Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Cultureshark remembers Paul Newman

A couple years ago, I was walking with my parents through a grocery store when suddenly my father picked up a bottle of Newman's Own salad dressing, one of the many on which the movie legend had a ridiculous combination of facial hair/headwear/haircut, and said, "Remember when Paul Newman used to be cool?"

We had a good laugh, and I still chuckle thinking about that. It really stinks that Paul Newman is gone, but I don't feel bad about yukking it up as his expense. The point, of course, is that Newman WAS still cool. In fact, his willingness to make an ass of himself and send up his image by letting his mug resemble a bandito or Caesar or whatever sell food was merely more proof how cool he was. He did it for charity, and besides, he didn't care so much about his "persona" that he couldn't have fun with it.

By all accounts, Paul Newman was a great guy--self-effacing, philanthropic, sincere--and that's what I thought about when I heard of his passing. As I started to consider his movie career, I realized that there are a lot of his films I need to see (I was hoping TCM would include "Harper" and "Drowning Pool" in its tribute package, but no such luck; guess I'm hitting Netflix) and that among those I have seen, the star often stands out a lot more than the overall picture.

I don't love "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting," but, man, when you think about big movie STARS of that era, you have to think Newman and Redford--and admire them. Redford, of course, became known for politics and activism, while Newman--though far from apolitical--became known for maintaining a dignified privacy that preserved his aura, not that it needed it, even as his big-screen work became less frequent.

For the record, my favorite Paul Newman movies are "The Hustler" and "Slap Shot." But he's cool in just about everything I see him in, and not straining to be cool, either, just a born movie star. In his later years, he became a sort of Cool Guy Emeritus, instantly classing up pictures like "Road to Perdition" with his presence. He was even pretty damn cool in "Cars," for crying out loud, in which he played a cartoon automobile.

Of course, making that work must have been child's play for a guy who could look cool on a bottle of salad dressing. Except the beret on the french dressing. Not even Paul Newman pulled that one off. But he had other priorities, like family and charity, and he took them a hell of a lot more seriously than he did himself. I think that attitude, not just his incredible acting legacy, is why he's gonna be so missed.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Rethinking the word "urban"

While out of town last weekend, I turned on the tube in our hotel room and discovered WADL-38, a channel that bills itself as "Detroit's Urban Station." What's Happenin' was on, and I stuck around for the end to see what was next at 9:00 P.M.

True, most of the notable African-American sitcoms of the 70s d 80s have been overplayed in recent years. TV Land in particular ran the hell out of "Good Times" and "Sanford and Son." But I was still curious what other vintage programming Detroit's Urban Station offered. Perhaps a relative obscurity like "That's My Mama" was up next, or maybe even a drama like "The Mod Squad."

Well, there was no "next on..." promo, so I waited for the last 5 minutes of Shirley Hemphill until 9:00 came and a new show started. What would it be?

The next program on Detroit's Urban Station was...

"Fantasy Island."

A few minutes into that one, an on-screen graphic informed me the subsequent program would be...

"Magnum P.I."

OK, maybe I jumped the gun a bit in assuming an all-black lineup on this channel, and promos for shows like "The Bonnie Hunt Show" quickly made me realize that I might have read too much into the word "urban." But can you really blame me? I mean, not many outlets still air Rerun and the gang in prime time. It was a big surprise to Mr. Roarke and Tattoo immediately--men with certain exotic appeals, yes, but men on a show that was distinctly, well, white. They even wore white tuxes, for crying out loud.

And of course, "Magnum P.I." continues to belie the "urban" motif at 10:00 P.M. I don't know what WADL shows at 11:00, but "Hawaii Five-0" wouldn't surprise me. Maybe channel 38 is also Detroit's Tropical Station.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

This Week in DVD

Leatherheads: George Clooney brought us old-timey football and old-timey romantic comedy, and we shunned him.

Martini Movies: No, not a series of lost spinoffs featuring Danny DeVito's character from "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," but a marketing hook for Sony as it liberates an assortment of flicks from the archives. I think the connection and the angle is tenuous, but, hey, whatever gets the movies out...I do suspect that the "Martini" aspect is based on the fact that you have to knock down a few before you can enjoy the ugly covers for these.

The Godfather Trilogy: Now on Blu-Ray! Not that I have Blu-Ray, but if you do, you might want to buy these again. Must...avoid..."offer you can't refuse" line...

Run, Fat Boy, Run: Here's the good news: Simon Pegg has a new movie. The bad news: Well, it was directed by David Schwimmer.

You know what, that's unfair. I don't have any reason to think this movie stinks simply because Ross helmed it. I even liked Schwimmer on "Friends"--well, at least I think I did until the last few seasons. I guess I'm just full of anger this week because of the release of a certain TV-to-Feature adaptation, one I won't talk about because it's in the bottom 5 (see the right side of the page).

But, hey, at least there's no "Friends" movie in the works.

Wait, is there?

LA Confidential SE: Every now and then, the DVD Gods reward me for not getting around to picking up a great movie on video. In this case, it's time to upgrade my VHS because this one gets the SE upgrade with new extras. I have no excuse now, unless I want to hold out for the inevitable Ultimate Edition on Photon-Vision or whatever format we're looking at in 2015. It'll look great next to my Godfather Trilogy: Ultimate Ultimate Edition set, I'm sure.

Friday, September 26, 2008

First Impulse: The Emmys

This year, I was out of town during The Emmys and didn't even bother setting the DVR. So I can't comment on the telecast and the ceremony.

Oh, of course I can: The telecast and the ceremony were dull and unappealing, and I feel comfortable saying so even without watching the show.

As for the awards--well, part of the reason I'm uninterested in the broadcast is that the Academy is in a rut of rewarding a lot of shows for which I don't care. Actually, I just plain dislike many of those shows, and unlike the Oscars, the Emmys don't have the kind of overall appeal that make me want to tune in even to see stuff I don't like get shiny trophies.

I'm happy to see the recognition for "John Adams," and Bryan Cranston's win for his entertaining work in "Breaking Bad" is a welcome surprise. Otherwise, many of the big winners leave me cold:

*"30 Rock"--Sorry, not feeling it, and why exactly does the media insist on pushing this when so much of the public has pretty clearly not embraced it? I loved "Arrested Development," but I admitted people weren't watching it. I guess I now know what everyone who didn't watch that show felt.

*"Mad Men"--Possibly worth the hype, but I just haven't seen enough to make the call.

*"Damages"--Nope, not feeling this one.

*"Entourage" and "Samantha Who?"--I just don't find these shows funny.

