Sunday, December 28, 2014

Journey Into Amazon Prime: Christmas Specials

So a while back I mentioned that I signed up for a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes its Instant Video streaming service. With my trial, I am not going for the high-profile originals like "Transparent" or...or...OK, Amazon doesn't have a lot of high-profile originals yet. I haven't really been checking them out, though, nor some of the exclusive reruns like "Justified" and "Orphan Black."

I'm checking out some of the oddball stuff. Finding anything that's not 'Transparent' is a major pain, but after digging, I found some cool things that aren't on Netflix, Hulu, or your cable provider's On Demand section. They may be on YouTube, but here you get them without commercials and you can resume watching where you left off. The quality should be better, too, though that's not always the case. Some of the offerings have company watermarks indicating they're lifted straight from the DVD.

Personally I like the idea  of a streaming service going through an old box of someone's VHS dubs and putting them online. Today let's look at some of the more interesting holiday-related shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video:

Christmas with the King Family: I would argue that the King Family is way off the collective radar at this point, but this wholesome bunch was all over the airwaves in the 1960s and 1970s, starring in a variety show on ABC and a slew of syndicated specials, many tied into the holidays.

This hourlong special is from 1967 and was released on DVD as an extra feature accompanying a King Family documentary. You see the Kings--and there appear to be about 50 of them, though I think many of these performers are just invited guests, but one of them is actual relative "My Three Sons" star Tina Cole--singing, doing a little dancing, doing a little (very little) comedy, and singing some more.

If you're looking for the 1967 of Vietnam, Buffalo Springfield, and social unrest, look elsewhere! This thing makes an Andy Williams special look like "Bad Santa." You will get an apparent surprise reunion involving the military, though, and if it's genuine, it's one heck of a moment. The singing is old-fashioned, and even the colors and the film look suggest looking at your parents' or grandparents' old home movies. This isn't a bad thing, though, and it's nice to see this kind of cultural artifact.

Christmas with Danny Kaye: A couple years ago, Inception Media Group released a DVD consisting of two holiday episodes of "The Danny Kaye Show," and Prime streams each one separately. The first is a black-and-white edition with Mary Tyler Moore; Peggy Lee guests in the later color episode.

The DVD is a worthwhile purchase if you're into old-time variety and/or Christmas specials, so it's really a treat to get these for "free" on Amazon. There are some entertaining comedy sketches to go with all the music, and Kaye often breaks character in amusing fashion. Harvey Korman and Jamie Farr are on hand in the color episode. Moore is charming as ever--she's maybe even more adorable than Tina Cole--and Nat King Cole, 100% class, is also in that show. One thing that amuses me: Each episode features Kaye dueting on "Jingle Bells" with the main musical guest, each time using the same "hip" arrangement with lyrics like, "in the customary one-horse open sleigh."

Also look for an impossibly young Wayne Newton on the Peggy Lee episode. I remember seeing Newton on an old Jack Benny show and being stunned. Here, he somehow looks even younger even though this is several years after that guest shot.

The All-Star Christmas Show (1958): I saw this on Hulu last year when it was labeled with a different name and different year. In short, I loved it. It's worth it if only for the bit at the beginning with all the stars introducing themselves.

The Bob Hope Chevy Show (1950): A holiday-themed installment of Hope's program includes Bob Cummings and Eleanor Roosevelt! Hope seems off, which makes his monologue even less effective than it would be 75 years later, but it's still a fun special. I have no idea why this is streaming, but I am not complaining.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas, everyone!


EDIT: I apologize for not noticing that comics.org wouldn't let me link to its image. Bah, humbug!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Coming Soon: My Journey into Amazon Prime Instant Video

After Amazon practically begged me to sign up for a free month of Prime--I could have sworn I already used a free trial years ago, but who am I to argue when I can get free shipping for the holidays--I got on board and started browsing the kind of vast but even more kind of inaccessible Instant Video library.

It turns out it's still a major pain (Hey, is Major Payne on there? It's not on Netflix, so what a GAME CHANGER it would be if Prime had it!) to find things on there, but after digging a bit, I've found some cool oddball items that I haven't seen elsewhere. See, Prime has some high-profile movies, like the just-added "Wolf of Wall Street," for example, but most of those are already on Netflix. What appeal to me are the rarer shows and films Netflix isn't bothering to carry.

Look for some posts over the next few weeks talking about some of these finds. I'm not saying these are all what you'd call..."good" or "worth watching," but they're not on Netflix, and that's something!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New TV Time up at ClassicFlix!

My latest TV Time column looks at a diverse group of classic Christmas Tv episodes. Check it out!

http://classicflix.com/TV-TIME-Classic-Christmas-Episodes-ar-130.html

TV TIME: Classic Christmas Episodes
12/18/2014 | by Rick Brooks
Even though the "holiday shopping season" now begins right after Halloween, it flies by more quickly each year. I loved all the Christmas episodes and specials on television as a kid, but they somehow made the wait even more agonizing. Today it's all a blur, but at least with DVD I can slow down and get a dose of yuletide cheer whenever I need it....

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The worst thing about making a return

I am proud to say I was not dumb enough to go shopping at Wal-Mart on Black Friday weekend.

I am less proud to admit I was dumb enough to return something. It wasn't even something glamorous like a vacuum cleaner or a ladder; I wanted a refund for two food items I had bought there earlier in the week. The items were...not good when I tried to use them.

(Oh, I'd tell you what those items were, but I think we can all agree that Wal-Mart is highly attentive to the ramifications of one person bringing back $4 worth of merchandise and therefore must have instantly launched a thorough investigation of similar items and removed any problematic examples from its shelves. Right?)

On my way back home on Sunday evening, I figured, hey, I'll return them now. The hubbub is surely over by now, even though the parking lot is still busy. This was not one of my better impulse decisions. It was barely better than the impulse that drove me to buy the things that I had to return. The experience shook me to the core.

The worst part wasn't waiting 20 minutes in line to get a $4 refund.

The worst part wasn't standing behind a flustered woman who kept making theatrical sighs because of the wait (That was actually kind of cool).

The worst part wasn't seeing people lug in 50" televisions to the returns area and wondering if they were pulling scams of some type or other (That was a fun way to pass the time).

Here's the worst part: There were two small electronic signs posted high behind the customers, in clear view of employees on the other side of the desk but only visible to us if we happened to turn around and look up. The two signs were flashing the following message in blue letters:

RESTROOMS NEED CLEANING

The worst part about making a return at Wal-Mart at the end of Black Friday weekend was that those signs were flashing from the time I first noticed them until I got my refund and walked out...and who knows how much longer?

Can you imagine the state of an unattended Wal-Mart restroom after several days of hardcore holiday shopping? [SHUDDER]

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shameless pomotion: New "Batman" review up at ClassicFlix

My epic review of the season 1 DVD of the long-awaited 1966 "Batman" series is now live at ClassicFlix:

TV TIME: Exploring Batman - Season 1

TV TIME: Exploring Batman - Season 1
Yesterday | by Rick Brooks

Since this is one of the most eagerly anticipated TV-on-DVD releases in the history of the format, I'll say right off the bat (please consider that awful pun an homage) that Warner Home Video delivers with Season 1 of the 1966 Batman series...

http://classicflix.com/TV-TIME-Exploring-Batman-Season-1-ar-127.html

Don't you dare miss it!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Burning Questions: Charlie and Franklin

Yes, I'm writing about a Peanuts special again. Hey, I know it's an easy label, so if you want to go ahead and call me That Guy Who Blogged about a Bunch of Different Things, Retired the Blog for Months, Then Came Back and Wrote 2 of the First 3 Posts about Peanuts, and the One in Between Was Just a Picture...well, that's fine by me.

The kids and I enjoyed another screening of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" last week, and it was a joy to share with them some of the great moments I've enjoyed over the years: The business with Lucy and Charlie and the football (and Lucy disappearing for the rest of the program); the "Little Birdie" song; Snoopy sandbagging all the kids by making toast and popcorn, then whipping up a turkey dinner after they all leave...It's not as exciting as the Halloween and Christmas specials, but it has its one charm.

My favorite moment is when Peppermint Patty and a few of her hangers-on arrive at Chuck's house for the nice dinner she invited herself to. Charlie opens the door, and Patty and Marcie walk right through with a cordial but unspectacular greeting. However, when Franklin walks in, Charlie does a little hand mojo with him before slapping him five.



Here's something I've always wondered: Why do Charlie and Franklin share this exchange? More to the point, why do the makers of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" include this bit? On the surface, it's a friendly little gesture, maybe nothing more, nothing less, but I wonder...

Why doesn't Charlie do this with Patty? Why does he just barely acknowledge Marcie? Is it because they're girls? Does Franklin get this distinctive treatment (from Charlie and from the creators) because he's a guy?

Maybe it's because he's the last one in the door, and only then does Charlie feel he can really "cut loose" and relax. Maybe he just hasn't seen Franklin in a while. It just looks weird that he's the only one with whom he does this.

