Saturday, July 31, 2010

This Week in DVD

Clash of the Titans: Is the Sam Worthington push over? The guy was in about 3 big movies in a brief span, and we were told he was gonna be huge, but he is not the thing anybody remembers about any of those movies.

What everyone remembers about THIS one is the ill-fated rush job of retrofitting the movie to 3-D. Hey, that reminds me, did you know this post is in 3-D? To get the full effect, just lean really, really close to your screen--no, closer, closer--yeah, that's right, until you bump into it and get blurred vision. Voila!

Repo Men: Jude Law and Forest Whitaker star in this disappointing movie about...You know what? I feel obligated to list this because it's one of the few high-profile recent theatricals out this week, but there is a lot of interesting retro stuff to get to, and I know virtually nothing about "Repo Men," so why try to bluff?

Batman: Under the Red Hood: I'm always game for these DC Animated movies, but the more I know about this project, the less interest I have in it.

Olive Films presents 4 movies licensed from Paramount: This outfit releases 4 new-to-DVD flicks this week: "Union Station" and "Dark City," which are really good, "Crack in the World," which sounds fun, and "Appointment with Danger," an noirish Alan Ladd picture effort I want to see. Hey, Netflix, let's carry all these, not just "Crack," OK? (Hey, wonder if Netflix will ever start carrying crack? Nah, my bet's on Amazon beating them to it. It sells everything else.)

Kansas City Royals: 1985 World Series Collectors Edition: Ah, through DVD releases like this, long-suffering fans can recall the days when their team actually had a snowball's chance. And lest you think I'm mocking you, K.C. fans, I root for the Pirates. Sigh. Time to dig up that '79 World Series set.

Sgt. Bilko Season One: OK, now is the time for all of us who bought, er, alternative sets to put our money where our mouths are and pony up for a legit set, right? Well, I'm a little short right now, but I do plan to get this eventually. I'm also waiting for a reputable source to assure me that this set is unedited, unadulterated, and otherwise unbotched. My alternative set has edited episodes, so I'd love to upgrade--er, that is, if I had an alternative set, I'd assume it would have edited episodes, of course.

The Sweeney Seasons 1 and 2: I have read great things about this U.K. cop show, and it's finally back in print in Region 1, but each set is 60 bucks at Amazon. Uh, no thanks. Netflix, forget that crack thing and stock this series, please.

Mothers-in-Law Complete Series: MPI put a lot of effort into this set, from what I gather, and I appreciate it when a short-lived oldie gets that kind of treatment. Only I'm not so sure I'll actually like "The Mothers-in-Law," despite the presence of the incomparable Eve Arden. That said, Amazon has this for 19 bucks! Even if I hated the show, I'd be tempted to get it at that price. Hey, you could raise the funds for 3 of these sets and still have to scrounge up change for one season of "The Sweeney."

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Comic-Con Movie News ITEMS

This year, Cultureshark continued its decades-long tradition of not attending Comic Con in San Diego. We're starting a new tradition of scouring the web for movie-related news from the Con and sharing our takes in this space.

ITEM: Mark Ruffalo introduced as new Hulk for "Avengers" movie.
--Ruffalo as the brooding, tortured Bill-Bixby-ish Banner? Yeah, I see that. Ruffalo as brilliant scientist Banner? Hmm, that might be a little tougher to buy, though in this movie, that aspect might not be relevant. Ruffalo as smash-happy green behemoth with cut-off purple pants? Hey, it doesn't matter much if the effects are good. Overall, this ought to work.

ITEM: "Tron" looks like it kinda might be cool.
--So we can't make fun of the "Tron" remake and treat it like a big flop-in-the-making. OK, we'll adjust accordingly. Carry on.

ITEM: Thor actor Chris Hemworth does publicity.
--I am intrigued by a Kenneth-Banagh-directed movie of Marvel's Norse God of Thunder. I don't know if this Hemworth guy has the gravitas I want to see in the character, though. Perhaps I shouldn't pre-judge a movie in a 5-minute interview the lead does with "Attack of the Show," but I got more of a Heath Ledger vibe than anything else. I don't want to see Young Thor, but I guess for marketing purposes, that's probably what they're going for here. We'll see.

ITEM: Green Lantern movie with Ryan Reynolds is really gonna happen, isn't it?
--I have to come to terms with this and try to accept Reynolds. He didn't turn my stomach in "The Proposal," so I'll give him a chance. Actually, the bigger news out of Comic-Con may be that, if her appearance is any indication, Blake Lively is apparently transitioning from her role in "Lantern" to a starring role in "Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze."

ITEM: Marvel Anime to premiere on G4 next year.
--Normally, I'd feel excitement about the prospect of 4 new Marvel cartoons coming to TV, but I'm not really feeling it. Maybe the anime thing is more a marketing label than a style.

ITEM: Haunted Mansion "reboot" coming from Guillermo Del Toro.
--And he may or may not direct it. Who cares? If ever a potential franchise warrants a "wait and see" approach, it's this one. The only reason I don't gripe about rebooting such a recent movie is that I forgot there even was a recent movie till Del Toro made a snide comment about Eddie Murphy. I know for many people, Del Toro's name alone is enough to stir anticipation, but not for me. If he can make a good "Haunted Mansion" film, great, but I'm not circling my calendar.

ITEM: Scott Pilgrim sneak preview wows con attendees.
--The graphic novels aren't really my cup of tea, but I see why they're popular, and when I see the movie clips, I see something fresh and innovative. It may not actually be either of those things, but the concept of combining video game fighting with manga sensibilities and young romance looks like it could produce a real winner. It just looks like fun, and fun is a good thing.


