Monday, June 30, 2008

Wonderful World of TCM: Tortilla Flat

A few days ago, I praised John Steinbeck's comic novel "Tortilla Flat." The book was turned into a feature film by MGM in 1942, and it's played on TCM several times in recent months. As an adaptation, it's poor work, but as entertainment, it's a fun movie.

Were someone to film the novel today, they would probably do things quite differently than did MGM. For one thing, they would cast some actual Hispanics or Latinos to play the paisanos, who claim Spanish and Mexican descent. Given a decent budget, they would use some location shooting and try to avoid the professional yet cheesy backdrops of the 1942 version. And maybe, just maybe, they would not subvert the whole point of view of Steinbeck's work and turn it into a conventional love story. These things would make this new movie a more faithful adapatation of "Tortilla Flat," but you know what? Not necessarily a more entertaining one.

Start with that casting. I knew John Garfield and Spencer Tracy co-starred with Hedy Lamarr in this version, but imagine my surprise when I saw these names in the opening credits: Allen Jenkins…Frank Morgan…these guys are playing the paisanos, mind you…John Qualen...Sheldon Leonard??? I never complain when I see these guys in the credits, but this is truly ethnicity-blind casting to the point of ridiculousness. You got to love the MGM attitude. We have a bunch of good hands available, and, by jove, (or Jumpin' Jiminy, as Qualen might normally say in one of his other roles), we’re gonna use them. And that's just the supporting cast.

As for those leads, Spencer Tracy in particular seems to have a good time. Danny is the ostensible lead role, but Tracy's Pilon is by far the most interesting character. Tracy plays him with a good dose of mischief and lightness, fake accent, floppy hat, and all. He's like a canny Chico Marx. The big problem with the MGM version is how it undermines the comic spirit of the source material. Instead of a story about a group of men who have "adventures" and adhere to their own unique way of thinking, the men become sidekicks to a love story between John Garfield and Hedy Lamarr. There is some color in the supporting cast--how can there not be with that group of actors--but it's a clear overhaul of the novel, one that strips it of its distinction and blows up a side relationship until it's a generic Hollywood romance.

Perhaps even worse is the "listen up, dummies," message that comes not 20 minutes into the screenplay, in which a character actually spells out to Pilon what Pilon is doing. The lame little speech tells not just Pilon but the audience that his motives are less than pure, that he is only looking out for his own self and that people are on to him. This shatters the wry tone of Steinbeck's novel, which lets readers know exactly what the score is without being so blatant, nor having the characters be so blatant.

Still, I can't be too grouchy about this one, which works as traditional glossy Hollywood entertainment. There's that fun cast. Garfield and Lamarr do look great together--Hedy looks great, period, of course--and the story, with its drastically different ending, works on its own terms if you're not picky about what's been done to Steinbeck. Though many of the book's rougher edges have been smoothed out, a few things remain for those who pay even scant attention. Take neighbor Mrs. Morales, owner of many chickens, and how she eyes Danny. I was pleasantly surprised by how clear it is in the film what Danny does for Mrs. Morales in exchange for her chickens.

Sometimes traditional glossy Hollywood entertainment gets the job done, and "Tortilla Flat" did so for me, even though it did a real number on Steinbeck's novel.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

This Week in DVD

10,000 B.C.: Ah, yes, go back to the days when everybody only had dial-up Internet access, the stars of "Sex and the City" were mere toddlers, and apparently lots of exciting action sequences played out. Personally, I'm not interested in any "B.C." movie that doesn't include Raquel Welch, Wiley, or Fat Broad.

The Furies: I know very little about this western except that it's directed by Anthony Mann. That's enough to warrant a look.

Persepolis: Animated feature based on the autobiographical graphic novels of Iranian creator Marjane Satrapi. Hmm, I still need to read the comics. Let me check back in on this one later, OK?

In Bruges: I recently developed a theory that Colin Farrell is of no value to a movie if he does not say "fookin'" at least once. Judging by the previews for this one, he does indeed say it many, many more times than once. But my theory does NOT hold that Farrell IS good value to a movie if he DOES say "fookin'." So with this one, who knows, really?

Evening Shade Season 1: Hey, what say we all get together and my place and put on this and some "B.L. Stryker" episodes for a Burt-a-thon? You bring the Miller Lite; I'll provide the chewing gum.

Definitely Maybe: And audiences continue to say "Definitely not," to the prospect of Ryan Reynolds as A-List leading man.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Brooks on Books: Tortilla Flat by John Steinbeck

I wonder if today people tend to underestimate John Steinbeck's sense of humor because they think his most famous work, "The Grapes of Wrath," is a kind of hectoring polemic about the horrors of the Depression. But even that novel had some very funny scenes in it, and his other books feature funny material as well. "Tortilla Flat" is a comic novel that presents a certain mindset, a kind of illogical logic its characters subscribe to, and if you can accept that, you'll enjoy it.

Steinbeck writes here about the paisanos (who claimed a mixture of Spanish, Mexican, Indian, and Caucasian heritage) of a coastal area in post-WWI Northern California. In particular, there is a man named Danny around whom a group of like-minded paisanos gather and have "adventures"--most revolving around obtaining basic pleasures of life like wine, women, and song while avoiding evils like steady employment, responsibility, and permanence.

Supposedly the author modeled these likable rogues on King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table, but it would take someone smarter than me to point out those parallels. Suffice to say that there is a certain romance to their lives that Steinbeck captures. He doesn't consider them bums, more like charming rascals who are incorrigible but basically good-hearted. The narrative voice neither condemns nor condones Danny and his friends, rather it recounts their tales with a wry, often florid manner that lays out their mindset in such a way that we know the narrator knows it's ridiculous but stops short of outright ridicule.

The kind of logic at work here is seen early on when Pilon, who is sort of the head rascal to Danny's group center, pursues a chicken. He tells the bird how miserable his life must be walking around near the road. After all, he reasons, the chicken is liable to get hit by an automobile and lose a wing and live in misery. So, unsaid by Pilon but implied by the narrator, far better for the bird to be killed quickly and eaten.

Better yet, later 3 men in the group have two bucks and are preparing to give it to Danny for rent. One asks what Danny needs the money for, anyway, and they discuss how he wants to buy candy for Mrs. Morales, the next-door neighbor. Quickly they mention how candy rots teeth, but what do they care if Mrs. Morales rots her teeth, BUT what if Danny eats some candy himself and rots HIS teeth? What kinds of friends would they be if they gave him the money to rot his teeth? So maybe they should warn Danny not to do so, to buy wine for the lady instead. But what if Danny decides to buy the candy after all? No, to be safe, they should be true friends and buy the wine themselves to give to Danny.

If Danny gets any of the wine, he'll be lucky.

