Wednesday, April 30, 2008

This Week in DVD

For those of you who aren't looking for "Grand Theft Auto" at the stores this week...

Cloverfield: Rumble. Jitter. Quake. Take your pick: The camera, the city, your stomach. That's what "Cloverfield" boils down to. But hey, I haven't actually seen the movie, so I could be wrong. I just know I'll be glad to see it at home where I don't have to run up the aisles and into the lobby if my gut revolts.

27 Dresses: Remember that Bruce Springsteen song, "27 Dresses and nothin' on?" That's not how it went? Well, it conjures up a better image of this Katherine Heigl chick flick than what made it to theaters.

Cheers Season 9: I have nothing notable to say about the ninth season, but it's good to see it's here. It's amazing that fans of the show actually feared it was abandoned on DVD. If a classic like "Cheers" could be abandoned on DVD, folks...then GOD HELP US ALL.

Burke's Law Season 1 Part 1: This fun detective show starred Gene Barry as a playboy police dick who solved murders each week while interacting with a host of guest stars. It's so cool to see this one out on DVD that I won't make an issue out of VCI following the Paramount Way and resorting to split-season sets.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: I'm always up front with my readers, and this post is no exception: This Julian Schnabel film drew rapturous reviews and awards recognition. And months later, I still have no desire to see it.

Forgotten Noir Collection 3: Speaking of VCI, they come back with another set of oldies but not necessarily noiries. But who cares if they're cranking out otherwise unseen crime films and thrillers at reasonable prices?

The Golden Compass: If Nicole Kidman=Box Office Poison, Nicole Kidman + Daniel Craig must = Box Office Anthrax.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

OK, for my first post back, that last one was kind of weak...

But what do you want, eh? I just had a BABY!

Come to think of it, that's gonna be my excuse for just about anything for as long as I can get away with it.

Made a weak Cultureshark post?
Hey, I just had a baby!

Forgot to file your income taxes?
Hey, I just had a baby!

Accidentally gave nuclear launch codes to a rogue nation?
Hey, I just had a baby!

Rented "Baby Geniuses 2"?
Hey, I--ah, there's no excuse for that one.

This I Believe

I believe that one day in the not-too-distant future, perhaps 10-15 years from now...

America will look back and regret that it gave "The Hoff" nickname to David Hasselhoff and not to Philip Seymour Hoffman.

This I believe.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Addition to the Shark Family

My apologies for the lack of posting around here in the recent past, present, and possibly near future, but I think I have a decent excuse. My wife gave birth to a beautiful baby daughter last week, and things have been hectic.

Of course, you can expect soon a resumption of normal posting with such regular Cultureshark features as "This Week in Baby Einstein," "5Q Sesame Street Review," and "Should You Watch: Barney and Friends."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Now You (Don't) See It, Now You Won't: Secret Talents of the Stars

The difficult thing about blogging about TV these days and trying to stay relevant is that many of the worst shows get canceled before you can make fun of them.

Fortunately, I never worry about staying relevant.

Ah, I could make fun of "Secret Talents of the Stars," but by now, everybody else has beaten me to it, and I'm not sure if it was so much a case of it being a terrible idea as it was just the stars not being so talented. Sasha Cohen's flexibility routine appealed to prurient interests, and so did Mya's unexceptional dance number, but Clint Black's attempt at standup comedy had anyone who saw it trying to stand up and bolt to the exits.

I recorded the show to see George Takei sing country and western, and, well, I saw it. It won't be remembered as a landmark performance in the history of the genre. But as bad as it was--and I don't exactly know why, but this is the case--if Mr. Sulu was singing "On the Road Again" at a local dive bar, I'd gladly pay a $10 cover and buy a few cold ones for the privilege of seeing it.

Alas, CBS, which for some reason has the unreasonable expectation that people WATCH the shows it broadcast, yanked this series after that one episode. So we'll never see Ric Flair do salsa dancing or Casper the Friendly Ghost pitch horseshoes or Ashton Kutcher count to 10. It seems like only a few years ago that the 1969 "Laugh-In" clone "Turn-On" was notorious for being canned after one airing. Nowadays it seems that this is happening all the time. What I want to see is a show canceled halfway through the premiere. It would be great if some exec just came on camera, said, "Boy, this just isn't working," and put on some old cartoons for the rest of the half-hour.

