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.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Missing in Action: The Carol Burnett Show

I was listening to an NPR interview with Carol Burnett the other day, and she was promoting some book that may or may not be a new one--for all I know, this segment was an "encore presentation" of a 2005 chat--and it made me wonder: Whither "The Carol Burnett Show?"

Is there a more fondly remembered but less seen TV classic around today? Let me mention here that I am not a big fan of the series, but I remember watching it regularly as a kid, when it was on New York TV stations all the time (NOTE: "all the time" may well be an exaggeration based on my distorted kid sense of time), and I enjoyed it here and there. More importantly, I appreciate its place in TV history and respect the love many have for it.

Licensing and legal difficulties reportedly make a comprehensive DVD release of the series impossible, though some compilations and limited direct market video collections have made it through over the years. So if it can't be on DVD, why can't it be on TV?

It just seems odd to me that as visible as Carol Burnett remains to this day, and as many "classic TV" networks are out there now with the launch of Antenna TV and Me-TV supplementing RTV and (let's all hold out noses) TV Land, this show is MIA.

I believe Me-TV in its Chicago incarnation aired the series a while back, but I think the last time the Burnett show was on nationally was a TV Land stint 10 years ago. Did Burnett (and the other owners of the series) yank the show from syndication to boost sales of direct market DVDs? I don't know, but now that the DVD market is fading, perhaps it's time to get the series back out there.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

On the Road: I sample Me-TV

While on the road last weekend, I sampled the local Me-TV station. I had some strong opinions even before ever watching any Me. I love the concept--classic TV around the clock--but I wish the selection were more varied, and I dislike the editing of episodes that is reportedly becoming more widespread throughout the schedule.

Me-TV draws heavily from the CBS-Paramount and the MTM libraries with some other miscellaneous shows sprinkled in. This gives it a star-heavy, iconic lineup of classic favorites. Unfortunately, many of these evergreens are readily available on DVD and/or longtime fixtures of both cable and broadcast syndication. So the good news is, you get a lot of beloved oldies, but the bad news is if you're old enough, you've seen most of them many times over...or at least had the opportunity.

Yet while I would love to see a lineup more loaded with obscurities, I recognize there is a loyal audience for stuff like "I Love Lucy," not everyone has cable, not everyone buys DVDs, et cetera. But, jeez, do we need any outlet to run MASH multiple times a week nowadays? That said, I own all the "Honeymooners" episodes on DVD and don't need to watch possible cut versions with commercials, but it's nice to know it's on there.

I think the best thing about Me-TV is it provides the kind of comfortable presence TV Land used to give its viewers. You can turn it on anytime without risk of encountering George Segal making sex jokes in some horrible modern-day sitcom. I was hanging out with family quite a bit over the holiday weekend, and it was nice to have a channel we could just leave on as background or put it to if we wanted to wind down in between activities or whatever.

Another aspect of Me-TV that reminds me of the old TV Land is its extensive use of in-house promos, many of them with a light touch. I didn't see anything as funny as the old "Cannon" or "Mannix" spots TV Land used to run, but maybe they'll come later. Me-TV does do a good job of putting itself over as a brand and establishing a sense of virtual community with viewers who are looking for a place to watch the old-school shows they love. Me-TV acts like it cars. Whether it really does or not is up in the air; after all, the hacking of programs is a real concern, and if/when the network takes on more ad dollars, we'll likely see a lot less of those promos.

I didn't see a lot of the channel, but I enjoyed an episode of "The Odd Couple" and a little bit of "My Three Sons" and "Family Affair." I didn't even see any of "Honeymooners" or "Bilko," two of my all-time favorites which lurk on the network schedule, but I still found enough to enjoy. These older shows have a place on TV, and it's good to see they're still around. They're not around in my area, but they're around somewhere.

I like that Me-TV organizes the occasional theme or tribute marathon, and I like that there is an assortment of both sitcoms and dramas. Two similar services don't offer this type of lineup right now. When Antenna isn't running movies, it has a heavy focus on sitcoms, and since its recent revamp, RTV is even more drama-oriented than before. I like a classic TV channel to give me some variety, and while game shows, variety shows, and talk shows would be nice, at least Me provides both sitcoms and dramas.