Just put any combination of rent, wine, maybe food in there, and you'll get the kind of thinking these characters implement on a regular basis. It's a constant series of rationalizations that enable the thinker to justify doing what he wants. Not a bad way to live, actually. The circular logic could be repetitive after a while, but Steinbeck's episodic novel features enough different interesting scenarios in its relatively short length that it never gets tiresome. Reading about these guys and their efforts to barter for what they need/want is an entertaining experience because the characters are so appealing. They are not so much distinct as individuals as they are a unit, one that is quickly realized because of that common mindset.

It helps that while they sometimes steal--even from each other--and brawl and commit petty acts of vandalism, they're never truly criminal or mean. Steinbeck successfully walks the line of illustrating their roguishness while keeping them likable. Similarly, he (as the narrator) uses a literary style to recount their adventures but never lets us think he's taking it too seriously. It's a delightful comic novel with a rich cast in a vivid setting.

Often I'll see a movie and want to read the book afterwards, but in this case, I learned the movie would be on TV but reread the book before seeing it. This weekend, I'll write about MGM's 1942 adaptation of "Tortilla Flat."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

While watching a Barney Miller rerun...

While checking out an episode of "Barney Miller" from WGN America's retro week last month, I started thinking about how that kind of show could never air in that form today. The cast is too male-centric and more importantly too old. Nowadays, there would have to be at least one or two or 3 sexy young singles in that precinct to jazz up the demos.

"Barney Miller" featured the kind of diversity that was hip back in the 1970s--besides Barn, there was a black guy, an Asian guy, a Polish guy, a really old guy, and an intellectual white guy. As Harris, Ron Glass fancied himself as adept with the ladies, but he wasn't exactly a sex symbol, and especially with his natty attire, he looked like he had been around a while. Let's face it, when Max Gail's Wojo is your youngest-skewing cast member, you're not exactly aiming for the "Teen Beat" set.

To me, that's a good thing. Would "Barney Miller" be better with a hotshot rookie who just happens to be a 20-year-old hunk? One who could flirt with another squad newbie portrayed by a comely lass fresh out of a stint as a teen on some daytime soap? I doubt it. But you know that's the kind of thing we'd get today.

Odds and Sods

Following up on some stuff I've written about lately:

*I now own the Popeye Volume 1 set from Warner Brothers, so now I have some credibility when I tell you to go buy Volume 2. And Volume 1 if you don't have it, as well as the forthcoming Volume 3, for that matter.

*WGN America has announced plans for its next retro week, this one honoring the eighties. This lineup is far weaker, though, including a played-out overrated movie ("E.T."), a sitcom which is already on its regular lineup ("The Cosby Show"), two nights of "Alf," and a night of "Family Ties" episodes (which actually fits in nicely and is a nice enough treat). Pavan at Sitcoms Online reports that WGN tried to get "Mork and Mindy" but failed, and he indicates there may have been other attempts to fill out that lineup with something besides two nights of "Alf." Still, I wonder: Is this retro week so much lamer than the 1970s week last month because of poor programming choices or because the 1980s just offered much less decent material?

*Good news is BBC America, about which I ranted here, is running promos for a new show, "Dragon's Den" or something like that. I stopped fast-forwarding through the commericals during a recent "Robin Hood" to see what this new show would be. Bad news: It's some kind of reality show in which people share their dreams and inventions, only to be humiliated by a panel of judges. Yawn. But I suppose at least it's better than "Britain's Worst Teeth."

*I finished reading "Charlie Wilson's War" by George Crile, and I successfully blocked out the horrible cover and enjoyed the heck out of the book. I have a big backlog of literary posts to get together, but I hope to write more about this one next week.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Der Bingle = Der Stuff

For a long time now, I've considered the epitome of Big Screen Cool to be someone like Cary Grant or maybe Bogie or Robert Mitchum. The more I see his movies, however, the more I think Bing Crosby may well be, pound for pound, the coolest movie star of all time.

I've long enjoyed him in the "Road" pictures with Hope, where his effortless, laid-back charm is actually written into the characters, if there can be said to BE characters apart from Bing's own screen persona. As I watch him more, though, I realize that even outside of that super-casual Road universe, Der Bingle is just as cool even in more "prestigious" pictures when he's able to play Bing Just Being Bing.

Take "High Society," the amusing if not as sharp remake of "The Philadelphia Story." I finally saw this one a week or two ago, and while it's impressive that this particular crooner walks off with the film as the coolest cat in a cast that includes Frank Sinatra and Louis Armstrong, it's not surprising. He's playing the guy who everybody likes, the ex who has the luxury of sitting back and making sly remarks while letting everyone know, hey, he's here and available if a certain ice queen named Grace Kelly wants to come to her senses. His character is the one calm, rational individual in the entire screenplay while also providing a clear cool alternative to the stuffed shirt (John Lund) Kelly plans to marry. How can Bing miss here? This is the equivalent of giving Babe Ruth a 3-0 count with the bases loaded.

I enjoyed Bing in "High Society," but I was far more impressed with the icon in a picture he made some 20 years earlier, "Pennies From Heaven," in which he's an ex-con who meets up with a lovable orphan and her grandfather and sets out to save them from being split up by a government child welfare agency. This younger Bing has the same casual demeanor, the same breezy style that draws you in to the extent you don't even think he's acting. Lazy? I think not. Just because Der Bingle doesn't have to let us see him sweat doesn't mean he ain't working. I mean, he drawls some wisecracks here and there, spars with a comely female at the agency, and all the while sings for his supper, treating the audience to several likable pop tunes.

It's what Bing overcomes in "Pennies From Heaven" that makes his easy coolness so remarkable. Consider these 3 factors:

1) His character, Larry, plays the lute. Yep, the lute. And he doesn't just rent one when he needs it or borrow it from a local Renaissance Fair minstrel. No, he owns one, and he carries it around with him all the time. Even in jail, we are told, he sings the sappiest, most sentimental songs there are while strumming his instrument. Even worse, he's the kind of guy that insists on correcting everyone that admires his guitar. If anyone else bothered to remind us, "It's a LUTE," we'd be rather annoyed, but we don't mind if it's Bing. He's the kind of fellow that just takes pride in his lute, not in correcting people.

2) He makes "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" sound cool. I'd say it takes a lot of work to make this chestnut sophisticated, except that The Binger does it and makes it look so easy. In one fun sequence, he, the young girl, and Grandpa freestyle a series of verses to the evergreen kiddie number, and darned if it doesn't come off pretty well. I don't want to give Rod Stewart an idea for his next album, but I'd pay for a collection of Bing Sings Kids Favorites (and please, no jokes about the way he disciplined his own kids; I made those for us when I watched the movie).

