Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Classic TV Christmas Festival: Captain Gallant

We conclude this year's abbreviated (but still precious) Classic TV Christmas Festival with a letter from Billy, who writes:

Sometimes I get so mad at my parents that I want to run off and join the French Foreign Legion. I wish there were a classic TV Christmas episode that'd show me what I can look forward to.

Billy, you're in luck because there IS such an episode; furthermore, the French Foreign Legion is not an organization with a strong emphasis on grammar and therefore will not reject you for ending a sentence with a preposition.

The episode of which I speak is an installment of "Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion." In this holiday story, the cap'n's son Cuffy is sitting around bitching--excuse me, Billy, complaining--about how much of a bummer Christmas is gonna be out in the African desert. Adding to the holiday cheer is the fact that Cuffy is played by a lad named Cullen, the real-life son of series star Buster Crabbe.

Feeling depressed, Cuffy does the logical thing and heads off into the desert to find Christmas or something like that. He couldn't have just done a good deed for someone, fixed some sand nog, and put on an Andy Williams record? No, the little guy goes wandering, not realizing the trip to Bethlehem is a little beyond his capabilities.

Here's the GOOD news, Billy: It turns out life in the French Foreign Legion, Cuffy's restlessness notwithstanding, is pretty swell for a young feller. When Captain Gallant's sidekick Fuzzy tells the Legionnaires what happened to Cuffy, they're all playing cards or music in the barracks. They are not at all smelly, sulking ex-convicts--at least not to my eye--and when they learn that their mascot has run away, they leap to action to track him down. I would have expected a bunch of grizzled Legion men to either laugh, bark "Who cares?" or have already sold the kid to some sleazy child slavery ring. But, no, they rush to their horses to find the young guy. Granted, it may just be because life in the FFL camp really IS as damned boring as Cuffy thinks, but I give them credit, anyway.

So, Billy, the Legion is clearly full of good sorts, decent folk who take care of each other and look out for their young. It's a family atmosphere, and while I don't condone running away from home, if a certain young Cultureshark reader DID abandon his folks and try to join, I'm certain he'd be welcomed with open arms, and not at all in a creepy "these guys haven't seen a broad in months and probably are mostly sex offenders, anyway" manner.

Oh, yeah, in this episode, they go look for Cuffy, and they all share a warm Christmasy feeling at the end. I won't reveal all the details, Billy, because your parents might want to buy the Mill Creek Holiday TV Classics set for you so you can learn about the French Foreign Legion yourself. If they are willing to do that, maybe you should give them another chance, Billy. If not, life in the desert isn't all that bad for a young'un such as yourself.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Classic TV Christmas Festival: Love That Bob

Today we have a letter from 6-year-old Becky, who writes:

I liked your story about Betty White who reminded the boy of his grandma. But what about grandpas? I love my grandfather, too, and I'd like to read about a Christmas show with a grandpa.

Becky, I returned to the fabled Cultureshark Archives to extract a vintage episode just for you. Vintage means "old," or, if you're a DVD manufacturer, "not marketable." Fortunately, we do have an installment of "Love That Bob" on disc, one called "Grandpa's Christmas Visit."

Now, I have several beefs with this episode. For one thing, the Grandpa episodes are rather tiresome. Bob Cummings gets to play a "rare dual role" by putting on some makeup and affecting an old-timer voice. Grandpa Bob (or Josh, actually) is not some doddering old man, but someone with more energy, get-up-and-go, and old-fashioned SPUNK than any of the young'uns around him. That's pretty much the joke, and it's played out whenever Grandpa shows up or whenever pretty much any grandparent shows up on a sitcom, especially when he's played by a regular cast member.

Worse, though, is the utter lack of Christmasness in this particular episode. Grandpa happens to be visiting at Christmastime, but that's about it. So don't pop in this one expecting anything other than good old-fashioned antics of old people who don't act their age.

So, Becky, I'm sorry I can't say more about this "Love That Bob," but I'm not so sure Bob Cummings would remind you of your grandfather, anyway, unless he also likes to steal young models away from prior commitments, commandeer a car, and vanish for a "date" after promising to show them a good time.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Panel Discussion: Get with it, Batman!

Batman is a great defender of Gotham and everything, but when it comes to music, that cat--er, bat--just doesn't get it, man? Check out this moment from 1965's Showcase #59 (as reprinted in the Showcase Presents: Teen Titans Volume 1 book). Dig?

He may be the Caped Crusader, but he's still hopelessly un-round.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Classic TV Christmas Festival RETURNS! A Date with the Angels

This year, I'm trying something a little different with the Classic TV Christmas Fest. I'm responding to the KIDS, the little folk that make our country's future so bright. It is for them I am continuing the tradition, and each post will be a show I watch and discuss by request from a little tyke.

Today's letter is from Timmy, who writes:

Dear Cultureshark,
I love Betty White. She reminds me of my grandma, especially in that movie when she says the F-word. Could you watch a Christmas episode with her?

Timmy, I got one word for you: YOUBETCHA!

In the opening moments of "A Date with the Angels," I see Burt Mustin, and his presence alone almost assures me that this sitcom will be better than "Life with Elizabeth." Mustin guests as...a really old guy!

What, you expected him to be Miss America? Mustin is a kindly old sort who likes to be useful, so Betty White helps get him a job in the toy section of a department store, and he becomes Santa Claus. Well, he becomes A Santa Claus.

"Date with the Angels" is a rather bland sitcom, but this episode has its moments due to the great roster of guest stars. And really, aren't the holidays all about guests, anyway? In addition to Mr. Mustin, this installment brings us Nancy Kulp as a clerk, and she does a little bit of Nancy Kulpness, without the Hathaway-sized stick in her posterior. The stick is reserved for the posterior of old favorite Richard Deacon, himself no stranger to sticks in his--you know, I honestly meant that as a comment about the characters he played, but I'm just gonna end that comment right here.

The Deac plays Mustin's son, and he's all concerned about Dad being out doing good for the world when he could be, you know, home cooking him dinner and stuff. I hope it's not spoiling too much to mention that Deacon gets a dose of Christmas cheer at the end, as does the manager of the toy department.

In fact, said manager is so infused with Da Spirit that he basically eats the losses himself after finding out why Santa Burt is so popular--he's giving away the store's toys to the kiddies. Well, yeah, in a certain sense, that makes him the best department store Santa ever. It subjects him to serious criminal charges if he doesn't make good, but, hey, 'tis the season, so it all works out.

Mustin feels good, Kulp feels good, Deacon feels good, Betty White feels good, and hey, did I mention old pro and game show host extraordinaire Tom Kennedy is the show's announcer and pitchman? I tell you, little Timmy, it makes ME feel good to see all those familiar faces in one little ol' episode of "Date with the Angels." So while you may not see enough of Betty White to remind you of your grandma, you will see enough to give you Da Spirit.

(I was gonna give thanks to the awesome Mill Creek "Holiday TV Classics" DVD set for including this episode, but I just found out that the equally awesome blog Classic Television Showbiz posted the episode this past weekend. Watch and enjoy!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Brooks on Books: Are you ready for some football?

I have a backlog of baseball books to write about, let alone my stack to read, but today it's time for football.

I just re-read Jerry Kramer's classic diary of the 1967 Green Bay Packers season, "Instant Reply." Compiled with an editorial assist by the late Dick Schaap, this is a fantastic, insightful read that holds up fine even 40 years later. Sure, the game is different in many ways, but Kramer, a multiple All-Pro offensive lineman, offers incredible details into the daily routine of a football team. He also discusses the nuances of offensive line play and how he strategizes for different defenders who will oppose him. You don't hear a lot of this stuff on game broadcasts, but much of it is still relevant and compelling even if the players are bigger and faster.

The book is remarkable for its candor. You might not get the profanity and salacious detail of an "inside the locker room" account that might appear today, but you really get to know Kramer and his football team. He frequently discusses the emotional tenor of the Packers during the season, admitting that the team just can't get enthusiastic about certain opponents. He provides many amusing anecdotes that reveal the psychology employed by legendary coach Vince Lombardi, and even as he suggests the team is on some level aware of the mind games, they usually work, and the team loves and respects him. Kramer also recounts Lombardi's rants about players outside interests while wondering if his own are indeed as distracting as his coach indicates. One of the amusing threads throughout the season-long diary is Kramer's worries about a venture with Kraft Foods to distribute player portraits, and whether he'll recoup his investment back.

"Instant Replay" is funny, sharp, and addictive; a classic account of pro football by a great player at a still-unheralded position. I own a beat-up old paperback form back in the day, but it's been reissued so many times it's easy to find a used copy, though it's well worth springing for a new version.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Leftovers: TV on TCM, High-Def Ads

Today I give you a few thoughts I meant to share at the end of November but didn't get around to. (How's that for a pitch? Believe it or not, folks, no, I'm not in sales)

First, I wanted to comment on something that occurred on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind last month. Grace Kelly was Star of the Month, and while she was, is, and will always be a Star, she wasn't actually in a ton of movies. So TCM filled out its tribute with a few vintage episodes of "Studio One" starring the future princess.

I thought it was great. The actual episodes weren't what I'd call dramatic classics, but I got a kick out of seeing them, and though I treasure TCM in part because of its insistence on avoiding commercials, I loved that they showed the Studio Ones with the original Westinghouse ad breaks.

Some might balk at a classic movie channel--no, THE classic movie channel--showing old television, but if a movie star is involved, why not? You could tell the channel was a little defensive about the programming move, though, when Bobby Osbo introduced the first episode. He went out of his way to explain why they were doing it, and he became so apologetic I thought he was gonna tell me to send him my address so he could send me a refund--and I don't even pay directly for TCM.