Perhaps Charlie and Franklin are part of some secret neighborhood club and this interaction is some kind of ritual. It's possible that Franklin has brought over some gourmet chocolates for the meal (a nice move considering everyone else shows up emptyhanded) and is transferring them to Charlie so he can take them into the kitchen.

I guess one of these could explain it, but none of my ideas really hit home with me. The more I think about it, the more I just don't get it. The kid lives in the same neighborhood. He's apparently the same age. I'm pretty sure I remember that he goes to their same school. What reason could there be for the producers to single out Franklin and have HIM be the one that does a funky little "slap five" with Charlie Brown?

(On a totally unrelated note, it took me years to notice that whoever put together the DVD actually titled one of the chapters "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?")

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Burning Questions: Charlie Brown's "luck" on Halloween

OK, I know what you're thinking: "Rick, Halloween was weeks ago. Why are you talking about 'It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" in the middle of November?" Well, first, I finally make a new post after months on the sidelines, and you're gonna bust my chops over its timeliness?  Second, hey, don't worry about when Halloween is or was or whatever. This isn't a Halloween post. Oh, no, no, no. It's a THINK PIECE!

"Pumpkin" is one of the funniest of all the Peanuts animated specials, what with Linus' devotion to the mythical Halloween icon, Lucy yanking the football away from Charlie, and Charlie's goofy dance when he gets the invitation to the big party. By far the best moment in the special is the trick-or-treating sequence. Discussing this one with a friend recently, I started to consider it in a new light.

To summarize: The kids assemble for trick or treating, and Chuck shows up wearing a sheet riddled with holes, meekly explaining, "I had a little trouble with the scissors." (Another of the show's great and understated lines) Yes, our hero took arguably the most half-assed costume concept of all, the ghost--rivaled only by the "wear old clothes and call yourself a hobo" strategy--and botched it.

The Peanuts gang heads door to door, pausing after each house to compare its goodies. Each kid boasts of some great item until poor Charlie adds, "I got a rock."

"I got an entire bag of candy bars!"
"I got a 25-pound lollipop!"
"I got a 5% ownership in the Hershey corporation!"
"I got a rock."

Each time this the sequence occurs, the rhythm is perfect, and Charlie Brown's pathetic delivery is outstanding. It cracks me up.  But let's take a closer look. Why is Charlie getting a rock each time he goes to the door? Isn't this one of the most horrible things we've ever seen happen to a child?

It's amazing that every household in this neighborhood has the resources and energy to stock such a wide variety of treats in the first place, let alone to bother ensuring each child has a distinct prize. It's easy to find big variety packs of different candies nowadays, but during the actual event, nobody sizes up each child and attempts to match them with a distinct piece of candy. Instead, we either let the kids root around for something or we just drop a few pieces into their bags. Yet in "Pumpkin," each child comes away with a different treat.

We also know Charlie is the only one getting rocks. It's not even Pop Rocks or crack cocaine (at least that would have some resale value). We see them falling into the bag each time. Charlie's getting big ol' rocks. He can't eat them. He can't sell them. He's lucky his bag doesn't tear open each time one hits the bottom.

For years I assumed that it was just the Charlie-Browniest of luck that stuck him with a crummy deposit each time. Now I see it differently. I believe the parents are targeting Charlie and deliberately giving an awful "trick." The odds of this happening accidentally are infinitesimal.

So now the question is why is this happening? Is it because of the crappy costume? What kind of grown man or woman sees a kid wearing a crummy outfit and says, "Oh, that's weak. I'm gonna give that little SOB a rock"? These ones, apparently! Or--and this is even worse--do they give him rocks just because he's Charlie Brown?

See, I think that's the only explanation that makes sense, and it chills me. People don't keep rocks sitting around by their front door to hand out to trick-or-treaters. So this isn't a spontaneous reaction to seeing how Charlie bungled the ghost gear. What would happen if Charlie had a decent costume? Do you really think they would just hang onto the rocks and save them for next Halloween?

No, the logical conclusion is that all the adults got together and collected a bunch of rocks for the sole purpose of sticking it to Charlie Brown. This is one of the most egregious examples of collective sociopathy I've ever seen. Think about the effort it took to organize this kind of thing. But we laugh it off.  You know, I have yet to find one documented case of someone dropping an apple with a razor blade into a kid's bag, but our parents warned us of that when I was growing up. For 50-some years, grown-ups have been dumping actual rocks into a little kid's sack of candy, and nobody says anything.

So, assuming that they planned this before Charlie screwed up his sheet, they did this just because...why? Because he's a loser? It's not like Charlie is a bully, a thief, or a bad influence. The only thing he does that directly impacts these grown-ups' lives is give up home runs and make the local sandlot team look bad. He's just a kid who tries hard but messes things up. Again, he tries hard. These people should point to him as an example of fortitude, of ganas, of never giving up.

Instead they decide, nah, we don't like this loser, so we're going to make his life miserable. Once you realize this, it makes these specials a lot harder to watch. That "humorous" speech pattern all the adults have suddenly feels sinister. No matter how he tries to improve himself, Charlie is never going to succeed in this place. The adults will break him whenever he is on the verge of succeeding. If he ever gets a real date with that little red-haired girl, I have no doubt that the cabal that runs the community will not only ensure she meets an "accidental" demise, Walter White style, but they'll frame Charlie Brown for it.

They don't want a bunch of Charlie Browns. In fact, they probably don't even want a bunch of Linus Van Pelts. My guess: They want a neighborhood full of Shermys. In my opinion, Charlie Brown doesn't need psychiatric help. He needs to get the hell out of town.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Taking a break...

Thanks to all the loyal Cultureshark readers out there for your support. I have, as the American Dream Dusty Rhodes might say, some BIDNESS to attend to and don't have the time right now to maintain the blog. I hope to return soon.

In the meantime, though, keep watching ClassicFlix for my reviews and my ongoing TV Time column.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Ok, wise guy, what SHOULD be on Hulu Plus?

I've been complaining about Hulu Plus for months, and ever since the streaming service announced the CBS library deal, I have nitpicked and clamored for more and different offerings than what we have received. Today I'm going to offer some suggestions for what should (and realistically could) be on there. For one thing, I'm looking for complete series runs or at least complete seasons, not the random assortment of episodes we are getting. That said, here are some CBS series I'd like to see join Hulu:

*The Phil Silvers Show/Sgt. Bilko: The series has looked a lot better on CBS' official DVD releases--a Best of and a Season 1--than on my AHEM set which is rife with 22-minute versions. A complete set is coming in the UK, and a certain licensor may be bringing it stateside late this year, but why not put the show on Hulu? It could use more classic sitcoms.

*The Wild, Wild West: It has been on Me-TV, and I think it was on RTV before the Paramount library left, but this has had a remarkably low profile in recent years. It's been complete on DVD for years, so it's not like you need to worry about cannibalizing video sales.

*The Fugitive: CBS finally got it right and did a gigantic complete DVD package a few years ago. Me-TV runs this, but it doesn't make a big deal out of it. One of the best TV series of all time deserves more of a presence.

*Perry Mason: Again, ME-TV shows it, it's complete on DVD--now is the time for a streaming presence. It would be particularly fun to have something like this on demand and be able to cherry-pick episodes with certain guest stars and whatnot.

*The Invaders: It's only two seasons, it's been complete on DVD for years, and I would think a cool genre show like this would be a nice add for Hulu.

*One Step Beyond: It's possible that the public domain cheapo DVD releases of this series killed sales when CBS finally decided to do a proper season one set, but I fear people just don't remember the series. It's not "Twilight Zone," but it doesn't deserve its current obscurity. Clearly no one else is interested in this. Put it online.

*Love American Style: I think I've read there is some kind of source material/elements issue preventing more DVD releases of this comedy anthology. Well, put 'em online. The show is dated, yes, and while that may slow video sales, it makes it a fun watch today. I'd love to be able to see these on Hulu.

*Love Boat: See what I said above about cherry-picking episodes with fun guest stars. I've seen some episodes online that look pretty darn good. Who knows what the DVD strategy is with this? It's not on any kind of fast track. Give Hulu access to these cheesy but iconic crapfest.

*My Three Sons: Even Me-TV only shows less than half of the series' long run, and nobody seems to want to show the black-and-white episodes with William Frawley. That's 5 seasons' worth! CBS screwed up the series by using abominable music replacement and splitting seasons, then gave up after two seasons. I'd really love to see the b&w Bub years since they aren't syndicated anymore.

OK, how about some more pie-in-the-sky scenarios? Here are some titles in the CBS/Paramount library that may have issues preventing their release. They certainly aren't coming to DVD anytime soon, so it would be great to see them online:

*The Millionaire: Me-TV showed some of these...right before I got Me-TV. The series is on someone's radar, I guess.

*The Lineup: The 1958 film is a blast. How about the San Francisco cop procedural series that spawned it?

*December Bride: This sitcom is way too obscure for something that had 156 episodes.

