Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Car 54, Where Are You? comes to DVD, and TV Shows on DVD was there fir--uh, sec--uh, well, at least fourth or fifth

Great, great news came yesterday in this TV Shows on DVD item about one of the great sitcoms of all time finally hitting DVD. Only, it was not a secret that "Car 54" was coming in 2011, nor even what company was releasing it. If you only read TV Shows on DVD, yeah, this item was news. But the "rumor" (it seems demeaning to call it that now since it was true) was out there at places like Home Theater Forum for months.'

TV Shows on DVD is great at reprinting press releases, and lately it's been giving credit to the readers who do the legwork of finding tips on Facebook or whatever. But as far as digging out material on the more obscure shows that interest me, well, the site is useful as confirmation when the company wants to give it the official info, but many of the really cool releases of the last several years have leaked out long before TV Shows on DVD reported them.

On Home Theater Forum, there is a contentious poster who has a way of getting under people's skin sometimes, but you know what? He has great info, particularly about the smaller DVD companies like, say, Timeless, and he shares it when he can. When he posted that "Car 54" was coming, albeit based on secondhand info, I knew it was true.

The reason I bring this all up is because of this paragraph TV Shows on DVD appended to the press release of the "Car 54" Season 1 set:

NOTE: The formal press release posted above is ALL of the official information now available about this upcoming release. In past months readers have pointed us toward many rumors printed online about this item, and when we've turned to the studio to confirm such info, we were informed that they gossip was, by and large, not correct. For that reason we aren't going to point more readers to the wrong info that's floating around, but instead wholly concentrate our news posts on the factual information provided directly to us from Shanachie Entertainment. - TVShowsOnDVDTaken from: http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Car-54-Season-1-Press-Release/14743#ixzz16k6evzgX

Maybe I am reading too much into this, but this strikes me as a bit self-righteous considering all the site did was run a press release. And what exactly was this "gossip"? Maybe I had read somewhere the whole season would come in one swoop. Well, this is only one season, so, yeah, that's sort of disappointing. But the fact is, people said the set was coming, and it IS coming. This is the only item listed on the site about this particular show. If TV Shows on DVD was getting tips about "Car 54," why did it run nothing? Maybe some bits of info were incorrect, but still, TV Shows on DVD didn't even confirm that at least the show was on the way.

It doesn't strike me as much of an accomplishment that now we get to read a press release directly from the company, and that the site spared us from harmful "gossip" for so many weeks. I didn't really want gossip, but an item on the status of this show would have been nice. You'd think that when the site was asking Shanchie about this "gossip," it might have asked something like this:

"Hey, uh, so is this show coming out next year?"

I get that TV Shows on DVD wants to make its official sources happy. The problem with that is, there are a lot of sets that we don't hear anything about until the producer wants us to hear about them. That approach works well for the manufacturer, maybe, but if you want to know what's coming up, you have to look elsewhere, even if you risk coming across some gossip.

Warner Archive$ $olve$ a problem

I've been reading for a while that the main reason Warner Brothers has been slow to introduce TV shows as part of its Warner Archives MOD DVD program is because the company is working on a solution to the massive amounts of discs needed to contain a series. Fearful that consumers wouldn't want to shell out the bucks for a set large enough to contain all the episodes of a long-running TV program, WB supposedly was working on a way to get more material on the burned discs to reduce the costs of season or series packages.

Well, worry no more, because Warner Brothers' crack technology team has found a solution: Instead of giving the consumer the whole show at a really high price, give the consumer less of the show at a really high price. Witness this item at TV Shows on DVD which reports the December 7 release of Cheyenne Season 2...you can't really be surprised by this next part, can you...PART 1.

In other words, why mess around with ways to give more value to the hardcore fans who will go to the trouble of buying Warner Archive DVDs? Nah, hell with that. Just go the Paramount route and charge a full-season price for half a season. Not only is the dollar value dubious, but buyers will have to wait longer to collect full series, to boot!

Now, Warners has not listed the price of this set, so maybe I'm wrong on this and the Archives will offer this at a reasonable price roughly equivalent to a fair market price for a full season. Yeah, maybe.

Karma strikes the Shark

Well, perhaps as a result of my bailing out on the planned Thanksgiving edition of Budget DVD theater, Verizonicus, the Roman God of Technology, saw fit to take out my router on that very holiday, disconnecting me from the Internet.

I discovered what was wrong Friday night, and a tech rep promised me a replacement AC adapter would be on the way for Sunday morning delivery. I found that time frame a little odd, given that it would require Verizon to do work on Saturday and UPS to do a delivery on Sunday, but since the lass said several times the part would come Sunday morning, I expected it to arrive...wait for it...Sunday morning.

Well, of course, you know that UPS, unlike Charles Kuralt, doesn't DO Sunday mornings. Heck, I thought I knew that. Well, that tech rep certainly didn't know that. Sunday afternoon, I called FIOS again and was told, "First and foremost, she never should have told you that."

(That has to be one of the worst phrases to hear in life, not just in tech support)

Hedging my bets, I had gone to a Verizon Experience store at the mall on Saturday and taken along a couple of failing remotes and the faulty (according to that first tech person) AC adaptor for the router. I told a guy the remotes were becoming less responsive, and he went to the back and got two brand-new ones, then handed them over, no questions asked.

Well, I was so delirious with the odd sensation of receiving instant gratification from a cable TV provider that I never even thought to ask for credit on my account or anything for the Internet. Plus, keep in mind, I thought I was getting a replacement part the next morning. But I did manage to tell the guy about the router/power supply issue, and he nodded his head knowingly, said something like, "Yeah, we get that a lot," then returned with a brand-new AC adaptor!

If I were thinking clearly, I could have said, "Hey, I don't get free HBO and Cinemax anymore," and he would have walked to the back and brought me back a bundle of those.