3) Most impressive of all, late in the film, he stays cool as he sings the title song while in a clown suit, skull cap, fake pencil-thin mustache, and ridiculous sideburns. The site of Bingo the Clown strumming his lute while leading a parade of kids down the street is almost surreal at first. Seeing that voice coming from somewhere deep in that get-up? There's a real disconnect there. Again, though, Crosby defies the odds by taking a ludicrous situation and making it not just watchable, but somehow cool. The key thing to remember here is that Der Bingle never seems to be straining for it, either. He just IS The Man, and there's no visible exertion in his performance. It's almost like playing a lute and singing "Pennies From Heaven" in full clown regalia is the most natural thing for a guy to do.

Humphrey Bogart is my all-time favorite movie star, and once his career got going, he was rarely anything less than 100% cool. But even he would have a hard time making that look natural. So maybe we need to give Bing Crosby more credit. I know I find myself seeking out more of his movies lately.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

This Week in DVD

I'm sure we're all emotionally drained after last week's "Fugitive" fiasco, so I'll try to be brief today, eh?

Carmen Miranda Collection: Fox has reissued "The Gang's All Here" as part of this set. The earlier version of the disc featured a botched transfer with poor colors. Granted, they're not giving the disc away, but at least they're fixing their mistake. Must...avoid...discussing..."The Fugitive"...

Popeye Volume 2: I don't know if I have the credibility to do a hard sell on this one since I haven't bought Volume 1 yet, but these are great, great toons well packaged with plenty of extras. Warners is cutting these sets in half, hoping more of you will buy them at the lower price point. I encourage you to accommodate them. It's not like they're splitting seasons up to milk more bucks out of you, like, say, Paramount did with "The Fugitive."

Be Kind Rewind: This one makes me kind of nostalgic for the prime of VHS. Sure, DVD is a superior format, but there's one thing it doesn't have yet that VHS offers: Official releases of "The Fugitive" with the original music.

Fool's Gold: Are Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson the Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn of our times? Because if they are, our times kind of suck. Not like the old days when we had great stars like David Janssen.

Jericho: The Complete Series: I have to tell you, "Jericho" fans, I admire your tenacity, but your show failed twice. After you buy these DVDs, why not focus your energy on encouraging Paramount to quit screwing around with "The Fugitive"?

The Sword in the Stone: I first saw this Disney animated feature last year, and I thought Disney wasted a pretty cool concept--the Arthurian legend and all that--and created a lackluster movie. I was just disappointed watching it. It was kind of like opening a "Fugitive" set and seeing that all the original music was replaced.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Crummy Movie Cavalcade: Sex and the City

I can still remember the first thought I had when I saw those early leaked pictures from this movie's New York shoots: "Hey, they're doing a Golden Girls" movie?

Mean? Yeah, I guess it is. But you have to forgive me for being grumpy about this entire project. The hype posits that the "girls" are FINALLY RETURNING for this big-screen version of the HBO series. Returning? They never went away! For one thing, new episodes ceased, what, 5 years ago? Reruns have been in syndication and in a high-profile slot on TBS. HBO itself has rerun the original versions and made them available for On Demand viewing. The DVD sets are all over the place. And besides… People have been talking about this movie ever since the TV show stopped!

Actually, I'm pretty sure speculation began before "Sex and the City" aired its finale--much like how people for some unknown reason wanted there to be a "Sopranos" movie, the show's fans and its cheerleaders in the Manhattan-centric entertainment news media were pushing the idea of a possible film. So, yes, we never had the opportunity to miss the show, even if we were so inclined to do so, and then suddenly that same entertainment news media started running these tease pics of the movie shoot. It's this relentless ongoing hype that turns me against "Sex and the City," not the film or the franchise itself.

OK, well, maybe I do have some gripes with the film and the franchise. For one thing, this movie is something like 2 hours and 20 minutes long. Why in the world does whatever story they're telling have to take 2 hours and 20 minutes? And furthermore...Ah, wait. I don't want to turn this into a big rant about "Sex and the City" itself. It has its dedicated fanbase, and I respect that. It's just that the concept of this movie as a phenomenon got way out of hand way too early, and that's what...

No, no, no. I think I AM gonna turn this into a big rant about "Sex and the City" itself. Like Carrie's cutesy voice-overs. And who cares about her and Mr. Big? And aren't these characters a little too old to be referring to each other as--there I go again.

What can I say? I want to give the fans of this show their moment and just let this entry in the Crummy Movie Cavalcade pass me by, but it's just so darned tough because of all the hype. I'm thankful my wife doesn't plan to try to drag me to this, but I already dread the DVD release hype and the sequel talk. I can't stop it, but I can try to avoid it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Cultureshark Remembers Charlie Jones

Lost in the shuffle with the high-profile media death of Tim Russert was Thursday's passing of veteran sportscaster Charlie Jones. I've missed hearing old Charlie in recent years. He was a pretty big presence on NBC during my formative sports-watching years, showing up on AFC football, the Olympics, and perhaps best of all, the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.

That's right, Jones called perhaps the single defining game in Penn State football history, that glorious night in the desert when the Nittany Lions went out and stopped the hated Miami Hurricanes to claim the then-mythical (arguably STILL mythical) national championship. As a proud alum, I have to link to this:

Jones had a warm, pleasant on-air demeanor, and if he was a terror off camera, please don't tell me about it. He was like a grandpa. As long as I listened to him, he looked old, sounded old, and generally radiated old. It wasn't the crotchety old of Mr. Potter, though, or even the comically crotchety old of Andy Rooney. No, it was the best kind of old for an announcer you're gonna listen to for the next 3 hours plus: amiable old. I half-expected him to show up in the booth wearing a sailor's hat and invite all us viewers to go fishing on his boat after the game.

I'm not talking Jack Buck old, which is a whole nother level of elder statesman, where you wonder how the guy makes it through a whole game at his age. No, Jones didn't have the massive charisma of an imitable guy like Buck. He was "just" a solid pro who served as a likable guide as you enjoyed a sporting event together.

Do we still have these kinds of guys around? Networks like to skew young, and the old guys that are left are either legendarily old (Vin Scully), trying too hard to flaunt it old (Barry Switzer on Fox NFL Sunday last season) or "I refuse to believe that they're old now because that makes ME feel old" old (Al Michaels, Marv Albert). Maybe Verne Lundquist?

At any rate, the news that Charlie Jones is gone saddens me, but his distinctive weathered voice lives on…especially if you play that Fiesta Bowl clip again and again.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Trying Not to Judge a Book by Its Cover

I'm reading "Charlie Wilson's War," and though it's an excellent book, I'm struggling to get the hideous cover out of my brain.

I didn't want to get the movie tie-in version paperback, but I chose convenience and price over aesthetics, and now whenever I pick up the book, I see Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. It looks cheesy, like less of a "real book" somehow, as if there are just 500-some pages of Official Movie Photos inside. It's irrational, I know, but I kind of feel like a rube reading this version. I mean, what's the point of reading a big, important 500-some-page volume about an Important Topic if carrying it around makes you look like a rube?