Time to clean up the old desk and take care of some corrections.

*In last week's cantankerous rant--er, thoughtful post about the state of Retro TV, I referenced what I thought was a poor decision by my local affiliate to add 1980s hit "The Cosby Show." As good buddy Ivan graciously pointed out in the comments, RTV is actually presenting the lesser known but superior "Bill Cosby Show." I appreciate the correction, not least because I'm gonna tape it now and look for second season episodes. In my defense, I thought the Cos sitcom being shown was the 1980s version because...that's exactly what my FIOS TV listings said! FIOS, I love you, but your listings leave a bit to be desired sometimes.

*I was a little too high on "Mr. Ed" a few weeks ago. It's a solid but not great sitcom. This is a mild correction.

*Last week, we called "The View" the stupidest show on television. There are, in fact, several more stupid programs. We don't really regret the error.

*15 years ago, we predicted a man would be on Mars by now. We DO regret the error.

*In the previous two items, we used a formal collective "we" when, let's face it, no one is responsible for any errors besides myself. I regret the error.

*My back has been bothering me this week, and I may have altered my posture somewhat to correct for the pain on my right side when I move around. I regret the pain.

*"The Corrections" by Jonathan Franzen is an acclaimed novel. I have never read it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Hey! It's that guy!

One of the advantages to being laid up with a bad back is getting to be in the room when your wife watches her soap opera.

Wait a minute, no, that's not an advantage. It's a big DISadvantage, really. The pain must be shredding my faculties.

But wait. There is a glimmer of hope if you happen to be in a similar situation. You see, the other day I was an innocent bystander during a screening of "Days of Our Lives" when suddenly I looked up from my book and saw David "Joe Isuzu" Leisure! That's right--that guy! He's still around!

I was pretty sure it was indeed David Leisure, but who knows, maybe the new brand of ibuprofen I just switched to had hallucinogenic properties. So I asked Mrs. Shark if I was indeed seeing the smarmy cult favorite on her soap. She confirmed it, and I noted he was engaging in some kind of legal chat with another character, so I asked her, "Sleazy defense attorney?"

To my great astonishment, she told me he was the District Attorney. "What?" I replied. "How can he not be a sleazy mouthpiece? He shouldn't be on the right side of the law."

Then my wife put me--and indeed, the entire pop culture universe--at ease. "I didn't say he wasn't sleazy," was her response, and I comforted myself with the thought that at least he was a crooked D.A. Anything less (or more, depending on your perspective) would be a ridiculous case of miscasting.

So, yeah--David Leisure is on "Days of Our Lives." I'll be darned.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Brooks on Books: "Veeck as in Wreck" by Bill Veeck

Yesterday's post covered an outstanding book that may go down as one of the all-time greats; today, let's look at a certified classic, an almost-50-year-old autobiography that holds up as one of the best baseball and best sports books ever. It took me a long time to get to "Veeck as in Wreck," but not a long time to actually read it once I did acquire it.

It's the autobiography of longtime baseball executive, showman, and stuff-stirrer Bill Veeck, who owned and ran teams for decades, turned around franchises, and reached the top of the profession. Despite his myriad accomplishments, he is best known today for signing 3'7" Eddie Gaedel to the plate as a pinch-hitter for the St. Louis Browns in a 1951 American League game. Veeck acknowledges this and opens his book with the whole story. It's a fine tale, but there's so much more to Veeck and his memoir.

I should mention credited co-author Ed Linn, who collaborated with Leo Durocher on another awesome baseball bio, "Nice Guys Finish Last," and may well be responsible for much of the excellent writing in this volume. In "Wreck," you get excellent storytelling, sharp prose, and a wry voice that is perfect for a man who celebrated the fun of the game and never took himself too seriously.

"Wreck" could be an outstanding read if only for the insights into stunts like the Gaedel appearance and events like signing Larry Doby to the Indians and making him the first black player in the American League. But what makes this a classic is its inside look at so many different aspects of the game. Veeck explains the machinations of how he purchased multiple professional franchises, and he makes each an exciting narrative, detailing the financial aspects without making them dull. He shares his theories and experiences with concessions, ballpark structure, and all aspects of promotions--not just publicity stunts. Veeck discusses his relationship with the press, how he makes personnel decisions, and his thoughts on in-game strategies. He combines his sharp insights with vivid anecdotes to create one of the most complete surveys of the world of baseball you'll ever read.

Perhaps most entertaining is his detailed analysis of trades he made and did not make with other teams, plus his interaction with the other major league owners. It's no surprise to any serious fan how sleazy the Lords of the Realm were, but if half of what Veeck claims is true, their actions offer a true eye-opener. If I may oversimplify, Veeck was ahead of his time, and the other owners resented his unwillingness to play the game on a metaphorical level.

"Veeck as in Wreck" was originally published in 1962, but it holds up today as a prescient look at how the sport was, what it became, and what it is today (Other than his archaic views on TV and attendance, most of Veeck's ideas look pretty good in 2010). But it's also a funny, entertaining, and insightful read, the fascinating story of one of the game's most compelling individuals.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Brooks on Books: The Machine by Joe Posnanski

I want to share some thoughts on two baseball books I read this season. One is an all-time classic, one of the best sports books ever, and the other is merely excellent. Today we'll go with the merely excellent.