Unfortunately, that free adaptor did not fit my FIOS router, so it was useless, Still, I was a happy man Saturday (except for that part where Penn State lost), especially after discovering how well the new remotes worked. The standard fast-forward buttons hadn't worked well for the last few weeks, each requiring the strength of the Hulk and the contortions of Plastic Man to maneuver the button into doing that basic function. The 30-second skip button hadn't worked on either remote for months. Ah, but the new remotes let us fast-forward and skip away! So much for my conspiracy theory that FIOS disabled those buttons at the behest of the networks to force us to watch commercials. They have not done so...yet.

I got a whole lot unhappier Sunday morning, of course, when Tech #2 told me I could expect the part Tuesday morning, meaning two more days without Internet access, not to mention the many features of FIOS-TV (on-demand programming, program guide updates, etc.) reliant on connection through the router. Oh, well, at least the guy had the courtesy to not make fun of me for believing I'd get a package Sunday morning. At least, not till I hung up.

But there may well be a conspiracy to pay me back for skipping out on Thanksgiving's Budget DVD Theater, because as of late Monday night, I am still without Internet access, still without a functioning router, and I post this update from an undisclosed location. Fear not, I will be updating the blog this week, and someday, somehow, we'll get to Budget DVD Theater. You hear me, Verizonicus? I said, we'll get to it! Now send me that power supply!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

This Week in DVD

The Expendables: From what I understand, this movie is basically PUNCH, KICK, BOOM, BAM, PUNCH, KICK...and so on and so forth. And for some reason, I'm OK with that in this case. I don't know why I want to see this particular dumb action flick, but I do.

Eat, Pray, Love: Back in the good, old days, before the whole notion of parody adult film titles became a cliched joke, we would have seen a decent version of this film called--well, I'll leave it to your imagination. Maybe there IS one; I haven't, uh, done the research. But it seems like these days, they don;t even bother trying, going with titles like "Not the [insert the pop culture phenomenon of choice here--or, wait, please pick a less suggestive verb than "insert"]" or "This Ain't the..." You get the idea. It would be a shame to see "Not Eat, Pray, Love," considering the wonders that could be done with this title, is all I'm saying.

Groucho Marx TV Classics: If nothing else comes out of this blog today--and I fully expect to live up to that potential--maybe someone can tell me what exactly is on this 3-disc set. Yes, I know there are "16 episodes of You Bet Your Life and two episodes of Hollywood Palace," as per the oft-quoted press release material that pops up everywhere, but WHICH episodes? Am I gonna spend 25 bucks for duplicates of the Shout Factory "Life" sets and one of the "Palace" episodes I already have, plus a few extras? I don't know if the "and lots more" promised in the blurb is enough to go on.

This is the frustrating thing about under-the-radar releases from smaller companies: The near impossibility of finding out solid info before the release, or even after it. As with some sets from Timeless, I just have to wait for some kind soul to buy the set, watch it, and review it on Amazon.

Kukla, Fran, and Ollie The First Episodes: Standard operating procedure in this column is for me to tout a cool-sounding DVD, then follow it up with words to the effect of, "Hope I get to rent it soon." Well, folks, this time I put my money where my mouth is and purchased a gen-u-ine real copy for my ownself of this new set. So how is it? Well, uh, I don't have it yet. See, you could not place an order till this week, so I just reserved my copy of this apparent limited edition earlier today.

This 1950s "children's" show enchanted me in its all-too-brief appearance on Shout Factory's "Hiya, Kids" collection. At first glance, it's a primitive puppet show, but, wow, from what I've seen, the discussion is thoughtful, provocative, even sophisticated in its way. I can't wait to get these episodes, produced courtesy of the Burr Tillstrom Trust, and I hope more are on the way. And thanks to the DVD's producer for--here's a novel idea--actually detailing the contents of the set, including specific episode titles.

I'm Still Here: The Lost Year of Joaquin Phoenix: Real or fake, I don't really care to spend a week with Joaquin Phoenix, let alone a whole year.

Who? I'm asking you the name of the movie.
YOU. I'm asking you, what's the name of the movie.
No, WHO.
I'm asking you...
(It was either this or a reference to Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart's short-lived WWF stint as the masked Who, which seemed nothing more than an excuse for similar exchanges on TV)

Sherlock Holmes Archive Collection Vol. 2: So I guess if Volume 1 isn't on Netflix yet, I shouldn't hold my breath for Volume 2, huh?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Brooks on Books: several entertainment books

Some quick takes on entertainment-related books I've read recently, none of them particularly new or newsworthy, but, darn it, I read 'em:

Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher: This sort-of memoir is disappointing, but maybe I shouldn't expect too much considering the author says early on much of her memory is shot from electroshock therapy to treat her bipolar. The book, she also admits, is basically adapted from her one-woman show, and much of these stories probably work better on a stage. As a reading experience, it's scattershot and way too brief. But it has some laughs, and I wish the best for Carrie Fisher.

TV Guide Fifty Years of Television: This is a gorgeous, massive coffee-table book that probably still shows up at remainder outlets around the country. It's arranged sort of like an old "TV Guide" magazine, with sections devoted to each day of the week, and it consists mostly of big pictures from the archives, accompanied by small insets of vintage mag covers of the photo subject. The text isn't as important, but it gets the job done. There are also a few layouts of nothing but reproductions of old mag covers. It's a great book for any old-school TV fan, especially at a discount.

The Showrunners by David Wild: I bought this for a buck at a used book sale, and, boy, was it worth it. Wait, that sounds like a backhanded compliment, doesn't it. "The Showrunners" is a bargain at that price, but then, what isn't? Wild's book about the creative minds who "run" (basically executive produce, but from the creative side--that is, actually working) network TV shows is almost 20 years old, but it's still a fun and useful read.

