Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What Does and What Does Not Scare Me

A possible writer's strike does not scare me. Actually, I have more than enough stuff on DVD to last me quite a while. I guess I'd miss the new episodes of some of the network TV shows I watch, but you know what? I'm not so into anything currently running that I couldn't wait for it to resume. I say, go ahead, strike, get it all settled, and I'll catch up on my backlog of stuff to watch. Or, you know, read.

What DOES scare me, though, on this Halloween is the thought of my Verizon FIOS DVR taking the last step and just nuking all of my stored movies and shows. When I first bought the FIOS package a few months ago, it was great, a real step up over my previous cable provider. Then Verizon decided to fix what wasn't broken and rolled out a new interactive programming guide and screwed up everybody's set-top boxes. I've been seeing more and more bugs, and in the last two weeks, my DVR has been indiscriminately deleting programs, thinking the hard drive was full when it really wasn't. I was told by tech support a fix is on the way in the next week or two. I sure hope so.

In the meantime, I live every day with the awesome fear of losing umpteen movies and various old TV shows. It's a fear that's all too real because I lost tons of stuff when my COX cable DVR went haywire on me. You got to love this convenient, life-altering technology, don't you? Who cares about the strike? I'm worried about losing those Broderick Crawford movies I recorded off Turner Classic before I get a chance to see them all.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

True Confessions: 10/30/07

Welcome to Cultureshark True Confessions, an occasional series in which I spill my guts and reveal some behavior or preference of which I am not particularly proud.

True believers, there must have been something in the air today. Perhaps the onset of All Hallow's Eve is warping my soul. You see, my dark side emerged this afternoon, and while I'm not proud of my actions, I feel I must confess them.

I went to the express checkout to take a book from the local library, and the computer informed me I had a 25-cent fine outstanding. I briefly fingered the shiny new quarter (Louisiana, if you're wondering) in my left pocket and prepared myself to part with it...

BUT NO! The computer was still going to let me check out my book, so why bother? I released the quarter, took the book, and hightailed it out of there without paying my fine.

Yep, it was a rebellious moment, and yes, you could have called me B.A.--and I don't mean Benevolent Altruist. I fled without settling my accounts with the library and took another book to boot. But I beg you, don't judge me. It was a temporary lapse, a mere indiscretion. Halloween does strange things to a man, I tell you...

Congratulations, BoSox

I wouldn't call myself a Red Sox fan, for one basic reason--I'm not one--but I did root for them this postseason because, well, they weren't the Yankees, and besides, my parents have become big fans since we all went to Fenway Park a few summers ago. I can't help but take some pride in indirectly getting them hooked on baseball and the Sox, and I enjoy the pleasure they get from following the team.

Boston clearly had the best team this year and deserved to win, but it was a great run for the Rockies. There wasn't a lot of suspense this postseason, but the Red Sox are a fun team to watch, so their presence elevated the playoffs somewhat. Good thing I feel that way because it looks like the franchise will be a playoff mainstay and World Series contender for many years to come.

The end of baseball season always makes me a little sad, as it signals the end of summer, the onset of colder weather, and all those other metaphorical harbingers of lost innocence and whatnot. But I have some DVDs of the Pirates when they were actually good--1979--to tide me over till next year.

While I'm at it, let me give a Bronx Jeer to the Yankees for doing their best to upstage the postseason with their drawn-out melodrama over firing and hiring managers. It certainly could have waited a week or two. I won't blame them for the Alex Rodriguez announcement being leaked during the final game of the World Series--I'm assuming that was all Scott Boras--but it was yet another example of how all the stupid Yankee talk dominated baseball discussion.

Forget all that goofy theorizing that baseball "needs" the Yankees to be good, though I suspect on one level there is some truth to that. I just wish the media would give us a chance to really test that theory by not inundating us with Yankee news even when their season is kaput.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What Happens in Laughlin Stays in Laughlin (we hope)

Years from now, as some outlet does a retrospective on the worst of the decade of the oughts, some writer, talking head, or C-list celeb will bring up Viva Laughlin, and we'll all have a chuckle and wonder what CBS was thinking. Even two episodes was too many, but CBS did yank it quickly, so at that indeterminate point in the future, someone may, after enjoying their chuckle, be curious enough to seek out an episode and see how amusingly bad Viva Laughlin was.