It's not that I can work up much outrage over these wins, though, because I didn't care for most of the other nominees, either. The fact is, when something as outstanding as "The Wire" gets snubbed each year (Sorry, non-"Wire" watchers, but I gotta say it; maybe THIS is my "30 Rock equivalent"), it lessens the credibility of the process.

Does TV just stink these days? Well, there's a lot of junk, but there's good stuff, too. The problem as I see it is that the Emmys are in a rut of picking favorites early on and then--despite vaunted "changes" in the procedures designed to prevent this--recognizing them over and over again. I bores me, and bringing in 5 reality show hosts to run the ceremony certainly isn't going to inspire me to watch.

So I watched "Dancing With the Stars" this week...

Or more accurately, I half-watched about a half-hour while my wife had it on.

I continue to be puzzled at how America still enjoys this show despite its contrived nature. Come to think of it, maybe that's WHY "Dancing" is so popular--it's utter predictability.

Everything about what I saw seemed phony. Host Tom Bergeron is a decent hand to have around and all, but he unsuccessfully straddles the line between genuine enthusiasm and "I know this is sort of crap."

The judges, sticking to that "American Idol" format that grew old 4 years ago, deliver superfluous commentary built around pre-scripted "quips" and "zingers."

Worst of all, the Stars themselves settle instantly into their roles--The Comedian, The Sex Symbol, The Underdog, etc.--and concentrate more on playing the characters than on being themselves. I thought the whole point of a show like this was to see the stars "being themselves," or at least faking that. Not so here.

So what this all adds up to is a bunch of phonies performing a phony spectacle in a phony setting. Sorry if I sound like Holden Caulfield, but the fakeness of it all riles me. It leads to scenarios like the one I saw Monday night, when Cloris Leachman, determined to play the Sassy Old Broad Who'll Do Anything 'Cause, Well, She's Old, acted so "outrageously" that she stepped on all the judges' bon mots, culminating in Bergeron telling us with a smirk, "And they wonder why I love live television." Everyone involved did their job of pretending this was oh, so wonderful, but it was less spontaneous and wild than sad and annoying. Leachman looked pitiful, the judges looked irrelevant, and Bergeron looked disingenuous.

"Dancing" does have several redeeming qualities. The dancing is sometimes fun to watch, though it seems to me the routines should probably be a little longer to have full impact. One thing that is fun to watch is the women in their skimpy costumes. On this episode I saw, Toni Braxton and Kim Kardishian provided some sex appeal among the Stars, but the real beauty was provided by the pro dancers, who looked great and showed the talent they have at their vocation.

That's not enough for me, though, and while I won't try to convince the rest of America to skip this show, I'm gonna do my best to avoid getting trapped on the couch in the middle of another episode.

Monday, September 22, 2008

From Zeroes to "Heroes"

I don't watch a lot of NBC, but I saw enough of it this summer to be sick of "Heroes" already. I can't blame NBC for trying to exploit the hell out of possibly its only buzzworthy scripted show, but, dang, enough already. At least now it's time for new episodes.

I will be watching the two new hours tonight, but I will not be there for the premiere party or whatever they're calling the clip show that kicks off the night at 8:00. This is how sad NBC is these days: If another network did it, I'd think it was just "leveraging the brand" for maximum profit. In this case, I see a very real possibility that the network simply doesn't have anything better to put on. Better this than "Deal or No Deal: Not a Million Dollar Winner Tonight, But Watch Anyway" or "Dateline: Tragedy," I guess.

I hope to put all this stuff behind me when it's time for the actual season premiere. The show was off last year and made some mistakes, but I think the creative team and executives went overboard in apologizing. I mean, if they keep saying how bad "Heroes" was last year, I'm gonna find it hard to think about much else. If nothing else, the network and the show's staffers are clearly trying very hard, and that should lead to something.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Journey Into DVD: The Boatniks

What would you say if I were to tell you that in 1970 Disney made a wacky comedy featuring a bumbling gang of jewel thieves led by Phil Silvers? And that one of Silver's crew was Norman Fell? And that Wally Cox was on hand as a swinging hedonist?

What? You'd say it sounds like it's not actually anything special, but rather an OK farce with a lame set of romantic leads and a climactic chase scene that goes on way too long?

Wow, you guys are good.

Yeah, "The Boatniks" isn't great. The stars I mentioned are fun to see, but they don't do as much funny stuff as you want them to, and eventually the movie drags. Nothing with Phil Silvers should drag. Robert Morse and Stefanie Powers never win me over, and each scene they share is a scene that could focus on Silvers and Fell, or even Joe E. Ross doing his patented shtick.

Disney shows it doesn't exactly consider "The Boatniks" one of its Treasured Classics, either, releasing this in full-screen format. They at least throw in a trailer and an outtakes reel, though.

The most amusement I got out of this DVD was seeing the struggle between the G rating and the Buena Vista/imprint on one hand the attempt to get some "adult" appeal on the other. In "The Boatniks," this means numerous shots of babes in bikinis and a few risque innuendos here and there. Actually, Don Ameche's Commander Taylor indicates he thinks Morse's character is gay and/or a peeping tom at various points of the movie, and who knows, maybe their patter inspires Norman Fell years later when he goes on to play the immortal Stanley Roper.

The placement of such bits and mature themes that pop up now and then in this setting might make for an interesting story. Perhaps someone who knows a lot about the Disney live-action efforts of this era has told it somewhere. If so, it could well be far more entertaining than "The Boatniks" itself.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Comedy Stylings of Mitchell and Durant

One of the pleasures of Leonard Maltin's "Movie Comedy Teams" is the space given to the more obscure duos and trios, teams previously unknown to me. One such team is Mitchell and Durant. Maltin doesn't linger in his capsule sketch of these two, and it's not hard to see why. He describes their M.O. as basically just coming out and performing their brand of "slapstick," i.e. whaling away on each other for a few minutes, to the extent that everyone who sees the act can talk only about how unpleasant and jarring it is.

But don't take Maltin's word for it. Read these testimonials I gathered in a quick bit of research:

Unfortunately, there's a lot of unfunny comedy relief from a pair of mugging actors who hog altogether too much screen time.

Less welcome are the comic relief efforts of the knockabout clowns Frank Mitchell and Jack Durant, who appeared in various Fox musicals of the period, and have lapsed into deserved obscurity in the generations since. Their shtick, which was mainly comprised of wrestling one another into the scenery at the drop of a hat, makes the Stooges look like Noel Coward, and gets old extremely fast.