Wild is a prolific magazine writer, and this book, though it integrates all of its subjects by purporting to cover a season of television, often reads like a series of magazine profiles. But it doesn't matter. Wild draws some great quotes from his subjects, and through these profiles, he does paint a revealing picture of how shows are built from the ground up, then maintained throughout the grind of a production season.

Wild's look at the 1998-1999 season covers shows like "Friends," "Seventh Heaven," "Seven Days," "The Norm Show," Cupid," and "NewsRadio"--an intriguing mix of series that endure, series that are forgotten, comedies, dramas, plus a mix of the various personalities involved. Most compelling is Wild's portrait of NewsRadio's Paul Simms, who was scarred by showbiz battles even before enduring a season in which his established show was left to twist in the wind by NBC management even as his new pilot (also covered here) was also strung along by the network.

Even if you don't care much about the specific shows that get the ink here, you'll enjoy Wild's book if you are interested in the behind-the-scenes aspects of network television. "The Showrunners" depicts both the creative process and the experience of dealing with the "suits," and it's loaded with amusing anecdotes and details.

Budget DVD Theater UPDATE

Last week I made a big deal out of the pending return of Budget DVD Theater, coyly announcing I had picked the selection but not yet re-watched it. I declared it was the perfect turkey for a Thanksgiving Day post.

Well, hold the turkey this year, friends (Me, I prefer ham, and I am especially thankful my mother-in-law will offer the swine as well as the fowl). Instead, may I offer you a spot of...weasel?

The sad truth is I have not yet screened the Budget DVD Theater turkey, as family and work commitments have kept me occupied--and, OK, maybe I'm still a little reluctant to actually sit down and watch the thing again for the first time in years. I will try to do so tonight, but I am not sure when I can actually deliver Budget DVD Theater--though I expect to at least get some other stuff up this holiday weekend--so I make no more promises.

In the meantime, I offer these clues about the selection:
1) It is old
2) It is black and white
3) It is < or = 30 minutes

Stay tuned, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A week of female-centered television

You know the worst thing about being sick? That's right: Being sick. But the second-worst thing is the inadvertent exposure to some of the television that's on when you would otherwise be living a productive life (as opposed to the TV you choose to watch when you are deliberately being unproductive).

This past week, I witnessed several different types of chick-center--uh, television aimed at a female audience, shall we say. It was not good. It's bad enough that I have to flee from the family room when "Grey's Anatomy" comes on Thursdays, lest I catch something; this past week was rife with potential hazards.

I will admit that I watched the beginning of an episode of "The Talk" on purpose. I can't blame it on the virus. No, I was curious what CBS' daily ripoff of "The View" looked like. Guess what? It looked like "The View!"

What really infuriated me about that episode of "The Talk" was that the "Big Yap" at the beginning focused on breast cancer, and therefore it wasn't really appropriate mocking material. Oh, my wife and I found plenty of things to criticize, but it would be tasteless to share them here. Suffice to say I won't be returning for more of "The Talk."

Mrs. Shark likes to watch "Access Hollywood," and when I'm home, I often endure some of it as well. I saw several episodes this week, each of which covered 3 basic topics: The upcoming royal wedding, "Burlesque" with Cher and Christina Aguilera, and an EXCLUSIVE interview with Billy Joel. In order: Don't care; really don't care; kind of care but think it's funny that in 2010, a show like "Access Hollywood" doles out excerpts from a Billy Joel interview as if it were ratings gold that needed rationing.

The lowlight of my Week of Watching Femininely came when I was in my office conducting a little bidness, if you will, when I heard the Terror of Streisand emanating from the next room. In my weakened state, I couldn't muster the speed necessary to get in there and turn the TV off before suffering irreparable hearing loss, but I did make my way out there eventually to discover that Mrs. Shark had left the TV on "Oprah" and then left the room. Is that any way to comfort a recovering man?

This week was preceded by a viewing of "Sex and the City: The Movie" for professional reasons. Just my luck, too, to get a basically unedited version, one that runs the whole 5 1/2 hours (Sure, go ahead and check on IMDB, but you'll never convince me it's any shorter). I guess fans might have enjoyed the trying-on-clothes montages and the prospect of spending 5 1/2 hours with their old favorites, but for me, it just felt like 5 1/2 hours of pointless whining and self-pity because some rich guy wasn't committed enough on his wedding day.

I know there's a lot more female-centered television out there, programming that doesn't make men flee rooms (there's a manly act for you), but this past week was enough to make me consider watching Spike TV.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

This Week in DVD

Disney's A Christmas Carol: This is what happens now when you extend the window between theatrical and home video: You totally forget the movie was even out. Of course, in this case, that might be a good thing. Instead of pushing this one out for Easter, Disney sits on it, and people forget the reviews and just think, "Hey, a new Christmas DVD to buy."

Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore: Of course, there are no such recognition issues with this one. We all remember how bad it looks.

The Last Airbender: I wish M. Night Shamalamadingdong's adaptation of the cult cartoon had been more successful--not because I liked the source material, but because I would have liked to have seen a "MAD Magazine" parody called "The Last Windbreaker."

The Kids Are All Right: Homosexuality--check. Paternity issues--check. Mark Ruffalo--check. Yep, it's an indie flick!

Modern Times: Psst. I'm not a huge Chaplin fan. I know, I know. But I think this is one of the best comedy films of all time, and it looks like Criterion is doing right by it.

Night of the Hunter: Criterion takes another of my favorites and gives it a snazzy video release. If you'll pardon me for making this post even more about myself (and, hey, this IS a blog, you know), allow me to lament the fact that I waited for a special edition of this movie for about 5 years, and now that it's out, I lament the fact that I had more money to blow on DVDs 5 years ago.