Oh, may these words I put type now last until that very time: DON'T DO IT!

Viva Laughlin is, or I should say was, not entertainingly bad. It was just bad. I barely made it through the first episode, and that I did with great discomfort. My wife was able to laugh her way through it, and she enjoyed the experience so much, she came back several nights later for the second, perhaps final installment. I love my wife. I admire her youthful spirit, her sense of humor, and her joy of living. But Viva Laughlin was just bad.

First of all, it was not merely a show where the actors broke into familiar songs every so and often to further the story. A musical of that type could at least get effort points (if not Nielsen points). Instead, the soundtrack burst into songs--original vocals and all--while the cast just sang along. It wasn't original music; it wasn't even karoake. It was the actors singing along to actual music. What in the world was the point?

Then you take an unappealing lead, who was some guy other than Hugh Jackman. Now, that's a problem considering the ad campaign showed off the show's big shot exec producer and spotlighted his stint in the first episode. Hugh sings! Hugh dances! Well, Hugh apparently only performed in the first episode. He only spoke in the first episode, he only hid his embarrassment in the first episode, he only visibly turned over in his head the tax benefits of writing this whole thing off in the first ep--you get the idea. He only appeared in the first episode.

The scrub that WAS the lead of Viva Laughlin doesn't seem a particularly good dancer, singer, or actor. Sorry to be harsh, Lloyd Owen, but I can't believe CBS built a show around you. But at least you're not Melanie Griffith. The show was mostly just dull until Griffith showed up, at which point the Suckiness Factor just exploded beyond known human measurement. Her "duet" of "One Way or Another" with Owen was--yes, I'll admit it--laugh-out-loud funny. Griffith is one of the most overrated "movie stars" of the last 25 years, and this performance is another sign (WB's late, unlamented "Twins" being the other) that she ain't cut out to be a TV star, either.

I got a few yuks from Griffith pretending she has charisma enough to vamp it up like it matters, but after that laughter faded, I was stuck with a really bad show, and one that didn't even have the courage to go all the way with its own gimmick. Again, I ask, what's the point of watching actors sing along to the original versions of popular tunes? Not only that, even though the show is pointedly not called "Viva Las Vegas," of course this show has to spotlight the Elvis standard. A great ditty, to be sure, but a boring choice.

In fact, Viva Laughlin was just that--boring. Got me, Google searchers of 2012? IT'S NOT WORTH TRACKING DOWN. Let this show fade into obscurity. Now, Cop Rock--there's one you might want to get your hands on...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This Week in DVD

Mr. Brooks: Unfortunately, folks, this is not the Authorized Biopic of yours truly, the grand, sweeping epic that details my amazing life. Who am I kidding, that movie would be about 5 minutes long. No, this is the story of Kevin Costner and his psychotic imaginary friend--OK, Costner is playing a character, but come on, it's more interesting to think of Costner killing people as Costner. This time, though, it's not his Robin Hood accent that slays 'em--he's really slaying 'em! I missed this one in theaters, and though it got mixed reviews, I think it sounds interesting. Plus I really hope co-star Dane Cook gets annihilated in this one.

Adventures of Aquaman Collection: I really don't know how many of these old Filmation shorts I can take in a single sitting--catching one as filler every few months or so on Boomerang seems about right--but, come on, isn't it great that these are even coming out? You know how cool Aquaman DVDs will look on your shelf. Oh, you may not pull the box off that shelf, and in fact, it might just sit there inactive next to your Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Flash DVDs, but isn't that kind of fitting?

Burt Lancaster: The Signature Collection: Arguably without his signature roles, but don't blame Warners for packaging some new-to-DVD titles in another of its attractive collections.

Meet the Robinsons: I enjoyed this Disney effort on the big screen--but mostly because it was in 3-D. I think it's a lesser effort from the company, but if your kids are too Philistine to appreciate Aquaman, this might be a good animated pick for them this week.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Say What? (Part 2)

My on-screen programming guide offers this description for the brand-new Fox Business Channel, one no doubt provided by Fox itself:


Given Fox's record of attempting to distinguish itself by tearing down its competitors, we can assume "UNLIKE THE OTHER GUYS" at the end.