Joe Posnanski's "The Machine" is more proof of the author's consistent excellence as a writer. If you need more, check out his writing in "Sports Illustrated" or his staggering blog, in which he cranks out thoughtful pieces day after day, most about baseball but also about other sports, pop culture, and sometimes just daily life.

What drew me to "The Machine," though, was Posnanski's previous book, "The Soul of Baseball." After devouring that, I knew any future book by this guy would be on my must-read list. So the author was the big draw, not the subject matter, because really I had no particular love nor hatred for the 1970s Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds. The 1975 season didn't stand out to me one way or the other. However, I will gladly check out any well-written book about a specific baseball team, and this one offered definite rewards. I'm still not a Reds fan, but I find the Big Red Machine much more vivid and enjoyable just as a topic, and I'm slowly watching the 1975 World Series games on DVD with my new knowledge of the participants enhancing the experience.

Posnanski structures the book as a diary chronicling the 1975 season, not a day-by-day chronicle, but a progression through the season (up to and including the legendary World Series battle with the Red Sox) with selected games and events highlighted as they occur. Posnanski also steps back often to fill in the back stories of the individuals on the team. Perhaps most impressive is his ability to integrate 1975 current events and pop culture into the narrative in a smooth manner. Many books that try to establish a sense of time and place are clunky about it; it's difficult to throw in facts about what the number one record was at a given time without stopping the momentum of the main story. Yet Posnanski generally avoids this trap, using the tidbits about the 1975 setting as springboards for the smaller stories he's telling to create the bigger picture.

These people do indeed come to life as more than just cogs in "The Machine." I see some guys much differently after reading the book (Johnny Bench, Sparky Anderson). I see some guys, period, that I knew very little about (George Foster). Posnanski even offers some new and intriguing angles on one of the most prominent baseball figures of the 20th century, Pete Rose.

"The Machine" offers a solid narrative of an amazing team season while serving up numerous fascinating stories about the individuals who made up those '75 Reds. It all adds up to an outstanding book that is a must-read for all serious baseball fans. It may not be potentially life-changing like "The Soul of Baseball," but so what? "Merely excellent" is more than good enough.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

This Week in DVD

Cop Out: Is Kevin Smith a "Sell Out" for directing someone else's script? Of course not. I'm curious to rent this Bruce Willis/Tracy Morgan buddy cop flick, which seems to both celebrate and send up the genre. But because of the 28-day quarantine imposed on Netflix and Redbox by just going out and buying the DVD instead. NOT!
(Yeah, I've made similar comments before, but it's gonna take a while to get it out of my system.)

Forbidden Zone and Galaxy of Terror:
Two Roger Corman sci-fi specials come to DVD. I never saw "Terror," but how bad can a space opera with Eddie Albert and Erin Moran be? As for "Zone," I remember when I was a fairly wee lad and my uncle took me and my cousin to see it. We expected some sci-fi violence, but we didn't expect what seemed like copious nudity. Nowadays that would be a pleasant bonus, but as a young kid with my uncle, I just soaked in the collective embarrassment.

My Boys Seasons 2 and 3: I know we live in crude times, but still, I'm astonished that someone actually made a situation comedy about a guy's testicles.

The Wronged Man: Hey, check out the leading man's marquee-stretching name: Mahershalalhashbaz Ali! All right, that's a lame comment. And this is a Lifetime movie. You got me, folks. It's a slow DVD week.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Summer Movie Preview: July (Part 2)

The Sorcerer's Apprentice (already out): Nicolas Cage is kind of like a younger Al Pacino these days: You want to watch him in what looks like crap just to see what kind of wackiness he'll unleash. Ideally, he'd be more like a rougher Johnny Depp: someone you'll see in anything because you know the performance will be both interesting and good. There are worse Disney properties to Bruckheimerize--after all, this movie is based on the one segment of "Fantasia" the average Joe could identify--but there are probably better ones, too: How about Cage as a jittery gunslinger and Philip Seymour Hoffman as a seedy prospector in "Big Thunder Mountain"? Let's face it, Cage has to take his acting way over the top of the mountain to make this watchable. Yellow light.

Inception (Already out): LALALALALALALA Nobody tell me anything about this movie! Christopher Nolan movies are always mindbenders and/or very good. Heck, I half-expected The Joker to kill off Batman in "The Dark Knight." I think people still anticipate the twist in a Nolan film with a positive spirit, unlike the reaction audiences had in that dry patch endured by a certain director whose last name rhymes with...rhymes, what DOES rhyme with Shyamalan?

Twists are one thing, but you have to have a compelling story. I hope I'm not setting myself up for mild disappointment a la "Shutter Island," but I do want to see "Inception," and maybe I a theater, too! Golly! Green light.

Salt (opens Friday): I'm already seeing stories get out about Angelina Jolie "turning the adventure genre on its head" and "invading the boys club" and nonsense like that. Fact is, Angie already did that years ago when she played Lara Croft. Say what you will about the movies, but she was a legit action hero and gave us one of the best one-sheets in the history of the biz (Sigh). The Angelina Jolie of 2010 is a much different version.

That said, this role was originally designed for Tom Cruise, and I'd sure rather watch Angelina Jolie. Maybe this will be decent. Yellow light.

Ramona and Beezus (opens Friday): I'm not gonna go so far as to say I'll see this in a theater or anything, but I will admit that I read this and other Beverly Cleary books as a kid. Hey, how macho does a 7-year-old need to be? Red light (but I hope it's a decent family movie).

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (July 30): What's with this trend of sequels requiring some kind of pithy subtitle? A simple "Cats and Dogs 2" would suffice. Red light.