*The Defenders: I believe there is some kind of problem with source materials for this series. I don't know if that would preclude some kind of online streaming deal.

*Ben Casey: Warner Archive is putting out "Dr. Kildare" and is even streaming the first season on Warner Archive Instant. It would be nice to see this medical show back in circulation.

*Our Miss Brooks: Believe it or not, I have seen rumors that this show is being prepped for a possible DVD release. You know what? I don't believe it. But maybe we can see it on Hulu someday!

Friday, May 30, 2014

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series: I normally start this column with the most high-profile recent theatricals debuting on DVD in a given week, but the slate is pretty weak this post-holiday release date. There is no way I am going to give a reboot of "Endless Love," of all things, the top spot in my column.

Instead, let's celebrate Shout! bringing the complete "Bob Newhart" to DVD in one big collection...while trying not to fret about the fact that as of now, no single season releases of 5 and 6 are available for fans who bought the previous releases from Fox. And let's not fret about the fact that those last two seasons don't look all that great and were apparently not at all remastered or anything.

The fact is, this often underappreciated classic sitcom is now available in its entirety, with some bonus features to boot, and that's a good thing. It's a heck of a lot gooder than another "Endless Love." Hi, Bob!

Endless Love: Uh, yeah, in case you haven't guessed, I don't have a lot to say about this one. At least it's not another "Blue Lagoon."

Gambit: A remake of the Michael Caine/Shirley MacLaine 1966 caper comedy starring Colin Firth and Cameron Diaz and written by the Coen brothers...and ignored until getting out on DVD Memorial Day week. Yep, we have a major bomb threat here, folks.

Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou: Were you a little disappointed when this Wes Anderson film was originally released? Well, you were WRONG! See? It's a CRITERION, son. Show some respect.

Red River: All kidding aside, I wouldn't mind taking a gander at this Criterion release of the classic Howard Hawks/John Wayne Western. The BD/DVD combo package even includes a copy of the out of print paperback that serves as the film's source material. How cool is that? Most DVDs these days barely give you anything to read on the back of the box.

WWE Presents Greatest Wrestling Factions: I like how at some point the term "stable" became verboten in WWE, along with the not-PG-friendly "gang," so we get the ever-awkward "faction" term all the time. This DVD combines a weak-sounding documentary of sorts with a bunch of matches. It looks serviceable (if you like the matches) but uninspired at best.

Men of the Fighting Lady is new from Warner Archive, and it looks pretty good judging by the preview clip on the website. It's a 1954 Korean War flick in color with an all-star cast.

And in streaming...

Warner Archive Instant hasn't added anything since my last update. I'm hoping that by saying this, I will somehow cosmically trigger a massive update that goes into effect shortly after this is published.

Hulu Plus has added several international series: Australian dramedy House Husbands, Canadian Jason Priestly vehicle Call Me Fitz, and Reef Doctors (guess which country that's from). An intriguing add is Foyle's War, which recently left Netflix. Unfortunately, only two seasons are there, which is a lot less than Netflix had and even less less (does that make sense?) than Acorn TV has right now. Nothing new to report on the CBS shows front.

There is chatter that Hulu is in talks to revive "Community." Oh, I'll watch if it's on, but I think the show's pretty much done. I'd rather see Hulu use that money on buying more catalog programming. Tell you what, next week I'll offer a list of shows that could/should wind up there--and I'll make them CBS shows, which should take care of two of my gripes with one shot!

Netflix added a few new ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries, including Bad Boys on the Detroit Pistons, and I'm glad to see they are still acquiring those. There's also a documentary called The Source Family about a hippie cult group in 1970s L.A.  Another interesting add is Escape from Tomorrow, partially shot guerilla-style at Disney World, but from what I read, the story behind the story may be more compelling than the story itself.

This is a lame streaming update, I know, but I want to get the "This Week in..." posts a little bit more back on schedule, so we got to roll with what we have. Hopefully the weekend will bring lots of new content and next week there'll be a lot more to write about.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Instant Gratification Theater: Sly Stallone goes OVER THE TOP

We all have certain gaps in our film scholarship. Some of us have never seen a complete film by Bresson; others may have yet to experience Ozu. But it's not just world cinema that can elude us. I for one am unashamed to admit that many seminal works of the Hollywood canon have gone unwatched here at Cultureshark Tower. Fortunately, Netflix is available to help fill in the gaps.

Case in point: Over the Top (1987) by Menahem Golan, released by Cannon and starring Sylvester Stallone. If you haven't seen this epic meditation on fatherhood, arm wrestling, and trucker caps, see it before June 1 because it is leaving Instant Watching at the end of the month.

I could dissect this film in the form of a conventional "review," but how arrogant would I be to dare attempt to cover ground that hasn't already been trod in countless other critical studies? Instead, let me offer a list of things that amuse me about "Over the Top":

1) Stallone seems relatively uninterested throughout the movie. I guess he really did do this just for the money. Somehow, though, his lack of intensity becomes part of the charm.

2) The child actor who plays Stallone's son Michael, David Mendenhall, didn't exactly tear it up here, but he had a prolific career doing animation voiceovers and has continued working to this day.

3) Sly's character, a big rig operator/amateur arm wrestling superstar trying to reconnect with his estranged son, is named Lincoln Hawk. Say what you will about "Over the Top," but Lincoln Hawk is an outstanding moniker. I wish there were a sequel just so that we could enjoy more Lincoln Hawk. Really, that name is too good to use on just one middling 1980s film. I'd like to think somewhere in a drawer, Stallone has a treatment centered on someone (not even necessarily this one) named Lincoln Hawk. Say it with me, out loud: LINCOLN HAWK.

4) One of the credited screenwriters (along with Stallone himself) is Stirling Silliphant of Route 66 and Naked City fame.

5) Pro wrestling legend Terry Funk appears, sadly not for long. Several years later, "Road House" would more fully utilize his talents.

6) Awesome scenes involving Lincoln Hawks big semi:
--He rams it through the entrance gate of his rich father-in-law's property.
--He teaches his 12-year-old son to drive it by just switching places with him, impromptu, on the open road and letting him do it.
--Best of all, when the father-in-law's hired goons kidnap Michael at a truck stop and zoom off in their own pickup, Lincoln, despite their significant head start, hops into HIS big rig and chases them down.

7) The climactic tournament is filled with guys flexing, grimacing, and grunting.

8) That tournament is DOUBLE ELIMINATION, meaning even if you get defeated, you have another chance. Symbolism, anyone?

9) "What I do is I just try to take my hat and I turn it around, and it's like a switch that goes on, and when the switch goes on, I feel like another person. I don't know, I feel like a--like a truck, like a machine."--Lincoln Hawk explaining his pre-match routine.

10) While we all know and love "Meet Me Halfway," Kenny Loggins' classic ballad that appears throughout the movie, it's arguably not the showcase song. 'In This Country" by Robin Zander of Cheap Trick opens "Over the Top" and is heard again in the immediate aftermath of the big match (you know there's a big arm wrestling match). while Larry Greene is heard over the end credits with "Take It Higher." All these  songs, incidentally, were written by Giorgio Moroder (music) and Tom Whitlock (lyrics), and so was Sammy Hagar's "Winner Takes It All," another single from the soundtrack. The only credited song not penned by that duo? Frank Stallone's "Bad Night."

Does this collection of 10 tidbits make you want to see "Over the Top?" Or have you already seen this iconic eighties hit? I am proud to finally be a member of the club. That's one more down from my bucket list. Next up, 'Floating Weeds!" Well, maybe after I finally get around to seeing all of "Cobra," that is.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On the radio: Rockin' in the grocery store


I have often said that one of the best and most underappreciated places to hear classic rock music these days is at the local grocery store. I wish I could cite a specific place or time I said that. I have, though; just trust me on that one.

Last month I was at Wegmans (no apostrophe, please) near closing time, and as I searched for some kind of dessert, I enjoyed the in-house sound system blaring Tom Petty's "A Higher Place" from his underrated 1994 "Wildflowers" album. This is a really good song, one you'll never hear on the radio anymore, one you may not have heard as much as you should have in 1994, but one you can hear while looking for a giant birthday cookie in a supermarket an hour before the joint shuts down.

There was an extra spring in my step as I bounded through the bakery, and though it vanished when I couldn't find a giant birthday cookie, I still enjoyed the tune. I wasn't the only one; some dude cleaning up his station was whistling along and grooving. It used to be you could count on a steady does of Chuck Mangione to go along with your groceries, but now you can expect actual rock music in this kind of shopping outlet.

Wait, does this mean classic rock is old and, worse, that...I'M old?

NAHHHH.

I guess what I'm trying to say here is that if you are frustrated by the lack of radio options on your dial, stop by your local supermarket. You might hear something you won't hear many other places. You might even find a giant birthday cookie. Just don't count on that one.

First Impulse: CW's The Flash

Welcome to a series of posts in which I share my snap judgments after seeing trailers and clips hyping the upcoming slate of Fall network TV premieres. First up, we get a 5-mintue extended first look at "Arrow" spinoff "The Flash," coming to us from The CW (Motto: We are, too, a real network!)