As long as we don't get reruns of "Home Improvement" next month, I don't mind an occasional foray into the world of vintage TV in certain circumstances. The sad thing is, just by showing a handful of old "Studio Ones," TCM shot up to the top of the list of "classic TV" channels in November.

Also at the end of that month, I had a personal "aha" moment with regards to high-def. I've enjoyed sports on gigantic high-def sets before, but it wasn't until I was checking out some football up close on Thanksgiving that I was really wowed by HD. Get this, though--it wasn't even the game that provided this spark, it was the commercials.

In particular, I happened to zero in on ad for "The Blind Side," and seeing how sharp and, well, REAL everyone looked was a literal eye-opener. Seeing Lou Holtz in the same ad was almost an eye-closer, but I was still impressed. I began to watch the commercials (something I seldom do in low-def if I can avoid it) and noticed what the format seemed to be all about: selling things.

The next big commercial to grab me with its images was the "Old Dogs" preview. Yep, the one with those sexy movie stars like John Travolta and Robin Williams. I soon cursed Hollywood for not making enough movies with young people. Doesn't Jessica Alba have a movie coming out? Anne Hathaway? Salma Hayek may not be a Generation Y'er, but I'll bet she's a lot more fun to look at in HD than Seth Green.

Maybe it's for the best, though. If I hadn't endured the "Old Dogs" ad so many times, I might have really wanted to rush out and buy an HD set on Black Friday. Someday in the future, we'll upgrade here at Cultureshark Tower, but for now I'll have to settle for drab , old sports and bland-looking commercials.

Friday, December 18, 2009

First Impulse: Taylor Swift is very successful, but intriguing?

Understand that while I;m not a fan of Taylor Swift's music, I'm impressed by the way she carries herself and am happy for her success. But when "People" names her the most intriguing person of 2009, well, I have to speak up a bit.

I haven't read the issue yet--my wife hasn't even read the issue yet--so I apologize in advance if they reveal a clever formula that proves in empirical fashion that Ms. Swift is the most intriguing person of the year. But, hey, this is a First Impulse.

This is a terrible choice. It may sell magazines, and that's ultimately the point of lists and especially covers, but "People" has ample opportunities to put Swift on a cover without putting her on top of this group. See, it is my opinion that Swift's appeal is based on her wholesome persona, the fact she can still sing convincingly about princesses and white dresses and getting swept away and all that.

I don't want to "dis" that kind of persona; in fact, as father of a young girl, I'm glad that something so relatively tame can exist and thrive in today's culture. But I don't find it intriguing. I find it likable, charming, even refreshing, but not really intriguing at all. In fact, I think Taylor Swift's appeal is in her utter lack of intrigue. There's no mystery about her. She appears to be what she's selling, and while I don't think it can possibly be as genuine as you'd hope, the minute she drops that approach is the minute she loses a lot of that appeal.

It might make her more intriguing but less marketable, maybe even more intriguing AND more marketable. But right now what in the world makes her "intriguing"? The fact that she sells a helluva lot of records? The fact that Nashville and the music industry has latched onto her and is intent on boosting her to superstardom?

The bottom line is, she seems like a NICE girl, and I'm kind of glad she's not least not by my standards. Even her fanbase probably thinks of her as "real" or "cool," but intriguing?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why does Warner Brothers hate us so?

And why is TV Shows on DVD not all over this?

Let me explain: In the past week or so, TV Shows on DVD has run news items about 3 hourlong Warner Brothers shows coming to DVD in full-season sets: "Dallas," "Falcon Crest," and "Scarecrow and Mrs. King."

The sets announced contain 27, 18, and 21 episodes, respectively. Considering each program is an hour long, minus original commercial time, that makes for a total of, um, a lot of minutes on each set.

Here's the problem, one about which TV Shows on DVD has remained strangely silent: Instead of doing the honorable thing for the consumer and splitting these into half-season sets, like our good friends at CBS/Paramount Video, Warners is just throwing all these episodes onto ONE SET! That's right, a full season! How are consumers supposed to afford this? Everyone knows, including TSOD, that the split-season strategy is a boon to DVD buyers, allowing them to afford otherwise unwieldy, grossly expensive boxes.

And what about the poor retailers? Has WB given no consideration to the harried chain stores that must somehow find shelf space for these monstrous FULL-SEASON boxes, boxes which consumers clearly don't want?

I mean, who has time to watch a whole season of a TV show in less than a year or so, anyway?

So it looks like Joe DVD Buyer gets screwed again as TSOD stands by, failing to point out the absurdity of a corporate policy that forces fans to buy a whole season of a favorite show. As a result, they have to dig deep into their pockets to handle that steep $40.00 MSRP, a price that may be discounted to 27.99 at Amazon, for all those episodes. Contrast that to CBS, which gives us a much more manageable half-season of, say, The Fugitive, 15 hourlong episodes, for a low, reasonable MSRP of...

Hmm, 40 bucks. Wait a minute. That can't be right.

Well, that's just one show. And it's all, like, old, and stuff. Let's look at a more recent show, one around more the same time as those 3 Warners shows I mentioned at the top: Vega$.

You can get Vega$ Season 1, Part 1 (don't you just love the sound of that?), a tidy package of 11 hourlong episodes, for a nice, manageable MSRP of...

37 bucks.

Hey, isn't CBS/Paramount's strategy supposed to provide value for the consumer? I'm kinda baffled here.

Surely TV Shows on DVD is aware of some quirk regarding Warner Brothers' pricing strategy, something that exposes how ill-suited it is for the fans that purchase their sets. After all, I'm no expert, but it looks to ME that Warners is offering full seasons, sometimes twice as many episodes, for the same MSRP as a CBS/Paramount half-season set. And we know that can't be a good value, or everyone would be doing it. Right?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

This Week in DVD

Inglourious Basterds: OK, we've all commented on the spelling in the title, but what about the redundancy? How many "basterds" are glorious? Michael Jordan in his prime, maybe. Thinking about glorious bastards just makes me visualize some Broadway spectacle, with a guy in tights springing across the stage declaring, "I'm a bastard, and I'm GLORIOUS!"

G Force: If you're thinking buying a copy will help Nic Cage's finances, think again: Sadly, he traded his residuals for some prime oceanfront property in Arizona.

The Hangover: This is the funniest movie of the year, man! You HAVE to see it! Hey, I didn't see it yet myself, but I'm just saying this is what "they" say. And you don't want to ignore the collective genius of "they."

George Lopez: Tall, Dark, and Chicano: I like the guy and wish him well, but I tried to watch this concert on HBO and couldn't last 10 minutes.

The Paper Chase Season 2: Shout is still releasing DVDs the regular way...for now, at least. I'm glad this excellent series gets another set.

The New York Yankees 2009 World Series Collectors Edition: OK, Yankee fans, live it up. Enjoy it. New season is just around the corner, though.

Taking Woodstock: Ang Lee's fictionalized account of the landmark rock concert is sure to stir memories both for the thousands who were there and for the millions that claim they were there.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Panel Discussion: Superman hates Snapper Carr

Another panel from the classic Justice League of America #15, this one near the end. As Snapper irritates the gang with his faux hipster chat, all the heroes indulge him and not only refrain from using their collective powers and wisdom to hurl him into the sun...they smile!

Well, all the heroes except one. Look at Superman's mug as Snapper bugs the JLA:

Is it possible someone redrew a Superman face over Mike Sekowsky's original pencils? I don't know. Is it possible the big guy just had a bad Kryptonian Llama Burrito and is feeling the aftereffects? Maybe. But I think the best explanation for Supes' sourpuss is the simplest: He HATES Snapper Carr.

Wonder Woman is clearly annoyed, but Superman is glowering. You just know he's wondering who would miss the boy if he "accidentally" got hurled into the Phantom Zone.

In the next panel, Kal-El looks no more amused by the teenager's idiotic babble:

Even Batman, who must long for Dick Grayson's terrible puns when he hears Snapper's dialect, musters a fake smile. But the Man of Steel just sits there imagining if the Atom would be able to track down Carr if he "somehow" got shrunk and tossed into the bottled city of Kandor.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Wonderful World of TCM: Double Bogey

Turner Classic Movies is treating all of us to a month of films of the greatest movie star of all time (I'd add "IMHO," but it ain't that humble, and it's my blog, so you kind of expect my opinion, eh?), Humphrey Bogart. Ivan at TDOY is ably covering the festivities, but today I want to touch on two pics I screened this week, both prime examples of Warner Brother's social consciousness in the 1930s.

One Fatal Hour (1936): The best thing about this movie is that it actually is about an hour. Isn't that swell? I maintain that if Warner Brothers had the guts to make "Two Seconds," its 1932 Edward G. Robinson vehicle, two seconds long, it would be acclaimed today as the greatest film of all time.

In "Hour," our man plays a radio station manager named Sherry Scott. Is it any wonder Bogart got frustrated with the direction of his career in the thirties? Nothing against the gents named "Sherry" out there, but as a proud Rick, I'm just glad that the original title of "Casablanca" wasn't "Everybody Comes to Sherry's."

Bogart's station plans a sensationalized account of a notorious murder case, not caring that the woman involved has created a new life and finds that even the announcement of the program scandalizes her and her family, especially her young daughter, a lass who is ignorant of Mom's past and is preparing to marry a nice young man from a snobby old money kind of family. By the way, the killing Mom did was apparently justified, but back in those days, any kind of killing was considered scandalous.

Bogart doesn't have a whole lot to do here except make wise-ass comments about his owner's desire to stage the program. He does it pretty well, though, expressing in no uncertain terms his disgust with the station owner's desire to broadcast the program, and he gets to close the film with a nice blast of rebellion. Much of the film--probably too much--deals with the "oh, this is terrible," hand-wringing of the family as it struggles to block the radio production. It's an entertaining little hourlong flick, though, and one with a valuable message.

