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.