Thursday, October 28, 2010

The Wonderful World of TCM: Hound of the Baskervilles (1939)

Maybe because of the approaching holiday, or maybe because I figured, "Hey, it's been almost a year since I taped it; maybe I ought to watch it already," I sat down the other day to watch "The Hound of the Baskervilles," which I'm pretty sure was the only Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes flick I had never seen.

Some of the Holmes flicks are ubiquitous, but others, like this one, are rarely on the tube anymore, and since Netflix long ago exiled the DVD to its version of the Moors (also known as the dreaded "SAVE" status in my queue), I was thankful TCM aired it as part of its Sherlock festival last Christmastime. thankful I waited till Halloween to watch it.

I like this series, but I must say the entries all blur together. For some reason, I forget most of the particulars within hours after watching one, so for me, these atmospheric movies make good late-night viewing. I sort of drift in and out mentally and just kind of take them in rather than fully engaging with them.

"Baskervilles" is considered one of the finest in the series, and I won't argue that, but as a first-time viewer, I must register a slight complaint: Holmes is hardly in the blamed thing! Nothing against our dear Watson, but a little more of the big guy would be nice. Apparently this was the first Rathbone picture, and nobody really knew quite what they had yet.

The other thing that jumped out at me was the final line of dialogue, Holmes telling Watson, "Oh, Watson, the needle!" Now, as I said, these films often put me in a dreamlike state, so I was skeptical I really heard that. But sure enough, that's the line, and no less an authority than Leonard Maltin even cites it in his movie guide and links it to Holmes' cocaine use (though the guide entry inserts the word "quick" for "Oh").

Is this the most notable movie of the classic Hollywood era to end with a blatant drug reference? I don't recall Bogart telling Claude Rains, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Now let's go do a few lines." Nor do I remember Carl Denham asserting at the end of King Kong, "It wasn't the airplanes; it was that speedball concoction that killed the beast."

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hey, AMC, can we "demand" more of this?

There is some cool stuff on AMC (formerly American Movie Classics, now more commonly known as %$#& in film lovers' circles) right now, but the catch is that it ain't on the actual channel. No, it's in the On Demand section as part of the "Fearfest" theme for October. I was hoping there would be more than 5 old-school zombie movies available throughout the month*, but at least these ones are there, and they ARE old, uncut, and commercial-free. There are a few spots promoting the new "Walking Dead" series, but they are before and after the movie.

You can see how this is a departure for the modern AMC.

The other day, I watched 1959's "Teenage Zombie," a B-movie that is cheap, poorly made, not particularly well acted, and, at least in this print, looks like AMC stuffed it in the back pocket of its blue jeans and forgot it was there when it threw the pair into the washing machine.

In other words, this is EXACTLY the kind of thing we need more of on AMC!

I'd love to see B-movies on the channel again, not exiled to the website or to 4:45 AM screenings in the middle of the week, but I do appreciate the On Demand thing. To be truthful, "Teenage Zombies" isn't a great genre movie, and it doesn't even provide a lot of "so bad it's good" moments--in fact, it's kind of dull in spots--but it's the kind of crap I like to see every now and then.

The film opens with great promise, giving us a bunch of goofy "teenagers" acting like adults thought teenagers acted like in 1959, but it doesn't really deliver on the zombie action. It's more like Teenagers Held Prisoner with the Goal of Eventually Turning Them into Zombies. However, there is some fun here if you're in the right mood. The plot has real potential, with a female mad scientist--her gender in itself offering a nice change of pace--planning to inject the kids, then EVERYONE, with a nerve gas that will essentially turn them into zombies. While the screenplay doesn't quite live up to that cool premise, it does manage to cram in spies, a gorilla, and what I consider a pretty cool twist at a pivotal moment.

I'm not going into a lot of detail, but the movie itself isn't the thing, but rather the fact that AMC has my expectations so low that it can give fans a real treat with a simple seasonal offering like this and the other 4 flicks on demand right now. AMC didn't exactly dig too deep for Bela Lugosi's "White Zombie" or Vincent Price's "The Last Man on Earth," but they're free. "King of the Zombies" always deserves a chance to be seen, and while 1936's "Revolt of Zombies" is no classic, either, I'm just glad to see a movie from 1936 associated with AMC.

You can find "Teenage Zombies" all over the Internet, but it's nice to see it on TV, even if it's not conventional TV. I can only hope that AMC will serve up a big Turkeyfest for November and unleash some of the B-movies it streams on its website.

*This is what FIOS-TV has, anyway. There's a lot more at AMC's website, so maybe your cable provider has more in its On Demand section.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fun with TV Listings

Sometimes reading the on-screen programming guide is more than just a way to get info; it can also be a source of entertainment. Well, at least it can for simpleminded folk like myself.