MESSAGE: Radio was an inherently medium, an evil endeavor that terrorized America until the advent of television, which never did anyone any harm ever. Today this scandalized family would be much better off because it would get a reality show out of the deal, with a nice movie deal for the daughter.

The Great O'Malley (1937): Pat O'Brien is an overzealous cop who pores through the lawbook (literally--I mean the guy actually spends his free time leafing through an actual New York lawbook) looking for arcane regulations to spring on the scum that terrorizes his city--you know, like the merchant whose awning doesn't meet code, or the guy whose muffler is too loud when he's driving to his first job opportunity in years.

O'Malley the Cop busts the guy with the muffler, holding him up for a few minutes while he tickets him, and wouldn't you know the poor sap misses out on the job. Well, this sap is Bogart, and he has a wife and a crippled daughter at home, and this whole incident really burns him up. He still needs money, so he robs the till at a pawn shop (kind of like that scene at the Grand Canyon in "National Lampoon's Vacation," only with violence, criminal desperation, and more intensity), and winds up in prison. He's essentially caught because of that traffic violation, too, as a witness identifies the car leaving the scene of the robbery and O'Malley recognizes the description.

While Bogey is in the joint, O'Malley lightens up after meeting Bogart's daughter. He's also busted down to school crossing guard, and even there, he's a hard-ass for a while. But eventually, he stops following the exact letter of the law, does some real favors for Bogart...and then something really bad happens due to a misunderstanding when Bogey gets paroled.

We're supposed to think O'Malley is a real jerk--after all, even his superiors on the force tell him so--but, hey, wasn't David Berkowitz nabbed because of a traffic violation? Sometimes sweating the small stuff has benefits, and if you go after the little things, you raise the overall quality of life. Or am I sounding too much like Rudy Giuliani?

If you can handle Pat O'Brien, you can handle--and enjoy--"The Great O'Malley." His character is actually pretty funny, and even when the story piles on the melodrama, it's compelling. Besides, Bogart is in it, and he's fun to watch, especially when he's sprung from the big house and gets all paranoid about O'Malley tailing him. TCM ran this twice recently; next time they air it, you should check it out.

MESSAGE: Cops who actually enforce the law are pains in the ass. Law enforcement needs to just lighten up and live and let live. Oh, and get your muffler fixed already.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Brooks on Books: Paul Shaffer's new book is a gas, baby

Thanks to a pal, I was able to read Paul Shaffer's new autobiography, "We'll Be Here for the Rest of Our Lives," and I read it quickly. It's an entertaining book that depicts its author (along with co-writer David Ritz) as pretty much how you want him to be "in real life"--obsessed with showbiz, passionate about music, and best of all, sincere in his insincerity. Is his public persona a send-up? Well, yeah, kind of, but he loves what he mocks, and those of us who enjoy cheesy pop culture can appreciate the notion.

The only thing wrong with this book is it feels a little short, maybe a tad lightweight. No, I don't expect a profound, weighty tome from Paul Shaffer, but this fast read does leave you wishing there were more. Maybe that's just good show business, though. Also, while Shaffer does include touching insights and memories of his parent and of friends like Gilda Radner and John Belushi, it does seem a bit breezy at times. Shaffer and Ritz bounce around a bit in time and are often in and out of topics. Overall, the approach does work, and it creates a fun ride. Still, I was hoping for a little more detail here and there.

I mean, the man has had an incredible career. Take away his work in the recording studio (some might say take away "It's Raining Men," which he wrote, permanently), and his resume still includes the original "SNL," years of late night TV with David Letterman, and his role as musical director for the annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame concerts. He has been involved with so many cool cultural elements that maybe one book isn't enough to satisfy anyone interested in one aspect. I wanted to read more about just about every part of his career mentioned in the book, but I admit I was pleasantly surprised to read as much as I did about his short-lived sitcom, "A Room at the Top."

The David Letterman experience is particularly elusive here, and anyone hoping for a candid look at "what makes Dave tick?" will be disappointed. In just about every mention of the show or the man, however, Letterman comes off like a great guy and a generous boss.

What you do get in here are a slew of funny anecdotes and hilarious memories of his many years in the entertainment industry, and let's face it, that alone is enough to make this a worthwhile effort. Shaffer doesn't really dish with any negativity on many celebrities. Eric Clapton seems like a bit of an ass, but other than that, there's gossip but not a whole lot of dirt. But, hey, do we want mudslinging Paul or do we want "That's nutty!" Paul?

You get two strong impressions of Paul Shaffer when reading this book: The man loves and lives for music, and the man is a lot more self-aware of his Judaism than you knew (well, at least me). It's fun reading his stories about how early musical influences shaped his life, or how thrilled he was to meet and work with idols like Ray Charles and James Brown. I was a bit surprised to see how prominent his Jewish identity in his sense of self, but it's not like Shaffer is filling his book with religious theory. Instead, he mentions it in context of his early life and his love of showbiz.

This is a no-brainer for fans, and since Shaffer has been a key player in so many different aspects of popular entertainment, it's hard to envision a fan of pop culture not getting some enjoyment out of it. Anyone who thinks they want to read this autobiography will love it. Even if it's not the detailed, no-holds-barred epic one might have dreamed about, it's a fine representation of Paul Shaffer himself. More importantly, it's a blast!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

This Week in DVD

This is a big week for DVD, so big I'm gonna write this post in ALL CAPS.
No, I'm just kidding. But maybe I'll sprinkle in a few big words along the way.

Harry Potter and the Magical Cash Cow: Yeah, this made a lot of dough and got people excited for a week or two, but I don't know what kind of lasting impact this installment will have. Did it save the economy? Did it win a Nobel Peace Prize? Did it get Rupert Grint laid? I doubt that it accomplished any of those things, and therefore history will judge it a failure.

Julia and Julia: Unfortunately, you can only get the more-intriguing French cut, "Julia et Julia et Emmanuelle," on a Region 2 disc.

Public Enemies: I'm grateful this is out now, because I not only have the opportunity to finally see it, but to steer you again to one of the finest examples of writing I've seen in some review of the original book.

Oh, all right, the book itself was good, too.

Hooking Up: I mention this low-budget release only so I can quote the last sentence in the summary from Netflix's site:

Bronson Pinchot makes a cameo appearance as Mr. Kimbal, a chemistry teacher desperately trying to dodge the seductive attentions of his students.

Surely, this is more astonishing than anything in the Harry Potter movie.

Fugitive Season 3 Volume 2: David Janssen makes a cameo appearance as Richard Kimble, a doctor desperately trying to dodge the acquisitive attentions of the law.

Perry Mason Season 4 Volume 2: I just don't have the heart to make wise-ass comments about Paramount's standard shenanigans this week.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Open Letter to Paul McCartney

Dear Sir--Sir Paul, that is:

I recently watched your ABC television special that aired just before Thanksgiving. Paul, I love your work, your career, The Beatles, "Give My Regards to Broad Street," all of it, but this special disappointed me.

I'm at the point in my life when I don't need to see you doing "Live and Let Die" and "Hey, Jude" on TV anymore. I mean, I would totally love to see you live, and in that event I would enjoy those classics, but as far as watching those performances on the telly, it's just not doing it for me.

My TV listings touted your appearing in New York at the new Mets ballpark and reminiscing about the Beatles' famous Shea Stadium concert, with old footage as well as new.

Well, during one song--I believe it was "I'm Down," but I know it was only one song--we got to see some Shea footage, and that was intercut with the new footage. Your modern-day banter was appropriately cheeky. Your voice was still rockin'. But this was lame. I had tuned in to see the Shea stuff, and while the reminisces were amusing, the footage was lacking. The appearance of Billy Joel on the 2009 stage to sing "I Saw Her Standing There" wasn't enough to make up for this.

I'd still be kind of miffed about it if you weren't still so darned CUTE, Paul! How can I stay mad at such an adorable moppet?

P.S.: While I have your attention, how about going ahead and putting "Let It Be" on DVD, huh? Come to think of it, this is far more vital than the ABC special. OK, this is really the only reason I;m writing the open letter, but I thought it would be rude to just blurt that out. Thanks.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My Wife reads "People" so you don't have to: The REAL STORY of Kate and Tom's marriage!

Before we get into the thrilling REAL STORY behind the scenes of Katie and Tom's marriage--or Tom and Katie's, if you prefer--let me assure loyal readers that though I haven't posted about "People" in a while, in the meantime, my wife has continued reading it, thereby ensuring you don't have to. So if there is ever a dry spell of a few weeks between these reports, please don't feel you have to run out to the grocery store and get a copy. I may not be reporting directly, but my wife is still reading "People."

The December 7 issue is too good not to write about. I just can't risk anyone missing the REAL STORY "People" touts on the cover. We all want to know the REAL STORY behind this marriage, don't we? Darn right we do! C'mon, folks, just gimme some truth!

Lots of rumors and wild stories swirl around the TomKat relationship, but "People" is hear to clear it up. Open the December 7 issue, and you will indeed get the truth, courtesy of an impeccable source, a gentleman who graciously consents to share with the magazine the REAL STORY about pesky negative rumors like the supposed marriage contract they share.

The source is Tom Cruise's attorney, Bert Fields. He tells us the REAL STORY is...

that the rumors are false. There is no contract. Everything is fine. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes live together happily in a loving marriage.

THAT is the REAL STORY, straight from the lips of someone who has absolutely no reason whatsoever to spin, dissemble, or otherwise slant the facts in a way that would prevent "People" readers from getting the REAL STORY.

