Friday, July 31, 2009

Wonderful World of TCM: Johnny Got His Gun

Like many out there of a certain age, for years, my only exposure to this film was seeing the clips in Metallica's "One" video. Man, "Johnny Got His Gun" looked BAD-ASS in that video. Some poor dude is believed all but dead, and we hear his thoughts as he tries to communicate. It's all in a dreary black and white...and of course there is some guitar shredding going on along with James Hetfield's imposing vocals.

I think it's safe to say many a teenager thought back in the day, "I GOTTA see that movie!"

It's never been easy to find, and rumors swirled for years about its availability or likelihood of video release, but recently Criterion released the movie on DVD. I opted to catch it on Turner Classic Movies.

Boy, am I glad I didn't buy the DVD.

"Johnny Got His Gun" is much, much, much more enjoyable in clip form. No disrespect intended to legendary screenwriter and Blacklist icon Dalton Trumbo, but 110 minutes of his anti-war message becomes oppressive. I don't mean because it's anti-war, but because it's dull.

Unfortunately, the chilling atmosphere so pervasive in the rapidly-edited clips in the Metallica video is overwhelmed by the laboriousness of the rest of the movie when you watch the whole thing. There are some effective scenes, but they pale beside some of the clunkers. Let me paraphrase a sample exchange from one of the colorful, sunnily-lit passages showing lead character Joe before he goes to World War I and is physically decimated:

Young Boy Joe: What IS democracy, anyway?
Joe's Dad (Jason Robards): [THOUGHTFUL EXPRESSION] Well, I reckon like any form of government, it has something to do with young men killin' each other.

OK, the whole screenplay isn't this obvious, but it ain't subtle, either, and Trumbo the director (for the only time in his career) doesn't help any. I suppose the film is supposed to be agitprop, and I can't fault it too much for being that, except I also hoped it would be entertaining, if not as BAD-ASS as I might have hoped when I was, what, 14.

Having said all that, the stark black-and-white scenes with the injured Joe are indeed haunting and effective. The more dreamlike color flashbacks, though--not so much. I'm likely in the minority here, but "Johnny Got His Gun" is a big disappointment to me.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Journey Into DVD, or at least anoter blog: Golden Age of TV Noir

I was all set to write in depth about the latest DVD release from Johnny Legend, "Golden Age Noir," but then I read Vince Keenan's excellent summary and realized I didn't really have much to add. I pretty much agree with his assessments of the disc's contents. Go check it out. In particular, I enjoy his take on the rare "Counterpoint" episode included here:

"The show is set over three city blocks but features more walking than the Lord of the Rings trilogy."

So true, and even more hilarious if you see the actual program.

The DVD is well worth a look-see not necessarily for its "noirness"--the noir level is debatable in many of these 7 1950s TV episodes--but simply for providing 7 samples of old-school TV anthologies. Some context would have been nice, but it's still a cool package, offering several episodes of "Four-Star Playhouse," (including Cultureshark Icon Dick Powell), a little Edmond O'Brien, a little young Walter Matthau, and much more.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

This Week in DVD

Green Lantern: First Flight: I'm willing to bet this DC Comics animated feature is as awesome as the previous effort, "Wonder Woman." This is a good time to be Green Lantern now, with the comic book green-hot, this brand-new DVD, and the recent news that the live-action feature is underway. Of course, Ryan Reynolds will be Hal Jordan, but hopefully the movie will overcome that. In this animated version, GL is played by a real man, Christopher Meloni. I don't even watch "Law and Order: SVU," so you know that's a real compliment to him. Or maybe just a real slam on Ryan Reynolds.

Angel of Death: I don't care for star Zoe Bell, but I love Ed Brubaker's hard-boiled comic books. This is a feature version of a live action web series he created, and with a title like "Angel of Death," you know not to expect unicorns and rainbows. Since my slacker self never got around to watching that, this one's for me.

Life on Mars Season 1: This is the original version, and while I don't want to say that all British shows are better than their American counterparts...Yeah, actually that is pretty much what I want to say. You may have seen this show already on BBC America, but it was edited for added commercials, so if you pick up this set, it'll be like watching a whole new show...with the same general theme, plots, characters, and about 85% of the dialogue. But still!

Dollhouse Season 1: and Donna Reed Show Season 2: Untrue story: Joss Whedon was inspired to create "Dollhouse" after watching a "Donna Reed" marathon. Seriously, though, anytime you get a season 2 of a relatively-under-the-radar release like "Donna," it's good news. Maybe this one will keep chugging along on DVD.

Fast and Furious: And now you know why I've focused on comic book adaptations and TV shows this week. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the high-profile theatrical release of the week! Apparently the producers just gave up coming up with clever subtitles for the sequels to "The Fast and the Furious" and said, "Aw, what the hell, no one's coming for the words, anyway."

Becoming Charley Chase: I don't have a lot of experience with silent comedian Charley Chase, but I don't need it to know what a great set this is. Kudos to VCI for releasing this jam-packed collection of Chase's early work. I'm sure it is going to make a lot of people happy.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Things Only I Want to See #2: Richard Gere's Revenge

You all know that rumor about Richard Gere, right? The unspeakable urban legend that somehow became so mainstream, it may have gone back the other way so that people now assume it IS just an urban legend?

Well, this is how prevalent it is: On the IMDB page for the new Jerry Bruckheimer-produced Guinea Pigs in Action movie, "G Force," if you scroll down to the "FAQ" section, the second-most-asked query, right after, "Is this related to the anime series?" is actually...

Hey, wait, someone removed it.

Darn it all! Well, you'll have to take my word for it. As of last week, the second question in the FAQ was actually, "Is Richard Gere involved?"

Poor Richard Gere. That urban legend just won't go away, and it's even being dragged into the sphere of alleged family movies like "G-Force."

I guess my bringing it up doesn't help any, but I am going to make amends by presenting a great way for the actor to get a little revenge. I want to see Richard Gere in a movie...playing Richard Gere. This film would be written by Charlie Kaufman and possibly directed by Spike Jonze. You with me here?

OK, now check this out: In the movie, Richard Gere is determined to track down the originator of that urban legend. He embarks on an obsessive quest to find someone--anyone--he can pummel for starting the rumor. It seems futile, and he alienates many around him, but along the way he discovers just how pervasive the story is (he's been shielded from it to a large extent until now), which reaffirms his drive.

There are lots of twists and turns and head-trippy stuff because it's Charlie Kaufman.

As the film reaches its climax (should I give a SPOILER ALERT for a movie that doesn't exist?), in some amazing miracle, Gere is able to isolate one man as the originator of the urban legend. However, in a fantastic turn of events, we learn that the man is himself part gerbil. Furthermore, he is the spawn of a brief but torrid union between Richard Gere and a--well, you know...

So you might be thinking, yeah, this sounds like an awesome movie, but how does this benefit Richard Gere? How does he get his revenge? It's simple. In the last scene, he smacks the gerbil over the head with a shovel.

I'm telling you, this would be a brilliant piece of cinema. Hollywood, make it happen!

