Sunday, March 31, 2013

Journey Into DVD: Easter Fun 3-Pack

First of all, I love how companies think that slapping the word FUN on something automatically makes it so. I guess it can't hurt, right? Maybe if you have a box set of, say, Vietnam War documentaries coming out, you don't want to put the word all over that package, but otherwise, why not?

Second, conflicting info on the packaging makes it difficult to discern whether this is called "Easter Fun 3-Pack" or Easter: 3-Pack Fun" or maybe even "Pack Fun Easter 3." Each of those titles is clunky enough to amuse me.

I picked this up for the kids (OK, really for myself to watch with the kids) at a certain major retail chain location (OK, maybe I should say THE major retail chain) after spotting an endcap of $5 Easter DVDs. Now, some of you out there may be saying, "Hey, Easter's all but over. Why are you writing about this DVD set NOW instead of a few weeks ago when it might have done us some good?" And to those people, I say...Hey, look, isn't that George Clooney?

Boy, was I relieved when I saw a Rankin-Bass oldie on that rack, because it meant I could skip over the Dora the Explorer collections and get something I might actually be able to enjoy with my little ones.

You see, the first DVD that caught my eye was "The First Easter Rabbit" from 1976. "I haven't seen that in years!" I exclaimed to myself, but no less enthusiastically for being internal. And for 5 bones? It's only a half-hour, but it might be worth it. Then I kept looking, and I saw 1977's "The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town." ANOTHER one I hadn't seen in years! And also for 5 bucks, but this one was longer and even had a few bonus shorts.

Well, I looked some MORE, and then I saw a DVD set that had BOTH those Rankin-Bass classics in one package, complete with the extras. And guess how much it cost?

Well, no, it was actually 10 bucks, but 5 was a darned good guess.

And, hey, this 3-pack throws in "Yogi the Easter Bear." I had never heard of that, but I was going to get the other ones anyway, so as a throw-in, sure, I'll take it. So I threw that in with my groceries and prepared for some fun. Some Easter 3-Pack Fun, that is.

Here's the bad news about this set: The "extras" are not vintage stop-motion animation shorts, as I hoped, but live-action modern shorts that just illustrate the concept. Nothing of real value here. There are some commercials on the other discs, too, but overall, just don't buy this for the bonus features.

More bad news: "Yogi the Easter Bear" is not a hidden gem from the glory days of Hanna-Barbera, but a weak 1994 revival which offers the voice talents of Jonathan Winters but little else. Most attempts at "hip" humor fall flat, like when an abducted Easter Bunny tells a thug to unhand him because "I'm a card-carrying member of the Mythical Creatures Anti-Defamation League." The special isn't a catastrophe or anything, but it's forgettable and also not the reason to get this set. I sure wish Warner Brothers had left this one off and included the Rankin-Bass special "Here Comes Peter Cottontail," which I did not see anywhere on that endcap.

Now for some good news: My kids love the Yogi Bear special (Note to self: Get some real Yogi on DVD for the kids to enjoy sometime). More importantly, the Rankin-Bass stuff holds up well and DOES justify the 10-spot. Now, first when we started watching them, I was unimpressed, finding them a mere shell of their predecessors in the R-B holiday pantheon. I was comparing them to the Christmas classics instead of judging them on their own merits. To oversimplify it in a massive way, "First Easter Rabbit" is akin to "Frosty the Snowman," with similar hand-drawn animation and Burl Ives narrating, and "Comin' to Town" is a remake of "Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town," with stop-motion animation and Fred Astaire narrating.

Are the Easter versions the equal of the Christmas originals? No, they're not. But then, I've been enjoying those ones for years and I never lost that link. Maybe if CBS hadn't bailed on airing these Easter 'toons so long ago, I would love them more. I'd still see them as derivative, mind you, but maybe I would have embraced them quicker.

The fact is, though, I DID embrace them after that first viewing (Oh, yeah, there were multiple viewings; I mentioned I was watching them with my small children, didn't I?) The songs aren't as catchy and the voice work isn't as vivid, even with familiar actors like Paul Frees and Stan Freberg reporting for duty. "The First Rabbit" somehow mixes the holiday with "The Velveteen Rabbit." But the songs are catchy if forced, and the specials are fun. It is enjoyable seeing the writers strain to come up with Easter songs that don't invoke religion, as well as trying to create practical explanations for traditions like coloring eggs. I mean, the longer special includes a ditty about trying new foods that includes this verse:

The first man to eat a pickle
Said, "This cucumber's rather dill"
The first man to find a salt mine
Thought the worth of it was nil"

The cartoon shows these events, followed by the two guys selling salty pickles out of a jar. So commerce wins the day, as always, because these two gents were willing to put strange things in their mouths,

As in most Rankin-Bass efforts, there are little offbeat touches that carry the day. For example, "Comin' to Town" features a 7-year-old boy king named King Bruce, which cracks me up for no reason that I can explain. And, yes, the kids enjoy these, too.