Kudos to "People" for having the guts to ferret out a source like Cruise's attorney and build a whole article around his objective insights. Here's a publication that recognizes that it's only through unfiltered proclamations from paid current employees in good standing of the celebrities themselves that we can get REAL STORIES of controversial figures.

On the radio: The Power of Music

On Friday, I was headed into work in not so great a mood--a bit of a funk, if you will. But when I flipped radio stations and caught Journey's "Stone in Love," BAM! Instant mood elevator. How can anyone feel down after hearing that all-time classic? That song always takes me back to the early eighties, playing whiffleball in the circle in our little cul-de-sac while the neighbor's teenage niece cranked the "Escape" LP at high volume with the windows down.

Those are good memories--not that "Stone in Love" needs that kind of association to make an impact.

So I was in a bad mood, I heard the song, and I was no longer in a bad mood. That is the power of music--indeed, the power of radio.

When Journey ended and a song by Motley Crue or someone like that came on, I changed the station and decided to seek out some Christmas music.

It's at this point, I heard Elton John's "Step into Christmas," a song I loathe.

I got so worked up at receiving my first annual exposure to this tune that I was right back into a bad mood by the time I got into work.

That's the power of music, too, I guess.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Panel Discussion: Batman and Flash, our not-so-intrepid heroes

In Justice League of America #15, the gang must stop a bunch of untouchable aliens (literally untouchable; it's not that they wear fedoras and brandish machine guns) from destroying Earth cities. A lot of bizarre science gets us to the point where Batman and Flash watch as Green Lantern apparently attempts to move an alien city in a misguided effort to rectify the situation:

Uh, how many times have you heard The Flash say "it's too late"?

Still, there has to be a way, though, to stop GL, right? These are the world's greatest superheroes, and they never give up!

Yeah, not so much in this case:

Yes, the world's fastest man and the world's greatest detective--a man who has a contingency plan for every situation and a utility belt full of useful doohickeys--don't have time to stop Green Lantern, but they DO have time to share awkward, formal farewells.

Friday, December 4, 2009

This Week in DVD

Night at the Museum 2: Battle at the Smithsonian: I'm sure that all of you were as disappointed as I was to learn that the action in the movie does not take place at the Smithsonian's Textile Museum. What a wasted opportunity. At least for the third one, maybe they can give the fans what they want and stage a climactic battle at the Postal Museum.

Terminator: Salvation: Only in Hollywood would anyone's idea of salvation be to turn over a tired franchise to McG.

Paper Heart: A pseudo-documentary about love made by real-life former (or are they) sweethearts Charlene Yi and Michael Cera. This sounds even more precious than that depressing movie Oprah is raving about this awards season. I suppose this could be interesting, but, hoo, boy, it sounds like it could be annoying.

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume Umpteenapalooza: These box sets from Shout aren't the best values in the world, but I enjoy watching them. I can't tell you anything about the selection here other than there are two Joels and two Mikes again. Why do I list this, then? Well, because I'm interested. Isn't that what blogging is all about?

Donna Reed Season 3: My apologies if I wrote about this already. I could swear this came out several weeks ago and that I wrote about it then. I could always check, but, eh, I'm winging it. Isn't that what blogging is all about?

Saturday Night Live Season 5: The show isn't at its best by this point, but, hey, if you want to get your Franken & Davis on, go for it. I'm glad Universal is still delivering "SNL," I plan to get this eventually, and I'm curious where we go next now that the Not Ready for PTP era is done.

Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Choo Choo Express: Time for a personal review from my toddler, who saw parts of this on DIsney Channel a few weeks ago and said, "Ahh!" She got down and got funky to the Choo Choo Express song and had a big smile on her face. Good enough for me!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

True Confessions: Giving up on the Steelers

OK, I'll admit it: As soon as I read that Ben Roethlisberger was out for last Sunday night's game against the Ravens, I declared, "It's over." Nobody else was around, but I still made a pretty definitive-sounding declaration.

I repeated that declaration (I was getting good at it as the day progressed) to my wife and her uncle when we all sat down to watch the game. Hey, I love the Steelers, but I wasn't going to hitch my wagon to first-time starter Dennis Dixon, even if if I did enjoy watching him in the preseason. After all, the Ravens have plenty of menaces on their defense, villains with unsavory intentions, inspired by King Thug himself, Ray Lewis. Their subscribe to the "Win if you can, lose if you must, but always cheat," philosophy. I feared not just for Dixon's ability to win the game, but for his well-being.

I rooted for the Steelers, but I never thought they'd win on the road against a hated rival with a third-stringer at QB, others banged up and/or out, and after having beaten the team 3 times last year.

I gave my team no chance, and I feel ashamed.

They almost won, in fact, and the close loss was even worse than if they had been blown off the field--well, maybe not, but it stung awfully hard considering I had assumed an "L" was imminent before it even started--and, you know, why had I so little faith? I feel a little unfaithful, and this is why I must get this true confession out of the way.

Don't worry, though, Steeler Nation, I never left the flock, I just harbored some doubts. But this week, I am fully on board with the program, and I am guaranteeing a win against Oakland. Yep, I'm going to go ahead and say it right now: It's over.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Interesting DVD feature

A report on TV Shows on DVD gives us the BREAKING NEWS that Shout Factory has revealed some of the bonus features it will package with its forthcoming "Small Wonder" DVD set.

If at this point, your mind is reeling by a forthcoming "Small Wonder" DVD set, just take a minute, sit back from the computer, and process it. We understand, and we'll be waiting here for you.

But wait! There's news even more mind-boggling associated with this set. You see, the extras announced thus far are episodic promos and..."Fan Art Gallery."

Fan Art Gallery?

I guess I'm not surprised to learn that "Small Wonder" inspired a generation of young artists. Maybe we'll see a glorious gallery of fan-generated designs, portraits, and creative imagery.

But maybe not.

I just don't get this. What kind of artwork is there? Here's a drawing of Tiffany. Push your right arrow button for another picture of Tiffany. Push your right button again for a picture of Tiffany in the same outfit she always wore. Push it again much variety is there? Are there gonna be paintings of Small Wonder vs. Megatron inside a giant flaming steel cage?

(Yes, I'm gonna use this as an excuse to rent the DVDs.)

I'll tell you one thing: I hope the creative fruit of "Small Wonder" fandom is limited to original artwork. If this DVD has a bonus section of "fan fiction" involving a grown-up Small Wonder hooking up with Twiki, I'm OUTTA THERE.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Gotta love Bear Manor Media

If I may "expose the business" a little bit here, let me tell you that I was all set to put up a tongue-in-cheek post about how I'd like to see a book called "The Definitive Quincy Companion," a volume devoted entirely to everyone's favorite TV M.E. I had come up with some of the features it should have, some of the tidbits I'd like to learn, et cetera.

Imagine my surprise (and while you're at it, imagine me kicking back in Aruba; I could use a vacation) when I saw an ad for Bear Manor Media books and saw that there IS a book about "Quincy, M.E." Yep, a fellow named James Rosin wrote it, and you can view/order it right here.

Now, I can't vouch for this, but it's awesome that someone wrote it, and it's possibly even awesomer that someone published it. Kudos to Bear Manor for publishing all sorts of cool works on film, radio, and TV. None of these books, as far as I know, features the cast of "Twilight," which makes Bear Manor's website a helluva lot more fun to peruse than the TV/Radio/Film shelf at your local Barnes & Noble.

I'm not a paid shill, by the way, just an average shark who's delighted and fascinated that a "Quincy" book is in print in 2009. I really ought to read more Bear Manor stuff, as they have a great-looking catalogue, and the last one I read (this one) was excellent.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

This Week in DVD

Angels and Demons: If there weren't a new Dan Brown book on bulky cardboard endcaps everywhere right now, would anyone even remember this movie came out this year? You know, if I didn't know any better, I'd say this sequel was a...I hesitate to even mention this...a bit of a cash grab.

Funny People: First, let me say I did not see this movie. But the two-disc has a 153-minute extended cut to complement the 146-minute cut of a film even many of its defenders thought was way too long. This, folks, is why DVD sales are down. (Not really the case at all, but I don't mind taking a shot at this Judd Apatow movie when I can).

2009 World Series Highlights: In case you thought Major League Baseball might deliver a Director's Cut to fix the mistakes it made in the postseason, nope, in this DVD, the Yankees still play the Phillies.

Four Christmases: I respect the discipline in holding off on the DVD of this 2008 comedy until now and ensuring a natural holiday shopping hook. Of course, it also provided time for everyone to forget how terrible it looked.

The Golden Age of Television: I know what you're thinking: How can any Age be considered Golden if it did not encompass the glorious reign of "What's Happenin'?" Excellent question, but you just have to take History's word for it, and not just History but TV History, no less. It's cool that Criterion is getting into fifties television here, but it is releasing some already out there material with apparently zero restoration work, so this looks like more of a rental than the must-buy it could have been.

Life on Mars Season 2: The good news I can stop waiting in vain for BBC America to rerun Season 2. The bad news is that now I can barely remember what the heck happened in Season 1.

Alfred Hitchcock Presents Season 4: This is a pivotal season because, as far as I knew, my RTV affiliate never ran any episodes after Season 3. The Master of Suspense had nothing on RTV, which keeps thousands of viewers waiting anxiously each day for which episode of a given series it'll pluck out of the pile and put on the air.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Brooks on Books: From Russia With Love

I'm slowly working my way through Ian Fleming's James Bond novels and finding them a lot of fun, both for expected reasons (espionage, violence, and adventure) and not-so-expected ones (such as the constant detail about Bond's meals and what he thinks about them).