Mitchell and Durant play two goofballs that are supposed to be a sort of Laurel and Hardy of the ice delivery world, but manage to not be funny and come across as just annoying.
--a commenter at IMDB

Well, naturally, I had to see these guys myself. How could I resist such a buildup? I rented two of their efforts, an Alice Faye musical and a Shirley Temple vehicle, and after seeing them, all I can say is...

Yeah, these guys are brutal. I just can't add much more to those insightful putdowns.

At least in the Alice Faye movie, "365 Nights in Hollywood," they are given characters to play. They're not great characters, nor are they even particularly likable, but they actually interact with others and advance the plot a little bit. Plus in addition to the terrible slapstick, they get to do terrible impersonations of stars like Cary Grant--you know, personalities who don't make Leonard Maltin reach for his Maalox.

It's "Stand Up and Cheer!" that truly shows off what this comedy team is all about. Warner Baxter plays a Broadway producer given the Presidential directive of FUNNING the country out of that bummer called the Great Depression by putting on a show! The movie itself is not all that special, but it's harmless...until you get to Mitchell and Durant.

No, they don't smack around Shirley Temple, thank goodness, but in their own way they sure as hell "upstage" her as two Senators who enter Baxter's office to--well, damn it, I forget what they were really supposed to be doing because all they did was make some lame verbal repartee and grapple with each other. I guess there's some kind of balletic component to their jousting, but it comes off about as graceful as a sumo match--and not nearly as amusing.

Really, neither I nor the above testimonials can do Mitchell and Durant justice. They're firmly in the "so bad it's good" category, at least to me, but your tolerance for them may be a lot weaker. Me, I'm hoping TCM shows them someday in "The Singing Kid," an Al Jolson picture with Allen Jenkins and Edward Everett Horton; or that Fox Movie Channel runs the wonderfully titled "She Learned About Sailors," another Faye vehicle. I can't resist!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

This Week in DVD

Busby Berkley Collection II: Also known as the Dick Powell Collection. OK, only I know it as that, but you fans of the crooner in his pre-hard-boiled days get a good dose of him here. I don't think hardcore musical fans consider these 4 movies the cream of the crop, but the ones I've seen are enjoyable entertainment, and the set comes with the typical WB assortment of extra goodies.

Charlie Chan Collection V: And I think with this set (which from what I read is a typically excellent presentation of the material), Fox finishes its Chan run, with me several films behind in Netflixing them. Not that they should have waited for me to catch up; I'm just saying.


Speed Racer: Here's why you shouldn't trust me: When I saw this trailer last year, I said, "That movie is gonna be a HUGE hit." Oops.

Smothers Brothers Season 3: The controversial variety show comes to DVD in reverse order, with the last season arriving first. I can't imagine this material has the same impact today, but it's a significant part of TV history, though I sometimes wonder if its importance has been overinflated a bit. At any rate, it might be worth a look-see, and I'm glad its fans have the opportunity to get it.

Chuck Season 1: A solid series that combined action and humor with a likable cast and a fun spirit. This season burned through an awful lot of plot, so hopefully some new twists are in store for season 2. This will likely be a nice show to dip into on DVD if you want to get caught up.

Pushing Daisies Season 1: I keep hearing this is a showcase series for people with high-def, but I have regular old low-def and found it too precious for my tastes.

The Love Guru: Proud participant in the Summer Crummy Movie Cavalcade.

Made of Honor: Ditto.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Crummy Movie Cavalcade: Brendan Fraser Double Feature

Look, I always kind of liked Brendan Fraser, even if I never took him seriously as a movie star, and I even felt sorry for him a few years back when a tabloid printed a picture that appeared to reveal the dude was seriously thinning up on top of the ol' scalp. I don't know why, but I worried about his viability as an action hero when I saw that.

I suppose I would have been more worried had I actually seen his two big summer movies: "Journey to the Center of the Earth" and "The Mummy: We're Back Yet Again." In fact, had I actually seen "Journey," (the movie, not the band), I might have spared it a spot in the Crummy Movie Cavalcade. After all, it was shown in 3-D, and really, if the 3-D is halfway decent in a film, I'm getting at least some kind of entertainment value out of it.

But I avoided it because the more I learned and saw of "Journey," the more I feared the 3 D's stood for "Dumb," "Dull," and "Desultory." Like how I came up with that third one?

Actually, seeing the band Journey in 3-D would likely be more entertaining than yet another take on the evergreen Jules Verne story--but only if it Steve Perry is at the helm, natch. I'd love to see Perry wailing, "ooh, he's touching anotherrrrrrr," in an attempt to sonically bore a passageway to the center of the earth. "Journey to the Center of Earth," however, is likely to simply bore US (Saw that one coming, didn't you? It was nowhere near as clever as "desultory," I'll grant you).

The makers of the flick tried to fool moviegoers by offering the 3-D gimmick and by hoping dedicated "Mummy" fans would get confused and think the third installment in that franchise was hitting theaters early. But what of that "Mummy" sequel? Hasn't the caravan trotted off on that one by now?

I knew this series was sunk as soon as I read that Rachel Weisz was out and a teen sidekick was in. Again, I feel for poor Brendon Fraser. This is not a geriatric Harrison Ford needing a credible young'un on screen to share the stunts. This is a guy not yet out of his 30s (OK, it's close), and the implication that the movie needs some Rick Jones wannabe to suck up to the CW set is offensive enough to keep me far away from this movie. The fact that he's playing Fraser's son doesn't help.

Well, that and the fact that the second movie stunk and I don't have a desire to see another one.

Monday, September 15, 2008

John Ford's The Prisoner of Shark Island

Legendary director John Ford offers something to offend just about everyone in "The Prisoner of Shark Island," his version of the saga of accused Lincoln-assassination conspirator Dr. Samuel Mudd.

*Pretty much all of us can take offense at how Ford romanticizes the Confederacy and the "glorious cause" of the South during the "War Against Northern Aggression."

*Southerners can take offense at how the movie portrays them as sheep who are easily mollified by, say, the mere playing of "Dixie."

*History lovers can take offense at how the picture turns Mudd into an unambiguous hero who never had any connection whatsoever with John Wilkes Booth.

*African-Americans can take offense at the, well, offensive portrayal of blacks throughout the film.

That's a lot of grounds to offend, but despite all this, darned if "Shark Island" isn't entertaining as all get out. Having just seen some of his "Crime Doctor" films last year, I'm amused seeing Warner Baxter in the role of Dr. Mudd. I have to admit Ford's reenactment of the Lincoln assassination is--well, it feels wrong to say it's a kick. So I won't say it.

