Thursday, December 26, 2013

Merry Christmas Again!

At the risk of stealing the thunder of the Internet's foremost Doris Day Show chronicler, good buddy and Friend of the Site Ivan at Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, I want to say Merry Christmas again. I mean, really, should we be that quick to discard the holiday so soon and move on? I say let it linger a bit. But it's not just ME wishing you a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. No, it's Doris herself. Look at her. She's talking right to us!

And let me tell you, folks, if a major star has Rose Marie, Denver Pyle, Paul Smith, and McLean Stevenson (not to mention, uh, two kids and a dog) at her pad, yet she still takes the time to wish YOU season's greetings, you should be flattered!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Merry Christmas!

Because Bob Newhart is still awesome enough to make this hat look cool, and also because we can say another good-bye to Marcia Wallace....

From all of us to all you, Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

That sneaky Alice! (Happy Christmas Eve)

I watched the Brady Bunch's Christmas episode, "The Voice of Christmas" for the first time in years recently. I actually screened it with the kids, and seeing it with them really made this corny, ol' show come to life again for me. They loved it.

One thing about this episode bothers me, though. Alice is trying to hide a gift, and she is snooping around in Mike and Carol's bedroom for a spot to stash a sizable package. First she opens a closet:

Then she opens another closet. The Bradys sure had plenty of closet space (please hold your Robert Reed jokes).

Next she tries under the bed, because no one ever looks there for a gift, right?

Groovy wrapping paper, right? Problem is she bumps into something, which makes her realize her spot isn't as original as she thought:

So Alice gives up, and as you can tell by the look on her face, she is disgusted because she actually has to...

Put the gift IN HER OWN ROOM!

Seriously, Alice has her own quarters, an area in which no one else, with the obvious exception of Sam the Butcher ever enters. She has the perfect place to store a present. Yet she goes peeping around the Bradys' master bedroom. What exactly is Alice hiding under HER bed, hmm?

Here's hoping your presents are safe and sound tonight!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Awesome 80's Video #4: "She's Right on Time" by Billy Joel

It's time for a special CHRISTMAS edition of the Awesome 80's video, and today I spotlight a song which, were it not for the clip, I wouldn't associate with the holidays at all. But, oh, what a Christmas video it is! From "The Nylon Curtain" LP, I give you...

She’s Right on Time

Yes, it's the Long Island Lover himself, Billy Joel, in this 1982 clip, which offers a very Joelian melody and certainly features Billyian—nah, I prefer Joelian—singing throughout. I don’t think I ever heard this on the radio, though, and the video never seems to make it into those holiday video blocks you see despite the first line talking about turning on all the Christmas lights because baby’s coming home tonight. He doesn’t sing about jingle bells in the song, but the video shows him trimming the tree, so that’s more than enough to make it a holiday video in my book. Or at least on my blog.

Actually, Joel or whoever conceived this video (probably not Joel) decided not to sentimentalize the love song, but rather to go the other way and make a farce. Here the regular guy appeal of Joel works like a charm. He’s primping and looks well groomed and has a bunch of photos in his pad that suggest he gets around, but lest you think he’s trying to play some macho stud, look at what happens in the video. While his woman makes her way over, he readies his place with disastrous results. I mean, one goofy thing after another happens. Stuff falls, crashes, sparks literally fly, the place is a mess, there is kind of a false end to the song, then an even bigger accident happens, and all the while Joel—not exactly the master thespian—provides just enough of a nonchalant but mildly concerned deadpan to carry it along. At least, I think he’s underplaying. The important thing is this video just gives us a good series of funny mishaps. And did I mention this video BREAKS STUFF? In the span of 4 minutes, Joel somehow does even more damage here than he has in almost 50 years of getting behind the wheel.

If this weren’t enough, his ladyfriend experiences her own calamities while walking to Billy’s apartment, though breaking a heel doesn’t exactly compare to nearly setting a good chunk of Manhattan ablaze. Still, she shows up at the door as weary as Joel is, and they finally get together. Here we notice something remarkable: Joel’s girlfriend is African-American. She actually has that classic 1984/1985 young black woman look, in hairstyle, makeup, even skin tone, which is pretty remarkable considering it’s 1982. They don’t make a big deal out of it, or any deal out of it, and maybe I should feel embarrassed for doing so myself, but, hey, you got to respect this video’s cultural relevance considering that the finale features the first interracial kiss on television.

NOTE: Don’t let the fact that Kirk and Uhura kissed 15 years earlier make that last sentence any less relevant. Also, ignore the fact that they don’t actually kiss at the end but just gently kind of nuzzle their heads together. Hey, forget it, I’m on a roll. Besides, it is actually a sweet ending. After all, as Billy himself sang, “Leave a Tender Moment Alone.”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Instant Gratification Theater: Christmas options on streaming video

You might have your stack of Christmas DVDs next to the tube already, all arranged for holiday week viewing, but if you're looking for some lesser-known streaming video options this year, I recommend the following:

Hulu Plus: This service irritated me by yanking season 1 of "Kojak," but thankfully it retained season 3, which features the Christmas episode "How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars." Is that title poetic or pretentious or both? YOU make the call, but make sure you go ahead and click on the episode because it's a doozy.

I will avoid spoiling all the surprises in this one, but let me tell you to look for no fewer than 3 cameos by future 1980s TV icons. Look for Theo Kojak's wistful memories of the New York City in which he grew up, contrasted to what it had become (remember, this is 1975), and a classic exclamation he shouts to no one in particular at the end of the episode that alone justifies a month's fee of Hulu Plus.

Along the way, Kojak helps some hookers with a heart of gold, does a good deal of crimestopping (and a lot--I mean, this is no deskbound cop, to be sure, but as I told my pal when touting this episode, they don't call the show "Crocker") and spreads some holiday cheer at the office party by graciously accepting, even embracing, a gag gift. Kojak is the man, and this episode deserves place in anyone's classic TV Christmas festival.

Also on Hulu is something billed as "Bing Crosby: White Christmas Show." This is a USO production from 1956 aimed at servicemen and packed--just packed, I tells ya--with stars. Best of all, it wins me over immediately by having all the celebs introduce themselves at the beginning like they're All-Americans coming out on a Bob Hope special. Some of them play it straight, but some do a little bit of business, with even Der Bingle doing a little "cough take" with his pipe as he says his name.

The rest of the 90-some minutes features comedy bits, songs, and awkward interstitial segments with the likes of Dick Powell , Gregory Peck, and Kim Novak introducing acts in a kind of quasi-rap as a jazzy beat plays. Some of it is beautiful, some of it is great, and some of it is quite dated--I'm always wary of "comic monologues" from long ago, but you have to see Dick Shawn's rock and roller parody--but all of it is entertaining. Although most of the content is not explicitly connected to Christmas, it is a great piece of holiday cheer for the whole family or even for just the enthusiast of classic Hollywood and TV. You'll see Jack Benny, Jimmy Stewart, Danny Kaye, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, a monologue from Hope himself, and much, much more.

YouTube: I'm not going to link to it because I have a paranoid fear that linking to anything on YouTube makes it more likely someone will force it down, but most if not all Dr. Katz episodes are available, including Season 1, episode 10, "Office Management." This one has routines by Ray Romano and Carol Leifer and, more germane to this post, the good doctor attempting to throw an "office party" and engage receptionist Laura in the fun. The results, of course, are hilarious.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Wonderful World of TCM: Holiday Affair redux AND a bonusaa

Yes, it's finally time once again for me to revisit The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind (ka-ching! Hey, wait...). Rare is the time these days I get a chance to sit and watch an entire film as it unfolds on Turner Classic Movies, but I made a special effort to plunk myself down in a chair at Cultureshark Tower when the network screened Holiday Affair (1949) last weekend.

I've written about this movie before, so let me see if I can add anything new this time. Somehow "Holiday Affair" has become one of my favorites. It's a relatively unassuming and underappreciated Christmas classic, but I feel incomplete if I don't at least see a good chunk of it each season. In that older post I talked about how the the courtroom scene stood out for me, with Harry Morgan's sardonic judge trying to walk away with the whole movie. This time, it's a cool scene with star Robert Mitchum and second banana/hapless soon-to-be ex-boyfriend Wendell Corey trying to make chitchat while they wait for Janet Leigh to come back in the room. They exchange banalities about the weather while trying to hide their mutual suspicion from each other...or maybe not. Mitchum's reactions in this scene are particularly priceless. Just the way he cocks an eyebrow and gives an offhand "Is that so?" cracks me up. Mitchum plays Steve Mason as a guy who knows he is going to take Janet Leigh from Corey, who knows that Corey knows it, and is just doing the bare minimum to maintain the pretense of NOT knowing it..but is amused by the whole thing.

Another highlight comes when Mitch drops the pretense and, after being invited to join the widow Leigh and her little boy, her current boyfriend, and her former in-laws for Christmas dinner, makes a speech about Janet should marry HIM instead of the lame lawyer sitting 3 feet away. Sure, they ask him to say a few words, but I think the table is expecting something more along the lines of "God rest ye merry gentlemen." Bob says, "Well, you asked for it," but goes ahead and says what's on his mind, pointing out how it's probably better to do that than to go around behind Corey's back. Of course this speech only makes Mitchum's no-BS character only cooler and Corey's Carl Davis all the more hapless.

I quoted him last time, but the line stands out 5 years later, so let me again tell you what poor Carl Davis has to say to Janet Leigh's gorgeous young widow: "You look like a tired beautiful girl instead of just a beautiful girl." Pardon me while I regurgitate my egg nog. There's a reason I haven't put any spoiler tags in here when mentioning that Mitchum is gonna take Leigh away.

I watched Ben Mankiewiecz's intro and learned that this box office disappointment opened on Christmas Eve. Really? These days, any Christmas movie that thinks it has a chance to make any money opens by Thanksgiving and tries to milk the season for as long as it can. It's not for nothing that I'm talking about this movie today instead of December 26.