It's really not even an artfully composed photo cover. I believe the shot of Hanks and Roberts gazing meaningfully at each other is taken from the film, but in between the two of them is Hoffman's mug, peeking his head into the frame as if to say, "Hey, are we planning Charlie Wilson's war now?" Considering Hoffman's character, Gust, is a central figure in the book and one of its primary sources, I guess I should be glad that someone at least insisted he be on the front somewhere. But cramming him in between the A-listers makes him look ridiculous.

Fortunately, the text itself is so good I'm able to get past my qualms about the idiotic cover. But can you all see the same? If you see me walking around with "Charlie Wilson's War" in my hand, remember, I'm actually reading this book, and it has a lot of words in it. I wanted the more generic-looking original paperback. Please don't think I'm a rube.

State of the Show: Lost

I know there are still plenty of unsolved mysteries left in this series, but this past season answered so many that I don't really care about the rest.

Oh, I'll be watching next year, and I anticipate some more twists and turns, but in a sense, it's all anticlimax at this point, isn't it? I don't know that there's any way they can top the flash-forward that blew all our minds when first unveiled, and now that we're "caught up," I'm not as intrigued by anything else. But this is a good thing.

You see, while there are many more questions the writers can answer, I don't think they need to. I don't really care so much about the Dharma Initiative and Hanso and all that stuff. It would be nice to have that explained, but I won't tear my hair out waiting for it. The thing I liked best about "Lost" from the beginning was the human interactions among crash survivors in a desperate situation, not the sci-fi or mystery elements. I would have welcomed more focus on the sociological element and less on the show's mythology these past seasons. Now, some interesting dilemmas were raised and resolved, and I enjoyed most of this past season.

But my hope as "Lost" goes forward is that the creative team stops focusing on "Why?" and starts just showing us some more "What." As an example, we apparently know Sun hates Jack and why. OK, that's pretty cool. Show me what happens now. It's been set up. Let's run with it. I don't want a lot of flashbacks at this point. If you want to tell the story of what happens on the island while the Oceanic 6 are gone, fine. But I don't need to keep plunging into the character's distant pasts.

My point is that there is plenty here to work with and material for all sorts of compelling stories. Unfortunately, I fear that the show's producers can be a little too infatuated with their own mythology, or that they think the public demands more and more twists and oddball tangents. I believe it would be a mistake to try and top the flash-forward finale that so shook up the structure of the series two seasons ago. Next year, I'd like to see maybe two tracks: the Oceanic Six returning to the island and life on the island. Period. Fill in a few details where necessary here and there, but keep the focus on clear storytelling using these elements that have already been developed. I like some of the characters and am tired of some others, but the fact is there are enough that the audience cares about one way or another to go forward and continue to tell their stories in a straightforward manner.

The powers that be might be afraid people would complain that a more direct, less mystery-oriented show wouldn't be "Lost," and for many fans, I guess it wouldn't be. But it could be excellent.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

On the Radio: What is Life

The True Oldies radio channel impressed me the other day, or the disc jockey on duty did, or however you want to look at it. It started with a heinous flub but ended up inspiring a lot of goodwill in this listener.

George Harrison's "What Is Life" from his classic "All Things Must Pass" album started playing, and the awesome funky guitar filled my car. Life was good, that's what it was.

Then, as Harrison's vocal began, a station ID started playing concurrently, totally killing my buzz and wrecking the song. The brilliance of that cool opening was wasted because of this screw-up.

Fortunately, someone caught the error, and here's what impressed me. In most of these cases, someone just flicks the appropriate switch, the superfluous promo stops, and the song goes on. Not this time. Whoever took control here stopped the ID and then started the whole song over from the beginning.

That great opening once again filled my car, and this time, the vocals came in unimpeded. I enjoyed the song in all its glory. Life was good again.

Whoever had the good sense to just start the song over, I thank you. You done good--even if it was you who botched it in the first place.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Journey Into DVD: Trouble Man (1972)

The passing of a human being often makes us take stock of our lives and reassess the way in which we interact with the world. It also makes us reassess our Netflix queues. So it is that when Ivan Dixon died recently, I bumped up one of his directorial efforts, "Trouble Man." After seeing this 1972 Blaxploitation flick on DVD, I can only say I wish it hadn't took someone dying to get me to see this. It's a great way to spend 100 minutes and any fan of the genre needs to check it out. Dig?

Here are just a few of the reasons why I so enjoyed this Journey Into DVD:

*Mr. T: No, not the "I pity the fool" eighties icon, but a more stoic version. Robert Hooks may not have as much natural charisma as the former B.A. Baracus, but his urban icon gets things done in his own neighborhood and is just as powerful.

*Vintage old-school Coke machine: T's informal clubhouse, a local pool hall, prominently features

*Familiar Faces: Seeing African-American vets like Julius Harris (great here as a gangster known as "big) and Paul Winfield is a pleasure, but the real kick is seeing Ralph Waite as the requisite Sleazy White Guy. I didn't know the Walton family patriarch could do sleaze so well in the early seventies. Have I lived a sheltered life?

*Mr. T is not omnipotent: Our protagonist doesn't always know everything that's going on. He's a sharp cat, no doubt, but he misses some things and takes his lumps as a result. Sure, it's fun to see the all-knowing kind of hero tear through all his problems in 90 minutes, but T takes some time to get there.

*The white cop isn't a total idiot: Many films in this genre feature white cops who are buffoons if not corrupt. I'm glad to see Dixon's movie gives us a more well-rounded portrait of humanity--not because I'm white and I resent seeing Caucasian buffoons, but because it's less cliched.

*The old ultra-violence: Hey, we have Mr. T getting caught up in some shady goings-on between some rough gangsters. Yes, there is going to be violence, and that includes hand-to-hand combat and even a little gunplay. Sometimes the climactic action showdowns in these down-and-dirty flicks can get dull, but this is really well executed and fun to watch.

*Fine use of the "f" word: No, the "f" word isn't a substitute for clever, intelligent dialogue. But sometimes it IS clever, intelligent dialogue in itself, as is the case here.

*Marvin Gaye's score: Aficionados may prefer the ballyhooed work Curtis Mayfield did for "Superfly," but I think Gaye's soundtrack is more entertaining.

*A cool trailer: Watch this after the movie (so as not to reveal too much beforehand) and see if it doesn't make you want to watch it again. Or if you're still not convinced, check it out now on YouTube. If this doesn't interest you, nothing will. I assure you that in this case, the actual movie does live up to its trailer.

"Trouble Man" deserves a spot alongside the more famous "Shaft," "Foxy Brown," etc. I want to check out more of Dixon's work now.

WGN goes retro

Superstation WGN is rebranding itself, calling itself WGN America and introducing a creepy new logo which it unfortunately insists on plastering on its programming.

