Saturday, April 23, 2011

This week and last week in DVD

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1: I'm still two movies behind on this franchise, but I feel better about that when I think that I'm still ALL books behind. If I start reading them now, maybe I can catch up by the time the movie comes out. Or I could take them TO the last movie, which I'm sure will be long enough for me to plow through a few thousand pages/

Country Strong: Gwyneth Paltrow, not content to be a mere actress/lifestyle expert/pop singer, adds COUNTRY CHANTEUSE to her resume. Is there anything Gwynnie can't do...other than win an invite to a Mayberry marathon at Rancho Yesteryear?

The King's Speech: You know, I JUST realized that the title is a pun in that ol' Kingy has to give a speech, but the movie is also about his speech impediment. I'd like to think part of me realized that all along on some level, but still, bear that in mind as you read my opinions on these movies.

The Way Back: Colin Farrell, Ed Harris and friends escape a gulag and walk a long, long way to freedom. OK, so let me see. It's called "The Way Back"'s a backbreaking task to walk thousands of miles? Or because they are...going back? Uh, what about "Way?" Let me see, the trip "weighs" heavily on them? OK, I'm stumped. I just can't figure out the pun in this title.

Gulliver's Travels: Jack Black is a guy who goes to a land of little people and towers over the population as a giant. Kind of like the opposite of his career path lately.

Rabbit Hole: Ncioe Kidman and Aaron Eckhart grieve over the loss of their young son in what sounds like the most depressing release of 2010...except maybe "MacGruber." Seriously, that got made?

Car 54 Where Are You Season 1: I talked about the sillier aspects of this release last week, but for now let me praise the show itself, an underrated classic that merits a spot in any classic TV lover's library.

Definitive Tracy/Hepburn Collection: A lot of the same stuff you've already seen, plus a few new-to-DVD to rook you into buying the whole big set. This is typical, Warner Brothers! Talk about the definitive GREED of a company! I mean, making fans buy--

What? You can buy "Keeper of the Flame" and "Sea of Grass" separately? You DON'T have to buy the whole set and endure multiple double-dips to get them?

Never mind.

Bob Hope Collection II: Shout Factory delivers another set of Hope's films, and these ones are clearly in the "less-beloved" part of the ledger, but that's no excuse for Shout to issue cropped versions of widescreen films, as an Amazon review indicates. I don't want to get ahead of myself like on that Hepburn and Tracy thing, but considering Volume ONE had issues, too, I am inclined to trust this review.

Jews and Baseball: What a great title. Add "egg creams" and t would be, like, Larry King's dream documentary. Seriously, though, I saw this on PBS a few weeks ago, and, uh, it lived up to its title. It's a cool flick.

Ernie Kovacs Collection: Big box set of TV pioneer Kovacs' work from the Golden Age of Television (or thereabouts). When I say it's too rich for my blood right now, it doesn't mean that this fantastic-looking set isn't worth the hefty price tag. It just means I have a family and a mortgage. But, yeah, it is pretty expensive--50 bucks at Amazon, 55 plus shipping direct from Shout if you want an exclusive bonus disc.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My wife reads "People" so you don't have to: Sweet Valley update

"People" spotlights "Sweet Valley Confidential" as its "Buzz Book" in the book section of its April 18 issue, and if you think I'm going to mock that selection, well, you're wrong. I mean, give "People" credit for even having a book section, and besides, a lot of its readers may well be interested in what the "Sweet Valley High" twins are up to in this "series reboot" from author Francine Pascal.

(Before you ask, I have no vested interest in the franchise. I had a passing familiarity with the series through my little sisters...and of course the haunting theme song to the TV series).

What amuses me is the way the mag summarizes how the characters have changed, in a paragraph titled..."How They've Changed":

They're on Facebook and listen to Beyonce.

Is this all it takes to denote "modern women" these days? Perhaps this is just "People's" shorthand speaking and not an accurate reflection of how Pascal has updated her characters, but I don't know, that sounds a little shallow and generic. I just had to laugh at the thought of an author hunched over her keyboard, straining to connect with today's 27-year-old and reconcile who her famous twins should be with her readers' conceptions of who they were. "I got it! They listen to Beyonce! And they'll use Facebook a lot!"

Then, in the paragraph titled "Should You Read It," "People's" Clarissa Cruz writes:

"Sweet Valley Confidential" is poorly written and out of touch...and the characters have gotten even more oblivious and superficial with age. But if you once devoured "Sweet Valley" books like bonbons, it's a confection you won't be able to resist."