Dinner for Schmucks (July 30): Paul Rudd and Steve Carell teaming up must be comedic brilliance right? Well, no, not necessarily. Much as I like Rudd, I think I've experienced at least slight disappointment in about 4 or 5 straight of his movies. I'm not sure about this one, but I do know I am stunned that Jay Roach directed a movie with "Schmucks" in the title before Mel Brooks. Yellow light.

The Extra Man (limited July 30): Kevin Kline and John C. Reilly in a quirky comedy from the team that made "American Splendor"? Reilly looking like he just failed an audition for Hagrid in the last "Harry Potter" movie? I'm intrigued. But all I'm really taking in about this one so far is that, as the ads on HDNet tout, I can SEE IT NOW on demand before or while it's in theaters. On one hand, this is pretty cool, and I respect the distributors for experimenting with this. On other, a small part of me can't help but think, "It must not be that good." That's a bad attitude, isn't it? But I think the strategy does devalue the content a little bit. Yellow light.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Two more reasons to yearn for a la carte cable TV pricing

ReelzChannel is now showing back-to-back "NewsRadio" reruns weeknights at 7:00 P.M.

Let me rephrase that: ReelzChannel, the outfit which purports to be "TV about movies,"* is showing reruns of a 1990s television sitcom each weeknight. Nothing against "NewsRadio," a quality program, but it's not "TV about movies." It's TV about RADIO. There's a difference.

Besides, it's had its runs on Nick at Nite and A&E in recent years. It is widely available on DVD--so available, in fact, I'm pretty sure you could get the whole series for less than 30 bucks recently.

I still don't understand which executive lost a bet that led to ReelzChannel showing "Carson's Comedy Classics," but at least that hasn't received widespread exposure this decade.

I guess ReelzChannel is destined to become just another channel as it moves away from its stated purpose and adds programming that you've already seen a dozen other places on the dial. Sound familiar? It should. It's happened to just about every other cable network in the last decade or so.

*just go to its website, and you'll see that phrase in the upper left-hand corner, and if you squint your peepers hard enough, you'll notice a little R symbol next to it. So the folks at Reelz are pretty proud--and protective--of their slogan and identity. Well, the slogan, anyway.

While I was scanning my TV listings, I noticed another wayward cable network. Hey, this is original research I'm presenting here, boys and girls. This offender is Hallmark Movie Channel, which is resorting to airing reruns of "Murder, She Wrote" and "Matlock." Not the "Murder, She Wrote" movies or the "Matlock" movies, but just regular, old episodes of those mystery programs.

What part of Hallmark MOVIE Channel is so incomprehensible? Clearly the "Movie" part is a bit of a puzzler over there. Come to think, the "Hallmark" part doesn't seem to fit some of the things I see on their TV outlets, either, so that leaves "Channel." Here I must be fair and admit that, yes, Hallmark Movie Channel IS still a channel. It's not one I want to watch very often, but it is a channel, and so for that, hey, bravo, Hallmark!

I mean no offense to Matlock and Jessica Fletcher lovers (trust me, I tried to rephrase that several times, and you just can't do it without sounding creepy), but why can't those programs stay on Hallmark? Is it that there is sooooooo much quality stuff on "the mothership" that there's nowhere else to put them?

Hmm. I doubt that the Hallmark Channel lineup couldn't accommodate those old standbys. Maybe eliminating the infomercials would make some room. Perhaps Hallmark Channel could even do with, say, one less episode of "Little House on the Prairie." Surely the moral fabric of the loyal HC audience would handle two hours instead of 3, especially if they get a powerhouse like Angela Lansbury returning to the lineup. What's a little more murder in your daily routine? You can't tell me even the most ardent fans don't feel like committing a little murder themselves after sitting through a dozen episodes of "The Golden Girls" in a given day.

As a bonus reason to yearn for a la carte cable pricing, let me cite this piece at Sitcoms Online, which reports that next month Comedy Central will show "Baywatch" leading up to its roast of David Hasselhoff. No, it's not a MST3k-style skewering of "Baywatch"--I'd give that a look-see, though--but it's just "Baywatch."

I don't want to rip Comedy Central too much here because it still does a lot of things right and it still serves its basic original function, more or less, but this is just stupid. Like Comedy Central's audience needs to be reminded what "Baywatch" is? Maybe there'll be a roundtable discussion immediately following each episode, similar to what TV Guide Network does with "Curb Your Enthusiasm."

And, hey, what's happening to those TV listings on TV Guide Network, anyway?

And have I mentioned how little Arts is on A&E? And did you ever notice that MTV doesn't play many videos anymore? And how about...

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Vault of Coolness: Jack Webb

When I found a bunch of photos from the 1959 Jack Webb movie "-30-" in a collectibles store , I knew I had to buy one. I've never seen the Webb-directed drama set at an L.A. newspaper, but I've read about it, and, hey, owning the photo gives me another excuse to track it down. Newspapers, Jack Webb, Bill Conrad...that sounds like a winning recipe.

I'm not sure why I chose THIS photo, but there's something appealing about the casual cheer of Webb's apparent phone call home. Now, I don't want to see a bunch of phone calls to home, or scenes at home, or conversations ABOUT home, etc., in a Jack Webb newspaper movie, but this is a fun image.