The logo is the bad news. The good news is that as part of the revamp, the network apparently is willing to move away every now and then from its lineup of "Nash Bridges" and "America's Funniest Videos." Most exciting to me is its experimentation with "Outta Sight Retro Nights."

A few weeks ago, WGN presented 1970s week, with each night's primetime lineup featuring a 4-episode mini-marathon of a different sitcom. Casey Kasem did voice-over duties as the week's host, and little trivia tidbits popped up every now and then. Overall, it was a fun week, with the presentation surprisingly unobnoxious. Those trivia tidbits weren't too meddlesome, and the commercial interruption wasn't excessive by today's standards. Of course, I'm used to TV Land, which has become insufferable in its treatment of its reruns, so just about anything might resemble paradise by comparison.

I hope the stunt scored decent ratings because it would be cool to see shows like "Taxi" return to WGN in the future. Even as an occasional feature, it's a refreshing change in a television environment increasingly inclined to shun the older stuff. Even TV Land is phasing out older stuff and imposing "modern classics" like "Just Shoot Me."

Perhaps even better, every Sunday night, WGN goes retro with a lineup of "WKRP," "Newhart," and my all-time favorite show, "The Honeymooners." That's right, a national cable television outlet is putting on a black and white show in prime time. Bravo, WGN. I have the 'Mooners on DVD, and part of me would like to see shows not on home video, but I'll never complain when the series gets this kind of exposure. And though I'm lucky enough to get American Life, which has been showing "WKRP" and "Newhart" for months, most people are not, and since only the first seasons of those sitcoms are out on DVD so far, this will be a great chance for a lot of fans to revisit those classics.

It's a small step and by no means the beginning of that alternative to TV Land for which classic TV lovers yearn, but it's something. I look forward to seeing where WGN goes with this, and I hope enough Nielsen families support these retro nights to encourage more of them.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Open Letter to My Daughter

Daughter of mine, you're but two months old now, but when you're old enough to read this, I hope you will heed these words I write to you on this special Father's Day.

Please don't ever watch "The Hills."

In fact, don't watch anything on MTV.

And VH-1. Please don't watch VH-1, either.

You know what? Let's throw BET in there, too. Stay away from that one.

By the time you're reading this, we might have to forget about CMT as well. I'll keep an eye on that.

If VH-1 Classic is still showing videos at that point, feel free to check those out.

I don't want to be one of those overprotective parents who are always trying to monitor every little thing their children read, listen to, or watch. Except in this case. Yeah, do me a favor and stay away from MTV and its ilk. Thanks, sweetie.

--Love, Dad

This Week in DVD

The Fugitive Season 2 Vol. 1 and The Odd Couple Season 4: Sigh. I wrote about these releases the other day. What's really sad is that after the first season of Fuge, I think we all thought that, minor alterations notwithstanding, this was one classic that was on the "safe" list, a series that could be pre-ordered, not one for which you had to wait and check the reviews to make sure it wasn't screwed up. It's getting so that no series is on that list anymore.

The Bucket List: Here's what's on Jack Nicholson's Bucket List:
1) See the Lakers win another championship, baby.
2) Hang out with hot broads whenever possible.
3) Make as much money as I can before the end, even if it means starring in crap like "The Bucket List."

Jumper: After I saw "Go," I was determined to check out whatever Doug Liman directed in the future. Boy, has that determination waned. First "Mr. and Mrs. Smith," now this. Worst of all, each time I see this title in print, that irritating Third Eye Blind song jumps into my head.

High Noon Collector's Edition: I'm not sure this new version is a worthy upgrade over the previous one. There is an improved transfer and one significant new extra, a 50-minute documentary sounds impressive. If you don't already own this one, though, you need to get this. "Do not forsake me, no, my darling..." Hey, cool, Third Eye Blind is outta my head now.

The Rock: The WWE pays tribute to a legendary performer who was truly unique in the industry. He was unique because he managed to get out of the business without meeting a tragic end, destroying his body long-term, or ruining all of his future prospects.

Icons of Adventure: I'll level with you. I knew nothing about the 4 Hammer flicks included in this set, but it's the kind of thing I love to see the big studios doing: Relatively obscure movies packaged just because, with maybe some extras, and given a spot on the release schedule. So if you're at all interested in these DVDs (and here's an excellent review at DVD Savant to help you decide), do yourself and other like-minded individuals a favor and snap this up so that more are prepared.

What's Happening The Complete Series: I have to mention this because Sony's attempt at repackaging of the already-released season sets into one set should be called a DEpackaging. They crammed all the discs onto a spindle. That approach might work for no-frills bootleg sets, but come on. It's so cheap that even TV Shows on DVD called Sony out for this.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Meet the new BBC America--Same as the old BBC America

Hey, guess what BBC America is showing on Friday nights as part of its comedy block? "Monty Python's Flying Circus." Now, I'm not one to complain about anybody running that one, least of all the American Beeb, but what confuses me is that when Garth Ancier took over the network some time ago, he made a big deal out of getting rid of old evergreens like "Benny Hill."

The schedule revamp that was supposed to energize the little-seen cable channel led us to where we are today, with a handful of interesting series surrounded by a bunch of crappy reality shows. So basically BBC America got rid of some of the old reruns so they could play "How Clean Is Your House" and the like into the ground.

Now it's Python again. All well and good, but where are the exciting modern imports? BBC America rarely bring us anything new, and when they do, good luck hearing about it unless it's "Robin Hood" or "Doctor Who"-related. So when the American Beeb trumpeted this acquisition in a press release, it was kind of a head scratcher.

Just what is this channel doing?

I'll tell you what, though, if they want to put on this, "Are You Being Served?" "Benny Hill," and shows like that all day, I'll certainly take that over what they're trotting out now.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Should You Watch: Swingtown

At first, I assumed CBS thought its new period drama about partner-swapping couples in the seventies was pretty edgy. But now I think it thought it was pretty dull and just burned it off in the Summer, where the usual chorus of morality watchdogs might pay less attention. You know what? CBS was right. I don't see how this premise could sustain itself over a whole season. After all, the main couples got into the sack together at the end of the very first episode.

Maybe if this were on pay cable and had some actual nudity instead of just tight closeups spotlighting someone's face in the middle of what is supposed to be an orgy, someone could get excited about this. As it is, there's not much to see here, folks, though the cast is pretty good and gamely tries to make it work. "Period detail" apparently means playing the same overplayed radio songs we've heard for the last 30 years. Didn't swingers have a more varied record collection?

You should watch "Swingtown" if:

*You never saw "The Ice Storm"...or any other movie that depicted suburbia in the 1970s.
*You don't have a classic rock radio station in your area.
*You're intrigued by the idea of Jack Davenport losing his English accent.
*You're just flat-out nostalgic for the Bicenntennial.
*You're nostalgic for recreational drugs.
*You think, hey, it's about damn time Grant Show had another hit show.
*You're monitoring it for a right-wing media watchdog.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Fugitive: The Day the Music Stopped

The highlights of my This Week in DVD post this week would surely have been a pair of classic TV sets from Paramount: The Odd Couple Season 4 and The Fugitive Season 2 Volume 1. Unfortunately, as fans received their copies, word trickled out about the dreaded music replacement that plagues both collections.

