Saturday, January 30, 2010

Disjointed thoughts about this weekend's new movies

When in Rome:

*I'm not part of the Veronica Mars cult that has to pretend this is anything but crap, so I'm not gonna make the effort.

*Kristen Bell is a pleasant enough actress, but I don't see her as a movie star. But if this goofy romantic comedy works out, well, good for her.

*I must confess I'm predisposed to loathe this movie. Mrs. Shark and I were catching up with "Desperate Housewives" on demand last week, and the ABC shows on the FIOS system do not allow fast-forwarding. So during each and every ad break, we endured the same promo for "When in Rome." Granted, it was more appealing than that "Wild Dogs" preview we suffered through a few months back, but it was enough to make us fed up with the film before it even hit theaters.

Edge of Darkness:

*I believe this is based on a British TV miniseries. Anyone want to bet that the movie is better? Nobody wants to take that bet? Yeah, me, neither.

*Mel Gibson is BACK for the first time in 7 years. But who really missed him? H's still been around as a personality. I do think he's too big a star to not act for 7 years, but I can't say I've been pining for his on-screen return.

St. John's in Vegas:

*Speaking of guys who haven't been around, where the heck has Steve Buscemi been? I know he's done some TV, but still.

*It seems odd that a guy goes from being in every other movie in the nineties to hardly any movies in the oughts.

*I really don't know anything about this other than that it stars Buscemi, but isn't that enough?

44-Inch Chest:

*It's a British gangster movie. I imagine the title is supposed to be cheeky. Or bosomy. Well, you know what I mean.

*Another under-the-radar release, but look at the cast: Tom Wilkinson, Ray Winstone, John Hurt, Ian McShane. How can this not be worth a look?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Budget DVD Theater: Law of the Jungle

The First Law of the Jungle, a careful viewing of this 1942 Monogram effort reveals, is as follows: When in a confined space and approached by an angry gorilla, fire your shotgun at the beast. If he still advances after you empty the weapon, you must throw the gun at the creature.

This moment tells you what you need to know about "Law of the Jungle." As a big fan of "throwing the gun at your opponent after you run out of bullets" scenes, I'm overjoyed to see a jungle explorer do it to a gorilla. I hoped it would happen, it happened, and I cheered. Alpha Video brings us this entertaining little jungle flick on a DVD that is worth about what you'll pay for it.

There are some other jungle laws that are followed here, such as:

*Thou shalt not expect too much from a PRC effort that is barely an hour long. There is a plot, though, and you gotta say, it moves.

*Do not look too closely at the scenery. It's the jungle, OK? Just go with it.

*Since the movie IS set in the African jungle, expect copious jokes about cannibalism.

*There will be pompous villains with foreign accents. This is the early 40s, so they will be Nazis.

*Mantan Moreland is always not only funny, but the most interesting person on the screen at any given time (this is more of a general Law of the Movies). Indeed, Mantan is enjoyable in this one as the valet/sidekick/comic relief of the straightlaced professor who is exploring the jungle. He's a riot when he cheats the natives at dice.

*You had better believe there will be a homely female native who sets her sights on the comic relief in hopes of engaging him in some exotic marriage ritual.

"Law of the Jungle" obeys these laws with efficiency and provides a fun hour or so of typical jungle melodrama and Mantan Moreland hijinks. There is a story about a Brooklyn stage performer stranded in the exotic locale because her passport was stolen. Turns out someone is pursuing her...but why? Will the singer find a sympathetic ear in American explorer Larry Mason, in Africa to dig up some old bones (a task which gives Moreland some good bits of business)?

This stuff isn't always the most thrilling cinematic material, but things pick up near the end when this group meets the local chief. As for our singer, well, I guess she and Mason are the nominal leads, but they aren't all that compelling. Not to offend any Arline Judge fans, but she's not exactly a fresh-faced ingenue, and you get the sense that her safari's had a lot more mileage than she lets on.

It's directed by old Monogram hand Jean Yarbrough, and if you expect more than what you get here, well, you just don't appreciate what you're getting. It's a great selection for Budget DVD Theater because of the gun scene alone, but fortunately there is enough Mantan to fill out the hour.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Two new DVD releases: What the deal is?

Infinity Entertainment Group releases two new DVD collections today, and I don't know a whole lot about them, though I'd like to know more. Oh, I've seen the press releases--many sites ran those--and I can see the meager info on the company's official site.