Monday, July 27, 2009

First Impulse: NBC's Fall Schedule

OK, it's been a month and a half since I talked about ABC, even longer since the networks actually announced their schedules, and you may wonder how at this point my reaction can be a "first impulse."

Hey, do you really think I have spent any time thinking about NBC's fall schedule before I realized I needed to finish up the series?

Let's start on a high note for the Peacock, with Sunday Night Football. This is a novelty: Something on NBC people not only watch, but look forward to and enjoy. With the ability to cherry-pick match-ups and the prime-time spotlight, NBC offers a great showcase for pro football, even if they did screw fans by putting on an inferior highlights show and forcing off ESPN's 7:00 "Primetime." But this is a good night for the National Broadcasting Company.

Let's sit back and enjoy this for a moment or two.

OK, unfortunately, there are 5 other nights of the week (Saturdays don't exist for networks anymore), so we must move on to Monday.

Oh, yeah, before we get started on weekdays, thanks to NBC for putting Jay Leno at 10pm, basically giving up on 5 hours of prime time a week and, more importantly, slashing the number of snide comments wise-ass bloggers have to create to discuss its schedule.

Mondays offer "Heroes" at 8. This is how enthusiastic I am about this show: My wife and I let the whole second half of the latest season accumulate on our DVR and never got around to watching any of it. When the DVR got nuked recently and we lost all those episodes, our reaction was more or less, "Eh." Maybe it'll rebound this year, but we've heard that promise before.
Maybe "Trauma" will be better at 9. It's about paramedics, and it's not "Third Watch." That's about all I know.

Tuesdays, it's two hours of "The Biggest Loser." Maybe NBC has some kind of weight-related clever marketing hook to justify this, but really, devoting two whole hours to this is almost as desperate as devoting 5 hours to Leno.

In the middle of the week, it's a nurse show called "Mercy," followed by the 23rd season of "Law and Order: SVU," which can't seem to make any ground on the record holder, "Law and Order," which returns Fridays for its 57th straight season. NBC must stand for Never Basically Changing, because this lineup is looking stale.

I know there are a lot of people who enjoy NBC's Thursday night comedies. They just don't have Nielsen boxes, apparently. Critics may love "30 Rock," but as far as I'm concerned, even if it wins all umpteen of its Emmys, it just ain't my thang. Same for "The Office" and "Parks and Recreation."

Leading off the night, though, is a new effort called "Community." If you read any TV news sites, it probably feels like this community-college-set sitcom starring E! Network's Joel McHale has been in development forever. I swear I've heard about this one for years. I'll give it a shot, but I hope it has a distinctive point of view and isn't just aping the other shows in this comedy block. Oh, yeah, and of course, someone has come up with a brilliant casting move to ensure "Community" feels fresh: Ladies and gentlemen, the return to series television of Chevy Chase!

I mentioned "Law and Order" returns Fridays. In the works this year is a special live, black-and-white episode which pays tributes to the show's origins as "Philco Playhouse Presents the Law and Order 90-Minute Showcase." George Clooney will direct and produce. At 9, it's returning cop show "Southland," which, uh, I kind of meant to sample this past season but never did.

Saturdays on the network aren't worth speaking about; it's all reruns and "Dateline," and of course every God-fearing American boycotted "Dateline" as soon as it canned Stone Phillips.

Sorry for not mustering more enthusiasm for NBC's fall schedule, but it really does seem that the once-proud network is kind of throwing in the towel this year. Maybe next year they'll get Jon Stewart to do a 9pm show and save themselves the trouble of producing 5 MORE hours of content. And then it's My-TV territory, folks.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

My Wife reads "People" so you don't have to #4: Britney!

From the July 20 issue's EXCLUSIVE look at Britney Spears' tour, here's her Britness herself in one photo caption, describing what she does after a show:

"I either watch TV or listen to music, then I go to sleep."

On behalf of the entire Cultureshark audience--even those in the cheap seats--allow me to say...UH-HUH.

I don't necessarily think her statement is inaccurate, but I can't help but suspect she is excluding an activity or 3 from that itinerary.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Best Buy makes it hard to give them money

I went to Best Buy to purchase a memory card a few weeks ago. Now, I could have bought the memory card lots of different places, but only Best Buy had "The '59 Sound," the latest CD from The Gaslight Anthem, for 8 bucks. So Best Buy would get all my business that day.

Or would they? One of the things that drives me crazy about Best Buy is how poorly labeled their deals and specials are. I discovered the $7.99 price online as part of some "New and special artists who you should listen to because people might see the CD on your table and think you're hip, although of course these days they'll just think you're out of it for still buying CDs" promotion. I hoped there might be some display with all those discs grouped together for my convenience. There was not.

Oh, I should mention that before hunting for that mythical display, I went to the most logical place to find a Gaslight Anthem album--the section labeled "Gaslight Anthem." There was a plastic divider with the band's name on it, but no product. I even checked a few rows nearby in case it was misshelved. No luck.

It was only then I began searching for a display or endcap or sale section. See, the online site had told me there were two available in store, and if there's one thing I have learned as a consumer in this Digital Age of ours, it's that the Internet NEVER LIES.

I went to a computer that offered access to their in-store inventory. Sure enough, two copies existed in that very store, unless this was some rogue machine toying with me. Don't think I didn't ponder that one a bit.

Eventually, I gave up and summoned an employee. I have had mixed results with Best Buy associates in the past, but this guy, I will admit, did a heck of a job. He was friendly and professional. First thing he did was head to the "Gaslight Anthem" section, but I wasn't offended even though I had told him I looked there already. Hey, if I worked there, that would be my first move, too.

Then he looked around a bit in the CD section. Again, familiar territory, but, hey, the guy's working for me. Indulge him. For all he knows, I'm "that idiot customer" he'll be talking about on his smoke break.

Finally, he went to the computer and verified that, sure enough, two copies existed in that very store.

Sounds familiar, eh?

Only, he had a path not available to me. "Hold on," he said, "I'll look in the back."
The back? They keep CDs in the back? What are they doing back there where I can't see them?

After about 5 minutes, he did indeed come out from "the back," holding a Gaslight Anthem CD, presumably one of the two in stock (I noticed he didn't bother bringing out the other and putting IT on the shelf). Then, of course, I told him I changed my mind and set it on the shelf beside him.

Just kidding! Of course I got it and the memory card and a few other things besides, but the only reason I got anything was because of this good deal on the one album. If I hadn't found it there, I would have walked out empty-handed and bought the memory card somewhere else instead of getting 50 bucks' worth of merchandise right there.

What was this CD even doing in the back? Do they keep a whole bunch of items there in some grand warehouse, kind of like the "Beyond" manned by Christopher Walken in that sappy Adam Sandler movie from a couple years ago? Do they ever restock their shelves?

I know Best Buy doesn't really care about pushing small potatoes like CDs and DVDs anymore, but if I don't find what I'm looking for, I can go somewhere else. It was only because I was so motivated that day--and cheap--that I made as much effort as I did rather than taking a hikeski and spending my $50 someplace else.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

This Week in DVD

Today, I turn this column over to the people once again, and by "the people," I mean all sorts of different sources. Here are a variety of perspectives--not just mine for a change--on an assortment of this week's notable DVD releases:

The Watchmen:
"I wanted to see it, but your mom and I didn't get to it."
--My dad. We both loved the comic.