Hmm. Sounds an awful lot to me like, "If you're still lightweight enough to have read the lightweight stuff you read as a teen, you'll eat this up. " Maybe "People" isn't as benevolent to its audience as I thought.

Oh, and elsewhere in this issue, we learn Sacha Baron Cohen and Isla Fisher attended Reese Witherspoon's wedding. Why? I don't know. "People" can't answer everything for you, you know. Sometimes you gotta do a little research yourself.

Monday, April 18, 2011

The shocking final season of "Hazel"

Well, it's shocking to ME to see good ol' domestic engineer extraordinaire Hazel serving someone other than the Baxters. Oh, they call themselves "the Baxters," this 3-piece family Hazel and Harold move in with for the series' fifth and final season, but they are a weak substitute for the real deal, George, AKA Mr. B; and Dorothy, AKA Missy.

As Antenna TV winds up its first complete cycle of the series, I think it's fair to say that fifth season ain't getting any better. I've seen a good batch of these episodes, and while I enjoy them because it's still Hazel and because I've never seen them before, it just isn't the same. I find myself watching Mr. B's brother Steve, his wife Barbara, and their non-entity daughter Susie, and demanding the return of MY Baxters.

Susie is not the problem, as she means very little one way or the other, though in one episode I saw, she was terrorizing the family cat, wrecking Hazel's meals, and generally showing signs of a budding young sociopath. As for the women of the show, well, Lynn Borden as Barbara is gorgeous; Whitney Blake as Dorothy is...Meredith Baxter's mom. Fact is, the show never gave Dorothy much that was interesting to do, so she isn't conspicuous by her absence.

The REAL loss of season 5 is, of course, Mr. B. Nobody does "taken aback" like Don DeFore, and his quiet exasperation at Hazel's antics led to a handful of great sitcom actor "takes" in every single episode. As Steve Baxter, Ray Fulmer has a pleasant enough Dick-Sargentesque presence, but compared to DeFore he is--forgive me--a scrub.

One of the worst things about the "transition" from season 4 to season 5 is that the Baxters (the real ones, that is) leave off camera, and it's left to Hazel to tell the audience, via a convo with her busybody friend Rosie, what happened to force this jarring change. It's kind of funny, actually, because one by one, the two Sunshine Girl cohorts cover just about all the questions the audience has about what's going on. I know because my wife sat down with me to watch this one, and when I told her what was going to happen, she started peppering me with queries. I'm not saying Hazel answers them in a satisfying way, but she does answer them.

George and Dorothy, we learn, went to the Middle East for business. As far as Hazel knows (or is willing to tell Rosie), Mr. B is doing big-shot corporate lawyer stuff, blah blah blah. Personally, I believe he is conducting covert ops for a quasi-governmental "security" organization, which explains why he leaves the States so quickly and ditches his son. Ostensibly, Harold stays behind to "finish his schooling," and I realize American-style schooling may not have been as sophisticated in the 1960s as it is today, but still...COME ON! Harold's not in some kind of fast-track advanced college prep system, and he's not exactly Albert Einstein, besides, so one wonders why the Baxters are so eager to strand him in the USA. Perhaps after years of sharing living quarters with an inquisitive boy and an intrusive maid, George and Dorothy just want a little "us" time. Mr. B, you DOG, you!

For her part, Hazel stays behind because she can't bear to leave little Harold...or the Baxters threatened to auction her to a decrepit emir's harem if she tagged along, take your pick. Now, after hours of research at the Paley Center and the Library of Congress (not really, but that sounds better than "I looked at an online message board), I have discovered that behind the scenes, the Baxters were basically canned for financial reasons, and Shirley Booth soldiered on for this one last year before ending the show due to her own declining health. Even in season 5, we see an attempt to shift attention to some other characters, and we see less of Hazel's superhuman feats of skill, like kicking a football or bashing a gangster over the head with a frying pan.

This all makes more sense than the notion that someone thought it was a good idea creatively to replace DeFore and Blake, or that Booth pulled a power play and replaced them with some nonthreatening, less interesting players. Looks like it was just one of those stupid decisions. CBS did get one more season out of "Hazel," and because of Booth's health, any more would have been unlikely, anyway. That fifth season is easily the weakest, but it's worth a look just for the novelty value.