If you want to see this TCM perennial again or for the first time and don't have the DVD, TCM is playing it again Christmas Eve at 4:15. Tell 'em Cultureshark sent you. And tell 'em he appreciates that B-Mank gives it its props and that the channel runs it every year. Oh, and also, "Holiday Affair" is currently available On Demand on my cable system in the TCM section.

Speaking of On Demand, TCM's corner of that universe has changed a bit in recent months. In its CONcast incarnation, it used to offer a group of movies for about a month at a time. Now it seems like the offerings are rotated much more frequently and a broader range of titles are offered. Last week I saw the 1936 RKO football picture "The Big Game," and I recommend it as a fun early sports movie, except it's already gone from the On Demand lineup.

Phillip Huston and Bruce Cabot star as college football players, and there are cameos by a host of real-life gridiron stars, including Jay Berwanger, the first ever Heisman winner. Apart from the frequent comic relief provided by Andy Devine's overage player named "Pop" (because he has a wife and kids, see), the movie is a fairly tough look at some serious issues affecting the game in those days: Gambling, exploitation of amateurs by money-making universities, unethical operations in athletic departments...Gee, it's a good thing we don't have to worry about any of those things anymore, huh? There is a remarkable speech one player gives about wanting to get HIS since the system is using all of them that could fit right in during a modern-day football flick.

"The Big Game" isn't the best old-time college football movie--that of course is "Horsefeathers"--but I never see it discussed in conversations about sports films, and it deserves a look. I don't remember seeing it run on TCM, actually, which made catching it On Demand a real delight. Check it out if it returns or if it shows up on the network proper.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching--Pre-Holiday Week edition

Elysium: This didn't look all that hot to me, but I loved "District 9," so I'll check out anything done by the guy who directed that. "Elysium" is about...uh, dystopia of some kind...and Matt Damon has a shaved head. Geez, I've already forgotten much of what the deal is with this. That's not necessarily a knock on the movie. I just have a lot on my mind what with the holidays and all, you know.

The Family: Believe it or not, there was once a time when Robert DeNiro was typecast in gritty crime movies and not wacky comedies about oddball families.

The Lone Ranger: Eh, a big budget Western with an unknown as the "star" and the box office draw playing the sidekick. What could possibly go wrong? Purists would love to say they screwed with the classic mythology, I'm sure, but really, I don't think the character has much cachet anymore, and it saddens me to say that. I think the movie just didn't look all that great. Well, now we can all judge it for ourselves. Or we could just watch a bunch of episodes of the old TV show.

Prisoners: Hugh Jackman AS YOU'VE NEVER SEEN HIM BEFORE! Except maybe when he PLAYED THE WOLVERINE! Only this time, he's not a superhero but AN ACTUAL DUDE! And he's pissed and looking for RETRIBUTION!

One Direction: This Is Us: Morgan Spurlock followed the band for this documentary film. He probably would rather eat Big Macs for 30 days again.

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters and Kick-Ass 2: These movies have a lot in common. They're both relatively unheralded, underperforming sequels, they both...uh, well, maybe they don't have a lot in common. Yeah, don't show "Kick-Ass 2" to your kids when you're looking for something to watch as a family on Christmas night.

Justified Season 4: I'd really love to try to get into "Justified" again, but not if I have to get Amazon Prime to see the old episodes. Everything should be on Netflix or Hulu until/unless I get Amazon Prime. What? Sounds like a reasonable philosophy to me.

Sound of Music Live: Well, jeez, it's not live NOW, is it? I fully expect a class action lawsuit to be filed any day now.

Shameless Season 3: I've never seen an episode of this Showtime series, but after seeing Emmy Rossum's photo shoot for "Esquire," well, let's just say I'd consider giving it a watch.

And in streaming...

Sadly, Warner Archive Instant apparently took the week off and added nothing new this weekend. Bummer! Hulu seems to add a handful of new anime and Korean programs each week, but I really don't know anything about them and, frankly, don't get excited.

Netflix added David Chase's Not Fade Away with James Gandolfini, and that's the big must-queue for me. There are also 2013 comedy specials from Dave Foley and Greg Fitzsimmons.

Lilyhammer Season 2 is here. That's right, an entire season of a Netflix original. Yet this is getting about 5% of the publicity that the trailer for Season 2 of "House of Cards" got.

Other new adds include Our Nixon, a documentary centered around home movies of Richard Nixon; and Stranded, which features Christian Slater as an astronaut dealing with some kind of alien spore menace. I'm strangely interested in both of these. You can stream the latest Diablo Cody joint, Paradise, which sadly has nothing to do with the classic Phoebe Cates/Willie Aames "Blue Lagoon" ripoff. And I don't know anything about Blood except that it's a gritty crime movie with Paul Bettany, Mark Strong, and Brian Cox, and that's at least worth a queue position.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mag Rack #2: Shocking Secrets of America's Favorite TV Shows of the '50s and '60s

Will you lose what little respect you had for me if I told you I bought this "Globe Collector's Issue" at the bookstore? Will it help if I told you I used a gift card?

Hey, I couldn't resist. It's classic TV, it's tabloid, it's glossy, and it has a picture of Ralph and Alice Kramden (along with many other icons of the medium) on the cover. I figured I'd gamble a virtual 6 bucks and take home the thin but spiffy-looking mag.

The 80-some pages go by quickly. Each show gets maybe a few pages at most, many a page or even half a page, and the photos are so big that you don't really get a lot of substance here. I know, I know, we're talking about a publication of that mass-market tabloid "The Globe." But still, while I'm not expecting a dissertation on each show's impact on popular culture by Professor Robert J. Thompson, it would be nice to get a little more content.

Those photos are purty, but I don't think there are a lot of new or rare shots here. Many entries are illustrated with the same publicity pics we've seen for decades. There are some nice extras, though. For example, while the "Honeymooners" section offers that same shot of the 4 Classic 39 cast members poking their heads through the windows of a Gotham bus, then the standard still of the 4 in the Kramdens' apartment (you'd know it if you saw it), it also features a rarer black-and-white pic of a Lost Episode segment with Pert  Kelton as Alice, plus a behind-the-pic glimpse of Art Carney rehearsing a "Twilight Zone" appearance. And of course, this being a tabloid pub, you get a few unflattering shots of stars as they looked years later or as they look today.

Let's talk about these scandals, though: Are they really Shocking and Secret? Much of the gossip in this mag is old news to anyone who has followed the tabloids for years or who has more than a surface knowledge of TV history. Yet there is something to be said for having all of it in one place. We get stories about alcoholism, behind-the-scenes squabbles, and affairs. Sometimes the writers have to strain to come up with anything remotely scandalous, as with "My Favorite Martian," which gets a short entry that basically says Ray Walston resented being known for the role. Big whoop, right?

There are some things here that surprise me, like Jane Kean saying in her recent memoir that Ed Sullivan raped her when she was 17. If I ever heard that one before, I blocked it out. Nor did I know or particularly want to that Edd Byrnes once had a threesome that involved Roger Moore. Aw, who am I kidding? I bought this thing, didn't I? I also didn't know that Clint Walker claimed to have seen a UFO. No, he didn't claim he had sex with an alien. Not everything in here is salacious.

Some of it just sad, really. Even though this publication is a slim time-passer, I sometimes wish it went a little deeper. For example, one of the big controversies for which I don't think we have a definitive answer is the saga of "Make Room for Daddy" and why star Danny Thomas canned first-season wife Jean Hagen and replaced her with Marjorie Lord. This mag mentions the change and Hagen's struggles in her personal life, but only says that she quit the show and was killed off. Gossip I've seen over the years indicates that Thomas went so far as to try to prevent Hagen episodes from being seen again, and I've also seen interesting speculation as to why he would do that. But "The Globe" doesn't address that at all.

The focus here is more on personal lives than on those kind of creative issues, and I'd love to see some of those kinds of mysteries explored somewhere. However, for 6 bucks, this is a pretty good summary of dirt from the Golden Age of Television, and while you get a lot of the usual suspects (George Reeves, Adam West and Burt Ward, Lucy and Desi), between the regular entries and a short catch-all section of paragraphs at the end, you also see info about Steve Allen, Lawrence Welk, "Wagon Train," and "Julia." So it's a pretty good cross-section of 50's and 60's TV. I'd buy another one of these things without shame. Well, not too much shame. I might not brag about it here, but I might well buy it, read it quickly, and enjoy it.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Stuff I scrambled to see on Netflix before it expired

One of the "fun" things about having a Netflix account is finding out only a week or two ahead of time that something in your queue is gonna go bye-bye. Would it be nice to have more notice? Aw, Netflix thinks that's crazy talk!

These two movies expire next weekend, so check 'em out soon if you're interested:

44-Inch Chest: This British crime flick--well, sort of a crime flick, in that it has criminals and we see some crimes committed--didn't get great reviews, but if a movie with Ray Winstone, Tom Wilkinson, Ian McShane, John Hurt, and Stephen Dillane comes to Instant Watching, I'm at least gonna add it to my queue, all right? In fact, it's not a great movie. It's basically a bunch of cool character actors sitting around shooting the bull and breaking balls. But you're not paying 11 bucks to see it in a theater at this point, and if you look at it in that light, well, it's a pretty good way to spend 90 minutes on streaming.

Ray Winstone reminds me of a British Nick Nolte with his disheveled, raspy, mumbling performance as a cuckold who laments being dumped by his wife (the still-ravishing Joanne Whaley). So he and his gangster pals get together and talk things over. For a while they're even joined by an unwilling visitor--the French waiter who's been sleeping with Ray's wife.

Winstone gets the acting-0est part here, doing a lot of fretting and emoting. Wilkinson and Dillane are pretty much what you'd expect, and I don't at all mean that as a negative. McShane's character is gay, and I don't at all mean THAT as a negative; it's just that, in addition to being measured and calm, that is pretty much the character. You have to admire that in a flick with this kind of cast, the movie gives the scene-stealing outrageous part to Hurt, who is the crankiest, nastiest, most animated git in the bunch. He looks like he's having a great time.