Mickey Rooney: The Long and Short of It is a "Six-disc collector's set (approx. 24 hours) includes 14 classic films, television and movie trailers charting his career from 1934."

What films? The press release mentioned some of his old (no pun intended) shorts. Are the movies the usual suspects like "Quicksand" (which is really good but widely available)? What about the TV--is there anything besides "Hey, Mulligan?"

And while I'm asking questions, why in the name of Konstantin Beta (inventor of the Beta format--I know because I read it on Rickipedia) do I have to root around for this basic product information? It kills me how we can be this many years into DVD and still find it difficult to obtain essential data about a given release--you know, information like what's actually on the thing.

There's another release that interests me: The Abbott and Costello Show: The Complete Collection. Now, here, at least, the Infinity web site is more forthcoming, and we learn that in addition to some radio shows and some public domain movies, we get 14 episodes of the Colgate Comedy Hour (this is NOT to be confused with the A&C sitcom, which is apparently getting a full series re-release in March--but good luck finding quality info about THAT one).

Still, what radio shows are included? That might mean something to someone, you know, and it wouldn't be hard to just tell everybody. As for the video and audio quality, well, of course, no self-respecting independent DVD company is going to give us any intelligence about that, unless the boilerplate "digitally remastered"still registers for you.

I might like to get either or both of these releases, but without more information, I don't want to order them. So I have to wait for someone else to buy these and write about them online. By that time, I may well have spent my moolah elsewhere. This seems like an inefficient way to sell anything, and it's one of the reasons the DVD hobby can be so frustrating.

This Week in DVD

Dear readers, I know how important this column is to those of you planning your purchases--in fact, not to brag, but I have it on good authority this column is a "must-read" for the Supreme DVD Buyers at Gimbels, Gee-Bees, and Hills department stores--but I want to use this space to do a little editorializing/begging for info. First, let's dispense with the high-profile releases arriving on shelves physical and virtual today:

Whip It: I don't really want to see a Drew Barrymore movie about roller derby. I want to see actual vintage roller derby. Sadly, "Whip It" didn't spark a groundswell of support to get old T-Birds footage on the tube every week. Therefore, I have little use for it, though I must admit that Barrymore would be a fearsome competitor on the track if she led with that jaw of hers.

Michael Jackson's This Is It: Is it too soon to start disrespecting Michael Jackson again? Hey, it sounds mean, but I'm still a little sore over this title. The only TRUE "This Is It," as any serious pop music fan will tell you, was sung by Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald, but those guys don't get worshipful concert movies built around them.

Saw VI: According to current projections, this franchise will catch up to the number of Super Bowls sometime in the 2030s. By then, you will have a chance to literally leave your brain at the door while the rest of you enters a hyperbaric chamber to watch the latest "Saw."

Surrogates: Bruce Willis stars in like 4 movies a year now, but the nation notices only about half of them. This one has a decent premise, though: It's set in the near future, a world in which people live safe in their homes and control surrogate forms who live life for them so they don't have to. This presumably includes seeing "Saw" movies at the theater.

I Hope They Serve Bell in Hell: What is this, "Maxim: The Movie"?

WWII in HD: Hmm. I think I just figured out why History Channel yanked this show from On Demand before I got to see it.

Paris, Texas: Criterion presents this movie that I should probably have seen in the nineties when I tried to see a bunch of movies I should have seen, but I never got "into" Wim Wenders, so I didn't really try too hard.

The Donner Party: I know nothing about this except that it stars Crispin Glover, but I figure a movie with this topic AND Glover rates at least a mention.

I spent so much "ink" talking about these discs, that I'm gonna leave my discussion of two other releases for my next post. Stay tuned, true believers!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Wonderful World of TCM: LIghtning Round

The Return of Doctor X: I watched this one again as part of TCM's December Humphrey Bogart festival, and while it didn't magically become a good movie, it remained entertaining. I mean, this is a real Warner Brothers movie directed by a real director (Vincent Sherman), and you just have to wonder what went wrong here. I always find it compelling, though--from Bogart's oddball performance to the awkward comic relief (in what is at least 51% tongue in cheek to begin with), it's something every Bogart fan should see, if not admire.

