Sunday, September 11, 2011

Goodbye for a while

I'll spare you the long-winded explanation here and give you the short-winded one: I'm going on an indefinite sabbatical from posting. I thank everyone who has followed me and checked in from time to time, and I hope to deserve your eyeballs again at some point, but right now a combination of things is preventing me from devoting the time I want to spend on the site. Ie have been able to keep up with some shorter posts lately, but tons of ideas for longer-form pieces just aren't being converted to actual content, and that's kind of bumming me out.

When I get back into it, I want to be able to not just write, but to promote the site as well to maybe get a little more return. Even the small effort I put forth for this blog takes a toll, and as someone who does a lot of typing in his day job, even preparing sarcastic posts can cause some repetitive stress. Plus I want to spend more free time with the family, including my wonderful young'uns, and, to be honest, I want to spend more time just watching, reading, and listening stuff I've accumulated rather than writing about it.

So I'm tired but otherwise feeling great, and I have a lot of stuff to say, but I just don't think I have the time to say it in this format right now. I'm gonna try to amp it up on Twitter, so if you do find my musings interesting, you can follow me over there: @Cultureshark

Thanks again, folks. I'm frustrated to put the blog on the shelf for a while, but if I can't muster the resources to write about "Battle of the Network Stars," it's time for a break!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This underwhelming week in Instant Watching

September 1 is the day the new Netflix pricing structure goes into effect, and with many customers making hard decisions about which plan they want, and Netflix presumably trying to push many into abandoning disc rentals altogether, you would think that right about now the company would really be beefing up its streaming library.

You would think.

The first of the month is usually a time when a flood of new titles becomes available, and since that is tomorrow, maybe it's a wee bit unfair for me to write this today. I see a few interesting things that will make customers happy coming tomorrow, such as a good chunk of the James Bond series. But this past week has been dead.

In fact, according to, as I write this, only 30 new streaming titles appeared on Netflix in the last 7 days, and none today. That's not a whole lot. Now, if there were high-profile, prestigious movies and TV series in that list, I wouldn't be as concerned about the quantity. But Netflix hasn't been bringing the quality this week, either, which seems odd given the pivotal nature of this time frame, a period in which many customers may consider dropping the service rather then deal with altered rental options and/or rate increases.

Some of the notable titles added lately:

Young Einstein: If you've been sitting there telling everyone, "I'd sign up for the streaming except for the appalling lack of Yahoo Serious titles available," well, you just got SERVED, mate.

Big Trouble in Little China: A friend of mine in high school loved quoting this movie and seemed to get a big kick out of the Kurt Russell character. It's not so much a big deal for me, but maybe if my friend has Netflix and hasn't had TNT, AMC, or the other channels that played the hell out of this over the past 20 years, he'll be pumped.

Wrecked: A direct-to-video Adrian Brody vehicle.

Knockout: The latest Stone Cold Steve Austin movie. I love Stone Cold Steve Austin, but...

The Expendables: OK, Austin's in this one, too, and this is not only an enjoyable action flick but a prime example of the kind of thing many Netflix users expect: a high-profile recent theatrical release. 3 months after it debuts on Epix, which of course already waited several months after its debut on home video, Instant Watching gets it. So it's a ways after that theatrical release. Still, this is a solid addition. The only problem is it's pretty much the only one this past week.

Zero Effect: Quirky Bill Pullman movie that has been all over pay cable over the years--not a marquee title but a nice addition in a big cluster of other additions. As one of the more notable movies over a 7-day-or-so period, it doesn't seem that impressive.

Lip Service: Kari Wuhrer movie. I can remember when Kari Wuhrer was almost as big a deal in the direct-to-video universe as Adrian Brody.

Let's hope there are a LOT of cool adds tomorrow.

Monday, August 29, 2011

What I've been watching this summer (Part 2)

Breaking Bad: I don't have a lot to say about this, but if you're watching, you know how good it was, is, and likely will be. This season got off to a harrowing start, and I continue to be satisfied with what is arguably the best drama on TV right now.

Jon Benjamin Has a Van: Comedian and voice actor extraordinaire H. Jon Benjamin is the star and driving force behind this odd hybrid of faux-reality show/sitcom/sketch comedy. Episodes often take a tremenndous amount of airtime by 2011 standards to get to the payoff, but it's usually worth it. The short comedy bits sprinkled throughout are often hilarious. This is not for everyone's tastes, but it's a sharp, funny program that feels fresh and different from everything else. So of course it probably won't be picked up for a second season.

Falling Skies: Mrs. Shark and I watched this season together after falling behind and getting into it late. It was solid, I thought, though I can't accept Noah Wylie as a gritty resistance leader against alien invaders. To me, of course, he'll always be The Librarian. The show is a little cheesy sometimes, and the dialogue was a little too on the nose early on in straining to establish the characters, but it settled in pretty well. The special effects are surprisingly effective. I'll be back for the second season.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

This Week in DVD

The Beaver: I still don't know what the acceptable level of engagament with a Mel Gibson film is. Paying to see it in a theater: Too soon? Buying the DVD: Too soon? What about a rental? I mean, Redbox is only a buck. When it comes to Netflix streaming and/or Starz, is it OK to watch it then? This is all too confusing. Somebody go ask Zach Galifanakis to clear it up for us.

Win Win: This may well be a fine film as is, but when I saw the name "Paul Giamatti" and the word "wrestling," I didn't envision him as a high school grappling coach, but as a professional wrestling manager in a 1970s period piece. P.G. in a Captain Lou Albano bipopic, anyone? After pondering how much that would rule, it's kind of a letdown to read up on what "Win Win" is actually about.

The Greatest Movie Ever Sold: Morgan Spurlock's self-conscious look at the pervasive influence of marketing in our society. The way I understand it, Spurlock ate nothing but advertising for 30 days, and we see the result at the end of the movie.

Blitz: Cop actioner with Jason Statham, Paddy Considine, and Garcetti from "The Wire" went straight to video, but it can't be that bad, can it? It's already on Instant Watching, too. Hmm, maybe it IS that bad.

Sympathy for Delicious: I really didn't remember this at all, and then when I saw the names in the cast--Mark Ruffalo, Laura Linney, Orlando Bloom, Juliette Lewis (not that I'm a huge fan of all of them, but still), I wondered how I could have forgotten it. Then I noticed it was directed by Ruffalo! Come on, I figured, this deserves at least a glance, right? Then I went back to thinking about Paul Giamatti playing Captain Lou Albano. I just can't get that brilliant idea out of my head!

Gossip Girl Season 4: Hey, think this is it for Blake Lively since she's a big movie star after the Green Lantern flick was such a big hit and--whoops. Well, she might still have to leave the show to crank out those "Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants" movies.

The Event Complete Series: Did they ever reveal what The Event was? It would be pretty funny if they didn't bother but nobody cared enough to complain.

Off the Map Complete Series: Made by the people that brought you "Grey's Anatomy," and I got enough secondhand viewing of this courtesy my wife that I can confirm that it's pretty much what you'd expect it to be.

Rowan Atkinson Presents Canned Laughter: Sometimes I just put things down here to remind myself to look into them and figure out what the deuce they are. Hey, a 1979 Rowan Atkinson sitcom? Sure! Sounds good to me.

WWE OMG Moments: Wonder if they'll include the time when, as a kid, I mocked Hulk Hogan out loud and the guy sitting in front of me turned around, looked at my dad as if he would have gone after me if he hadn't been there, and argued that Hogan was in the right. Or the time when I had great seats and saw Torrie Wilson walk right by and drooled for about 10 minutes afterward. Or the time--you know, they really should have consulted me, because I doubt any of these are gonna be on the video.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Vault of Coolness: You call that a "Wrestling Album"?

I'm STILL disappointed to see this ad and realize it's promoting a book of photographs and not a record album:

Of course we know that Greg Valentine went on to become one half of the music/wrestling combo Rhythm and Blues with the Honky Tonk Man, but what I wouldn't give to own a vintage recording of The Hammer's rendition of "Something." And who wouldn't enjoy Wildfire Tommy Rich's southern-fried take on Michael Murphey's "Wildfire?"

Thursday, August 25, 2011

On the radio: Sweet Seduction is worthy of trivial factoid generation

When the family sits down for a meal, we'll often put on one of the Music Choice digital channels to get some tunes for our listening pleasure. The other day, I was feeding my little one while the eighties music station played in the background.

Quick confession: Much as I love my son, I don't always stare at his baby-food-plastered mug the entire time I'm shoveling it towards him. I like glancing over at the tube and seeing the little factoids Music Choice runs on the screen as sort of a screen saver while the song plays.

