but mostly selected seasons. Like "Venture" is a whopping one season so far.

Also, the James Bond movies are back. They pop up and every now and then, often with little or no advance notice, then disappear quickly. Kind of like those people that...uh, what do you call them? Those people that, you know, do sneaky stuff and, like, do things with gadgets and...Yeah, electricians.

Hunger Games just arrived this week. Expect to see the poster art in a lot of Netflix advertising over the next few months as this becomes the token, "Hey, we can deliver the big blockbusters, too!" flick of the moment.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dream Theater (guest-starring John C. Reilly)

Time once again for "Dream Theater," in which I share an actual dream I had recently. Play psychoanalyst at home!

I apologize for not remembering more of this one. I was at some kind of college-type setting, at least something like a dorm with communal living, and John C. Reilly showed up as himself. He wasn't playing a role, but rather just hanging out.

I don't know what his purpose was, but I know what his actions were. He soon lay down on his belly with his legs kicked up behind him and started leafing through some kind of etiquette book, almost as if he were a bobbysoxer checking out Fabian pictures in a teen mag. For reasons known only to him and my deepest subconscious, he started rattling off questions like, "Hey, what wine would go well with that? What kind of meal would you serve in this case?" I think there were less specific queries in there as well, something about guest combinations.

Now, I stress here, John (After sharing a dream with him, I'm comfortable calling him that) wasn't being a jerk about it, but I don't think he was looking for info, either. I got the impression he was testing me in a playful sort of way.

Unfortunately, I didn't know anything, and I finally stopped him and said in a good-natured tone, "What's the deal? You come over here, and all you want to do is ask entertaining trivia. It's not even entertaining trivia, but trivia about entertaining." Not a bad line if I say so myself, or at least I was proud of it in the dream. John looked around and chuckled with a big smile on his face, as if to say, "Yeah, you got me." Then I woke up.

I don't know what any of this means, but I will say the whole episode somehow reinforced my belief that it would be really cool to hang out with John C. Reilly.