The unrecognizable Ann Jillian (only recognizable because I saw her in the cast listing) has a regular role, too, as realtor Steve's secretary. George's annoying sister shows up again as a foil for Hazel, too, which points out one of the show's problems at this point: The chemistry between Hazel and Steve just isn't there, which is of course in stark contrast to the Hazel/George relationship which drives previous seasons. There is a half-hearted attempt early on to position Steve Baxter as someone who will go toe to toe with Hazel, or at least try to, but predictably he fails, and Hazel soon becomes "one of the family." This was true with Mr. B, too, and no one ever really thought the two were truly at each other's throats, but at least they went through the motions and enjoyed playing the game. Steve isn't even in the same league.

So without DeFore, without even the way-overexposed Mr. Griffin, season 5 strains to provide that ol' Hazel magic. It's probably best that it's the last season. I would like to see a sixth season in which Mr. B dramatically returns and announces the family must go underground to avoid a congressional subpoena, but that will have to remain a figment of my imagination.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Brooks on Books: "The Bad Guys Won" by Jeff Pearlman

The Bad Guys Won by Jeff Pearlman: Pearlman tells the story of the world champion 1986 new York Mets, and he tells it with gusto. The Mets were a hard-drinking, hard-partying, even hard-drugging team that spent the whole season backing up its swagger. In other words, yeah, the bad guys won, thanks in part (but by no means BECAUSE of--don't forget the wild pitch, folks, and besides, it was game 6, not game 7) Bill Buckner's infamous mishandling of Mookie Wilson's grounder to first.

There is soooo much more to that '86 season than even that notable World Series, though, like the classic NLCS showdown with the Astros, who featured dominant scuffballer Mike Scott and were really in the Mets' heads. Speaking of Houston, there was a scuffle several players had with cops at an area bar during the season. There was the idiocy of the "Let's Go, Mets Go" video. There were brawls, pranks, home runs, strikeouts, and all kinds of action on and off the field. Pearlman focuses on the off the field stuff, and he produces a wild, often hilarious book.

One thing must be said about the author: He's a complete wise ass, and I don't mean that in a negative way. The whole book is written in a tone that isn't exactly confrontational, but which certainly makes no excuses for this team of characters. Pearlman's prose is biting, and his comments sharp, but he backs up his tone with the incredible stories he offers. If you're expecting a scholarly, detached tome summarizing the '86 Mets, look elsewhere; if you relish the idea of a guy clearly having fun while recounting the wild times of a chaotic club, here you go.

I was a Mets fan back then. In my defense, I grew up on steady helpings of Yankees and Mets games on TV in addition to my beloved Pirates, so I pretty much rooted for the teams I saw all the time (Thank goodness we didn't get TBS in my area until later). Plus this team was exciting, colorful, and fun to watch. Pearlman's account does the '86 Mets justice. He doesn't try to reinvent the slider or anything. His narrative is a fairly straightforward chronological telling of the season, with appropriate sidebars when necessary to fill in some info. Fans will love this book, and by now it's hardly news that the team had some miscreants, so they needn't worry about having their innocence shattered. Non-Mets fans should enjoy laughing with Pearlman unless they hate the team so much they can't stand to even read such a cynical book about them.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

UPDATES on previous posts

To get maximum enjoyment out of this post, each time you see the word "UPDATE," please read it out loud the way Dennis Farina barked "UPDATE" for the added material he recorded to tack onto older segments during his "Unsolved Mysteries" reboot.

UPDATE Antenna TV will indeed bring out those older shows: A lot of us classic TV lovers, jaded by the shabby treatment given us by TV Land, felt queasy when Antenna launched without some of the true rarities that had been promised as part of the initial lineup. Well, the ever-informative Pavan of the indispensable Sitcoms Online news blog reported last week that "Burns and Allen," "Circus Boy," "The Iron Horse," and "Rin Tin Tin" really are coming at the end of May, along with more recent/less rare additions "Soap" and "Mad About You."

Pavan reported this on the site's message boards with maybe a wee bit of unseemly self-satisfaction, especially considering us skeptics weren't doubting HIS integrity so much as Antenna's genuine commitment to showing the rare and vintage. I don't think it's an unreasonable approach to say "we'll wait and see" with regards to this programming service, especially given that it is showing edited episodes of everything. Still, thanks to Sitcoms Online for setting the record straight, and thanks to Antenna for freshening its lineup without dumping anything of consequence ("The Nanny" will not be missed in my household). There are a lot of changes, though, and "Hazel" is getting booted to the wee hours, but, hey, change isn't always a bad thing, and "Hazel" is on the verge of completing a full run in the next few days or so.

The only disappointing aspect of this news is that we still have to wait for "Farmer's Daughter" and "Ford Theatre," two other shows postponed from that January launch--the two I may have been most excited to see. Antenna assures us they are coming as soon as they get usable tapes from Sony, and I will say this news certainly gives me confidence that they mean it. We'll just have to wait.