Perry Mason Season 5 Part 2: The wheels of justice may turn slowly, but they move a hell of a lot faster than CBS Home Video.

Mr. Ed Season 4: The good news is, Shout Factory continues the series. The bad news is, it'll cost ya! It's Shout Select, which is kind of like the Criterion of TV--only without the copious extras, the remastering, and the quality control. Hmm. Pretty much just the price, I guess.

Warner Brothers Christmas Shows: It's kind of cool that this sampler offers a few rarities, like an "Eight is Enough" episode, but it's a real party pooper to learn this is an Archives release. It's a sad day if we can't get the big studios and the big chain stores together to at least put a freaking Christmas DVD on shelves (Hey, there's an idea--"Warner Brothers Freaking Christmas DVD"). Oh, wait, Paramount did this two years in a row. What's your excuse, WB? Couldn't get your elves to put in enough hours to mass-produce this?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

FIOS giveth and taketh away

I'm still enjoying the benefits of a generous offer a Verizon FIOS-TV rep made my wife over the phone a while back: We give you the movie package free. "Uh, sure," we said, "as long as it's free."

Indeed, we have more movie channels than we can handle, and indeed, they are "free," or at least not showing up as additional charges on top of our already ample bill.

However, though the FIOS folks giveth, yea, they also taketh away. It took me about 6 to 8 weeks to notice, which shows how little impact this "taketh away" had, but still, it's disappointing to discover that the nature of our package has changed. The difference is subtle, but it looks like the net result is the loss of a few channels we had before we got those free movie channels.

I rarely watched Hallmark Movie Channel, and the fact that it chopped up even the few interesting films it ran made it an inessential part of our lineup. MGM-HD is a much more interesting network, but since it is ONLY in high-def, it isn't as much use to me and my glorious low-def setup, and one two-hour film on that outlet takes up about 15% of my DVR space. As a result, time-shifter that I am, I rarely watched anything on MGM-HD, anyway.

But I don't like to lose stuff, dagnab it! It's no wonder they gave us the free stuff. They wanted to switch us into out of their old package to their current "them-friendly" package, whatever that is. This has happened before, sometimes even to our benefit. Actually, all things considered, the 3 months of extra channels has been worth the loss of two rarely seen ones. But I don't like to lose stuff!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Half-Assed Gourmet: Ah, trans fats...

I recently looked through one of those "Eat This, Not That" books (which are excellent, by the way, loaded with info and lively writing) and discovered that my favorite microwave popcorn was loaded in that evil substance known to cause death, disorder, and even discombobulation in all who cross its path: TRANS FAT.

In an effort to live healthier, I followed the book's recommendation and substituted a healthy, "smart" alternative next time I was at the supermarket. This brand was 100% free of the dreaded trans fats, so I could stick that sucker in the microwave, nuke it up, and enjoy a healthy snack.

Well, I ATE a healthy snack. Enjoy? Not so much. It tasted dry and bland, almost like something was missing. In fact, something was missing: those yummy trans fats. I wanted to get me a big ol' bowl of trans fats, melt it up separately, and then pour it on my bag of healthy popcorn.

That may sound disgusting, but it's not like it's a totally bizarro idea. After all, that very process takes place every day at your local gigundaplex, where each blast of the "butter-flavored topping" that goes over your popcorn is surely loaded with enough trans fats to fuel several bags of microwave popcorn.

Oh, I'm not gonna go back to my old favorite, at least not on a regular basis, now that the fun has been spoiled for me. But I'm not gonna eat this sensible stuff, either.

Callousness of sports fans

Last week, I was reading an article on Yahoo about former Chicago Bears quarterback Jim McMahon and how his memory was shot after years of playing football and experiencing the collisions and head trauma that comes with the game.

Nothing in the story itself surprised me, and I will admit that I even may have had a smart-ass thought or two cross my mind about how memory loss can be caused by certain other high-risk behaviors in which McMahon indulged during his heyday. Still, I WAS surprised by the tenor of many of the comments under the piece. All sorts of people felt the need to post those wise-ass remarks, many similar to the ones I had. But there was also a strong current of "So what?" in those comments.

Hey, Jim McMahon lived hard and played hard, and who knows exactly what caused any memory loss issues he may be having today. But the guy is participating in some studies, and maybe he's willing to help out and further the cause of concussion- and head-trauma-related research in sports medicine. So let's give him credit for that.

I'd rather see at least some level of compassion, even if you're a Packers fan, than the kind of comments that kept popping up on Yahoo, many of them basically saying, "Hey, get over it. That's why you get paid the big bucks." Or things like, "I forget things, too, but I don't get paid millions of bucks." You know, that sort of thing.

What these fans are really saying, it seems to me, is, "We don't care what happens to football players as long as we get entertaining games to watch." The money thing is a convenient excuse to justify a certain level of callousness out there. Well, sports fans, I got news for you: This issue is not going away. In fact, it is going to get more and more play as the people we grew up watching get older and experience these kinds of physical issues. Earlier generations of fans have been able to ignore the ravaged knees and the scar tissue of older players, but will we be able to ignore the star quarterbacks of today experiencing slurred speech or loss of mental acuity as they age?

This Jim McMahon story is just one aspect of a much larger thing, and many of the comments I read are just tossed-off casual remarks from people making knee-jerk reactions. But I feel it's symptomatic of a big percentage of the country that just doesn't care about the impact of football on the health of its players. Yeah, these guys get paid a lot of bucks. But does that mean they sacrifice the right to have safe work conditions? I think we should at least continue to look into the issue and start considering the costs of the sport. And I think fans need to consider that some things just may be more important than their God-given right to watch professional football the way they want it to be played several times a week.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's coming!

It's been a long time since we had an installment of "Budget DVD Theater" on the site, but I have found--no, I have procured--the perfect vehicle to resume the series.