Friday, April 11, 2008

This Week in DVD

Walk Hard: I actually just watched the theatrical version of this a few days ago. Check out the Shark Bites section for my take.

Aw, what the heck, I'll go ahead and tell you I was disappointed. But if you are a fan of the movie, the DVD is packed to the Vince Gills with extras.

Lions for Lambs: Remember that left-wing politics prof you had who would occasionally go off in a harangue about U.S. policy on something or other? Remember how you'd try to skip those lectures and go get a burger?

Corner Gas: Two seasons come oot of that Canadian sitcom WGN shows 10 times a day.

Bette Davis Centenary Collection: Sadly, the only people who know what "Centenary" means are likely the only people who know who Bette Davis is these days. This FOX set is a mix of previously released movies with some minor additions and some new-to-DVD titles.

There Will Be Blood: Oh, how I wanted to see this in theaters. It was like those ads I always see for Sonic (see, because Sonic sells milkshakes, and in the film, Daniel Day-Lewis, never mind). Always tempting me, yet never really accessible because there is not one in my area. Funny, though, now that this is on DVD, I still find it tough to set aside the, what, 5 hours it will take to get through it. Maybe I'll schedule the chicken pox next week.

Perry Mason Anniversary Edition: This "best of" (really, like most such collections, more like a "guest of," apparently, with the focus on celebrity appearances) contains kick-ass extras and an assortment of episodes not already issued in the season half-sets that have appeared. It looks like another class package from DVD producer Paul Brownstein. But if you go to Amazon, take a look at the reviews and you'll see series fans crapping all over this release.

Why? They want season sets, and they want them much faster than they've been getting them. This collection does not come with a guarantee that Paramount will finish the series--or even continue it. In a perfect world, casual fans could pick up this set, while collectors could buy it for the extras but still rest assured the rest of the seasons were on the way. But collectors know better than to count on that.

Hey, Brownstein put together an awesome, awesome 50th Anniversary "Sgt. Bilko" set a few years ago, the sales were reportedly poor, and I'm still waiting for season sets.

This I Believe

I believe that when a man is riding a motorcycle on the freeway, he should tuck in his shirt.

This I believe.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Journey into DVD: Away from Her

"Away From Her" is a depressing movie. There's just no getting around it; it's a major bummer.

I don't mean it's depressing in the manner that there are sad moments and bumps along the way for the characters but they are ultimately enriched by the experience and we all come away better for having gone through it. No, it's a flat-out depressing movie. Jeez, the DVD was even released on September 11 of last year.

Hey, Sarah Polley, who adapted the screenplay from an Alice Munro short story, put a lot of work into this and crafted a fine film. It's just a totally draining experience, not one that you should seek out if you're looking for something mellow to wind down with on a Sunday night.

Julie Christie deserves her Academy Award nomination for her touching turn as a woman who, thanks to the onset of the dreaded Alzheimer's disease, slowly slips away from her husband. The husband, too, played by a vaguely-familiar dude who's been in tons of other things but whom I couldn't identify, is fine. As Christie's character deteriorates, then is placed in a home, we learn things about their relationship. We see the woman develop a relationship with a fellow patient even as her hubby faithfully visits and grows ever more frustrated at the lack of response he gets.

This movie asks difficult questions about human relationships. I mean, there's obviously no debate about the evil nature of Alzheimer's, but a few other issues here might provoke some discussion. Is it "OK" for a spouse with this terrible disease to latch onto another, forsaking their own spouse, if they aren't in command of their faculties? What does the "left behind" spouse do? How should that be handled?

It's heartbreaking to consider that the constant presence of the husband as a visitor to the home might be cruel to his wife because it triggers a sense inside her that she has forgotten something. Is it kinder, more a sign of "love" for the man to just walk away? Do past marital problems and infidelities have any bearing on this? More than some previous movies that have dealt with the disease, this one explores more complex topics that are not attributable only to Alzheimer's. It shows that while we can all agree how much getting it sucks, a relationship affected by the disease is fraught with all sorts of difficult choices.

Did I mention I watched this with my wife? Awkward!

But apart from those kinds of issues, "Away from Her" is a moving tearjerker about the wide-ranging impact of a terrible disease. Polley did a hell of a job, and the fact that this is her directorial debut hopefully indicates she will deliver many more such quality movies in the future. I just don't know when I'll be watching this one again.