I didn't remember the 1989 song "Hooked on You" by Sweet Sensation, nor do I remember much about Sweet Sensation except that there were about 10 similarly named bands around that time they everyone mixed up, so I wanted to learn something by watching the Music Choice parade of trivia.

When the song began, a note at the top said the band formed in the Bronx. A not-so-clear picture of an undetermined female--perhaps a member of the group--dominated the screen.

Then there was a note about the advent of recorded music in general.

Then I saw something about how the Top 40 was created.

Then it was a tidbit about the cassette tape.

As the song went on, so did the factoids, but they were all generic ones, with nothing specific to Sweet Sensation. Maybe I missed something while ducking pear/pineapple spittle from my son, but there was a clear lack of info about the act. Is this band that obscure, that faceless, that it merits such an approach? No trivia at ALL for these gals?

I engaged my research assistant, The Internet, to dig up some information on my own so that I could make this post and drop some knowledge on all the Music Choice watchers who are scratching their heads wondering what the deal is with the artists behind such hits as...uh, "Hooked on You." Given the band name, the song title, and the album title, "Take It While It's Hot," I know what you're thinking: pretentious art rock.

Well, according to Wikipedia, they were a Puerto Rican freestyle/dance music trio, they experienced several membership changes, and their career lasted from about 1986 to 1991. That album spawned 5 singles. "Hooked On You" peaked at 23 on the Billboard Hot Singles chart.

See, that wasn't so hard, Music Choice. There are tidbits for this group! There are tidbits for everyone! Just do a little work next time.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Talk about a crisis

The worst thing about yesterday's earthquake was it implanted the song "Walk on Water" by Eddie Money in my head. See, when it happened, I thought of Money's "Shakin'," but since I don't know many of the words to that beyond the chorus, I somehow transitioned to "Walk on Water," and now I can't get it out. Yes, even the "na na na na na, na na na na na" part.

See, this is apparently how I react in times of crisis--by associating the event with some inane pop culture reference. If an asteroid bears down on the planet in the near future, I'll probably hum that song from the Pac-Man Fever album or else just repeat that exchange from "National Lampoon's Vacation":

Got Asteroids?
No, but my dad does. He can't even sit on the toilet some days.

(NOTE: The preceding post is not intended to make light of the recent East Coast quake, nor of anyone who suffered in a real, non-musical way from that event, other earthquakes, or other natural disasters, for that matter. It is, though, intended to kind of bust Eddie Money's balls a little bit.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

What I've been watching this summer (Part 1)

It took me weeks to notice, but the only stuff I've been watching regularly this summer has been on cable. I am not watching one single broadcast network, except for sports, for more than 5 minutes at a time. But let's look at what I have been following on cable:

Let's start with the best: "Louie" is the best thing on TV right now (except maybe "Comedy Shop" rerurns on RTV). It's funny, sad, serious, thoughtful, and it surprises week to week while entertaining. You can't ask for much more than the ambition Louis C.K. demonstrates with this show, especially when it's so well executed. I mean, I knew the guy was funny, but as far as his ability to so often make me FEEL something while watching his TV show...who knew? This is so good, I'm tempted to revisit "Pootie Tang."

Wilfred: This FX comedy might suffer if you compare it to the show it precedes on Thursday nights, but it is pretty good in its own right. Elijah Wood interacts with his neighbor's dog, played by a guy in a dog suit, and of course Wood's character, Ryan, is the only one who can do this. The premise is funky, but the show itself if is really, really twisted, with Wilfred and Ryan engaging in scenarios involving drugs, humping stuffed animals, and sundry dirty deeds. Something about it just works. Since the show dropped, or at least downplayed, the unrequited love angle between Ryan and Wilfred's owner Jenna, an angle that was dragging things, it has become funnier and more poignant. Yeah, there's the humping, but there's also thoughtful explorations of human existence. But, yeah, there's humping.

Rescue Me: I quit on the show last season, fed up by the ludicrous and repetitive yet inconsistent writing. It seemed the show had pretty much said all it had to say. Then I experienced some hunger pangs, so I watched the season finale before jumping on for this final set of episodes now airing.

Only I got tired of the show and jumped back off. It wasn't that "Rescue Me" got off to a particularly bad start; though it seemed each episode had one scene that was over the top, it was more like it had settled into a kind of drab mediocrity. But it was bringing back Maura Tierney's annoying character that pushed me away a bit. "Where is this going?" I thought. Then I saw a preview that indicated where it was going, and even if it was misleading, it was enough of a prod to get me the rest of the way off the train. It's a shame, too, because in its prime, "Rescue Me" was one of my favorite things on television.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

From the really bad ideas department

I was catching up on my TV news last week when I read this comment about the forthcoming "Charlie's Angels" remake:

"If Jack Bauer and Carrie Bradshaw had a love child, it would be Charlie's Angels," executive producer Alfred Gough told in reference to the new series.

The article tells us that we can expect a more "grounded" and "real" version of "Angels" this fall on NBC. Uh...who wants to see a more grounded and real "Charlie's Angels?" The only reason anyone remembers the original is because it didn't take itself seriously. Now NBC comes along to give us yet another sober take on an iconic but hardly classic series, and I'll bet this one meets the same fate as "Knight Rider" and "Bionic Woman."

Oh, and if Jack Bauer and Carrie Bradshaw had a love child, for one thing, the Chinese must have engineered it as a way to finally get their revenge on Jack; furthermore, that child would be whisked to a secluded orphanage and raised away from civilization, never to see the light of day in mainstream society.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Week in DVD

The Conspirator: I don't mean to say Robert Redford is becoming an even more political filmmaker, but I hear in this take on the Lincoln assassination, the conspirators include the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh, and the CIA (and oddly enough, Bobby Kennedy).

Jane Eyre: This version of the Bronte novel offers...zombies? Vampires? Cowboys and aliens? Wait, you mean to tell me it's just people in funny accents and pretty dresses talking?

Priest: Remember some years back when it seemed like Paul Bettany was in like every other movie you went to go see? His new career strategy: Be in every other movie you DON'T go to see.

Something Borrowed: I was all set to complain about how this generic-sounding romantic comedy epitomizes the lack of fresh approaches to chick flicks today, but what's the alternative? Another "Jane Eyre?"

Hoodwinked Too: Hood vs. Evil: An sequel nobody wanted, following an animated film nobody liked. And by "nobody,: I mean me and most of the reviews I saw. You'd think Hollywood would save itself a lot of time and money by focusing its market research on me and the reviews I see.

John Carpenter's The Ward: Glad they clarified that. For a minute, I thought this "Wes Craven's The Ward."

The Killing: Criterion ups the ante on this cool Stanley Kubrick noir by throwing in the inferior-but-hey-it's-still-a-whole-nother-movie-you-ingrate "Killer's Kiss." It doesn't seem as loaded with extras, otherwise, as you might wish from a Criterion, but at 22 bucks from Amazon...not a bad buy, I'd say.

Night Raid 1931 The Complete Collection: Anyone else see this title and become disappointed after discovering it's not some cool pre-code adventure epic, but an anime series?

Spin City Season 5: Charlie Sheen. It's been a hectic week for me, and that's all I got.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vault of Coolness: Cowboy Freddy Mac

How's this for a cool picture of our boy Freddie Mac? I like how he has some tough guy Western duds and is pointing a gun at someone off camera (somehow I doubt it's Edward G. Robinson), yet he signs the pic, "Cordially."

I assume this is a publicity shot (no pun intended, but I'll take credit if you like it) for one of the many oaters in which Fred starred, and though the pic has a little bit of whimsy to it, I assume it's an "adult" western.

I mean adult as opposed to juvenile, of course, but isn't it funny to think of Fred as Steve Douglas, trying to explain to Chip and Ernie the difference between, say, "Rawhide" and "The Cisco Kid"?

"Gee, Dad, I thought an adult show was like that stag thing that Robbie tried to sneak into last month."
"Well, er, Chip, er, yes, but, uh, er, that was, er, a different kind of adult show."
"I don't understand."
"Uh, Ernie, let me try to, er, explain. You see, uh, an adult western is, uh--"

At this point, Uncle Charley, who by virtue of his Merchant Marines service saw things that would make Steve's eyeballs curl, might try to jump in, much to Steve's chagrin.

"Uh, that'll be enough, Uncle Charley."
"What? I was just thinking about a film loop I saw on Pago Pago--"
"Uh, that'll be enough, Uncle Charley."

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, cool picture, huh?

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cultureshark Remembers...My TV set

R.I.P., good ol' 27" Panasonic. You brought me a quality picture and consistent, service-free operation for nearly 20 years. Oh, how happy I'll be in 20 years if anything I buy today is still running then...