Have a Heart: An earnest old-timey (1934) romantic picture with James Dunn and Jean Parker. It's a familiar story: Parker needs an operation to fix her leg, and Dunn must enter the seedy yet alluring world of the underground Tiddlywinks circuit to pay for it.

Well, no, that's not what happens at all, but she does need the operation, and she raises the dough, but when Dunn is falsely accused of stealing from his employer, she "pays it back" so the cops will release him. Dunn gets all huffy when he learns this and shuns his loyal girlfriend because he thinks she doesn't believe in him or some bunk like that. You know, I enjoyed this movie at the time for what it was--average pleasant romantic melodrama--but the more I think of it, the more annoyed I am at Dunn's self-righteous character. He would be a lot more interesting if he entered the underground Tiddlywinks circuit.

You're in the Army Now: I really enjoyed this Phil Silvers-Jimmy Durante teaming, and I think it gets a bum rap in my copy of Leonard Maltin's book. The guide gives a lowly two stars and says the stars work hard to overcome the material. I think this is a solid piece of entertainment, and I can assure you it wasn't much work to enjoy the material.

It's no classic, and the lengthy tank chase scenes take up some time that might otherwise be used on "Gladdaseeyas" or other bits of verbal business, but if you're a fan of wartime service comedies or the two leads, then you must see this next time it's on. It's more Durante than Silvers, but you get plenty of antics as they go from vacuum salesmen to troublemaking enlisted men, all the while driving Donald MacBride's imperious colonel up a wall.

Plus you get the longest kiss in screen history, a smooch between Jane Wyman and that legendary lover Regis Toomey. I read that trivia bit in the Maltin book, and I credit it here to show there are no hard feelings even though it underrates the movie.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

This Week in DVD

This week's post is all about sadness, and there's no tasteful way to mention Brittany Murphy's reccent death and talk about what I'm going to, so I should probably not mention it at all, except I'm doing so because it's just a real downer to see Across the Hall listed as a new release this week, particularly since the cover features Murphy in a vampish pose. Just too soon, I think. And I feel a wee bit skittish about watching an Artie Lange standup special, let alone one called Jack and Coke, weeks after his gruesome suicide attempt.

Moving on while acknowledging this is ultimately much less significant, let's consider the sadness of DVDs that are not widely available. This week marks the official direct-from-manufacturer releases of Shout Factory's "Room 222" season 2 and "Ironside" season 3, and if this is the only way they come out, well, that's life. But it's a shame we can't get them eslewhere at a discount (at least not yet) or rent them from Netflix to sample the quality.

Speaking of Netflix, the company's release-window-extending deal with Warners apparently starts now, because two new titles, the Ricky Gervais comedy The Invention of Lying and the Kate Beckinsale thriller Whiteout, are not available from the company. I tried to snag the Gervais flick from Redbox, but that was a no-go on Tuesday. Oh, well. Guess I'll have to go buy it retail.

NOT! Seriously, Warners, you don't think I can wait a few weeks to rent it?

Baby on Board: Does Heather Graham now star in a new inane comedy about the pitfalls of conceiving a child every 6 months, or does the same one keep getting retitled? Send your responses to Brian Williams c/o NBC News. He has nothing to do with this blog, but I just get the feeling he'd dig Heather Graham.

Che: Regardless of how brilliant Steven Soderbergh is, I can't muster the energy to watch, what is it, 4 hours of the story of Che Guevara, and unless I travel back in time to my sophomore year in college and get massively stoned, I don't see it happening in the neasr future.

Gamer: I don't care what this movie is about, this is one of the stupidest titles to come around since...since...OK, Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakuel is worse, so it's already been eclipsed. But come on! Whatever Gerard Butler is supposed to accomplish in this one, I just think he gets an affectionate "pat on the fanny" from his coach, who then tells his grizzled assistant, "That guy's a real gamer, I tell you. I wish we had a dozen more like him."

Weeds Season 5: Great box covers, not-so-great show.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Men of a Certain Age: It's not them, it's me--or him--or maybe me

I'm digging the new TNT: WE KNOW DRAMA series "Men of a Certain Age." I don't know if you can call it a pure drama--it may be even more of a comerama than a dramedy--but it's entertaining. The series consists of Ray Romano, Andre Braugher, and Scott Bakula...uh, hanging out. They do stuff, of course, but then they get together and talk about that stuff a lot and just be guys. Please, though, don't anyone call this "Sex and the City for men," or I'll be forced to do, I don't know, something dramatic.