Some artsy interludes aside, this doesn't add up to very much, but there are worse things to do than watch these guys banter. It's worth a look-see while it's still around.

Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and "To Kill a Mockingbird": Does this documentary sound familiar to you? It did me, as well, but it wasn't until I started watching it that I realized I had in fact seen it 3 years ago. In my defense, though, I didn't recognize it since it wasn't under its original title: "American Masters: Hey, Boo: Harper Lee and 'To Kill a Mockingbird'." See? Totally different, for all I knew.

Once I started watching it, I figured I might as well revisit it, and I was doing a few other things around the house while it ran, but it's a quality piece of work from filmmaker  Mary Murphy. It covers the background of the reclusive author and why she hasn't given an interview in 50 years, the creation of the iconic novel, the film adaptation, and even her friendship with Truman Capote and the rumors that he had something to do with the writing of "Mockingbird."

There aren't any "AHA!" revelations, but you do get a good look at an author who still has some mystique about her as well as some insight into one of the most scrutinized works of the 20th century. It's another winner from the "American Masters" series and, again, well worth checking out on Netflix.

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

We skipped a week, sure, but this is still the longest-running more or less continuous feature in the history of...this blog. In that spirit we march on this week:

The Fast and Furious 6: Out of respect to the late Paul Walker, we refrain from any snarky comments about this franchise. We do, however, retain the option to make a wise-ass remark about Vin Diesel at any time in the near future.

Despicable Me 2: I'm at the point in my life now when I judge many movies on the quality of their tie-in ties. For a while, the little aliens from this movie were ubiquitous in Happy Meals. The first time my kids got one, eh, kind of cute. But the second time, it was like, didn't we just get one of these? Only maybe holding a slightly different accessory? So I view this sequel with a wary eye.

Battle of the Year: Remember the brooding bad boy who captivated television audiences for years on "Lost"? Now he's in a breakdancing movie!

Mary Poppins 50th Anniversary Edition: It seems like a new edition of this comes out ever few years, but I'm sure this one is a public service offered by Disney to give an optimized version of the product to fans who will be interested by the forthcoming feature film Saving Mr. Banks about Walt Disney's effort to adapt the original novels. It is certainly not a cash grab.

Doc Martin Series 6: I watched this latest (and last?) batch of episodes, unaired as yet on American broadcast TV, via Acorn Online (I owe you guys a post on Acorn, don't I?). I thought the first episode was strained, and I wondered if it was time to hang it up, but the rest of the season was pretty good. The show has passed its peak, perhaps, but I still enjoy the setting and the characters, and I imagine you will, too. Still, you might want to wait for these to run on PBS before you buy the DVDs.

Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special: I've gone 50 years (well, the ones that I've been alive for) without getting into Doctor Who, and I don't know if I'm ready to start now. Actually, I may be nuts, but I'd be more inclined to start with old black-and-white episodes from 50 years ago. Maybe someday I'll take the plunge, though.

And in streaming...

Speaking of Acorn, it's monthly adds effective December 1 include Australian (hey, it ain't just UK stuff at Acorn) series Mr. and Mrs. Murder, Martin Clunes' romantic dramedy William & Mary, Northern Lights, Under Capricorn, a 1990s supernatural soap called Springhill, and the evergreen Upstairs Downstairs (the original version, that is).

Netflix has added new seasons of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, American Horror Story, and White Collar. That Lady Gaga and the Muppets holiday special that aired on Thanksgiving is also there, which is cool since I avoided it the night of its airing because 1) football was on and 2) Lady Gaga.

In the, "Hey, didn't you just tank in theaters?" department is the biopic Lovelace, and in the "Got to be terrible, but I like looking at the boxcover" department is something called Paranormal Whacktivity.

Hulu hasn't done a whole lot apart from adding a Christmas spotlight without giving me any apparent way to see what's in the batch of shows, nor to select shows individually from that spotlight.

Warner Instant, which I hope will give me a nice new batch of titles after I post this, possibly including Holiday Affair, one of my favorite Christmas films, DID add some interesting new ones this week, including Bette Davis in Dead Ringers, Fred Astaire in The Belle of New York, John Gilbert in The Show, and Regis Toomey in the provocatively named pre-Code Other Men's Women.

There are also a few new Glenn Ford pics (Cimarron, Blackboard Jungle), several crime/thrillers (The Window,. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt, Prince of the City), and the seemingly random inclusion of one of the Hardy Family movies (Judge Hardy and Son).

Thursday, December 12, 2013

New review up at ClassicFlix

I've been taking a breather from the blog, and I neglected to link to this when it was new, but the beauty of the Internet is it's there forever. You know, just like CompuServe.

So out my latest review

Happiness Ahead (Warner Archive)
Happiness Ahead: Hey... It's Dick Powell! 
12/05/2013 | by Rick Brooks
What better harbinger of happiness ahead is there than a beaming Dick Powell singing the title song directly to you, the viewer, while superimposed over a lovely backdrop? There can be none better, I say, and Happiness Ahead (1934) indeed lives up to its title and to that striking beginning. Powell sings for several minutes over the credits, and it certainly is a dynamic way to open a film.

It's also a quick reminder to the modern viewer that this isn't the hard-boiled Dick Powell of Cry Danger (1951) and Murder My Sweet (1944), but rather the apple-cheeked earnest crooner of the prewar era. Oh, Powell's character, Bob Lane (even his name sounds earnest) gets a little bitter as this romantic comedy goes on, but only in that innocent kind of "Aw, shucks, I thought you were a true blue gal," kind of way. You know he's gonna sing another day and that he'll be smiling before opposed to that jaded fellow who suffers permanent disillusion after the war.

(Head on over there to read the rest...)

Friday, November 29, 2013

THAT'S how you stuff a turkey

Yesterday, I showed an example of poor kitchenmanship (?), so today, as you enjoy the food hangovers and perhaps if you're lucky an extra day off from the rigors of the workplace, I bring you a woman who really DOES know how to cook: Hazel.

"I'm sure Mr. B's watch is in here somewhere."

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Cultureshark Cares: Is this really a good way to slice a potato?

This Thanksgiving, please, folks, safety first. Be careful when peeling potatoes. I say it's better to cut away from yourself, not towards yourself as in this scene from Arrest and Trial (1963):

From all of us to all of you...


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

2 Guns: I forgot to mention this Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg action flick  last week, when it was actually released.  I was just gonna say something, like, I don't know, it sounds like an Andy Sedaris movie. Yeah, you didn't miss much at all.

Red 2: I think I feel asleep 3 times while watching the first one on cable, but maybe that just means I'm getting as old as the cast.

Jobs: No disrespect to the late Steve Jobs, but just when I thought I could not be any more annoyed by that "iconic" picture of him holding his chin, someone comes along and kicks it up a notch by inserting Ashton Kutcher and making a movie poster out of it.

Getaway: Ethan Hawke and Selena Gomez in the same movie! OMG! That duo makes Washington and Wahlberg look like the Carpenters.

The Canyons: Lindsay Lohan was gonna be in that movie about a porn star, then here she co-stars with an actual porn star...Don't you think 20 years from now, we're all just gonna think she was a porn star?

Breaking Bad: Final Season: I loved the show, too, but in a weird kind of way, I'm kind of over it right now. Release this again in a year or so.

Boston Red Sox: 2013 World Series Champions: Remember when the Red Sox winning it all was a novel concept? I say bring on my Pittsburgh Pirates: 2013 National League Wild Card video.

And in streaming....

If my DVD comments seem even snarkier than usual, maybe it's because I'm steamed that Hulu Plus pulled a big Minus on us by taking away the entire season 1 of Kojak. Oddly enough, I had always kind of held off on watching those on Hulu, fearing that the lack of the complete run was an indicator that the show would be pulled at any time. A few weeks ago, I finally decided to start watching them regularly. And of course I started with season 1. D'OH! I hope these are coming to Netflix.

Netflix added that movie that got Michelle Wlliams an Oscar nom, My Week with Marilyn. There's also Josh Duhamel in Scenic Route, the recent documentary about the Iceman with Michael Shannon and Winona Ryder, and the recent remake of Red Dawn. There's a new Jim Norton standup special, too.

I'm also interested in 2013's Saving Santa, an animated Christmas movie featuring the voice talents of Martin Freeman. And while I certainly won't complain about a bunch of Mystery Science Theater 3000 titles appearing, I wish they were new to Netflix instead of returns of the titles that were there a couple years ago.

Warner Archive Instant did something unusual: It took the week off. Granted, it added a slew of new titles in November, but it's still disappointing to check in Friday and see no new arrivals. However, they DID add some new stuff on Monday. It looks like mostly stuff from its old Gangsters box sets, but, hey, more Eddy G. Robinson (Little Giant), Bogart (All Through the Night) and Jimmy Cagney (Each Dawn I Die) isn't something to complain about, even if you do happen to own the discs. If you happen to have an HD Roku, a lot of it is streaming in high-def, so there's that, too. Cagney's The Fighting 69th is also new, and because no update is complete without a seemingly random add, how about Sly Stallone and Michael Caine in John Huston's WWII/soccer film Victory?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mag Rack #1

Welcome to the Magazine Rack, a new recurring feature in which I talk about some of the various magazines I read each month. Yes, I do read magazines, PRINT magazines--the kind that have smelly perfume samples, the kind that have cards that fall all over the place when you pick them up, the kind that you can take with you into the--er, into any room in the house.

I get most of my magazines from the library these days, but that doesn't make my opinions any less worthwhile. Hey, this blog is free, right?