...including the HD flat screen I got to replace the Panasonic. Unfortunately, for the time being, I am still mired in the world of Glorious Low-Def Television, due to a variety of factors I won't get into now (and, yes, me being cheap is one, though not the primary, factor). So I run the standard signal into the HD set, and the result is somewhat less than spectacular, but fine for Cultureshark Tower's secondary TV. Hey, as long as my daughter can enjoy Nick Jr. on it while the grownups are making dinner, it's all good.

Back to the soon-to-be departed Panasonic, though: It was a great buddy, accompanying me in college, experiencing the heady days of the DVD era, and coming along for the wonderful ride of home ownership. It will be missed.

And now how the hell do I get rid of it?

Seriously, nobody wants these old tube TVs anymore, even if they don't have intermittent picture problems. If it ain't digital, it ain't donate-able. I can't just set a TV set by the curb for the refuse collectors to pick up. Well, I probably could--those dudes take anything--but I'm not supposed to, so I have to wait for one of those electronic recycling days at the local dump (there's a great phrase to work into a blog post).

I guess for now I'll have plenty of opportunity to reflect on my longtime pal...because it'll be sitting right in my living room, practically in front of the door, until I can ditch it.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

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

Well, just as I feared, the July 25 issue does not stack up to the loaded July 18 edition of "People" magazine. However, there was one useful piece of info I gleaned when I accidentally read it.

The "One Last Thing" feature on the mag's back page, which is part of the "Chatter" department, or maybe it's the other way around, features short takes on various issues from a different BIG STAR. The July 25 issue spotlights Chris "Captain America/Human Torch/Other characters in non-comic-book movies" Evans.

One of the things "People" asks Evans is the last greeting card he sent. This is vital info, of course, which makes Evans' response disappointing: "I'm a guy. I don't do that stuff."

Actually, forget disappointing; this statement is puzzling. He implies that REAL men don't "do" greeting cards. I assume by "guy," Evans means "single guy without attachments or any close relationship with family members whatsoever," because I don't quite buy his premise.

I mean, I've never claimed to be Ed Asner or anything, but I like to think I'm macho enough. Yet I often send and give greeting cards. If guys are excused from doing this, or worse, if they should NOT do this, I wish to hell my wife, kids, parents, siblings, and other relatives would get the memo because at 2, 3, 4 bucks a pop, the tally adds up, and I could use the extra cash. I mean, with all that coin I save from skipping out on greeting cards, I could go buy some macho products like Axe body spray or maybe a new chest medallion.

I don't think this is gonna fly with my loved ones, but I don't doubt Chris Evans. After all, he's Captain By God America, and he must know what it is to be a guy. Check that: an AMERICAN guy. Maybe those Frenchmen send greeting cards to their mothers every now and then, but not us good ol' red-blooded American males.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

This Week in DVD

Mars Needs Moms: You know it's not a huge video week when one of the biggest new releases is one of the biggest bombs of recent memory. Those of you who hate the Robert Zemeckis "dead eyes" animation style--you win! Those of you who want to see more children's movies where aliens apparently abduct our mothers for God Knows What--you lose.

Super: Rainn Wilson plays a dude who becomes a real-life superhero. I don't mean he gets bitten by a radioactive lantern injected with serum; I mean he just puts on a costume and calls himself a superhero. "Anybody cian do that," you say. Oh, yeah? I'd like to see YOU try. Actually, no, I wouldn't. Isn't this like the tenth movie, documentary and fiction combined, about average dudes becoming superheros in the last few years? Time to move back to, oh, I don't know, body-switching pictures.

Your Highness: Goofy fantasy-movie spoof also known as "Natalie Portman was in WHAT right after 'Black Swan'?

Paul: Another Simon Pegg/Nick Frost comedy. They encounter an alien (presumably one not looking for moms), hilarity ensues, and the reviews weren't all that solid, but I don't care. If it's a Pegg/Frost movie, I'll go see it. Uh, well, if I don't see it, I'll rent it. Uh, if I don't rent it, I'll see it on pay cable. If I--oh, hell, I'm gonna try to see this eventually, OK?

Fox and the Hound: This ain't exactly in the pantheon of all-time Disney greats, but my grandfather took me to see it when I was a wee lad, and it was good enough for me then, by cracky.

Challenge of the Gobots: I remember thinking Gobots were a fraction as cool as Transformers...until I saw they had a TV show called "CHALLENGE of the Gobots." Adding that one word made them almost awesome.

Webster Season 3: All I'm saying is, I would have liked this show a lot more were it called "Challenge of Webster."

James Ellroy's L.A. City of Demons: How the heck did I totally miss this true crime show on Investigation Discovery when it aired at the beginning of the year? Oh, yeah, it was on Investigation Discovery. Still, shame on me.

TV Cops and Private Eyes: Intriguing mish-mosh of old-school crime show episodes from Timeless. At only 10 bucks, it looks worth a shot even if it combines some of the same old same old ("Dragnet," I'm assuming the same PD episodes) with some interesting rarities ("Boston Blackie," anyone?) As usual, getting details about this is impossible until some kind soul posts a review somewhere, but we should keep our private eyes on this one.

Fast Times at Ridgemont High: I'm breaking from my usual custom of ignoring Blu-Ray releases that are already on standard DVD so that we can all pause and think about Phoebe Cates in high-def. Sigh.

Four Daughters Collection: $50 retail from Warner Archives. Just think, in the Good Ol' Days, this would have been much cheaper, loaded with extras, and widely available in stores. Sigh. See, also George Sanders Saint Collection.

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff: Sounds like a cool doc about the legendary cinematographer. You know what else is cool? This and many other documentaries are showing up on Netflix Instant Watching the same day as the disc release. That's one area Netflix is covering pretty well.

Tactical Force: Yeah, it may be crap, but it stars Stone Cold Austin. So there.

I got a blunder for you

TV Guide Network is running a special called "TV's Biggest Blunders" Part 2--yes, Part 2--this week.

Hey, I have an idea for an entry: How about dropping the television listings from TV Guide Network and turning it into a poor man's E! Network?

That one didn't make Part 1, but maybe we'll see it this time.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Wonderful World of TCM: Tarzan and what comes next

I appreciate the weekly Tarzan screening brought to us by The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind, though I checked out after the Johnny Weissmullers ended a few weeks ago. Truth be told, I sort of "checked out" even earlier, as at a certain point I realized that while I could see the appeal of the series, they weren't always holding my attention, and I began to use them more as background than as dedicated appointment DVR viewing.

Two installments that stood out in the Weissmuller run were "Tarzan's New York Adventure" because it seemed to always be on when I was a kid (maybe it just stood out because Tarzan wore a suit in it) and "Tarzan Triumphs" because--this may be sacrilege--Frances Gifford surprised be my making forget it was the first in the series without Maureen O'Sullivan. Yowza yowza!

I've been thinking about what TCM will run on Saturdays once it exhausts the King of the Jungle's portfolio. It seems a shame to let the Saturday morning/afternoon series concept expire after this and the long (and very much welcome) Bowery Boys stint. I see that Philo Vance is on tap for September, with the Hildegarde Withers mysteries slated for October as the Tarzans continue. These and many of the best-known and best-loved film series have already run on the channel in recent years. So forgive me if my personal preferences run to material that's buried a little deeper in the vaults.

So, Boston Blackie, Crime Doctor, Mexican Spitfire, Andy Hardy, Dr. Kildare, The Saint, I love you all, but you have made numerous appearances already, often in convenient marathons.
Maisie and The Falcon also make frequent appearances on the channel (though I admit I do need to watch those Maisies someday).

The Lone Wolfs, the Whistlers, the Perry Masons, the Nancy Drews, the I Love a Mysteries, and the Sherlock Holmeses are either on video or already make regular appearances on TCM.

I like Columbia's Blondie series based on the enduring comic strip, but I...have access to those already, not that I wouldn't appreciate seeing pristine prints.

Abbott and Costello are great, but I have the DVDs, and those movies haven't been wallflowers, either. In fact, This TV is running many of them lately. Speaking of This, the channel is also showing Francis the Talking Mule films, and they also have slipped in a few Ma and Pa
Kettles to complement those other Universal franchises.

This also runs the occasional Charlie Chan film, as does TCM, and most of the Chans are on video. Same with the cool Mr. Moto series. I'd like to see the rest of the Michael Shaynes, actually. That would be a good candidate, but a handful of those are on DVD.

After thinking this through, I have a winner. The one series I would like to see make its way to TCM on Saturdays after the guy in the loincloth moves on is...

The Aldrich Family.

I've never seen any of these 11 Paramount Studios pictures, and I don't recall The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind airing them since I've had it. It was a popular franchise back in the 1940s and 1950s, originating as a radio program and eventually moving into television. But I'd be happy just to see the movies.