First of all, hats off to Rupert Murdoch for once again having the guts to speak out for the big guy. Finally, the media tells the business side of things! Because we never get THAT perspective in the news.

Secondly, I could be wrong here--I'm not a business guy--but isn't that bit about the scandal coverage a little silly? I just can't picture masses of Wall Streeters turning on CNBC or Bloomsburg before they commute in from the suburbs and saying, "Gosh, I'd love to get some financial news on TV, but these guys just won't shut up about Enron!"

I guess that's just Fox's way of saying, "Don't worry, boys, we aren't gonna bring up that nasty ol' stuff. You can count on us."

Say What? (Part 1)

The first paragraph of Steve Daly's review of the new "Jungle Book" DVD in last week's Entertainment Weekly:

What is it about wild bears that makes us want to cuddle up to them, despite the chance that they could rip us to pieces? (Godspeed, Grizzly Man Timothy Treadwell.) Maybe it's because they're furry on top of being fleshy, a doubly tactile appeal. No wonder hefty gay men have idealized bear attributes into an entire subculture — but that's another story.

Uh, yeah, it sure as hell is. That's one bonus feature I'm glad isn't on the disc.

I respect Daly for trying to inject some perspective into a 4-paragraph EW-style review, but what's next? A treatise on the Richard Gere gerbil urban legend when Ratatouille comes to DVD?


Transformers: Two reasons for not bagging on Michael Bay this week: 1) South Park just did it, and 2) I didn't see this one yet. But while I will likely rent it, the only way I'd be interested in buying this DVD is if it transformed into that 3 Stooges set coming out in a few weeks.

The Reaping: Not the first time I've made this point, not the last--Two-time Oscar winner Hillary Swank. Yep, two-time Oscar winner. Really.

Grindhouse Presents: Planet Terror: See my comments a few weeks back about Death Proof. Kindly repeat. Kindly don't be surprised at the Special Edition Double Dip in a few months.

The Hoax: A flawed but entertaining movie, but if you really want to enjoy the amazing story of Clifford Irving's deceptive creation of Howard Hughes' autobio, read Irving's book.

A Mighty Heart: Angelina Jolie CAN, TOO still act! So there!

The Invisible: Seems like only yesterday I was sick of seeing the movie trailer for this one. Now I'm getting sick of seeing the DVD ads. It occurred to me that it would be funny if this whole movie consisted of the guy going around saying things like, "Yoo hoo! Anybody here? HELLO! I'm TALKING here!" But sadly, he apparently figures his deal out all too soon. I think that ubiquitous trailer gave away pretty much the whole movie, and this one looks too WB-ish for me to be anxious to test my theory.

The Jazz Singer: You ain't heard nothin; yet, folks! One of the last holdouts on the original AFI 100 list to make it to DVD. Warner Brothers went all-out for this 80th-Anniversary edition, and actually, some of the extras excite me more than the feature, which I don't think holds up well at all. But oddly, according to several different sources, the extras barely address the fact that Jolson does his infamous blackface bit in this one. Now, I'm thrilled that WB saw fit to release this uncensored without making a huge deal out of it (unlike the censored Tom and Jerry cartoons their TV division has been dumping on us), but I thought one of the things this movie was "known" for, other than its arguable status as the first talkie, was Jolson in blackface. I guess WB figures if they ignore it, they won't get in trouble.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Should You Watch? Kid Nation

I didn't have a burning desire to see this one. Sure, I was into "Lord of the Flies" like everyone else when we read it in high school--I remember "get his nob" being a particular source of fascination and amusement for obvious reasons--but seeing it recreated today? Eh, not much fun. I generally don't enjoy kids being mean to kids as much as adults being mean to bratty kids, and even then, the thrill is gone since Sally Jessy Raphael left the airwaves and took Sgt. Darryl Julu with her.

But "Kid Nation" had the hype and the pub and the promise of seeing dozens of child welfare laws being broken before my very eyes, so I watched the first episode.

It took minutes to realize this was not a groundbreaking new series. Nor was it a valid social experiment. Nor was it even that shocking, really.