The show is a lot of fun, but I have one problem, one which I can't really blame on anyone other than myself. I was never a fan of "Everybody Loves Raymond," so seeing Ray Romano on this series is a real revelation. He's sharp, appealing, and always effective in his scenes. But I just can't immerse myself into his character because of one key factor: that voice.

It's not so much that Romano's distinctive sound bothers me. On the contrary, it fascinates me. That's the rub, though; I can't watch Romano without wanting to imitate him. This half-assed vocal impression doesn't even consist of me repeating his dialogue, but rather me just muttering sounds like, "Ah, er, ah, yeah, err," because, you know, that's what Ray Romano always says, I guess.

The "Ice Age" movies don't do this to me. There's something about Romano in cartoon form that mitigates this effect, and not just because he's playing a woolly mammoth. If they ever make an "Everybody Loves Raymond in Space" cartoon, I think I'll be able to watch it (and I will watch it without difficulty. But each time I see the Joe character on "Men of a Certain Age," my mouth starts twitching, and off I go.

An early episode was all it took to inform me this was gonna be rough. At the hotel where he lived after his separation, Joe attended a going-away party for another "resident," and an attractive woman started making out with him. Instead of focusing on Joe's reactions and what they indicated about his character, I started grunting, "Yeah! Hey, yeah, Joe! Eh! Hey, ah, eh, go get 'er, Joe!" in my idiotic pseudo-Romano croak.

This is how sad my problem is: When I address the character, I address him by name in what is supposed to be his voice. This makes no sense. What, I'm Joe talking to Joe?

"Men of a Certain Age" is too good for me to wasting time with these shenanigans. There has to be a way out of this short of immersion in old "Everybody Loves Raymond" episodes to desensitize myself. Maybe there's one specific episode in which every single character talked like Ray the whole time?

5 things making me feel old this week

1) Hearing Cheryl Cole was named the most photogenic woman of all time...and having to google her to realize who the hell she is.

2) Noticing that "Roswell's" Shiri Appelby is playing a mother of a 15-year-old on a new CW show.

3) Digging out an old tape and rocking my TAPE DECK on the way to work this week.

4) Going over to friends' and families' house Saturday and Sunday with my wife and little girl, staying out till about 8:00...and having trouble bouncing back from it Monday.

5) Actually getting older.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

This (past) Week in DVD

I'll often make not entirely reverent comments about the week's DVD releases, but I'm pleasantly surprised to see that Tuesday's batch o' discs include a bevy of movies which really interest me.

The Hurt Locker: I'm glad to see this Oscar contender and critical fave is out now. Some of the marketing for this seemed to urge viewers, "It's OK, folks. It's not just an Iraq movie; it's an action movie!" But maybe people just want to see GOOD Iraq movies. Of course, nobody really went to see this. So much for my theory.

In the Loop: Speaking of types of films, no one wants to go see, I give you political satire! This is a well-reviewed, smart, relevant flick, so why was the bulk of the mainstream press I saw focused on Anna Chlumsky's return to the big screen?

(By the way, let me uses this space to again plead for a Region 1 DVD release of the excellent BBC comedy on which this is based: The Thick of It.)

Big Fan: Not, to my chagrin, a biopic of former CBS Sports pitchman Tony Hoty ("I'm a BIG fan")--and why can't I find any of those spots on the Internet? Instead, it's about a sports talk radio caller. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with sports talk radio, but I think I'll come down more on the good side of this movie.

The Brothers Bloom: Rian Johnson's follow-up to his excellent neo-noir Brick seemed to come and go in a flash. Folks, if Ricky Jay isn't enough to get you go to see a movie, what is? I've been anxiously waiting for the DVD release of this one, and sadly it doesn't look like it'll be hard to get. Well, not sadly for me in one sense, but you know what I mean. This is a talented filmmaker who deserves more attention.

Moon: I don't know much about this intriguing picture except that there's some kind of twist which it behooves me not to know. So nananananananananana I'm not listening!

Tyler Perry's I Can Do Bad All by Myself: Here's where I'd be tempted to make a wise-ass comment, but let's just bask in the glory of those DVDs listed above, movies I actually want to see.