As for the DVD, it contains a few extras. After the feature, I started watching the deleted scenes with Polley's comments, but when she said she really disliked putting them on there (except maybe to showcase a performer who was cut from the finished product), I got kind of bummed out again and stopped.

Normally, I hate forced trailers, but this disc has a celebrity-filled PSA about Alzheimer's, and I can't complain about that. What I can complain about, though, is the assortment of movie trailers Lions Gate included. "A Good Woman"? "Beyond the Sea"? It goes to show how thin the Lions Gate library is when the studio has to dig so far back to find compatible previews for a prestigious film it DOES happen to distribute.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

First Impulse: NBC Announces Schedule

Not only did NBC announce its Fall schedule last week, it also declared its Winter schedule and its Spring schedule. This week, their suits will probably announce the 2009 NFL schedule, your personal retirement schedule, and the Greater Des Moines Metropolitan Area bus schedule.

But, hey, you can't blame them for planning ahead. And you can't blame me for going ahead and commenting on what they plan to give us.

Let's face it: There is an awful lot of crap on NBC's fall schedule. Oh, the Sunday NFL package is great, and it'll be nice having "Heroes" and "Chuck" back to back Monday nights, but other than that, there isn't much more to draw me in. I'd better get this out of the way now: I think the NBC Thursday night comedies are critically overrated, and though I have nothing against them (apart from the excessive hype given them in some quarters), I'm not gonna build my night around them, either.

Looking around the lineup, I see "The Biggest Loser" is now 90 minutes long. Is there supposed to be some kind of ironic statement made by the fact that this show keeps getting bigger and bigger? "Deal or No Deal" continues to clog up several places in the schedule. As for new shows, a revamping of Robinson Crusoe might have been intriguing about 5 years or a dozen "Survivors" ago, and I was bored by the "Knight Rider" pilot a few months back.

Other than that, it looks great!

Winter looks better, with promising new series like "Kings" with Ian McShane and Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson's "The Philanthropist." But for some reason, NBC decided to reveal how lame its summer of 2009 already looks, with an early programming strategy featuring such innovative techniques as rerunning USA shows like "Monk" and "Nashville Star." Of course, NBC is already serving second helpings of "Monk" on Sunday nights. So for NBC, "forward thinking" consists of planning to repeat the repeats it is showing now in the future.

Give credit to NBC for announcing all this early, though, perhaps realizing that if you can't be best, you might as well be first.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Cultureshark Remembers Ivan Dixon

TV's Ivan Dixon passed away a few weeks ago, so by now you probably recognize the name if you didn't at first. If not, bear with me as I relate a brief story.

A while back, I had the opportunity, in a professional capacity, to view Dixon in the 1964 film "Nothing But a Man." Never having heard of the movie, I was pleasantly surprised to see he was the star. "Cool," I thought, and I soon shared the news with a colleague. "Hey, Kinchloe from Hogan's Heroes is in this one," I e-mailed her. She didn't recognize the character name. "Kinchloe?" she replied. "Is he the black one?"

I had to chuckle then, just as I do now, because most people would have the same reaction. Ivan Dixon wasn't given much chance to do a whole lot on "Hogan's Heroes," but it's unfortunate that people don't recognize even the name "Kinchloe," let alone "Ivan Dixon." And as even a cursory look at his IMDB page reveals, Dixon was a heck of a lot more than just "the black guy on Hogan's Heroes."

Take "Nothing But a Man." I was both astonished by how good that movie was and embarrassed for not being even remotely aware of it. Dixon's great in a portrait of a young black man who tries to avoid compromising his beliefs, his identity, and his basic humanity while dealing with the external and internal pressures that confront African-Americans in the southern U.S. It's a brilliant movie, and Dixon carries it with ease even as his character reacts to an uneasy world.

Ivan Dixon also directed feature films and a bunch of TV shows in his accomplished career in the industry. But this isn't to say he has anything to apologize for his TV acting. In a little mini-tribute after his passing, I watched "The Prince from the Phone Company," a rare Kinch-centric "Hogan's Heroes" installment in which Dixon also played an African prince. Hijinkis ensue as Kinchloe impersonates him and the gang tricks the Nazis yet again. It's a fun first-season episode that gives Dixon a dual role, a love interest of sorts, and a nice spotlight to show off his charm.