A few weeks ago, "Time" featured Prince Charles' mug on the cover as part of a big feature story inside. That's interesting, but interesting in a "Does Time actually still want to sell magazines?" way more than a "Huh, I want to read about Prince Charles" way. For the record, the Prince seems like a fairly decent sort, and he's big on charity and environmental causes these days.

Elsewhere in the issue is a small picture of Christy Turlington topless. I kind of wish they had put Christy Turlington on the cover and had a small picture of Prince Charles inside.

"Entertainment Weekly" of November 8 spotlights Katy Perry on the cover with the copy: "ALL-ACCESS PASS We Spend One Wild Week With Katy Perry And She Tells Us...Everything!" Yeah, you can predict how that goes.

More interesting is a short story on "Modern Family's" Ariel Winter and how she lives with her older sister. Unfortunately, it's a bit too short, and it is (perhaps understandably) sparse on details of the sad situation that made the 15-year-old Winter petition for emancipation. It's an uneventful issue, but one more thing jumps out: "EW" loves "The Good Wife," and it wants you to love it, too.

Last month's "Vanity Fair" has Jay-Z on the cover, but I picked it up anyway. I'm willing to listen to people who try to convince us the guy is some kind of super-genius, but unfortunately this is an "all-access" article in which the author tells us about what it's like hanging out with the subject. It's not surprising, then, that the article begins with a whole lot of ink (I read print magazines, remember?) about how cool Jay-Z is. I just can't read an entire piece of that stuff.

I did read the article by Maureen Orth about Mia Farrow, updating her life now and reminding us of the sordid Woody Allen scandal. Now, this is clearly a pro-Mia piece that relies on access; Orth reported on the story originally for "Vanity Fair." Farrow does emerge as the sympathetic figure, but the bigger takeaway is this: Hey, wasn't Woody Allen a huge creep at best and something more sinister at worst? Didn't we all kind of forget about that? Reading this article made me wonder if maybe Woody needs to be lumped into that Roman Polanski category of directors you respect professionally but feel guilty about supporting.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stuff We Should Bring Back: The Statue of Liberty Play

Remember the Statue of Liberty play in football? Oh, we see variations of it sometimes, but the offenses are always trying to be genuinely deceptive about it, running some other kind of simultaneous trickeration to distract everyone from the beauty of the play. Far too often, some generic end around or misdirection is run when a good Statue of Liberty could otherwise be executed.

Here is what I consider the true Statue of Liberty play, the one that we ran playing neighborhood football (and there is no truer form of the sport than neighborhood tackle football, preferably with a Nerf ball): The quarterback drops back to throw--OR DOES HE? In fact, he (or she, though my neighborhood didn't have a lot of Helen Hunt types) backpedals a few steps then suddenly freezes with his arm cocked back as if to throw. Only he does NOT throw. He stands there like a moron so that a running back/wide receiver (there's really no difference in neighborhood football) can dart behind him, snatch the ball out of his hand, and run to daylight!

Any misdirection element of this play is negated by 1) the ridiculous amount of time it takes to pull it off, 2) the goofy stance of the quarterback trying to look normal if the timing isn't perfect (and it never is in neighborhood football), and perhaps most significantly, 3) the inability of the players on the offensive team to resist shouting, "STATUE OF LIBERTY!" as soon as the play happens. The "trick" part of the trick play isn't the critical element. It's the coolness of it. You don't even run the play because it might work; you run it because it's fun. So declaring what you were doing was part of the deal. What's the point in doing such a silly-looking maneuver if everyone isn't aware of it?

Shouldn't the big, fancy pro teams of the NFL, in particular, run more plays just because they're fun? Yes. Yes, they should. There are a lot of players who would get a big thrill out of taking that ball and yelling, "STATUE OF LIBERTY!" as they race to get past the line of scrimmage and maybe bust the edge. Of course, there are a lot of quarterbacks who would hate getting creamed as a direct result of this call, but, well, that's fun, too, isn't it?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Journey Into DVD: Kids movies aren't just for kids anymore!

Some of the best movies I've seen lately come from the Children/Family aisle. Having two kids can actually expose you to some fine cinema. Of course, 2 of these 3 are ones that, due to various circumstances, I saw without my kids. But they liked them, anyway!

Monsters University: Another fine effort from Pixar. I prefer the originals to the sequels from the company because you just can't beat the joy of discovery that accompanies a Pixar movie that introduces you to a brand-new universe. Well, this one was pretty good. And of course the "Toy Story" sequels are great. Hmm, maybe I need to rethink my policy on Pixar sequels.

Yeah, I prefer Monsters, Inc., but so what? The world can always use more good family-friendly movies, and more to the point, so can my DVD shelf. As a parent, you really appreciate quality because your kids are gonna want to watch it again and again and again. I've seen at least parts of this film 4 times already, and it actually improves with each viewing. The voice work is excellent, with returning Billy Crystal and John Goodman matching their outstanding job as the main characters. Joel--yes, Joel--Murray stands out as an older college student who joins the boys in a fraternity. The character design is great, too, especially the new character of Johnny J. Worthington III (Nathan Fillion), who simply just..looks like the smug blueblood leader of the rival frat type he is supposed to be. The story is solid and finds a clever way to get our characters to where they are at the beginning of this saga (Oh, yeah, this is technically a PREquel, but for my purposes, it seemed more right to refer to it as a sequel). And it's funny.

If I hadn't seen the first one and loved it so much, I might rate this one even higher. The difference to me is that "Monsters Inc." brought me to a whole new world and a whole new way of looking at elements of the existing world, whereas the sequel takes that world and puts a school comedy spin on it. Doesn't matter, though. I look forward to seeing this dozens more times and eventually starting to dread it.

Wreck-It Ralph: Now, this movie takes a "new" world--the inner universe of video games--and makes it fresh and exciting. It's also clever and also brings plenty of heart to the proceedings. The big standout, though, is the voice work. John C. Reilly is perfect as the title character, a video game villain who breaks stuff but wants to be something more. His voice-over at the beginning of the film is one of the funniest things I've seen in a movie in years. It's subtle, but it's hilarious, and though the dialogue is brilliant and establishes the character, it's Reilly's performance that makes it. I also want to praise Sarah Silverman and Alan Tudyk for voice acting that is as vivid and amusing as the cool visuals. This movie is a real delight and has to be up there with the best animated movies of recent memory.

The Muppets: OK, I finally got around to seeing the Jason Segel reboot of the franchise, and, hey, what took me so long? This one is great! I mean, it's entertaining, funny, warm, and I am kind of upset it wasn't really huge instead of "just" a hit.

Retooling the Muppets for a new generation could have gone terribly wrong, but Segel doesn't strain for edginess. Instead, he makes a few subtle references to changing times, but he stays true to the characters and doesn't pander to try to make teenagers and hipsters want to see it. Maybe that's why it wan't really huge.

One of the smartest things Segel does is he includes a human love story (with co-star Amy Adams, who as always is the most adorable thing ever) but gives it just enough attention to make it relevant while never upstaging or interfering with the Muppets. He creates a new character, Walter, who isn't in himself all that remarkable yet blends in well because of that normal quality. Debuting a new Muppet could have been another pitfall, but instead it works. The best thing I can say about "The Muppets" is that it feels like The Muppets and still feels fresh.

If nothing else, this one is worth it for Chris Cooper's spirited turn as the movie's big villain. He's so good you want more of him, but again I think Segel got the balance right and didn't overexpose him. My favorite scene in the movie involves Cooper doing something I hadn't seen him do before, and, yeah, the movie's a few years old, but I am not going to spoil it. After all, it was a surprise to me!

These are 3 amazing movies, all good for the whole family. I may have to give "Turbo" and "Planes" a shot on DVD.

Monday, November 18, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

I missed last week because I was still reeling from my epic 3-part rollout of this feature last weekend, not to mention the ballyhooed DVD release of Flo: The Complete Series, but let's regroup and try to get back on track today with a look at the releases of last week AND this week, plus some of the more notable streaming newcomers:

Man of Steel: I really disliked "Superman Returns", and I have good reason to think I will loathe this one, too. Yet I still feel compelled to watch it. I realize this is my problem, not Warner Brothers', but I reserve the right to complain about it. The tagline for this one should have been [SPOILER ALERT]: "You will believe a man can snap another man's neck!"

The World's End: Edgar Wright completes the unofficial trilogy he made with Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (the others being "Shaun of the Dead" and "Hot Fuzz"). Here's the new DVD that excites me most this week. If there were any justice, THIS would have been a big hit and "This Is the End" would have been the underseen cultish thing. But I haven't seen either one, so maybe I'm off base here.

We're the Millers: Oh, God, they already made a movie out of that atrocious Will Arnett CBS comedy? You've gotta be kidding me!

Oh, this is the one with Jason Sudekis? And Jennifer Aniston doing a pole dance or something? Eh, maybe they ought to do a movie out of the atrocious Will Arnett CBS comedy.

Turbo: Poor Ryan Reynolds. Even his cartoon movies didn't work this year.

Planes: Well, it did better than Turbo, but I can't help but feel this is one of the B-Team efforts from Disney. Maybe I'll feel differently after I get it for my kids and see it a few hundred times.

Paradise: Whatever happened to Diablo Cody? This.

The To-Do List: Is it too reductive to say this is the movie in which Aubrey Plaza gets all slutty and it's probably pretty funny? OK, then I won't say it.

JFK Ultimate Collector's Edition Blu-Ray: I'm guessing this contains the 11 1/2-hour cut Oliver Stone couldn't release earlier. hey, wouldn't it be funny if he came on at the end this time and said, "Or Oswald did it alone. You know, whatever."

Celebrity Billiards: If "Celebrity Bowling" is just too sophisticated and glitzy for you, several episodes of the Minnesota Fats 1967 series come to DVD. The MSRP is a little high for what I believe is a collection of 3 episodes, but one of them includes Groucho Marx, so that alone must be worth something.

Best of Sesame Street Collection: You want to give this one the benefit of the doubt, you see Elmo on the cover, and you realize, nope, not what you consider the "best" here.