Halloween II: Still basking.

Fame: Still basking, but this is pushing it. Time to end the post.

Disjointed thoughts about this weekend's new movies

The Book of Eli

*Wait a minute, the Hughes Brothers did this? The Hughes Brothers are back? That's good news. The movie looks kind of generic, but discovering this makes me reconsider it.

*Denzel Washington (55) is a good 4-5 years older than I thought he was. Not that it really matters, but I lost face in a little debate over it over the holidays. Ah, well. Hey, he can still bring it, right?

*There are more post-apocalyptic movies nowadays than good old-fashioned apocalyptic movies. Not to mention "good" movies.

The Lovely Bones

*I hear that this is quite different than the book, but it's not like Peter Jackson isn't familiar with people bitching about his adaptations.

*Can I get a cheap shot at the LOTR trilogy in here? Sure, I can, it's my blog. I enjoyed the spectacle of the first movie but became increasingly irritated/bored by the films as the series progressed. I'm not a fan of Jackson's "King Kong," either. So that name isn't getting me to the theaters.

*Nothing against the guy, but somehow I have no problem picturing Stanley Tucci as a child murderer.

The Spy Next Door

*Sure, this looks lame, but if it makes a lot of dough, I say we look other way. Jackie Chan deserves an easy paycheck or 3 at this point in his career.

*Better something under the radar like this than another "Shanghai Knights" or "Rush Hour" sequel, right?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Things to look forward to this weekend

*The return of "24": I'm looking forward to the show's return, but I have to say I can't believe we'll get another season as entertaining as the last one. I think "24" has been pushing its luck for years now, and it can't possibly top last year's delightful over-the-top fun fest, can it? Plus there's the whole 2-night, 4-hour PREMIERE EVENT phenomenon. The Jack Bauer Power Hour is much more well suited for hourlong chunks, and 4 hours over two nights gets a little wearying. And they always have to do this when there's a ton of other stuff on, too, such as...

*Captain Video and his Video Rangers: THIS JUST IN! My good friends in the U.S. Postal Service just added another item to the agenda by delivering the Alpha Video disc collecting 4 episodes of this seminal ("seminal" mans primitive, juvenile, and stagy, right?) 50s kiddie sci-fi show--with original commercials, no less! All I need is a space helmet and I can enjoy this like Ed Norton. I might have to settle for my daughter's giraffe mask. Close enough.

*The Golden Globes: In a previous blogging incarnation, I felt a self-imposed obligation to watch events like this, if not write about them. Not so much anymore, particularly second-rate affairs like the Globes. Still, Ricky Gervais is host is almost enough to keep me watching. I think I'll likely be more dipping in and out of the thing, but his shtick could be an interesting fit for the ceremony.

*NFL Playoffs: Since the Steelers are out (in the sense of never having been in), I can just "enjoy the games." Except when the games stink, as most of them did last weekend. I'm rooting for the Colts, but other than that, I have too many "root againsts" and not enough "root fors" to get all worked up or anything about football right now. So I just hope for an entertaining quarter or two.

*Criminal by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips: My pal Mike (he's an even better friend than the U.S. Postal Service) loaned me another issue of this great comic book the other day, and this weekend, it's readin' time! In a culture that overuses the words "gritty" and "noir" to comic results, "Criminal" stands out as the real deal.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Page Ought

It's time for another installment of the hardest-hitting gossip column online, Page Ought! Welcome to a special all-blind-item edition. Folks, we're sorry to keep you in the dark, but these revelations are too hot to handle, and if we used names--hoo, boy, some lawyers would be a-makin' some money!

*We all know the Tiger Woods scandal has affected Tiger, but what about his associates, hmm? Word has it it that the superstar golfer himself isn't the only one sleeping around. Matter of fact, some, maybe even MANY of the people that have watched Tiger in the galleries ALSO have been unfaithful! I know, I know, but we have it on good authority, trust us!

*There have been a lot of rumors swirling around that some of the biggest names in Hollywood are secretly gay! Page Ought has done some digging and can confirm that...yes, they are.

*WHICH big-name actress was rude to someone on the set recently? Hey, no hints! OK, OK, since we like you, we'll tell you: It was a movie set, and the movie hasn't been released yet. But that's all you're getting from us!