No, it was just another B.S. reality show. You know what that means: contrived situations, phony scripted dialogue, leading editing--all in the guise of "reality." It's not for me, and so i was bored with this show even before the first scene of a child crying--and then I was just repulsed.

You Should Watch "Kid Nation" if:

*You're STILL not tired of the "Real World" and "Survivor" reality show formulas.
*You think "those damn kids have it too easy these days."
*You just flat-out hate children.
*Your favorite movie is "Bugsy Malone."
*It is your firm belief that the networks need to recapture the tween audience from Disney and Nick, and you think supporting this show is a good start.
*You think those Upton Sinclair novels are real knee-slappers.
*You'd love to re-live your childhood for an hour each week...if your childhood consisted of stage-managed events being filmed for broadcast all day long.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

F(UN)-Facts About the New Fall TV Season

Here we go with some more juicy F(un)-Facts. As I wrote last time, everybody is in love with "fun facts" these days. Well, anyone can give you actual information, but I find the really fun facts are un-facts.

*President Bush reportedly thinks Jimmy Smits' return to Prime Time TV in "Cane" will somehow help the country get past "this whole immigration thing."

*Until a CBS suit suggested they sex it up by making it about vampires, "Moonlight" was originally supposed to be a mysterious, sexy Yeti who roamed the night as a private eye.

*The titular character in NBC's "Chuck" is already the fourth most popular Chuck in TV history (as measured by Q rating), right behind Chuck Connors, the original Chuck Cunningham, and former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll. (Chuck Norris wasn't included due to considerations of fairness to the other participants.)

*During filming of "K-Ville" in New Orleans, producers arranged for 100,000 gumbo doughnuts to be delivered to local policemen. When the policemen took offense, producers diverted the doughnuts for Katrina relief. They now sit in a FEMA trailer.

*The producers of "Cavemen" originally wanted Fred Flintstone to star, but negotiations stalled quickly when Flintstone changed his representation to an agent who, rumor has it, hates Geico with a passion.

*NBC's new "Bionic Woman" was, in an early scrapped pilot, constructed from animal dung. Focus groups hated the concept, though, asking why the scientists didn't use human dung. the show eventually, of course, went in another direction.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Vacation Time

I'm going on vacation for a few days, but I'll be back early next week. On tap then: a little music talk, a few 5Q Movie Reviews, and I really dive into the new TV season with a whole lot of "Should You Watch." See you then.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Cultureshark Remembers Stuff Magazine

Time to remind everyone that I am indeed...a guy.

Stuff Magazine is the latest lad mag to join the graveyard, outlasting FHM by mere months. Supposedly, Felix Dennis Publishing will carry on the Stuff tradition by including it as a section in older sister (hot older sister, I guess) mag Maxim, but I have to wonder if that one is next.

I still remember telling a friend about seeing Stuff on the newsstand. He mocked the "from the makers of Maxim" label. "If Maxim's not doing it for you..." he smirked. Well, he was right to mock it. Nobody really needed another magazine like that. I subscribed for a few years, and I certainly didn't need it. It was in many ways more of the same: slickness, snarkiness, and sexiness. A lot of pictures of babes, some nonthreatening celebrity infotainment, and some "stuff" to make the advertisers happy.

But it did have a niche. The title came from all the features on cars and gadgets and boring advertorials like that, but that's not what I noticed. The layouts in Stuff were better, slightly less airbrushed. The articles in Stuff--and yes, there were articles--were often funnier and more provocative. There weren't as much of those damned "men in stylish clothes" fashion layouts. Stuff was, dare I say, better than Maxim.

One hallmark of the mag's style was its tendency to make every single caption a smart-assed one. That was amusing for a while--"Hey, every caption is snarky!" But it quickly got out of hand, and soon it was more like, "Does every damned caption have to be snarky?" The whole publication got way out of hand with the sarcastic style, and it was often kind of a chore to read for any length of time--not that it really mattered. It was something like 8 bucks a year to subscribe, and that's why I got it.

And, hey, it was "Stuff," not the "Paris Review." You have to admire a periodical that recognized the hotness of Daisy Fuentes post-MTV and Stacy Keibler pre-Dancing With the Stars. The scantily-clad women adorned the cover and sold the issues, and if they weren't quite the big names that appeared in Maxim, so what? It actually made Stuff better. Frankly, the subjects were often more attractive and more willing to--well, they wore less clothes, OK? There, I said it.