UPDATE RTV's Facebook page is back up: Well, not exactly "back up," as the old one was nuked and replaced with a new one. A few weeks back, I speculated that the demise of the network's Facebook outpost was due to company incompetence, but RTV reports it was a Facebook screw-up. Hmm, very strange. But I owe RTV an apology, and I welcome them back to social media.

Unfortunately, I'm not linking to the new Facebook page because...I can't find the damn thing! It may well still be there, but I spent 5 minutes hunting for it without success, and since that's about 4 minutes 57 seconds longer than it should take to locate a page for a major media company, I'm wondering if there are some kind of shenanigans occurring again. But I DID see it last week. Honest, I did.

***UPDATE to the UPDATE: A kind soul provided the link in the comments below, and kinder yet, did not add, "How could you have not found this, you idjit?" So thanks to that individual, and in case someone sees this post but not that comment, click here to get to the new, still somewhat undertrafficked RTV Facebook page.

Oh, and my local RTV affiliate carried the same schedule over to the second quarter, meaning no "Kojak." I don't hear any word about RTV freshening up its offerings, either.

UPDATE Not exactly an update to a previous post, but an update to a post I didn't actually produce: Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear wrote an entertaining review of "Sing and Like It," a fun little picture recently screened on TCM. I had thought about writing something about the movie myself, but Ivan did it first and surely better, and you should go read it if you haven't yet done so.

All I'll add is that any film with Nat Pendelton, Ned Sparks, John Qualen, and Edward Everett Horton is a must-see in my book, and that while I don't want to condone the roughing around of Pert Kelton performed by Pendelton's character, Pert IS tougher than the Saturday "Times" crossword in this movie and is even more menacing than he is.

UPDATE Budget DVD Theater to return to Cultureshark after all?: I'm almost too embarrassed to bring this up (and notice I'm burying it at the bottom of a lengthy post), but, uh, remember around the holidays--sadly, I don't mean St. Patrick's Day, either--when I touted the return of the occasional Budget DVD Theater feature with a fresh look at one of the worst things I had ever seen?

Well, it's been a while, yes, and I've been busy, but I DID see the material in question. Odd thing was, it wasn't nearly as bad as I remembered. Oh, it wasn't great, but I found myself kind of understanding what it was going for and appreciating it on some level. So this kind of killed my enthusiasm for writing about it because, hey, if you can't go on your blog and make bitchy comments about something, what's the use, right?

But I do feel the need to revisit it at some point, and now that the second little shark in the family is getting older and life is getting a bit more routine at Cultureshark Tower, I do intend to bring back the feature. Uh, no promises as to when, though.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Car 54, Which Episode Are You?

I'm not sure why this story on TV Shows on DVD amuses me so much. I think it's just a general sense that it seems so...unprofessional for a company to do business like this.

I'm happy that Shanachie Entertainment is giving us Nat Hiken's great "Car 54, Where Are You?" on DVD, with apparently uncut episodes, and I hope to upgrade my *ahem* set, but there is at least one odd thing about this week's season 1 release. The episodes are arranged in neither production order, nor airdate order, but, according to this news item, in order of "popularity," this after supposed consultation with "historians and buffs" yielded the opinion that that would be the "most attractive presentation."

First of all, in order of popularity? This isn't choosing sides in junior high dodgeball, it's producing a DVD set of a television program. Once someone owns the discs, they can program them in any order they wish, so why predetermine it for them? Just put them on in some coherent arrangement, like, you know, 99% of other complete TV season sets.

Besides, this is an old show that hasn't been in heavy circulation lately, and how many people are able to rank the episodes, anyway? So not only is the idea itself silly, but the execution is surely suspect.

I'm curious to know who the historians and buffs are who told Shanachie, "Ooh! Ooh! Let's put them in order of popularity!" One would think most of those individuals would want some kind of semblance of historical accuracy in the presentation of the shows.

Even if it is a more "attractive" presentation this way, what exactly is the harm in presenting the episodes in chronological order? Like someone who makes the effort to find and purchase this set is going to open it up, put in the first disc, and go, "Hey, these aren't the best episodes! I'm taking this thing back." And it's not like the earliest episodes stink or anything. They're really funny!

I'm glad this company produced this set, and I hope season 2 makes it out as promised, but this decision, while admittedly not the biggest deal in the world, all things considered, is baffling.