The Great Buck Howard:
"I have a his THIRTIES? The hell?"
--Tom Hanks every 5 minutes or so during his experience on this film with son Colin.

Pushing Daisies Season 2:
"This had TWO seasons? The hell?"
--Me when compiling this post.

"It’s nothing like the cartoonish pabulum foisted onto the public in ravishing junk like The Incredibles and Ratatouille or just plain junk like Cars, Finding Nemo, Ice Age and the essentially forgettable Wall-E."
--Armond White, New York Press

The Lucy Show Season 1:
"Lucille Ball was a headstrong actress.When she was doing "I Love Lucy" she always yielded to Desi Arnaz because of her love for him and her respect for his management of the show.When she did "Lucy Show" everything changed: she was divorced, her voice had changed because of doing the Broadway show "Wildcat" (it wrecked her vocal chords), she got Desilu Studios as part of the divorce settlement and she became a big time b!tch. "
--from the opening of a comment from nycruise-1 on IMDB.

Route 66 Complete Season 3/Route 66 Season 3 Volume 1:
--Angry customer returning his set at my local Best Buy after discovering, oops, the discs aren't playable.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Deep Discount, I kind of forgive you

Sure, deep irritated the blazes out of me a few months back with their bait and snatch of canceling my Rocky and Bullwinkle Season 3 order (for 5 bucks! only 5 bucks!) without notice. But you know my motto: "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me--duh, what was I talking about?"

I generally have good experiences with the company, and their prices are too low for me to hold a grudge. Their semi-annual 25% off sale is underway, and last week I jumped in early for 38 bucks to buy the complete "M Squad," a show so good that...well, a show so good I would have been really, really irritated had Deep Discount crapped out on me again.

Not so. In fact, my friend Mike and I have a running joke based on the notoriously slooooow shipping you get from Deep Discount. Hey, I know, it's free, but it's funny how Amazon gets stuff in a few days, while I often see the seasons change while waiting for product from DD.

I made a typical snide remark on Friday when I read my e-mail notification that my DVDs shipped Friday. Hey, I'd hopefully have something to watch for Thanksgiving! Ha ha ha.

But, folks, the M Squad arrived today with all the swiftness of a Lee Marvin right cross. Therefore, I am retiring my Deep Discount jokes for a while, and I kind of forgive the site for the "Rocky and Bullwinkle" incident. And, yes, if they put that one back on sale for 5 bones, I'll bite again...and I won't even mind if I have to wait till Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Cultureshark's Must-NOT List

'Entertainment Weekly" published its annual Fluff List, er, Must List issue, several weeks ago, and I decided to balance it with my own Must-NOT list of the things I'll be trying to avoid this summer. Now, you might think this is just an excuse for a bunch of snarky comments, but I see it as one man's best attempt to counteract the smoochy "EW" feature (Sample: Cat Deeley is the Must Real Deal! Yay! We luv her! XOXO!). And, hey, we can all agree there's just not enough negativity on the Internet.

Must-not Book: Harry Potter
--Understand that I have nothing against the books, their author, or their readership (well that's a broad category--I might have something against some readers of Harry Potter, but not because they read Harry Potter). It's just that my wife and I have a system. She reads the books, we see the movies, I ask her a bunch of questions about plot points that are clear in the novels but murky or ignored in the films. It works out quite well for us.

Must-not Film: I Love You, Beth Cooper
--Kind of the opposite deal here in that I DID read the source novel, and Larry Doyle's teen coming-of-age comedy was clearly destined for the big screen, probably even written with that destination in mind...BUT it clearly needed a quality vision to transport the tone and not just turn it into a generic stupid teen comedy movie. I'm not ripping Chris Columbus here--I think he was just fine on "Harry Potter" (but then, I never read the books, did I?). But I have a bad feeling about it. When I sit through the adaptation and curse what "those idiots" did to the book, I'd rather it be on my couch than at the multiplex after forking over umpteen dollars for a night at the movies.

Must-not TV show: America's Got Talent
--As soon as the current season got underway, I dreaded the inevitable rash of "Have we found our Susan Boyle" stories. I'm fine with Boyle, but not the constant effort to try to reproduce her "storyline." This just gives me another reason to avoid this show.

Must-not Late Night TV Show: Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
--Any hopes I had that the host had his act together vanished when I saw a clip of Mark-Paul Gothelesaar showing up in character as Zack Morris--a brilliant bit, by the way--and Fallon nearly ruining a key gag with his inability to keep a straight face. How long till Horatio Sanz gets a spot on the couch so they can giggle at each other's jokes all night?

Must-not Song: Black-Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow"
--I tend to be wary of anything deemed a "song of the summer," and not just because of my contrary nature (I'm really a sweet, agreeable type). Fact is, many "songs of summer," though they may be catchy, drive me up the wall after a few spins, and not just the one-hit wonders. I can't listen to "Soak Up the Sun" or "Umbrella" without invoking the name of a place where there's not a lot of fun, but it's always hot as summer.

Of course, being deemed as such, these songs of summer get MANY spins. This single from the Peas is awful, and that's no surprise. I don't know why some anoint it such a big anthem because it's not even catchy. That's one good thing about it, I guess, is it's easily forgotten.

Must-not CD: Eminem, "Relapse"
--I don't exactly have my finger on the pulse of hip-hop--I barely even stick my toe in the water--but I get the sense that this album hasn't exactly "blown up" yet, and that's all right by me because I'm pretty much tired of the guy. Even the stunt of getting a faceful of Bruno's ass at the MTV Awards didn't linger.

Hey, remember when "hustling to promote your record" meant going on talk shows, visiting radio stations, and stuff like that? Nowadays it's getting an obnoxious comedian's ass in your face in public. Boy, the music biz IS brutal.

Must-not Planet: Neptune
--All that methane and stuff? You couldn't pay me to vacation there this summer. There's plenty of ocean right here on the good ol' E-A-R of T-H, if you ask me.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hollywood was stupid back then, too, part 2

OK, "stupid" is a bit of a misnomer in this case, especially compared to the first post in this series, but I do want to write about how Hollywood was sneaky in days of yore. Maybe it's not stupid per se, but it kind of irritates the audience, and you can use your own term to describe the wisdom of using this kind of bait and switch tactic.

I saw a movie on Fox Movie Channel last week, one described as science fiction. I'll hold off on telling you the title because I want to make a point here; if you've seen the movie, you'll recognize it right away.

This unassuming 1958 picture, directed by Edward Bernds, uses a pseudo-documentary approach, complete with an imposing narrator and a dramatic on-camera introduction telling us we're about to see the following movie FOR OUR OWN GOOD. We're then taken to a few minutes' worth of footage of rockets launching, but we are not seeing any ordinary rocket, but rather the Spacemaster X-7.