*Page Ought hears that a certain prominent musician asked for a woman's phone number at a public occasion a few weeks ago...but still hasn't called her! Even though he's been in town most of the time! Guess you can take the boy out of the rock, but you can't take the rock out of the boy...if you know what we mean!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Brooks on Books: Beetle Bailey: The First Years

It's been a year since I read this, and it's finally time to ask:

Where the deuce is volume 2?

This attractive hardback collection of the first few years (1950-1952) of Mort Walker's long-running comic strip is a delight for even those who think the long-running legacy strip is hogging valuable real estate on the comic pages. "Beetle Bailey" is not an A+ comic or even an A comic, and I wouldn't say it was at the beginning, either. But the world needs B comics, too, doesn't it? This one in particular has been around so long and had such cultural impact that it certainly deserves a chronological definitive archive series.

And I thought this book was the beginning of that. I'm still waiting for the follow-up, though! Come on, Checker, give us more Beetle Bailey.

Many will be surprised to learn that the famous grunt started out as a college student, and this collection presents all the early "Joe College" strips before Beetle signed up for the army. It's fascinating to see the progression of Walker's little universe as the setting switches. You see the beginnings of notable characters like Killer and Sarge, and you see Walker utilizing different types of gags as he establishes his creation. One he keeps coming back to is a big panel format with a bunch of little lines of dialogue, almost like a snapshot of college (later army) life. Checker reproduces these old strips well and adds some helpful but unobtrusive annotations in the margins. There is some supplemental material to provide additional context.

This book is a winner, no doubt, but Checker has left us hanging. I had hoped this was an ongoing series, but I fear the project is abandoned. Anyone know if more "Beetle Bailey" collections are planned?

Monday, January 11, 2010

A problem with those MOD DVDs

I often joke about how I'm a cheapskate and sometimes choose renting over buying when it comes to watching some of those classic movie DVDs, but if we stop and ponder it, isn't renting still a legitimate proposition? It should be.

That's the big problem I have with the Warner Archives, the Universal/TCM manufactured-on-demand discs, the MGM/Amazon program, and any similar effort. Since they aren't available in normal retail distribution channels, they are more expensive. The higher price makes renting an even more attractive proposition, but you won't find these discs at Blockbuster, Redbox, or even at my beloved Netflix.

I do know that ClassicFlix offers the Archive discs (and is aggressively touting that fact, as well it should), but this is a California-based outfit with less distribution centers, a longer turnaround, and a little less overall value. OK, so I really am a cheapskate. My point stands, though. It's possible, maybe even likely, that more of these MOD programs will appear and not even places like ClassicFlix will offer rentals.

Here's another point, too: What if you want a rare movie on DVD as a gift? Some of the Warner Archives discs might make fine presents, but you can't exactly tell your parents to run to Target and pick 'em up. No, it's like, "Uh, I really want this movie, and all you have to do is go to this website, set up a new account with them, and have it shipped to my house. Oh, and by the way, the website sucks, and it'll probably give you a headache or 3 trying to complete this transaction. So that's what I want! Good luck!"

So those are my beefs with this growing DVD trend. Not only are the discs a little high for me, it's harder to get them for free. Am I asking too much?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Cable Movie Roundup

Time for some brief thoughts on movies I saw on--you guessed it--cable! Premium cable, that is.

Paul Blart, Mall Cop: This wasn't a disaster or anything. I mean, it wasn't, like, good, per se, but it didn't totally stink. So, hey, I guess it exceeded my expectations!

You saw most of the humor in the previews, and you know what kind of a movie it is--the kind of movie where Kevin James can win over a pretty young thing like Jemma Mays (as a kiosk worker in his mall) by just going over, talking to her, and not splitting her head open with an axe. Even when he acts like a complete buffoon later after getting drunk around her (in a scene that makes little sense except as a way to get some wacky hijinks into the story), she still reciprocates his interest.

It's also the kind of production in which the lead character is really good at what he does, focused and committed, until the plot demands that he not be. Yes, folks, in other words, "Mall Cop" is a MOVIE, and a dumb one at that. But if you like James and the previews amuse you, it's not a bad way to kill an hour and a half when it comes on TV.