My apologies to high-class escorts everywhere

I just deleted a "comment" from my most recent "In theaters this weekend post," and, no, it wasn't a diatribe from someone angered by my dismissal of the "Arthur" remake. It was a bit of spam promoting some "high-class escort service" apparently based in London. You see, the escorts are the best in London, according to the message.

I repeat, according to the message. As Jim Ross frequently said to Jerry Lawler when Jer was drooling over some scantily clad diva during the WWF Attitude era, "I'm a happily married man, King!"

I apologize to any readers who may have benefited from that information, but I just had a funny feeling that maybe that comment wasn't on the up and up.

I apologize to myself for the fleeting but not insignificant feeling of pride I experienced noticing that I was spammed by a "high-class" escort service.

You know, using the term "high-class escort" several times in this post, including in the title, may not be the best way to ward off similar spam in the comments, but I believe in being transparent to my loyal readers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

NFL Lockout--ho hum

The NFL rules America, blah, blah, blah. We all know that. The seemingly fireproof league gets more and more popular every year, at least in terms of objective measures like TV ratings and subjective measures like "buzz," time spent talking about football on ESPN, and shouts heard form your neighbor after the Redskins give up yet another interception return for a touchdown.

Now, however, there is a lockout. Ooh, lockout! Basically what this means is that the greedy owners are trying to bust the players union and force them to take a deal less favorable one than the owners and players agreed to during the previous labor negotiations. See, the owners locked out the players, so it's their "fault," but they don't care if fans blame them, and I'm sure they're banking on the fact that many fans will ignore the reality and give a knee-jerk jeer or two to the "greedy players" for striking (which they're not) and asking for money to play a fun game (and the game may be fun, but the injuries aren't). So there is a lockout, and the season, still a ways off, could be in jeopardy. To this, I what?

I'm sure I'll miss pro football a little more once autumn approaches, but for now, I'm fine with baseball. I think the NFL needs to be taken down a peg or two, anyway, and some humility might be good for this vast corporate entity and the several dozen rich dudes who oversee it. I do feel sorry for all the working people who make a living off NFL games--bartenders, ticket takers, vendors, etc.--and it really stinks that their well-being is threatened by this labor negotiation process. I do recognize that is a significant terrible effect of the lockout. But that's all the more reason to blame the league officials and the owners.

The NFL is fun, sure, but even when fall comes around, baseball, the national pastime, carries us through October. I have a college team to root for every Saturday. I have other interests. Life goes on without pro football, and it could even be better for a while. Hey, maybe an extended cessation of games would force NFL Network to unearth more vintage game broadcasts from its archives, thus making that channel instantly more useful. Maybe ESPN Classic can run some more USFL games. Maybe we can all just read a book, watch a movie, or spend more time with our families outside instead of getting drunk and yelling at the TV or the field for 3 1/2 hours.

So, yeah, right now, I'm fine with a lockout, especially if somehow the players can hold some ground and get concessions and not just roll over for the owners. Unless the Steelers could somehow get a quality offensive lineman or two and a defensive end or an impact defensive back. Then they could well win the Super Bowl this time, and by God, they had better get the chance to do it.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cultureshark Remembers/Brooks on Books: Sidney Lumet's "Making Movies"

Since it's Sunday and I often write about books on the blog to end the weekend, I decided to remember the great director Sidney Lumet, who passed away a few days ago, with a few words about his excellent "Making Movies." Incidentally, this book is not only in print, but it's snaggable for about 9 bones at Amazon, and it's well worth that minimal investment.

First let me say I loved the man's work, and while I still have some gaps in my Lumet-watching, I appreciate just about everything I've seen, and reading the book gave me some more appreciation of the ones I either hadn't seen or hadn't appreciated as much. "Making Movies" was released about 15 years ago, well before his final motion picture, "Before the Devil Knows You're Dead." Sidney still had it even then, and while I loved "Devil," I must confess that on some level I may have been awed simply that a guy well into his 80s was making crime movies so potent.

Now, the fact that I enjoyed Lumet's filmed output was no guarantee I would get into his prose; at about the same time I devoured "Making Movies," I read David Mamet's disappointing "Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose, and Practice of the Movie Business." One big difference between the two is that Lumet's book is a thorough look at how a director makes a movie from start to finish, while Mamet's volume is a collection of essays. Another big difference is that Lumet's book is a pleasure to read from cover to cover, wheras Mamet's is often a chore to get through.