Each weekday, my listings, not having specific episode info, describe "Quincy" with this generic series summary:

A tenacious Los Angeles County medical examiner uses his extensive medical training and superior deductive reasoning to solve mysteries and prove that a foul deed is the real reason an unfortunate person ended up on his examine table.

A foul deed? A foul deed? How...I don't know, Victorian-sounding. I can just picture a wide-eyed Jack Klugman tilting his head, putting his hands up, and saying, "A foul DEED?" You know, and then he'd get that blank "I don't know what to make of this" look he often gives right after the incredulous look.
Then there's this description of The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind's screening of "The Babe Ruth Story" later today:

"A misunderstood oaf becomes one of the greatest men to ever play professional baseball."

OK, so the Babe was a bit oafish, but should that be the lead when you're talking about the Bambino? Even considering William Bendix plays him in the movie, "oaf" is a little negative. Maybe "lug" would be appropriate. All I know is I read that description and busted out laughing because it sounded like some guy walked out of the forest with a giant club he gnawed out of an oak tree, lumbered over to a baseball diamond, and started hacking away at random pitches while onlookers debated whether to just admire his power or call the police.

Or maybe I'm reading too much into it. But, hey, I like those TV listings sometimes.

Oh, yeah, Baby Names Bible? Well...same to you!

As Mrs. Shark and I prepare for our second "blessed event," we are considering various baby names, and since nothing mutually agreeable jumped out at us right away (Yes, we ruled out "Jaws," "Great White," and "Bruce"), we picked up "The Baby Names Bible" by Pamela Redmond Satran and Linda Rosenkrantz.

I'm flipping through the boys' names when I get the bright idea to look up my own handle. That's when I got a brutal reminder of how snide these authors can be. These ladies have the nerve to call Richard a "far from stylish old Norman name, with a rich royal history, still clinging to the Top 100."

Far from stylish? Well, at least they got the "rich royal history" in there. I prefer to think of it as a solid presence in any Top 100. But they continue: "All the possible nicknames--Richie, Ricky, and especially Dick--are so over."

I beg your pardon? I'm not going to defend the use of the nickname "Dick" in modern society, but I happen to find "Rick" a particuarly appealing name, thank you very much. Not so the authors, who claim it was "last cool when Bogie roamed Casablanca."

Even Ricky, they assert, is "gone with Richard and Rick."

I appreciate the no-holds-barred approach this book takes in warning parents away from names they feel are passe or too far out there. But they go way too far here!

After all, "Baby Names Bible" is hardly the trendiest book title out there, ladies. Couldn't you have gone with "Manual" or "Guide" or something a little more, I don't know...stylish?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Brooks on Books: Reggie Jackson: The Life and Thunderous Career of Baseball's Mr. October

There is kind of a potential problem with this book. First, let me say it's a great read, and the fascinating character that is Reggie Jackson always makes an intriguing subject. Perry covers the big issues and explores the contradictions and complications that are as much a part of the slugger as his massive home runs and famous "Mr. October" moniker.

Perry opens with an exciting account of the 1977 World Series game 6 in which Jackson belted 3 homers on 3 consecutive pitches. It's a gripping section, richly detailed with amazing insights into what Jackson himself was thinking as he experienced that awesome night. Impressed, I assumed Jackson cooperated heavily or at least submitted to some long interviews, and I flipped to the back to determine the extent of the slugger's involvement.

Here's the extent of the slugger's involvement: Nil. Reggie declined invitations to participate in this project. Problem is, Perry, as he admits in an author's note at the end of the book, goes beyond just perusing secondary sources and interviewing associates to get into Jackson's head. He puts himself into Jackson's head, based on his research, to produce what he feels confident are accurate descriptions of the star's thoughts.

Now, I will say that Perry does a good job throughout the text of explaining his theories on Jackson's frame of mind, and also this kind of projection lessens as the book goes on. He assures us that all "quotes and statements of fact are sourced and verified." However, Perry is still doing a lot of armchair psychoanalysis on issues like Reggie's conflicting attitudes towards race, and he may go far beyond what some readers are willing to accept.

If you're willing to accept this aspect of the book, you'll enjoy a solid account of a remarkable career, particularly the wild and successful year with the A's dynasty and the Yankees machine. There is enough detail of specific games without bogging down the narrative, and the highs and lows are well covered. One thing reading this book makes you want to do is go get biographies of colorful owners Charlie Finley and George Steinbrenner. I want to make special mention of how this bio reminds us what a turd Steinbrenner could be. Many of us decided to kind of look the other way when he passed away this year, perhaps rightfully so, but, man, the dude was capable of some petty, despicable actions, like leaking blatant lies to the media to discredit his enemies (such as on/off enemy Jackson).