Maybe there are rights issues or materials issues that prevent them from being shown, but as far as I know the Aldrich Family movies have been M.I.A. for years. I think I'd enjoy 'em. Make it happen, TCM.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cultureshark Cares: A Public Service Announcement

Months ago, when The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind released its Summer Under the Stars Schedule, I rejoiced at the sight of August 5, John Garfield Day, because Turner Classic Movies had finally scheduled "The Breaking Point." This long-awaited--by me, for sure, but
I know others have been on the hunt for it as well--film is on tonight at 10:00 P.M. I'll be clearing my DVR and hoping there's not some kind of freak storm or something.

This 1950 adaptation of "To Have and Have Not" has a distinctive pedigree even beyond its critical acclaim. It stars Garfield, is directed by Michael Curtiz, and as the second adaptation of Hemingway's novel, makes an interesting comparison piece to the Humphrey Bogart/Bacall/Hawks classic "To Have and Have Not." Or so I hear--I've never seen it.

I've wanted to see it for years, and though I figured all those factors I mentioned above, PLUS the fact it's a Warner Brothers picture, made it a likely candidate for a screening on TCM. Well, I figured wrong, and I haven't seen "Breaking Point" listed in the 10 years or so I've had the channel. I've only read about legendary screenings of the film in the wee hours on outlets like
Cinemax, screenings likely made long before I was hip enough to know just how much I should have wanted to see it.

Over the years, I've avoided reading up too much on this one, saving myself for, you know, actually watching it. I just know it's good and that it's "darker." Well, just taking Walter Brennan out of the thing probably makes it at least 50% darker, so I don't know how much that tells
me. Maybe--not a deliberate SPOILER--everyone dies in an A-bomb blast at the end, followed immediately by a Billie Holiday song playing over the credits.

I never saw a definitive reason as to what kept the movie off TCM but let "To Have and Have Not" be a mainstay. Even "The Gun Runners," the later Don Siegel version of the same source material, has made an appearance or two, I'm pretty sure. It matters not now. Catch this rare one tonight!

Since I am feeling particularly caring today, I will alert readers in the Greater Metropolitan D.C. area that Penn State football preview magazines are appearing at Wegman's. I've already snapped up 3 of them. It's nice to see that the top program in the game is well represented throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, and at the best supermarket in the area, no less. Pick up your copies and get pumped up for some college football.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

This Week in DVD

Soul Surfer: If I'm not mistaken, this inspirational saga of courage, determination, and overcoming adversity was originally known as its alternate title, "Whoa, It's That Chick Who
Totally Lost Her Arm, Dude."

Rio: I had Peter Allen's song "I Go to Rio" in my head for about 4 consecutive months until this movie came out. Then I got it out of my head again. Now the DVD comes out. Grr....

Last Night: Wait, this came out in May? Pretty sad when the listed box office return is .1 million. No, not a million bucks, but .1 million. Limited theatrical release, shall we say.

But this movie stars Keira Knightley, Eva Mendes, Sam Worthington, even Griffin Dunne...and some dude named Guillaume Canet who gets his smiling mug above the title. I bet when this one showed up DOA, everyone blamed him. "It was a good cast except for 'and Guillaume Canet.'
HE'S why this flopped."

The Perfect Game: Synopsis says "Ragtag Mexican baseball team dreams of World Series." I don't think a movie has been made about a sports team that WASN'T "ragtag" since "Pride of the Yankees."

Quarantine 2: Terminal: Because there were so many unresolved questions from the first one. (That's an ancient joke about sequels, I know, but it never gets "old" old.)

Cougar Hunting: This movie sounds terrible, but it stars Vanessa Angel and Lara Flynn Boyle, presumably as cougars. Speaking of old...I feel old.

Everwood Season 4 and Complete Seasons 1-4: If they ever make one of those XXX parodies of this show, it should be called "This Ain't Everwood...But Then Again, It Is!"

Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series: This actually streets this week, not last week as I believed, and note that I do the honorable thing and admit my mistake rather than
cut and paste that entry. [CUE INSPIRATIONAL MUSIC]

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Gamera Collection: 4 movies long thought unclearable for video arrive in a nifty box set. This title reflects the new reality of Netflix. Instead of complaining about why the company isn't stocking these discs, I'm just hoping they show up on Instant Watching before they get yanked from circulation.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Antenna TV's new schedule

Sitcoms Online posted Antenna TV's fall schedule last week, and it's somewhat disappointing news for classic TV fans. "Farmer's Daughter" is still a no-go, and while I shouldn't be surprised after the revelations that Sony's masters were supposedly in subpar shape and couldn't be
converted to airable versions for whatever reason, I had held out some hope that maybe we'd get a surprise on that front.

Another one of the programs announced before Antenna's launch, the 1950s anthology "Ford Theatre" is also absent from this new schedule. What is more worrying to me is
that Sitcoms Online, which updated us eariler in the year on the progress of the missing Sony shows, doesn't even mention this one in its report. It's getting easier to assume this will meet the same fate as "Farmer's Daughter."

Now, Pavan Badal of the site says there may be more news about Antenna in the next few weeks, and maybe it's good, but as much as I love "Burns and Allen" and as much as I
loved "Hazel" (still do, but it's been through its episodes twice already), the two rare shows I was most eagerly anticipating remain absent.

On the bright side, many classic TV lovers will be happy that the sitcom schedule is expanding and the movie load is decreasing a bit. Plus it's nice that through some maneuvering here and there, Antenna is able to add new series without getting rid of existing ones.

Yet I still want to see more rarities. And can someone do something about the weekend schedules? I have no problem with "Benny Hill" and the Three Stooges, but they take up
a LOT of programming slots on Friday and Saturday nights.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

3 things I had forgotten about "Thriller"

Watching a bit of puffery about Michael Jackson recently made me think about "Thriller," not an album I listen to all the way through today but one I sure as hell loved in the eighties. Hey, everybody loved it back in the eighties. In 2011, a few details about the classic stand
out, things which may not be well known today:

1) The album came out in 1982. That's right, 1982. Seeing this fact somehow surprises me every time because I can remember the LP being very much a big deal in my circles well into 1984. There are a few albums today that sustain interest and stay relevant for several years, but not to the extent of a "Thriller."

2) It only has 9 songs. That seems a bit thin, doesn't it? Especially when one of them is "The Lady in My Life," which I inexplicably told a grade-school buddy of mine I liked when he incredulously demanded clarification after I said I liked the whole album.

"Even the last one? That slow song at the end?"
[Me nodding my head]

Sure, the album has massive hits like "Beat It" and "Billie Jean," but it also counts among its 9 tracks that weak closer and another Rod Temperton-penned song (to be fair, the guy is the credited writer of the title track, too), "Baby Be Mine," that didn't tear up the world.

That's over 20% of the album as filler, and it leaves you with 7 notable cuts. Doesn't it seem odd today that such a memorable, long-lived album had "only" 9 songs total and 7 that people remember? I'm not denigrating "Thriller," mind you, but pointing out that my perception would be that such a huge album of that era had at least a dozen or so standout tunes out of, say, 15 songs in all.

3) The lead single was...: I totally forgot this one. You know what the first released single off "Thriller" was? It wasn't the title cut. "Billie Jean"? Nope. Nor was it "Beat It." I would have guessed "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin'." I would have been wrong.

It was in fact the Jacko/McCartney duet "The Girl Is Mine," which "only" hit number two on the pop charts and doesn't hold up well today as much more than a novelty, partly because a concept that was tongue in cheek even then--Michael and Macca fighting over a woman--is downright surreal today.

Yet I do remember the ditty being much more significant at the time, though it was more a mainstay of lite-FM and MOR radio than it was a pioneering big-tent single like "Billie Jean." Compared to that hit and the energetic, vital "Beat It," "The Girl Is Mine" seems quaint today,
and it boggles the modern mind that it and not one of the other classics on the album became "Thriller's" debut single.

Perhaps the starpower of Paul McCartney made this song an irresistible lure for radio, perhaps Jacko himself really loved it--I don't know the reason for the strategy, but it does make one wonder how a song best known for Macca announcing he's a lover, not a fighter, became the
premiere single off the biggest pop album of all time.

Monday, August 1, 2011

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

Folks, I have accidentally read some issues of "People" magazine my wife left laying around before, but the July 18 issue was a real doozy. Let's hit some of the highlights in order:

On page 22, we get the requisite Jen/Justin update. Yes, Aniston and Theroux are "going strong!" This only pages after a pic of Aniston at an event accompanied by the caption, "You call THIS horrible?" Oh, and the "freshly shaven" Theroux, according to a source, "seemed to fit in perfectly with Aniston's close-knit crew" during a night on the town. Do I hear wedding bells?