Last week, I finished "From Russia with Love," in which the evil Soviet organization SMERSH plots to humiliate Bond, and thereby England, with the use of a beautiful Russkie woman as bait. It' s another fast, entertaining read, but this novel stands out for its remarkable structure: Bond himself does not appear until page 123 of my nifty little paperback edition, and he is not even mentioned till page 59!

In the meantime, we're introduced to the turncoat who has become an elite killing machine for the USSR. Even more intriguing, Fleming takes us not just behind the Iron Curtain, but deep behind it, all the way into the upper echelon of Soviet decisionmaking as the hated organization SMERSH discusses how to score a victory over the West. It's an entertaining journey into this circle, and it's amusing how political everyone is as they worry constantly about their own advancement and status--and, let's face it, their own survival. Fleming makes an interesting choice to go with this approach, and it sustains the novel while Bond is "off page."

When we meet old 007 again on page 123, we then get a build of a different kind, though there are some adventures and exciting set pieces in Turkey, and most of the Soviets disappear for a while. This all leads up to the climactic confrontation.


The question is, is all the build worth it? I'm not so sure it does pay off. The confrontation between Bond and his assassin is marred by a stretch of, as "The Incredibles" called it, "monologuing" which weakens the impact of this villain Fleming so meticulously develops earlier. It's also a little too short and not as satisfying as I would expect given the big intro given the Soviets. Fleming somewhat redeems this, though, with a powerful sequence afterwards involving arguably the true villain of the story.


Still, "From Russia with Love" is an entertaining effort, and though I keep mentioning the "buildup," the writing does not meander. In fact, it may be the tightest of the books so far, with less diversions for their own sake. This is the one famously listed by JFK as one of his favorite novels, and many call this the best of the 007s.

I don't think I'd say it's the best of the 5 I've read, but the supporting characters are memorable, the writing is solid, and for someone reading the series from the beginning, it's a nice change of pace and overall another fine entry.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Journey Into DVD: The Lineup (1958)

If you've already seen the 5 movies included in Sony's recent film noir box, or maybe if you have DVD or VHS copies of your own, here's an incentive to go for the set: The commentary tracks. I recently enjoyed Don Siegel's "The Lineup" twice, the second time while experiencing a fantastic collaboration between Eddie "Czar of Noir" Muller and James "Greatest Living Crime Fiction Writer" Ellroy.

(If you're thinking of disputing me on the distinction I give Ellroy, don't bother. I got the label from an impeccable source--Ellroy himself in this very commentary).

The movie itself is a blast, and well worth a look-see in its own right. It's not so "noir" as one might expect, perhaps, and it's actually based on the old police procedural TV show of the same name (later known as "San Francisco Beat") but it's a great crime pic, filled with unsavory characters, outstanding location shooting, and a memorable performance by Eli Wallach as a sociopath trying to track down a missing heroin shipment. Thinking back now, some of Wallach's facial expressions stand out to me--just specific ones he gives in individual scenes--and I think that's a sign of a memorable performance. He really is a riot, but then Robert Keith and Richard Jaeckel also stand out to a lesser extent.

One of the hallmarks of "The Lineup" is the awesome late-fifties location shooting in San Francisco. It's a treat, then, to hear S.F. native Eddie Muller pointing out aspects of the geography, sites of interests, and other tidbits as the commentary track unfolds. The saddest threat that runs through it is the constant reminders of a past city that is no longer there in that form and never will be. Muller laments the loss of many of these locations as he points them out. Progress is progress, I guess. At least we have movies like this to preserve some of that history.

That's the saddest thread to me, but some of you might find Ellroy's obsessions sadder. Personally, I find the "Demon Dog" a fascinating observer, especially when he's paired with someone like Muller who is capable of steering the discussion on track as needed.

When Muller and Ellroy teamed up on a commentary for "Crime Wave" in WB's Film Noir Collection Volume 4, skittish Warner Brothers suits/lawyers reportedly censored a heap of it. Well, "The Lineup" is a Sony product, and, well...let's just say the Sony Standards and Practices Department is a helluva lot more mellow.

Throughout this audio commentary, you will hear profanity galore (including the glorious f-bomb), remarks about sexuality, drug references, and all sorts of other fun tangents. Ellroy being Ellroy, he often delves into his own interests, such as labeling seemingly every other character as a homosexual (not that he's always wrong in this regard, as there is some fairly overt stuff in the picture), referring to San Fran as "the Joan Zone" after a former object of his affection from the city, and--perhaps best of all--frequently expressing his fascist wish that police departments had more power; the power, for example, to bash a suspect in the head with a phone book in order to get information or, well, hell, just because.

At the beginning of one scene, Ellroy identifies a character--one we see for the first time, mind you--as homosexual within seconds (if that), and when Muller asks him about it, he just says it's his vibe. Later, as another character interacts with a little girl in a non-threatening way (at least on the surface), Ellroy is the one who "goes there," groaning something like, "Oh, on top of everything else, the guy's a pederast, too." Not that there's anything at all funny about that crime, of course, or even this scene the way it's filmed, but the the way Ellroy says this catches me off guard and cracks me up.

Muller strikes the right tone in dealing with his partner in crime here, indulging his comments without condoning them, often laughing with or sort of at them, too. The guys have a nice rapport that only enhances this bonus feature, and though Ellroy does go a little off the rails sometimes, he is strangely compelling, though Muller could have done an excellent track alone as well.

"The Lineup" is a great crime movie with a thrilling finish and several outstanding scenes. In addition to the great commentary track, there is a featurette about noir and the film's original trailer. I'd say this one is worth the cost of the DVD box set alone, but it's an expensive package, so I'm sure as hell not gonna say it's that good. But if you're interested in the other movies in the set for any reason, go ahead and get it if you can. "The Lineup" will not disappoint you.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The fuddy-duddy returns: Law & Order SVU on at 10AM?

I may sound like an ol' fuddy-duddy again here, but does anyone really need to see Law and Order: SVU at 10:00 in the morning?

Hey, if people do, great, but the local My TV affiliate, an "over the air" (can we still use that term?) television outlet runs SVU each weekday at this early time.

It's not the only thing on at 10:00 A.M. that's inappropriate for the younger set, but it does kind of stand out to me. When a show like SVU is in first-run, it may draw some controversy (well, not now, when anything goes, but humor me here; it did before), but it's pointed out that it's at night, it's maybe in a relatively later time slot and not the "family hour" (remember the family hour), etc.

Then the reruns start, and the time gets bumped up, and maybe it's on cable and all, but still.

Now it's on a non-cable channel every morning at 10:00. So you get up, have breakfast, maybe see your spouse off to work, help the older kids to school, then head out for a play date with your little one, and when you walk back in the door, you might be just in time to relax with an hour of...(let's see the descriptions, via, for this week's episodes):

Monday: Stabler seeks an HIV-positive rapist who preys on young girls.
Tuesday: Party hosts are found murdered.
Wednesday: Special guest star David Keith helps track a serial rapist-killer.
Thursday: "The investigation of a shooting near a gay bar leads to a couple's involvement with porn movies." If on Thanksgiving your family is sick of the Macy's parade, here's another option!
Friday: This episode involves kidnapping and illegal adoption. There's nothing about rape listed in the synopsis, but I'm sure it's in the show somewhere.

I'm not saying someone should make WDCA-20 remove SVU from its schedule or anything. I just feel kind of weird about this being on so early, you know what I mean? Perry Mason and Joe Mannix and [first name unknown] Quincy might have investigated murders for years in early-morning reruns, but their adventures were a tad less graphic, and rape wasn't likely to show up in each episode (In "the good old days," I guess you could say shows used rape as an occasional treat, not the staple of the diet).

So, yeah, this is just kind of odd. Maybe it's not such a big deal anymore, but...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Journey into DVD: Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre

To commemorate what would have been Dick Powell's 105th birthday over the weekend, I was thinking of watching the great "Cry Danger," but I opted instead for a few episodes of his 1950s western anthology, "Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre."

Ever since I got this set, I have admired the ridiculousness of that title. Not that it's ever a mistake to get a great brand name out there, and, hey, how can you resist TWO brand names on your TV show? It does sound awkward, though, doesn't it? I decided to embrace it rather than mock it, and as far as I'm concerned, this particular copy of VCI's DVD set is "Rick Brooks' Dick Powell's Zane Grey Theatre." If I ever sell this package, the next guy can figure out what he wants to call it.

The show is a lot of fun. Like many anthologies of the 1950s, "RBDPZGT" delivers a new prominent guest star each episode, and it's fun to just launch the episodes without peeking and enjoy spotting the familiar faces. The half-hour stories are efficient but carry some weight, and from what I've seen so far, this is a fine, entertaining TV oater.

I particularly enjoy "RBDPZGT's" structure. Each show begins with a brief scene, usually one loaded with tension, that establishes the story. Instead of getting a representative spot from the middle of the show, as one might expect, we get a distinct bit that gets things hopping right away. The first few times I watched these DVDs, I had to remind myself not to get lazy during that cold open because I would NOT be seeing it again!

Perhaps the best part of each half-hour is Powell's droll intro following the open. He comes out in some kind of western duds, stands in front of a scenic backdrop that wouldn't fool Mary Ingalls, and explains a concept related to the Old West, usually while holding some kind of relevant prop. Powell strikes the right tone, implanting the tongue far enough in his cheek to carry off the comedic bits but holding back enough in his delivery so as to avoid demeaning the material we're about to see. In fact, Powell, unlike Al Hitchcock, does not return after the story to send us out on a light note; in my opinion, this serves the show well, allowing the impact of the episode to sink in.