I like how Perry is willing to explore the myths and legends attached to Mr. October's persona and evaluate their veracity. I wish Perry went a little deeper sometimes--for example, in Jackson's stay in Oakland, he was quoted as making some controversial comments regarding amphetamine use, comments he later disavowed, and the author bailed him out by accepting blame. Is that poor sportswriter still around? Perry interviews a lot of writers for this book, and in fact seems to rely on them heavily, but this story just kind of sits there. It seems clear that the guy fell on his sword to help out Jackson, but we don't get much beyond the surface.

Another quibble I have is the lack of material on Jackson's post-Yankees and especially his post-baseball career. Reggie is still a visible public figure, and I'd like to know more about his life after leaving the game. And one could question the definitiveness of any Jackson biography that fails to delve into his classic guest shot on "The Jeffersons" when George botched an easy grab of a home run ball and humiliated himself on television.

Still, Perry does his job here, crafting an entertaining account of a memorable life. It may not be the single definitive word on Mr. October, but it's a fine place to start for novices and a solid additional read for hardcore fans who have already consumed a lot of info on those legendary A's and Yankees teams.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Antenna TV looks like a winner

The cynic in me wants to say, "Enjoy this while it lasts because it'll take about 3 weeks for it to totally change and get rid of the old stuff," but classic TV lovers need to head over to Sitcoms Online pronto because Pavan has posted the launch schedule for Tribune Media's digital programming service, Antenna TV, which debuts in January.

Seriously, go there yourself, but let me just say this: Weekdays at 1:00 P.M., two episodes of "Burns and Allen!" Then "Hazel!" And the freakin' "Farmer's Daughter!" "Father Knows Best!" Even our beloved RTV isn't this committed to black and white, which is why I'm afraid this lineup will be scrapped by February in favor of more modern fare like "King of Queens." But in the meantime, I'll be there, assuming FIOS doesn't take forever to add it as it did RTV. Looks like I won't be getting caught up on my backlog of DVR'ed movies in January, either...

Last Week and This Week in DVD

I'm doubling up again because it's still a sloooow time for DVDs. Isn't that holiday shopping season supposed to be coming soon? The economy hasn't canceled Christmas yet, has it?

Jonah Hex:
One of the bigger flops of 2011. Who would have thought audiences would shun a Western with a disfigured main character based on a low-selling comic book without A-list movie stars? I know I commented about this in Shark Bytes, but it bears repeating that I walked into a store a few weeks ago and saw a "Jonah Hex" movie calendar.

How to Train Your Dragon: Oh, sure, I see where THIS is going. First I got to train the dragon, then I got to buy it little sweaters, then I have to get it its own little house...What happened to the good, old days when you just pointed your dragon at your enemies, sat back in your castle, and got plastered on mead?

Johnny Staccato: How cool is it that Timeless has released this series on DVD? Real cool, man. Like jazz. Yeah, man. Dig it.

Marcus Welby Season 2: The doctor is IN, thanks to Shout Factory! Oh, come on, you were thinking it, too.

WWE Wrestling's Highest Flyers: Let's see--Rob Van Dam, Sean Waltman, Scott Hall--oh, wait, wrong kind of high flyer.

Predators: I don't even remember if this is a sequel, a reboot, or a sequel of a reboot, but I know they're getting a lot of mileage out of this concept.

Oceans: 71% of the world's surface is covered by oceans, so I guess they deserve a documentary. It'll look better on Blu-Ray than "Dirt."

Free to Be You and Me 36th Anniversary Edition: I'm elated they did something to commemorate this great milestone. I was really irritated when they let the 32nd Anniversary come and go without anything.

Warner Archives: I don't usually comment on these releases, but I have to give these guys credit this week for releasing a DVD set for 18 bucks, a half-dozen loosely called "horror." I haven't seen them all, but I know the timeless classic "Sh! The Octopus" is itself worth...well, it's worth something. Bravo to WA for offering something reasonably priced.

Then there's the Legends of the Superheroes disc, featuring the "Challenge" special and the "Roast" special. These goshawful live-action efforts (it would be sacrilege to invoke the name of a higher power in association with these) featured the DC heroes at their worst. Together, this pair of specials is poorly conceived, it's poorly executed, and it's often painful to watch. Naturally, I already own a bootleg VHS.

Warner Archives putting this out proves false the myth about the 1966 "Batman" show being kept off DVD because DC Comics thinks it makes the character look bad. After all, Adam West's Batman is here, along with Jeff Altman, Charlie Callas, and Ed McMahon.

The "legitimate" gray market, if there is such a thing, is steadily shrinking as this sort of thing starts trickling out. The sad thing is, I haven't been tempted to buy anything from Warner Archives, but I'm thinking about it now!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

With all due respect, who thought this was a good idea?

I hate to be one of those people who criticizes television programming decisions without knowing the intricacies of the factors that influence those decisions, but--aw, who am I kidding, I love to be one of those people. I yam what I yam.