Page 47 brings an odd blurb about the new La Toya Jackson tome, "Starting Over." The mag writes, "Michael's big sister shares memories and unconvincing theories about his death. Includes fun family photos." Huh? Talk about a tone shift. This is all there is about the book. So is that a thumb up or down? And we know the bit about the fun family photos is not an ironic juxtaposition but just "People's" own awkward juxtaposition because of the lack of an ! at the end.

On page 51, the books section continues with a piece on Keanu Reeves' new poetry book. No comment necessary.

On page 78 is a profile of two supporting characters from "Real Housewives of New Jersey"--two supporting characters. You know, I mention this in case you think the magazine has been too literary to this point.

Investigation Discovery takes out a full-page ad to promote a show titled "Who the (Bleep) Did I Marry?" Go get 'em, Investigation Discovery!

Christina Hendricks is the subject of the Beauty Watch profile near the end. The best thing about this feature, of course, is that not only do we get her beauty tips and favorite things, but we get brand names and info about where to buy them! What a public service.

On the back cover is a "Project Runway" ad featuring a naked Heidi Klum. OK, this page is actually pretty good.

I can't wait to see if the July 25 issue is loaded with as much useful info as this one!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Brooks on Books: Crime Fiction

Been reading some good crime novels recently. Like to hear about it? OK, here it go:

Friends of Eddie Coyle: Normally I find the book superior to the film, but in this case, and I may be biased from having seen it first, the 1973 movie may well provide a richer experience.

One of the best things about the quintessentially seventies movie "Coyle," directed by Peter Yates and starring an excellent Robert Mitchum, is its atmosphere. The bleak, cold, working-class Boston of the book is made all the more vivid by seeing it on screen. Plus the screenplay adapts the novel so well, there isn't a lot left to discover when you go back and read George Higgins' novel. And, hey...Mitchum.

Don't get me wrong about the novel. The dialogue is great, and the story is compelling, but this is one of those times (like pretty much every time) I wish I had read the book first, then seen the film, and I may have had more enjoyment from both.

The Seventh by Richard Stark: This is actually the sixth of Stark's series of "Parker" novels. Ha! Oh, Stark/Westlake, you cheeky monkey!

It's another stellar read, with the title referring to a share of a group heist in which Parker participates. The book shows the aftermath, and Stark includes some nice twists and aspects of Parker's world that haven't been seen yet in the series.

The only thing that irritates me is that something like the next 6 or 7 volumes are not available from my liberry. What am I supposed to do, go BUY the books? I mean, they're great and all, but they're all really fast reads for the price that the new trades fetch.

Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes: OK, I need to read some more Himes because this is a great one. There are more in the Grave Digger and Coffin Ed series about two Harlem police detectives--including multiple installments prior to this one--and I look forward to getting back into the universe.

Himes succeeds in creating the mid-20th century Harlem and putting you right in there, as well as instilling race into the crime fiction genre without forcing it or sacrificing the narrative. Yeah, there's a lot in here about whites and blacks and how their worlds interact, but there's also an exciting crime story with gripping action and fascinating characters.

One thing that stands out is the frequent--nay, the constant use of the word "mother-raping." I assume that in 1965, even an adult-targeted novel couldn't use the genuine Big Kahuna of swear words every other paragraph, but, boy, is this distracting.

I mean, yeah, it gets the job done, but it looks so odd that it's hard to focus on the content. Part of it is the hyphen, which just sticks out on the page like it's taunting you because you the reader and the author aren't collectively mature enough to handle the REAL word.

Was the "MF" word hyphenated back then? No self-respecting Richard Pryor wannabe would write it that way now, right? That thing is one word solid or no word at all. But 1965 was a different, more innocent time.

Don't let that one euphemism make you think the grittiness of the book is compromised, though. Well, I mean, it is, but not in a way that diminishes its quality...too mother-rapin' much, anyway.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Norm Crosby, I'm disappointed in you

Warning: This post will reveal the identity of the surprise guest on Sunday night's second episode of "The Comedy Shop" on RTV. I take it as a given that all of you are watching, of course, but I don't take it as a given that you have all seen it. Many viewers no doubt like to savor their "Comedy Shop" episodes, perhaps saving them for the end of the week.

'The Comedy Shop" is maybe the cheesiest oddball addition to the new-look RTV. It's an odd blend of standup, kitsch, and pop culture time capsule, and I'm hooked.

You get a beautiful Super Seventies set and theme song, and one of comedian Norm Crosby's "best friends" opens the show. Then Norm does a few jokes, and the rest of the half hour is comedians coming out and doing something like 3-minute sets. Reaction shots show the crowd in stitches even when (maybe especially when) whatever is on stage isn't all that uproarious.

This tells you all you need to know about the series: RTV has aired a total of maybe 8 episodes. The Unknown Comic has already been in two of them.

My favorite part of the show comes near the end when it's time to introduce the special surprise guest. "The Comedy Shop" even steals the "enter through a door" part of this gimmick from "The Dean Martin Show" despite not having a semblance of any set other than the comedy stage, so you get a phony door just so the Big Stars can make their grand entrance and introduce the final comedian.

Now, say what you will about Norm Crosby and his malapropism, but the guy sells the hell out of every aspect of the show. Every cut to him in the wings shows him laughing enthusiastically or giving a thumbs up to whoever is out there. But he really shines when the surprise guest arrives. Then Norm is a reliable hysterical presence on camera, "breaking up" at the banter from the mystery big shot.

The best moment of Crosby's exuberance is that moment when he opens the door and shouts out the name of the celebrity. "Jim Nabors!" "Hey, Ed McMahon!" Each guest gets a wild reaction. When Joey Bishop walked through the door, Norm acted like John F Kennedy had come back from the dead and joined him on the stage.

This is why Norm let me down last week, though: An icon of that era strode through the doorway, a man who deserved a colossal Crosby reaction, a sure Cultureshark Hall of Famer when I establish it (I'm eying a prime piece of real estate for it, but, you know, this damned economy), and Norm was uncharacteristically low-key.

How could Norm Crosby not sell the spectacular entrance of another Norm, for crying out loud? That's right, the man who got the unwarranted tepid response was the great Norman Fell.

I'll be watching tomorrow night, Norm Crosby of 40 years ago--I'll always be watching "The Comedy Shop"--and if a celebrity of similar stature arrives on the stage, I'll be looking for your standard over-the-top reaction. It's too late for Norman Fell, but it's not too late for another legend to get the kind of acclaim he deserves.

Friday, July 29, 2011

This Month in DVD

Rango: Damned if I don't still keep thinking it's the Geico Gecko. I'll bet they get that a lot. It's worse than the whole Dylan McDermott/Dermot Mulroney thing. Because they're slimy. The lizards, that is.

The Lincoln Lawyer: I'm hearing a lot of good things about this legal thriller. Maybe I'll give it a shot. And before you say it, let me address the obvious question about the title: It comes from the fact that he works out of his Lincoln CAR. It has absolutely nothing to do with Pittsburgh Pirates pitching prospect Brad Lincoln.

Arthur: Those of you who are kind of hiding out a bit till this whole Russell Brand thing blows's almost safe to come back.

Insidious: Young parents fear for the family's well-being upon discovering their child is encountering dark spirits. I had the same feeling when I changed a certain diaper the other day. There had to be something otherworldly going on down there.

Limitless: Can you imagine the possibilities if you had a drug that unlocked the full potential of your brain, kind of of like what Bradley Cooper gets here? Wow. I know for one thing, I'd really plow through those "Route 66" DVDs I've been meaning to watch. I mean THE WHOLE SERIES.

Take Me Home Tonight: Hey, remember the 1980s? What's that? You never had a chance to forget them? Well, maybe you won't be excited by this Topher Grace (Hey, remember Topher Grace?) comedy. Sadly, I don't think it did well enough to warrant the inevitably titled sequel, "I Wanna Go Back."

Source Code: I don't know if I've ever heard a less exciting title for a thriller. I can think of only one phrase less captivating: "Jake Gyllenhaal in Source Code"

Honeymooners Best ofs: MPI issues a few highlight discs from the various incarnations of Lost Episodes. OK, you're milking it, fine, fine. Now that the greatest hits are out of the way, can we go back and do a definitive Lost Episodes collection?
UPDATE: Good buddy and Friend of the Site Ivan from TDOY tipped me off that a Complete Restored Series is on the way, and while it looks expensive as hell, the packaging indicates there could be significant as-yet-unreleased material on the set. I know what I'm putting atop my Xmas list.