Combat The Complete Series: If they keep re-releasing this show on DVD, sooner or later the odds are the Allies are gonna lose.

Warner Archive had a big week, dropping 6 Danny Kaye flicks and a pair of Jack Benny films last Tuesday. As I write this, I have no idea what's coming out this week, but, hey, that's almost enough to cover us even if they don't do much tomorrow.

And in streaming...

Netflix added Skyfall, the most recent 007 picture, and Frances Ha, the most recent Noah Baumbach movie. Not much connecting the two, but, well, let me try: Greta Gerwig stars in "Frances," and I have always been fascinated by her name. I think it's a terrible name for a movie actress but a fantastic name for  a James Bond villain.

Also new is Jeff Garlin in Dealin' with Idiots, or, since it's Garlin, should likely be called DEALIN' WITH IDIOTS! There are a few movies debuting on streaming simultaneous to DVD: Barbara and Grabbers, to name two. I don't know anything about them, but I think it's cool. It's not quite as cool when a movie debuts on streaming 3 years after it hits video, a la The American starring George Clooney, but since I never got around to seeing's new to me!

 Kristen Bell IS The Lifeguard, and the picture of her in a red Baywatch-style outfit on the cover looks cool. Then you find out the movie is about her having an affair with a teenage boy, and it becomes a lot less cool. For us, not for the teenage boy.

Ryan Gosling stars in Only God Forgives, a crime thriller directed by the man who also directed him in "Drive." SPEAKING of that latter picture, I got almost halfway through it last week, fell asleep, and the next day it was expired. I was loving the movie! "Drive," please come back! Netflix can pull this one back for a few days, give me a chance to see "Drive," and then swap them back out. Sound good to everyone else?

Carol Channing: Larger Than Life may well be an interesting documentary, but I'm still kind of ticked off that Paul Williams documentary never hit Instant Watching. I was set to tout Joan Rivers: Don't Start With Me as a rare interesting movie add on Hulu until I realized it's on Netflix, too!

Amazon Prime rolled out the first 3 episodes of Alpha House, its original political comedy series starring John Goodman, but I don't know if I'm going to try them. Despite its best efforts, Amazon is not going to get me to pay $75 a year for Prime, so why should I watch this and feel shafted when I don't get the rest of the first season?

Warner Archive followed its massive add of the week before with another good assortment of old-school titles, including George Pal's Atlantis, the jazzy "proto-noir" Blues in the Night (1941), Ginger Rogers and Frances Dee in the pre-code Finishing School, holiday perennial It Happened on Fifth Avenue, and, if you want something a little grittier, how about 1973's pimpsploitation flick The Mack?

Monday, November 11, 2013

MIA: The Baseball Bunch

Ready to play
We're learning the way
To do it right
We're the Baseball Bunch

Let us talk about the power of Cultureshark. You will remember that some time ago I wrote about the mysterious disappearance of "Gimme a Break" from the pop culture landscape. Mere months later, Nell-a-holics--or is it Breakers--must be giddy with the show's surfacing on TV One. Perhaps today's post will be a lucky charm to resurrect this program: "The Baseball Bunch."

When I first thought about this 1980s Major League Baseball production, it was when baseball season was starting up, and I looked on YouTube for episodes and found virtually nothing. Now there is at least one episode available, but it doesn't have the theme song. I appreciate the upload, but The Baseball Bunch without its theme song is like Ozzie Smith without his glove. Hey, guess who just happens to be in that episode?

Yep, it's the Wizard of Oz, who gives the kids some fielding tips and is showcased in a montage of his fantastic defensive plays set to the music of--ah, ah, ah, I'm not going to say it for the same reason I'm not linking to that episode. Why give someone another reason to yank it? Suffice to say the song is a soft rock staple of the early 1980s, a mellow tune with a title spot-on for a sequence of Ozzie Smith plays.

The premise of "The Baseball Bunch" is simple: Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench hangs around with a bunch of kids and teaches them lessons about baseball and sportsmanship because...well, he's not their coach. He's not related to them. He's...He's...Hmm, maybe the premise isn't as simple as I thought. But it is a lot more innocent than I just made it sound.

The episode I watched recently had all the elements I wanted to see besides that theme song, though. There were some good tips, a cameo by a star player, and most importantly, Johnny Bench being exasperated by the San Diego Chicken. Come to think, he kind of comes off as a bit of a jerk. You spent a decade sharing a clubhouse with Pete Rose, but you can't tolerate the lovable Chicken's zany mix-ups? What we DO miss in this episode is Tommy Lasorda as a genie (I don't remember ever cursing a Dodger Blue streak on the mascot on the show, but if he did, someone send me the audio). You just don't get those kind of hijinks from Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

In fact, you don't get this kind of show, period, anymore. I wouldn't want to see MLB try to do this today, as it would probably be lame and forced. The Bunch appeared in first-run syndication from 1980 to 1985, and these days game shows, courtroom shows, and talk shows rule first run, not shows that are...good. There IS one remaining bastion of syndicated kid-friendly programming, though: the numerous weekend and early-morning E/I slots waiting to be filled by TV shows that somehow trick the FCC into believing they are educational. I'd like to see reruns of "The Baseball Bunch" fill some of those E/I positions. I mean, Jack Hanna can't take care of all those hours, can he?

The least Major League Baseball could do is just make those episodes available on its own network. MLB Network runs the same talking heads shows over and over again, especially during the offseason. I think it could spare the time to run a few "Bunch" episodes. A DVD release would be welcome, too, something like the surprise 1978 season set of "This Week in Baseball" they quietly introduced last year. Actually, the LEAST MLB could do would be to just dump them up on YouTube, and I'd be fine with that. I just want to see Johnny Bench, the Chicken, and Spike, Katie, Butch, Donna, Red, Myron, Darnell, Christina, and Th'Qaar VI (OK, I may have fabricated the kids' names) released from captivity so they can teach me and my kids the right way to play.

We've got a hunch you'll love
The Baseball Bunch!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This Week in Instant Watching Part 2

Yesterday I covered the highlights of Netflix from the past week. Today let's talk about services like Hulu.

So this past week, Hulu added...uh, nothing particularly compelling. If you're an anime fan, you must love Hulu Plus because I swear each time I go to the "Recently Added" tab, I see about 5 anime shows I don't recognize.

I'll tell you who had a hot week--a hot two weeks, really: Warner Archive Instant. Each Friday new titles are added, and a couple Fridays ago I saw something like 30 new ones. I thought this week the service would take a week off, but, nope, another ample batch of new movies appeared.

There's a great diversity in the new adds, too. There are Wheeler and Woolsey comedies, true vintage Hollywood gems like Gable and Crawford in Dancing Lady, and even Monogram cheapies like 1950's Hot Rod. A few new Burt Lancaster pictures are ready: The Flame and the Arrow and Jim Thorpe All-American.

A batch of John Ford/John Wayne collaborations like 3 Godfathers and Cheyenne Autumn are now up. Yeah, I have the box set, but not everyone does, and those that don't can be happy. Having a Wild Weekend with the Dave Clark Five is now streaming. Andy Hardy Meets Debutante is another new movie. I like seeing some of the old series pictures, even if it's just random elements of those series. How about the original Flipper?

Some more recent curios like Killer Party (1986) just showed up, too. I'm personally not a big slasher movie fan, but it's cool to see some different kinds of things turn up here. The original Ocean's 11 is up, as is Randolph Scott in The Man Behind the Gun. Busby Berkeley's Hollywood Hotel, starring longtime Cultureshark fave Dick Powell, is also there.

If it sounds like I'm shilling for the service, well, I'm not, and I don't get any commission (I'd take a comp month or two, though, Warner), but how about Jack Webb's -30-? If that doesn't excite you, well maybe 1966 sci-fi adventure epic Around the World Under the Sea will, or maybe even the 1965 Hammer thriller Hysteria. I know I want to check those ones out.

Oh, yes, in the TV section, Warner Instant put up season 2 of Adventures of Superman.

That's only some of the new titles added, and, folks, this is all just in the past two weeks. 10 bucks per month is looking like more of a bargain with each update. I will say I do expect a light round of additions this Friday, but who knows?

On the first Monday of each month, Acorn TV Online adds several new seasons of British programs. Last week, it debuted Injustice with James Purefoy, Set 23 (23!) of Midsomer Murders, Blue Murder (lot of MURDER on Acorn, you know), and the old stalwarts Prime Suspect and Brideshead Revisited. And just to keep you honest, it added a Canadian mini-series, The Crimson Petal and the White.

Oh, I haven't mentioned I signed up for Acorn TV? Well, I'll have to put up a post about that soon, but for now, it's been a long weekend, and I obviously have a ton of stuff to watch, so I'm outta here for now.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

This Week in Instant Watching

Yesterday we ran out of time, folks (our apologies to Joan Embry; we'll try and have her back on soon), but we're back with a look at what was new to streaming video in the past week. A lot was new, and much of it was interesting!

Netflix had several high-profile titles, plus its monthly (mostly MGM) batch of catalog title adds and re-adds. First, let me point out my personal highlight of the week: New Columbo episodes! I dare say it looks like the whole series is now up--a big step up from about half or whatever it was before. It's about time! This happened without fanfare, but with much appreciation from me. If you have a show you're following on Netflix and waiting for more episodes, keep the faith.

Also new to Instant Watching are Olympus Has Fallen, which just came out on DVD this week. No, wait, that was White House Down. But this one came out, uh, not too long ago, I can tell you that.

Robert Zemeckis and Denzel Washington team up in Flight. Don't you love how we always say a director and an actor "team up"? Do you think that at the beginning of a shoot they sit down and come up with a team name, a motto, and a team jacket with a kick-ass logo?

In addition, there's an Aziz Ansari stand-up special which is new and exclusive to Netflix, another indication that the company is serious about standup comedy. HA! See what I did there? Really, though, much like HBO in its early days, Netflix seems to be looking at comedy specials as a big asset, yet we don't hear a whole lot about them compared to the original series.