What is so special about this particular rocket? It headlined 4 straight sellout weeks at the Sands and relegated Martin and Lewis to an opening act, that's what. No, actually, this rocket can come back from space.

Sure enough, it brings back something with it, and arrogant scientist Charles Pommer (Paul Frees doing a great job as a real prick) identifies it as...blood rust! It's a type of deadly fungus--excuse me, space fungus--that can be carried to others by those who come in contact with it.

Frees' ex becomes an inadvertent potential carrier, and when the authorities (everybody except the Coast Guard gets a piece of this investigation, and I'd like to think it played a part off-camera) find out about this, they want to track her down before she spreads the blood rust all over the place. If you think that's a sexist assumption, consider that 1) they round up everyone that could be a carrier, including a cab driver played by Moe Howard--and you know this thing's spread easily if they are worried about HIM passing it around; 2) this fungus is really bad-ass; 3) this woman DID sleep with Paul Frees, after all.

The movie establishes all this in, oh, I'd guess the first 20 minutes or so. Then it goes into police procedural mode, as there are some shots of the blood rust doing its thing, but the vast majority of scenes show investigators pursuing this woman, who believes she is wanted for a crime and therefore tries to elude them.

OK, got all this? Thank you for your patience. What do you suppose a movie like this should be called? How about "Pursuit"? Maybe something like "Woman Hunt," or even "Dangerous Woman." Even "Space Fungus" might be apt, but I can't blame any studio for avoiding the word "fungus" in its titles.

Well, this movie has none of those titles. It is called..."SPACEMASTER X-7!"

That's right, this procedural/pursuit movie about authorities trying to track down a woman, a story done in semi-doc style, is named after the rocket that we see for several minutes at the film's opening...and then never again.

Now, this is an entertaining movie with some cool scenes, and there is that space fungus hanging around to offer some fantastic kind of sci-fi elements, but still! Looking at the IMDB, I see a lot of reactions from people who saw this as a kid and loved it and/or were creeped out by it. Maybe I'm way off base here, but if I went to go see a movie called "Spacemaster X-7," and that was the name of a space rocket, I'd sure expect to see a lot more of space...or at least a lot more of the dang rocket.

This kind of thing still goes on today, of course. For example, "Spider-Man 3" didn't actually feature Spider-Man (oh, sure, they said it was him, but I know the jerk in that movie wasn't the real Spidey), and I'm told that the current (500) Days of Summer is not actually 500 days long, but barely over an hour and a half. So go ahead and curse Hollywood for its underhanded bait and switching, but just remember it's maintaining a long tradition.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Cultureshark remembers Walter Cronkite

Walter Cronkite was a little bit before my time, but studying journalism and media back in my not-so-distant youth, I was well aware of his impact. He had a presence that loomed over the world of TV news even after his retirement from full-time anchoring duty (just ask Dan Rather, whose life Cronkite apparently tried to make miserable ever since he took "his" spot).

I don't have a lot of firsthand memories of seeing the man in action, but we've all seen the clips, and thinking about those and Cronkite's career makes me reflect on how there is this Golden Rule of Objectivity in journalism--that's supposedly the standard its practitioners are supposed to strive for--yet we remember Cronkite most for the moments when he was not objective.

Remember him getting emotional when JFK died or getting giddy during the moon landing? And what is the conventional wisdom about his success? He was "America's most trusted man." Legend has it that the powers that be knew they had "lost" the public on Vietnam when Cronkite started making it clear he wasn't on board. Just because his opinions were considered mainstream doesn't mean he didn't have them and get them across.

Kind of makes you wonder, do we really want objective newscasters and reporters? Journalism schools do, but I don't know if actual consumers of news do. We just want someone who is biased, but biased the same way we are. People have written a lot of words in recent years about this and whether it is actually a bad thing that people seek partisan news sources like Fox News. After all, that's how journalism got its start: good old-fashioned biased reporting and opinion.

Tonight CBS airs an hourlong tribute at 7:00 P.M. I'll wager most of the clips will show Cronkite getting those feelings across. Granted, "objective" is not a synonym for "emotionless," but I don't know if there'll be too many classic moments introduced as, "Check out how brilliantly impassive and objective Cronkite was as he introduced a report on the Suez," or "Watch the master in action as he registers no emotion when talking about school busing."

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Brooks on Books: The Lost One: A Life of Peter Lorre

OK, so maybe a huge section of endnotes, quotation references, and lists of interviews conducted and sources consulted isn't itself total proof that a biography has been well researched. After reading "The Lost One" by Stephen Youngkin, though, I'm gonna go ahead and say the guy did his homework. He talked to a bunch of relevant people, examined many primary sources, and even examined some German-language materials. This is without a doubt the comprehensive Peter Lorre book, and any fan of the distinctive character actor will get a lot out of it.

Youngkin's effort is a serious but not pretentious study, focusing on the work and how the actor responded to it and produced it, yet it also covers Lorre's off-screen life in detail. The author does not shy away from the star's dark side, but he doesn't sensationalize it, either. This is by no means a light, breezy bio, either, but a heady one that delves into some technical aspects of acting. It's well written and rewarding, and I don't want to make it sound like a slog, but it does require some thought.

Lorre comes across as a likable guy, full of mischief and wit but professional and generous to co-workers when necessary. He has a lot of admirers in the ranks of his colleagues, and he was an undeniable talent and a singular screen presence, passionate about the work when motivated. Although their marriage ended badly, first wife Celia remained a vital part of his life, and according to Youngkin, retained strong affection for him (and he should know, as he read her diaries).

On the other hand, Lorre was apparently cruel to his second and third wives, he was a careless spender, and he battled a strong drug habit--abusing morphine and others--for years. He was a complex guy, and in fact, duality is one of the themes Youngkin develops and discusses.

Another thread that dominates the book is typecasting. Lorre's breakthrough film, Fritz Lang's "M" is a powerful saga even today, carried by the unforgettable performance of its star as child murderer Hans Beckert. He was rightfully proud of "M," but the chilling image it gave him stuck and haunted him the rest of his career.

There is a constant undercurrent of sadness as Youngkin recounts Lorre's Hollywood journey. Because of "M" and because of his unique physical features, Lorre is sought after for horror roles far more than the light comic roles he would like to play or the serious dramatic roles the theater-trained thespian could well play. As he gets older, even the ghoulish caricature parts dry up, and it's television guest star time, and in Hollywood, a contract with exploitation specialist AIP. A project he develops and stars in over in Germany, "The Lost One," gets tepid reaction and fails to give him the credibility he seeks.

Lorre was apparently always self-deprecating about film acting, downplaying his skill by telling others he was merely "making faces." But Youngkins depicts an increasingly jaded Lorre, weary of being pigeonholed for so long and never getting the chances he deserved. It's a sad decline as the physically spent performer resigns himself to minor roles (though generally making the most of them, giving an honest effort on set and not wallowing in self-pity) and of course dies way too early.