It is with some trepidation that I take this step, though, because the material that I will re-watch for this is so bad that it may ruin me for any other material I watch on DVD for weeks afterward. I first saw it maybe 15 years ago on VHS, and I "enjoyed" it because it was so bad. My father and I had a great time watching it and trying to decipher it ("Is this SUPPOSED to be like this? Was that MEANT to be like that?"), but guess what? This time, my dad isn't going to be here with me.

You'll notice I have not mentioned WHAT I will actually be watching and blogging about. Well, I am committed enough to post this announcement/warning, but I figure if I don't name names, I can back out before I actually do it. I can't yet guarantee I can make it through this the second time around without the sounding board of my father. Then there's the uncertainty that stems from owning this material in DVD format. Will the picture and sound be better? Do I WANT it to be? It's possible the worst way to experience this is in digitally remastered visual and audio glory.

I'm giving myself until Thanksgiving to watch and write about this thing, and if I have the guts to go through with it, Budget DVD Theater will resume on Thanksgiving, a special holiday treat for everyone whose stomachs will already be strained by massive doses of turkey.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Brooks on Books: Steinbrenner: The Last Lion of Baseball by Bill Madden

OK, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner did a lot of nice things for people, and he built a huge empire out of what had been practically a moribund (if storied) franchise when he bought the team in the seventies. But the guy could still be a massive jerk, and I think some of that was conveniently forgotten when he passed away earlier this year. Bill Madden's addictive, entertaining biography of the larger-than-life figure reminds us that the legendary Boss caused a lot of pain in his life.

Madden has covered the Yankees for decades, written several previous books on the team, and is well connected enough to deliver an insightful biography. One thing that distinguishes this work from previous efforts is Madden's use of audiotapes recorded by former exec Gabe Paul. It's a great read, not least because the bad aspects of ol' George are just so darned amusing. There are tons of "George is nuts" and "George is evil" stories in here, but Madden doesn't write a hatchet job. He does attempt to provide some balance where it's necessary. For example, the account of how former commissioner Fay Vincent suspended Steinbrenner from baseball is an eye-opener to anyone who buys into the image of Vincent as humble caretaker of the game's best interests; Madden does a solid job of reporting what a snow job Steinbrenner got in this particular instance and is clearly sympathetic to his side of things.

But when you read the text, what jumps out are those anecdotes. My favorite "George is nuts" story: In 1978, then-GM Al Rosen was in the AL offices to do a coin flip with the Red Sox to determine where a possible one-game playoff would be if the teams tied atop the East. Rosen called heads, the coin came up tails, and so Fenway would host the playoff. When Rosen called the Boss, Steinbrenner asked how he could have lost and what he called. Rosen said, "Heads," drawing this reply:

"Heads? You f------ imbecile! How in the hell could you call heads when any dummy knows tails comes up 70% of the time? I can't believe it! I've got the dumbest f------ people in baseball working for me!"

He then hung up, leaving Rosen to contemplate whether the owner was in fact crazy.

Perhaps my "favorite" George is evil tale comes when Yankee team counsel Ed Broderick lost a salary arbitration case to catcher Rick Cerone, generating a predictable response from the Boss, who called the poor attorney a "f------ idiot," before hanging up, then calling back with this:

"OK, Broderick, you lost and it's your fault, so this is what we're going to do. Monday is the Presidents Day holiday, and everybody up there was planning to have the day off, right? Well, you tell each and every one person in the office that, because you lost the Cerone case, they all have to work a full day Monday. You got that?"

Steinbrenner eventually "showed some heart" by letting everyone go home at 1pm--except Broderick.

The book is loaded with this stuff, and it's great fun to consume it. Even the stories that are familiar--the numerous scuffles with Billy Martin and Reggie, the constant badgering of employees, and so on--are worth reliving. Baseball may need the Yankees to be prominent, and it may even have benefited from the presence of an easy villain figure like Steinbrenner, but...jeez.

Madden does not do a lot of psychoanalysis. He makes clear the difficult relationship Steinbrenner had with his hard-ass father and provides evidence that it was the number one driving force in the son's life, but he doesn't dig too deeply into speculation and armchair psychiatry. The man himself kept his private life private, and there isn't a whole lot of insight into what makes him "tick" or what he did outside of baseball, for that matter.

The book is subtitled "The Last Lion of Baseball," and it really is the saga of Steinbrenner in baseball. There is enough material about the shipbuilding and some other aspects, but there are some areas left relatively unexplored. For example, Madden writes, "people close to him believed that the Olympics were always his first love, even more than the Yankees." Yet there is little in this bio about his work on the U.S. Olympic Committee.

But the reason we read this book is for the Yankees material, all those great stories from the glory years when the Boss was a cartoonish figure looming over his team and the entire sport. Madden's fine biography is a fair look at a notorious man, but it's hard to come away from it thinking anything but that the guy was at best a real piece of work and at worst a pretty bad guy.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Put on a happy face!

I love visiting TV Shows on DVD to read the latest news releases about upcoming official products. I think the guys who run it do have a passion for the site, and it's nice having a fairly credible source where one can quickly determine the status of a series on disc.

BUT...the approach there is a little bit too "cheerleader" for my tastes sometimes. Take this week's news item about the new Time-Life "Six Million Dollar Man" complete series set. The exclusion of a blooper reel that had been previously announced is not in and of itself a huge deal, but I'm sure it's a bummer for fans; more to the point, in my view, is that this is announced at the last minute as the boxes are shipping. I'm not suggesting anyone ordered this expensive set just for that particular feature, but it seems at least a little shady for the company to give out this info at the last minute, and besides, it's at least a downer for purchasers to get one less (potentially cool) component.