(Yeah, I know I could have edited the post instead of putting in the cheesy UPDATE, but, come on, you got to love the drama of the cheesy UPDATE.)

(By the way, you got to love MPI for giving people that bought the best of disc mere days to enjoy it before unleashing the massive double dip.)

Dynasty Season 5: I don't know not the season when Linda Evans and Joan Collins fought in the pond. And that's about all I can contribute to this item.

Mannix Season 5: Mannix rules! After rediscovering it on DVD, I'm convinced this was one of the great crime shows of the era. Now put it on Netflix, CBS, so I don't have to actually buy it.

ER Season 15: 15 Seasons! And at least, like, 5 or 6 of them were really good. OK, each time an "ER" set comes out, I have to marvel at the show's longevity. Back to our list.

Dennis the Menace Season 2: I'm almost more surprised to see a second season of "Dennis"--after all, Warner Brothers seems kind of "pot committed" to cranking out the "ER" discs--but I'm glad Shout is sticking with "Dennis," with the third season already in the works.

Skiddoo: I remember reading Mark Evanier's hilarious posts on this legendary Otto Preminger flop and being deperate to see it, even with Evanier's warnings. I mean, any movie with Groucho and Gleason has to be worth seeing, right? Then I saw the movie on TCM, and I thought, wow, it was much better reading about it in Mark Evanier's hilarious posts. But "Skiddoo" is a film that should be on DVD if only...if only...well, it just should be on DVD, that's all.

Hobo with a Shotgun: How did this Rutger Hauer flick not become a "Snakes on a Plane"-type cult favorite? I'd argue this title is at least as good as, maybe even better a title, and isn't that really what it's all about--cool-sounding titles?

2011 NBA Champions Dallas Mavericks: For knocking off the Lakers AND the Heat in the same postseason, this team really ought to be hailed as national heroes.

Boston Bruins: 2011 Stanley Cup Champions: Uh, yeah, hockey had a playoffs, too.

Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series: The thing that comes to mind when I see this DVD collection is JACK MORRIS, and I think it in my best Jack Buck voice. Try it at home: JACK MORRIS.

(I also think about how the Pirates had a great team in '91 that could well have been in that Series, but they lost in heartbreaking fashion in the NLCS to the Braves, a defeat that's totally overshadowed by the even MORE heartbreaking NLCS loss to the Braves the next year. But why bring everyone down?)

Making of the President: the 1960s: I was thinking of getting this until I read a review in which some jerk gave away the ending to all 3 elections.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

TNT, you know drama, but not the way to my heart

In the words of Ralph Kramden, "Don't steam me, Alice, because I'm already steamed." It's a week or so after the announcement, and I'm still peeved that TNT We Know Drama
canceled "Men of a Certain Age." What, just because people weren't watching it? Well, they SHOULD have been. That ought to count for something. Especially when it's not my money putting it on the air.

I'm just getting worn down in general by so many of my favorite shows getting canned way before their time. I'm still miffed about "Terriers" not catching on. And "Sports Show with Norm MacDonald" is a fresh loss that's still stinging. Let's face it, it's not just about the networks, but it's about the American public, too, which is supporting too much crap while ingoring some of
the good stuff. I could mention those lousier shows by name here, but I won't because I don't want to offend anyone, and besides, I'm going to name them in a paragraph or two, anyway.

But since I'm not gonna go around and harangue the American public, at least not until gas prices come down a lot more, I find it easier to blame the networks that wrong me. I'm starting with you, TNT We Know Drama.

From this day forward, I refuse to watch any of the following shows that air on TNT We Know Drama:

The Closer, Hawthorne, Rizzoli and Isles, Franklin and
Bash, Memphis Beat, Southland,
and reruns of Angel.

Don't let the fact that I don't currently watch any of these programs diminish the impact of the boycott.

(I'm gonna keep watching Falling Skies" because it was on my DVR before "Men of a Certain Age" got the axe. Besides, Mrs. Shark likes it, and it's something we can watch together. But I'm still steamed.)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Lost Treasures of Yore #2: The lost art of an announcer reading the credits

What I'd really like to see is something that used to occur over the end credits of many programs. I know, I know, we hardly SEE end credits anymore, so this is a long shot, but the thing of which I think is so quaint, it would never be implemented today, anyway, so why let anything stop me?

I love watching an old TV show's credits roll when all of a sudden an announcer tells you, "So and so was played by so and so," and then rattles off a few more names. It cracks me up because for one, would it have killed them to put an extra card or two on screen with those names? Also, it just sounds totally old-fashioned for some reason, especially when the verbiage is like that on "Sgt. Bilko": "The part of the doctor was played by so and so, and the part of the general was played by so and so." (Incidentally, we could also use a good character actor like so and so these days).

It conjures up an image of a middle-aged couple sitting in front of the Philco watching their stories, and Mother looks up from her knitting at the end of the show and asks, "I wonder who played the part of the doctor?" And Pa says, "Shh, mother! Maybe he'll tell us in a minute if you can shut your goldurned trap!"

On "Burns and Allen," they do this with simpler language: "Appearing on tonight's show were so and so as so and so..." It sounds less archaic than inserting the phrase "the part," but it still sounds old-school, and old-school in an especially pleasing manner.

Maybe they didn't have the money to spring for the extra credits in those days, or maybe they did everything so quickly and cast things at the last minute so often that they didn't have time. Whatever the reason, I think the announcer reading off the guest stars at the end of the program is a cool relic of old television and one that I'd like to hear again.

In fact, I'd like to hear it in real life. For instance, it would be useful if, when you exited a party at the end of an evening, an unseen announcer declared, "The man with the contacts in marketing was Mitchell Davis. The woman in the green dress was Monica Edleman."

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Brooks on Books: Baseball doubleheader again

I enjoyed two recent baseball books featuring excellent concepts: "The Baseball Codes" by Jason Turbow with Michael Duca is an excellent look at the myriad unwritten rules in the sport, and I recommend it with reservation. Kostya Kennedy's "56: Joe DiMaggio and the Last Magic Number in Sports" is a gripping biography of both Joe D. himself and the Yankee Clipper's legendary 56-game hitting streak in 1941, but I have some concerns with it.

"Codes" covers stuff like when it is considered "appropriate" to charge the mound, when it is acceptable for other players to join in the fracas, and many other points of etiquette and custom not dealing with fighting as well. There is a lot of material about cheating in all its forms and even significant discussion about when it's "OK" to essentially stop trying too hard, or in other words, how small a lead can be before you have to stop doing things like stealing bases.

Turbow and Duca don't pass judgment but pass along what their research tells them. They use numerous examples to illustrate these codes of conduct and supplement them with extensive interviews and lots of quotes, many on the record. Looking at the big picture, two things out: Players themselves, even teammates, often can't even come to a consensus on what the unwritten rules really are; and partly because of that first factor, baseball players frequently come off as petty when they criticize others for perceived slights or offenses against the game.

It's an excellent book with a great flow, one that offers solid structure and clarity while letting the players' voices stand out. This is an excellent read, and maybe it's because I expected little, but it's one of the most entertaining sports volumes I've read lately.

I'm not sure that all the anecdotes in "Codes" are authentic, but at least they come from research and/or interviews, and the authors provide extensive notes on their work and quote people within the text. Kennedy takes a more troubling approach in "56."

On one hand, his ambition is admirable, as he paints vivid portraits of New York in 1941, with rich details and numerous quotes of both everyday citizens and the athletes and prominent figures in the narrative. But when I dug into it, I wondered how he was getting such detail. Clearly he interviewed people like Mario Cuomo and Gay Talese for their reminisces about what DiMaggio and the Streak meant to them and their contemporaries. But Joe D. and teammate and close friend Lefty Gomez (a key figure in the story) are dead, and one wonders where Kennedy gets all their direct quotes and thoughts. Is he drawing from others' reportage, using secondary sources, or recreating conversations based on what he thinks happened? I don't know, because Kennedy doesn't tell us. I kept expecting him to address this at some point, preferably up front but at least in a section in the back, but unless I missed it, there is no explanation in the book. Dayn Perry's Reggie Jackson bio at least featured a message from the author relating his thought process as to why and how he included dialogue he imagined.

So I had doubts in the back of my mind while reading "56." Another area Kennedy's ambition may overwhelm his book is the writing style, which seems to be aiming for something more literary than your standard sports history, but sometimes results in some awkward prose. I should know. The reader who borrowed the book from the library before me included some "helpful" underlinings and notes in the margins to highlight some of it.