I followed that up by viewing Dixon in a fine "Twilight Zone" episode, "The Big Tall Wish." Buried under some "battered fighter" makeup, he stands out as a cynical boxer who scoffs at a young boy's belief in the simple power of hope. The episode is available as a free stream at

I don't have a Retro Television Network affiliate in my area yet, but I read that they put together a little tribute to Dixon consisting of a few "Hogan's Heroes" episodes. While it would have been nice if they could have been a little creative, considering the wide variety of shows in which he appeared, kudos to RTN for stepping up with the kind of class gesture TV Land used to do.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Brooks on Books: No Country for Old Men

I just read the novel "No Country for Old Men" by Cormac McCarthy, and while I enjoyed it, I wish I had read it BEFORE seeing the movie. Instead, having seen the Coen Brothers' adaptation a few months ago, I now feel almost like I saw it again, albeit with a lot more words. On one hand, it is amazing to see how much the Coens took straight from the page, but on the other, I feel a lot of the potential vitality of the written word is lost to me because I've seen it so faithfully reproduced on the big screen.

Now, I don't mean this as a knock on anyone associated with the motion picture. Adaptation is not an easy task, and even when you're being so respectful to the source material--using big chunks of verbatim, for example, you're still making choices and exercising creative license. The Coens do this very well. Take casting, for example. It's tempting to think Javier Bardem just read the lines Cormac McCarthy gave sadistic killer Anton Chigurh, but if you read the book, you can appreciate just how much the Oscar winner creates that character on the screen.

The film made such an indelible impression on me that I just can't do the book itself justice by talking only about it. However, I can say that reading Cormac McCarthy is much different than watching the Coen Brothers. If you've never read McCarthy before, you may be in for a rude awakening at the author's style choices.

McCarthy's often blunt, direct dialogue is presented without quotation marks, an annoying hallmark of his writing that creates a bit of a wall for the reader. Even punctuation is often left out of the text. Apostrophes, for example, are exiled from many a paragraph, forcing us to process lots of "donts" and "cants" and such. Perhaps there are legitimate stylistic reasons for these choices, and I pondered what they could be, but ultimately I found them off-putting.

My favorite character in the film is, by a wide margin, Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, played by Tommy Lee Jones. As great as Jones is, though--and I can't imagine anyone doing it better--the informal, conversational, but philosophical soliloquies the character delivers play even better on the page. This isn't hard to believe. The character is plain-spoken and comes off as folksy, but what he says is quite important with regards to some of the book's themes, such as the presence of evil in the modern world. He's a literary character with literary thoughts, and his final thoughts give the book a sense of closure that plays far more ambiguously on the screen. Of course, you could argue that ambiguity in itself has its advantages, and many critics and even lowly bloggers like myself would agree with you.

There are a few significant differences in the source material. For example, that encounter Josh Brolin has with a lounging female at the hotel? Well, that detour is totally different in the book. However, those of you expecting "the answers" in here will be frustrated, as McCarthy doesn't spell out much more than the Coens present. You're not gonna pick this up, go, "Aha," and slap your head because it was there in the book all along.

If you can get past the style and put some distance between yourself and the movie, you might check out McCarthy's original version of "No Country for Old Men." It's a harsh but compelling book that provides a compelling story and some harrowing visions of evil in our society. If you have not seen the movie and think it sounds interesting, I strongly recommend you read the book first, THEN rent the DVD. The novel will likely seem much more powerful, and you'll still enjoy the adaptation.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Canterbury's Law: Right Show, Wrong Place?

After we watched the entertaining if unspectacular pilot of "Canterbury's Law" on Fox, my wife summed it up perfectly. When I said it didn't really seem like a Fox show, she replied it seemed like a cable drama.

And that's it right there. This Julianna Margulies courtroom drama seems to me a fine addition to the genre, but it's languishing on the American Idol network, and I bailed on it, believing it was destined to be axed just as I got involved in it. I can't guarantee that I’d watch it every week were it on sturdier ground, but I can guarantee you I would enjoy it more than the seemingly endless parade of female-fronted dramas that scored commercial and/or critical success on TNT and FX in recent years.

I don't care for series like "The Closer," "Saving Grace," or 'Damages," but I thought "Canterbury's Law" had real potential. Oh, in some ways, it was a lot of stuff we've seen before, even recently. Mrs. Shark made another apt statement in comparing the series to last year's "Justice," in which often-imperious Victor Garber showed some younger colleagues the ropes while conducting investigations for his defense firm.

