Sunday, December 30, 2007

5Q Movie Review: No Country For Old Men

Q: So all these critics and Filmic Boards of Judgement are proclaiming this one of The Best Movies Ever Conceived, etc. So I'll hate it, right?
A: "No Country" is not exactly a crowd-pleaser, but neither is it an inaccessible, artsy blur. It's a grim, brutal story of some bad people trying to recover some money. Many might be turned off by the violence and overall tone. For many others, the storytelling style might be more of a detriment. The Coen brothers load this film with a lot of the things that critics (and people who see a lot of movies) love but Joe Moviegoer often hates, ambiguity being first and foremost.

Q: Javier Bardem just steals the movie as the ruthless killer Chigurh, doesn't he? Will he be a shoo-in for some awards?
A: He is certainly an effective screen villain, providing a fearsome presence. However, Tommy Lee Jones is far more memorable as Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who is trying to sort everything out. His character is apparently laid back, especially considering the events around him and the intensity of the situation, but he is no less competent or charismatic for it. Bardem can't steal the money from Jones, who delivers his often wry, often philosophic dialogue with just the right amount of world weariness and "still gives a damn." It's an amazing performance that should not be overlooked.

Q: Do the Coen brothers have an excuse for that Dorothy Hamill hairdo Bardem wears?
Forget about that distinctive 'do. You'll hear enough about that elsewhere. What grabbed me was Chigurh's socks. During one brutal sequence, the killer takes off his boots and then peels off his socks and flings them across a hotel room. I was both mesmerized and appalled by those things. It's terrifying to imagine the blood, grime, and sweat that had accumulated under those filthy boots. That pair of socks could have been as devastating a weapon as the unique gun contraption he points at unsuspecting targets. At least the gun gets you right away. The socks, I imagine, linger.

Q: Are the critics right to call this a renaissance for the Coens?
A: They're right to call it a fine film, but while I was disappointed by "Intolerable Cruelty," let's not crap on all of their recent output. Their "Ladykillers" remake is an underrated comic gem. But the critics tend to loooove the Coens' darker films, so there you go.

Q: Well, is this "darker film" just a bunch of people shooting each other? And are the Coens kind of poking fun at those people, what with the off-kilter touches like Bardem's hair?
A: In "Fargo," I detected an overpowering air of condescension about the characters, as if we were just supposed to be laughing at the simple people with their funny accents. Not sure if that was the intent, but it's what I got from it. "No Country" doesn't give me that sense at all. In fact, it is not just a bunch of dumb characters trying to kill each other, but rather a bunch of highly skilled, intelligent characters doing what they do very well. They may not be working on a particle accelerator, but they are participating in a fundamental activity: hunting and surviving.

I really like the way the Coens show these men methodically going about this business and thinking it through and carrying it out. It may not be what some would call "intelligence" at first, but it clearly is, and even though terrible things are going on, you have to admire the cleverness and the skill displayed. I think the filmmakers do, too.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

5Q: Before the Devil Knows You're Dead

Q: 83-year-old Sidney Lumet is a great director, but, well, he's 83 years old! How good can this be?
A: Take your ageism elsewhere, buddy. Lumet delivers here with a fantastic dark drama that may well be worthy of a spot in the conversation with his earlier classics like Serpico and Dog Day Afternoon. Much like "Gone Baby Gone," it delivers as a knockout crime pic while bringing in larger themes that linger for the viewer.

And while you might think even a talented person of a certain age might have troubles with details, one of the things that makes "Devil" so great is its attention to detail and apparently smaller moments that loom large. Take, for instance, a scene in which a woman is leaving her husband. As she walks across the room, she strains to drag her luggage up as the floor rises closer to the door. Her husband watches somewhat blankly, and the moment is pathetic and loaded with meaning. It's the kind of smaller scene that many movies neglect to their own detriment.

Q: Lou Lumenick's NY Post review started:
The graphic opening scene of "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead" is a grabber: a flabby, sweaty Philip Seymour Hoffman pumping away at a very sleek and very nude Marisa Tomei during a vacation in Rio.
Simply put, why should I see the movie?
A: You conveniently don't highlight the Marisa Tomei aspect of that image, one that almost makes up for the unsightly Phil Hoffman nudity. In fact, give Tomei credit for being, as one of my old friends would put it, "Naked all over the place" in this film. As for Hoffman, the man proves again he's a fascinating screen presence when he's desperate, and, boy, does this screenplay give him a chance to be desperate.