I'm a Flash guy from way back. When I was growing up and devouring comics, he was my favorite character--well, right behind Superman. And Batman. And of course Spider-Man. Well, he was right up there, dadgum it! I enjoyed the underrated 1990s live action series on CBS. And while I haven't yet seen "Arrow," I've kind of been meaning to. Yes, folks, don't try to do the math on this yourselves: What this adds up to is, I'm looking forward to this new series.

This clip starts off in horrible fashion, though, and I'm not even counting the ad I have to sit through on Hulu before it starts--an ad before an ad! First we see the hero as a youngster witnessing his mother's murder in mysterious circumstances. That's not so bad in and of itself, but it instills some dread in me because I fear that the show will be saddled by some kind of ponderous mythology with Barry Allen trying to solve this mystery until the ratings start to sag. I don't even care about how faithful/unfaithful it is to the comic source material; I just don't want the show to go that route. We even get Jesse L. Martin telling an older Barry he can't keep chasing legends. This might make a great arc and something to come back to now and then, but please don't make it the driving force of the series.

That aspect is less evident as the trailer continues and Allen becomes Flash, so maybe it's just part of the build to his becoming a superhero. Let's back up to the one outright groaner in this thing: After young Barry gets beaten up by a group of bullies and bemoans that he "just wasn't fast enough," Flash-to-be's mother leans over and telling him, "It's better to have a good heart than fast legs."

Oh, brother! Talk about obvious. Viewers of course need to know that every hero's destiny is not only preordained, but foreshadowed by a sage piece of parental wisdom. Who can forget that classic moment when Mrs. Banner told Bruce, "It's better to have a good mind than invulnerable green skin and unimaginable super strength"? Or the time when Garrett Morris' mom said to her son, "It's better to have good comic timing than the proportionate strength of an ant?" The preview moves along quickly enough I can almost forget that clunker, but part of me still worries that line is indicative of the level of scripting on this show.

The good news is that soon enough TV's Ed, Tom Cavanaugh, shows up as a scientific genius of some sort, and Barry gets his powers and becomes really fast. The super speed effects look credible and actually kind of cool, even. Flash uses his speed to do a really cool speedy thing. Martin helps bring some gravitas to a series that will likely need it with such a young cast, none of whom really stand out in the trailer.

Best of all, it looks like we won't have to sit through an interminable artificial delay while the powers that be keep the superhero out of costume. Evidently, our guy dons his duds in the first episode and goes up against a genuine super villain. So this is a superhero show that isn't afraid to be a superhero show.

The first minute of this clip is not promising at all, but once things pick up, it looks promising enough. I can't say I'm super pumped up for it, but I am guardedly optimistic and will give "The Flash" a chance this Fall. I still might need some prodding to get on board "Arrow," (Green Arrow does make an appearance), but maybe this will be the push I need.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

This Week and Last Week in Instant Watching Part 2

So yesterday I wound up going long while looking at what debuted on Warner Archive Instant. Therefore, I'm back today to talk about the other stuff.

Anyone who is interested probably knows already that WWE Network added all the Clash of Champions to its on demand library, but I'll mention it, anyway. The Network seems to have abandoned most other vault content for now, though.

The single biggest event in streaming video last week was the arrival of HBO programming to Amazon Prime. I'd care a lot more about it if I had Amazon Prime. Still, it's a bold move for Amazon. I don't think it will drive a lot of new customers to the service, but I think it may well help soothe current customers in the wake of the huge price increase it announced recently. The funny thing to me about this was how negative the media coverage was: It was like, oh, yeah, Sopranos, The Wire, blah blah blah BUT YOU AIN'T GETTING GAME OF THRONES!

Let's get to issues that are more important to ME--namely, Hulu's continued inconsistency in adding CBS library shows. It has been touting Wings the last week, and it looks like, as with Frasier and Cheers, all episodes are available. But look at what else is new:

About 3/4 of The Brady Bunch!
Some of Touched by an Angel!
And if you're a Happy Days fan, hey, there are a whopping 25 episodes streaming.

That's right, out of 9 seasons, 25 episodes are there. There are none from season 1, which many would argue was the best, and 12 from season 2, and then one token each from most other seasons. Inexplicably, the final season is the second-most stocked one, with 5 available. There are more episodes from the awful season 11 as from 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 combined--and that's partly because there are none from season 7. Was Hulu that irritated by the burning down of Arnold's Drive-In?

It's not just CBS, either. I saw a story online that touted the debut of Sailor Moon on Hulu Plus. I am not an anime guy, but I am pretty sure this series is a big deal. Out of curiosity, I clicked on the show page. There are 4 episodes. Well, at least it does say there will be "more episodes every Monday," which is more than we see written on the CBS show pages.

I remember seeing Battle of the Planets when I was a kid. I don't remember there being only 12 episodes, but that's all there are on Hulu. Maybe I'm spoiled by Netflix, but this piecemeal approach to catalog titles doesn't cut it.

Netflix added a bunch of apparently direct to something or other movies with names like Alicia Silverstone, Cuba Gooding, Brendan Fraser, and Stephen Dorff. I don't always get hyped about that kind of thing, but whenever I see them listed at Instantwatcher, people seem to be gobbling them up.

The biggest deal of the last two weeks is probably Star Trek: Into Darkness, which I apparently liked more than a lot of people did. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2 is another high-profile new title. Also for the kids: Free Birds with the voices of Woody Harrelson and Owen Wilson. Frozen Ground, a thriller with John Cusack and Nic Cage, intrigues me.

Robert Rodriguez's follow-up to "Machete," Machete Kills, is now online. I don't know, I'm sure I won't be able keep up with the narrative unless I see "Machete" first. It must be Danny Trejo week, because you can also check out 20 Feet Below, about a filmmaker exploring abandoned tunnels underneath the NYC subway.

Birth of the Living Dead is a new documentary about George Romero and the "Night of the Living Dead" franchise. There are a lot of other recent documentary adds, too, including some that I'm pretty sure are returning to Instant Watching. Someone please give me a reason to NOT watch The Hidden Hand: Alien Contact and the Government Cover-Up, because I'm tempted.

There are also a bunch of TED talks. Hey, season 2 of Boss is in the house! I loved the first season, then stopped getting Starz. I am pretty sure there's a direct correlation between that event and my not seeing the second season.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

This Week (and maybe last week, too) in Instant Watching (Part 1)

The patterns continue with the big streaming sites: Netflix gives us a few nice adds, mostly interesting documentaries and recent theatricals from its Epix deal, while emphasizing its originals; Hulu adds random assortments of older series while emphasizing current broadcast properties and its originals; Warner Archive Instant adds cool TV items while being stingier with the movies.

Of these, the one I think is the shortest-term pattern is the latter. This month WAI has dumped scores of movies and added very few. I keep thinking each week is going to be the big one for a ton of new classic films. Instead, the service has added some really cool high-profile selections to its TV section. NEXT week will be the big movie add, though--I can feel it!

One thing I must point out is that when I inquired about several issues a few months ago, I received an oddly vague reply that seemed like a brush-off. Recently, though, a rep contacted me and told me a fix was imminent and, shall we say, gave me a more than reasonable incentive to remain a loyal customer. It took a while, and I still haven't seen the fix, but I am very, very happy and still enjoying the heck out of Warner Archive Instant.

This week the addition was Dr. Kildare Season 1, a show I have enjoyed immensely on DVD. Hey, now I can quit renting them! This Richard Chamberlain version isn't as flat-out entertaining as the Lew Ayres/Lionel Barrymore movie series, but what is? The TV incarnation is engrossing and addictive and a fine add for WAI.

Last week brought the 1960s Filmation New Adventures of Superman cartoons, here formatted as two 6-7-minute shorts per "episode." They originally aired with 'toons featuring other DC Comics heroes, including Superboy. I've seen some of these on Boomerang, and they're not on the par of, say, the classic Fleischer Superman shorts, but they are fun. I plan to write more about this "show" next week, hopefully doing so with less "quotation marks."

Another WAI newcomer is the 1977 New Adventures of Batman, also from Filmation. This is in some ways a cartoon version of the 1966 live action series, only with Bat-Mite. Adam West and Burt Ward reprise their roles as the Caped Crusader and Boy Wonder, though this edition doesn't bother drafting big names to do the villains. I hadn't seen this in a long time until screening the first episode last week. It's weird because in some ways it is a less campy "Batman" than the 1960s classic. Yet...Bat-Mite. His presence alone makes this goofier than the live action show ever was, and he is ALL OVER the first episode. It's still an entertaining watch, but you have West and Ward, plus the Joker. Bat-Girl appears in other episodes. You do NOT need Bat-Mite! No, the fact that Filmation co-head-honcho Lou Scheimer voices the imp does not make the character essential.