Sitcoms Online posted a story the other day about the tank job "Friday Night Lights" did in the ratings on ABC Family. Even by the hopefully lower standards of that cable network, "FNL" apparently struck out (sorry to mix sports, but the MLB playoffs are on as I write this) to the extent that the critically acclaimed NBC drama, already a washout last month at 6:00 P.M, has been yanked from its less-prestigious 11:00 A.M. slot to...nothing. It's off the schedule. See ya!

Now, with as much due respect as I can muster for a network that airs "Melissa and Joey," who thought this was gonna be a hit? I loved the first season of "Friday Night Lights," bailed on the second season during the disastrous Tyra/Landry/DANGER storyline, but have been interested in catching up. So I respect the show.

But does it merit a daily rerun slot right now? I mean, it started like 5 years ago. More importantly, it has never been a big draw. Maybe ABC Family is armed with demographics data that indicates why it could consider a ratings-starved show that nobody has had time to miss a potential candidate for rediscovery. Maybe ABC Family, if given the chance, would overwhelm me with a full-court press (sorry, I did it again, but I just noticed an NBA season preview special is coming on this weekend) and convince me that it was worth a shot.

But right now, it looks simple: A show that didn't draw on network TV didn't draw on cable TV. I don't mean this as a knock on "FNL," believe me, but I'll bet if some public access channel picks it up next week, it won't draw there, either. My real beef is with the unimaginative programming choices made by cable networks who would rather put any rerun on from the last few years--no matter how limited its audience--than venture a little deeper into the vault or do something more creative.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Saturday mornings on Retro TV

Time yet again to indulge in one of my favorite pastime: Looking in on the doings at RTV, which just added an (apparently) nationwide Saturday morning kids' block to its lineup.

I already mentioned that while I like the idea, the execution left a little to be desired for me, as 1980s Filmation efforts like "He-Man" aren't at the top of my "need to see" list. However, I do appreciate the nice touch RTV adds by throwing in some oddball old-school 'toon shorts in between shows.

So far, I've noticed vintage "Gumby," which is always welcome, as well as 1960s "Dick Tracy," which is pretty goofy but still quite enjoyable, especially in short blasts. When I get a chance to see a cartoon cop with Andy Devine's voice (no, not Tracy), I'm gonna take that chance.

Even cooler is the stranger-than-strange, more random than random "Wizard of Oz" cartoons from the 1960s that are sprinkled into the lineup. I had no idea what these things were when I first saw them. The animation style is distinctive--well, another appropriate word might be "cheap"--but also sort of fools you into thinking, at first glance, it could be a Jay Ward production. Hey, if you're just getting up on Saturday morning and still a little bleary-eyed, you might get confused if you have these on while you're downing your Quisp.

Turns out, "Tales of the Wizard of Oz" was a 1961 production by the company that later became Rankin-Bass. Somehow that makes these shorts even more compelling. I don't know if seeing one of these 5-minute nonessential 'toons is worth sitting through a whole episode of "She-Ra," but I might DVR a few more of RTV's Saturday morning efforts and hope to catch some of them.

That's the good news, that some rarities are making their way into the lineup. The TERRIBLE news is that in order to make way for those shorts, RTV is not sacrificing commercial time or extending the time slot (yeah, right), but it is getting rid of the best part of those Filmation shows: the moral!

How are we supposed to live our lives as upright citizens without the moral guidance Filmation provided at the end of each installment of, say, "BraveStarr"? Are we supposed to just guess at the lessons the episode just taught us? Surely not. We the viewers can't just soak up this sort of thing. We need a character from the show to come back and, through direct address, tell us how the apprehension of a bunch of space rustlers illustrated the value of cooperation.

I never would have realized on my own that the spontaneous regeneration of the Statue of Liberty to its full size after Prime Evil shrunk it to a miniature was proof that the values of liberty and freedom reside in our hearts. Good thing the Ghostbusters popped back at the end of the episode to tell me.

Really the best way to watch most of the 1980s Filmation output is to skip the actual episode and go straight to the life lesson. By depriving us of this essential aspect of the shows, RTV is not only killing our nostalgia buzz, but it is quite possibly endangering the moral fabric of our impressionable children.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to: Demi and Ashton

A recent issue promised THE REAL STORY behind the turmoil in the Demi Moore/Ashton Kutcher relationship. That's right, the real story! So for all you plebeians who have been forced to get your info on this vital topic by wading through "The Daily Demi" or "The Kutcher Post and Intelligencer," well, "People" is just the news source for you!

The cover asks, can the 5-year relationship stand the strain? Well, a careful examination of the story inside reveals the answer is...maybe. It depends. And THAT, ladies and gents, is the real story.