Lumet may not have been as no-nonsense and accessible as he comes off in his text, but he sure seems like a guy for whom you'd want to work hard. He describes the routine of a director in vivid detail, from when he gets up and how he gets to the set to working in the editing room. Besides the account of the day-to-day job of shooting a film, he also describes both pre- and post-production phases and what a director's role is. There is a lot of practical info in here for anyone with an interest in the lifestyle, but Lumet's straightforward, entertaining account ensures this is never just a dull occupational primer.

In fact, Lumet uses specific examples and stories from throughout his accomplished career, ocassionally telling a blind item or two but never relying on gossip. All throughout, he is generous with his candor and his insight. Lumet's own shooting style is obviously not for everyone, nor will every aspiring filmmaker replicate his circumstances. Yet there is a lot of general info in here about approaching directing, about organizing a project, about dealing with actors, that should benefit film students of all types--even those of us who just enjoy learning about the process for its own sake.

In "Making Movies," one common thread is Lumet's essential professionalism, and his likability make the book an even more engaging read. If you're a Teamster, though, you might not think the guy is so likable. Lumet doesn't set out to trash vast numbers of industry types, but, boy, does he have some issues with the unions.

So I am not remembering Sidney Lumet today with a conventional account of his films (but let me put in a strong word for "Fail Safe," which doesn't get talked about as much as the others), but by recommending this great book, a work as much about the art form as about the man, but one which, I'd like to think, gives us a solid sense that he was a cool guy. It's a must-read for Lumet fans and probably movie fans, period.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In theaters this weekend

Soul Surfer: The true story of an outstanding young surfer who lost her arm in a shark attack but came back to compete and inspire countless others. I begged off raking leaves the other day because I nicked my thumb with a butter knife, so, no I can't fathom this kind of courage. I mean, for an actress to actually sever her own arm for a Just wow.

Your Highness: This sword-and-sorcery spoof looks like a flop, but what does this cast care? I mean, Natalie Portman has an Oscar and a child on the way, Danny McBride has a thriving movie career and the cult hit status of "Eastbound and Down" to enjoy, and James Franco...uh, well, maybe it won't be such a flop after all.

Arthur: Who the hell was sitting around watching "Arthur" on Encore Drunk Movies or whatever one day and thought, "You know, that's a great romantic comedy, really works in every way...but, man, it's just so dated?"

Hanna: First of all, wasn't Eric Bana gonna be a superstar? Second of all, what strikes me about this thriller about an assassin bred in Finland by her CIA father is that whoever was intimidated by a person named "Hanna"? But I guess that's EXACTLY THE POINT! DUN-DUN-DUNNNNN!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

This Week in DVD

It's a slow DVD week, perhaps an ideal time to catch up on your "Melrose Place" on Netflix Instant Watching.

Little Fockers: When "Meet the Fockers" came out, you could find people who admitted to finding it amusing. I don't think anyone wants to admit to seeing this one, let alone enjoying it. I know you're out there, though. You paid money for this. And you're to blame when Fockers: Cats vs. Dogs comes out in 2013.

Tron: Legacy: I love how even the cheesiest of movies can make themselves seem classier by adding "Legacy" to the title. Maybe we'll see "Highlander: Legacy" someday (Actually, maybe we already have and I missed it).

The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The series chugs along, and it must be making money for someone, but does anyone really love these movies? I myself have little to say about this except that "Dawn Treader" sounds like a pretty good adult film star name, and given the type of this movie this is, that would be a tasteless comment, so I won't say it. See how disciplined I am? Did I mention that it's a slow DVD week?

I Love You, Phillip Morris: Who cares about Jim Carrey playing Ewen McGregor's lover? The only thing that interests me about this is the thought of Carrey donning a bellhop costume and shrieking, "Call for Phillip Morrrrrr-riiiiiiiissss!"

Pennsylvania's Greatest Sports Heroes: Despite my knocking more than my share of whiffle balls off the neighbor's garage door, despite reaching paydirt (and grass stains) many times in spirited games of what we called "Goal Line Defense," despite my courageous efforts as both aggressor and victim in countless contests of Smear the, uh, Guy with the Ball....I am NOT one of the subjects of this video. It's like my athletic childhood never was. Clearly the credibility of this video is suspect.

Monday, April 4, 2011

5 biggest d-bags in "The Social Network"

I believe the term "d-bag," or even its non-watered-d0wn full equivalent, is used way too often in today's pop culture. At some point, it became a cool, easy way for characters to describe each other, and it got a little out of hand. But it does so often seem like the perfect epithet. Take David Fincher's "The Social Network"--I can tap-dance around it, but really the movie is about a d-bag who gets rich and becomes even more of a d-bag, right?