Flaws and all, it's a compelling movie, and I'm surprised that it's not shown more often given our nation's love of Honest Abe and even our nation's proven fascination with his murder.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Crummy Movie Cavalcade: Meet Dave

You have to give Eddie Murphy credit. Here's a superstar who never does publicity for his movies, delivers a big neutron bomb into theaters every so often, and yet can still draw money and acclaim in the right situation. I think his avoidance of the gruntwork of promoting a film really helped him in the case of "Meet Dave." Honestly, now, do you even remember that "Meet Dave" was an actual film that was released this summer?

Odds are you don't. Fox, seemingly aware of what it had it on its hands, barely put any effort into this one, perhaps trying to pretend it didn't exist. I know my experience went something like this: Forgot Eddie Murphy had a summer movie, saw terrible reviews and pitiful box office performance the weekend it appeared, promptly forgot Eddie Murphy had a summer movie. I had to do about 10 minutes of research just to convince myself "Meet Dave" really happened.

Thank goodness the Summer Movie Cavalcade is around to remind us. You may not see Mr. Murphy himself waving to the crowds as the "Meet Dave" float goes by, but how about Brian Robbins, the film's director? Say hi to the man who has done so much for contemporary cinema since his days on "Head of the Class." As a producer and director, Robbins has given us gems like "Ready to Rumble," "Hardball," and "Norbit."

Hey, who do you think starred in "Norbit"? Yep, Eddie Murphy. Murphy can make money in terrible movies like that one. He can earn award nominations in things like "Dreamgirls." But most importantly, Teflon Eddie can star in stuff like "Pluto Nash," "Holy Man," and, yes, "Meet Dave," and seemingly take little permanent damage.

Notice I'm not really talking about "Meet Dave" itself. Can you blame me for forgetting?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Should You Watch: Do Not Disturb

A sitcom set in a big ol' hotel doesn't sound like a terrible idea, does it? In fact, a sitcom, period, seems pretty nice when compared to so much of the junk that's on the networks' primetime schedules. Unfortunately, when the sitcom is "Do Not Disturb," you get a harsh reminder that, scarce as they are nowadays, the few new comedies that make it to air can be just as junky as anything else that's on.

I wish I could explain the premise of this new series, but the first episode did such a poor job of establishing it, I got nothing. Of course, it's possible that the premise really is just, "People that work in a hotel act all horny all the time and trade innuendo and lame punchlines," because that's what the debut episode (which I don't believe is the actual pilot) gave us. Oh, what a disappointment it is to see Jason Bateman credited as a director for this show.

People like having sex. People that work in a hotel presumably are no less inclined than the general population, maybe even more so (for argument's sake). Showing that in a sitcom is OK--if it's funny.

Would you be surprised at this point to learn "Do Not Disturb" airs on FOX?

You should watch "Do Not Disturb" if...

*You're desperate for new sitcoms, even one that features a punchline ending with, "...when we saw her penis."

*You're a charter member of the Jerry O'Connell Fan Club and a member in good standing of the sub-group of Fans Who Support Television's Constant Effort to Push Jerry O'Connell as a Sex Symbol and Make Us Forget His Role in "Stand By Me."

*You like the idea of a sitcom set in a hotel, just not enough that you expect to see scenes that actually involve hotel business, operations, or situations.

*You hope that Taylor Cole, the actress who played "Tasha" in the first episode, returns (Hey, I'm not made of stone, you know).

*You want to support any comedy that puts gay men in the same ludicrous, contrived situations that heterosexual men usually get into on TV.

*You've been lulled into a Coma of Mediocrity by watching 'Til Death at 9:00 and risk injuring yourself if you move too quickly to turn the channel at 9:30.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This Week in DVD

The Big Lebowski Anniversary Edition: You know how there are certain movies that people will tell you "get better each time you watch them"? Is there such a thing as movies that "get better each time you buy them on DVD"?

Baby Mama: I think this movie teaches us all a lesson. No, it's not, "Don't pay 10 bucks to see SNL castmembers on the big screen," as we should know that by now. The lesson to take is that just because a movie promotes itself with commercials that build up to a lame fart joke doesn't mean the movie isn't really a chick flick at heart.

The Heckler: You mean to tell me Jamie Kennedy made a movie whining about how he gets bad reviews? Forgive me if I'm oversimplifying the premise somewhat, but it seems like that's the gist of why this project was made. I don't blame him for getting his say out there. I might blame you for paying attention, though.

Brian Regan: The Epitome of Hyperbole: Hey, I just saw this on Comedy Central. I don't know that there's all that much more content on the disc, but what I saw on the tube was pretty darned funny.

Fox Horror Classics Volume 2: As with their noir line, movie fans forgive the misleading marketing tag when it means more oldies make it to video. I saw"Chandu the Magician" with Edmund Lowe and Bela Lugosi earlier this year and had a blast. It's like an old comic book movie, with death rays, superpowers, and derring-do. "Dragonwyck" and 'Dr. Renault's Secret" could stink up my Panasonic for all I know, and this affordable 3-disc set with extras would be worth the price. Another nice deal from Fox. I wish they'd bundle their Noir Classics in sets like this.

Forbidden Kingdom: As a fan of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, I have to say that pairing them sounds like a great idea. As a very casual fan of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, I have to say that they could have made a dozen movies together already and I wouldn't know it.

Cool Hand Luke Deluxe Edition: Forgive me, but does it come with a carton of eggs? You know, if this were Paramount, this would have been the "Egg-stra Special Egg-cellent Edition!"

The Life and Times of Mr. Perfect: Having grown up on 1980s AWA and WWF, I have to point out this one, which combines the formula of well-produced, if slanted, documentary and heaping of matches. If this one has all the vignettes that introduced Curt Hennig's "Mr. Perfect" character when he debuted in the WWF, it will make a lot of fans happy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Disturbing "Alfred Hitchcock Presents"

I watched an atypical episode of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" last week, one that was even more chilling than usual--not because of the actual story, but because of Hitch's postgame remarks. In "Never Again," from the second season, the host gives his customary droll intro to the episode, but his wrap-up is anything but customary.

This episode deals with alcoholism, a subject not nearly as commonplace as it is today, when it's not unusual for the lead in a regular series, let alone one person in a guest shot on an anthology, to suffer from the disease. After promising her husband she won't drink, a woman relapses at a party and blacks out. She tells the story as she wakes up in a hospital bed, still woozy from the night before. As she comes to, she learns...well, something horrible.