Frost/Nixon: I'm not a big fan of "Person/Person" titles. I mean, did anyone really think Coverdale/Page had a shot? I am a fan of history, though, and while I wouldn't call myself a fan of Richard Nixon, I'm intrigued enough by the former Prez to have bought two campaign buttons last month. Nixon--Now More Than Ever!

So I find Ron Howard's dramatization of the famous Frost/Nixon interviews entertaining, but how could I not? What I do NOT find the movie is, however, is Oscar-worthy. That is, the whole enterprise seems to strain for a weight that I just don't get from what's on the screen. The feeling I get from watching this well-made, well-told story is, "OK, that was pretty good, but what of it?" And I just want to go see more of the actual footage.

The Bucket List: Something Rob Reiner had to do before dying: Make a cutesy sentimental dramedy with two revered veteran actors. Done!

Why did I watch this? Well, I was half distracted, half lulled by the oppressive force of a winter storm, and half compromising my wife vetoed my other choices for On Demand viewing. It's not very good, but it offers a couple of revered veteran actors, so that has to count for something. It offers some ludicrous CGI work when Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson embark on their Bucket List Tour, and it's almost bad enough to make the movie worthwhile. I can only imagine how cheesetastic it looked at the multiplex.

So to recap: "Eh" to "Blart," thumbs down to "Bucket List," and Nixon's the One in 2012.

This Week in DVD

The Final Destination: Somebody get it in writing and have it notarized.

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: It would be redundant of me to mention this is based on a beloved children's book. You don't see too many movies billed as "adapted from the reviled kids' book!"

Trucker: Isn't it way too soon for an Ashton Kutcher biopic?

Chuck Season 2: My wife and I watched and enjoyed season 1, then DVR'ed almost all the episodes of season 2 without getting around to watching any of them. Then an inept FIOS employee remotely fried my box for what turned out to be no good reason. The moral of the story here? The blonde chick from "Chuck" is hot.

Super Friends Season One Volume One: Finally, we get to see the Super Friends at their gritty best, in the classic, quintessentially 1970s first season. You know, the one with Wendy and Marvin.

Taylor Hicks: Whomp at the Warfield: I only list this for two reasons. 1) It's a slow week. 2) WHOMP at the Warfield? Is "Whomp" some kind of acronym or insider term for those Taylormaniacs or whatever his fans call themselves? I'm assuming that's the case and that this is a niche release aimed only at his hardcore followers. No one who hasn't already thrown shame out the window could go to a Wal-Mart and drop a DVD named "Whomp at the Warfield" on the conveyor belt with their deodorant and light bulbs.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

5 movie DVDs I want to own

There's a good reason I don't own these: They don't exist. While I made a semi-resolution to watch more of the damn things I DO own, I can't help but pine for more. Here are 5 I'd buy tomorrow...or at least this weekend after I get paid.

The African Queen: This isn't even in my top 10 of Bogart flicks, but any movie with him, let alone one with Katharine Hepburn as well, should be on DVD, and the fact that this fondly remembered classic is still MIA this many years into the format is a national embarrassment. President Obama, please quit messing around with Gitmo and look into this situation. The lack of a Region 1 disc of "Queen" has already done incalculable damage to our standing around the globe.

Adaptation Special Edition: It's been 6 or 7 years since I resisted buying the skimpy Sony DVD of this Spike Jonze film because I read that a jazzed-up Special Edition was forthcoming. Hey, I'm still waiting! The movie is one of the best of the decade and certainly can stand on its own, but it's trippy enough to warrant ample bonus features. Besides, wasn't the extra material already prepared? I'm gonna take the high road and assume this is not a case of Sony getting cold feet and giving up on a great effort, but rather yet another brilliant mind-blower from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, a bizarre experiment in delaying audience expectations...and, uh, sales.

The Night of the Hunter Special Edition: Speaking of movies that are out on DVD but not in appropriate prestigious versions, I give you Charles Laughton's classic "Night of the Hunter," only I don't give it to you with the supplemental material that it deserves. Several years ago, I remember reading a SE was on the way. We're not getting any younger, and we're sure as hell not waiting for a Blu-Ray. Give us a snazzy DVD of this one already. I LOVE the picture, but I HATE waiting.

Let It Be: No! No, I will not just Let It Be. Sure, this Beatles movie is often depressing, and it hardly paints the most flattering portrait of the band. But why do The Beatles need to worry about how they come off in anything at this point? They're Beatles! Besides, the movie ends on a triumphant note with the famous rooftop concert, the inclusion of which alone is enough to merit a decent home video release. It doesn't look like Paul and Ringo are at all eager to release this, but maybe they'll change their minds.