How's about screening this one of these years, TCM, and saving me the cost of a boot--uh, the agony of waiting for a legitimate DVD release?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Brooks on Books: "Tip-Off" by Filip Bondy

"Tip-Off: How the 1984 NBA Draft Changed Basketball Forever" is a solid book for basketball fans. "New York Daily News" writer Filip Bondy provides an entertaining overview of the seminal draft and its participants. He's less successful at establishing how it "changed basketball forever," leaving most of that for the ending, but, hey, the draft brought the league Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley, and John Stockton, so that's pretty much a 'nuff said right there as far as the lasting impact goes.

Two recent events make this 2007 book relevant to me now. One is the sad news of former Kentucky Wildcats great (and NBA not-so-great) Mel Turpin's recent suicide. The other, much happier event is NBA-TV's rebroadcast of the original USA Network telecast of the '84 draft.

Several things stand out when you watch the coverage today: David Stern's mustache, Lou Carnesecca's blend of bland content and colorful delivery as the analyst, and the lack of Jordan hype. It's possible some footage is missing from NBA-TV's version, and Jordan's presence in training for the Olympics team under Bob Knight meant he couldn't be in New York, but still, you kind of want to say, "This is gonna be the greatest player of all time, everybody!"

Bondy explains the circumstances that created the draft atmosphere and deconstructs the fateful choice of fragile Kentucky center Sam Bowie by Portland at number two over Jordan, who went to the Bulls at 3 (Olajuwon was an undisputed no-brainer for Houston with the top pick). Nowadays, it seems like a joke, but Bondy does a fine job of taking us into the thought process, showing why the Blazers believed that with a playmaker like Clyde Drexler already on board, a big man like Bowie was the better option. Even then, it was by no means a slam dunk decision, but, as Bondy shows, even the Bulls weren't always 100% set to take Jordan. Various scenarios could have changed the history of the league before or during the 1984 draft, including games won or lost (Bondy gives ample coverage to the perception that Houston tanked to get the #1 draft position) and trades made or not made.

The prose is not spectacular, but the structure is clear and well defined, making for a narrative that is easy to follow. Bondy focuses on the superstars I mentioned earlier, plus Jordan's college teammate Sam Perkins, giving mini-biographies of them up through their college years. He examines the decision-making process of the teams that took them, while also writing a good overview of league-wide trends and the draft as a whole.

"Tip-Off" is best suited for a more serious hoops fan who will appreciate the detail on the players, teams, and front office types involved in this story. Bondy's interviews with figures like Rod Thorn (who drafted Jordan) supplement contemporaneous material, and the author succeeds in offering modern-day perspective while also delivering the context of the 1984 mindset that could only have guessed at Jordan's staggering success or Bowie's relative failure. "Tip-Off" is an entertaining and informative look at a pivotal event in NBA history.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Checking in on RTV

I haven't let my excitement over THIS-TV make me neglect RTV. The Retro TV affiliate in my area made a few minor schedule changes a few weeks ago, changes that leave me saying...well, not much of anything, really.

One neutral-to-negative-impact move was replacing "Operation Petticoat" Sunday mornings at 10:00 AM with a double shot of "Adventures of Black Beauty," a family/kids show which has been played quite a bit on other channels, notably Family Net. I'm not a fan of "Petticoat" and I don't mind seeing it get a breather, but I bristle at the replacement of an old sitcom with a show that could fit in elsewhere in Retro's kid-friendly morning package.

At 5:00 on Sundays, the back-to-back "Amen" episodes are outta here, with "Peter Gunn" taking over the slot. I'd much rather see "Gunn," all things being equal, but all things are not; "Gunn" is on every other night of the week, and I gave up on it months ago due to a lack of fresh episodes in the rotation. Maybe they have more in there now, but still, if you want to give "Amen" the boot, why not put on something different?

A similar situation occures later on Sundays, as the 9:00 showing of the Eddie Albert/Robert Wagner show "Switch" is out and "I Spy" is in. "I Spy" is already on weekdays, so to me, this is a waste of an hour. "Switch" is an amusing if not essential hour. I'd rather it stayed.

Gunn gets another double dose on Saturdays at 5:00, replacing "MacMillan and Wife." What fills out the other hour, you ask, dear reader? "The Cosby Show," which is exactly the kind of thing I do NOT want to see take over this channel. It's too recent, too prevalent, too unimaginative a programming option.

Later on Saturdays, "Buck Rogers" says hasta la vista, with "Black Sheep Squadron" substituting. Yawn. I haven't been watching "Buck" and probably wouldn't on a regular basis, but "Squadron" was already on Saturday nights for a while when my area first picked up RTV. Aren't there other shows we could see here, even if we limit ourselves to the Universal library? Answer: Yes. More on that in a minute.

There are two changes that I notice on weekdays: "Marcus Welby" exits the 1:00 P.M. hour, replaced by two "Leave it to Beaver" episodes. Now, if you're gonna lean so much on Universal shows, yeah, "Beaver" deserves a place on the schedule. I was surprised when they took it off a while back. But it shouldn't bump poor Welby. After all, the whole run of "Beaver" just came out on DVD.

Later, at 9:00, "The Incredible Hulk" smashes "Magnum P.I." out of the time slot. I like "Hulk" better and don't have a real problem with it returning to the lineup, but "Knight Rider" and "A-Team" are two inferior and widely available programs that have been on there long enough and could have been--should have been--ripe targets for the axe.

So several shows leave and are replaces by shows that have either already been on RTV or are already on other days. Is this change for its own sake? I'd like to see RTV, or at least the WJLA-TV version of it, do a little more. If it wants to tinker, start with the weeknight late night schedule. The "Daniel Boone"/"Rifleman"/"Cisco Kid" combo is better suited for weekend and/or afternoon or morning duty. Put something else in there. May I suggest putting back "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "Suspense Theater" and showing more of their episodes? There's an easy move.