OK, so I have issues with the book. But "56" remains a compelling read. The concept is a great one: Take us through that 1941 season, particularly the streak, and along the way tell the often-intimate story of the great ballplayer, mixing in details about life as a baseball fan in the era through the stories of various fans. There are glimpses of the media coverage and the effect of the streak on the rest of the Yanks and the rest of the major leagues. Kennedy also writes about other notable streaks, particularly Pete Rose's 44-gamer in 1978. There is a less-effective section on statistical analysis as it pertains to hitting streaks, but the author wisely sticks it at the end.

If you can put aside quibbles with some passages and the larger concern of sourcing--and I could enough to get into it--"56" is an exciting story. Kennedy judiciously chooses which games and moments to highlight and which one to cover more briefly, but overall he provides a detailed account of the 56 games.

There are interesting moments as the streak builds and DiMaggio approaches previous records. Pressure mounts not just on Joltin' Joe but on his teammates, who face issues like whether to play for the win in a tight game or play to prolong the game or inning so Joe can get another at-bat and chance to extend the streak. There is also pressure on the official scorers and even opposing pitchers and managers--Is it OK to take the bat out of his hands if he's 0 for 3 and walk him (this is the kind of thing covered in "The Baseball Codes")? Is it more honorable to go after him and pitch to him, even if it contradicts accepted strategy?

Kennedy describes these pressures well and creates a narrative that remains suspenseful even though you know from the title of the book, at the very least, what happens. I wish he were a little more upfront about his approach--or better yet, didn't use that approach because the story didn't require it--and maybe a bit more restrained with his writing, but I do like "56."

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse is dead at 27, and the fact that no one is surprised maybe ought to be a message to all of us--not just the obvious "drugs are terrible" message, but perhaps something about the way we deal with celebrity.

I think that not everyone, maybe not a majority, maybe not even anywhere close to a majority, but a certain number of music fans, writers, and industry types enabled her to some extent. Did we take her problems seriously enough? The woman was an obvious train wreck, but did we do enough to help her instead of making winking comments about "going to Rehab" or laughing outright at her? Was continuing to pay for her music or especially paying to see her at a live performance sending a tacit message that her lifestyle was "OK"?

Was it anybody's business? Was it her job to make music and our job to listen to it no matter in what condition she was? Are we gonna take Lindsay Lohan's problems more seriously now?

I don't know. I'm just asking questions, and I don't pretend that it's helpful, either. But I can't help but feel that something could have been done differently when a woman everyone knew was on the road to an early death actually wound up fulfilling that horrible destiny when she was in the public eye the entire time.

This week in Netflix Instant Watching

I'll spare you an extended rant about the announced price increase Netflix is inflicting on us in September. The hike is galling considering the company raised prices at the end of last year, but what really irritates me is the elimination of my current membership option and, worse, the gradual phasing out of DVD and especially lack of new catalog releases. I'm watching as many discs as I can the rest of the summer, as come September, I'll likely be going to streaming only, just as Netflix wants me to, and hoping that the content on that side of it continues to expand.

I understand that Netflix is increasing rates at least partly due to rising costs of programming, both current and anticipated, but I don't like the feeling that I am subsidizing the price of a whole lot of programming I don't care about. You know what that reminds me of? Cable.

Anyway, there were a few notable additions to the Instant Watching selection this week, titles I want to highlight because of what larger things they may tell us.

A pair of interesting selections from Shout Factory arrived a few days ago. The great 1990s UPN (and later Adult Swim staple) cartoon series "Home Movies" is now available for streaming. I am not going to make a huge deal out of this now because I have a vague recollection of the show being available before, perhaps when I wasn't yet paying attention to streaming video. But it's a great show and a nice thing to have around as an option.

Far more interesting at this time is the addition of "Dennis the Menace" season 1, the DVD set of which also came out from Shout Factory, and not too long ago, I'll add. It's always nice to see classic TV on DVD product make its way to Netflix streaming, and the presence of this particular licensed property, assuming it's Shout responsible, may bode well.

We know from a recent news amount that Leave It to Beaver, another high-profile classic TV Shout DVD release, is on its way to Instant Watching, but that's from a deal with Universal. Does the presence of "Dennis the Menace," along with series like "Home Movies" and "Larry Sanders," prefigure more old TV shows?

I'd particularly like to see some of those series that Shout has booted to its direct (i.e. more expensive) Shout Select program. Could we see "Room 222" or "Paper Chase"? Does Shout even have the rights to license them to Netflix? Or how about the as-yet-unreleased seasons of those classic TV series? It's not like Fox is doing anything with them.

Come to think of it, Netflix also has some kind of library deal with Fox, but so far it's yielded mostly recent shows, with "X-Files" one that's on the way. When you really get into this stuff, it's hard to keep it all straight.

Another recent addition to Netflix streaming is a cut-down version of WWE's 3-disc "Best of Monday Nitro." It's a bummer the whole thing isn't up there, but WWE has been providing the documentary portions of its video releases, not the whole match content, so it's not surprising that the Netflix version is shorter. But I find this notable because the DVD just came out. It's cool that the WWE product is hitting Netflix fairly quickly...but of course, it's not so cool that it's abridged, and it's really not cool that Netflix is not bothering to stock the actual discs of these releases.

With the DVD acquisitions so far down, it's really important that Netflix put its money where its mouth is, or more accurately put its money where OUR money is, and continue to add exciting and useful new streaming content. I realize the WWE videos may appeal to a limited audience, but that's like icing on the cake to me. What I really want to see is the expansion of the classic TV selection, and hopefully the first season of "Dennis the Menace" is not an exception but an example of many more to come via Shout Factory or other outlets.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Vault of Coolness: I'll trade you two Poison cards for one of these

I don't remember much about this old Pro Set series of music cards, but I know I need to find more of my old ones after digging up this one:

And here's a look at the back:

I don't know what it says about me that while I don't even like Ratt, I was as excited to find this card in a box of old cards as I was to rediscover my George Brett and Robin Yount rookie cards.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

True Confessions: I went the whole movie mixing them up...

I was watching the 1999 thriller "Best Laid Plans," an early Reese Witherspoon joint, the other day and thinking, "Wow, that Craig Sheffer sure does play a smarmy SOB to perfection." I couldn't get over how the guy so convincingly played an a-hole all the time. "When it needs to cast someone as a smug jerk, Hollywood makes sure it has Craig Sheffer's agent in the Rolodex," I said.

Only one problem with my musings: It wasn't Craig Sheffer.

The whole movie, I was thinking the prick I was watching on screen was played by Craig Sheffer, when in fact it was Josh Brolin. I didn't realize this until the credits rolled.

OK, so it wasn't Craig Sheffer...that time. At least that's what the credits told me. Can we be sure it WAS Josh Brolin in that movie? Hey, Hollywood is full of trickery and hocus pocus and CGI. Despite pretty solid evidence--you know, the credits--I'm still not 100% convinced it was Josh Brolin I saw in "Best Laid Plans."

But if that was him, damn, Josh Brolin does a good Craig Sheffer.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Wonderful World of TCM: Drive-in double feature with Bobby Osbo

Perhaps the greatest pleasure to be had from June's drive-in film festival on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind was witnessing the esteemed (soon to be going on a brief sabbatical; boy, will we miss him) host Bobby Osbo discuss these B-movies.

Before the screening of 1957's "The Giant Claw" Osborne couldn't conceal his "Yep, this movie's crap," grin during his remarks, and really why should he? He pretty much said that the movie was best known for its goofy monster and that sometimes people might wonder about the appeal of this kind of flick...or something like that. Really, I wouldn't have taken offense had he just called it a piece of garbage. I watched the thing, and while it had its moments, those moments consisted of me laughing at the monster like everyone else.

A much better effort was "The Tarantula" (1955), which, though it had a pretty slow build (as many of those old monster movies seem to, come to think) featured some decent acting and story. However, I thought the picture was a tad on the dark side. I don't mean the movie was dark like, say, "Seven," but rather the print looked a bit darker than maybe it should have. It resembled what you'd get back in the day when you tried to dub a VHS that was Macrovision-protected, not that I ever did so.

My mind ran wild with the scenario of Turner Classic actually dubbing a DVD and somehow putting the result on the air; better still, Bobby Osbo explaining it to the viewers:

"Unfortunately, Universal wouldn't play ball with us and provide decent source material for a fair license fee, so we took matters into our own hands and burned a copy of their recent commercial DVD. The result is what you're about to see. If anyone at Universal has a problem with this, they're encouraged to e-mail our complaints department at Here, then, from 1955, directed by Jack Arnold..."