Pitfall: I don't even care if this 1948 film noir classic gets a special edition or comes out as part of a super-duper box set. I just want to see it again, and the video store that rented me a copy of the old Republic VHS tape is too far away, so I want to own the movie on DVD. The name "Dick Powell" should be enough to get this out, but sadly, we all know that's not the case. I'd even consider paying 20 bucks for a lousy Warner Archives copy of this if it were legitimate--and of Warners had the rights. I'm not sure if Paramount, Lionsgate, or Scrooge McDuck owns the rights to this picture, and I don't care except in terms of how likely it is to come to DVD someday. Even the most despairing noir protagonists have more hope than I do for an official "Pitfall" release.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Brooks on Books: "More Than a Game" by Brian Billick

Why in blazes would a Steeler guy like myself read a book by former Ravens coach Brian Billick? I'll get to that in a minute, but let me say that while "More than a Game: The Glorious Present and Uncertain Future of the NFL" is an engaging read that might enlighten the casual football fan, there might not be enough new info and insight to make this worth a purchase for a more serious NFL follower. I'd recommend this as a library read or a "wait for a paperback" kind of book, except maybe for...[shudder]...Ravens fans.

Even hardcore fans might come away disappointed if they are expecting a lot of dirt and detail about Billick's reign as Baltimore's head honcho. Rather than write a career-spanning memoir or diary of a specific season, Billick took a novel approach: As a TV commentator and student of the game, he sought out former colleagues, coaches, executives, and others involved with the NFL to develop a picture of where the league is today and where it might be going in the future.

You know, I disliked the guy as the Ravens coach, but toward the end of his tenure, possibly because the team was down a bit, I kind of saw him a little differently. For some reason, I kind of wasn 't annoyed by him as a Fox analyst and wanted him to do well. So I thought this book sounded intriguing and wanted to read his views on the game's evolution.

Billick and co-author Michael MacCambridge (who wrote possibly the best book about the NFL I ever read) do a great job of organizing the material and presenting it in a concise fashion. Each chapter covers a different aspect of the pro game, such as coaching, offense, defense, general managing, etc. The ex-coach peppers explanations of how those aspects function with personal anecdotes and insights. He has some funny stories and sharp observations, but I wish there were more. He alludes to All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis being a diva, but he doesn't follow up on it, and you just kind of get the impression he's holding back somewhat because he wants to stay close to the game and get another coaching job in the near future. What you wind up reading are well-written but ultimately unsurprising analyses of how, say, the salary cap is incredibly complex. I would prefer a little more X's and O's, a little more specific detail.

That said, Billick offers interesting glimpses of how a coach works with his general manager and even his owner to run a pro football franchise. He's a smart guy with some things to say, and he is no doubt aided by his talented co-author in crafting a good read here. A common thread throughout this volume is Billick's concern that the league and the players will wreck the great thing they have going by failing to reach a new labor agreement (hence the "Uncertain Future"). There is often as much economic talk as on-field strategy talk, and that reflects the nature of today's NFL.

My favorite part of the book, though, comes at its conclusion and feels too short. Billick talks about where he sees the game going and how it'll change. I would love to read more of this kind of thing. He talks about the inevitable 18-game schedule, spread offenses, and--most intriguing to me--the possibility of giving fans access to the fabled coaches' game film used by teams and guys like Ron Jaworski to break down the action. Billick thinks this is certain to come eventually; I'm sure a lot of hardcore types will eat it up.

Those hardcore fans will enjoy this book, too, but they might not find a lot of new or surprising material. They will get some distinctive insights from Billick, who shares solid perceptions despite seeming to hold back somewhat on personal details. "More Than a Game" is a great choice for a fan seeking to know more about the basics of the NFL, but those who already obsess over the league might want to sample it before buying.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Panel Discussion: You meddling Titans

From Teen Titans #1, via Showcase Presents:

Classic. He would have gotten away with this, too, if not for those meddling kids.

Let me point out that writer Bob Haney delivered this startling denouement in an issue cover-dated 1966, a full 3 years before CBS aired the first episode of "Scooby-Doo."