Still, it's great seeing this kind of stuff on WAI. I read that the 1960s Aquaman shorts debut in June. I don't think these were ever Warner Archive releases, but rather from Warner Home Video. Perhaps this is a sign that WAI will be open to more non-Archive content in months ahead.

A few movies--and I mean literally a few--have trickled into the channel in the last few weeks. One in particular does interest me, and that's Son of Kong.  I believe this one was already on last year, and I think this is the first one to come back after being yanked. In general a returning film doesn't thrill me as much as a brand-new one, but it's good to see that titles are indeed rotating IN as well as OUT as was promised.

Come back tomorrow for some chatter about Netflix, Hulu, and the single biggest story in streaming video this past week.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

This Week and Last Week in DVD

Her: I won't make the same comment everyone else has made along the lines of, "Hey, who WOULDN'T fall in love with an operating system if it had Scarlett Johannson's  voice?" I won't do that. I could tell you how from certain angles, in a certain light, my Magic Bullet resembles Salma Hayek...

I, Frankenstein: Zombies, vampires, even werewolves to a lesser extent--check. But nobody wants to see poor, old Frankenstein anymore. Is it the bolts? I don't even think Aaron Eckhart has bolts in this. It shouldn't be about the bolts.

That Awkward Moment: This is purportedly about that moment in "every" relationship when you ask, "Where is this going?" But the marketing makes it sound like it's all about awkward social moments like getting caught with something in your teeth.  That and Zac Efron taking his shirt off.

Stalingrad: Maybe not the best timing for a stirring account of a landmark moment in Russian history, eh?

The Monuments Men: Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time, and their hearts were in the--Hey, George is getting married!

About Last Night: I'd hate to be the poor bastard that had to try to take over the Jim Belushi part.

Pompeii: I'm not into Volcano movies unless either Tommy Lee Jones or Irwin Allen are involved.

3 Days to Kill: Jeez, I just got it! He's a hitman with an assignment, and I'm betting he has 3 days to complete it. I want to give Kevin Costner the benefit of the doubt. I have no idea why, but I do.

Dave Clark: Glad All Over: Thanks a lot, parents, for telling me about this edition of PBS' "Great Performances"...after it aired! I've been hoping to catch it ever since, but as soon as I saw a DVD was coming, I figured I could kiss any chance of seeing it on demand or online good-bye. "Catch Us If You Can," indeed.

Whoopi Goldberg Presents Moms Mabley: And I totally missed THIS one, too, because--oh, yeah, that's right. I don't have HBO. Never mind.

Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection 8: I know people are disappointed the Golden Collections were discontinued and even the Platinum Collections on Blu-Ray are doomed, but this series of reruns is the next best thing...if you compare it to Warners actually coming into house and taking the DVDs you already own.

JLA Adventures: Trapped in Time: I heard this former Target Exclusive (now available at establishments that don't give your credit card numbers away) is much more all-age-appropriate than some of the recent DC Comics animated efforts.

WrestleMania XXX: It wasn't so great as to merit going out and buying it, unless you collect all of them, but it's worth a look if only to see the stunned reactions of people in the Superdome when the Undertaker lost.

Longmire Season 2: Maybe I'll get around to catching up on this one someday. I'm only, oh, all of it behind.

Orange is the New Black Season 1: Speaking of needing to catch up...

Barney Miller Season 5: Fortunately I've had enough time to see Barney Miller by now. Credit to Shout for continuing the series. This season including the poignant tribute to Jack Soo, who played Nick Yemana before his premature death.

Happy Days Season 5: Yep, this is the season when the show jumped the shark. I'm talking, of course, about the presence of Chachi and Leather Tuscadero, plus the infamous episode in which Mork from Ork visited. Oh, yeah, there's also the episode 3 discs earlier when Fonzie jumps over a shark.

This set is rife with music replacement, but if you want to own the episode where "Richie Almost Dies" and a tearful Fonzie delivers a special emotional plea to the Big Guy--and I don't mean Garry Marshall--now's the time.

Nikita Season 5: There's no way of saying "This has been on 5 years?" without offending fans of the show, so you won't catch me saying it out loud.

Warner Archive released a bunch of cool older movies the last few weeks. This week, it's a set of men's adventure flicks. Ooh, are they SPICY men's adventure flicks? Actually, I don't think so, but they sound interesting, nevertheless. Has there ever been a more straightforward title than 1955's Jump Into Hell?

Last week brought Wally Beery and, oh, yeah, a guy named Clark Gable in the classic Hell Divers, plus several other Gables including Test Pilot.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

We have "Clearance," Clarence...or maybe not

I got an email from a certain online retailer touting 350 new clearance DVDs. The first row in the actual email featured Star Wars  2-DVD Limited Edition WS for 49.98.

49.98? Maybe I'm just a cheapskate, but in my humble opinion no DVD that costs 50 bucks should ever be called a "clearance" DVD...unless it retails for about 350. Does this particular edition carry a high MSRP? Is it out of print? Does it come packaged with gold bars?

I don't know the answer, but I know that while virtually every other title in the email has a little red line underneath the price telling us what % off retail the clearance number is, the Star Wars item does not. Maybe this email should be titled, "349 clearance DVDs and one we're kind of hoping to dump at a high price."

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Vault of Coolness: As promised...

Sit back and enjoy Woody Allen boxing a kangaroo. These screencaps are taken from Timeless Media's "Europe Big Top Circus Stars Live from the Hippodrome" Disc 2, and remember you can read about this and other variety  shows on DVD in my latest ClassicFlix article.





Who do you got? Woody looks surprisingly game here, but don't discount the athletic superiority of the kangaroo.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

TV Time at Classic Flix again!

My latest column appeared at ClassicFlix, and though it's off the front page now, you can still check it out by going here.

A sneak peek:

TV Time: Variety Tonight!
   
There are many things modern prime time television just doesn't do anymore, such as panel game shows and Westerns, but perhaps the most notable moribund genre is the variety show. You get elements of it in late night, on the Spanish-language channels and in awards ceremonies, but the networks rarely even try to mount a genuine variety series.
 
 
As a reward for sitting through my self-promotion, here are a few screencaps that didn't make it into the piece:
 
 

 




 
That's entertainment, right? Come back tomorrow for pictures of Woody Allen boxing a kangaroo! Seriously.
 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

This Week in Instant Watching: Aaaand the rest!

I spent a lot of time talking about Hulu yesterday, and with good reason. There isn't as much going on in Netflix Land lately apart from the decision to raise prices a buck a month. That's not a terrible increase, and existing customers are told they are "safe" from any hike for two years.

The May 1 haul brought in the James Bond movies yet again. Maybe they'll last more than a month this time! Same holds true for the batch of old Godzilla flicks that return.

Other notable May 1 titles: Forrest Gump, The Big Chill, Fantastic Voyage, Heavy Metal (Hey, now!), Kill Bill 1 and Kill Bill 2, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

One thing Netflix has been good at is adding recent documentaries. Some interesting music docs in the past two weeks: (Green Day's) Broadway Idiot, Metallica Through the Never, Muscle Shoals, Beware Mr. Baker. Others that caught my eye: JFK: The Smoking Gun (which aired on Reelz last year), The Trials of Muhammad Ali,  Cocaine Cowboys Reloaded, and Eyes of the Mothman.

Crackle scared me for a day or two by delaying its  monthly addition of Seinfeld episodes. Yet 10 more arrived eventually, with this month's theme of "Sports." I still wish they didn't repeat so many, and part of me thinks it's a cheat counting a two-parter ("The Boyfriend"--the Keith Hernandez one) as two of the 10, but I'll enjoy what I get.

Crackle did irritate me by removing "Drive." It was there for only about a month or two! I should have caught it while I could.

New on Acorn TV this month: Series 2 of Blandings with Timothy Spall, Jeeves and Wooster (with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie), The Civil War: The Untold Story (Wait, whaaaa?), Midsomer Murders Set 24 (!), Theatreland with Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart, and An Idiot Abroad. That last one has just been on cable TV and is already on Netflix, so while it's nice that it's there, it's not a game-changing asset for Acorn. I'd rather see more pre-1990 comedies, for example.

Warner Archive Instant has been quiet again the last few weeks, though it did add the complete series (minus the pilot movie) of The Man from Atlantis. I think that instead of the "Dallas" shower scene, the go-to joke when Patrick Duffy shows up in something should be based on "The Man from Atlantis." I remember seeing ads for the show in old comic books, but I've never seen it. Here's my chance!

A handful of movie adds include Rio Rita (the Abbott and Costello version), Summer Holiday (the Mickster and Judy Garland), Tom Thumb, and Reckless (William Powell and Jean Harlow). It seems like more movies have gone out than have come in the last month or so, and I think we're due for a big update later this week.

Monday, May 12, 2014

This Week in Instant Watching: Hulu

So let's talk about what's being going on in the world of streaming the last few weeks.

Hey, remember how I was complaining every week about Hulu not adding the CBS library shows as had been announced months ago? Well, with apologies to the Wyatt Family (sorry--WWE reference), "They're here." Sort of.