Do I wish Me-TV would dig deeper into the Paramount vaults for shows like "Our Miss Brooks," "The Defenders," or "Ben Casey?" Well, yes and no. Yes because it would be great to see those shows, even in edited form, no because...I don't get this channel. I'd rather see Netflix dig into those vaults and start streaming stuff that isn't on DVD already. But don't get me wrong, Me-TV is pretty good for what it is, and if I had it at Cultureshark Towers, I'd probably park myself in front of the tube and watch it way more often than I should. I just hope it doesn't just coast on its "We're not TV Land" advantage and slowly become...well, TV Land, the home of butchered, overplayed classics, incomprehensible scheduling, and off-putting new programs to offend the tastes and sensibilities of the whole family.

On the Road: Half-Assed Gourmet is grateful for Chik-Fil-A

I know some people have problems with Chik-Fil-A and its politics and its Christian orientation, but how can you not love its food? Not only that, whatever the corporate ethos is over there, it produces, almost without fail in my experience, well-run, efficient restaurants.

I was on the road last weekend, and, boy, did I appreciate the opportunity to stop at a Chik-Fil-A. See, I believe that this is a franchise that offers consistent quality and a near guarantee for a satisfying fast food experience, unlike a certain other famous franchise which is supposed to offer that consistency (isn't that the point of fast food) but has become more and more spotty in recent years and subject to the individual location. I'd name that other franchise, one which has given me some less than golden experiences lately, but I don't want to get too arch in this post.

The problem is, that other place is everywhere. Chik-Fil-A is not only not everywhere, but it isn't even open Sundays. I remain amazed that in 2011 a major fast food chain leaves as much money on the table as it does by maintaining its "family values" stances and not operating on the seventh day. Good for them. Bad for us if we happen to be traveling on a Sunday.

Here's what this recent visit to a Chik-Fil-A on the road provided that I have not always received when traveling with my family in recent years:

*Decent food, and the actual food that we ordered.
*A clean men's room with a spacious area to change a little one, including a changing table that doesn't threaten to crash to the ground if you open it from the wall and add to it the weight of a baby.
*A clean play area for my older child.
*Friendly and efficient service.

I mean, someone even offered to get us refills while we were sitting at our table, and though we didn't need a second helping of beverage, we took advantage of the offer to get a cup of water we could use to prepare a bottle. Let me tell you, when you are traveling with small children and the various bags and accessories needed to do so, any kind of tableside service that allows you to not get up one time is wonderful.

Needless to say, I walked out of that restaurant happy. The difference between the typical Chik-Fil-A and the typical, well, anything else, is vast enough that I'm tempted to rearrange my future travel schedules to ensure that if we stop for fast food, we have the option to go where we know we're gonna have a stress-free (well, as much as it can be--remember the "traveling with two small children" part) visit.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vault of Coolness: Magnum P.I.

I'm a bit drained from solving the problems of RTV yesterday, so this post is light on words and heavy on visual coolness.

Seeing as how I never watched much "Magnum" as a child, the fact that I own a handful of trading cards from the show is yet another piece of evidence that I would collect just about anything, especially if it were a small piece of cardboard.

Get a load of this dull, unflattering photograph on this one. You mean to tell me someone thought this was one of the best 22 cards possible for the set?

Here's the back of the card. Surely the scintillating text will justify the existence of this card #13 of 22, right?

You know, the artwork on the back is much cooler than the photography on the front. They should have based the whole set on those illustrations.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

So RTV has made a few boo-boos--What SHOULD it do?

So what can RTV do? If I'm so smart and so eager to criticize the new direction, am I also willing to provide some solutions?

Not unless I get paid, straight-up P-A-I-D, baby. I ain't about to reveal my genius ideas for free.
No, who am I kidding? I wouldn't be blogging if I lacked a strong interest in forcing my opinions on others, and this situation is no exception. Here is what I think RTV should do.

1) Take out the trash.
Much of RTV's new lineup, as I wrote last week, is pretty good, but it's difficult for many viewers to appreciate the goodies because of the filler and modern junk that mars the schedule. Just eliminate programs like "Celebrity Kitchen" and "Cold Case Files," shows that are incompatible with the classic TV mission statement, and everyone will be more eager to embrace the new shows and put the pain of losing those Universal mainstays behind them. On a similar note...