Elsewhere on the cover is a prominent blurb about "Jennifer Grey's Big Comeback!" When this issue came to the house, I chuckled at that one and made a wise-ass remark along the lines of, "Didn't she have her big comeback about 10 years ago?" And Mrs. Shark, who sometimes rivals even yours truly for knowledge of celebrity news (after all, she reads "People") reminded me she just had cancer. Oops. Permission to withdraw wise-ass remark, your honor.

The third story blurbed on the cover involves a horrific series of home invasion murders, and there is nothing jokeworthy about that. I guess you could fault me for even mentioning it, but I say instead we fault "People" for the awful juxtaposition of a legitimate tragedy with the dissolution--nay, possible dissolution--of an inane celebrity business partnersh--I mean, romantic relationship. Yeah! So there, "People!"

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pioneer Woman (1973)

This 1973 TV movie sounds lame, but how can I resist a movie starring David Janssen and William Shatner? I can't, I tells ya. I can't. So when it popped up on the This-TV schedule the other day, I was there.

SPOILER WARNING in effect here because I'm about to give away much of what happens, though I can assure that, since nothing much happens, it ain't much.

This one begins with the titular Pioneer Woman writing in her journal. Of course she did. Back in pioneer days, people, especially the womenfolk, relied on journals as their means of communicating valuable plot information to audiences. Along similar lines, they relied on the "look up from my journal into space while touching my pencil to my chin" pose as their means of communicating that they were in deep reflection on their lots in life.

I like journal-writin' and thinkin' it in your head as you do it as much as the next varmint, but fortunately for everyone else, there is some action besides just writin' in this flick. Oh, there's not very much of it, but there is some. Ultimately, though, while we are supposed to identify with Pioneer Woman's saga and her journey to new land, we don't care about whether she can grow wheat or chase a cattle off her property. We care about who she really loves: The Fugitive or Captain Kirk.

Bill Shatner lets his mustache do the acting in this one, and it more than carries the first half. It's a thick, expansive 'stache that instantly gives the Canadian credibility as an old-timey Westward Ho! kind of guy. When we first see his character, John, he enthusiastically touts his plan to quit his steady job and life in Indiana and drag his family--er, emigrate to Nebraska to be a sodbuster. We enthusiastically tout his mustache, not to mention his vaguely midwestern "plain-speakin'" accent. This debut only raises our hopes for great Shatner action to come, but sadly, his character isn'r around for the entire proceedings. In fact, he gets one good sequence, and I'm about to describe that for you because it's the only harrowing sequence in the whole film:

When Shatner and his family come to their claim, they are roughed up and intimidated by a couple of familes who have squatted there and don't take kindly to no Eastern (or more Eastern than they are, at least) bank giving their land to some effete interloper. Nobody in the scene uses the word "effete," but, oh, I wish they did, if only to see Shatner take umbrage at his manly 'stache being singled out as a source of less-than-masculine aura.

After a heated debate, the natives (not Native Americans, mind you, but just ordinary, sadistic, selfish "white" folk that occupy the land) put Shatner in "the hole" to learn him a lesson. In essence, they give him a swirlie--a frontier swirlie--by dunking his head in some nearby water until he agrees to forfeit his claim. During this scene, I did feel edgy, all right, but my concern was for the hairpiece and especially the mustache. Would they survive a savage dunking? "Not the 'stache! Not the 'stache!" I yelled at my television."

It's discovered that Pioneer Woman has miscarried the baby she was secretly carrying (at the risk of sounding callous, it was very inefficient of her to pack a new child on this kind of voyage, when a few pounds of hardtack would be more useful), and Shatner submits to the prairie thugs and surrenders his claim. So the family heads off to Wyoming, where they will be free to starve themselves and toil at hours of crippling physical labor without harassment.

Well, all of Shatner's glorious "hair" survives that Nebraskan encounter, but the rest of him doesn't stick around too long. His character soon dies off camera (lame!) and Pioneer Woman is forced to decide whether to stick it out or to head back home. Well, actually, she doesn't get much of a choice because that most feared of all movie villains, Mother Nature, intervenes and conspires to force her to use some resources and stay on the land rather than leaving right away, and eventually she figures, "Ah, what the hell, it's not like I miss Indiana basketball THAT much," and she sticks around, where, to quote Linda Lavin, "if things work out, she's gonna stayyyyy a while...buh buh buh buhhhh."

Let me back up a minute, though, and share one of the reasons why she's staying. I mean, there's the enthusiasm of her young children, one played by Helen Hunt (I could have pointed this out earlier, but in a movie with Shatner and Janssen, you're not gonna tune in for Helen Hunt), and there's her own indomitable indomintableness, plus the opportunity for ample scenarios to recount in her journal, but there's also Mr. Douglas!