It's not a sad book, though, because Youngkin unearths many amusing anecdotes of Lorre's often-biting wit, the pranks he enjoyed orchestrating on movie sets, and the adventures he had with pals like Humphrey Bogart. The inability to shake the horror image (and to a lesser extent Fox series detective Mr. Moto) wounded him, but he starred in many great, great films, almost all of which are unthinkable without his performances. Speaking of Bogart, just think how essential Lorre is even in limited screen time in "Casablanca," or how memorable he is in "The Maltese Falcon." It's hard to imagine "Arsenic and Old Lace" without his supporting role.

But Lorre is also a tremendous force in larger or starring roles. Some of his less prestigious pictures like "Mad Love" are still entertaining today. I think he's great in the Moto movies, though his health/drug issues necessitated frequent use of doubles, and just check out his excellent proto-noirs like "Face Behind the Mask" and "Stranger on the Third Floor."

The fact is, I can watch Peter Lorre in just about anything. Can I read him in just about anything? Well, to be honest, at the beginning of "The Lost One," I was a little antsy waiting for Lorre to get off the stage, out of Europe, and into Hollwyood pictures. Later, as Lorre's career started to decline and Youngkin focused on his return to Germany and his relationship with Bertolt Brecht, I was also a little anxious. On some level, I would have liked to learn more about, say, his specific movies with Syidney Greenstreet and less about Brecht. But this is me, not the book. Youngkin makes the information stimulating enough in its own right and proves that it's relevant--vital, even--to an understanding of the actor.

This is an outstanding book that covers the life of this remarkable performer in depth. As I said, it's a bit heady at times, but don't let that scare you. Any fan of this one-of-a-kind movie legend will enjoy this meaty, compelling biography.

Friday, July 17, 2009

5Q Movie Review: Get Smart (2008)

Q: Is this faithful to the original TV series?
A: "Faithful"? I didn't know they were dating. Seriously, I think this movie departs quite a bit from the source material, but with some recognizable nods to the original. Of course, in Hollywood, "giving a nod to the original" usually means looking you in the eye and saying, "Yeah, we know the old one was different, and we're gonna screw with it. Got a problem?" I don't remember the show enough to be a good judge here, but I hope to catch up with the original soon.

Q: Is this a goofy spoof or more of an action movie?
A The movie tries to be both, ultimately to its own detriment. I enjoyed much of the comedy elements of it, but at some point, "Get Smart" just becomes a big summer action movie, and not a particularly interesting one, either. Maybe producers feared a result akin to "Johnny English" if they didn't try to open things up and go big.

Q: How is Steve Carell as Maxwell Smart?
A: He's funny, but the characterization offered by the screenplay is confusing and inconsistent. At times he's supposed to be a desk jockey who's brilliant in the office but an inept novice in the field. Sometimes he's supposed to be a clown. The filmmakers don't seem to have a good handle on how dumb to make the character.

Q: How is the chemistry between Carell and Hathaway?
A: It's surprisingly strong. On paper, it doesn't make sense, but they have good comic chemistry. That said, the movie also wants to suggest romantic chemistry, and I never quite buy that. Hathaway does a great job here, though, despite the inconsistent script and shows some real action comedy flair. Plus she looks really hot the entire movie (which really clouds my objectivity and raises the whole movie a notch or two).

Q: Are there any standouts in the supporting cast?
A: Alan Arkin plays the Chief but doesn't get much to do. The erstwhile Rock, Dwayne Johnson, is effective as a hotshot agent, and still-active pro wrestler Great Khali is, well, big. The show really belongs to Carell and Hathaway, though, and while Terence Stamp seems like a decent choice to play a hammy Euro villain, even his character has little chance to make an impact. Jimmy Caan's brief turn as a W-esque pres is amusing but brief.

By the way, I want to allude to something without spoiling the plot, but turn your head if you don't want a vague spoiler--or scroll down, that is. This movie has a twist which is so common, especially in this kind of adaptation, as to not be a twist at all, and I really thought it kind of unnecessary here. I'll say no more.

"Get Smart" is worth seeing for some good gags and for good gams (I'm not talking about Carell here, folks), but I saw it on HBO with low expectations. Had I paid for it, I probably would have been more disturbed by its deficiencies and less willing to ignore the fact that it becomes a big cheesy actionfest at the end.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

This Week in DVD

The State The Complete Series: This long-awaited DVD release, with musical replacement a-plenty but also bonuses a-plenty, is gonna make a lot of people happy, including my old friend Eric, the guy who got ME into this show. If you're reading, Eric, all I'll say is..."Dude!" To the rest of you, I opine that while the cast has gone on to do a lot of stuff, it hasn't topped the best of "The State." You know, I must admit, MTV did trot out some good programming in the nineties.

For All Mankind: Criterion presents the 1989 "documentary" about the space race and the so-called moon landing. You know, for you true believers out there.

Peyton Place Part Two: I still have never seen an episode of this, but kudos to Shout plowing ahead with this old soap. It's great to see them putting classic shows out there.

American Gladiators (The Battle Begins) and GI Joe Season 1.1: Uh, and Shout also puts out stuff like this. I'll tell you one thing I find simultaneously awesome and hilarious: The "Gladiators" set has audio commentaries!

"Uh, so this is where I smashed the guy in the face. That was rad."

Mad Men Season 2: I STILL haven't gotten around to seeing all of season 1 yet. So...moving on here...

The Haunting in Connecticut: I STILL haven't gotten around to seeing "The Haunting in Rhode Island" yet. So...

1,0001 Classic Commercials: I'm just the kind of idiot that would ask for a complete listing of all the commercials on this one just because I already have some classic commercial DVDs. I don't have 16 hours' worth, though, so I think I'll get my money's worth if and when if I pick up this "budget" set. It's funny--I fast-forward through TV ads whenever possible now, but I'm fascinated by vintage commercials...and will even pay for the privilege of seeing them.

Tales of Wells Fargo Collection: I was much more excited about this set when I thought Cultureshark Icon William Demarest was involved. Turns out, he joined the show after the time frame covered in this collection. It still may be a very good TV western; I just feel disappointed. Hey, I might have been bummed the first time I saw "Casablanca" had I been expecting Bill Demarest.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Public Service Announcement: The Friends of Eddie Coyle

This public service announcement is brought to you by Cultureshark. Cultureshark Cares.

If you've been waiting to get the recent Criterion Collection DVD of Peter Yates' 1973 "The Friends of Eddie Coyle" and it's been passed over in your Netflix queue, well, here's a heads-up. This morning, I returned my copy, one which I inexplicably kept for weeks before watching it. There is one copy back into the fold, Netflixers, and maybe one of you will get it by the end of the week.

This was my first time seeing this cult favorite crime flick, and it lived up to the hype. It's a lived-in movie with location shooting, unforced grittiness, and a general working-class atmosphere that helps create a memorable experience.

Oh, yeah, and then there's a fantastic performance by the original B-Mitch, Robert Mitchum. Damn, he's good in this, and I wish I could speak with some intelligence about that, but all I can think of right now is one particular scene in which he's awesome, but to describe it might spoil the movie for you.