In fact, there's just no better way to describe the character, or lack thereof, of many of the principals in this acclaimed film. Oh, I think it's a great achievement. Fincher takes a topic I would be skeptical could make an interesting film, the creation of Facebook, and turns it into a gripping film. I don't know how much Fincher had to do with the editing, but let's not ignore that essential aspect of the movie as we praise the director's effort. The brilliant crosscutting between the two legal situations Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg finds himself in is a huge part of the energetic feel of the story. So much of this movie just plain works, from Trent Reznor's evocative, fresh musical score to Jesse Eisenberg's outstanding performance as Zuck.

But ultimately, it's a movie about a bunch of d-bags. I don't see the greater social resonance and "generation-defining" or "era-defining" quality a lot of other people see in "The Social Network." If that's what this movie really is, well, then I weep for our times.

I think the fact we can enjoy it so much regardless is testament indeed to Fincher's talent as well as his crew, but perhaps even moreso to Eisenberg, who makes a basically unlikable guy (the way he is portrayed in Aaron Sorkin's script, at least) into a watchable center of a feature-length motion picture.

Eisenberg's Zuckerberg somehow pulls us in even while serving as the single biggest d-bag in a movie full of 'em. Here, in fact, is my ranking of the top 5 (NOTE: from this point on, SPOILERS are in effect):

1) Mark Zuckerberg. From the opening scene to the end, the guy keeps doing things to make you want to root against him.
2) Napster co-founder Sean Parker: Well, he's played by Justin Timberlake. I don't think the guy is a great actor, but he sure can play a convincing d-bag.
3) Harvard President Larry Summers: I'm amazed Sorkin and Fincher didn't attend Yale, because they make this guy look like a complete tool. The rowing twins come into the guy's office and tell him Zuckerberg cheated the hell out of him, and he's all like, "Yawn. Bother. Peel me a grape."
4) Either of the two lawyers who deliver the bad news that co-founder Eduardo Saverin is getting forced out of the company: I guess they're not terrible, but we can pretty much assume they belong here.
5) Mark Zuckerberg: Come on! The guy deserves two slots on the list. If you accept the version of reality portrayed by this movie--and there is some ambiguity, but I think there's a strong POV--Facebook was founded by Zuckerberg taking someone else's concept, developing it behind their backs with his best friend, then screwing over them AND his best friend. Plus he's stupid enough to take business advice from Justin Timberlake.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

In theaters this weekend

Source Code: This new thriller stars Jake Gylenhaal--NEXT!

Hop: I hear this one's pretty bad, but really, I'm stunned it's taken so long for Hollywood to produce a major motion picture for kids that is designed to cash in on the Easter movie season--er, to celebrate the secular traditions of Easter.

Cat Run: Let me quote from the synopsis from Yahoo Movies:
the childhood best friends decide to start a detective agency. Unfortunately for them, on their first case they must help protect a sexy, high class escort who holds the key evidence to a scandalous cover up.

Let's hear it for the magical world of the movies, where every "escort" is a sexy, high-class one. Of course, if it were a grittier movie, one not starring Paz Vega, I suppose the character would just be a hooker.

Insidious: I know next to nothing about this horror film starring Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne, but doesn't it have one of the coolest one-word titles ever?

Trust: Clive Owen and Catherine Keener play the parents of a 14-year-old girl who is victimized by an Internet predator. David Schwimmer directs, and the fact that I'm really creeped out by the idea of Schwimmer detailing the themes of this particular movie is probably a good sign he's better off behind the camera for a while yet.

Super: Rainn Wilson puts on a costume and calls himself a superhero, with Ellen Page as a sidekick of sorts. Isn't this sort of like "Kick-Ass," but meant to be funny? But isn't "Kick-Ass" meant to be funny? I'm confused. I could use the relative simplicity of a horror movie about an innocuous inanimate object come to life with evil intentions.

Rubber: A movie about a used tire that comes to life and sets out on a destructive rampage. No, I won't pay for this, but, by cracky, I hope it comes to Netflix streaming someday.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

This Week in DVD

Tangled: My understanding is that after some early marketing concentrating on the traditional Rapunzelesque aspects of the story, Disney changed the ad campaign to concentrate on the make lead and emphasize the action and adventure aspects of the animated feature in an effort to assure boys it was "OK" to see it.

I say, how shallow does Disney think we males are? Even the youngest of us are surely sophisticated enough to recognize a good story when we see it, and not to shy away from a potentially great viewing experience just because a girl is the main character.

Black Swan: Eh, awards or no awards, I don't think I can sit through a movie about two chicks.