Q: Does this movie add anything to the "heist" genre?
A: You may well ask, "Do we really need another heist picture?" To which I would reply, "Yes, if it's a good one." A plot outline for this one would have to feature some variation of "two brothers plan a jewelry store heist that goes wrong," and that aspect of the story is well exectuted. But the ramifications and the setup for the heist are more important and powerful. "Devil" gets us into human relationships, father-son dynamics, and how people get themselves into and react to crises. So if the botched robbery angle doesn't grab you, well, there's plenty more.

Q: What about how the whole "fracturing time" angle? Isn't that played out by now?
A: I've been saying for a while now that the gutsiest thing for a filmmaker to do is tell a story in straightforward chronological fashion, with no flashbacks and flash forwards to skew time. But in "Devil," the gimmick really works. Often, events have more impact because we are already aware of them due to the technique. Also, several times, Lumet films the same scene from different perspectives, so that when we see it again, the camera angle, for example, suggests a new way of looking at things. In this case, the shifting narrative is an effective tool.

Q: Ok, but how good can this one be with Ethan Hawke in it?
A: Hey, Hawke at least tries hard--in this and in his other projects. He may try a little too hard here. Though his character is supposed to be unsteady and jittery, I found Hawke's performance a little twitchy. But give him credit for being willing to support Hoffman. Hawke is weightless enough to reinforce his character's subservience to his brother, our boy Phil, and he does well enough. Albert Finney is a suitably commanding presence as their father, and Tomei is fine. Throw in the great Hoffman, and you have a solid cast, yes, even with Hawke, and they all work to help produce one of the best films of the year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

On the Radio: Have a Very U2 Christmas

Many of us have a personal list of songs that we just have to hear in order for it to feel like Christmas. One of mine is Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home). I love the classic Darlene Love version from Phil Spector's legendary Christmas album. I love it when Love belts the tune on David Letterman's stage. And I even love the 1987 U2 version from the original "A Very Special Christmas."

In fact, the U2 version is a great song. I maintain there is more blue-eyed soul in that one Christmas tune than in anything they did on "Rattle and Hum"--and they tried so hard on "Rattle and Hum."

It's become a holiday radio staple, and rightfully so. It's energetic, heartfelt, and filled with emotion. Bono even manages to deliver a melodramatic spoken-word intro without sounding pretentious. We all laugh (with guilt) at Bono's "Thank God it's them instead of youuuuu" in Band Aid's "Feed the World," but we rock to his passionate performance of this one. The rest of the band is in fine form, too, even contributing meaningful background vocals that, in their own way, equal the impact of those on the original.

I had somehow avoided Christmas music this year until a week or two ago, and when I heard this one, it felt like the Season. I wish the Darlene Love version got love on the radio as well, but this is one heavy rotation holiday standard that never gets old.

This Week in DVD

Some of the last-minute gift ideas that came out this past Tuesday...

*Blade Runner: The Final Cut. Yep, there are a couple more editions of this out now, and while many people are excited about it (Just look over at The Digital Bits, where I think they talked about this DVD every day for the past 3 1/2 years), I'm content with the good ol' director's cuts and theatrical cuts. Besides, does anyone really believe this is the "final" cut. Final cut to make it to standard DVD, maybe. But look for Blade Runner: The Ultimate Cut to be available for implanting in your brain in about 2017.

*Balls of Fury: Either you thought the previews for this one were funny or you didn't. Chances are, even if you thought the previews were funny, you didn't think the actual movie was once you paid to see it. Nothing against the poor man's Jack Black that starred in it, but his casting sent audiences a message: Jack Black wouldn't even take this part. As for the rest of the cast, I know everyone loves Christopher Walken and all, but at this point I wish he were in less movies and co-star Aisha Tyler in more.

*Simpsons: The Movie: If the DVD in any significant way does the movie justice, this'll be a fine present for fans of the show (which, in a just world, would be everyone). Click here for my original take on the theatrical experience.

*Once: Everyone that saw this indie sleeper raves about it, so I guess I'll have to check it out. I did inadvertently see about two minutes of it this summer. I went to see "Fantastic Four 2," and as soon as I heard the first F-bomb uttered--and I don't mean "Fantastic" or "Four"--I realized that once again, a local multiplex had screwed up and started the wrong film. An hour and 45 minutes later, I wished they had kept playing "Once."

*Underdog: Could have been worse. Could have been a CGI "Alvin and the Chipmunks." Oh, wait...

*Rawhide Season 2 Volume 2: Split-seasons: Can't live with 'em, can't pay twice as much and wait twice as long for your favorite classic Paramount shows without 'em.