However, there are plenty of Universal properties that could enliven the schedule. Just limiting myself to shows I know Retro has aired in other markets, let me lobby for "Kojak," "Delvecchio," and "O'Hara U.S. Treasury." The latter two had brief stints around here, but for some reason, "Kojak" hasn't had a run in the D.C. market. We'd love him, baby!

If WJLA needs even more ideas, here are two freebies: Add "Ellery Queen" and give us back the Darren McGavin "Mike Hammer."

"Louie" update

The other day, I may have kinda made it sound that while FX's new show "Louie" is fascinating, it's not all that ha-ha funny. Well, this week's episode is laugh-out-loud funny and solidifies the series' spot on my DVR's record list.

That's all I got for now. I just thought I should get that out there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

This Week in DVD

The Bounty Hunter: Hey, don't ask me about this one. I can't even remember whether or not Jennifer Aniston and Gerald Butler were sleeping together off camera, let alone what happened in the movie. I don't even know if there's a difference anymore.

Greenberg: In this small dramatic indie, Ben Stiller got to exercise his acting muscle again. Of course, it being Stiller, he then got it caught in his zipper.

Chloe: All I know is THIS dramatic small indie-ish film with Liam Neeson, Julianne Moore, and Amanda Seyfried is supposed to be...erotic. Ooh, erotic. I say that Atom Egoyan took the easy way out. I mean, the name "Chloe" somehow just carries erotic overtones. I would like to see him make an erotic drama called "Gertrude."

Mystery Science Theater Volume 18: Shout Factory isn't perfect, but it's doing a tremendous job cranking out these 4-DVD sets every few months. Keep bringing them out, please.

Warner Brothers Film Noir Collection Volume 5: Speaking of not perfect, what happened to the extras these sets used to have? Oh, well, the bang for the buck is lower, but nobody will complain when this box its Costco for 20 bucks before Christmas. I'm less excited about this set than I was about the previous 4, but I'm glad it's here. At least we get 8 noir/noirish flicks on legit pressed discs in one neato package. And, yes, the word "neato" should never again be used in association with film noir.

World War I in Color: It was such a horrible war, it drained the color from most of the world until about the mid 1960s or so.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Should You Watch: Louie

FX's new comedy "Louie," the brainchild of writer/director/star/producer/probably just about everything else Louis C.K., is a remarkable show. At first glance, it reminds you of some other shows...but it somehow feels unlike just about anything else on TV. It combines footage of the standup comedian in concert with "real-life" footage related to his material, but you certainly won't confuse it with the early "Seinfeld." Speaking of that show, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" brings a loose, improv feel to even the stuff that IS scripted, and "Louie" often captures a similar vibe, but it does so without replicating that experience.

Most importantly, in this era of awkward silences and comedic beats based on discomfort and embarrassment--witness, well, every other sitcom made in the last decade or so--"Louie" thrives on those moments while still creating a singular experience. You have to admire a half-hour comedy, even one on FX, that devotes large chunks of its time to, say, a freewheeling discussion about homosexuality and the use of the word "faggot" in standup comedy, as the second episode did. The setting was a poker game with Louie and his comedian pals, one of whom is gay, and the discussion was explicit, juvenile, and profound all at once. There was no pat solution--Louie showed apparent remorse when his friend explained the meaning of the word and why it is offensive, but the gay jokes resumed at the table--and it felt, for lack of a better word, "real."

Each show has two "life" segments, and some work better than others. In fact, I don't always find the series all that funny, but I do find it mesmerizing. It's a sitcom with an overriding melancholy that looms over the jokes. Louie is divorced, he's getting older, he's kind of pathetic, he gets into inappropriate situations, and it all leaves me kind of depressed. Yet through it all I always get the sense that there's truth here--truth in a fake TV sense, sure, but the kind of exploration of feelings and conditions we don't often get on television, even in today's supposedly sophisticated landscape. It's not a typical sitcom experience, nor even a typical television experience, but you really have to see it to believe it.

You should watch "Louie" if:

*Nothing cheers you up more than being depressed at the end of a half-hour comedy.
*You can relate to or at least empathize with the pressures of an aging divorced father trying to reconnect with women...and often failing miserably or succeeding pitifully.
*You long for the soothing, comforting presence of tenderhearted comics like Jim Norton and Nick DiPaolo.
*You never get tired of hearing C.K.'s bit about the rash his daughter had--well, let's say no more, but suffice to say it figured in the first episode I saw, and frankly I hope he doesn't use it again.
*You enjoy seeing comedian's material before Dane Cook swipes it.
*You haven't already heard a thousand times on the radio the old "Brother Louie" song adapted here as a theme song (I must admit that the song, though overexposed, is perfect, and not just because of the name).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Movie Preview: July (Part 1):

Twilight: The Next-to-Last or Whatever It Is Chapter (already out): I'm still in truce mode with this franchise. It doesn't bother me, and I don't bother it. Somehow, seeing posters and t-shirts for it all over the place in public hasn't been enough to bother me. Hey, it's my own fault for going to the mall. I hope the "Twilighters" get what they're looking for out of this one. For me, it's a red light.

Last Airbender (already out) : M. Night Shamalamadingdong's films just get worse and worse each time out, and while this adaptation of a popular Nickelodeon cartoon may buck the trend, I don't want to gamble my money to find out. Yellow light. Let's hope the big twist in this one is that audiences actually walk away happy.