2) Don't weaken the mothership to try to improve the "Luken Empire."
RTV's owner Luken Communications also runs something called My Family TV and Tuff TV, it is promising a kids channel called PB&J at some point, and is reportedly screwing around with the idea of an RTV2, which is laughable considering how much it has to stretch to fill an RTV1.

An RTV rep even admitted on Facebook--and I admire the candor--that the company is attempting to take advantage of economies of scale, in a sense, by repurposing shows on RTV. Hence the appearance of the likes of "Cold Squad" or, worse, generic syndicated magazine/lifestyle shows on the weekends on a channel that brags, "We know Retro."

I understand the concept and appreciate the desire to stretch a buck, but RTV is losing affiliates, and watering it down by shoehorning other Luken acquisitions into its universe debilitates the brand and makes it a less appealing product. I wish Luken would protect RTV, so to speak, and make it immune from the repurposing that plagues other entertainment corporations.

3) Think variety in genres of programming and expand the notion of what's RTV programming--as long as it's retro.
I added that caveat so as not to contradict what I wrote in item #2 there. As long as programming is retro, I'm willing to expand the definition of "classic." I would love a 1980 or so cutoff, but I'll accept some eighties stuff. The 1990s and beyond is too recent, though.
I'm thinking about talk shows, game shows, sports shows, anything beyond the standard selection of sitcoms and dramas. GSN had a lot of the game shows locked up, but as it abandons older material, perhaps some of that vault programming can be acquired more cheaply. It doesn't even have to be something like "What's My Line?" or "I've Got a Secret." How about the old 1970s/1980s game show reruns USA and CBN used to fill their daytimes with back in the day, stuff like "Joker's Wild" or "Name That Tune"?

"Celebrity Bowling" was announced as an RTV acquisition but isn't there yet. Maybe it's being held back for later, but it would be a great replacement for "Celebrity Kitchen" weekday mornings. It's fun, most assuredly retro, and has a deep catalog of episodes. Plus, its recent ESPN run notwithstanding, it is different than anything that's on anywhere else now, including those rival classic TV channels, and it's different than anything that has been on anywhere else.
If RTV is going to stick to those comfortable sitcoms and dramas, it should dig deeper for the really rare shows. "Movin' On" looks like a pretty odd duck in 2011, but I believe it's seldom been aired since its original run, and it is a nice treat that gives RTV some cred and some quirky charm. More of this and less overplayed evergreens would be welcome.

4) Don't get too attached to those library deals; furthermore, seek out the other libraries.
I confess I don't know a whole lot about how these "library deals" work, but it sure looks like attaching your channel to one studio's library exclusively, while providing a nice initial influx of programming, is a strategy that lends itself to stagnation if you don't cycle programs in and out (as RTV did not/could not do), and major shocks to the system when the deals run out (as RTV experienced when it lost the Paramount shows several years ago and last week when it lost the Universal shows; of course, when it lost the RTV shows, it at least could tout many familiar Uni programs to its viewers).

Antenna and ME-TV rely heavily if not exclusively on the Sony and CBS-Paramount libraries respectively, but apparently Sony shows are still in play, and maybe some Paramount obscurities are available, too. I've read people clamor for RTV to make a deal with Warners, but personally I think that is an overrated library unless someone really mines it for the rarer programs. Most of the notable stuff in the Warners catalog isn't that good or has been played heavily, and a lot of the rarer, higher-quality stuff was on American Life or Encore Westerns in recent years. Granted, those are two small cable outfits, but I'm just saying I wouldn't be eager to see RTV grab, say, "Hawaiian Eye" or "Cheyenne."

I don't know what the deal is with Fox. The Fox-owned properties are all over the place, with programs like "Big Valley" appearing on multiple outlets as varied as ME-TV and Family Net. Hey, RTV, how about picking up some of the programs Shout licensed for DVD then dropped, programs like "Peyton Place" and "Room 222"? Or how about "Julia," "Nanny and the Professor," and "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir"? Now that I think about it, there are a lot of Fox shows potentially in play that would make great additions to the RTV schedule.