*The Mod Squad Season 1 Volume 1: See above. But at least there are some extras on this one.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Our TV Endorsements: How are they doin'? (The Dramas)

Yesterday, I looked at two of the 4 shows I endorsed before the fall TV season to see how they're holding up this year. It just so happens they were both sitcoms. Well, OK, you got me. I planned it that way! Yep, and today I'll cover the other two, both hourlong dramas.

Heroes: Too much has already been written about the supposed steep decline of this sophomore series. In fact, a lot of it has been written by the show's own head honcho, who publicly apologized for Heroes' subpar efforts.

Sure, it hasn't been as good as it was last year, but neither is my eyesight, and I'm not about to just abandon it. That was a horrible analogy, but my point is that Heroes is still pretty good overall even though not all of it is working. The new characters mostly washed out, for one thing, and though the creative team seems to believe it's because we got too many of them, that's not the case. It's because many of them sucked.

Look at what happened to the main character (yeah, it's an ensemble, but come on), cheerleader Claire. She was saddled with an irritating boyfriend as the writers made her far less savvy and engaging than she was last season. I believe that since Heroes went through so much plot last year, there was an effort to dial it back a bit and kind of re-explore some basic issues like, how would a person react to having superpowers? How would they live their life?

Problem is, the genie is out of the bottle for many of these characters, and you can't go back to square one for Claire for too long. The way to explore those themes is by introducing--you guessed it--new characters. Personally, I'd rather see the old ones utilized better (need I complain about the Hiro storyline?). But Heroes, though it disappointed this fall and didn't quite end on a strong enough note to make us forget that, is not a failure. It's still a fun watch, and I look forward to seeing what happens when it comes back.

Friday Night Lights: I remember reading the nervous in-print twitters of TV critics who had advance copies of the first few episodes of FNL. "Aw, come on," I thought, "Can it be THAT bad?" I figured critics were getting carried away, assuming the show was dumbing itself down just because of the one big twist they hated.

Well, yes, Landry killing that creep and trying to dump the body was that bad. It really did put a cloud (and not thematically) over the show, and there were signs of dumbing down in order to turn the acclaimed but underseen drama into more of a !BUZZ! kind of show.

Still, I could handle it. So it went from an "A" show to a "B"-grade show. Still enjoyable.

Then NBC put the episodes On Demand, and I got out of the habit of taping it and watching it ASAP.

Then Street and Riggins went to Mexico for a week, and the show lost me. How do high school students just take off for a week without repercussions? Granted, Riggo doesn't care much about classes, but what about the team? I just didn't get this, and if they explained it adequately, I missed it, and it was too late for me to care, anyway. FNL had become too much like 90210, with its own alternate reality replacing the real reality that had been so relatable and so appealing in season 1. 90210 was fine when I was watching reruns with my sisters 10 years ago and laughing along with the show, but I don't want FNL to be like 90210.

So I stopped watching the On Demand episodes, and I got out of the habit of watching the show altogether. Maybe in the future, I'll catch up. If the second season makes it to DVD, I could grab a few discs and give it another chance. But for now, the magic's gone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Our TV Endorsements: How are they doin'? (The Comedies)

Time for a midseason (an optimistic term, I know, given the WGA strike) check on the 4 shows I endorsed at the beginning of the fall TV season. Are these 4 series living up to my endorsement? Do I regret putting my halfway-decent name behind them before seeing a single episode of their new seasons?

How I Met Your Mother: I believe the biggest cultural crisis facing America today is not race relations, the politics of divisiveness, or class differences. No, it's the fact that a funny, inventive sitcom airs each Monday night on CBS, and it's not Two and a Half Men, yet the numbers for this particular show are merely "eh." Have you figured out what show I'm talking about? Did the boldface give it away?

In its third season, this comedy still goes right to the edge of being too cute or trying too hard to be clever. In a world when Judd Apatow's movies are lauded for having "heart," HIMYM quietly chugs along each week with its combo of likable characters and sharp jokes. I don't know if the strike makes the prospect of a fourth season more or less likely, but if the support for this doesn;t pick up, historians in the future may divert their attention from analyzing what went wrong in Iraq to the far more vexing question of why a catchphrase-makin', hip-seemin', laugh-inducin' show couldn't last longer.

In other words, I stand by my endorsement. The show hasn't been as consistently good as in its first two seasons, but it delivers at least something good each week.