Love Ranch: (already out): This relatively low-profile film is about the first legal brothel in Nevada, but if you think this is at all sexy, just consider the male lead is Joe Pesci. I must admit the fact that the rarely seen Pesci chose this film intrigues me. 15 years ago, who would have thought Joe Pesci's presence in a movie would be a novelty? Yellow light.

Despicable Me: (opened this weekend): Steve Carell doing a cartoon villain voice sounds like pretty good casting, but the movie itself looks kind of pedestrian. I'll wait for reviews on this one. Then I'll probably wait for a cheap DVD rental. Yellow light.

Predators (opened this weekend): At this point, it's easier to just list the 1980s movies that aren't going to be "rebooted": "Sophie's Choice," "The Golden Child," "Two of a Kind," and "Sophie's Choice." Everything else is either in the works or is fair game (and if you're wondering, "Fair Game" is the title of an upcoming movie from Doug Liman based on the Valerie Plame case and is NOT, thank Heavens, a reboot of the 1995 Cindy Crawford vehicle).

Note to the filmmakers: I don't care if the Predators are "bigger and badder." Nor do I care if your update puts "a whole new twist" on the franchise. I'm done with Predators. Unless one of them goes head to head with Chris Hansen in this film, it rates an easy red light.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

First Impulse: Emmy nominations

I can't get too worked up about the Emmys, both because I question the credibility of the awards process and because I seldom watch many of the current Emmy faves, so take my comments with a grain of whatever additive you prefer:

*There are some new nominees this year, sure, but overall it still feels like the same crop gets picked year in and year out. Sometimes I'm OK with that, but this year I'm really detached from many of the major choices. "30 Rock," "Monk," and some other shows mean nothing to me. And how does Julia Louis-Dreyfus get nominated every year while her show gets canned every other year?

*This "Glee" nonsense is way out of control. I mean, I said 3 months ago the "Glee" hype was out of control, and now the Emmy Academy (or whoever gives these things out) has given rags like "Entertainment Weekly" an excuse to fawn over this show when it's not even on the air.

*Amusing headlines the morning of the noms proclaimed: "Charlie Sheen Snubbed." OK, if we're talking awards for acting, can any exclusion of Charlie Sheen ever be a SNUB? His best work was in film, and, yes, I'm talking about the old ads he and Jon Cryer did for National Amusement Cinemas reminding us to pick up our trash as we left theaters. "That's a prop, Jake," delivered as he pointed out to the Half Man kid that the hot dog was a fake--ah, that line got me every time.

*Here's who I think should win:
Best Comedy: Modern Family (but I wish "Community" were nominated)
Best Drama: Breaking Bad
Best Actor, Drama: Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Best Actress, Drama: Connie Britton, "Friday Night Lights" (I haven't seen this season, but I can't imagine anyone else in this category topping her)
Best Actor, Comedy: Larry David, "Curb"
Best Actress, Comedy: No opinion.
Outstanding Reality/Competition Program: I want to say "anything but Amazing Race" until I actually look at the nominees and realize I dislike every other program in the category.
Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series: "The Daily Show" ("Saturday Night Live" is the ultimate "legacy nomination")

Friday, July 9, 2010

This Week in DVD

A Single Man: I don't understand why Colin Firth's character should be single. He's attractive, neat, smart...why can't he just settle down and marry a nice woman already?

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: Hey, this movie has all those words at the bottom of the screen and stuff. Wait for the American version, which will surely adapt the popular novel with the nuance, subtlety, and intelligence you just don't get from foreign films.

Brooklyn's Finest: I don't know, call me crazy, but if you want your cop movie to look like anything other than "just another cop movie," you ought to do a lot better than casting Richard Gere.

Chicago: This purports to be the original 1927 version. Wow, 1927! That's so long ago, Richard Gere's hair must be dark in this.

Columbia Film Noir Classics Collection Volume II: Consider this an appetizer for next week's superior Warner Brothers Film Noir Volume 5 set. And consider this a really expensive restaurant because this particular appetizer carries an MSRP of 60 bucks. I'm glad Sony is putting these movies out, but the extras seem a little stingy: I mean, Martin Scorcese's comments on "The Brothers Rico" last about 3 minutes? The guy'll give you a half-hour if you ask him if he wants cream or sugar in his coffee.

Dragnet 1968 Season 2: It's taken a long, long time to get season 2 out there. Better get this if you want more. Who knows how long Retro will show it? It's not like Sleuth is gonna make a big deal out of this show anytime soon.

Have Gun Will Travel Season 4 Volume 2: I'm really being negative this week, so let me look at the bright side on this item. Paramount is also celebrating the classic Western by thoughtfully packaging all 4 seasons into one bundle for--well, actually it's really expensive and not discounted at all, but at least it saves you the hassle of tracking down Season 4 Volume 1.

Background to Danger: So much for the bright side. I don't normally comment on Warner Archives titles, but I can't help bitching about the fact that a George Raft/Peter Lorre/Sydney Greenstreet movie, even if it's not an AFI Top 100 candidate, can't get a proper release.

Steamboat Bill, Jr.: This is one of those movies that you lose track of because it seems to have come out dozens of times already. Well, here it is again, but Kino put a lot of effort into it.

Lost Keaton: More Buster Keaton, and though I've never seen any of these shorts, I'll never complain about that, even if the material has been released dozens of times--and this hasn't been.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

THIS and that...