A great feature on this attractive VCI package is the inclusion of original series promos and teasers. I wish more companies would add these to their TV on DVD releases. I can't believe Paramount doesn't have tons of this kind of material sitting around. It would be cool to program a night of classic TV at my house, using these kinds of promos as filler. Yes, I know I'm a dork, but I'd like to do that. I don't understand why DVD companies can't add some of the cool stuff to their discs instead of making us go to YouTube. I imagine it kills the mood if you're running a classic TV DVD program, and all of a sudden you ask everybody in your den to crowd into the office so you can load an old commercial on Google Video.

There are some of those spots on RBDPZGT, and I am grateful to VCI. Hey, I'm glad VCI did such a fine overall job with this relatively unknown Western. I hope to see more seasons, and I hope every fan of this kind of material is aware this is out there and gives the series a look.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vault of Coolness: CBN TV schedule in 1983

I've learned in the past few years that my dad and I were far from the only ones who enjoyed the heck out of CBN's old-school TV lineup back in the 1980s. My pal Ivan at TDOY is but one of the classic rerun lovers who appreciated that channel. Nick at Nite got most of the attention back then, and it seems more widely remembered today, but as a kid, I was much more into CBN's lineup. It and WPIX, along with the great taste of my family, were the main forces that drilled a love of vintage TV into my impressionable young skull.

Wouldn't it be fun to look at CBN's schedule from the week before Christmas 1983? Several ownership changes lately, the former Christian Broadcasting Network is now ABC Family, and while many are grateful for the heavy airplay it gives the classic TV holiday specials each year, oh, what we've lost.

Here's the weekday classic TV lineup, courtesy of an old newspaper TV supplement from December 1983:

8:00 AM Blondie
8:30 AM My Little Margie
9:00 AM Dobie Gillis
9:30 AM I Married Joan

(I'm skipping the movie and the religious programs)

Game shows take over at 4:30 with Bullseye, followed by Tic-Tac-Dough, Let's Make a Deal, and Treasure Hunt, then we get to the westerns with...

6:30 PM The Rifleman
7:00 PM Alias Smith and Jones

Then we return to the present with...

8:00 PM I Spy

It looks like what follows on weekdays are a combo of "700 Club" and some other shows on a semi-regular basis before we get to the regular nightly lineup of...

11:30 PM Dobie Gillis
12:00 AM Burns and Allen
12:30 AM Jack Benny
1:00 AM I Married Joan
1:30 AM Love That Bob
2:00 AM Bachelor Father
2:30 AM Life of Riley

What a cool assortment of shows! I don't love all these programs, and I suppose an ingrate like me could nitpick and wish they'd sub in a few others instead of repeating Dobie and Joan, but still. Some of these shows are still aired today, but often only a small portion of episodes are in rotation. I don't remember that being an issue with CBN--not that as a child I was able to stay up every night till 1:00 to track Jack Benny episodes (though given what I know now, I kind of wish I had).

Of course, at other times, CBN aired programs like "You Bet Your Life," "The Bill Cosby Show," (Hey, Shout, how about finishing off this one?) as well.

It's kind of funny to think that, though I don't watch religious programming on television, I long for the days of the old Christian Broadcasting Network and remember it as a much more useful resource than ABC Family.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving from Sleuth, the network for, uh...bad movies

Oh, how naive I was to think Sleuth would be a decent cable network. By the time I got it a few years ago, it was already sliding downhill, but now it's deteriorated from USA Network 2 to something like USA Network 5 or 6. It's not just that the network abandoned all pretense of providing programming appropriate to its name, though that is a big part of it.

Just for fun, let's look at Sleuth's Thanksgiving Day lineup.

6:00 AM Ed TV
8:30 AM Little Miss Sunshine
11:00 AM Ed TV
1:30 PM Little Miss Sunshine
4:00 PM Friday After Next
6:00 PM Thank You for Smoking
8:00 PM Along Came Polly
10:00 PM Thank You for Smoking
12:00 AM Along Came Polly
2:00 AM Friday After Next
4:00 AM National Lampoon's Dad's Week Off

Heavens to Columbo, what the hell is this supposed to represent? Seeing this schedule makes me want to drop to my knees and beg Roger Goodell's forgiveness for bitching about the NFL scheduling the Oakland Raiders on Thanksgiving. I'll watch a 2009 Raiders games marathon before I watch all of these movies like this.

My apologies to the makers of "Thank You for Smoking," which is a decent film that doesn't deserve to be lumped in with the others, but what is it doing on Sleuth?

And, hey, what is NBC Universal doing holding off a gem like "National Lampoon's Dad's Week Off" till 4:00 in the morning when the whole family could be gathered around the Philco watching it before or after other family classics like "The Wizard of Oz" and "It's a Wonderful Life"?

I'm getting close to using parental block-out technology on Sleuth not because I'm worried about my daughter being exposed to it, but because it's raising my blood pressure each time I bother to see what it's airing.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Brooks on Books: The Purpose of the Past by Gordon Wood

I don't know if distinguished historian, author, and professor Gordon Wood is a fan of Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, but each time I pick up this book, I can't help but sing:

The purpose of the past
is to love a woman
And the purpose of a woman
is to love the past
So come on, baby, let's start today
Come on, baby, let's play
The game of love (love)
love (love)
la la la la la love...

And then I get this picture of Wood at some dive bar just off campus, breaking away from his tweed-jacketed colleagues and approaching a comely grad student in the corner, telling her, "Hey, baby, you love the past?"

You judge whether that's disrespectful to this respected scholar or just a really cool scenario.

As for the book: "The Purpose of the Past" is a collection of previously published Gordon Wood book reviews from a variety of publications such as "The New York Review of Books," nearly all dealing with the early days of America. The selection isn't random; each review represents a different approach to history, such as "fiction," "multiculturalism," postmodernism," and many more. Each review covers the book's topic and the writing, but it also gives Wood an opportunity to discuss the relative merits of the approach to history used by the author. New afterwords written for this volume clarify Wood's thinking.

There is some interesting material here for casual history fans as well as some possible reading list additions, but it's not a breezy read. Wood often criticizes inaccessible, overly dense writing, and he is certainly not guilty of providing that, but this is as much a book about how to practice and study history as it is history itself. You might have to be pretty committed to want to read reviews that use words like "epistemology" so often, and many casual readers might be turned off by such an inside baseball approach.

Wood raves about some authors and layeth the smack down on others. One thing that really bugs him is the imposition of modern attitudes and beliefs on the individuals and events of the past; his eloquent attacks on such anachronistic approaches recur throughout the reviews.

I sort of picked this up at random, and while I don't know if I found too many things to add to my own "must read" list, I enjoyed Wood's writing, and the reviews here are educational both about American history itself and how it is written and has been over the years. It's provocative and compelling even for a non-historian such as myself, someone who just likes to read some history every now and then. So I enjoyed "The Purpose of the Past" and polished it off pretty quickly. I have to admit, though, that's enough of this kind of thing for now. Next I'd rather just read one of Wood's fine history books. However, I'd certainly be glad to read his reviews of other works as they appear.

Friday, November 13, 2009

This Week in DVD

Up: Without a doubt, the best film I've seen in a theater this year. Hey, don't penalize it for being the only film I've seen in a theater this year.

Watchmen The Ultimate Cut: Apparently this is some sort of 5-disc edition. How can they possibly 5 discs with this? Does one disc consist of videos of castmembers sitting down and reading the graphic novel to themselves?

The Ugly Truth: If you were to tell me last year that Katherine Heigl would be in a romantic comedy with Gerald Butler, I'd probably say..."Hey, isn't she supposed to be a real pain in the ass?" because even then, that's pretty much what everyone was saying about her.

American Virgin: Hey, studios: I don't EVER AGAIN want to see Rob Schneider's mug on a DVD cover underneath the words "American Virgin."

Spread: And I don't ever again want to see Ashton Kutcher's torso on a DVD cover, period.

World Series Film Collection: A gigantic box set collecting the films that recap each year's Fall Classic. Give MLB credit for not putting pinstripes on the packaging. Hey, we Pirate fans can party like it's 1979 again!

Three Stooges Collection Volume 7: Hey, this one has a few shorts in 3-D. 3-D, I tells ya!

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cable Movie Roundup #3

And now, some more quick takes on films seen via free premium cable by yours cheaply--uh, truly.

Mr. Bean's Holiday: Never as funny as I wanted it to be, but with some good bits for Bean lovers, this is a worthwhile watch on TV or video, but I would have felt let down had I paid big screen bucks. I have to give special props to Willem Dafoe for his hilarious performance as a pretentious big-shot director (redundant?). I'd say he steals the movie, but come on, you don't steal a movie from Rowan Atkinson.

The Rocker: This is another one of those comedies with an ill-defined lead character who is alternately mockable and awesome depending on the current need of the screenplay (See also "Get Smart"). This does Rainn Wilson no favors, and while it may have seemed like a good idea to cast him as a drummer who is booted out of his band, then leads a group of high schoolers to success--hey, wait, this does sound funny now that I type it out. Where was I?

Oh, yeah, problem is, I personally don't think Wilson can carry a comedy feature as a lead, and this movie does nothing to dispel that opinion, but on the other hand, it's not his fault he's saddled with a contrived romance with Christina Appelgate and other phony movie-ish moments. This ain't "School of Rock," but it tries mightily to get that kind of heart. Special props to Emma Stone, however, for her charming turn in this. She's taken not-stellar roles in "Superbad," "House Bunny," and this, and turned each into something worthwhile. I think she should get some more buzz as a go-to young actress. Maybe she should do something with Willem Dafoe.

Be Kind Rewind: Not at ALL what it was marketed as. I mean, not at ALL. Seriously. You get what I'm saying here?

