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?


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?

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 ( ), 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, 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!


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.