But if you entertain any of these downer thoughts, just read this:

It's regrettable that this information wasn't available to us sooner; we've passed it along the same day we found out. However, the studio's statement is dead-on: there ARE still many, many wonderful goodies on this massive set, and it's difficult for us to criticize Time Life, considering all of the massive amount of work their team has putting into this release...a true dream-come-true for fans in so many ways! The bloopers having to come out of the collection is unfortunate, but we certainly have lots of other bonus items to enjoy! I know I can't wait to get my copy, and we're sure you'll feel the same.

Taken from: http://www.tvshowsondvd.com/news/Six-Million-Dollar-Man-The-Complete-Series/14670#ixzz155v8IkfJ

I can only imagine what would have happened had Time Life forgot to include one of the seasons:

It's regrettable that Time Life ignored an entire season, but there are still 32 out of 40 DVDs to enjoy! That's 80% of the complete series!

Or if Time Life accidentally packaged "The Bionic Woman" in the boxes instead of "Man":

It's regrettable that Time Life made this mishap, but we're still getting a long-awaited classic we've been waiting for so long! I can't wait to get my copy of whichever series is included, and we're sure you'll feel the same.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Two movies that just kind of go too far: Date Night and Taking of Pelham 123

How's THAT for a double feature?

I recently watched a couple movies that, while enjoyable experiences overall, just went a little too far.

Take Shawn Levy's comedy "Date Night," starring Tina Fey and Steve Carrell. Mrs. Shark and I sat down one night and enjoyed this, and not just because we could identify somewhat with the difficulties of integrating romantic spontaneity into domestic family life. More important for "Date Night's" comic effectiveness is that the leads are funny people who share good chemistry and make a believable and likable screen couple.

Really, all we need in "Date Night" is to see this man and wife get into a some mixups based on the initial misstep of taking someone's dinner reservation. We expect some chuckles, some embarrassment, and maybe a deepening of their love. That's all fine, and we do get that. But we also get a huge over-the-top car chase. It's like Levy, or possibly someone above him, doesn't think audiences will sit still for "just" comedy if it isn't accompanied by high-octane action.

Maybe the teenyboppers would get restless, but think about it: The audience that can identify with this movie is possibly on a date night itself. These people will sit still and enjoy the movie, or at least try very hard, because they're out of the house. What, they're gonna waste a sitter? (Granted, I saw this on home video, but it's not like I was going anywhere.)

"Date Night" is funny, but it would be a better movie if it concentrated on delivering what's there and what the audience wants instead of trying to make something a "thrill ride" akin to Levy's "Night at the Museum."

I also enjoyed "The Taking of Pelham 123," Tony Scott's remake of the 1974 thriller. I won't discuss the similarities and differences because it's been too long since I saw the original, but I will say that for much of its running time, "Pelham" makes good use of ITS best asset: the fine casting of John Travolta and Denzel Washington.

Really, the main reason to even do this is to pit Travolta, in exuberant bad guy mode, against D-Wash and let the sparks fly. Though they don't physically share the same space, the two develop their own chemistry, and it's a lot of fun seeing John's deranged subway hijacker's verbal exchanges with Denzel's demoted metro employee. James Gandolfini as the mayor does good work here, too, and you'll never see me complain about the presence of Luis Guzman in a movie, but the real show is the two stars.

Tony Scott does a nice job of keeping them apart but maintaining tension, until he doesn't. I don't want to venture too far into spoiler territory, but at a certain point, the tension we have been feeling apparently isn't enough, and the story gets into some action movie business. Tony Scott is actually more subtle than one might expect, and it's not like this train totally derails (I sincerely apologize), but this change in tone takes away whatever uniqueness of the film has.

I understand why things play out the way they do, but I can't help but think this screenplay could have unfolded differently. As it is, "Pelham" is a surprisingly effective thriller that loses a little something when it tries to take it up a notch.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

This Week in DVD

Grown-Ups: This looks totally infantile if not stupid, and I don't even particularly want to see a bunch of these guys go through another juvenile comedy--oh, hell, who am I kidding? It has Salma Hayek, so I'll probably see it eventually.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: Judging by the (lack of) reaction to this in theaters, I think this is more like Michael Cera vs. Everyone Who's Sick of Him.

Love Ranch: Basically, Joe Pesci as the owner of a brothel. Hey, don't blame me for any nightmarish images you carry with you the rest of the day. We Report, You Cringe.

Elia Kazan Collection: Big, ol' humongous box set from Fox proves that the studio is still in the classics-on-DVD business--or does it? A few single-disc releases would be nice, you know, or something besides those nifty 4-to-a-box value packs I see all over the place at Target. When Fox teased that "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" would be available in 2010, I kind of figured one wouldn't have to pay 200 bucks to get it.

Hunt to Kill: I'm just listing this here to remind everyone that Stone Cold Steve Austin still has a lively and profitable acting career.

Knucklehead: The Big Show, on the other hand, maybe isn't so much a viable direct-to-video star. Oh, this one had a token theatrical release, but I think we all know this ain't worth much. Nevertheless, the presence of Dennis Farina and, even more random, Mark Feurstein as a mixed martial artist, makes me almost want to watch this.

I Knew It Was You: This documentary about died-too-young actor John Cazale is really well done, but when I saw it on HBO, it was something like 45 minutes. Unless there are some awesome bonus features--and it doesn't seem that there are--this probably doesn't warrant a buy at regular price, even if you love Cazale and his work.

Men of a Certain Age Season 1: Hey, this is really good, too. Catch up now so we can all check out season 2 together on TNT in a few weeks (Wow, it's almost December already?)

Sherlock Season 1: OK, while you're catching up on "Men of a Certain Age," I'm gonna catch up on this 3-episode Sherlock Holmes revamp, which currently sits on my DVR.

Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam: Not actually a new feature film from DC animated despite what the packaging implies, but a compilation of shorts, most of which have been on previous Blu-Ray and special edition DVDs. So Warner Brothers is compounding the ripoff of withholding special features for the pricier editions by tying them into a misleading NEW edition.