I'd like to see RTV continue to probe for holdings of some of the relatively smaller guys, too. For example, if SFM still holds syndication rights to it, I think "Make Room for Daddy" would make a wonderful enhancement to the RTV roster of sitcoms, and even if they don't unleash the Jean Hagen years, there are tons of episodes to make a weekday run viable. Note I'm not promising it would draw ratings--I think the DVDs flopped and I believe the show wasn't a great hit in reruns, though I remember seeing it on NY TV stations in the eighties--but I'm saying it's a funny show that would add some retro and classic to an RTV which could really use them right now.

5) If you want to go cheap, go really cheap.
OK, someone might say, if we're supposed to get rid of all these filler shows, how are we gonna, you know, fill the schedule without resorting to infomercials?

Well, for the love of Billy Mays, don't go to infomercials. If you need cheap programming, grab some of that public domain stuff that's floating around in the ether. When I first got Family Net, there was a narrow window of programming consisting of terrible-looking prints of shows either in or assumed to be in public domain. I'm talking "I Married Joan," "My Little Margie," "Meet Corliss Archer," and a few others. I don't know how many episodes are available, but I'd sure rather see something like that on RTV than "The Great Outdoorsman" on a weekend afternoon.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Starsky & Hutch

I hadn't seen "Starsky and Hutch" in a long time until RTV added it to its weekday primetime lineup this week; it only took about 5 minutes of one episode to remember that when pop culture in its various media makes fun of 1970s cop shows, it is making fun of this 1970s cop show.

I don't mean "programs such as this 1970s cop show." I mean this particular show, Starsky and Hutch.

I exaggerate a bit, perhaps, but look at all the elements the series contains, elements discernible from watching even just the opening sequence and theme song:

*Car chases
*Funky music
*Two buddy cops who just won't play by the rules
*A jive-talking informant
*A black authority figure who lives in perpetual frustration at the guys' antics but has to admit they're that damn good.
*Ample opportunities for the stars to show how cool they are (in this one, they go to an outdoor court and hustle a pair of guys at basketball to get info).

I don't mean to sound sarcastic. I enjoyed that episode even if the Is it possible that "Starsky and Hutch" is the quintessential 1970s cop show? Maybe some might wish it were something like "Police Story," a critically acclaimed anthology drama that--hey, what do you know--now follows "Starsky" weeknights on RTV. But I think when most people think "police program from the seventies," they're not thinking of a sober, thoughtful treatise on the various professional, social, and personal issues encountered by working policemen of the times. No, they're thinking good times, over-the-top action, and fun. They're thinking "Starsky and Hutch."

Friday, July 1, 2011

This week in Netflix Instant Watching

Before the customary beginning-of-the-month flood of titles hits Netflix Instant Watching today, I want to highlight a few titles that appeared on IW this past week or so. The streaming additions front has slowed lately, but all heck will break loose when "Star Trek" comes to Instant Watching (it may already be there as you reads this). But some of the notable ones made available recently include...

*Iron Man 2: When people complain about Netflix not having any good movies to watch, they're usually complaining about a lack of recent blockbusters. Well, it's been out for a while and on pay cable for a few months, but if you don't have EPIX or you missed this last year, this is a pretty cool add. I have yet to see it myself, so while I am not subscribing to Netflix for big hit movies, I'm excited to be able to catch it this way.

*Louie Season 1: Here's a great TV series add for streaming. Those of you who "cut the cord" and ditched cable for this service, well, here you go: A complete season of a great modern television program, out in essence the same time as the DVDs. I already saw all these when they aired, so it's not a huge deal for me, but it is cool that it's there. I find that I feel conflicted about things like this, though. Since I still do pay a lot for cable, I kind of wonder if it's really in my best interests as a Netflix subscriber that the company is paying money for material I already have access to. Then again, I missed "Mad Men" and am looking forward to catching up from season 2 on when it starts streaming later this month. So I guess the ideas is not to get too hung up on specific titles but be glad that this kind of content is available.

*Life of Reilly: I've wanted to see this filmed version of the late Charles Nelson Reilly's acclaimed one-man show for some time now, and when it appeared on YouTube recently in official, legit form, I had an inkling it would wind up here.

*Cinema Paradiso and Switchblade Sisters: I include these to highlight Netflix's recent Miramax deal. It includes a lot of familiar titles we've all seen already, maybe some multiple times, but there is a nice diversity to the influx of movies included in this package. What illustrates that better than this week's addition of a prestigious foreign film and a drive-in cult classic?