All Good Things: Based on a true story of "murder and missing persons" in New York City in the eighties. I'm more concerned with the return of Kirsten Dunst, who is hopefully healthy and happy after apparently taking some time off to deal with some "issues." Her co-star is Ryan Gosling, who is not Ryan Phillippe, and I imagine he's OK with that.

Fair Game: Sorry to keep dragging the Personal Lives of the Stars into this (Hey, remember when Robin Leach hosted "Personal Lives of the Stars"?), but, yeah, this drama based on the Valerie Plame case may be a good one (I'm ashamed to admit that I know a lot more about the Plame case and that CIA mess than I do the Robert Durst case covered in "All Good Things." I barely remember that), but the real story here is, what's the deal with Sean Penn and Scarlett Johansson? It seems fairly well established that Penn is a miscreant--OK, alleged miscreant--so does ScarJo hooking up with him tell us more about him or more about her? Personally, I believe it doesn't tell us much about him--I mean, so he's dating Scarlett; who wouldn't--but it kind of makes you wonder about her. So, yeah, "Fair Game," out on DVD this week.

The Resident: When you see Oscar winner Cuba Gooding in direct-to-video movies, it's not that jarring anymore. But TWO-TIME Oscar winner Hilary Swank? When I read this thriller came from Hammer Films--yes, that Hammer Films--I thought, "Huh. Guess Christopher Lee is in this one, too." Turns out...he is!

Mad Men Season 4: I'm still getting caught up on the show, so no comment from me on season 4. I'm working on it, I'm working on it.

Dennis the Menace Season 1: Knowing it's on twice a day on Antenna TV is enough for me to get my occasional Dennis fix, but I'm glad Shout is getting this out there for the fans. Me, I grew up on Hank Ketcham's comic strip and more significantly, the old Dennis the Menace comic books. Some beat-up old 1960s-era back issues were some of my favorite reads as a kid, and there were also the digests like "Pocketful of Fun." I watched the series after reading those comics, and for me it never captured the mischievous spirit and fun of the print version.

Rocky and Bullwinkle Season 5: And another great series is complete--not perfect, but complete, and at this stage of the DVD industry, that's gonna have to be enough.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A nice baseball story for Opening Day

Baseball season is here, and I'm reading a fine book to kick off the festivities and get me pumped up: "The Bad Guys Won" by Jeff Pearlman, an engrossing wise-ass book about the thoroughly wise-ass 1986 New York Mets. Now I'd like to relate a memorable story from the text, one that to me epitomizes the spirit of the great sport. Remember that Pearlman tells the whole thing in brilliant fashion in his book, so go read it if you want the whole story:

Following the success of the '85 Bears' "Super Bowl Shuffle," George Foster, of all people, spearheaded a move to get some easy cash for the '86 Mets by producing their own ridiculous single. The resulting "Metsmerized" was a big flop, but the team co-opted the idea and wanted to make its own pile of cash. The company it hired had the idea to produce one of those ripoff 30-minute "Making of the Video" videos, and to do that, well, it had to go ahead and make a video.

Only when it was time to shoot the music video, the Mets, led by labor rep Keith Hernandez, informed the director they couldn't do anything since the MLB union hadn't been contacted as per rules for an in-season activity requiring more than 3 players. So they basically held up the production company throughout the entire shoot by threatening to walk, demanding all kinds of stuff as it went on.

But the best part is the initial agreement worked out to get the Mets to begin the shoot: According to Pearlman, each player would get a thousand bucks, a VCR, and (I am NOT making this up) a VHS copy of distributor Vestron Video's "Dick Clark's Best of Bandstand."

That has to be one of the most random pieces of baseball trivia I have ever read, heard, or dreamed. The thought of Jesse Orosco walking off with a VCR, cackling because they stuck it to the man, or Howard Johnson excitedly calling his friends and family over for a "Bandstand" viewing party.

Then there's the music video itself
, notable for the ridiculousness of the song, the cheesy lip-syncing and facial expressions from the athletes, and best of all, the part at the end where the director just goes, "Aw, hell with it," and raises the white flag by just running a parade of shots of celebrities like Joyce Brothers in split screen.

Also look for the great moment at 2:12 when Joe Piscopo, doing his sportscaster shtick, taps the head of bobblehead dolls while uttering 3 dramatic adjectives that describe the Mets. Only problem is, there are 4 dolls, making it an awkward sequence.

Why do I tell this story? I tell it because it reminds us what baseball, nay, what all of professional sport, is really about: spoiled athletes making asses of themselves and embarrassing their franchise in myriad ways