Bing Crosby TV Specials Volume 2 (Christmas Specials): So I guess if Netflix hasn't gotten around to carrying Volume 1, I probably shouldn't count on renting this in time for Christmas, huh? Thanks a lot, Ebenezer Netflix.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Wonderful World of TCM: Home Run on the Keys (1937)

I had long wanted to see this Vitaphone short film starring baseball legend Babe Ruth, and when TCM aired it as part of a mini-baseball movie marathon a few weeks back, well, I finally got my chance.

After I saw it, I googled it and realized it's widely available on the Internet, and I felt like a complete moron. But, hey, just because I could have seen this one on the web doesn't make Turner Classic any less wonderful for showing it.

All I had ever seen was the thrilling climax of this short subject, and that's the Bambino dressed in formal wear in front of an orchestra, awkwardly reciting lines like "Strike one," and "Ball one," while waving his arms stiffly. The buildup to this scenario couldn't possibly be as amusing, and, no, it isn't. But the short is still essential viewing for the comedy value of the Babe's "performance" alone.

The film opens with the Sultan of Swat doing what he always does in the offseason: Spending time on a hunting trip in a small cabin with a group of dudes. Note some of the words missing from that sentence, words like "broads" and "booze." Yep, even before we get to Maestro Bambino in the studio, we have reason to question the verisimilitude of this film.

Speaking of truthiness, Babe tells his version (at least his 1937) version of his legendary "called shot" home run in the '32 World Series. You know how baseball historians have researched this story and found a lot of ambiguity? Well, there ain't none of that pesky ambiguity here. Babe called his home run off Charlie Root, and as longtime Yankee announcer Mel Allen might say, "There was no doubt about it!"

Anyway, one of the Babe's pals is working on a tune for an upcoming radio broadcast, and he's having a tough go of it until, what do you know, Ruth dazzles the group with his own songwriting prowess. After hearing the song on the piano (the guys may have forgot the women and the spirits, but, by gum, they made darn sure that cabin had a piano) he tells everyone to do a "Home run on the keys," which consists of plunking a few ivories while imitating a home plate umpire. Instead of telling him, "Hey, did we ever tell you how to hit a curve?" the gang rejoices, embracing Babe's contribution as if it were Bruce Dickinson calling for "more cowbell."

My first reaction is, uh, can we hear that story about the '32 Series again? But I'm glad the story continues, because we go into the radio studio for a live performance. After we hear a couple of kids do their song (sorry to give them short shrift, but it's like if Alvaro Espinoza batted ahead of Babe Ruth--we just want to get to the big guy). The emcee beckons him to the mic and tells him to let the audience know what he's gonna do, and then Ruth feigns total ignorance of the concept of radio. "Well, I can't tell a crowd that I can't see," he protests. He quickly gets the hang of it, though, doing a little patter before delivering that immortal performance of "Home Run on the Keys."

"Play ball! Strike one! Strike two! Foul ball..."

For me, the wait for this gem was well worth it, though it still stings to know it was on YouTube a year ago! Some folks might think corny stuff like this takes away from the legend of Babe Ruth, but I think it only enhances it. Sure, the clip is a little goofy, but Ruth comes off as a swell guy, and there is a charm to it that MLB couldn't hope to capture today.

Were audiences in 1937 better off not hearing so much about the more tawdry aspects of the Babe Ruth story? Were they able to enjoy this on a purer, more sincere level? Perhaps. However, seeing it in 2010 is still a joyous experience, even while chuckling about some of the aspects of it--OK, all of the aspects of it.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Last Week and This Week in DVD

Toy Story 3: Hey, sometimes sequels rule. I'm not gonna even bother looking into whether or not Disney put all the cool extras on the Blu-Ray and not the "standard" DVD. I'm jut gonna keep basking in the afterglow of having seen it and enjoyed it in a real, live, actual the-AY-ter.

Sex and the City 2: One of the advantages of my wife not reading this blog: Maybe she won't notice this is out on DVD and ask me to rent it for her. Now if I can just keep her away from TV, magazines, and radio ads...

Winter's Bone: I don't know much about this, but it involves meth, and it sounds depressing as hell. Yet I'd still rather take my chances with it than with "Sex and the City 2."

The Girl Who Played with Fire: Can someone explain to me how there are only 3 books in the trilogy, yet somehow, like, a dozen movies came out in the past year?

Centurion: This apparent "300"-wanna-be was on demand on my cable system a few months ago, I think. Let's just say I didn't demand it then, and I won't now.

Bing Crosby Collection: Unfortunately, this doesn't include Bing's bitchin' kineoscope library (what else did he have down in his wine cellar with the 1960 World Series Game 7?), but it does include a W.C. Fields picture, and at any rate, it's a legitimate DVD set with a handful of old Crosby flicks at a reasonable price. Just like the old days! Kudos to Universal.

The Fugitive Season 4 Volume 1: I'm still waiting for definitive word on how much Paramount butchered the original soundtrack on this set. Once we get past that, we can bitch about the split season thing again.

This is one of the best TV series of all time, but I can't see myself purchasing any of these sets, if only because I still have a feeling someone's gonna go back and "fix" some of those earlier sets with a more-or-less intact score for the inevitable Complete Series Megaset. Of course, it'll probably be on Blu-Ray only...

Larry Sanders Complete Series: It's about time for one of the best TV series ever. There's also a season 2 set, so maybe the individual seasons will come out slowly, too. Yeah, they're a bit pricey, but Shout isn't making these DVDs just for ME.

Hmm, but in case it is, hey, Shout, how's about making a "Get a Life" Complete Series set next?