If only! I DID think the movie looked a little murky, though...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Brooks on Books: "All My Best Friends" (1989) by George Burns

I'm on a George Burns kick these days, what with Antenna TV running two episodes of "Burns and Allen" each day. I've also been checking out the guy on various DVDs, and I even read this book a few weeks ago. It's not a straight memoir, and nor doesn't he talk a lot about his long personal and professional relationship with Gracie Allen (he covered that in another book), but rather a sort of personal journey through the entertainment business. Burns' informal history of showbiz centers on his own experiences and those of his friends, plus the many stories he heard, collected, or just made up over the years. It's a funny, often insightful book.

I have to mention the "collaborator" of this volume, though, co-author David Fisher. Burns himself jokes about how impressive his own literary output is considering his lack of education, but he doesn't really mention Fisher till the acknowledgements. The book is written as a long, informal chat from Burns to the reader, complete with references to what the reader must be thinking or mock reactions to laughs or lack thereof. But Fisher must have had a strong part in the book. After all, as I read "All My Best Friends" and took in the frequent self-referential jokes, the running gags, and the casual style, I thought of Ed McMahon's "When Television Was Young," another entertaining informal showbiz history, one I wrote about, a book co-written by...David Fisher!

Yeah, there's a lot of shtick in "All My Best Friends," but it's good stuff. You read about vaudeville, radio, television, and a little about movies, plus the lifestyles of comedians of the era. For example, Burns devotes sections to money, death, love, and other topics, and he weaves those into an account of his own career and the various media in which he starred.

Though it's a memoir, the title is apt because Burns spends most pages talking about his friends and maybe a few enemies. Reading this book in 2011 gives you more exposure to Al Jolson, Eddie Cantor, and Georgie Jessel than you'd expect to get...well, just about anywhere in 2011. Even in 1989, that must have seemed quaint, but I welcomed the opportunity to read about those lesser-known giants of bygone days.

Of course Burns' dear friend Jack Benny comes up early and often, and the affection is evident. Other luminaries who are talked about frequently include Groucho Marx, Jimmy Durante, Ed Wynn, and even the likes of Fannie Brice and Sophie Tucker. The book is driven by the many anecdotes, and if Burns slyly admits that many of them may not be true, he still creates a vivid picture of show business and its top personalities.

The book isn't a gossipfest, but Burns is pretty candid. One guy he clearly dislikes is Frank Fay, an unpleasant man who, Burns reminds us, smacked around Barbara Stanwyck among other disreputable deeds. He has fond memories of Groucho, but he describes the difficulty of dealing with his prickly personality (and he also has a great running joke about a line Groucho used on him over and over, almost to the point of driving Burns crazy). Other themes like Jolson's ego and Jessel's womanizing are general enough to come off as relatively harmless, especially so many years after the fact.

I loved "All My Best Friends," but some readers might be annoyed by the constant jokes and the gimmicks like pretending within the text to do impersonations. If a reader is annoyed by classic showbiz shtick, then that reader shouldn't read a showbiz book by George Burns! I think Burns fans and lovers of the industry will get a big kick out of this one, and the personal detail and anecdotes ensure that even the most hardcore pop culture historian should learn a few things.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Pro wrestling: The intersection of absurdity and tragedy

The world of professional wrestling is often as sleazy and ridiculous as just about any realm of entertainment around, but this story, which I saw at the excellent Cageside Seats, is remarkable. The author of the post is wise enough to pretty much let the story speak for itself, and I will do the same by linking to this article about a debacle of a recent "tribute show" for "Macho Man" Randy Savage. The account of the memorial offers a combination of "sad" and "funny" in a combination more potent than anything since they heyday of "Punky Brewster."

Allow me to just highlight my "favorite" part of the story, a report on the bungling of the customary 10-bell salute given at ringside for dead wrestlers:

There was no sound system, no bell to ring. In honor of the Macho Man, Puglia held marginally observed moments of silence, repeating "ding" into the microphone.

I'm ashamed for laughing at this--well, not for laughing at this, but for laughing so much at this--but I'm unable to shake the vivid image of a grown man attempting to simulate a timekeeper's bell into a house microphone, and not doing it Michael Winslow style, mind you, but just hoping the onomatopoeia itself will suffice to form a "solemn tribute" to the deceased.

Is there video of this? Only the affection the crowd must have had for the late Macho Man could have prevented the building from erupting into convulsive collective laughter. And while convulsive collective laughter might have its place at a memorial show in certain circumstances, I don't think it's the intended result in this one.

It's easy to sit back and chuckle at the pathetic nature of the event, but the whole thing becomes more sinister when you read that the organizer misused the names of several charities in promoting the event. This raises the incident from a laughable example of small-time pro wrestling incompetence to the reprehensible.

But I still laugh at the thought of that guy saying "Ding" over and over again.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Vault of Coolness: Aging knuckleballer Phil Neikro

I get a kick out of this 1973 Phil Neikro Topps baseball card because he looks old here, even though he's likely only 33 at the time of the photo shoot. Was he ever NOT an "aging knuckleballer"?

He looks older than he does on his 1974 and 1975 cards--I know because I just found those in the same place I found this one; why the heck did I stash away so many Phil Niekro cards?--and in fact he looks kind of grumpy, too.

Come to think of it, while I don't wish to cast aspersions on the Hall of Famer, he looks kind of, dare I say, hung over? Maybe that's why he looks old and a little perturbed. If that's the!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to: What's really important

The July 11 issue of "People" Magazine is a solid return to form for the publication because it gets back to its business of delivering information about what really, really MATTERS to its readers. "People" readers, which is really all of us by proxy, it's just that some of us have wives who read it do we don't have to, don't care about high-profile trials or the royals. Well, they care about these things, but it's not the true priority at the top of the list. They don't even care most about Brad and Angelina, except as how it relates to the one thing that really matters to everyone.

Yes, if you read "People" and even the other celebrity rags out there, you KNOW what the most important thing in life is, the single topic most vital to the collective readership, and that is the constant effort to answer the following question:
Is Jennifer Aniston happy?

And of course, those of us who follow these periodicals know that the only way we can even entertain the possibility that Jen is happy is if she is in a satisfying relationship with a hot guy.

Well, the July 11 issue tells us that Jen is crazy for her latest man, Justin Theroux, and the two of them are doing just fine together. In fact, a photo that takes up nearly two whole pages, 55 and 56, shows the delighted couple enjoying life together.

Maybe this'll be the one, we think. Maybe it'll stick. Maybe Jen has finally found a man and can therefore--finally--be happy.

But if Justin isn't the one, we can rest assured "People" will update us on the newest round in poor Jennifer Aniston's never-ending quest to find fulfillment in the form of an attractive male celebrity companion.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Norm McDonald rules the world

I don't care how low-rated it was or how many people just don't "get" Norm MacDonald, but Comedy Central's recent cancellation of "Sports Show with Norm MacDonald" is a horrible move. I have definitive empirical evidence to support my assertion, too: I love the show.

Hey, as far as I'm concerned, that's enough reason to keep it around. I suppose I can kind of understand why Comedy Central would feel otherwise. I guess I can even comprehend why others don't find the show as funny as I do. It's very minimalist, stripped-down comedy a la Norm's "Weekend Update" segments, with everything done pretty much how you would expect Norm MacDonald to do it. The sports angle was just a nice novelty; "Politics Show" would surely have been funny, but it was cool seeing the Norm style used in an area where we more often get people who think they are funny but shouldn't try to do comedy as opposed to people who are actually funny doing legitimate comedy.

I've had a little mini-self-MacDonald renaissance this year, with "Sports Show" (I'm gonna continue to talk about in present tense because it makes me feel better) ruling the cable world, the recent standup special that also aired on Comedy Central scoring big time (how comforting that someone in the crowd can yell out "O.J.!" and Norm just happens to have some new O.J. material), and my finally seeing "Dirty Work," his underappreciated 1998 flick.

I caught it on pay cable, which is a great place to experience it. Sit back, keep expectations low, and just hope for enough entertainment to add a notch to the "Yeah, it's worth it" column of your "Should I keep these premium channels?" chart.

It's easy to dismiss "Dirty Work." It bombed in its original run, it's barely--barely--an hour and 20 minutes long, and it's directed by Bob Saget. But the premise is a good one--loser discovers he's good at getting revenge on people and starts a business to do the same for others--and the bottom line is it's FUNNY.

I could quote lines or cite specific situations, but it's just a solid comedy, and the half-assed nature of the film actually works for it. The main thing you need to know is that throughout the film, Norm MacDonald sort of tries to act, but he also READS ALL HIS LINES LIKE NORM MacDONALD. And that's funny.

So, yeah, I'm disappointed that "Sports Show" may be no more (keep hope alive--couldn't Versus give it a shot?) but maybe I'll scan the listings for "Dirty Work" again. It's not a classic, but it's the kind of thing I could watch more than once. Norm MacDonald still rules the world.