Colin Farrell stars in Dead Man Down, and at some point I went from Colin Farrell fatigue to thinking if he's in a crime movie, then that crime movie might well be intriguing. Speaking of fatigue, I don't know if you're sick of zombies yet, but 2013's Zombie Massacre is here if you're not. Let me also tell you about The Host (2013) not to be confused with the Korean horror pic from a while back. Not that YOU would confuse them, natch, but I did just yesterday. This is some kind of sci-fi whatever thing from the author of "Twilight." Hmm, maybe it IS a horror of sorts.

I totally forgot that Empire State ever even existed, but it stars The Rock and at least one Hemsworth, so it must be a fairly big deal. Another new add is Twixt, and I don;t know much about it, but it's from Francis Ford Coppola, so it must be worth mentioning, right? And there's something called Slightly Single in L.A., about which I know even less, but it stars Lacey Chabert, so it must be worth mentioning, right? Have you seen the new Maxim?

Hey, have Francis Ford Coppola and Lacey Chabert ever collaborated?

As a big fan of the TV show, I have an interest in checking out Top Cat: The Movie, a Mexico/Argentina production from 2011. Fun fact: This is the English-language version that came out in the UK last year, but an American version with voices redubbed by Rob Schneider came out here a few months ago. I love my country, but there are times I do NOT want to buy American.

Christmas flicks like The Polar Express and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation are popping up now, and it may seem a bit early, but it beats last year. I think "Vacation" showed up like a day after Christmas and disappeared in January. I'm always pleased to see real classics like High Noon, and modern prestige pictures like Broadcast News are always welcome, too.

It was also a big week for TV, what with That 70's Show, Leverage, Dexter, and Chuck all joining Instant Watching. "Dexter" interests me because I didn't think we'd see any Showtime shows on Netflix anymore. Maybe this deal predates Showtime realizing, "Hey, people are gonna stop paying for us." "Chuck" was a fun show for a while, but I got tried of it after a few seasons, and more tired of its rabid fans complaining that NBC kept wanting more people to watch it. I wonder if you get a Subway ad each time you click on an episode.

Wow, that's a lot of stuff just on Netflix. What say I stretch this out one more day and talk about other streaming news tomorrow?

Friday, November 8, 2013

This Week in DVD

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: OK, folks, remain calm. This is a re-release, an extended version of the DVD that already came out. I want to highlight this because it was spotlighted in Best Buy's ad circular, and I momentarily panicked and thought that another Peter Jackson movie was coming out.

Wait, there IS another one of these coming out soon? Well, the only thing unexpected will be if it clocks in at under 2 1/2 hours and if its DVD release isn't followed months later by an extended 5 1/2 hour director's cut.

White House Down: Speaking of Best Buy, I get that they want to emphasize high-end electronics and appliances, but it irritates me to open their ad booklet and see DVDs and CDs relegated to a few small boxes at the very end of the damn thing.

As far as this goes, I can watch this movie with Channing Tatum and Justin Beiber, or I can see for "free" on Netflix a different White House under siege movie with Aaron Eckhart and Morgan Freeman. Sorry, "White House Down!"

Grown Ups 2: Make it easy for me: Just tell me how many scenes Salma Hayek has. Better yet, give me the time codes so I can skip the rest of it.

As I Lay Dying: James Franco attempts to film one of those classic novels long thought unfilmable. It's been tried before, but never by ~JAMES FRANCO~. I'm skeptical, but Franco earns points through the seemingly obvious but still genius move of casting Tim Blake Nelson in a William Faulkner adaptation.

Lovelace: Wasn't this biopic supposed to be a big deal? It doesn't seem like so long ago that everyone was vying for the role of Linda Lovelace, and there was Lindsay Lohan drama, and Amanda Seyfried got the part and gave the movie some credibility and...and then nothing.I just don't know that people want to go out and see a movie about 1970s porn, though there is an attempt every few years or so. I think "Boogie Nights" pretty much covered the whole thing.

Oh, and why am I not surprised that James Franco is in this one?

Parkland: There had to be at least one big JFK movie in the 50th anniversary year of the assassination, and, jeez, when you have Paul Giamatti as Abraham Zapruder, I think you're off to a good start. Yet this didn't get any traction, and its combination of big cast and subject matter reminds me of Emilio Estevez's well-intentioned but unsuccessful "Bobby."

WWE Battleground: See the WWE continue to bury the guy its fans wanted it to push.

Classic TV Comedy Christmas Collection: MPI brings us episodes from "Petticoat Junction," "The Doris Day Show," "The Honeymooners," "Family Affair," "Donna Reed," and "The Beverly Hillbillies." That's a pretty fair Christmas gift, except of course for the fact that it's the kind of gift you have to pay money to receive. I'd like to see MPI give us a real gift and release some more of those Honeymooners specials they presumably control, and/or rerelease the previous ones in a more affordable package.

Under the Dome Season 1: Surely Amazon shipments can get in, right? They can't? Nooooooooooo!

Mad Men Season 6: Still not caught up, and therefore still not able to make credible wise-ass comments.

Naked City: Complete Series: This series has been represented by a series of discs Image put out collecting batches of episodes, but now the seminal drama is complete on DVD. Some lucky folks apparently got this for the low, low, LOW price of 25 bucks due to a Wal-Mart pricing error and an Amazon misprice mismatch. I envy those people.

Law and Order: The 13th Year: There's just something pretentious about calling it that instead of "Season 13."

Flo: Hey, HERE'S an early holiday treat for TV fans! Warner Archive brings us the complete series in all its glory. Can "Enos" be far behind? Seriously, can it? Because if not, I want a warning.

And in streaming--well, there was a lot going on in the world of streaming this week, but there were so many DVDs to talk about (like my "Under the Dome" comment was SO insightful), that I will spend a separate post on that. Tune in tomorrow!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Instant Gratification Theater: Warner Instant roundup

Some more of what I've been watching on Warner Arhive Instant:

Zero Hour: My good buddy Ivan gave this airplane-in-peril flick a shout-out a while back but mentioned the elephant in the room (fortunately not "Elephant on a Plane," which would be an entirely different film): The team of Zucker-Abrams-Zucker used this as the template for their classic disaster movie spoof "Airplane!" Indeed, it's impossible to see 'Zero Hour" without thinking of "Airplane!" but it's still a fine movie in its own right. The problem is isolating it to just its own right.

What jumps out at me is just how much ZAZ used of "Zero Hour." It's not just the broad outlines of the story, as I always assumed, but entire scenes, characterizations, even dialogue that they lifted for their comedy. It makes watching this and not giggling occasionally an impossible task. Yet the original is so well crafted that even with the blatant parallels, you find yourself wrapped up in Dana Andrews' struggles to land that plane in the face of adversity and his own traumatic past. At least I did. I give "Zero Hour" a strong recommendation. Yes, I also re-watched "Airplane" not too long afterwards, and I found it as funny as ever.

Disembodied: This wild jungle flick features Alison Hayes scheming and gyrating suggestively (not at the same time...but, well, actually, probably, yeah), Paul Kelly out of his urban "Naked City" element, and VOODOO! Need I say more? It's a fun B-movie that pretty much delivers what it promises. I wouldn't want to shell out full price for the DVD, but it's a nice watch on streaming video.

Skyjacked: I'm thinking this disaster flick also inspired "Airplane!" though I don't usually see people make that connection. Chuck Heston pilots a commercial airliner that receives an onboard bomb threat, and he and an ALL-STAR CAST must try to survive. Do they meet the hijacker's demands? Well, I'll say that it's a really fun disaster in the sky picture, and then there is a bit of a shift at a certain pivotal point. When "Skyjacked" becomes less disaster flick and more action/thriller centered more on Heston, it's not nearly as fun. Again, though, it's well worth a watch.

I can't get out of here without listing a bunch of the stars of "Skyjacked:" Clint Walker, Rosey Grier, James Brolin, Jeanne Crain, Susan Dey, Mariette Hartley, Nicholas "Spider-Man" Hammond, Walter Pidgeon...Need I say more? No, I needn't. If you're into these movies, you get about 3/4 of a really good one here. Again, well worth a watch on streaming.

Friday, November 1, 2013

5 Q Movie Review: Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie

Q: Do you have to be a fan of The Morton Downey Jr. Show" to enjoy this movie?

A: I don't believe so, but if you did watch the show, you will absolutely love this. If Mort drove you crazy back in the day, you still might appreciate the behind the scenes on the guy and the short-lived phenomenon that was his confrontational WOR tri-state area (then syndicated nationally) talk show. If you liked Mort then, well...(See #4)

Q: Do we get the real story on Mort's persona and the "Skniheads attacked me" incident?

A: You don't exactly get footage of the late Downey himself saying, "Yeah, it was all an act, and I made up the Skinhead attack for publicity," but there are enough key interviews with, say, show producers, that reveal that stuff. One of Mort's oldest friends and songwriting partner confirms the hoax thing, and the movie doesn't necessarily outright say the political slant on the show was whatever would get ratings, but it does establish that the host was basically doing a character. I'm not sure the fact that Downey was a big friend and follower of Ted Kennedy in the sixties is as important or as revelatory as the documentary seems to think it is, but there is a lot of evidence to that as well, most courtesy of a former Kennedy aide who knew Mort ("Sean"back then) back in the day. The movie isn't a hatchet job, though, and it presents a balanced, insightful look at a character who went way over the top. Some of the cartoon segments are a little over the top, too.

Q: Wait, is there animation in this?

A: There is, and in fact, the animated sequence at the beginning made me think, "Uh-oh..." I feared that "style" would overwhelm substance in this documentary. To the contrary, stylistic flourishes like the cartoon segments enhance the story. More conventional documentary aspects like old footage and talking heads are also used well. Hey, anyone who watched WOR 9 or any New York TV  in the eighties will enjoy appearances by the likes of Alan Dershowitz, Al Sharpton, Richard Bey, Chris Elliott...