The whole movie is low-key, but always in an organic way. I mean, I know it IS a self-conscious decision, but it never feels like it. Let's face it, being made in the 1970S isn't in itself to make a movie cool seventies-ish, if you know what I mean, but "Coyle" is the real deal.'

So, anyway, Netflixers, I have relinquished my copy. I wish Criterion had offered some more extras, but at least they did what Paramount did not/could not: put the movie out there. If it's been "Long Wait"'ed in your queue, look again this week.

This public service announcement has been a presentation of Cultureshark. Cultureshark Cares.

The Boys are back in town!

Allow me to extend a hearty "WHOA-oh!" to my pal Ivan, who must have one heck of a great observation tower on the premises at Rancho Yesteryear because he spotted a Wheeler and Woolsey night on Turner Classic Movies all the way out in the middle of October. Thanks for the heads-up!

I pass the tip along not to make passing the subsequent months until then seem like an excruciating chore, but to give you all a chance to prepare. Me, I have a dilemma: Watch them all as they air? Or maybe wait till the holidays, when my father and I could watch them together and maybe--just maybe--maneuver the womenfolk into one of our patented forced Wheeler and Woolsey-thons?

Hey, wait. Why don't I do...both?

I know Dad will be excited about this. By the way, regarding my post title, longtime readers may know that my father and I decided a while back to refer to Bert and Bob as "The Boys." Come to think of it, first-time readers should know it, too, because I just told everybody.

No offense, Laurel and Hardy fan, but your guys are known well enough already. In fact, you can have "The Guys!" How about it? I envision a world in which L&H and W&W fans enjoy everyone's comedy, living in harmony, side by side on my keyboard, oh, lord, why don't we?

We know one thing for sure: October 14, we will all be watching Turner Classic Movies. Early speculation holds that the collective American audience will dwarf that which viewed coverage of the Michael Jackson funeral. Let's make it happen!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

You Make the Call: Kids in Restaurants

Recently, we were on the road, the Shark family, that is, and we stopped at a busy Wendy's for lunch. Since the place was jam-packed, I took my little girl to find a table and get her started while my wife waited (and waited...and waited...and waited) in line.

I positioned my daughter in a high chair so that she could see the group of kids sitting across from us. They were all tween-ish boys with a group of adults, and I figured she'd be entertained by getting all up in their business while I was getting her food ready.

The boys started to kind of split up a bit and scatter, but they were still within eyeshot--and earshot. At one point, I overheard a few boys talking about how late they were up the night before. That's when one of them said the following:

"I was gonna go to sleep, but then Dane Cook came on, and so I watched that and then went to bed."

Now, if I could hear it, I'm pretty sure my daughter could, too. Surely you see why I was concerned. How should I respond to something like this? I don't want my just-over-a-year-old baby girl thinking Dane Cook is worth staying up for...or worth watching at all, really. This is an impressionable age for her. My mind raced as I struggled to come up with the right thing to do.

YOU MAKE THE CALL, folks. If you're me, do you:

A) Pretend nothing happened, perhaps distracting your daughter with a goofy face or by putting a cheerio up your nose--anything to make sure that kid's idiotic statement doesn't "take."

B) Find the boy's parents and let them know you're not judging their letting him watch Dane Cook, but the least they could do is try to muzzle him from spreading his poor taste to the next generation.

C) Get up from your table and confront the boy in a civil but firm manner, reminding him that your young child (among others) is in the restaurant.

D) Remain seated and shoot your hand in the air, making that moronic Dane Cook hand gesture.

E) Accept the incident and, without making a big deal out of it, calmly discuss with your baby girl why that boy is so wrong.


The choice for me, sports fans, was E). D) was, of course out of the question. A) was an acceptable but cowardly choice. B) was tempting, but it was challenging at that point to determine who the boy's parents were or if they were even seated as opposed to waiting in line with the teeming masses. C) seemed a tad--just a tad--disproportionate. More importantly, it risked embarrassing my wife and making the rest of the ride home an uncomfortable scenario.

So I just looked at my daughter and said in an even tone of voice, "Now, honey, I know you heard that boy say he stayed up and watched a whole Dane Cook special last night. That's his choice, and he made it. Someday you'll be old enough to make your own decisions about avoiding stuff that sucks. But right now, I want you to know that, yeah. Dane Cook sucks, and I don't think you'll get anything out of watching any of his specials."

Then she made a loud raspberry noise and threw a Cheerio. But I think I made the right call, because the way she did it really indicated that my speech sunk in.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Time again for a visit to the land of WHY? Standard disclaimer applies: I may know an answer to some of these questions, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't be asking, anyway.

ITEM: Marilyn Manson titled a song on his new album "Pretty as a Swastika."

ITEM: Chris Elliott's classic nineties sitcom "Get a Life" was reportedly prepped for a DVD release with extras several years ago, but it remains on the shelf--er, a virtual shelf, not a retail one.

ITEM: The new Transformers movie runs 2 1/2 hours, the upcoming Adam Sandler movie "Funny People" is 136 minutes, and the new Harry Potter movie will of course be over 2 1/2 hours.

ITEM: There is a remake in the works of "Red Dawn," a flick many consider a quintessential 1980s movie.

ITEM: Despite the modern classic status of the film adaptation, Cameron Crowe's book "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" has been out of print for years and is impossible to find.
WHY? (Seriously, I don't think I ever saw a straight answer for this. Legal issues?)

ITEM: Brett Ratner is going to direct "Beverly Hills Cop IV."
WHY? (Well, I see why he's doing it, but why do it at all?)

ITEM: The local True Oldies affiliate, 105.9, is forced by its corporate overlords to carry the low-rated Imus show in the critical morning drive period.

ITEM: Speaking of radio, if I'm not listening to a CD on the way into work, I generally flip between several radio stations--most often an oldies station, two classic rocks, and a JACK format (hits from all over the place). On any given day, I'm almost certain to hear a song by ELO on at least one of those outlets.

ITEM: Enough people have bought Lauren Conrad's novel to place it on the "New York Times" bestseller list.

ITEM: They're making a movie--an actual movie, in theaters and everything--based on the "Saturday Night Live" Magruber sketches.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to #3

So once again, my wife left the magazine out the other day and open to a certain feature--not that I read it or nuthin'--and I happened to glance at a page of country music superstar Brad Paisley answering questions from readers.

One fan wanted to know, "If you could be any female country singer, who would you be?"

Paisley's response: "Taylor Swift 'cause she, like, totally went all the way with a Jonas brother."

No, I'm kidding about the reason. But Paisley actually did say Taylor Swift. I think his rationale was something like she's young, talented, on top of the world (as opposed to a Jonas brother), and stuff like that.

I'm hazy on the details of his answer because I still can't comprehend the question. You get one chance to ask a music superstar, presumably one you admire, a question, and you ask which female singer he would choose to BE? That's kind of an odd query, is it not? Even Barbara Walters wouldn't ask that question. Hell, even ALI G wouldn't ask that question. Hey, even Stuttering John in his prime wouldn't ask that question.