Everybody Hates Chris: Talk about underappreciated sitcoms; this one is so under the radar it makes How I Met Your Mother look like a 747. I confess that because this is scheduled opposite Heroes and Mother, and my DVR has but two tuners, I have only seen a few episodes this season. But what I saw indicated this show is still solid, even as the threat of shark-jumping looms as the kids age. One thing we know is there are plenty more new half-hours coming, as this series shot its entire season before the strike.

Tomorrow, I'll take a look at two hourlong dramas I vouched for at the beginning of the season.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Brooks on Books: The Krypton Companion edited by Michael Eury

You have to be a big Superman buff to enjoy The Krypton Companion, but, boy, if you grew up reading the comics and would like to learn more about how they were made, this is the book for you. Editor Mike Eury has delivered another fine product from Two Morrows, a publishing company devoted to informative and entertaining magazines and books about comics. The Krypton Companion, a compilation of interviews, checklists, and sidebars, is both those things and much more.

Anyone familiar with Two Morrows periodicals like Back Issue and Alter Ego will be familiar with the general style of interviews, which are designed to bring out general memories and cover a broad range of topics (in this case, of course, all Superman-related); and of the illustrations, a combination of vintage original artwork, cover reproductions, and relevant promotional materials. It’s a winning formula that pays off in book form. 240 pages of this stuff certainly made me want to plunge into my reprint collections.

There is a heavy emphasis on Supes in the sixties and seventies, but there is a section on the eighties (until Crisis on Infinite Earths was the linchpin of massive change at DC and John Byrne rebooted the character in 1986). Plus the early days, pre-1958 (when Mort Weisinger became a longtime editor of the Superman books) often come up during the interviews, with creators Siegel and Shuster natural topics of discussion.

Some of these conversations are more enlightening than others, but I found something worthwhile in each one. A wide range of artists and writers, such as Cary Bates, Len Wein, Murphy Anderson, and Nick Cardy are heard here. The sheer number of talent covered, as well as the various eras represented, ensures that this volume contains all sorts of Superman-related topics.

Neal Adams proves once again the man never gives a dull interview, getting into things like the Superman-Muhammad Ali special edition comic with candor and humor. Writer Marty Pasko provides another of my favorite pieces. He stands out in a book that is understandably positive in tone. It’s not that he rips Superman or some of the talent that worked on the character or on comics in general, but he does have some interesting opinions. For example, he seemingly gets in a dig at what he calls the “relevant” comics of the 70s, contrasting their “on-the-nose” approach with what he feels was a subtler tack he used. He outright trashes Superman: The Movie and singles out Marlon Brando for a good ripping. I think some Superfans might raise an eyebrow at some of his comments, but he is sincere and well-spoken, and the article provides a little spice.

As for the sidebars, they are pretty fluffy, but they are fun—much like Silver Age Superman comics, really. There is a list of the various forms of Kryptonite, a gallery of Super encounters with celebrities, and a rundown of Jack Kirby’s history with DC’s flagship hero. They all help round out the package and add to the experience.

I do wish that many of the reproductions and pictures—especially in some of those sidebars—were a little bigger. Also, though the two long-running Superman editors Weisinger and Julie Schwartz surely are a significant part of the Man of Steel’s history, too many of the interviews spend too much time talking about them. If there is one repetitive aspect in this all-Supes book, it’s the reinforcement that Mort was a bit of a tyrant (to Eury’s credit, he gives space to Hank Weisinger to provide some balance and a more personal view of his dad) and Julie was a legendary figure at DC.

These are minor quibbles, though, and while 24.95 seems a little steep for a black and white softcover book that doesn’t seem all that heavy, it is heavily discounted online and well worth it at those prices for Superman fans.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

This Week in DVD

High School Musical 2: Parents, if you're upset at the prospect of paying for something that's on The Disney Channel 10 times a week, don't be. Why should kids be deprived of the adult joy of buying things just to have them...or the joy of buying essentially the same things months later in "Special Editions"?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: At times, this one showed the strain of trying to adapt, what, thousands of pages of text (I may be off there) into a reasonable length. It's not the best Harry movie, but it's not the worst, either, and while it plays like a big setup for the good stuff that's yet to come, you might as well get it if you already own the Harry Potter bumper stickers, the Harry Potter air fresheners, and the Harry Potter canasta sets.

The Bourne Ultimatum: More of...well, Jason Bourne. At this point, the well is drying a bit, but I can't deny this was an entertaining action movie.