Ooh, la, la! Mr. Douglas, played by the aging but ever suave David Janssen, catches her eye when the still-intact family moves into Wyoming. In fact, the movie is a little too obvious about how he catches her eye, helpfully cutting to a close-up of her registering a little "Hmm..." You almost want to tell her, "Hey, Pioneer Woman, your husband is right here! Hello!" At this point we know what this movie is about, and it's not conquering the untamed American frontier. No, it's about who would you rather, Bill Shatner or David Janssen? And really, isn't this choice a microcosm of the many decisions made by our pioneers, decisions that shaped what became this great country of ours? No? Well, it was worth a shot.

If ever there was a clear distinction between two male icons, it's here. The two men's acting styles are just a tad different, after all. The characters are also different. Shatner is the idealist, Janssen's Douglas is the gruff realist. Shatner is a bit naive, and rendered somewhat impotent by the unfortunate prairie thugs confrontation. Janssen is a man's man, well versed in the ways of the frontier. And finally--I can't help but write this because it's obvious this 1973 movie is making us consider it--Shatner is James T. Kirk, and Janssen is Richard Kimble.

After a suitable perioid of mourning and suffering from the miserable conditions of pioneer life--like, say, 15 minutes of screen time--Pioneer Woman is free to flirt with Mr. Douglas, and in one scene she journalizes that, hey, it's lonely out here in Wyoming, and isn't it about time she got herself a new bonnet? Well, you know what that means, and at the end of the movie, the newly bonneted Pioneer Woman is letting it all hang out, inviting Mr. Douglas to dinner and clarifying what we have known for about 45 minutes: It was Richard Kimble all the way. He may not have the mustache, but he's...well, not all that nice at first. He doesn't smile a lot. He doesn't have much of a way with words, and he delivers them in kind of a hybrid frontiersy/grumpy accent. He doesn't seem to have many interests outside of securing his hat and making party pooper warnings of grim tidings for would-be settlers. But he's a male, he's single, and he's got a whole herd of cattle, and them's pretty good eatin'.

However, this movie hedges its bets somewhat with a bit of prescient cultural commentary. It lingers on a final shot of Shatner's gravesite, a clear message to the audience that while Janssen's stoic practicality was the better force for American growth than Shatner's expressiveness and showy mustache, "Star Trek" is destined to live on in reruns much longer than "The Fugitive" and far surpass it in terms of pop culture impact.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to copy this here entire post while reading it inside my own head. You see, a blog's fine and dandy for us 21st-century types, but nothing beats writing your thoughts down in a good, old-fashioned journal.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Brooks on Books: Go, Mutants! by Larry Doyle

It was hard for me to do, but I stopped reading "Go, Mutants" almost halfway through and dumped it in the return bin at the library before I was tempted to pick it up again. Simply put, reading it felt like a chore, but the completist impulses in me made giving up on the novel a difficult task. If I had paid money for "Go, Mutants," I probably would have finished the thing. Maybe I would have even learned to enjoy it. Instead, I got a "life is too short" attitude and gave up on what was an incredibly disappointing read.

I loved Larry Doyle's previous novel, "I Love You, Beth Cooper," which, mediocre film adaptation aside, was a riotous sendup of/homage to teen comedies. Doyle's prose is often a bit much to take, but with the solid characterization and winning dialogue in "Cooper," it all worked. In "Go Mutants," however, Doyle's style becomes more of an obstacle than a comic device. The deadpan asides and ironic narration are swallowed by the intense detail given to physical descriptions of the aliens and mutants that populate this sendup of/homage to 1950s pop culture and sci-fi movies. I only need to read the word "gelatinous" so many times, after all, and the parody elements of what a promising premise (alternate reality Earth in which an invasion orchestrated by the protagonist J!m's space alien father led to crossbreeding of mutants and humans) just don't stick because we are overwhelmed by details of the appendages, fluids, and processes of the numerous characters, plus the gadgets and gizmos of this alternate reality. It's just way too much.

Also, while parts of "Cooper" did read like a screenplay or at least a treatment for an inevitable movie, the practice stands out more here. Maybe it's because the material is less effective, but the sections of "Go Mutants" that literally read like screenplay are more nuisance than stylistic enhancement. Like I said, reading the novel just became a chore, and while I wanted to like it, I just couldn't get into it. Unlike "Beth Cooper," which featured identifiable characters in the midst of all the jokes, there isn't anyone to latch onto here and pull us out of the verbiage.

The ideas and setting in "Go Mutants" may appeal to fans of 50s and 60s pop culture and especially the science fiction and monster movies of the era, but I warn you: Read the first 10 pages or so first. I read about 100-some more than that, and I never was able to warm up to this one. There may be a great payoff plotwise in the half that I abandoned, but I read enough to feel confident that the prose wasn't going to change.