Margulies is a compelling TV actress who can make the rougher aspects of a character tolerable, and seeing her do her thing in and out of the courtroom made an enjoyable debut episode. There were interesting faces in the supporting cast and guest roster and solid chemistry between here and her screen hubby Aidan Quinn, plus hints of personal dramas yet to be explored.

It seems tailor made for cable. Fox, you have FX sitting there needing some more quality shows--trust me, you may not think so, but it does--and this would have been a quality addition. Instead, it is serving out its final days in the exile of Friday night, where Fox banishes all those who cannot hold the audience of "Idol" or "House." Margulies and her series deserve better.

Yep, I'm judging it by its cover

I don’t even have to look inside to know this week's "Entertainment Weekly" is Weakly. First, there's the cover shot of Ellen DeGeneres, an overrated TV personality whose presence in a high-profile spot in this magazine never bodes well.

More importantly, big, bold letters proclaim an Ultimate Tv Quiz or something like that. So this week's issue will have even LESS words than usual, instead devoting much of its page count to a skippable section of trivia.

Right when my subscription is about up for renewal, too, and I'm trying to evaluate whether it's worth the expense!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

This Week in DVD

This is such a meager week for new DVDs that I decided to throw in a few of last week's efforts as well.

Sweeney Todd: Well, I may have spoke too soon because if this DVD is at all worthy of the excellent movie I wrote about recently, it is a good standard bearer for any release date. From what I've read, the two-disc version looks like a winner. But, hey, I'm seeing more and more two-disc editions selling for more than the single-disc versions, which would be fine except I could have sworn the price of similar "special editions" used to be what the bare bones rate is today.

Father Knows Best Season 1: If you want a good idea of the anguish that collectors of classic TV shows on DVD endure, look no further than the tormented decisonmaking process of FKB fans at the Home Theater Forum as they decide whether to buy a release which contains syndication-cut episodes. It's the old dilemma: support (and possibly encourage) a substandard release or bite the bullet and take what you can get to support continued releases. The fact that this is even an issue merely points out how pitiful the treatment and preservation of television programming, which has long been seen as just a disposable commodity, has been over the years. If the best the Robert Young estate can provide are some hacked-up syndie prints, what hope is there for more obscure shows? Kudos to Shout Factory for licensing this show, as rights holder Sony apparently has no interest in doing it, but I wish something more could have been done here. Is it lack of money? Lack of effort? Lack of resources? I don’t know, but in the meantime, the dilemma rages for fans of the show. I will say as a fan of old-school TV on DVD, I was pleasantly surprised to see Best Buy promote this release in its ad circular this week.

Bette Davis Collection Volume 3: She's not one of my favorite movie stars, but Warners continues to do right by her fans with these box sets.

Warner Brothers Gangsters Volume 3: THIS, however, is in my wheelhouse. Bogart, Cagney, Robinson. Warner's goes all out with these sets, and this one looks to be no exception. If you think "Black Legion," an anti-Klan (and groups of its ilk) message picture, doesn't really belong here, so what? It's more Bogart on DVD. If you think the quaility of film is starting to drop off a bit now that we're in the third album, so what? Yeah, you can't release The Public Enemy in every collection, but that doesn't mean "Brother Orchid" isn't entertaining in its own way. Plus this box gives you shorts, cartoons, and commentary tracks galore. And did I mention one of the movies here is called "The Mayor of Hell"? Come on, people! "The Mayor of Hell!"

Alvin and the Chipmunks: I didn't see either movie, but how did this make so much money while Underdog tanked?

The Best of the Price is Right: "Best" being rather, shall we say, loosely applied here. Does anyone think the last 5 episodes of Bob Barker's reign are among the show's best? Or need to buy them right now, for that matter? Fortunately, there is plenty of other material here to satisfy a game show enthusiast, including episodes from the black and white Bill Cullen era.

The Tomorrow Show with John, Paul, George, & Ringo and Mike Douglas Moments & Memories: Psst. Don't tell anybody, but I'm a free rider when it comes to talk show compilations like these. I love to rent 'em, not so much to buy 'em. So to those of you whose purchases of collections like these keep more in production, I say a hearty thank you. I wonder why the folks behind the Mike Douglas release don't just put out those high-profile John and Yoko episodes, though.