Now, "The Odd Couple" set is riddled with music substitutions, many of them seemingly trivial enough that you wonder if Paramount is even trying to clear them--snippets of a popular song or a note or two of music. Yet on balance, it's great having the show in more complete form, at least, than the terrible syndication edits that dominated TV for 30-some years.

But "The Fugitive"--hoo, boy, this is another matter entirely, as for some as-yet unknown reason, the folks at CBS-Paramount removed the entire original musical score from each episode. This is, to my knowledge, unprecedented and quite possibly unnecessary. Fans are understandably outraged, but right now it's tough to figure out what happened here. In the tight-lipped world of TV on DVD, information is hard to get from official sources, and we may not know for a long time. Here's an emotional thread at the Home Theater Forum devoted to this topic.

What we DO know, however, is how Paramount handled this. See, these folks didn't JUST remove the original music score. They commissioned someone to do a new score and then, instead of calling attention to this and alerting consumers about this radical change, they snuck in an altered title card in the end credits with the new composer's name casually arranged with several other legit people who originally worked on the show. This underhanded bit of chicanery is perhaps more disturbing than the decision to redo the music.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens all the time in the industry, though probably not on this scale with one of the most respected TV series in history (let alone one for which the musical score is considered so vital). Consumers accept this, the mainstream media accepts it, and even many hardcore DVD reviewers and reporters accept it. TV, even classic TV, is still treated as inferior if it's even considered at all. It's an afterthought, a time waster, and apparently not worthy of the kind of attention and PROTECTION given classic films.

Therefore we see classic shows butchered time and again for reruns, with each new cycle bringing more cuts to get those extra ads in. At least when a channel like AMC or TNT butchers a movie, they tell you about it before they air it. There is no such disclaimer before, say, TV Land shows an episode of something that's been whittled to 22 minutes from 25.

Classic TV--or let's say vintage TV--needs an advocate like a Martin Scorcese, someone high-profile enough to call attention to the fact that our TV history is being shredded. If we can't get cable networks to show uncut episodes whenever possible, for crying out loud, can't we at least get the DVDs right?

I realize that it's difficult to deal with music publishers and the lawyers and such who angle to get a piece of the pie and see old TV shows as a way to make a buck. But if something like that is going on, especially if it's forcing a radical alteration such as what is happening with "The Fugitive," let us know about it. Be honest and upfront. Maybe reassure us there are still archival copies of the original versions that can be made available someday, somewhere for viewing.

Paramount didn't go that route, instead choosing to hack up a show that was mostly UNhacked in its first two official DVD releases. Fans are shocked to see that suddenly, beginning with Season 2, their program of choice is not what they remember. So instead of being given the info ahead of time and making a decision accordingly, they're returning those sets, most likely with angry notes attached.

It's a terrible mess that further illustrates the appalling lack of respect given television of any kind--even quality television--in this media landscape. Just because something was made for commercial purposes doesn't mean it is without artistic merit. Movies may not have been made to sell soap, but they were made to sell tickets. Yet there are advocates who prevent this kind of shady dealing from going down, or at least force it to be corrected when it DOES go down. I'd like to see television get the same kind of advocacy from consumers, mainstream media, and popular DVD websites that might be able to influence studios like Paramount.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Cultureshark Remembers Earle Hagen

I'm embarrassed to say I don't really remember Earle Hagen; in fact, I had no idea that the man who created the memorable theme songs for "The Andy Griffith Show" and "The Dick Van Dyke Show" also composed plenty of other notable TV tunes as well as working on a host of classic movies. I mean, man, what an amazing career Hagen had, and it's a shame that it takes reading his obituary for many of us to realize it.

I sure do remember some of his work, though, especially that "Andy Griffith" theme. I don't know if there's an opening tune more suitable for what follows than that one. I find out now that it was actually Hagen whistling it, too, so there you go--another accomplishment for the man.

That show is so linked with the song that it's bizarre to see them separated. A few years back, my mother bought a cheapo multi-disc set of episodes that apparently lapsed into public domain. One night my parents opened the box, put in a disc, started an episode, and laughed their asses off. Unfortunately, they were laughing because whoever put these prints together had removed the classic theme--you know, the right one--and replaced it with a laughable pastiche. There was a guy whistling, and it was a jaunty tune, but it was clearly recorded 40 years after the footage of Andy and Opie goin' fishin', and it was absurd.

My dad called me up and played it for me over the phone because it was so bad. As a casual watcher of the series, I always found it more of a chuckle show than a LOL show--no disrespect intended, fans--but I certainly laughed long and hard at this new version. I mean, whoever composed the ripoff tried and all, but the result was just too ridiculous for words. Part of the problem, though, was that "Andy Griffith" is unthinkable without that song. Any replacement would throw off a viewer.

Speaking of pastiche, when my wife and I upgraded our cell phones a few months ago, she selected a default ringtone that certainly suggests a certain beloved TV theme song. It's not the same key, it's much slower, and the melody is different. Really, the only thing that reminds me of "Andy" is the breezy whistling. BUT THAT'S ENOUGH. See, that is how recognizable and enduring Hagen's composition is. The mere suggestion of a man whistling in a certain manner is enough to summon memories of the show. What better standard can there be for a theme?

Monday, June 9, 2008

On the Radio: Fooled Around and Fell In Love

Just heard this Elvin Bishop classic on the radio today. I'd say it's a perfect song for driving around on a hot summer day (it's not technically summer, I know, but when it's 90s and humid, it's summer enough for me), but really any great song does the job in that situation. Well, maybe not "At Last" by Etta James, for one, but most great songs.

Paul Thomas Anderson used "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" to such excellent effect in "Boogie Nights" that the potential was there for the song to become forever intertwined with the hapless Little Bill and his marital woes (I won't describe the scenario any further, but certain images will come to mind if you saw the movie). Yet Bishop's wistful ballad is so good, it transcends that association, and now I can hear it without getting those images in my own mind.

I believe it's one of the best songs of the seventies and it maintains a special place on my list of "Yes! Radio Songs." Yes! Radio Songs are songs I love hearing on the FM dial because I don't own them. It's still a treat to hear them. I suppose in this day of music on demand and mp3 libraries, the concept has lost some of its power, but for me the Yes! Radio Song is still a potent force.
The Yes! Radio Song is not to be confused, of course, with Radio Songs by the Band Yes. I have my own special name for those: Dial Changers. Hmm. Maybe I should call the ones I like Right On! Radio Songs or Yippee! Radio Songs.