Wait, Chris Elliott? Yep, he's a talking head here, which alone is almost enough to recommend the documentary.

Q: So does the movie make you want to see some old episodes?

A: I don't know. Part of me does want to dig up some of the shows and see them again, but another part of me thinks, "How did I get into this stuff in the first place?" The documentary shows just enough to get a real taste of what the show was like, and I do want to see an episode or two, but I don't think I'd shell out for a bootleg set of multiple episodes. If someone wants to put them up on YouTube, I won't complain! The other thing to remember, and a point that "Evocateur" makes clear, is that even in the show's heyday, it burned out really, really fast.

Q: Most importantly, do we get to hear any of "Hey There, Mr. Dealer"?

A: Yes! Hey, folks, remember when an album called "Morton Downey Jr. Sings" came out and MTV actually played a music video from it? Well, if you don't, you get some snippets here. Sadly, I can't find the whole video of "Hey There, Mr. Dealer" online, and we only see a bit of it here. You have to see it, though. We just don't get enough reactionary folk rock anymore. I mean, singing about the evils of drugs doesn't make you a right-wing nut, but I don't recall Peter, Paul,. and Mary crooning, "hey there, Mr. Dealer, you drug-pushing son of a bitch, messing up the minds of the kids of America, just to make a fat-ass rich"

Be thankful we don't hear "Zip It," though,

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Monsters Inc.: Pixar seems to have lost a little bit of its soul when it started cranking out all these sequels (Toy Story doesn't count because all those are awesome), but my son loves the characters, he'll probably love this movie, and if you're against it, you're against my son. Do you really want to be against my son? No, I didn't think so.

R.I.P.D.: It hasn't been Ryan Reynolds' year, and this bomb is another reminder of that. Hey, though, maybe this one will be rediscovered and beloved on DVD and cable, just like that other box office disappointment in which he played...uh, the superhero guy. You know, the one with the color in his name. Yeah, this one could be just as beloved as that one!

Home Alone: The Holiday Heist: Dammit, NO. And I don't care if YOUR kid likes the characters and the other movies.

Bruce Springsteen: Springsteen and I: I sure hope this is a split-screen of the Boss "interviewing himself" for 90 minutes.

American Experience: War of the Worlds: PBS digs up this long forgotten classic episode--it aired yesterday--and finally gives it the home video release it so richly deserves.

Warner Archives brings us season 4 of the late 80s/early 90s syndicated Adventures of Superboy (how is it I have no memory of ever seeing that show?), Jeff Bridges in Fearless on Blu-Ray, and most interestingly (to me), 3 old Lee Tracy pictures: Half Naked Truth (with Lupe Velez!), The Nuisance (with Frank Morgan!), and Turn Back the Clock (with Clara Blandick!). "Truth" used to be on TCM regularly, but I don't recall the other two. Oh, and I meant to say Clock features in a small role The Three Stooges. Apologies to Clara Blandick fans out there, but they might be just a bit of a bigger draw.

And in Streaming...

Some interesting recent releases showed up on Netflix this week. It seems like mere weeks since I highlighted The Sapphires (Chris O'Dowd), Phantoms (Ed Harris/David Duchovny), and Redemption (Jason Statham). In fact, it is! All of these sound worth at least a try on Instant Watching. Also, the run of prominent documentary adds continues with We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.

Here's your latest Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse on Hulu update: The number of available episodes has grown from a laughable 1 to a still-odd 2 to a respectable 13.

Warner Archive Instant added a new showcase category: Screen Sleuths. This area features two George Sanders Falcon movies, a Sanders Saint flick, James Garner in Marlowe, and the 4 Charlie Chan films (all with Sidney Toler or Roland Winters as Chan and, maybe more importantly, all with Mantan Moreland) that were featured in 2010's TCM Spotlight DVD set. I know the Chans are new to Instant--and a welcome addition they are, to be sure--and I believe the other 3 are as well.

Monday, October 28, 2013

YOU Make the Call!

What would you do, sports fans, if this happened to ypu?

You go to the library and stumble upon the recent TCM Spotlight set of 4 Charlie Chan movies. Delighted, you borrow one for a week. Less than two days later, you note that Warner Archive Instant just added those same 4 movies to its On Demand lineup.

Do you:

1) Watch the movie on DVD since, hey, you already have it sitting there by the TV

2) Watch the movie on Warner Archive Instant since, hey, you're paying for that

3) Watch the movie on DVD AND on streaming to somehow "justify" the library transaction AND get value out of the streaming service

4) Shake your fist at the heavens, yell, "O cruel movie Gods," and refuse to watch the movie at all

5) Sit down and watch an episode of "Love That Bob" for no apparent reason

6) Go to the library and demand your money back, then write an angry letter to the local paper complaining about misuse of taxpayer dollars

7) Write a blog post soliciting advice

Fans, this is your chance to make the call!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Over at ClassicFlix...

Just in tine for Halloween, my latest "TV Time" column is up at ClassicFlix, and it looks at the scary side of growing up on classic television.

TV Time: The Scary Side of Growing Up with Classic TV 
10/25/2013 | by Rick Brooks 
I had a great relationship with television when I was growing up. It amused me, thrilled me, and at times maybe even baby-sat me. But there were times when the images and sounds on that little set flat-out scared me. This month I ‘fess up to some of the classic television elements that spooked me when I was younger.

Oh, and by the way, the beta version has now become the official new and improved version, so update your bookmarks and links to delete that "beta" part from the URL. is where it's at, baby!

Of course, you have been keeping up with things over there? Right? If not, in addition to my pieces, you missed a great primer on classic movie comedy teams , a profile of noir standout Coleen Gray, and a review of the notorious Warner Brothers pre-code Wonder Bar.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Stuff I Scrambled to See on Netflix Before It Expired: American Grindhouse

Hey, folks, for a change, I'm doing you a solid and writing about something while it's still actually available. So do take advantage and see the 2010 documentary American Grindhouse. Directed and produced by Elijah Drenner, it's an entertaining and well organized history of grindhouse and exploitation cinema. I highly recommend you sit down and reserve an hour and a half for this if that sounds interesting.

Then again, any grindhouse aficionado might not find a whole lot that's new or revelatory in this documentary.   Still, I think the mark of a good movie of this type is that it inspires newbies to go see the films discussed...and it inspires experts to go see the fi;ms discussed again. On this count, "Grindhouse" succeeds; its enthusiasm and love of the material is infectious. hey, it would be great if more of the movies mentioned were on Netflix!

Robert Forster is both a credible and approrpriate choice to narrate the doc, but the more prominent voices are the many talking heads who are interspersed with vintage film clips, trailer excerpts, and footage of moviegoers and theaters. It's no surprise to see Trailers from Hell proprietors Joe Dante and John Landis here. Czar of Noir Eddie Muller is a welcome presence as well, and the resident representative filmmaker talking head is Herschel Gordon Lewis.

There are fun stories and great highlights of some of the landmark exploitation movies in history, and the narrative does a solid job of weaving that history with American cultural history and explaining the synergy. Make no mistake, though, this 80-some minutes will leave you wanting more. It is a fast-paced, enjoyable primer on the subject and a great Instant Watch...for another few days or so.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

The Conjuring: This scary movie is one of the bigger surprise hits of the year, but they could have been more timely with the DVD release. I mean, they totally missed a natural Columbus Day tie-in.

The Internship: Remember when Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson made such a popular screen team in "The Wedding Crashers?" You do? Yeah, that was a long time ago, wasn't it?

Before Midnight: Years ago, Richard Linklater charmed us with "Before Sunrise." Some years later, he kind of cheapened it by doing a sequel. Now that we know its a trilogy, does that make it more legitimate?

Dead in Tombstone: Any movie with this title that stars Mickey Rourke AND Danny Trejo should come with a free bottle of sanitizer.

Necessary Evil: The Villains of DC Comics: Surely this documentary will give special attention to perhaps the single most reviled and feared villain the company has had in years: Co-publisher Dan DiDio.

Sugarfoot Season 2: New from Warner Archive is the second season of perhaps its most popular Western from the classic TV era. Well, next to "Maverick." And of course "Cheyenne." And probably "Bronco." And--aw, let's just say it was one of its most popular Western series and be thankful its out, OK?

Alice Season 4: Also from Warner Archive. It's kind of weird that this show was so ubiquitous when I was growing up, yet has disappeared now and is relegated to the Archive. I watched way more of this show than was healthy as a kid, but the last time I saw it...I didn't watch very much. Of course, the show was butchered  by ION, which surely didn't help, but still it's a very shlocky, sitcommy kind of sitcom. Still, anything with Marvin Kaplan and Dave Madden deserves a little more respect.

And in streaming:

It was a slow week at Netflix, but it did add the excellent 2008 In Bruges.

Hulu added a handful episodes of the late 1970s New Soupy Sales show because--well, why not?

The real action is on Warner Archive Instant. The service didn't add a new showcase category, but it added a variety of movies including, to name just a few, Jean Harlow in Bombshell, several Red Skelton movies including Half a Hero, Steve McQueen in The Cincinnati Kid, and the 1981 documentary This is Elvis. Granted, Netflix has thousands of titles and Warner Archive Instant is a more curated streaming provider, but still, that sounds a lot more exciting to me than Netflix adding Emily Owens M.D. Season 1.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Was this really an occupation?

I know there were a lot of occupations back in olden days that no longer exist, but when I saw "I Scream" starring Gus Shy, a short on Disc 2 of Warner Archive's Vitaphone Comedy Collection, I had to question this oneL

He's holding an ice cream cone! In fact, he has a whole little basket of ice cream cones, and he apparently has cold-called (sorry) this business meeting to try to hawk them. This despite no visible means of refrigeration. He makes his way over to the table later and starts handing them out.