But it bugs me that I didn't finish it! It really does.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Ain't that good news, man, ain't that news

This is a slow week for DVD, even slower than it has been lately, so in lieu of the regular "This Week in DVD" post, I'm gonna share some recent positive developments for TV on DVD lovers. That's right, I'm walking the sunny side of the street this week. Here are some items that make me smile, and I give full credit to TV Shows on DVD for the announcements (Note: It would help the flow of the post if you sang, "Ain't that good news, man, ain't that news," after each item, but I won't require it. I want this to be a blog where the audience feels free to not participate):

ITEM: 1960 World Series Game 7 kinescope found in Bing Crosby's basement, will be aired on MLB Network, then released on DVD
--As a long-suffering Pirates fan, finally some good news! This broadcast was long believed lost, but Der Bingle, a part-owner of the Buccos, had a copy in his wine cellar, of all places. Just one more reason to love ol' Bing. I can't wait to see this. If you're not a baseball person, let me just say this game featured one of the most famous finishes in the sport's history. If you are a baseball fan, hey, what can we do to stop a Phillies-Yankees World Series? Well, we'll talk about that later.

ITEM: Warner Brothers announces upcoming sets of "ER" and "Dallas"
--I I don't collect these series, but I think the fact that WB sees fit to release the 14th seasons of each long-running show in legit, available-at-retail (if you can find 'em) sets is a good thing. I know each studio is different, and even Warners is unlikely to approach anything like 14 seasons of anything at conventional retail now that it has its Archives program, but still, perhaps this inspires some grain of hope for collectors of other long-running series.

ITEM: Timeless Media Group announces upcoming "Soldiers of Fortune" series set
--I've never seen this 1955 adventure series, but it sounds worth checking out, and it's not like this is coming to TV Land anytime soon. Bravo to Timeless for putting the show together in a reasonably priced package.

ITEM: Obscure sitcom "Angel" coming from Shokus Video
--A descendant of "I Love Lucy" producer Jess Oppenheimer dug up copies of this obscure 1960 sitcom, and Shokus Video will release DVDs of it. I love the notion that, like that 1960 World Series game, there is STILL plenty of rare stuff out there waiting to be discovered and made public. That's the good news. The BAD news is--well, I'm keeping this positive, so never mind that.

Well, OK, maybe just a little bit of negativity. Shokus is issuing these in dreaded "Best of" format, on DVD-R, with 4 episodes per disc at $14.95 a pop. That's not a bad price compared to the other rare stuff Shokus sells, but in this TV-on-DVD era, that pricing model just doesn't quite cut it. Still, kudos to Shokus for putting the show out there in some format.

ITEM: Shout! to release season 4 of "Mr. Ed"
--Good to see the series continues,, man, here's some of that pesky bad news. It's a Shout Select program. Shout Select, of course, is code for "available directly from Shout" and also "really expensive." My biggest beef with this system is that the sets are not discounted at retail, nor will they ever go on sale, unless maybe Shout feels generous. You'll never see these seasons selling in two-fer packs at Target for 20 bucks--ever--like you did "Green Acres." So if Shout continues THAT series someday, expect to make up for that bargain you may have found on the early seasons by paying full, full price for the rest of the seasons.

Do I sound spoiled? Yeah, maybe. But it irks me when a DVD set is announced with an exorbitant MSRP, people object, and someone chimes in with, "Oh, nobody pays full retail, anyway," not realizing that the higher the MSRP, the higher the price people DO pay. And Shout Select consumers? They DO pay full retail.

But, hey, this is good news in this post! Let's be happy and move on.

ITEM: "Rocky and Bullwinkle" will be completed!
Classic Media is finally finishing the iconic animation series with...uh-oh.

See, there's a complete series set coming out, but collectors who have all 4 seasons and have waited patiently (OK, maybe a lot haven't been so patient) will NOT be able to get season 5 without buying the whole shebang, at least not at first. And we have no guarantee they will release a separate S5 set, apart from David Lambert's assertion that they "do expect it." Of course, this is the same guy who enthusiastically defended Mill Creek's practice of issuing complete series sets of stalled series without individual releases of the missing seasons***, so forgive me if I take that with a grain of salt.

But, hey, this is good news, right? Happy happy joy joy. Now that I start to look back over the contents of this post, I'm kind of bringing myself down a little bit, so I'm going to sign off while I can and repeat the mantra, "Aint that good news, man, ain't that news."

***Lambert makes a good point in this article, but it comes off as a tad too cheerleader-ish for the company. I highly recommend the piece, though, and appreciate the work he did in summarizing this interview with a Mill Creek bigwig.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Finally saw "The Hangover"...

Courtesy of an HBO/Cinemax Free Preview weekend (the only thing I like better than a weekend is a FREE weekend), I finally saw "The Hangover," that runaway balls-to-the-wall smash comedy hit of the not-so-distant past. Was it worth it? Well, yeah, it was worth FREE. But did it live up to the hype? Well, maybe not so much.