I said good-bye to it years ago right about the time I moved in with my wife, then my girlfriend. Would you believe me if I told you that was a coincidence? It matters not. No, I didn't really need Stuff, but it was nice to look at for a while (and if you think I'm working towards a metaphor involving my wife, forget it!) before I moved on. Maybe there were some guys out there for whom Maxim WASN'T getting it done, and for them Stuff served its purpose.

At any rate, let's be honest. It was never a bad thing to have Alyssa Milano, the Miller Lite catfight girls, or Catherine Bell on another cover at the bookstore. Uh, especially if they were wearing a bathing suit.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Should You Watch? K-Ville

What better way to pay tribute to the folks who suffered through the events associated with Hurricane Katrina than to crank out a generic cop show that emphasizes not only the crime, but the corrupt institutions in New Orleans? In lieu of a direct donation to relief efforts in 2007, Fox has made its contribution with "K-Ville," a not-so-good show about a black cop/white cop team who go up against all sorts of forces while finding out how mismatched they are, blah, blah, blah.

I only watched the pilot of "K-Ville," and while I found the New Orleans setting novel, the attempt to be stylish in the shooting of the city really took away from some of that and made the episode look like just another wanna-be edgy crime show. That is particularly bad news since the story elements of that debut were so generic that the hour certainly didn't stand out THAT way. There's no reason a show can't use this city and its issues as a backdrop, but there's no reason it can't be a good show.

I really didn't find anything terrible about "K-Ville," but nothing made me want to return there. But maybe you're different.

You Should Watch "K-Ville" If:

*You feel guilty about not sending any money to Katrina relief--not guilty enough to send any money now, mind you, but enough to want to "raise your awareness" by watching a cop show.
*The idea of Anthony Anderson: Supercop makes you run to the store to get nachos and beer to settle in for a night of TV.
*You have no problem distinguishing Cole Hauser from Josh Lucas. Or Rutger Hauer, for that matter.
*You recently "sounded off" to "TV Guide" about the appalling lack of cop shows in primetime TV.
*You're desperate for something that's making New Orleans look worse than the Saints are right now.
*You hate Roger Clemens, think "K-Ville" is about him, and curse Fox for giving him a show. Then you can tune in and be pleasantly surprised.

Friday, October 5, 2007

This Week in DVD

*The Jungle Book: I just had a chilling thought. What if some unsuspecting set of folks buys this for their kid, only to find the tot is irritated because this one doesn't have John Goodman? Those stupid direct-to-video sequels...

*Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer: I don't know if this has officially become the blandest franchise going right now, but it has to be in the discussion. There were less terrible things in this one, but hardly any memorable things, either. Sure, the Surfer looked cool, but really, this series has been a huge missed opportunity.

*1408: That shortening theater-to-video window is good news for slackers like me who didn't make it out to see this one a few months ago. All I can do until I see the movie is think of that famous poem:
"Columbus sailed the ocean great
In 1408."

*The War: That's KEN BURNS' The War to you, son! If your recording mechanism of choice waved a white flag after being asked to grab over 15 hours of it on PBS over 7 nights, well, here's your chance to enjoy it on video. PBS is doing its part to salute the Greatest Generation by making them fork over the entirety of their Social Security checks to buy this expensive set. I guess PBS figures you're not just buying a DVD; you're making a backdoor pledge.

*Sarah Silverman Program Season 1: I saw this was on sale and remarked at what a great price was. Then I realized there are only, like, 6 episodes. Not such a bargain, then, really.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Brooks on Books: Jean Shepherd

If you don't recognize the late Jean Shepherd from his radio work or his short stories, surely you recognize his most famous creation. Turner Broadcasting's holiday staple "A Christmas Story" was based on Shepherd's work and narrated by the man himself. Many of the elements of that Xmas favorite--the Major Award, the attempt to decode the message on a Little Orphan Annie broadcast, and the epic quest for a Red Ryder BB gun--are found in Shepherd's 1964 book, "In God We Trust, All Others Play Cash."