I mean, we've all seen ice salesmen go around with those gigantic chunks of ice (that profession was responsible for approximately 43% of all screen comedy before 1935), but at least they went around with a big wagon and some form of  refrigeration. A door-to-door ice cream cone salesman doesn't seem like a practical vocation.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Stuff We Should Bring Back: How to refer to a year

I think anytime we refer to a calendar year of the 20th century, we should say it as, say, "19 and 45," instead of just "1945." It would be even better, of course, if we did so in a slightly world-weary but not unfriendly manner, with the clear implication that we've seen many other years besides that one and if you've got a few minutes, we'll just as likely tell you about those ones, too.

Why bring it back? It would give us all a bit more dignity and make us seem wiser or at least more thoughtful.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Kind of a slow week, but that doesn't stop the longest running continuous feature on this blog from coming at'cha again!

The Heat: Who says two women can't headline a buddy action comedy and make money? Seriously, who does? Because Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy did, but it seems like everyone was talking about people saying it couldn't be done but nobody was actually saying it. I think this looks pretty funny, but as far as I'm concerned, no pooping in the sink scene=no sale.

Pacific Rim: One could make the argument that we're due for an influx of monster movies in the wake of tension created by the recent nuclear plant disasters in Japan. But in this case, I think Guillermo del Toro just really wanted to make a monster movie.

Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain: And to think that we all thought Tom Arnold would be the standup whose career would soar after "Soul Plane."

The Colony: It's somehow reassuring that, regardless of the changing realities of the movie business, whenever a movie hits video 3 weeks after its theatrical debut, we can pretty much assume it's crap.

Gentle Ben Season 1: Do you remember from back in the day this warm family show about the love between a little boy and his adorable bear pal. I hope so because in the wake of "Grizzly Man," watching this program is now a half-hour exercise in managing the anxiety of inevitable impending doom.

And in streaming...

A lot of Mario Bava appeared on Netflix Instant Watching this week, and while I could barely distinguish the guy from the dude who played Slater, genre fans should be overjoyed...unless this stuff has already been on and is just recycling through again, in which case...sorry for getting your hopes up. But at least several of these movies star Telly Savalas, so, jeez, at least be grateful for that.

Also new: Paranormal Activity 4 and more Russell Peters. If Netflix is any indication, Russell Peters must be the biggest standup comedian in the world. And he wasn't even in "Soul Plane!"

The B/W continues to stream along. I still haven't seen any information about who is behind this outfit, nor even a programming schedule, but it looks like perhaps the same lineup runs all week, including weekdays. Some other shows I noticed this week: Peter Gunn, Dennis the Menace, Tales of Tomorrow...
Hey, Let's see what's on right now, especially since the baseball game is a blowout.

Uh, oh, I'm getting an error message. Well, it was fun while it lasted! I'll continue to monitor this developing, but possibly stifled, situation. I guess it isn't streaming along.

Warner Archive Instant added a fun Joan Crawford/Bette Davis showcase category, not to mention the short-lived James Arness series McLain's Law. The TV part of this is great, I'm telling you. WAI also pleased me by adding some more 1930s and 1940s movies after a few weeks of what seemed to me like more "modern"-centric updates. The service is in a pretty good rhythm of adding new titles each Friday afternoon or so.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Antenna disappoints, Cozi delights

That's a glib headline up there, but I have been thinking about how Antenna TV's lineup is pretty much set as far as interesting shows. The long-ago-promised "December Bride" isn't coming, and while some interesting ex-RTV programs have been added and the overall Antenna lineup is quite solid, I'm not sure how much more we can expect.

Case in point: This recent Sitcoms Online article details the new shows coming to Antenna in November. They are "new" if you don't have This-TV, but otherwise, it's just kind of a trade between the sister networks. "Mister Ed" and "Patty Duke" have been on This as long as I can remember. "Green Acres" and "Flipper" are also coming from This. So what is This gonna do in November? Good question. If that outfit undergoes a long-overdue freshening of its small classic TV block, this could be a great thing.

Oh, the other shows coming to Antenna? "Bewitched" and "I Dream of Jeannie." Of course they are. Those shows are always on somewhere. Again, Antenna is a great service with lots of fine shows you don't get anywhere else. I'm just losing hope that it'll surprise us with any rarities.

On the other hand, NBC Universal's Cozi is a subchannel that surprises us every few months. Sure, there's a lot of lifestyle/magazine junk to wade through, but if you can make your way through that mess, you're treated to "Run For Your Life" and "The Bold Ones." Recently it started "The Name of the Game," and, oh, I wish I had a DVR because it's on in a graveyard slot. Just the other day, "Mr. and Mrs. North" was on, for crying out loud. "One Step Beyond" is part of its Halloween month lineup. Even the shows of more recent vintage feel fresher, programs like "The Six Million Dollar Man" that didn't get much rerun play in recent years.

Cozi is only half a classic TV network, but what a half it is. I admire its willingness--so far--to bring some different vintage TV shows to our screens. Antenna is relying on, well, the old reliables, and that's not a bad thing. But it does make me less excited about Antenna.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Possible Cool Thing Alert: The B/W (only on Roku...or is it?)

Just added to the Roku Channel Store is The B/W, a live streaming service which bills itself as "Black and White done right" and is ad-supported but free. I haven't found any information about this new channel, but I have been checking in throughout the weekend, and so far, it's pretty impressive.

I had a few glitches, but overall, the presentation is pretty smooth. At any given time, you'll see the show with a little bit of clutter at the bottom: a note of what's on now, what's on next, and the B/W logo (which as I write this is NOT black and white, but green and a little too big and frankly really annoying). I could do without the clutter, but it's about typical for today's environment. The now and next bits of info could go, though.

There is no on-demand option here; you get what they're showing. But what they're showing is spectacular. When I saw the channel, I assumed it would be a parade of the usual public domain staples, and there are some of those, but overall, there is a diverse lineup including some very high-profile shows. I question the legality of this enterprise, but the ads from the likes of Best Buy and MySpace look legit, so maybe the whole thing is indeed on the up and up. Just in case, enjoy it while it lasts!

Let me get to what I've seen. I haven't sat down and watched anything start to finish, so I can't comment on whether the shows are edited or not, but the ad breaks look more like Hulu (short and repetitive) than on a subchannel or cable channel. So far I've noticed: Rin-Tin-Tin, I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke Show, Gunsmoke, Rawhide, Space Patrol, Fireball X-9, the Batman and Robin movie serial (!), The Addams Family, Mike Hammer, Peter Gunn, Dragnet, Robin Hood and Robinson Crusoe, The Three Stooges, and last night there was an Abbott and Costello movie. In between shows, the occasional black-and-white retromercial runs. What I have NOT noticed: Infomercials, inane lifestyle programs, recent syndicated fare like "Da Vinci's Inquest."

Folks, could we actually have a great "channel" here? I have no idea if this is a web entity or just a Roku thing. I kind of hope it's just a Roku thing because that might keep it under the radar. But be on the lookout for it if you have that little black box.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

The Hangover Part 3: Seriously? Whenever a movie like this comes out, they should just put the salaries right next to everyone's name, right there for moviegoers to peruse when they're thinking of paying 12 bucks to see the film.

After Earth: It's sad that even when they try to hide the fact that M. Night Shyamalan is involved, nobody wants to see an M. Night Shyamalan movie anymore. Did you know that Shyamalan has a book out about education reform? Me, neither. That's interesting, isn't it? It is to me. This movie, not so much.


Much Ado About Nothing: Joss Whedon made this Shakespeare adaption on the cheap in between blockbusters, and I guess that's pretty cool, but wouldn't it be cooler if he made a $200 million Shakespeare movie and then did a low-budget Avengers flick?

The Purge: I know nothing about this horror film, but it looks like it made some money at the box office, so I might as well list it.

Stuck in Love: I don't know anything about this, either, but, jeez, does anyone? And doesn't a movie with Greg Kinnear and Jennifer Connelly deserve a little more pub?

OK, well, doesn't a movie with Jennifer Connelly deserve a little more pub?

Best of Evening at the Improv: 4 DVDs of the 1980s late night A&E staple, featuring a whole lot of standup comedy delivered in front of a brick wall. This sounds like a great idea for a DVD, but somehow it won't be the same without being interrupted by Popeil commercials. And while I appreciate the desire to give the flavor of the show by offering some of the musical guests, I'm not sure I think of a song by Alabama as part of the "best" of "Evening at the Improv."

Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection: I was never a fan of the guy even in his WCW heyday, so I'm the wrong guy to ask about the viability of a whole DVD of one Goldberg match after another. I'm sure this will sell some copies, and after all, it's not like WWE is gonna listen to me and put out a Best of the Varsity Club collection.

And in streaming...

Hey, this was a great week and a half or so since I last wrote the column. Hulu Plus added some more BBC shows, many available elsewhere, but one welcome new arrival is The Young Ones. Warner Archive Instant recently started theme categories, like Vincent Minnelli films and Los Angeles locations, as well as adding more episodes of Medical Center and the Danny Thomas 1970s sitcom The Practice.

As far as Netflix goes, this week was seemingly all about responding to my complaints. I complained that season 8 of How I Met Your Mother wasn't up yet, and then it appeared. Months ago I complained that Hulu had yanked some unaired episodes of Don't Trust the B in Apt. 23, and then the whole show appeared on Netflix. I complained about pablum-puking liberals ruining the country with their pinko policies, and then Netflix added Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie.

OK, I'm kidding about the reason for that last add, but not about its existence. I hope to write more about Mort soon, but it's a great movie and another interesting new documentary on Instant Watching, joining Salinger and Don't Stop Believin' (about Journey and its new lead singer). Also new is a batch of comedy specials, including Marc Maron: Thinky Pain, and, folks, if you haven't caught on to the brilliance that is Crash & Bernstein on Disney XD, here's your chance to see season 1.