Lost Season 3: Perhaps this uneven season will improve when seen in big chunks on DVD, but I'm not ready to try it. There were some standout moments in season 3 and some reminders of how ambitious the series is and how good it was. But though this set is filled with extra features that likely enhance the viewing experience, I've never been enough of a fan to make the effort.

Frasier: The Tenth Season: Yep, it's the final season of Frasier. Well, not really, because Paramount already released the last season of Frasier. No, I don't mean the ninth season; Paramount already released the 11th and final season of the show. So this is more like the last season release. No, not the last-season release, because--aw, hell with it. Let's just say congratulations for completing this one, and now get going on Cheers again, already.

Walt Disney Treasures: The Chronological Donald Volume 3: These cartoons from 1947-1950 may not feature the Duck at his peak, but it's still the ORIGINAL "The Donald," and though Disney seems to have scaled back some of the extras on this set, I've read enough good things about this one to be confident it's a keeper.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Rhetorical Pop Quiz: Jolly Christmas Songs

What is the "gayest"-sounding Christmas rock song?

A) Elton John's 'Step Into Christmas."

B) Wham's "Last Christmas."

C) This question is patently offensive and should not be dignified.
How can you stoop so to include the word "Christmas"?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

First Impulse: Petty to do Super Bowl

Last week, the NFL announced legendary rocker Tom Petty will do the halftime show at this year's Super Bowl (or "the big game" as non-sponsors refer to it when they're trying to sell you big screen TVs and wing platters for that day).

My first reaction: Cool!

And that's pretty much my second and third reaction, too. There is already some predictable grumbling about the league going with another "dinosaur" to provide another safe performance. I say, if it takes going through the Classic Rock rolodex to keep Justin Timberlake out of the main event, then so be it. Petty is a great musician who will work his ass off to put on a great show, and even though the venue might not be ideal for his talents, I strongly suspect that if you don't like his set, it'll be your own fault.

See, this matters to me because I usually am a captive audience for this thing. Normally, I'd take the opportunity of a halftime extravaganza to check out the counterprogramming, but at my mother-in-law's, there's no flipping, so unless I want to stare at the hummus, I'm watching what the NFL is serving. This year I know I can enjoy it. I'll enjoy the hummus, too, but it's nice to be able to enjoy both.

Sure, it may seem a little odd at first that the decidedly anti-corporate Petty is appearing at the ultimate corporate event, but so what? It's not like he boycotts everything owned by a business. The man does tour and make records with Big Bad Corporations, you know. It's not a bad thing when a still-vital artist like Tom Petty gets a shot at this kind of exposure without compromising himself.

No-brainer here. Unless the NFL suddenly tries to shoot Kanye West out of a cannon to join in on "I Won't Back Down," halftime is taken care of this year. Call it safe, call it dinosaur rock, whatever. I'll just call it something to look forward to.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Entertainment 30 Rock Weekly: We get it, already!

I could go off on a rant about how Entertainment Weekly is becoming shallower and more like sister mag “People” each week, but I think I did that in Shark Bites. So what I’m here to rip today is EW’s latest obsession, one that started out as an apparent schoolboy crush but has since ballooned into an Alex Forrest-style mania, one that threatens to eclipse even the publication’s longstanding Buffy worship. What concerns me is the over-the-top attention focused on NBC’s Thursday night sitcom “30 Rock.”

“30 Rock” is one of those shows that is hyped in the entertainment media to a disproportionate level. It’s not a ratings smash by any means, but it has “buzz” because—well, because a lot of people in the biz think they’re smart because they “get it” and because the people that cover THOSE people want to feel the same level of hip insider status. And while “30 Rock” thinks it is ironic enough to lampoon that kind of thinking, it’s humor as forced as any episode of “Two and a Half Men.”

But even if I liked this show, I’d be embarrassed about the frequent references and plugs EW includes in a given issue. I was going to say “countless,” but I decided I’d count these references in a recent issue—the Nov. 30 Entertainers of the Year edition. You tell me if I’m overreacting:

*p.14/15: Coverage of a live stage performance of the show to benefit laid-off production crew during the writers strike. This probing piece features such incisive commentary as: “And if the pacing seemed a bit off, it was only because Fey and company had to pause so that the audience could howl with glee.”

*p.55: Rockefeller Center listed as one of the most entertaining places of the year, accompanied by a picture of Tina Fey and a reminder that “30 Rock” won an Emmy.

*p.56/57: Fey gets a full page photo and a place as an Entertainer of the Year. Have I mentioned that this magazine really loves to run pictures of Tina Fey?