Yes, although it is hard to find information about new shows coming to Hulu, especially on platforms like Roku, where additions can be buried for some reason, I did notice some newcomers that excited me--believe it or not, even more than new programs Sex Sent Me to the E.R. an d America's Worst Tattoos. Yep, some of those CBS oldies have arrived!

Only, there's a catch. You know there's a catch with Hulu. There almost always is, right? First let me mention some of the titles:

The Odd Couple, Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy, Taxi, Beverly Hills 90210, Everybody Loves Raymond, Everybody Hates Chris, Cheers, Felix the Cat Platinum Collection.

OK, "Felix the Cat" has nothing to do with CBS, but I'm still happy it's there. I enjoyed watching them with my daughter when they were on Netflix a few years ago.

So a lot of CBS hits, and I am not even mentioning America's Next Top Model. Seriously, forget I just typed that. Lots of new content, right? And while I think virtually everyone is streaming "Cheers," most of these haven't been streaming anywhere, ever. On the surface, this is a coup for Hulu.

The thing is that only some of the episodes are there. Now, this approach doesn't fly in this day and age. A few places can get away with a "curated" (usually random) assortment of episodes, like Crackle's 10 Seinfelds a month, but this ain't that. Mork offers 39 of 95 episodes, Laverne has 38 of 178, Taxi 75 of 114, and The Odd Couple 65 of 114. Lame!

Faring better are "Everybody Hates Chris" (75 of 88) and "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Cheers," which are apparently complete. Oddly, "90210" is the only one of these offering just one season, but at least it's the first season and is intact. Now, that approach at least makes sense. I'm not sure why putting up, say, 3 episodes in a single season of "Laverne and Shirley" is the way to go.

And you might think, well, this is just a start, and more episodes will be added later. Folks, let me tell you something about Hulu. It doesn't "add episodes later." If they aren't up when the series launches, or pretty soon thereafter, they ain't coming. Ask fans of Lou Grant, Bob Newhart Show, Mary Tyler Moore, St. Elsewhere, The Rockford Files, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. It was a big deal to me when Kojak added season 1 to go along with season 2 and 3--but it had been taken down a month earlier, so it wasn't a new batch of episodes, just the return of previously available ones!

Heck, ask fans of another CBS show that was added last year--I Love Lucy, which is represented by just over 100 of 181 episodes.

Another of my patented research efforts--yep, going to Facebook--yielded little information. Here's an exchange between a curious customer and a Hulu rep about when (or if) more episodes will arrive:

Glad to see the additions of MORK & MINDY, THE ODD COUPLE, TAXI, and LAVERNE & SHIRLEY. I noticed that many episodes are missing (rights issues, I suppose). Will more become available as time goes on?

Hulu
Correct. It looks like we'll have a limited number of episodes available. No word yet on how/if episodes will be added. I've reached out to our content team. I recommend keeping an eye on the show pages (
http://www.hulu.com/laverne-and-shirley ), for updates to the availability notes.


No word on how/if episodes will be added? Well, when are you gonna know? And the friendly advice isn't so useful. That's one of the problems with Hulu--we don't know when new things are added unless it's a new show that is being heavily promoted. Instead of making fans go to the show pages constantly and try to guess if something new is there, why not send emails or some kind of alerts to people who express an interest in seeing more than 22% of a series' episodes?

This is good news for Hulu users, yes, but it could be and should be a lot better. Complete seasons, if not complete series, are what streamers want to see. If you can't offer that, Hulu, at least try to be a little forthcoming about what you DO offer and maybe even why. I don't believe that dozens of "Taxi" episodes are missing just because of "rights issues." Is something else going on? Are you only paying for a certain amount? Is CBS only willing to license a certain amount? We'd like to know.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Public Service Announcement: So there's a Marx Brothers DVD set coming out this summer...

Several months ago, a pre-order link for a new Marx Brothers DVD set appeared at Amazon.com, and naturally it drew my interest. Unfortunately, the only info was the name (Marx Brothers TV Collection), the cool box cover (a Drew Friedman portrait), and the release date. What could be on this? What is it about?

Well, we still don't have all the details, but we know enough to know that for any Marxist with a DVD player, this is a must-buy. Even if a lot of the footage is available on YouTube, it'll be great to have it all in one place. Here is an official rundown from Shout! Factory:

Over 50 Television Appearances
GE Theater, The Jack Benny Program, The Jackie Gleason Show, The Colgate Comedy Hour, The Dick Cavett Show, All Star Revue, The Dinah Shore Chevy Show, Kraft Music Hall, The Red Skelton Hour, The RCA Victor Show, The Perry Como Show, The Arthur Murray Party, Championship Bridge, Celebrity Golf, Celebrity Billiards and many, many more!

Sold!

Today, though, the great Mark Evanier posted a news item on his blog about this set, and if he vouches for it, that's even more confirmation I need to get this. Marx historian Robert Bader is spearheading the DVD set, and that's a guy who knows what he's doing. In fact, go ahead and check out this blog post from someone who attended a recent sneak peek of the footage, and prepare to drool.


 Maybe a fellow Marx Brothers fan who has hungered for more info on this set will see my little post today and get some more 411. Hopefully we'll see more about this collection soon, but I already have seen enough to know I want it.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Half-Assed Gourmet UPDATE

Recently I expressed my discomfort (“bitched” just sounds so inelegant) with McDonald's decision to slap mayonnaise—which has been classified as biohazardous material in half a dozen states—on it's chicken, cheddar, and onion sandwich. Well, you know me and my jet-setting active lifestyle. I visited McDonald's yet again last week and saw a huge picture of this particular entree above a menu. Yes, this photo made it pretty clear that there was some kind of weird sauce on the thing.

OK, so shame on me. But in my defense, I got the chicken sandwich at the drive-through, where 1) they didn't post that picture and 2) even if they did, I never would have seen it because of how they position the menus after the food-ordering speaker, making it impossible to peruse the offerings even when you don't have a line of hungry drivers behind you.

So what I'm trying to say here is, yes, I could have known this sandwich had mayonnaise it, but I didn't, and it's all McDonald's fault, and besides, why don't they make menus easier to read before you have to make your order?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Last Week and This Week in DVD

Labor Day: This Josh Brolin/Kate Winslet melodrama was widely panned by critics. Jeez, everyone is so sensitive these days about convicted murderers who escape from prison invading women's houses, holding them hostage, and making them fall in love.

The Legend of Hercules: Kellan Lutz? Isn't he some kind of vampire? He's not Hercules, I know that. The Rock is Hercules. What the hell is this movie trying to pull?

The Art of the Steal: Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon are a couple of old pros. As for this little-seen heist movie...uh, Kurt Russell and Matt Dillon are a couple of old pros.

Devil's Due: In this horror flick, a couple experiences awful things after their honeymoon in the Dominican Republic. See, travel agent in 2005 who tried to pitch it to me as a perfectly safe alternative to Aruba?

Veronica Mars: I'm not a Marshmallow, but I don't mean any malice when I ask, was it worth it? I don't mean raising money for the reunion film, but was the theatrical experience so special? It's already out on DVD for general release now, and I just wonder why there "had to be" an actual movie movie.  I don't get the whole "6 seasons and a movie" thing with Community, though--the 6 seasons, sure, but the movie? And I don't need to see an Arrested Development film at the local multiplex. And those are shows I do watch.

Challenge of the Go-Bots Volume 1: I honestly don't remember if this cartoon, now coming from Warner Archive, was just OK or total crap, but something about the word "Challenge" in the title gives it gravitas.

Son of Batman: I never liked the idea of an actual son of Batman. He has a ward. His name is Dick Grayson. Anything that happened after 1985 isn't really Batman.

Francis the Talking Mule Collection: 10 years ago, Universal put 4 of these out in Volume 1. Apparently the thought of putting out a volume 2 with the other 3 was just too strenuous for the company. "No, no, that's too much work. Hell with it, just put them all out!" Fortunately the price is low enough that the double-dip fans will have to make to finish the series isn't too big a deal.

Hill Street Blues Complete Series: It's not a big presence in reruns at all, even with all the retro-themed subchannels around today, but this groundbreaking cop show deserves to be remembered. Shout has pried it from Fox (could St. Elsewhere be next?), and we can enjoy all 34 discs' worth of the low-rated but acclaimed Steve Bochco joint. Complete series sets like this are a boon to fans who don't have to wait years more for season sets to dribble out, but unfortunately they do price out casual fans or people who just want to give the show a try. Plus I assume this release makes it less likely that Hulu will add to the 3 seasons it already has. Still, kudos to Shout for licensing this and getting it out there.

Star Trek: Enterprise Complete Series: This Blu-Ray release should please fans. Me, I ignored this show, proudly sticking to my idiotic stance of hating on every Star Trek series that isn't The Original Series.

Dynasty Season 8: 70 bucks MSRP for 22 episodes. I'm just sayin'.

Mr. Selfridge Season 2: If you had ever told me a PBS British period piece starring Jeremy Piven would not only do well, but would last multiple seasons, well, I would have--I would have--I don't even know, but it would have involved the ingestion of some inedible object.