The ending is grim, even haunting, as many of the twists in "AHP" are. But usually Hitch comes out, makes a wise-ass remark or two, and reaffirms the fun factor of the show. As gripping as some of stories are, it's hard to be truly chilled after seeing the host's end segments, which frequently poke fun at what we just saw.

Not so in "Never Again." This time, instead of joking around, the Master of Suspense says this (I got the exact quote from TV.com) in a tone probably as sincere as I've ever heard him:

Ladies and gentlemen, may I just for this once, depart from our customary epilogue. Tonight we have brought you a drama based on one of Adela Rogers St. John's most powerful stories with the hope that somewhere, somehow, it will help someone.

This departure from the normal routine reinforces the jarring conclusion of the episode, and while that ending on its own terms might seem a little melodramatic, perhaps incredible to today's audiences, it has stuck with me for a few days because of Hitchcock's closing remarks.

To me, it's a great example of how once you establish a successful formula, you can achieve major impact by diverting from it. TV creators realize this today, but in our postmodern world, a lot of times I think we get a more self-conscious effort to break from the formula, or we get shows that are all about breaking formula--not quite the same thing.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Brooks on Books: Movie Comedy Teams

Leonard Maltin did the world a great service when he wrote this book, if only because he included chapters on The Ritz Brothers and Wheeler and Woosley, two screen comedy teams who have become cult favorites in my circle (albeit a small one consisting of myself and my dad). There isn't exactly a Lincoln-size selection of biographical material on them, you know.

But Maltin, noted film lover, historian, and PC-message-deliverer on potentially offensive DVDs, did in fact give them some pub, and though that's the main reason I got "Movie Comedy Teams," there's a lot more to it than that. I may have already read a lot about The Marx Brothers, for example, but the great still photos and Maltin's entertaining writing make their chapter worthwhile.

My particular copy of the book has a pedigree, in fact, coming from the prestigious Rancho Yesteryear collection, and since Ivan was kind enough to give me a tip of the hat when I bought the volume, let me return the favor. (Happy belated birthday, by the way!)
I have the revised and updated 1985 version, and as far as I know it hasn't been redone since. In a way, I'm thankful because I fear today Maltin would feel obligated to do a spotlight on, say, David Spade and Chris Farley.

"Movie Comedy Teams" has a simple format. In each chapter, Maltin picks a team, writes a brief biographical sketch, discusses most of their output (generally in chronological order) with a critical eye, closes off their "story," and then includes a filmography. At the end of the volume is a catch-all section with "Other Teams," spotlighting acts like Brown and Carney who apparently don't warrant a full chapter of their own. Hey, I've seen a few of their movies, and while I could leave out the word "apparently" in the preceding sentence, I sure wouldn't have minded reading more about 'em.

What really distinguishes the book, to my eye, is the analysis of what made the teams funny and why their films worked or didn't work. Maltin certainly doesn't fawn over his subjects. He's not even all that impressed by some of them, and even his favorites, like Laurel and Hardy, receive criticism for their weaker efforts (or at least the producers responsible do).

His plot summaries are not so useful, especially for classic movies we've seen multiple times by now, but you have to keep in mind he wrote this originally in the 1970s, and even by 1985 it wasn't easy to dig up these old films and watch them on demand. Besides, I actually did enjoy some of the plot summaries of lesser-known titles.

There is an infectious enthusiasm for the subject matter throughout, and Maltin does a fine job of getting to the heart of each team's act and what their appeal was. The chapters are insightful but also fun to read. In other words, the dissection of the comedy is not dry and academic, but rather well-reasoned and accessible. But, hey, it's Maltin we're talking about here, not...
uh, some really dense academic film critic. Are there any of those out there anymore?

The writing is not always perfect, and some of the chapters feel a bit rushed--or maybe he just couldn't motivate himself to write more about Wheeler and Woosley. Also, he seems to make a pretty big error in describing the participants of the mirror scene in "Duck Soup," and that makes me wonder about some of the other info in the book. Still, it's a great read and a handy reference, loaded with info and pictures. If you can track down a copy, grab it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

True Confessions: Memoirs on the way

OK, so there's a new celebrity autobiography in the works. Maybe I should write "celebrity" autobiography, though, because the subject is everyone's favorite token-geek-on-insipid-teen-show-turned-cult-favorite-who-then-went-on-to-make-an-ass-of-himself-on-reality-TV, Dustin Diamond, AKA Screech on "Saved by the Bell."

Sounds bad enough, it's touted as a "tell-all." Check out this note from Radar Online:

News from the literary scene! Dustin Diamond, a cast member from the beloved television show Saved by the Bell, has signed a deal to write a memoir: "Behind the Bell," which Gotham Books preempted from Objective Entertainment's Jarred Weisfeld, promises to detail "sexual escapades among cast members, drug use, and hardcore partying."

OK, I confess: I want to read this book. I won't pay for it, mind you, at least not full retail for the hardcover, but I want to read it.

Yes, even if that phrase "cast members" includes Mr. Belding.

OK, especially if that includes Mr. Belding.

Should You Watch: Raising the Bar

Common occurrence these days: New TNT ("We know") drama debuts. I watch it. I am thoroughly unimpressed. The ratings are revealed. The new drama is a big hit. I scratch my head.

Before I tell you who should watch Steven Bochco's new legal show, let me just say this: How in the world can we have gone 60-odd years without a single television program or movie using the title "Raising the Bar"? It's just too awful a pun not to have been used. Somehow, though, Bochco is the first, and I guess in that sense, this series can be called "groundbreaking." But only in that sense.

Oh, the pilot was zippy and had some entertaining moments, but it's central conceit--idealistic young lawyer struggles with an unforgiving judge--was nothing we haven't seen before, and actually Jane Kaczmarek's judge was too villainous to be believable. Plus Mark-Paul Gosselaar's idealistic young lawyer was too, well, Zach, to be believable. And let me tell you, researching and meticulously typing those names is enough work for an entire post, so I'm not gonna bother mentioning the rest of the cast.

I'm not even sure if the show is actually that concerned with that conflict, though. The two big reveals in the pilot were A) someone is sleeping with someone and B) someone else is sleeping with someone else. Oh, I thought to myself, it's one of those legal shows.