Maybe I missed the tweet that told everyone this wasn't a zany comedy about Jack Black and Mos Def recreating famous movies and renting their versions to an increasingly appreciative video store customer fanbase, but ultimately a thoughtful meditation on truth, community, and mythmaking. So I was particularly jarred when the movie abruptly became that, and maybe that transition combined with my preconceptions to put me out of commission on this one.

I might pick up something on a rewatch, but I had trouble getting through it, with the laughs just not there in enough numbers to hold my attention till the story became more thoughtful.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Last week in DVD

Blogging is inherently a self-indulgent exercise in many respects, but putting up a post about last week's DVD releases may be pushing it. "Like we need to read what this jerk thinks about G.I. Joe?" But I started off trying a "Last Week and This Week in DVD" post, then it spiraled out of control, and I decided to split it up. So you get to read what this jerk thinks about "G.I. Joe."

G.I. Joe: OK, I didn't see this movie.

But I will say this: We've seen the Real American Hero, we've seen TWO Transformers movies...On behalf of every red-blooded male who grew up playing with toys in the eighties, I gotta ask: Where's that live-action My Little Pony film?

I Love You, Beth Cooper: Sure, this Chris Columbus adaptation of the outstanding Larry Doyle comic novel garnered wretched reviews, reviews so negative star Hayden Paniettere must have longed for the relative acclaim surrounding "Heroes." But you know what? I love the book, and I'm confident that after seeing this one on DVD...

I'll still love the book.

Sony Film Noir Set: A 5-film box set of old Columbia noir/crime flicks with extras galore. All I can say is, Sony is bringing it lately.

Claudette Colbert Collection: Sure wish Universal would unleash some of the noirs it controls, but film fans should be happy with this release, a rather unheralded one from what I gather. I guess Universal sees the marketing potential of Colbert since her great grandson is so prominent on Comedy Central. I sure hope Comedy picks up "Weeknight Update with Bob Noir."

Taking of Pelham 1-2-3: Fortunately for all of us, this remake was halfway decent enough that we don't have to grapple with the difficult issue of whether it's too soon to make fun of John Travolta.

Food, Inc.: Why does it seem like every few months now, there's some new documentary or feature telling me why everything I eat is morally and dietarily wrong? Big Food needs to come out with a counterattack. Or at least give us some free burgers.

Hardwired: A direct to video Cuba Gooding/Val Kilmer pairing. This is both funny and sad, but most of all, it's not at all surprising.

The Room: I've read lots of good things about this notoriously bad movie. Some say it's even worse than "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," and to them I reply, "Oh, come on!" I mean, like anybody remained conscious through that one. Getting back to "The Room," at least Cuba Gooding and Val Kilmer didn't wind up in it.

Mission Impossible Season 7: A series all wrapped up! Paramount released it in 7 sets, not 14, and as far as I can tell, the world is spinning, and it figures to keep going (until everything goes kerblooey in 2012, of course, at which point Paramount might be up to season 3 of "My Three Sons).

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Ranting about Reruns (Part 2)

I complain a lot about what's NOT on TV, so I think it's time to mix things complaining about what IS on TV. I used to enjoy reading Sitcoms Online's news blog because it would bring news of an exciting program acquisition for a rerun outlet like TV Land or American Life. Now, at least once a week, I read something that makes me groan.

Let's examine what TV channels and networks are running when they're NOT showing classics like "Mannix," "Room 222," "The Paper Chase," name it.

*Sue Thomas, F.B.Eye. I hate to rip on shows I don't watch just to make a point, but...well...I don't have a big gripe with this show getting rerun exposure (though I didn't know it ever really left Pax/ION), but do we need TWO channels' worth of it? Both American Life and Gospel Music Channel show this weekdays, with GMC giving it two shots a day.

That's a whole lotta Sue Thomas. I'm just sayin'. But at least this is a rerun of a show that isn't on anymore. We somehow reached a point where the mission of practically every programming outlet extant is to recycle the stuff that's on right now. Well, not literally right now, but currently in first-run, though chances are, whenever you read this, someone is showing...

*Bones: I don't dare make fun of this one, a Mrs. Cultureshark favorite. But, oh, boy, do I get my fill of this show, just by secondhand exposure. Fox shows it allegedly once a week, WGN America runs it, the local "My TV" affiliate airs it frequently, and then there's TNT. Oh, is there TNT.

As I write this, TNT is showing "Bones" at 7, 8, 9, AND 10. Tomorrow it'll be on at 7, 8, and 9. Thursday, an NBA game limits it to one episode, but Friday, Angel and "Don't Call Me Zooey" Deschannel return at 7 and 8.

There isn't this much "Bones" in the Museum of Natural History.

*How about "Ghost Whisperer"? CBS gives this its weekly airing Friday nights, but for some unknown reason, WE, ION, and SyFy are all showing reruns. You want to talk about unexplained phenomena? Someone figure out what the interest is in THIS MUCH "Ghost Whisperer." If you really want to do the research, you don't have to go visit a haunted graveyard or anything. Just turn it to SyFy Monday night and settle in for FOUR STRAIGHT EPISODES starting at 7.

Is every channel just giving up now? I know USA and Bravo programmers threw their hands up a while ago and decided just to run blocks of their own shows and "repurposed" acquisitions, but now everyone is getting in on the act.

Even shows I like are abused by this laziness. TV Guide Network and TV Land just bought rights to air hacked-up episodes of "Curb Your Enthusiasm." I love "Curb," but, even avoiding questions of how good the show will be in censored form, I don't want to see it all over the place. Oh, did I forget to mention that WGN America will also be airing it?

I'm sick of this kind of programming, which is enough to drive a man to RTV, an outlet which sometimes shows the same episodes over and over again, but at least the episodes aren't ones that were on CBS last week.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Cultureshark Recommends: Tv Documentaries

I've seen a bunch of smart docs on the idiot box lately, and though they have all aired already, I still want to recommend them here. It takes me a while to wade through the vast amount of...well, junk I accumulate on my DVR, OK? If you haven't seen 'em, hopefully these'll pop up again in some format.

Inventing L.A.: The Chandlers and Their Times: Did PBS even tell anybody this was gonna be on? I barely snagged it, and after viewing it, I couldn't believe it didn't get more attention. It's a classy but compelling look at the very creation of Los Angeles, its rise as a major city, and some of its struggles through the years, all filtered through the Chandler family and the "Los Angeles Times" it published. It delves into the corruption of the LAPD, the political influence of the historically conservative Chandlers, and the gradual decline of the newspaper industry, all in a coherent, entertaining 2-hour package narrated by the ever-smooth Liev Schreiber. Not to mention that pretty stellar pun in the title. If any of this appeals to you, watch this documentary.

JFK: 3 Shots That Changed America: I suppose there are some people who complain each time the History Channel (or, excuse me, HISTORY) finds another way to get a few hours of programming out of the JFK assassination. Come on, though, even if you resent baby boomers and their obsessions, is this really the kind of programming we want to cite to get on History's case? Of course not. I almost always enjoy JFK-assassination-related programs, and while I've seen a lot of them, this one offered plenty of new footage.

Unblike many recent productions of the channel, this one didn't rely on reenactments. In fact, other than a vaguely ominous musical score and some stark, unobtrusive title screens (mostly to keep track of the actual time that day as events unfolded), it was all archival footage from different TV and radio sources.

The two-hour special took us in sequential order from JFK's arrival in Dallas to Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, and it was filled with poignant moments. I was particularly struck by footage of Americans reacting to the shocking news. It's amazing that all these years later, the occasion still has that power, and the fact that it does means there is still the potential for worthwhile documentaries on the subject, even when they don't jump into the rabbit hole of conspiracy. This is an outstanding effort worth seeing even if you have seen a ton of Kennedy stuff.

ESPN 30 for 30: Muhammad and Larry: I've seen several of the ESPN "30 for 30" documentaries, all of which are fascinating hourlong programs. This one is a fine mix of the contemporaneous Maysles brothers film from 1980 documenting the Muhammad Ali/Larry Holmes heavyweight boxing championship match with new interviews.

Holmes demolished a pre-Parkinsons but already diminished Ali in the bout, and apparently people lost their will for the project, so the original material is resurrected for this documentary, which focuses on the senselessness of Ali taking the fight in the first place. It's stunning to see Ali deteriorate even over the course of the 1980 footage, and you don't need to see him struggling to take on a speed bag to know something was wrong even before Holmes destroyed him.

Holmes comes off as a pretty cool dude. Vilified at the time for taking down a legend and never really appreciated as a champion, the guy lives in his hometown of Easton, is a fixture in the community, is married to the same woman he was in '80, and seems to have most of his faculties intact.

I'm no Ali fan, but it's easy to feel sorry for him (without blaming Holmes) when you see this remarkable time capsule. The "30 for 30" film raises questions about why Ali was still boxing at 38 years old, and it at least hints at many of the unsavory aspects of the sport. Come to think of it, are there any great boxing movies that DON'T deal with the unsavory aspects of the sport?

Even if you resent the canonization of Ali and the pass he apparently gets for the way he treated people like Joe Frazier, you will be moved by "Muhammad and Larry," an evocative exploration of a major sporting event that has gone underdocumented seemingly because people have wanted to forget about it.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Budget DVD Theater: Life with Elizabeth

Let me tell you something about my dad. He loves old TV, and he loves finding 1950s and 1960s TV shows on dollar DVDs. I should say LOVED, because it looks like the days of dollar DVDs are gone. We miss the joy of entering a Target and finding a new batch of cheapo discs, and I even regret not having the opportunity to wade through dozens of "Bonanza" and Superman cartoon discs to find something I haven't already seen at 18 different stores.