I could go on about the virtues of this tune, like the outstanding hook that gets you right off the top or the guitar break in the middle, but perhaps the most fascinating aspect of "Fooled Around" is the vocal performance. Many assume that Bishop sings it since his name is on the record, but it's actually Mickey Thomas who turns in this memorable vocal. It's a performance that, to my ear, can really be called "soulful."

Now, if there is ever an official list of the Top 50 Tools in Rock History (and I won't be surprised if this list shows up in "Blender" next month), Mickey Thomas will likely earn a high spot by virtue of his work in Starship. But I'm here to say that I love his effort on "Fooled Around and Fell in Love." I think he sings the hell out of it, and this record wouldn't be the same without his indelible vocals. Just listen to the cover version Rod Stewart released a few years ago. Now, there are more problems with the remake besides just the lead singer, but Stewart's take is just awful compared to the original.

So I say cut Mickey Thomas a break. Don't let "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" sully the man's whole career. Really, though, hearing him on this makes me wonder how great a career Thomas could have had had he followed a different path and recorded some better material.

Cultureshark Cares

Because Cultureshark Cares, I want to let you folks know that at, the 50th Anniversary "Sgt. Bilko" show DVD set is on sale for 19.95. I get squat if you go buy it from there, so I'm not gonna bother linking to it, but go buy it anyway if you don't have it. It's a great show, the extras are cool, and if we get a nice big rush on this item, maybe Paramount will see the (green)light and produce the season sets this classic sitcom deserves.

But really, this is a great show at a fair price. Get 'em as Father's Day presents! Get 'em for yourself! You'll be glad you did.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by Cultureshark. Cultureshark Cares.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

This Week in DVD

Mannix Season One: This is a real treat. The Mike Connors detective show itself hasn't been widely seen since the early days of TV Land, but the first season, from what I've read, has rarely been syndicated anywhere, and it offers a different slant than what followed. Paramount gives it to the fans with the whole season in one set and even--gasp--some extras. My most memorable "Mannix" moment thus far is when my uncle proudly showed off his new ringtone--the show's theme song--a few Christmases ago, but I'm looking forward to checking this out.

Get Smart: The Complete Series: What? The classic Don Adams spy comedy, a Time-Life exclusive for several years now, is finally available from retail outlets everywhere? Nope, sorry, this is the remake. From the nineties. Starring Andy Dick. Where are those Mannix DVDs?

Dirty Harry Collector's Set: I think the only one I need to own is the original, thank you, and I probably won't be upgrading. But it's cool that WB is putting some effort into the set...and making fans buy the movies all over again.

Semi-Pro: Will Farrell does it again. And judging from the trailers, I mean that literally, as he seems to be making the same not-that-great movie each time out now.

Flawless: CAINE. MOORE. Need we say anything else?

Rescue Me Season 4: I think I'm gonna let this set stay on the store shelves and instead focus on hoping season 5 puts the show back in top form.

The Onion Movie: Wha? "The Onion" made a movie? Apparently, they did. I had no idea. I still have no idea whether or not their brand of humor can make the transition from print.

Stump the Band: Here's another movie about which I haven't a clue. But I do know it stars Danny Cooksey, AKA Sam from "Diff'rent Strokes." Score!

Slew of Paramount catalog titles: In an arrangement that looks like a good deal for fans of lesser-known catalog movies, Paramount is licensing many of its titles to a company called Legend. Several are out this week, including Tony Curtis as "Houdini," the controversial "Mandingo" and the Henry Winkler wrestling movie "The One and Only." I applaud anything that gets more movies out there for those that are interested. Paramount isn't doing much else with its film library, so this is a great thing.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Journey Into DVD: Justice League: The New Frontier

If you compare this animated adaptation of Darwyn Cooke's recent comic book miniseries to the source material, well, you might be a little disappointed. But if you compare it to the last direct to DVD DC Comics feature, "Superman: Doomsday," then you will likely appreciate just how good this is in its own right.

There is just no way a 70-75-minute movie can have the richness and depth a multi-issue comic book can, and indeed, whole subplots and characters were eliminated in the process of bringing that great work to the screen. The first time I watched the movie, I had a small but nagging sense of "Is that IT?" I enjoyed it, but it seemed like something was missing, and what should have been a far more emotional climax didn't feel as EARNED as it should have been. However, on a second sort-of viewing (while mainly listening to a commentary track), I was more impressed by what this version was as opposed to what it was not.

The story is comic writer/artist Darwyn Cooke's love letter to the Silver Age, and if you appreciate that term, than this movie is for you. If you don't, well, I'll say we're talking late 50s/early 60s here, and Cooke's series reinterpreted the iconic characters of the DC universe to fit the era's sensibility. There's a great documentary on the disc that explains it all, but this isn't so much a Justice League story per se as a tale about superheroes and "ordinary" heroes alike coming together and overcoming internal conflicts to face an external threat.

Cooke's comic is a must-read, and the filmmakers did a good job of preserving a lot of the political and sociological ideas that made that story so cool. The character design, the details of things like costumes and set design, and the ideas at work all combine to provide a vivid evocation of the Cold War era. As a result, this movie works on several levels but never fails to provide entertainment and some good old-fashioned superhero action.

It's a lot of fun to see these versions of The Flash, Green Lantern, and the Martian Manhunter come into their own. The voice work, unlike in "Superman: Doomsday," is across-the-board excellent, with Neil Patrick Harris' Flash and Kyle McLachlan's Superman standing out. There is humor, emotion, and, oh, yes, some startling violence. Be forewarned, this isn't a kiddie-level cartoon. As the cover proudly proclaims, it's DC's first PG-13 animated feature, and it earns the rating from the beginning with an early jolting moment.

The 2-disc DVD set is filled out with some cool extras, including commentaries by the filmmakers and by Cooke. Adding value are 4 episodes of the excellent "Justice League" animated TV series. Best of all, though, is a 40-minute documentary on Disc 1 that ties together, with brilliant insight and clarity, the history of the Justice League and the so-called Silver Age (a time period in the comics industry which is loosely defined, often depending on who you're talking to) while putting it all into context of the changing times and history of this nation. To its credit, the featurette even discusses Marvel Comics while providing a well-rounded picture with many different voices. This well-produced extra is worth a look even for diehard comic fans who know the history of the hobby.

There is also a lengthy featurette on the villains of the DC Universe, and while it took 30 minutes for them to get to the New Frontier specifically, I still enjoyed it.

In short, if you loved the comic, you should enjoy this adaptation, even if it isn't the home run the source material is, and the extras make the DVD a great buy. Even non-readers who appreciate the adult sensibilities of recent DC Animated efforts like "Justice League" will like this 2-disc set.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Cultureshark Remembers Sydney Pollack

By now, you've had ample time to read about the directing career of the late Sydney Pollack, but for me this guy was all about the acting in recent years. He did helm some interesting films and helped shepherd more as a producer, of course, and I will say that it's a shame much of his early work in TV is trapped in the vaults somewhere. I mean, I'd love to see some "Ben Casey" or "Chrysler Theatre," period, let alone the ones he directed.