*p.66: A small picture of co-star Jack McBrayer in “Livin’ Neath the Law,” singled out as one of the “great moments” of 2007 in a slurp piece of Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s comedy website.

*p.87: “Building a Bionic Entertainer” gives the funny bone to Tina Fey. Accompanied by a headshot, natch.

*p.108 Photo credits for the Entertainers of the Year section in the bottom half of the page. Top half is a picture of “Emmy winner Tina Fey.”

*p. 124: The “Sound Bites” section includes a quote from “30 Rock,” as it often does.

*p.127: Alynda Wheat highlights a new “30 Rock” episode in her “What to Watch” column.

*p.127: But that’s not the worst of it. Above THAT mention, Dan Snierson closes a preview of the Christmas in Rockefeller Center with: “We’re kinda hoping that Tracy Jordan busts through the doors of 30 Rock and livens up the party. Kenneth, too. Dude really knows how to throw a bash.”

*p.138: If you’re missing your favorite TV shows during the strike, here are some book suggestions to tide you over. “30 Rock” is pictured (Fey, to be specific) with a recommendation to read “Live from New York.”

*p.142 Dalton Ross closes the issue by mentioning the show twice in a column claiming TV is better than movies. “I’ll put 30 Rock up against all feature-film comedies, especially any that include the word Balls or Fury in the title.” Well, yeah, but how does “Balls of Fury” stack up against “Cavemen”?

EW is clearly out of control, with its “30 Rock” fetish finally overtaking its predilection for all things Judd Apatow. Hey, guys (and gals, though presumably less of them have crushes on Tina Fey), we get it: You enjoy the show, you want to see more episodes of it, and you wish more of us watched it. But can you ease up on the plugs every now and then?

In the following week’s issue, I half-expected the cover of Will Smith as one of the smartest people in entertainment to be accompanied by a caption saying, “Because he never misses an episode of “30 Rock.” I guess I should just be thankful Fey’s mug wasn’t plastered there.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

This Week in DVD

Ford at Fox: The only DVD set out this week that has its own zip code, this massive tribute to one of cinema's top directors is sure to have many harried postal workers reaching for an extra Advil or two after they lug it to film buffs' doorsteps.

Simply put, it's an amazing achievement, and it's kind of amazing that Fox even released this 21-disc box (with much of the content also available in individual discs or in smaller subsets). Bravo to the company for getting a lot of previously unreleased material out there. I'm particularly interested in the double-feature disc of Up the River, an early Bogart/Tracy pairing; and When Willie Comes Marching Home, which sounds like a reworking of Hail the Conquering Hero.

But there's all sorts of great stuff here, even if some guy at Entertainment Weekly docked it a notch apparently for not including ALL of Ford's movies. As if a set called "Ford at Fox" is gonna include Warner Brothers' The Searchers. it;s not like Fox is letting that one gather dust. Hello! They don't own it! If, unlike that reviewer, 21 discs of Ford is enough for you, then here you go.

Pirates of the Carribbean: At World's End: It may seem to many that the last few Pirates movies take longer to get through on DVD than those 21 discs of Ford at Fox. This series never quite recaptured the magic of the first installment, but it entertained and mostly made me feel I got my money's worth. Don't need to see this one again for a while, though.

The Nanny Diaries: What, this actually came out in theaters already?

Superbad: OK, I'm gonna rent this soon, and I'd better not be as disappointed as I was when I saw the overrated, overlong Knocked Up. I'm already wary of overpraised Judd Apatow comedies, not to mention comedies we're told are special because they "have a heart."

Saturday Night Live Season 2: The original cast and production team reached its prime with this season. The set looks like a winner just for including those uncut episodes, but the real gem is one of the extras--the fabled Mardi Gras special, never rerun and singled out as an unmitigated disaster in any serious history of SNL. I can't wait to see it.

The Wire Season 4: All I'll say is, this isn't like spinach. It's good for you, but it's one of the most entertaining shows ever made. Season 4 equals the series' finest work. Maybe One Toe In will do us a favor and write about this DVD set soon.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Cultureshark Guest Programs TCM--The Lineup

Click here for an explanation of what this is all about.

6:00-8:00 AM Bringing Up Baby
--Howard Hawks' classic screwball comedy, perhaps THE classic screwball comedy, is a good way to start the day and ease into 24 hours of classics. Maybe this is because I first saw it long ago one weekend morning on American Movie Classics. And I'll try not to sully the name of Turner Classic Movies by mentioning that once-great network again.