Betty Boop Essential Collection 3: Another Boop set from Olive Films. It's well reviewed, and the 'toons are remastered, but maybe it's a bit pricy for one disc with 12 shorts and no special features. Still, at least Olive is willing to take these from Paramount and do something with them.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Things Only I Want to See: Drive-In Follies

Someone should put together a montage of vintage film clips showing hapless drive-in customers pulling away without replacing the speakers. I want to see cars racing off and bringing a little stake or post out of the ground. I want to see a cheap little speaker dragging along in the grass behind the vehicle. It's beyond cliché at this point, but you have to admit "Yakety Sax" would be the perfect musical accompaniment for this parade of wackiness.

Maybe we could even get some footage of sheepish patrons handing over a tangled mass of cable or wire to a bemused attendant. Ideally the camera angle would show Dad's family in the background, trying to duck out of sight.

Does anyone have this kind of material—genuine examples of this, mind you, from the glory days of the drive-in—on hand? I doubt there's enough to make a 5-minute gag reel, let alone a feature film. Boy, would I pay to see a documentary just about that, though. That has to be the funniest aspect of drive-in theater history.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Half-Assed Gourmet: Grilled Chicken, Cheddar and Onion with WHAT?

I somehow developed an affinity for the McDonald's Dollar Menu's CBO burger--that's Cheddar, Bacon, and Onion to those of you who don't have kids who can envision no other restaurant in the universe--and I ate a couple of them for a several visits in a row. It's a simple, modest creation, but something about the way the ingredients combined made it an appealing choice. I decided to change up recently, though, and...go to Ruth's Chris for some steaks.

No, sadly, it was McD's yet again, but this time I got the crispy chicken version of the CBO. Ooh, what a radical change-up, Mr. Shark! Yes, I know, but, boy, did it turn out to be different.

First, let me mention that the chicken CBO is a whole buck more than the burger. That's 100% more. It's still only two bucks, but it's just funny that the addition of poultry elevates this burger out of the Dollar Menu ghetto and up to the big time. Well, technically it's still on the Dollar Menu AND MORE menu, but I think most of us right-thinking golden arches patrons consider the AND MORE section an illegitimate blight on the formerly pure Dollar portion.

Anyway, I sat down for a picnic with my kids and, anxious to try the new (to me) sammich, I tore it open without even acknowledging my fries or sweet tea (all part of a balanced meal, natch). Right away I knew I was in trouble. Big, big trouble.

I saw bread, I saw chicken, I saw cheese, I saw mayonnaise...

WHAT? Mayonnaise?

There was a time when I could count on McDonald's to be the one fast food chain that did NOT insist on treating that accursed extra as a standard ingredient. That time was...just about always. The closest burger joint near me when I was growing up was a Hardee's, which insisted on slopping mayonnaise on all its burgers. I insisted on insisting they remove it, and some of the time they actually did. I still remember my dad's look of defeat as I complained time and again, "Aw, they put mayonnaise on this!"  As Joe Pesci told us, they always screw you at the drive-through.

Yes, I did get this chicken CBO at the drive-through. But I hadn't asked them to remove mayonnaise. In fact, I often ask when I see a new sandwich on a menu, "Is there any kind of sauce on that?" I didn't say anything when I got the CBO. Why would I? There's nothing on the beef version. Who in the world decided the chicken version needed the devil's condiment to top it off?

And by the way, the mayo on this thing wasn't just a topper or an extra. It was all over the damn sandwich. My daughter saw my disgust--come to think of it, it's possible she also noticed me groan, "Aw, they put mayonnaise on this"--and in a calm, measured tone, told me, "You can just wipe it off, Daddy."

I wanted to say, "Oh, yeah? Let's see how YOU react next time I put something on YOUR food you don't like! I doubt you'll be so levelheaded then!" I wanted to say, "LOOK at this! It's smothering my food! I can't just wipe it off!" But I just said, "Yeah, I guess so," grabbed a few napkins, and removed as much of the disgusting topping as I could.

How was the sandwich? I don't know. The fries were piping hot, and the tea was sugary sweet (must be all the sugar), but I couldn't really enjoy the main attraction. Virtually every bite carried a trace of the mayonnaise, even after removing the top bun and scraping down the chicken. I don't know if I can ever order it again. Sure, I could ask them to hold the mayo, but now that I know how much they put on it, the whole item may well be forever sullied.

What happened to you McDonald's? Are you really in such dire financial straits--I think I read your revenues were down like .00003% last quarter, which made Wall Street dizzy--that you have to turn to inferior, un-American ingredients to pad your sandwiches? In protest, I am not returning to any of your establishments.

Well, unless my kids want to go there again. I mean, I'm not gonna be that stubborn about this.

Monday, April 28, 2014

5Q Movie Review: Frozen

Q: Why did it take so long for Disney to adapt the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale "The Snow Queen"?
A: Well, the story does seem a tad thin, but that hasn't stopped them before. I mean, it's really kind of surprising in retrospect that a Princess-centric company didn't seize on this one years ago. Apparently Disney DID work on it at various times, but it wasn't until they decided to turn the fairly dark tale into one centering on a pair of sisters that they really got it going. I'm sure they're glad they did.

Q: Wow, this has made umpteen billions of dollars worldwide! Is it really that good?
A: Yes, it is! As I said, the story is a little meager, but I think it's one of the better Disney efforts of recent years, appropriate for children and adults alike. But if you have kids, wow, you have to give them a chance to see this. All who see this movie love this movie. Those same children are somehow able to memorize the entire film after only one viewing.

As late as 2013, children loved all the usual things children have loved throughout history: jacks, licorice whips, paste. But the world has changed, and I can report with scientific certainty that kids only love "Frozen" now.

Q: Will I ever get the songs out of my head?
A: It'll take a few weeks. The songs are functional but also catchy and well performed. But I'll warn you that while you might have a fighting chance to eliminate the tunes from your brain, your kids will be goners--not that they care.

Recently, there were two times in a row I picked up my younger child from day care and found him and his friends dancing and singing along to the soundtrack. I mean, these kids knew all the words, the gestures, everything. It was almost unsettling, like it was some kind of bizarre battle cry as a prelude to overthrowing us grown-ups and forming a Frozen Kingdom ruled by toddlers.

Q: Is Olaf as annoying as he seems?
A: I worried about him, too. Chatty snowman sidekick, seemingly there just for comic relief--could have been a real pain. But to the contrary, he's charming and is used well here, providing some humor with his naivete but also helping Anna, Elsa, and Kristoff and becoming a worthy character in his own right.

Q: OK, OK, those few of us who haven't seen it yet will try to see it. Is the DVD a good value?
A: Unfortunately, Disney seems to have gotten into the habit of holding back on extras for future special edition reissues. It's disappointing there isn't more supplemental material for what has become a phenomenon and an essential part of Disney culture.

HOWEVER...head to the bonus material and find the cartoon short titled "Get a Horse." I didn't see "Frozen" in its theatrical return, so when this hit video, I had forgotten all about this new Mickey Mouse 'toon that played before the feature. It combines elements both old and new in creating a hilarious, action-packed (if anything it's almost too frenetic for its own good) tribute to the character's history. I would say it's worth the price of the disc alone because it is that good, but who am I kidding? There's no way I would pay full DVD price for a 7-minute cartoon. In fact, I didn't even buy THIS DVD. But let's just say it's a really nice treat that adds value to the "Frozen" package and will itself demand multiple viewings.

Friday, April 25, 2014

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Mr. Magoo Theatrical Collection: In a weak week for DVD, this collection stands out. It offers all 53 old theatrical Magoo shorts (not to be confused with the TV show), remastered from original elements, plus extras. Shout Factory doesn't always do a good job, but when it does, it produces something special, and this looks like the case here. Apologies for making the obvious comment here, but you'd have to be blind to pass this up. Wait, that's insensitive. You'd have to be a stupid moron to pass this up! That's better.

Madea's Neighbors from Hell: In an apparent effort to ensure some kind of Tyler Perry product is on the shelves at any given time, he releases a taped performance of a stage play. I'm sure his performance as Madea is even more nuanced and subtle when he's performing in a theater.

Barefoot: I don't even know what this is about. If you're into it, more power to you.

Bettie Page Reveals All: Get it? Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. That's right, Bettie Page finally explains the role of the Illuminati in controlling global finance. But is she barefoot?

Chances Are 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-Ray: I normally try to avoid one word snarky comments on individual titles--I feel I owe you at least a few extra words of snark--and I try to avoid the Internet tendency to make reductive one-word snap judgments, but when I see a 25th Anniversary Edition of "Chances Are," can you blame me for thinking...Really?

Riot in Cell Block 11: Criterion delivers Don Siegel's seminal prison, which of course was the inspiration for "Tango & Cash." Nah, not really, but oh, would that it were!

Master of the House: Another fine Criterion effort on a classic foreign fi;m--You know what? All I can think of is George Costanza singing, "Master of the house, keeper of the inn..."