The wife and I laughed and had a pleasant enough time watching it, but neither of us were exactly convulsing with laughter. The cast was OK. The jokes were OK. Parts were really funny, other parts weren't so great. Groundbreaking? No. Solid comedy? Yep. Complete sentences in this post? Not so much.

Actually, the brilliant part of "The Hangover" was perhaps its most basic aspect: its structure. Opening the movie by establishing that something wild happened, then making the audience wait to discover what by having viewers learn at the same time as the characters, is a great gambit that draws people in and keeps them. I don't think the payoff in "The Hangover" fulfilled the promise of that simple but perfect set-up.

The best part of "The Hangover" to me is without a doubt the comic genius of that master thespian we all know as Iron Mike Tyson, playing himself. The bit with him listening to Phil Collins, then punctuating a drum fill by slugging one of the groomsmen, cracked me up even after I had seen it dozens of times in repeated viewings of the trailer. Then when Mike asks the guys where they got the police car, and they tell him they basically stole it, the former champ goes, "Niiiice," with a big grin, and his delivery brought me the biggest laugh I got from the whole movie.

It's a great moment, but I expected the laughs in "The Hangover" to be a little heartier. After all, a comedy classic shouldn't rely on Mike Tyson to serve up its best moments, should it?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to: Kate Gosselin

When I go long stretches without reporting on "People" magazine, I worry that my loyal readers will panic and feel that, indeed, they now have to read it themselves. Yes, it's true that I have not read it--er, stumbled upon an open issue that my wife left laying around the house, that is--but I realized the other day I've neglected y'all. So to make amends, I dug up the most significant issue of the year: That's right, the one with Kate Gosselin on the cover promising to tell us how she got her buff beach bod.

Is it natural? Is it surgically enhanced? Is there witchcraft involved?

Well, according to Kate--get ready, folks, her position on this is a shocker--it's all natural. Apart from the tummy tuck she had a few years ago--and, come on, those don't count--she just worked hard to get that fabulous bikini body. Breast enhancements? Pshaw! Botox? Puh-leez!

Don't you feel better now?

Elsewhere in the article, Kate whines about not being able to meet a nice guy. Apparently the "losers" that leer at her aren't good enough. Her complaints make me chuckle. Let's see here. Now, granted, she does look pretty good in "People," but looks aren't everything. We know that Kate Gosselin is 1) Divorced, 2) Mother of 8 children (last I checked), 3) Addicted to being on television in whatever format will accept her, 4) Quite possibly a raving, controlling maneater. And if WE know that, you can bet those nice doctors and lawyers (I'm assuming she's ruled out the plastic surgeons and divorce lawyers) for whom she clamors know it, too.

Yep, no baggage here!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Vault of Coolness

I need to open this up and find out WHO WINS! I wonder if it's one of those "King Kong vs. Godzilla" situations, where the American edition has the DC5 winning and the British version has the Beatles emerging victorious.

Monday, October 4, 2010

This--well, LAST Week in DVD

Iron Man 2: Twice the Iron! Twice the man! Twice the number of credited screenwriters! Twice the merchandising tie-ins! See it twice!

Get Him to the Greek: Thanks, America, for speaking up loud and clear and putting the kibosh on the notion of Russell Brand as a movie star on these shores. Katy Perry's welcome to stay over here, though.

Babies: I don't know how successful the DVD is gonna be. Speaking from experience, a baby prevents you from having the time to watch a DVD. So when you do have time, why would you want to pop in a movie about someone else's babies?

The Killer Inside Me: Casey Affleck is a serial killer in this adaptation of the dark Jim Thompson novel. If you're like me and have problems picturing Casey Affleck as a brutal killer, just remember the number he just helped do on Joaquin Phoenix's career.

Legendary: This vehicle for WWE superstar John Cena was a bigger bomb than the debut of the Shockmaster. If you understand that pro wrestling reference, probably still didn't see the movie.

Rich Man, Poor Man: If they made an epic miniseries with this title today (if they made an epic miniseries, period, today), it would culminate in a winner-take-all fight to the death between Rich Man and Poor Man. That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, mind you.

Ellery Queen The Complete Series: I'd like to check this show out, as I've never seen a full episode, but I'm not gonna blind-buy it.
Have YOU figured out how I'm gonna watch it?

Chris Jericho: Breaking the Code: One of the more entertaining pro wrestlers of his generation finally gets his own DVD collection. He's a lot more entertaining than Shockmaster, let's just put it that way. No, I'm not letting that reference go until everyone YouTubes it.

Essential Games of the Seattle Mariners: Somehow I'm guessing the time they played the Orioles at Camden Yard and I was there won't make it, but my wife and I had a great time. I'm just saying.