Many of the short stories in this volume originally appeared in magazine form, but Shepherd constructed a framing device where he is a New York writer returning to his hometown in Indiana. He bellies up to the bar run by his childhood friend Flick, and their conversation reminds the narrator of a variety of stories of growing up in a Midwestern small town in the Depression.

These stories are full of vivid detail and often laugh-out-loud funny. Anyone who loves "A Christmas Story" will enjoy seeing those classic scenes play out on the page. Anyone who saw the less memorable 1994 film "My Summer Story" will also recognize some of the material and wonder again why it didn't work so well in that movie. But everyone can appreciate Shepherd's wry commentary as he pokes fun at Midwestern mores and rituals like bowling, car appreciation, and fishing. Using his narrator persona, he also sends up New York--with a bit more edge. He is visiting his hometown appreciative of what he's returning to even as he feels grateful for having escaped it. He teases East and Midwest, but the affection he has for his boyhood Indiana is clear.

Though the book is a lot of fun, it may be a mistake to plow through it as I did. Now, I happened to be in a situation where I had two hours of waiting and nothing to do BUT plow through to the conclusion. I enjoyed finishing it. But Shepherd's style is a bit overwhelming, and I think it loses its impact if you see it in large continuous doses. After a while, the purple prose, the self-conscious hyperbole (I think every other story involves an event that is "still remembered to this day"), and the frequent use of capitalization to identify something with mock importance as a Big Thing are effective devices, but probably more so in short story format.

However, I still enjoyed this book, and now I'm motivated to seek out Shepherd's other work. Radio was apparently his true calling, and I'd like to hear his efforts in that medium. After all, his gift as a storyteller is clear even from his narration in "A Christmas Story." It's easy to imagine Shepherd reading the text of "In God We Trust" to you...and it's hard not to think the experience would be just a little bit better if he were.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Wonderful World of TCM: Easter Parade

TCM is, of course, Turner Classic Movies, the Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind. My wife and I caught Easter Parade on there recently. It was the first time for each of us to see this 1948 Fred Astaire-Judy Garland musical. I must say, while the tunes were OK and the time passed quickly enough, I was disappointed.

Let's start with the leads. I just never got into the idea of a romance between Fred and Judy, and not just because he was nearly twice her age during filming. Uh, mostly because, but not just because. The two just never clicked for me. Since the whole story, sparse as it is, centers on the two of them falling love while building a spectacular dance act, well, that's an issue.

To be fair, I'm not a big Judy Garland fan unless she's paired with mythical creatures--you know, like The Scarecrow, The Tin Man, Mickey Rooney...All Growed Up Romantic Judy doesn't cut it for me, so Fred had his work cut out trying to sell this one.

I'll tell you who I do like: Ann Miller, someone with reference to whom I can say "gorgeous gams" without feeling like a total moron. She's attractive, charismatic, and dances up a storm. In fact, TCM was screening "Easter Parade" as part of a daylong salute to her. Unfortunately, from the get-go in this film, she is a clear heel, blindsiding poor ol' Fred by suddenly leaving their act for lucrative solo pastures--this after the poor schnook thought they were a couple.

So Fred plucks greenhorn Judy from obscurity and makes a new act, and, allegedly, romance ensues between them while Ann gets to act bitchy. I felt a little better post-screening when Bobby Osborne told us this movie catapulted Miller into A pictures, but still, she deserved better.

All the while, you have Peter Lawford's character hanging around and hanging on. MILD SPOILERS: He indulges Ann's overtures, falls in love with Judy in about 2 minutes, is decisively rejected by Judy for Fred, but then creepily lingers around like a third wheel, rarely missing a chance to remind Garland he still loves her. And oh, yeah, he still "goes out with" Ann. In real life, of course, some of that makes sense--did I mention I like Ann Miller?--but in this story it makes him look deranged. Weeks after watching "Easter Parade," the wife and I are still scratching our heads trying to figure out his deal.

Having said all that, the technicolor is pleasant, the Irving Berlin tunes are fun, and there are some interesting dance numbers. But this is a second-tier musical to my eyes, though it's a nice one to have on standby for Easter if you're tired of Biblical epics and "It's the Easter Beagle, Charlie Brown."