But someone did ask it, and "People" was there to get the answer. We're now all so much the wiser, case closed. I must admit, though, I kind of would like to see someone ask Toby Keith that question.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Brooks on Books: Love Is a Mix Tape by Rob Sheffield

If you're only familiar with "Rolling Stone" writer Rob Sheffield through his snappy, pop-culture-laden record reviews and "American Idol" summaries, you might be wary of reading a whole book of his. I know I was. Sheffield is a clever guy, but his style can be a little much.

Well, let me tell you, "Love Is a Mix Tape" is an excellent read, a moving experience that will have you not just admiring the guy as a writer, but feeling for the guy as a guy. It's an intimate--almost embarrassingly so at times--account of Sheffield's love and marriage to his dream girl, Renee, who died suddenly at the age of 31.

The book looks a lot more gimmicky at first than it is. Each chapter begins with a sample of a handwritten cassette tape insert--remember those?--listing the songs of a mix tape the couple shared. Early on, Sheffield discusses the tapes and their composition in some detail, sometimes writing about specific songs and drawing parallels to where he was in life at the time. However, this approach becomes less prevalent as the book goes on. While he continues to hint at the theme expressed by the title, and he does tie it all together at the end, the narrative becomes less explicit about music and more about simple emotion.

Having said that, fans of pop music--especially the 80s/90s--will find a lot to enjoy in here, as the guy IS a music writer, after all, and the songs played a big part in his and Renee's lives. Comments are interspersed throughout about musicians and albums that don't necessarily appear on the tapes or aren't highlighted there. Sheffield mentions an early stage in the relationship when he notices she likes XTC and he thinks they'll have to work on that. The music and cultural references, though, come off as more organic and charming spread out through the book-length story than they sometimes do in Sheffield's shorter-form writing.

You feel good for the guy for a while, but you know he's building to a great loss, and when it happens, hoo, boy. His account of wandering around department stores trying to feel a connection to humanity is almost heartbreaking. The saga of the relationship is more effective than the saga of the aftermath. Sheffield's grief makes for often-difficult reading, and to some it may drag a bit. However, it's HIS story, and his candor makes it worthwhile. I feel kind of ghoulish saying this, but his perspective as a (very) young widower is unique, at least to me, and it's interesting seeing how he handles or doesn't handle some of the mundane and extraordinary aspects of a loved one's death.

while reading this book, you get the impression he needed a lot more help--a LOT more--than he got and/or was willing to seek out. Ultimately, he got through it to some extent--he's still around and successfully writing at "Rolling Stone"--but I feel sorry for whatever woman has to compete with these memories.

"Love Is a Mix Tape" is clever, funny, and entertaining, with some sharp commentary on music, but it lingers because of its emotional honesty. It's a gripping account of lost love, a book that is sad, inspirational, and memorable.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A brief timeline of my recent FIOS-TV adventure

FIOS is, in my experience, 10 times better than the average cable company, but it ain't perfect. Case in point:

Late May: I drop the movie package which includes the Showtime and Starz networks.

Early June: A FIOS rep calls me and asks if I would like two free months of all the movie channels, INCLUDING HBO and Cinemax. Uh, yeah! But what's the catch? It's not a good time when she calls, so I ask her to try again later. She says she'll call back the next day.

5 days later: She finally calls back, making no mention of the fact that it's 5 days later, and asks if I want that deal. I've done some research and confirmed it's legit, so I say, sure, let's do it.

The next day: No premium movie channels.

The NEXT next day: no movie channels.

June 12: I'm ready to call and ask what the deal is when, lo and behold, HBO is on.

June 13: I realize that there's a free HBO/Cinemax weekend, and so I don't actually have the deal yet. After the weekend expires, I still don't have that great deal. But, hey, it's free, and we haven't been billed for it, plus I'm busy and don't have a lot of time to enjoy it, anyway, so...

June 24: Hey, I have premium channels...including HBO, Cinemax, and Showtime! The whole deal! Cool. But, wait, no On Demand stuff. I get an error when I try to access that. Oh, well. Maybe it's just a temporary quirk.

June 25: Still no On Demand stuff.

June 29: Still no On Demand access, and now yours truly, who never has understood the concept of leaving well enough alone, calls Verizon.

30 minutes later: After waiting on hold and trying several things with a tech rep, he says he's gonna reauthorize the box to try to force some kind of code to go through to access the On Demand stuff. Sure, I say. He warns me that I must let it be for 15 minutes after the box is back "on." No problem. I go upstairs and start lunch.

15 minutes after THAT: NOW it occurs to me: Uh, what about all the stuff I had recorded on my DVR?

Just about the same time: I get an...unsettled feeling in my stomach. I wish the FIOS guy had thought to warn me in case, you know, I actually recorded stuff on my Digital Video Recorder.

Mere seconds later: I head downstairs and turn on the TV, and, yep, my DVR is wiped. Nothing like that 0% recording space message to bring it home. Zero is pretty definitive, isn't it?

2 minutes after the DVR Cleansing: I call Verizon, get a different guy, and say, "I have a stupid question. If all my DVR recordings disappear after a box reauthorization, can I get them back?" He replies, "No, once it's gone, it's gone."

This was the first of several statements which I did not want to hear. The next came soon afterwards as he examined the record of what the previous guy did.

"Oh, man, he usually knows what he's doing."

Then there was this: "He was wrong about THAT. Man, I usually go to HIM with problems. I don't know why he told you that."

And the capper: "Oh, this is a billing issue. We should have just sent you there because they have to fix this so you can get the On Demand channels."

So the whole rigamarole with the previous tech rep was all for naught. And all that precious video on my box died in vain.

Did I mention that at this point, I didn't have the premium channels at all? So I had lost all my DVR recordings and the movie channels...and the problem I had called about in the first place had not been resolved!

This guy was nice, though, and he told me he'd take care of it but would call back at 6pm to ensure that everything was fixed. This was at about 2.

About 2:15: He calls back early and tells me there's good news and bad news. The good news is I'm getting 3 months of HBO and Cinemax now. The bad news is, the previous promotion was no longer being offered, so I could only get the HBOs and Cinemaxes, not all the other channels. Oh, and sorry about the whole losing all your DVR programming thing.

At this point, I sighed and figured, well, I'm still ahead since it's all free. Well, except losing all those shows and movies. But whatever. So I say, sure, fine, and wait till tomorrow, since the guy said billing couldn't authorize the deal till tomorrow.

You got to love how when you get something free, it takes forever, but if you lose something or cancel it, it's gone before you hang up with the company.

Anyway, the next morning, I get up, turn on the tube, and discover...I am getting all the premium channels I was originally supposed to get. The On Demand works as well.

Even if it doesn't, I don't think I'm gonna tell them. I'm just gonna enjoy this while it lasts.

As for the DVR wiping, that sucked, but it's the third time I've experienced premature evacuation of the contents of a DVR (first time with FIOS), and I have learned a valuable lesson: If I record something rare or something I really want to see, I watch it ASAP. Most of what was on there is shown regularly or available elsewhere.

And having written all this, FIOS is STILL 10 times better than the cable companies in the area. Yeah, I lost some stuff, but at least I got some stuff, too. WIth the usually competition, you lose stuff all the time, but the only thing you gain is a price increase and a resolve to switch to another television provider.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Wonderful World of TCM: Lightning Round!