You should watch "Raising the Bar" if:

*You assume that somehow, someway, this'll lead to Dennis Franz's return.
*You wear "Bayside High Athletic Department" t-shirts while watching football on Sunday afternoons--and not ironically.
*You're a firm believer in the virtues of nepotism (the pilot was directed by Jesse Bochco, son of Steve).
*You love TV and all, but you keep saying to yourself, "Darn it, there just aren't enough legal shows on these days."
*You just love that title.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

27 Dresses Winners/Losers

Mrs. Shark and I watched the fluffy Katherine Heigl romantic comedy "27 Dresses." The flick is OK, nothing special. Let's do something different--well, different for this blog, not different for mankind. The concept is actually pretty hackneyed now that I think about it. Hmm. Well, I'm kind of committed now, huh? Here is my list of winners and losers from the movie:

WINNER: Ed Burns
--By far the biggest single winner as a result of "27 Dresses" is this man. I hope he gave his agent an extra commission for getting him into this one. First off, the character Burns plays is an absolute saint. He's the world's most understanding boss, he's good with kids and animals, he's socially conscious, and when Heigl's character wrecks a big event in his life, he handles it with amazing class.

Oh, yeah, plus 40-year-old Burns is drooled over by 29-year-old Heigl and Malin Ackerman. Normally, to get a role like this, all Burns has to do is write and direct the whole freaking thing himself. This time, though, he just sits back and smiles and lets the screenplay make him the most Charming Guy Ever. Bravo, Ed Burns. Bravo.

LOSER: Malin Ackerman
--I'm hesitant to be too harsh on her, as I'm pretty sure she was directed into playing her part as a charmless, selfish Cameron Diaz wannabe. But, wow, even as a foil for our heroine (Heigl, of course), Ackerman's character is hard to take. See, she's the heroine's sister, and she winds up taking the guy Heigl loves (and that's Burns--see what I mean about him?). So we're supposed to root against her, but I think we're also supposed to kind of feel sorry for her by the end of the movie. Problem is, this performance is so unappealing, that turnaround doesn't work. Cameron Diaz should be offended. At least she should hope nobody thinks this is actually her.

WINNER: Judy Greer
--It's almost automatic that Greer shows up in one of these underwritten best friend roles, scores in all of her scenes, and leaves you wanting more.

WINNERS/LOSERS: Katherine Heigl and James Marsden
--The good news is, they got through a major motion picture and showed adequate chemistry and didn't embarrass themselves. But it remains to be seen if Heigl can really carry a movie.

As for Marsden, this guy has put together a hell of a resume. Can you believe he's been in romantic comedies, X-Men movies and a Superman movie in the last few years? And he was in "Enchanted." That's a lot of box office. Problem is, it IS hard to believe that he was in all those because you barely remember he was.

LOSERS: Music lovers
--It's no surprise that a conventional romantic comedy like this would feature a scene in which the two stars butcher an overplayed pop song. It's not even a surprise that it would be "Bennie and the Jets." Still, the sheer awfulness of the Heigl-Marsden duet manages to surprise. Remember when I said they got through the movie without embarrassing themselves? I was wrong.

LOSER: My marriage's innocence
--As my wife and I watched this, I explained my theory that Heigl was made less glamorous and less blonde to make her more "accessible" to female moviegoers. In the course of this discussion, I mentioned Hiegl was hot. Mrs. Shark interjected, "You think she's hot?" Not that she was offended or anything, but she seemed kind of surprised. I guess I thought it was common knowledge, but evidently not. Well, anyway, now that I've said this for the record, no more innocent ogling when she's watching "Grey's Anatomy."

I give up!

This week offered two items that made me want to take a long walk off a short pier. Faithful readers will require no additional comment from me. Unfaithful readers, I won't subject you to a rant. I just feel like giving up after seeing...

ITEM: If you still care about TV Land, read this article about the network's plan to revamp its primetime lineup as all-reality as it tries to get rid of those pesky older viewers who like classic TV.

ITEM: Hey, guess what show made the cover of "Entertainment Weekly's" Fall TV Preview? Yep, "Gossip Girl," the one that averaged just over 2 1/2 million viewers last year.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

This week in DVD

Fox Film Noir: The stalled series is back with 3 selections, including the now-legendary "Boomerang," which has been teased, pulled, kind-of-released, and announced so many times that eager fans must feel like they're playing with a, well, you know. Hmm, actually a boomerang metaphor doesn't really do it there. But the point is that there is a massive aura about the movie because of its shadowy status, and even this week people aren't sure if the rumored legal issues that (mostly) kept it off shelves are resolved. Personally, I think it's an average noir that is getting disproportionate hype because of the circumstances, but that's just my take.

I'm much more interested in "Moontide," which may not be 100% noir but which does offer a cast including Ida Lupino and Claude Rains, and "Road House," another Lupino effort and one I've wanted to see for years. Ever since I got Fox Movie Channel, I've been hoping they'd show it, and sure enough, they're finally airing it again this month...now that it's on DVD. Oh, well. Here's hoping Fox continues its Film Noir line. Speaking of long-delayed DVDs, the one I really want to see is the 1947 Chandler adaptation "The Brasher Doubloon," in limbo for years without a definitive explanation why.

Honey West:
VCI releases the complete series. I mostly missed the reruns on TV Land, but I recently saw the "Burke's Law" episode that introduced the character, and, man, while I enjoy "Law," Anne Francis really livened up that show. This is a cool release.

It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown: Warners has taken over distribution of the old Peanuts TV specials, which is why you're seeing all these redos with shiny new packaging, the odd new extra or two...and of course a brand-spanking-new MSRP to get you to shell out for the same thing at a possibly higher price this time around.

Bait Shop: This Bill Engvall vehicle was already on USA, and please don't ask me why I know that, because--wait, "Bill Engvall vehicle" was enough, wasn't it?

Cheers Season 10: Not much to say except this one was stalled for a while, and really it's a modern classic (take note, TV Land--"Scrubs," say, is not a modern classic) that deserves to have its full run out there.

Next Avengers: The Avengers...as KIDZ! I think this is one Marvel Comic movie I won't even be renting.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Crummy Movie Cavalcade: Wanted

I did not see the film in question, but this is what I imagine "Wanted" was like:


Aye, I'm in a wee bit of trouble, am I?


Come with me. I'm sexy.


I'm Morgan Freeman, and I'm here to add some class to this whole thing.


Aye, this ought to make me tops with the ladies, eh?

NFL Watchability Power Rankings: NFC

Look here for an explanation and the list for the AFC.

1) Washington Redskins: Several factors, including my meeting many of the players and getting autographs, combined to make the Washington Offensive Team Names my NFC team in the mid 80s. Good thing, too, because living in Northern VA., it's impossible to avoid the team. I don't know if there's as big a disconnect between a fanbase's feelings for its team and the team's owner--Dan Snyder is openly mocked and jeered here--but still, the fans shell out the bucks to support the franchise.