Newhart Season 3: For many fans, this is the season when "Newhart really BECOMES "Newhart." Dear Lord, I just got a vision of a TV Land reality show called "Becoming Newhart."

Client List Season 2: Answer is, no, she's not naked in this season, either.

Eddie Cantor Lost Performances Volume 1: Anybody know what the deal is with this? The Amazon description says:

Eddie Cantor springs to life with this rebirth of some of his most memorable performances that until now were lost somewhere in a studio vault. Eddie really delivers with a collection of 18 songs and 3 skits and is joined by the likes of Connie Russell, Helen O'Connell, Shemp Howard and the Three Stooges, and many more.

It looks like a bunch of clips from old television programs. Unfortunately, it's only listed as 60 minutes and doesn't appear to be a great value.

WWE Best of Raw After the Show: Would you believe that after the show goes off the air, live crowds are often treated to "dark matches" and segments, main event caliber bouts or sometimes just goofy things designed to keep the audience sticking around to the very end and to go out on a high note? Well, this happens, and this collection features that rare footage. It's interesting because with so much content going on the WWE Network, this is a good idea of how to make a DVD release relevant nowadays. We'll see how this sells.

Warner Archive has the musical Irene with Ray Milland and Anna Neagle, the 1984 "video album" Heartbeat City from the Cars, and a pair of cool double features. The classic comedy duo--well, almost classic--Brown and Carney appears in Radio Stars on Parade. The Warner Archive description says the team is "often likened to Abbott and Costello." Yeah, they are, as in, "Boy, these guys are nowhere near as funny as Abbott and Costello." I enjoy watching them, though, and am glad to see more of them on disc. This feature is paired with George Murphy in Mayor of 44th Street. Another double feature combines She's Got Everything and The Smartest Girl in Town, two romantic comedies teaming Ann Southern and Gene Raymond, who are never likened to Abbott and Costello.

And in Streaming...

Hulu, I know I've been badgering you for weeks to add those CBS shows that you announced you were adding. And I know you added a few last week. But, guys and gals, I was hoping for something like" Sgt. Bilko" or "The Invaders." I certainly wasn't waiting for A Gifted Man and The Ghost Whisperer.

BUT I am intrigued by the addition of the 1980s Ralph Bakshi New Adventures of Mighty Mouse. Now, here is an interesting, seldom seen CBS show. Let's have more of this, Hulu.

Hulu still "wins" this week, though, just by adding season 2 of Moone Boy with Chris O'Dowd, a delightful Britcom that deserves more attention, and the series finale of The I.T. Crowd, also starring O'Dowd. That one aired overseas last year but makes its stateside debut this week on Hulu. It's a solid way to close out a great series.

Netflix mostly takes  the week off again, but...

Charlie Countryman may be a big deal, but honestly, I saw Shia LeBoeuf's name and dismissed it. You may not be familiar with Instructions Not Included, but this Mexican comedy was a pretty big hit last year. I don't know much about Dean Koontz adaptation Odd Thomas, but it looks like a lot of people are excited about it.

The clear highlight for me in another slow week for Netflix is Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Don Jon. I know the title is a riff on Don Juan, but I just think of the immortal Butt-Head saying, "I'm no Don Johnson, you know."

Warner Instant didn't add anything new this week, at least not that I noticed, and unfortunately the resume playing feature isn't working for me anymore. On the plus side, there is a convenient row of Leaving Soon movies on the Roku screen. Also, the main page added some subcategories such as "Sinatra on Screen" and "Revisionist Westerns."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Things I Really Didn't Need to See Theater

Shemp Howard in drag:



 
 
Even Shemp himself winces at the sight of hers--uh, himself:

 
(From Warner Archive's "Vitaphone Comedy Collection Volume Two," "Serves You Right")

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Ride Along: Ice Cube's buddy comedy (with Kevin Hart) was DISSED by the MTV Movie Awards, according to Cube. How dare they give a meaningless award in a manufactured-for-TV pseudoevent to an actor who recently died young? What are they trying to do, honor his memory in some misguided attempt to touch people's hearts? I mean, come on, MTV--CUBE!

The Nut Job: I was saying the other day that it seems like it's pretty hard to make a really bad all-ages animated feature these days. This one might test that theory.

Black Nativity: Nice job releasing this just in time for, what, 7 months till Christmas! I mean, do they--oh, wait. Easter is coming up, huh? Carry on!

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty: The disappointing box office for this one probably killed any chance of Mike Myers getting his dream project, a big-screen reboot of "The Danny Kaye Show," off the ground.

The Invisible Woman: Ralph Fiennes as a director of a literary property is an interesting concept, but I can't help thinking this is one of these deals where they just rushed this out to retain their rights to make a Fantastic Four movie.

Stan Lee's Mighty 7: Beginnings: Hey, speaking of Stan, I totally missed his cameo in The Invisible Woman.

Philomena: A journalist helps a woman in her quest to find the boy she gave up decades ago. This could be a Hallmark movie, couldn't it? But it's directed by Stephen Frears, it stars Dame Judi Dench, and it received considerable critical praise and award recognition. So it's got that over a Hallmark movie. But does it have Catherine Bell? That would be a big N-O.

Date and Switch: I don't know anything about this movie, but I am including it because I think the title is kind of funny and I'm stunned a romantic comedy hasn't used it before.

Beverly Hillbillies Season 4 and Petticoat Junction Season 3: These two CBS releases get wide release after being Wal-Mart exclusive since the fall. Yep, once again, that snooty, elitist Wal-Mart crowd gets to lord it over the rest of us. Well, now the MASSES can buy your highfalutin sitcoms, Wal-Mart! What do you think about that?

Warner Archive brings us a great quartet of oldies this week. George Raft and Bill Bendix in Race Street, The Mickster and Eddie Bracken in the odd duck A Slight Case of Larceny, Sky Full of Moon, and the intriguing Wildcat Bus with Fay Wray. "Sky Full of Moon" has an odd cover, with a  dude's butt staring right at us and in front of that big moon. "Wildcat Bus" just sounds all kinds of awesome. Check out this description from the WA page:

Fay Wray, best known for struggling in the clutches of King Kong, confronts rivals who use saboteur tactics to put the squeeze on the Federated Bus Lines she manages in Wildcat Bus. Wray is not the only woman in a position of power in this unusual B-movie: Behind the criminal organization that causes the breakdowns and accidents plaguing Federated’s Los Angeles San Francisco route is tough. vinegary “Ma” Talbot (character actress Leona Roberts).

Whoa! I can't wait to see this if only for the vinegary "Ma" Talbot!

And in streaming...

Hulu didn't do much of interest this week, though it didn't crash when I watched "Community" and "Modern Family," so that's a big plus. I'm beginning to think that story about more CBS shows appearing on Hulu was an elaborate hoax.

Hey, late-breaking news! Hulu just added the entire run of Penn & Teller's Bullsh*t! Well, that's something! I wonder if these are edited. Hmm...

Warner Archive Instant added a little tribute to The Mickster, packaging some previously available movies together into a little showcase Mickey Rooney line. More importantly, it added about a dozen and a half new movies, including several Bowery Boys flicks from the Volume 1 DVD collection. Sadly, the pro wrestling flick "No Holds Barred" (not the Hulk/Zeus one) isn't one of them, but who am I to complain when 3 Boys pictures are added?

Also new is the Boys--Wheeler and Woolsey, that is--in Cracked Nuts. WIN! Nicely timed is the arrival of Big Leaguer, with Eddie G as a major league skipper. Any baseball fan should check it out. WIN! There are also a couple of Gildersleeve pics, Congo Maisie, and for those of you who like your A pictures, Flight Command with Robert Taylor. And how about Hollywood Party (1934), with Jimmy Durante, Lupe Velez, and a host of awesome cameos including the 3 Stooges and Laurel and Hardy? This is actually a pretty darn good week for WAI.

Netflix premiered Mark Burnett's The Bible miniseries, a cool seasonal addition. By the way, I added the Mark Burnett part; fortunately, he wasn't arrogant to affix his name to it. Luc Besson's comedy The Family (De Niro, Pfeiffer) is here as well.

G.I. Joe: The One with The Rock (I may have the subtitle wrong) debuted this week. I am not on board this franchise yet, but I'd pay money to see it if Tight Ship were involved. This arrives as part of the Epix deal Netflix has, an agreement which should make fans of recent theatricals very happy because it seems to provide most of those big movies Netflix touts in its advertising. However, it also brings some interesting original Epix specials and documentaries. Case in point: Milius, a look at the macho screenwriter ("Apocalypse Now") and director ("Red Dawn").

Hey, I had no idea Werner Herzog made a documentary about texting while driving, but here comes From One Second to the Next. There is a bunch more Cartoon Network stuff, and also some CNN series like Crimes of the Century and Morgan Spurlock's Inside Man. But for those of you into the classics, there's the original Leprechaun--yep, the one with Jennifer Aniston.