Yes, my dad and I love Budget DVD Theater, but there's one show he does not love. In fact, he hates it. In much the same way the womenfolk in the family cringe when the men raise the specter of a Wheeler and Woolsey marathon, I can make him shudder with the mere mention of one mostly forgotten 1950s syndicated sitcom:

"Life with Elizabeth."

(Note to self: Next time, enhance suspense by not revealing name of sitcom in question in the title of the post)

My father and I are pals, and I can't ever see myself intentionally causing him harm, but much like Batman keeps some kryptonite in the Batcave in case he needs to confront Superman, I always have a cheapo DVD or two of "Life with Elizabeth" on hand just in case Dad ever goes rogue.

Now, you might think this show isn't all THAT bad, especially considering it stars Betty White. Everyone loves Betty White, the sharp-witted comedienne, game show personality, and all-around talented TV icon, right?

Well, that Betty White isn't in "Life With Elizabeth." No, here she is playing a goofy, naive young bride--not stupid, exactly, but sort of childish in her overall outlook and tendency to get her cute little self into these darned crazy situations. There's no edge, no guile, just a lovably silly housewife who often needs to get her comeuppance from her smug, condescending husband Alvin.

On "I Love Lucy," those crazy situations might include struggling to keep up with a conveyor belt of candy or clowning around with a Hollywood celebrity. On "Life with Elizabeth," the TV is broken. Or she wants to plant a tree, and Alvin says no. Or the couple goes to a drive-in restaurant and encounters a malaprop-spouting waitress who can't get their order right.

Yes, folks, this is gentle comedy. Gentle comedy has its place, especially in old-school TV, but I also like comedic comedy, and the problem with "Life with Elizabeth" is it's just not that funny. Almost all the jokes come in the form of some groan-inducing pun Elizabeth shares with Alvin, and even though she giggles each time she delivers one as if to let us know she knows it's silly, it's still supposed to be funny.

The show is pretty bad, to be sure, but I don't think it's as bad as my father thinks it is. I don't think anything could be as bad as he thinks it is. Yet all I have to do is suggest we put in an episode of this one, and I can practically hear him thinking, "How difficult is it to legally disown your son?" And this is a man who has seen and enjoyed an awful lot of garbage over the years--much of it stuff he would admit is garbage.

I don't know what makes this particular series his nemesis, but I do find the format sort of intriguing. An announcer (future game show mainstay Jack Narz) introduces the show and the characters and tells us we'll see 3 incidents in the life of this married couple. He sets up the first segment by saying, "In our first incident..." and then he pops up throughout the show to introduce and bridge the segments. This all looks rather quaint today.

Oh, and Betty White often looks to the camera and responds to comments from the announcer when those segments begin. From what I've seen, though, she usually ignores us when Alvin enters the room. That Alvin! As played by Del Moore, this insufferable hubby is grating today, but perhaps back then his generic imperious male character was more tolerable.

In fact, the only way I can really enjoy "Life with Elizabeth" is to imagine that Elizabeth loathes Alvin and spends all her waking hours plotting ways to aggravate him as payback for being such a pill. She keeps a dopey smile on her face the whole time to mask the genuine delight she takes in disrupting Alvin's day with her inane comments and puns.

I guess the show is going for this on some small level, with White playing a mischievous but pleasant scamp, but as played, it's not good enough for me. No, I have to believe Elizabeth herself is a brilliant performer, not to mention cunning enough to never let her guard down and reveal to anyone--not the viewers watching her 30 minutes a week, not the pesky announcer who keeps sticking his nose in her business, and CERTAINLY not her "better half"--that her entire existence is but one long buildup to the day when her ridiculous jokes finally lull Alvin into a deep enough state of weary indifference that she can bludgeon him with a rolling pin and marry an insurance salesman.

That is almost enough to get me through an episode in which the big joke is Elizabeth making a pun with "votes" and "volts" while Alvin tries to fix the TV set. I don't think it works for my dad, though, and if he sees this post, he may try to bludgeon ME with a rolling pin just for writing so much about this show.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Ranting about reruns (Part 1)

Today I want to talk about what you ARE NOT seeing on television these days. I rent a lot of TV on DVD through Netflix, and I try to feature a handful of shows in an informal rotation, spreading the series out rather than watching a whole season in a short period of time.

This year, I've seen some excellent TV series this way, and I think it's a shame that I have to see them on DVD rather than on the tube. Sure, I'm thankful that I at least have the opportunity to view these neglected shows, but come on, isn't the point of TV to recycle itself? These days, reruns are endless screenings of shows that were on a few years ago or "repurposed" airings of episodes that were on a few weeks ago. I grew up on a heavy diet of classic reruns. Where would I be without my endless viewings of "Brady Bunch," "Gilligan's Island," or--OK, maybe the Sherwood Schwartz sitcoms aren't the greatest examples. But the point is there is not much room for quality old-school television in today's landscape. For example, why can't we see...

The Invaders: I believe this was on Sci-Fi back before I got the channel, and of course the new SyFy isn't interested in an ancient show like this Quinn Martin production anymore than it is interested in offering a name that doesn't induce guffaws.

Season 1 is really good stuff, and while I wouldn't recommend watching big chunks of it at a time--the format gets a little repetitive, and you start to question some of the show's plot elements--it would make a great weekend rerun offering. A Sat.-Sun. slot would also avoid burning through the show's limited number of episodes. If invading aliens are passe just because they're 40 years old, well, then it's a sad time for TV. Of course, ABC is remaking "V" and trying to avoid using the word "aliens," so I guess they're half-afraid of sci-fi. But why is Sci-Fi afraid of sci-fi? Because it's "old," I guess--even though this one is, as it proudly proclaims at the start of each episode, IN COLOR.

Room 222: I talked about this one before. It's a gentle, amusing show, probably quaint to younger audiences today. But who cares about younger audiences? Well, besides advertisers? Good TV is good TV, and this is the kind of show that deserves another look. I mean, it's no "Saved by the Bell," but don't baby boomers have any kind of cachet anymore?

Mannix: OK, I understand why a laid-back show about kindhearted teachers and the social problems of the 1960s might seem a tad dated in this era of "The Wire," but "Mannix" is hip even today. The show is in color (if not IN COLOR), it features a private eye, and Mike Connors kicks ass. And I mean that literally. The show is violent as hell, which ought to appeal to today's bloodthirsty audiences. People die in this series. Mannix often kills them. Oh, if Sleuth would only show something like this instead of...whatever it shows these days.

The Paper Chase: I can actually understand why this one isn't on anymore. It's a dramedy about law students, but they don't hop into each other's beds each episode or pass out after drug overdoses at off-campus parties every night. I've only seen most of the first season, but I'm pretty sure "The Paper Chase" never built up an episode on the intrigue of which of its characters would engage in a threesome. The fact is, the straight college drama genre just doesn't appeal to the powers that be anymore. Straight-up dramedy is getting rarer. "The Paper Chase" is an example of a genre known as GOOD TV, and sadly, that's just not enough to get it in reruns nowadays.

Maybe an outlet like RTV will eventually get around to showing programs just because they are good, but until then, we will have to rely on DVD to check out these sort-of-lost classics. After all, the TV channels we have are filling their schedule with...Well, let's get to that in a future post.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Wonderful World of TCM: Lightning Round!

Arsene Lupin: This 1932 account of the master jewel thief is a little slow in the middle, but it's still entertaining to see Lupin, played by John Barrymore, match wits with Detective Guerchard, played by my favorite Barrymore of them all, Lionel.

By the way, "Arsene" is not pronounced by starting with "Arse," and his name is not a fancy way of saying "Wolf Man." Despite those disappointments, the movie is still a good one. Lionel knows who the mysterious criminal is, but he can't prove it, and John delights in getting his goat. What he REALLY delights in getting is the Mona Lisa, which he vows to seize right under Guerchard's nose.

Nobody takes any of this seriously, and there is a romantic element that adds to the lightness of it all. The dueling Barrymores are pretty much the whole show, and they're enough. I don't care much for the ending, but it's more or less in line with the rest of "Lupin," which treats the whole situation as a game between two gentlemen rather than any kind of high-stakes police crisis.

Hallelujah! I'm a Bum: A fascinating Depression-era musical that "proves" that poverty ain't so bad--in fact, it's downright grand! Al Jolson is the de facto mayor of the Central Park bum community, but he is good friend to the "real" mayor of NYC, played by Frank Morgan. When Morgan's girlfriend tries to commit suicide after a misunderstanding, Jolson saves her and falls in love with the amnesiac woman. Complications ensue, and while the movie is mostly a lark, there is some genuine emotion in these relationships and how they unfold.

The movie is a real curio in part because of how it blends Rodgers and Hart songs with rhyming dialogue and regular dialogue. There's never a dull moment in "Hallelujah," and Jolson and Morgan create likable but credible personas even within this offbeat format. Silent film legend Harry Langdon even gets a nice supporting role.

The music, the rhyming dialogue, the performances, the witty script, and the interesting depiction of life from the "bum's" perspective all contribute to the unique atmosphere. This one's a real keeper, and while I haven't seen much of Al Jolson, I can't imagine him coming off much better than he does here,

Tales of Terror: A fun collection of Edgar Allen Poe adaptations, with old favorite Vinnie Price narrating and appearing in each segment. Fun but unspectacular, though I'll bet the set design and cinematography really popped in the theater (and on a better TV than mine). The highlight is the middle chapter, "The Black Cat," with Peter Lorre's hilarious performance carrying a story that takes a while to get to where it ends up getting.

There are other fun aspects of this Roger Corman joint , including lovely ladies such as Debra Paget. I wasn't overwhelmed by anything in the film, but it offers 3 amusing tales and makes for a nice pre-Halloween movie. Uh, sorry for telling you that AFTER Halloween.