2) Carolina Panthers: I tend to like North Carolina pro teams if for no other reason than I have family down there and that I've long been a fan of the Tar Heels. Kind of shallow? Well, at least I didn't say I like the uniforms. But now that I mention it, the Panthers DO look pretty cool...

3) Green Bay: No, I'm not a cheesehead, but this season I will be rooting for the Packers just about each week simply because I want them to have a great year without That Guy Who Is Now In New York.

4) Chicago Bears: Boy, I loved that 1985 team. It's been a long time since 1985. A real long time. I still kind of like to see them do well, though.

5) St. Louis Rams: I think this team still has some residual appeal from when it was actually exciting. Nowadays, it's just one of the least objectionable teams in football, and that's what puts it so high on my list.

6) New Orleans Saints: I'm giving them a pass here because I'm sure dealing with all the hurricane problems is such a pain, but really these weather issues have made one of the most underexposed teams in football one of the more overexposed teams.

7) Minnesota Vikings: Is it too late to make Sex Boat jokes, like saying the team's games were shown on Cinemax instead of FOX last year? The ship has sailed? OK, I'll stop. But what else are you used to say about the Vikings, that they have a lot of talent but that so much is riding on the inexperienced QB Tarvaris Jackson? Well, OK, but everybody is saying that!

8) Arizona Cardinals: One of the NFL's lovable losers for a long time, but the presence of so many ex-Steelers on the field and on the sidelines has made this at least a mildly intriguing team in recent years.

9) San Francisco 49ers: As I said when I mentioned the Bears, the Eighties are long gone. Meet the 2008 49ers. It seems that whenever the NFL needs a West Coast game, like when it's putting together a nighttime doubleheader, it imposes an Arizona-SF game on us in a "Just be happy you're watching football" match-up. At least this season, the opening "Monday Night Football" doubleheader mixes it up with Oakland and Denver.

10) Detroit Lions: I admire the tradition, but this team has sullied too many Thanksgiving afternoons with its subpar football to deserve much respect.

11) Tampa Bay: I still blame this franchise for giving the world Warren Sapp, and I'm not in the mood to forgive it anytime soon.

12) New York Giants: I really hated the Super Bowl teams of the Eighties, but those days are long gone (Hey, anyone detect a theme here?).

13) Atlanta Falcons: The whole Michael Vick situation made this team plummet on my personal list; the players' reactions have made it stay there.

14) Dallas Cowboys: I'd like to think the rest of the nation is as sick of this team as I am, but America continues to disappoint me by giving Cowboys games high TV ratings.

15) Philadelphia Eagles: Since I live in Redskins Country, the NFL/Fox thinks that I care about what the Eagles do. Well, sure, but I don't want to see them on TV. Unfortunately, this wretched team, with its proudly boorish fans, come on seemingly every other week, what with the games against the Skins, plus the fact that the national game on Fox is usually the NFC East Showcase. Now I see "Sports Illustrated" picks them to win it all this year. Is Philadelphia a team with a national following? I just don't get it. All they accomplished in the last decade is botching a bunch of playoff games and then choking away their best shot at a Super Bowl.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

NFL Watchability Power Rankings: AFC

As a baseball guy, the arrival of a new NFL season fills me with resentment that everyone seems eager to drop the pennant races to check out another installment of the Pro Football Hype Machine. But I must admit I'm looking forward to watching some games myself this weekend. However, I like watching some teams a lot more than others. Here is my own personal AFC rankings--based on my own personal biases, relative coolness of the teams, and overall watchability. OK, mostly my own personal biases.

1) Pittsburgh Steelers: The Greatest Franchise in the History of the Game. If God isn't a Steeler fan, than why is...uh, a bumblebee black and yellow? I mean , we all know how important bees are, right?

2) Indianapolis Colts: Some folks are turned off by Peyton Manning's shtick of barking out audibles right up to the last minute at the line of scrimmage. Hate all you want; I enjoy watching him. The Colts are a fun team, and I like seeing them go about their business. I've counted on them in recent years to provide a check on the Patriots' dominance of the conference. Plus my wife likes them, and if they're on TV, I don't usually have any choice but to watch them, anyway.

[NOTE: Every other team in the AFC ranges from "Eh" to "Ugh," so the rest of these rankings may be rather arbitrary]

3) Houston Texans and 4) Tennesee Titans: To be honest, I don't care about these teams, but I like seeing them lose to the Steelers and the Colts.

(Texans fans, you get a chance to make me eat these words in Week 1.)

5) Buffalo Bills: I used to resent this franchise for screwing up the Super Bowl, but now they're just kind of there. Well, actually, they're in Canada, but that's another story. No truth to the rumors that NBC will show them 8 consecutive times this year as their final tribute to the late Tim Russert.

6) Kansas City Chiefs: Even with an ex-Penn Stater at RB, this team really has no appeal to me. Why are they so high on my list, then? Well, I kind of went to the end and worked my way back, and the Chiefs are much less objectionable than most of the others.

7) San Diego Chargers: I've made fun of them for their steroid abusers, and it's annoying hearing Chris Berman sing "San Diego Super Chargers" each time he mentions them, but otherwise, at least they provide some good football.

8) Miami Dolphins: Yeah, they stunk last year, but, ooh, they got an old fat guy who likes to act like a prick, so now they're supposed to be good or something. Does the guy throw passes? No. Does he run the ball? No. Make tackles? Throw blocks? Handle the long snapping? No, Bill Parcells just runs the organization.

9) Oakland Raiders: What has happened to the Oakland Raiders? They're not even entertainingly bad, just generic. Even that Super Bowl team of 5 or so years ago is barely a memory now. Worst of all, the Bengals stole their jailhouse cred. Al Davis, just thug it up, baby!

[NOTE: Now we enter the portion of our rankings featuring teams I'll be rooting against this season.]

10) Denver Broncos: I used to HATE this team back when they were winning playoff games with John Elway. Now I just actively dislike them.

11) New England Patriots: The Spygaters would normally deserve even more ire, but I must admit they at least play entertaining football. Plus, my parents live in Massachusetts, and somehow it's fun to go up there and see the local media fawn over the team.

12) Cleveland Browns: I used to pity Browns fans for getting screwed by Art Modell; now that the franchise might be moving in the right direction, I need to keep building up traditional Steeler fan hatred of the Brownies.

13) Cincinnati Bengals: I never got into "Oz" when it was on HBO, and I never get into the Bengals when they're on CBS.

