Wednesday, August 31, 2011

This underwhelming week in Instant Watching

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

You would think.

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

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

Some of the notable titles added lately:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 29, 2011

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 27, 2011

This Week in DVD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 26, 2011

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

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

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

Thursday, August 25, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it was a tidbit about the cassette tape.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Talk about a crisis

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

From the really bad ideas department

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 20, 2011

This Week in DVD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 15, 2011

Vault of Coolness: Cowboy Freddy Mac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Cultureshark Remembers...My TV set

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 13, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

This Week in DVD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I got a blunder for you

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Wonderful World of TCM: Tarzan and what comes next

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Aldrich Family.

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

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

Friday, August 5, 2011

Cultureshark Cares: A Public Service Announcement

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, August 4, 2011

This Week in DVD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Antenna TV's new schedule

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

3 things I had forgotten about "Thriller"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, August 1, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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