Also, I want to give a heads-up that his "Essentials" intros for TCM are available on the network's website. I thought Pollack gave the right combination of enthusiasm and erudition while presenting those oft-seen classics, and it's nice to see TCM making the clips available for us.

But let me get back to the acting career of Sydney Pollack, which really seemed to take off in recent years. My friend Mike and I laughed heartily at a review that singled out his "typically oily" turn in one movie, and indeed, the man seemed to have a knack for playing scoundrels of a certain type--no-nonsense guys who had all the cards and weren't shy about letting you know that they did. In fact, right after the death was announced, I checked out the filmography page at IMDB and saw that several posts down on the message board was this subject heading: "How come he always plays a bastard?"

I became a devoted enthusiast of Sydney Pollack on the big screen, giving some mild cheers and pumping my fist at a movie theater when he appeared in the trailer for an upcoming movie. Ever since I enjoyed him in "Changing Lanes," I talked him up and developed a theory that no modern movie could not be improved by an appearance from Sydney Pollack. Mike and I have exchanged many yuks over this sort of thing, enjoying our ironic appreciation of this director with the apparently fruitful actor-for-hire sideline.

Only it wasn't ironic! Pollack really was fun to watch, so much so that he almost tempted me to watch "Will & Grace" to see him. Just look at last year's "Michael Clayton" and remember that in a smart thriller with some real powerhouses in the cast, he arguably stole the movie.

Hollywood is a poorer place without Sydney Pollack's reliable oily bastard character. He will be missed.

Crummy Movie Cavalcade: Made of Honor

True believers, you may have worried that the summer edition of the Crummy Movie Cavalcade had already gone kaput, that New Coke was threatening to pull its sponsorship after seeing but one movie featured as yet. But don't worry! A cavalcade is relentless. It rolls on even as my attention shifts elsewhere. Let's see if we can catch up with it today as we look at...


The use of all-caps for the title is appropriate because if you're looking for a reason to dislike this movie, look no further than the groaner it goes by. I would argue that few movies have blatant puns in their titles, and none of them stars Patrick Dempsey.

So McDreamy (sorry, that's the only time I'll write that, and rest assured it's meant to be mocking) plays a man whose best friend is getting married. This friend asks him to be her bridesmaid, and he says, "What the heck," but then decides to sabotage it because he really loves her.

The idea of a man being a bridesmaid is good for at least a dozen cheap laughs right off the bat, and I'm sure that's what whoever greenlit this was thinking. "It practically writes itself," must have been the pitch. I wish it would watch itself, because I have the sneaking suspicion that when this one comes to DVD, my wife will be asking me to rent it. Oh, we may have dodged the theatrical bullet, but this one will be out on home video sure enough, no doubt in time for at least part of the fall wedding season.

You might be asking what the harm is if some studio wants to rip off "My Best Friend's Wedding" and maybe get the "Grey's Anatomy" crowd to pay to see Dempsey on a big screen. Then you might be a woman. Ladies, I don't begrudge you your interest in--

Wait, that's not true. OF COURSE I begrudge you your interest in him. I always thought Patrick Dempsey was a scrub, and I thought after his mini-heyday in the 1980s, he was off to transition into writing or directing or signing autographs at car shows. But no, he came back and became one of the "Sexiest Men Alive" again, and now he's all over the place.

As long as he's confined to television, I can live with it. I can slide into another room when my wife watches "Grey's" or ignore it on our DVR. But something about the phrase "Patrick Dempsey: Movie Star" makes me fear the apocalypse is imminent.

Thankfully, it doesn't appear to be the case. He may well be a decent enough guy, and he seems to have taken his career renaissance in good stride, but he's probably hit his peak. Notwithstanding his role in "Enchanted," he's a TV star, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Just don't push too many feature films with him carrying the load, let alone ones that think it'd be funny to have him be the maid of honor at a wedding. I could gripe about that premise a bit more, but I've used enough space complaining about Patrick Dempsey. So I'll just remind everyone--you, too, motion picture studios--that the man is not a movie star, and nor will he be, unless he gets lucky and finds himself cast in a "Sex and the City" film.

Huh. Did somebody mention "Sex and the City"? I did? Me? You don't suppose that one could be part of this cavalcade, do you? Mmm...could be...

Sunday, June 1, 2008

He ain't heavy, he's my brutha!

I learned something after making Thursday's post, in which I wished that "Lost" would give Desmond the boot. I learned that Desmond is one heckuva popular character. After getting some good-natured responses that showed the amount of love fans have for the guy, I did some searching and found various online shrines, societies, and tribute clips. I had no idea.

I haven't changed my stance, but I must admit that seeing all his "brutha" utterances in one dose (see here) gave me the best laugh I've had all week. It's a truly awesome piece of editing someone did there. I don't regret having my take, but I almost regret sharing it. After all, it looks like thousands of fans have already analyzed every aspect of the character many times over. I must be years late to the party in ripping him for saying "brutha" so often. I can only hope that I'm the first person online to lament not being able to call the family cat "brutha" because his wife thinks he's mocking Desmond--and not just because she likes Desmond, but because he's already abused the joke (OK, I admit it).

The title of this post must have been used dozen of times already. My backup was, "Brutha, can you spare a post?" but I went ahead with the Hollies allusion. If I'm late to the party there, too, so be it.

I also learned that if you want feedback in the blogosphere, you really do have to go negative. I mean, I really respect the commitment and passion people have for Desmond, and for "Lost," for that matter. I'd personally rather see that kind of passion for other people I wrote about recently, like Guy Kibbee or William Bendix, but, hey, there you go.

At any rate, I'm about to do something that violates all known Laws of Blogging. To all those who read my Anti-Desmond rant, whether you commented or just did a read-by...hey, nothing personal. I appreciate the feedback and respect your opinion.

See, I think I'm supposed to parlay a few negative comments, tongue in cheek or no, into some kind of Blog War and build up some notoriety. But nope, it's all in good fun. I must be the lamest blogger in the world--beating dead topics into the ground; referring to my own post a whole THREE DAYS later when the Internet has moved on; and worst of all, maintaining civil relations with readers. But in the words of Billy Joel in "Goodnight, Saigon, " "And we held onto each other, like brother to brother."

I don't know the exact relevance of that line, but it has the word "brother" in it--twice--and it's a fitting tribute to the "Lost" character who is so beloved. In closing, I'll concede two things:

1) Desmond ain't so bad when the writers expand his vocabulary.

2) If, in Thursday's season finale, Desmond had greeted Penelope on the ship with, "I love you, brother," it would have been one of the best moments in the show's history and I would have laughed like hell.