14) New York Jets: I've long thought the Jets were stunningly generic and boring for a team in the media capital of the country. Unfortunately, because the team DOES play in New York--well, close enough--we're expected to care about them. This only gets worse now that Brett Favre is on board. It's starting already, as CBS puts the Jets and Dolphins--two mediocre teams in a weak division--as its main game.

15) Baltimore Ravens: A few years ago, I ventured into Ravens territory to see them massacre the Steelers. One older gentleman sitting next to me was incredibly nice and chatted with me in a friendly manner the whole afternoon. Unfortunately, he was surrounded by about 70,000 other people. Talk about a miserable day!

The problem with the Ravens is this: Ravens fans think all year about beating the Steelers. Steelers fans think all year about winning the Super Bowl.

Living in Northern Virginia, I'm often stuck with Baltimore games on Sunday afternoons. As a Pittsburgh fan, I don't want to see the Ravens on my TV, rival or no. I want to see highlights of them losing, and then I want them to disappear.

Wow, even though the AFC is clearly the dominant conference these days, it doesn't offer a whole lot of teams that I can stand watching. Oh, I'll watch Chargers-Patriots if it's on and hope that it's a barnburner, but I can't get too enthusiastic about it.

Next up, a look at the NFC, which has a team even more heinous than the Ravens...

Urgent RTN Bulletin

My local Retro Television Network affiliate has made a programming change this week, and it's not for the better. RTN offers a live call-in talk show called "Unreliable Sources," and though I had heard about this show, I had hoped against hope it wouldn't come my way and deprive me of another vintage show.

Guess what? It's here, apparently weeknights at 11:00 pm (My FIOS listings have yet to reflect the change), which means "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" moves to midnight, "Night Gallery" to 12:30, and look what else is here--that old standby "Leave it to Beaver" at 11:30. One of the shows that got me most excited about RTN in the first place, "Kraft Suspense Theater," looks to be outta here.

I'm tempted to say this is the beginning of the end, but I guess "Unreliable Sources" has been running in plenty of other markets for months and therefore should not be seen as a harbinger of impending wholesale programming changes. It sure stinks that they already got rid of "Kraft Suspense Theater," though.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Wonderful World of TCM: Three Men on a Horse (1936)

I'm a big fan of old character actors--love 'em, love 'em, love 'em--and I have a certain roster of Golden Age stalwarts whose presence in a movie almost guarantees I'm gonna check it out. "Three Men on a Horse" features Allen Jenkins, Guy Kibbee, Edgar Kennedy, and a host of others in a stagy but lively little comedy about a man who picks horses--and picks them really well. It's not great cinema, but it's a lot of fun if you're interested in any of the actors.

There's really something for everyone, and the genius of the unassuming movie is that director Mervyn LeRoy--or whatever suit shepherded the production--just lets the guys come on and do their thing. So you get Jenkins playing a hood, Kibbee as a crotchety old coot, and Sam Levene (in his film debut), as a wise guy with a get-rich plan.

The star of the movie is Frank McHugh, here a greeting card writer with an uncanny ability to forecast horse races--only he doesn't bet on them. Well, it's Frank McHugh, and you know he's gonna get to do an extended "drunk" bit. Now, I will conceded that Eddie "Rochester" Anderson isn't exactly Rochester and Edgar Kennedy doesn't get to do many slow burns, but so what? It's just good to see them in the movie.

It's no surprise that "Three Men on a Horse" comes off as stagy today. It probably seemed that way then, too, as Warner Brothers basically just converted a stage play into this 1936 film. It looks a case of someone expending all their energy, if not money, on the casting, then kicking back with a Manhattan or two and watching the movie direct itself. The plot consists of a group of Levene's crew and some of their hangers-on trying to exploit McHugh's talent for big bucks. There are a few complications involving dames like Joan Blondell (as Levene's girl) and Carol Hughes (as McHugh's loyal wife), plus Kibbee and McHugh's brother-in law acting like total pills. However, it's essentially a bunch of guys standing around and talking.

The result could have been a little more dynamic, and there are a few scenes that could have been trimmed, but that cast keeps things from dragging. It's an amusing hour and a half, stagy or not, and it's well worth a look-see when Turner Classic runs it again. The business is different nowadays, of course, but you have to admire the way the studio system built up these character actors and then used them. Back then, it might have seemed like it was "over and over again," and I'm sure there are people today who cringe each time they see McHugh stagger and slur around, but I love seeing these guys pop up on cable and get the job done.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Crummy Movie Cavalcade: The Love Guru

I almost refrained from adding this one to the Cavalcade. After all, Myers supposedly drew inspiration for this comedy with spiritual overtones from the death of his beloved father. I read this in a magazine article which expended a lot of ink telling us what a jerk Myers was--yet somehow made me feel kind of sorry for the guy.

Plus I didn't even see the movie, and anyway, it came and went and tanked with little fuss. Sure, Myers' "in-character" promotion of his flick was a bit obnoxious, what with the appearances on "American Idol," the Teen Choice Awards, and MTV Movie Awards, and. I would have been appalled, I'm sure, had I actually watched any of those things.

So am I just wasting our time by ripping on this soon-to-be-forgotten (everyone involved hopes) bomb? No. I can't give Myers a pass on this one for two reasons: 1) It features Justin Timberlake, again playing "grownup movie star" to the irritation of legitimate moviegoing grownups, and 2) More importantly, it's a hype vehicle for the NHL.

Myers has long pushed his pro-hockey agenda, and though he can hardly be blamed for liking the sport--he is Canadian, of course--he doesn't have to try to convince the rest of us that it's relevant. It's bad enough he slips things like hockey jerseys and street hockey games into his seemingly innocuous romps, but this time I think he went too far.

The premise of the movie is stupid enough, especially if you're in that group of people who find his titular character, Guru Pitka, annoying. That group has a name, too; it's called "everybody." But even more offensive than the Hindu-mocking persona Myers takes on is the character's goal: To salvage the career of a Toronto Maple Leafs player.

Clearly it's an attempt to foist a cult sport on mainstream America. Because no major network carries the pro game anymore (NBC doesn't count while it's not showing the Olympics), Big Hockey is trying to infiltrate other media. First, it was YouTube. Then it was the multiplex. Heavens to Murgatroyd, can skywriting be next?

Mike Myers may be fiercely protective of his comic creations, and that shows a certain artistic integrity. However, his willingness to cash in with marketing tie-ins and inferior sequels has proven his true motives. Getting into bed with the NHL, even if sincere, is his worst product placement of all, and it's enough to earn "The Love Guru" a prominent spot in the Crummy Movie Cavalcade.