*I Was Framed (1942): Odd little WB programmer in which a newspaper reporter gets a little too close to the head of a political machine, see, and gets to be too much of a problem, see? So the corrupt big shot and his organization frame the guy for a fatal DUI accident. Only, he gets out of the big house and, with his gal, makes it to...a smaller house (but pretty substantial) owned by a kindly doctor who treats him and doesn't mind that he's on the lam.

Well, the framee not only stays there for years and has a daughter with his wife, he joins the town newspaper and becomes a crusading journalist there, too! Life is good until the cellmate that got pinched in the escape comes to town and--is it just me, or does this seem like a lot of story for one brief, little movie?

It sure is, and I didn't expect the movie to go the direction it did, but it was an enjoyable one that managed to sort of pull everything together. If you don't mind nonsensical plot elements, this one is worth a look, though it's not nearly as good as some of those individual elements I mentioned above might make it sound.

*Call of the Jungle (1944): I saw this a few weeks ago, and I'll be darned if I can remember much more about it than the title. Oh, and the fact that stripper Ann Corio played the lead--I do remember that.

Fact is, this jungle murder mystery has its moments, and I enjoyed some of the offbeat touches near the end, but it's basically a time filler best appreciated by fans of B movies (I know, I know, that should be everyone) and especially jungle flick aficionados. My philosophy is this: Anytime Turner Classic Movies wants to roll out an obscure 60-minute Monogram picture like this, it's all right by me.

*Harry In Your Pocket (1973): One of the dirtiest-SOUNDING movies on TCM in recent memory, yet not a dirty movie...though anytime I see James Coburn, for some reason, I get a feeling that lechery is or will be afoot.

In this one, Coburn is an elegant pickpocketing mastermind who takes a young couple under his wing. Along with Walter Pidgeon as the old veteran who now mainly acts as a scout for marks, the 4 of them make an interesting little group of thieves.

This movie never quite reached the level I wanted it to reach. It has that Seventies feel that kind of sets you up to expect more depth than it really delivers. However, it's still darned entertaining, and the elderly, cocaine-sniffing Pidgeon (in the FILM, in the FILM, that is) is a real treat. Ivan at TDOY got around to seeing this way before I did and offered a fuller take (with which I fully agree) here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Things Only I Want to See #1

I want to see a music video, one made by some relatively youngish pop star, preferably male. I want to see him cover Christopher Cross' "Sailing" in some kind of live venue, maybe a small concert hall that looks good on TV. Playing the piano would be a plus, as he could sit down and tickle the ivories to accompany himself in a tasteful fashion.

Then, about several minutes into the performance, I want to see him stand up, walk out from behind the piano, and say to the crowd, "Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Christopher Cross!"

And I want to see the audience go nuts as Cross strides out from behind a curtain, microphone in hand, and acknowledges the warm reception with a big hand before launching into a triumphant chorus of "Sailing."

Then the younger star would embrace him on stage before both would advance to the front of the stage and sing one transcendent chorus together.

"SAILING '09." I'm telling you, this would be GOLD. Do it, somebody. Make it happen.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

This Week and Last Week in DVD

Confessions of a Shopaholic: Isla Fisher looks adorable on the DVD cover, doesn't she? I think that's enough for me with regards to this movie--glancing at the DVD cover.

Pink Panther 2: Oh, I know what you're thinking: How could Steve martin as Inspector Clouseau come up with anything to top that riotous scene from the first movie in which he struggled to say "hamburger?" I wonder that myself, but, hoo, boy, I'm sure he tried!

Inkheart: This seems like the third or fourth movie in the past year that's made me say Brendan Fraser seems like a nice guy and I wish him well and all, but I'll pass and hope other moviegoers feed his family.

The Code: I know nothing about this Morgan Freeman/Antonio Banderas movie, but I'd like to think that beside it on many video stores this week is a fellow direct-to-video knockoff of this one called "DaVinci," starring Delroy Lindo and Jon Seda.

My Dinner with Andre: How can a movie about two guys talking be so entertaining, especially if neither one of them is Larry King? I'm skeptical, but this one apparently pulled it off. I only remember it for being the "go-to" jokey art film reference until the early Nineties. EXAMPLE: "While 'Top Gun' was no bastion of intelligence, 'Days of Thunder' makes it look like 'My Dinner with Andre.'"

The Monster Squad: The Complete Collection: Hey, Netflix, get this. I want to see Fred Grandy hunting monsters. Or is he a monster being hunted? See, Netflix, this is why I need to see this show for myself.

Do the Right Thing 20th Anniversary Edition: Controverisal? Yes. Inflammatory? Perhaps. But nothing Spike Lee has ever done in his career--including this, his breakthrough film--incites more anger than his worshipping of Kobe Bryant in that "Kobe Doin' Work" travesty on ESPN a few months back. Talk about doin' the wrong thing...

They Call Me Bruce: This week's "was on pay cable thousands of times when I was growing up" pick, only I can't vouch for it because I never watched the whole thing. You know how it is--everybody around you says it's so great, and you get kind of stubborn and go out of your way to NOT see it. At least, that's how we rolled in the 814.

Two Lovers: Joaquin Phoenix brought this one a lot of publicity when he made that infamous appearance on Letterman. So now this movie will always be known as the one he was promoting when he "flipped out." I'm sure everyone else involved in the production of this film appreciates that.

Hollywood was stupid back then, too, part 1

Hollywood did not just become stupid overnight, or even when the feature film version of "Charlie's Angels" was produced. It's always been stupid, and many of the things we bitch about today were evident and bitch-aboutable (should that be bitchable? Maybe I'm kinda stupid myself) back in the day. Today, I present one example.

I recently watched Arch Oboler's Five (1951), a post-apocalyptic survivors' tale. It's not a classic, but it's pretty good, and if you can track down the "Filmfax" article about the movie from a year or so ago, it's also worthwhile.

Here's the thing, though: The DVD includes the trailer, and I am thankful for that, but I'm also thankful I watched it AFTER the feature. As a matter of fact, I've made it a rule to never watch the original trailer before the movie it accompanies, even for old movies. You see, as much as we complain today about "clueless studios spoiling the whole thing" by giving away the best or pivotal scenes in the previews...

they did it all the time back then, too.

The trailer for "Five" reveals a key plot element that, though telegraphed in the actual film, shouldn't even be in the back of your head when you watch it. It provides a dramatic visual, though, so in it goes into the preview. I mean, I can't believe they totally give away the fact that--ah, just kidding. I won't spoil it like they do.

Hollywood always did this, and it always will. The artistic integrity of the movie and the impact of a fresh viewing experience is not as valued as the need to put butts in the seats. The perception, of course, is that more of us will go see the flick with the cool scenes than will go, "Aw, I WAS gonna go see that, but not now that I saw that trailer." And I think they're probably right.

Just remember that it's not a new phenomenon. Even when you bring home a movie from 1951, make sure you don't run that trailer first.