Captain Video/Super Circus: Apparently a repackaging of two earlier separate releases for these primitive kiddies shows. I list it here to illustrate how difficult it is to get reliable information on more obscure DVDs like this. I appreciated Alpha's earlier "Captain Video" DVD and wondered if the company had unearthed some more episodes. Evidently, it did not.

The Deputy (Complete Series): Timeless goes all the way this time with the old "Henry Fonda was kinda in it from time to time" Western series.

Paramount Christmas DVDs: In addition to reissuing its previous sampler disc, the company releases another assortment of Christmas episodes. No real surprises here, though it's amusing to see a "Hey, remember when you used to make DVD sets of me?" show like "Love, American Style" make an appearance.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Record City: A Movie for the WHOLE family

Don't you just love it when a family-friendly channel runs some entirely inappropriate programming? Well, I kinda do.

Granted, "Record City" (1978) ran on quasi-religious channel Family Net at the "way past the kiddies' bedtime" hour of midnight, but still...I find it amusing that even an edited version of something like this ran not only on the channel itself, but in a "Family Movies" timeslot. Each time we returned to the film after a commercial break, we saw a graphic and heard an announcement that we were watching Family Net..."Movies for the Whole Family."

And which family would that be? I don't consider myself a prudish gent, but I think it's odd to see a rather adult comedy on a channel that airs shows with evangelists telling nonbelievers why they're going to hell.

"Record City" is a film about the hijinks that go on at a busy SoCal record store (remember those?). It's kind of like "Empire Records" but a little raunchier. In this 1978 film, we get prostitutes, hardcore sexual harassment of one of the shop's workers by the sleazy womanizing manager, and numerous masked-out profanities, all before the first commercial break.

Then after that break, after we're reminded we're watching a movie for the whole family, "Record City" delivers even more fun for both Little Timmy and Grammy alike in the form of the manager slurring an over-the-top gay character, a recording of erotic music/noises being played over the store's P.A., and, perhaps most inappropriate of all for delicate sensibilities, a cardboard standee of Rick Dees.

Movies for the whole family!

Elsewhere in Record City, we see a deaf customer and a blind customer shopping for records, and of course they are treated with delicacy and good taste akin to what we would expect to see in mainstream media today...NOT! We see a running gag consisting of Tim Thomerson getting kicked in the nuts repeatedly by his would-be feminist friend (who the movie exposes as completely misguided and really just needing to let her hair down and lighten up, man). There's a bit of a comedy routine from a young Gallagher, and you know that's got to offend somebody.

If you're not just chuckling at the incongruity of this material on Family Net, is there enough to make "Record City" worth watching? Well, the plot is no great shakes. The screenplay offers an episodic look at this store and its employees, and a radio-sponsored talent show outside the building provides an excuse to showcase Rick Dees in his prime. Think about that for a second: Did the medium of film really need to preserve Rick Dees in all his glory? As emcee of the talent show, he comes out in a gorilla suit while singing a novelty song, then introduces acts like the aforementioned Gallagher.

We also see familiar TV faces like Larry Storch, Alice Ghostley, and Ed Begley Jr. And is that TV's Boss Hogg as a cop who is trying to nab a serial thief? Yes, it is! And when he stands on a toilet in the shop's men's room so he can peer through a peephole into the main floor area, will he wind up getting into a zany mix-up with the blind guy and stepping into urine? Yes, he will!

Throw in more luminaries like Odd Job from "Goldfinger," Ruth Buzzi, and Frank Gorshin, and you get what looks like one of the most awesome "Love Boat" lineups ever. Hey, speaking of "Love Boat," did I mention one of the store's impish employees is played by Ted Lange?

What you do NOT find in "Record City" is the standard assortment of contemporary pop and rock radio hits blaring throughout the entire film. You get Kinky Friedman (as himself) doing his thing, but other than the posters on the walls, you get very little sense of music mattering to the people in the story--or to the producers of the film, for that matter. I wondered if this was an edited version that wiped out costly licensed tunes, but the credits didn't show any songs I missed. There is music, all right, but the lack of identifiable songs might lessen the impact of this as a time capsule when viewed today.

"Record City" is pretty dumb even for a dumb comedy, but I have to admit it seemed to zip right by, and I watched it. However, I resisted the urge to invite my toddler and my wife downstairs to join me with a bowl of popcorn for Family Movie Night. I know it's a movie for the whole family, but I don't think my little girl needs to see it just yet.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dream theater: Stanwyck, Marvin, and Me

The other night I had two sort-of-classic-movie-related dreams. At least, they involved classic movie stars. I'll leave the interpretation to you; I report, you psychoanalyze.

In the opener, I was preparing to ride a horse (I don't think I actually got on the creature) through a suburban neighborhood. A horse trainer/minder was getting the animal ready, while hovering over me, already mounted (on the HORSE--this isn't that kind of dream) was Barbara Stanwyck.

This was more "Double Indemnity"-era Babs, not "Big Valley" Babs, but she was sure dispensing wisdom like an old pro of the saddle. Actually, she was telling me how difficult it was going to be for me. Stanwyck kept harping on the point that the previous time I rode a horse, I could just go straight, whereas I would have to keep turning this time and would therefore have a tough go of it.

Not that I don't respect the legendary Ms. Stanwyck, but, man, she was being a real killjoy. I'll admit I was a bit nervous, and she wasn't making things any easier, showing off like Annie Oakley and doing a little subtle trash-talking.

The second dream was more ambiguous but also quite a bit cooler. I not only got to see Lee Marvin in this mini-movie, but I WAS Lee Marvin. It was nighttime, and I was rifling through the drawers in an apartment or hotel bedroom. What I was looking for, I don't know. I think I was too proud of myself for being Lee Marvin to pay much attention to detail.

I really don;t know much of what was going on there, and my alarm woke me before much happened, but I know that whatever I was doing, it was cool.