8:00-10:00 AM The Wizard of Oz
--It's not just a kids' movie, of course, but isn't this one ideal for whole families as well as kids of all ages? Notwithstanding its darker aspects, this bright mix of music and adventure is ideal for this slot.

10:00am-Noon Top Hat
--I wanted to get a great musical into my lineup (For some reason, it's tough for me to count The Wizard of Oz as a "musical"), and while I considered some of the usual suspects, I had a hole to fill in the late morning, and the elegance and wit of this--my favorite of the Astaire-Rogers teamings--fits the bill. A great Sunday morning film, in my opinion, and I could easily see myself enjoying a big ol' tasty brunch while screening it.

Noon-2:00 PM The Searchers
--One of my favorite movies of all time kicks off an afternoon of adventure and excitement. In this case, the mythic West looms large as the backdrop for a story that works on many different levels. Sure, it's a bit heavy compared to what we've seen already this morning, but I think we can handle it. Maybe if we don't grab that brunch for "Top Hat," we can get a nice manly lunch of steak in honor of The Duke.

2:30-4:30 PM The Adventures of Robin Hood
--Speaking of adventure, what better way to while away an afternoon than by watching Errol Flynn and his merry men romp through an hour of 45 minutes of glorious technicolor? I want my day of TCM to be filled with great movies and personal favorites, but I also want it to be flat-out fun. Classic Hollywood doesn't get much more fun than this one.

4:30-7:30 PM The Great Escape
--I went back and forth on this one. After all, it eats up 3 hours of my schedule, and it may not be as "good" as some others I could have selected. But, boy, is this one a great watch. Thinking of this one takes me back to adventure movies on weekend afternoons. Stretch out and enjoy the based-on-reality story of this amazing--well, actually, Great--escape from a Nazi POW camp. Marvel at how cool the darned thing is, with of course The Cooler King himself, Steve McQueen. And even if you're not of the generation that idolized Steve-O, you've got James Garner and Charles Bronson and some stoically cool Brits.

7:30-10 PM North by Northwest
--There are many things that make movies fun, but few movies that actually include so many of them. My Dad introduced this one to me years ago, and it's always been a fun one. Cary Grant makes his second appearance in my Guest Lineup, but playing an entirely different--yet still Cary Grantish--character, and this performance alone would make him worthy of icon status. And oh, yeah, a word for the director, Al Hitchcock. I got you covered with this one, Al. Sorry about leaving off "Rear Window."

10PM-Midnight Out of the Past
--Arguably the best of all films noir, this one haunts you, burrowing under your skin and lingering like a good noir should. Its dreamlike atmosphere makes nighttime viewing ideal, but its complicated plot demands some attention. So I put it on fairly late, but not TOO late.

Midnight-2:00 AM Casablanca
--The best movie ever made, period. More importantly to me, it's the movie that got me "into" the classics. It was on late one Saturday, right around midnight in fact, and I figured, what the hey, I'll check this out. I was mesmerized, and that viewing (the first of many over the years) started me on the road to old school, a road which stretched miles longer, but became even more pleasurable to ride, when I got Turner Classic Movies. It may seem that I'm slighting this movie by putting it on at midnight, but let me say, uh-uh: This is the pinnacle of the medium, as far as I'm concerned, and to be able to introduce this on TCM and talk about it would be the ultimate.

2:00 AM-4:00 AM Duck Soup
--You can't match the collective filmmaking genius that somehow resulted in Casablanca; nor can you match the emotional kick it gives you each and every time you see it. So why try? I follow it with my favorite comedy of all time, the Marx Brothers' absolute best. It has their funniest gags, their funniest lines, and their funniest bits, and I feel good each time I see it. The only downside is it often makes me regret they couldn't have made more balls-to-the wall farces like this before Irving Thalberg legendarily "rescued them" from stagnant box office and put them into pictures with, you know, stories. The saga of Freedonia is story enough for me, and while I love many of the Marxes' movies, I love this one just a little bit more. It's more than enough to keep me awake at 3 in the morn.