FIOS finally got around to carrying the local CW affiliate's digital subchannel, THIS-TV, recently, and I must give it an enthusiastic thumb in the middle. Perhaps I shouldn't quibble about something that's already become one of my top 5 most-watched TV channels, but this MGM-run network does some things much better than others.

I appreciate the exposure THIS is giving some golden oldie TV shows. "Highway Patrol, "The Patty Duke Show," "Sea Hunt," and "Mr. Ed" are staples of the daily schedule, and though they're exiled to the wee hours of the morning, well, at least they're on. Besides, I think the graveyard shift for "Patrol," at least, ensures it is aired with what passes for "limited commercial interruption" in this era. THIS is kind enough to show--gasp--actual end credits for these shows, by the way, which makes identifying those guest stars quite doable even without firing up the computer and hitting the IMDB.

"Outer Limits" and "Bat Masterson" also show up, most often on the weekends, so that's a decent sampling of old-school TV.

Now, I wouldn't consider any of these A-list shows for me personally, but it's nice to have them around, and I haven't seen some of them in eons. I was most intrigued by "Highway Patrol" given the starring role by the legendary and awesome Broderick Crawford. I find that each half-hour could use a lot more Brod, even if he is half-toasted (or especially if he is). Still, it's a solid cop drama.

I was never a huge fan of "Outer Limits," but I can appreciate its sometimes rather deliberate pacing a bit more as an adult. "Bat Masterson" is an enjoyable oater with a fun lead performance by Gene Barry, though I saw a lot of those on Encore Westerns a few years ago.

Nothing against "Patty Duke" and Sea Hunt," but I find they are what they are, and that's fine. Nothing I need to see every day, but each show is a pleasant experience on an occasional basis. I can see viewers that grew up on these shows loving them.

The one THIS-TV offering that really surprises me is "Mr. Ed," which I haven't seen since Nick at Nite or TV Land dumped it years ago. Let me say something about Nick at Nite (the original version, the one that was actually good, natch): I experienced it at an odd time. I grew up on some of the more "sophisticated" television programs of days gone by, like "The Honeymooners" and "The Twilight Zone," and the more juvenile stuff for me was the likes of "Gilligan's Island" and "The Brady Bunch." I put "sophisticated" in quotes so as not to infuriate the likes of folks like DVD Talk's Paul Mavis, who seemingly blows a gasket at the suggestion that any "traditional" family sitcom of the fifties or sixties is bland or simplistic. But I'm no snob; when I mention "Gilligan" and "Brady Bunch," I gotta tell you, I watched A LOT of the Sherwood Schwartz-coms when I was a kid.

My point is that I didn't see a lot of "Donna Reed," say, or "Patty Duke," until we got Nick at Nite in my area. By that time I had kind of moved on from that kind of show, which I found, well, a little bland, and gravitated towards other things, and it wasn't until the launch of TV Land that I developed a real interest in classic TV which I hadn't already experienced in reruns.

"Mr. Ed" was a show that I believe I lumped in with some others I dismissed not as "stupid," per se, but as gimmicky and not really worth seeing more than once or twice. Now that I see it on THIS, though, I find it surprisingly funny and, while not the sharpest piece of social commentary in the history of the medium, an often clever little sitcom that happens to feature a talking horse. The show uses the horse to delve into--well, OK, it delves into a lot of the same old stuff every other sitcom delves into, but to quote the theme song of another famous TV comedy, "There ain't nothing wrong with that."

(I think I unfairly cast aside "Ed," much as I did "Green Acres" and "Car 54," two smartly written shows that I didn't appreciate until years after I could have. However, I continue to maintain my lifelong indifference to "I Dream of Jeannie," "Bewitched," and "The Beverly Hillbillies.")

So THIS offers classic television, and I love it for that. I'm also impressed by the variety of movies shown on the channel. Yeah, they're all MGM films, but they come from various genres and decades. Any programming service unafraid to air a black and white movie impresses me.

Unfortunately, THIS takes out the scissors way too often, apparently hacking its movies as if it were just an everyday run-of-the-mill modern TV channel. I wasn't surprised to see "edited for content" disclaimers before some of its edgier movies, but I was taken aback a few weeks ago when I started my DVR'ed copy of the Weird Al vehicle "UHF." Not only was the movie "formatted for the screen" (Hey, letterboxing is just too much to ask, I suppose), but it was "edited for time."

Edited for time? Edited for time? I'm pretty sure this movie aired at midnight, mind you. What the deuce was so dadblamed important at 2:00 A.M. that we had to rush through "UHF" that late at night. I think the "Highway Patrol" fans would have understood if an episode didn't air at 4:00 that morning. Hell, I probably taped it, and I can assure you I wouldn't have cared.

So as an imperfect classic TV provider, THIS-TV fits the bill with its limited roster of solid but unspectacular series, and I'm glad to have it around. Hey, it's essentially free, and as I said it's already on my favorite channels list. Unfortunately, as a movie channel, THIS is just too imperfect to be of much value, though I'll keep an eye on it and hope to find some decent unbutchered flicks.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Vault of Coolness: Howdy, Pardners!

This isn't from the TV series, but since I just started diving into the E1 box set of "The Abbott and Costello Show," I'm in the mood to share this b&w publicity photo I got for a buck or two a while back.

And isn't this photo apt for this holiday weekend? Does this shot not suggest Independence...Freedom...The Fighting Spirit of the American West that helped make this country so great?

Well, maybe it doesn't, but it's still cool.