4:00 AM-6:00 AM King Kong
--By today's standards, the effects that create this wonderful giant ape fantasy may seem a little quaint. But I think they work just fine, and they will be especially welcome at the end of a long day. I close my festival with the oldest of my picks (30 years), and "Kong" proves several things: That a classic movie can still captivate even if it's over 70 years old, and also the power of movie reality to linger in the consciousness. 1930s New York never seems so vivid as it does when the Konger is swatting at those planes in glorious black and white. The fake reality of Hollywood is irresistible even when combined with an incredible product of imagination like King Kong. This kind of combination helps give the classics their charm. If that sounds a little too pretentious for 4:00 in the morning, well, all right, then. Let's just relax and be entertained.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Cultureshark Guest Programs TCM--The Prelude

Well, in my dreams, that is. But Guest Programming month in November on TCM got me thinking about how I would do it. It's fun to ponder this if you're a TCM lover and a classic movie fan like myself. So I ran with the idea. But instead of the 4 films or so the celebrities have picked this November, greedy ol' me decided to program a whole day--24 hours. And instead of just doing THAT, I crafted 3 schedules: First up, coming later this week, is the standard "here's what I would do" version, which really answers the question of how I would program the channel for a full day given no restrictions.

Many might simply select their top 10 or so favorite movies of all time. But I know I'm more excited by guest programmers that choose something seldom shown on the channel. And what about programming flow? Do you just run a bunch of great movies out there, or do you try to organize them so that there is some kind of theme or series of transitions?

I decided I would try to introduce a mix of some of my favorites, but not necessarily THE favorites, into a schedule with a variety of genres, and that I would program it with a certain flow in mind. I would imagine myself yakking it up with Robert Osbourne and explaining why I love the movies so much, what makes them so great. And that would be my dream TCM schedule.

BUT I had so much fun doing that--OK, that and it's so hard for me to narrow it down to even a dozen or so movies--that I created another lineup, one spotlighting lesser-seen movies that I might enjoy talking about.

AND while I was at it, I started thinking again about movies that would excite me if I saw them on a Guest Programmer's schedule. So I came up with a whole day's worth of movies I've never seen but would like to.

So that's 3 schedules coming up this week. And none of them include The Godfather or Rear Window or The Maltese Falcon or scores of other classics I love. You know, I'd better hurry up and post them before I change my mind again.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

This Week in DVD

Hot Rod: How bad can Andy Samberg as a stunt-ridin' daredevil be? You say. It has Ian McShane, you say, and it's a known fact that he kicks ass, ergo, again you ask, how bad can Hot Rod be? Well, pretty darned bad, from what I hear. At least poor Evel Kneivel passed away before he might have accidentally seen this one on cable.

Mr. Bean's Holiday: Every day is a holiday...when you're watching Mr. Bean! Too much? Eh, you're right. But I'll bet this is a helluva lot funnier than "Hot Rod." So there.

Bratz: The Movie: If you're not on board the Bratz: The Doll phenomenon by now, I'm guessing this won't be at the top of your Netflix queue this week.

Waitress: Sure, this may look like an annoyingly quirky chick flick, but I have it on good authority this one falls on the "charming" side of quirky. Since that authority is a man, I won't embarrass him by naming him, but his recommendation makes me want to give this one a chance. Besides, "Pushing Daisies," which also prominently features pies, is so annoyingly quirky it surely makes "Waitress" look like a Bill Parcells press conference.

Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy (all season 3): Paramount screwed up the Season 2 sets of these so badly (especially Happy Days), that the best I can say is, "Hey, apparently this time, they don't suck." And I guess fans of these shows are supposed to be happy that the music edits are only mildly irritating and that the shows don't look like third-gen VHS dubs.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Brooks on Books: Presidential Courage by Michael Beschloss

Presidential Courage. What a title. One might reasonably expect to read accounts of...Presidential courage.

Indeed, that's what Beschloss promises, and he even seems to think he is delivering that in this episodic account of a group of former chief execs and how they acted in key situations. But really, I saw a bunch of politicians acting political. JFK finally gets involved in the civil rights movement, but only after dragging his feet and kissing butt of segregationist Southerners who could aid his election. Truman's actions on behalf of Israel aren't exactly delivered with rapid efficiency. But it's not just the 20th century--even the Founding Fathers in this book are shown being as expedient as they are courageous.

Furthermore, the writing is a bit choppy, with short chapters, frequent one-sentence paragraphs, and a plethora of trivia footnotes marked with asterisks in the text and explained at the bottom of the page. Those tidbits are interesting, but they might have worked better in some other format.

So Presidential Courage is not a great book. But you know what? It is easily digestible and entertaining. I am no historian, but I would have liked to have seen some more less-familiar examples than, say, George Washington. But maybe the courageous stand of James K. Polk on the Mexican-American War wouldn't sell as many books. But though there is plenty of info out there on the subjects of this book, it's still absorbing for anyone who's into Presidential trivia and whatnot. I just recommend this as a checkout from the library (Yes, Virginia, one probably still exists in your vicinity) or waiting for the paperback and a coupon.