Maybe after Easter, this set will be even less than $10 at a store near you. See? It's not too late to write about this set! I got my money's worth out of the set through nostalgia alone, but my kids also got into the Easter Spirit with this specials, and I may have started a new family tradition. If CBS won't do it, DVD can.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Vin Scully and "Flashing Spikes" from "Alcoa Premiere"

As we head into baseball season, it's a good time to look at some curios that are floating around on YouTube. There is a particular gem up there courtesy of--well, I'm not going to publicly thank the uploader by name (or handle) or embed the videos here, but someone did fans a service by posting "Flashing Spikes," a great little representation of the national pastime and also a wonderful bit of show business history . I just don't want to call too much attention to it and risk having it taken down.

Vin Scully, America's unofficial Most Beloved Broadcaster, is the announcer in this baseball episode of the anthology series "Alcoa Premiere" (sometimes "Alcoa Premiere Theatre"),  hosted by Fred Astaire, and while Scully does look quite youthful here, it's still amazing to note that he still gets it done behind the microphone today some 57 years later. I must admit a small part of me thinks maybe we overdo the Scully worship a bit and I almost want to be able to chuckle at how awkward the relative greenhorn broadcaster is in this show, but, nope. Vin is pretty much awesome here. The episode climaxes in a World Series game 7, and his credibility as an announcer, even then, really sells the drama of the situation, no small feat given how compressed the story is to fit its television running time.

Actually, while Scully gives "Flashing Spikes" gravitas, it's not like this production needs it. Besides Astaire, the production features the legendary Jimmy Stewart as a disgraced former player who is embroiled in a fresh scandal involving a young phenom. In addition to that star power, there is a fun cameo by John Wayne under an assumed name (his son Patrick plays the phenom), juicy supporting roles for Jack Warden, Tige Andrews, and Edgar Buchanan, who really seem at home in a baseball story, and, oh, yeah, the whole thing is directed by John Ford.

The story is a little rushed, and to be honest, I'm not entirely sure I watched the segments that are posted in the correct order. But it's a really fun episode. I won't go into the particulars of the story, but I do want to talk about what could have been the most intriguing moment if it actually happened. Don Drysdale (who else? That dude was in everything on TV in that era) also has a small role in which he gets to pitch to Jimmy Stewart's character, retired and barnstorming long after his disgraceful exit from the majors. So Stewart drops a bunt for a base hit on him. Now, forget the fact that Jimmy is brutally spiked later when his identity is discovered. He could have had it a lot worse. I wanted to see his NEXT at-bat, when Drysdale surely would have knocked him on his ass. Mr. Smith Goes to the Dirt would have been something else.

Again, I highly recommend this to baseball fans, and even non-fans can appreciate this for the talent involved if nothing else. If something like this can be languishing in obscurity, what else is out there in the vaults of those forgotten anthology shows of the 1950s and early 1960s?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Parental Guidance: Remember when Billy Crystal came back to the host the Oscars, and while a lot of people were excited about it, a lot of people thought maybe the magic was gone, so there was a lot of ambiguity in the anticipation for it?

Yeah, not the case this time. We all knew this Crystal/Midler vehicle was gonna bomb the minute we saw the trailer.

Lincoln: Controversy already plagued the DVD of this acclaimed Steven Spielberg film when it was revealed that an audio commentary by consultant and "Team of Rivals" author Doris Kearns Goodwin "borrowed" from an old Peter Bogdanovich track.

Killing Them Softly: My "Hey, this might be worth a shot" pick of the week didn't do too well at the box office, but it's a crime flick with a decent cast, and that should be enough to warrant consideration.

The Collection: I don't know what the hell it is, but it must be important to deserve releases of a DVD, a Blue Ray, an Ultraviolet Digital...right?

To the Arctic (IMAX): Narrated by Meryl Streep. Jennifer Lawrence sure is lucky Streep didn't go on camera as, say, an iceberg or something.

Veep Season 1: I actually enjoyed this HBO series better than the most recent season of its pregenitor, BBC's "The Thick of It," and that's no faint praise.

Men at Work The Complete First Season: OK, I enjoyed this TBS sitcom, much to my surprise, but "Complete First Season"? Big deal! $35 MSRP for 10 episodes is no deal at all, in fact.

Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreakers: Good to see Timeless is still putting out stuff like this even after being acquired by least so far. If this 1960s series is a fraction as cool as it looks, it's going right onto my Wishlist.
And on streaming...a hot new Netflix add is John Cusack's serial killer movie The Factory, which was barely released a while back after being finished in 2008. 2008! That was so long ago, Cusack was just out of college, the Cold War was still being waged, and DVD was barely a glimmer in the eye of Albert Einstein.

Plus Netflix premieres Mad Men Season 5, a mere hundreds of days after its debut on AMC.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Vault of Coolness: John Amos

I have had this picture, a simple publicity shot I cut out of the newspaper, since 1994. I can tell by looking a the movie listings on the back. Imagine this choice when heading to the multiplex:

"What should we see, 'Threesome'" or "Schindler's List?"
 "Ah, it doesn't matter. Flip a coin."

This is from Norman Lear's ill-fated attempt at sort of a reverse "All in the Family," a series called "704 Hauser." The show didn't take, but the pic is great. Look how COOL the guy is in this shot.

Amos was great in "Roots," "Die Hard 2," and many other film and TV appearances, but of course I grew up thinking he ruled on "Good Times" as James Evans. I keep this clipping around as part of my informal Wall of Fame.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

It's such a big DVD week, I'm not going to  spend any time fretting over what's new on  streaming. If anyone wants to talk about WWE's 100 Greatest Raw Moments on Netflix, I'll listen.

Zero Dark Thirty: Leave it to our society to fret about the utility of torture instead of just enjoying that we killed a terrorist leader. Did none of the people who argued about the "controversy" of this movie watch a little TV show called "The Jack Bauer Power Hour?" (OK, "24," if you will?) That series proved definitively that torture works...except when it doesn't. 'Nuff said!

Les Miserables: Now you can give Anne Hathaway a standing ovation from the comfort of your own home. I already did that years ago when I saw her nude scenes in "Havoc."

The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey: It's directed by Peter Jackson. It's hella long. It's surely gonna be re-released in some kind of extra-special edition next year. What exactly is "unexpected" about this journey?

Bachelorettes: Any resemblance between this and "Bridesmaids" is strictly intentional. Synopsis from Video ETA reads: In this racy, razor sharp comedy, a group of old friends reunite to throw the perfect bachelorette party, but instead end up in a wild and hilarious race against the clock to save their friend's wedding. I never really associated Kirsten Dunst with "wild and hilarious."

This is 40: There's something weird about the fact that Judd Apatow made his wife play the most unlikable character in "Knocked Up." Both the wife and character are back in this one, but hopefully as leads there is a little bit more going on with her and Paul Rudd. The fact that This is 130 or so--minutes, that is--doesn't bode well for the quality of the film, in my opinion. There is an unrated DVD version with 3 more minutes, but sadly none of them include Anne Hathaway.
Rust and Bone: One of those movies that when you see the title, you think, "This is important for some reason, but I can't remember why."

What, you don't expect me to remember, do you?

Straight A's: I know nothing about this movie except that when I see Ryan Philippe on the cover under the phrase "Straight A's," it must be a comedy.

Price Check: Starring Parker Posey, who in her prime was in 32% of all movies released domestically. Maybe she's getting her numbers back up.

2013 Allstate Sugar Bowl: Finally, own the classic match-up between the...uh, who played in the Sugar Bowl, again?

Badlands: Well, first I knew I ought to like this movie more than I actually did because it was "A Terence Malick Film." Now I know I ought to like it more than I do because it's a Criterion Collection film.

Monday, March 18, 2013

My plan to save the superhero movie

I can already imagine readers saying, "Wait, SAVE the superhero movie? Why does it need saving?" Well, I confess I have not seen 2012 blockbusters "The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises," so...well, they don't count. I DID see "Amazing Spider-Man," and while I admired much about it, overall I felt a little unimpressed. I think it's just too soon for a franchise reboot, partly because one thing I dread about comic book flicks is the inevitable rehash of the Secret Origin story.

Let's face it, comic book readers have seen these origin tales over and over and over again, maybe with variations here and there, but basically they are all too familiar with it. It's not that big a deal to see real people acting them out, especially when it's already been done and especially when it's been done in the last decade.

Yet makers of these blockbusters want to bring in everybody, and the tales of how these heroes become who they are is vital to their essence as characters. So we wind up seeing the stories again on the big screen. I know I would rather just see them go right into a cool story and not worry about bringing everyone up to speed.

So I have created a solution to this problem (admittedly, I may have created the problem in my own mind). I believe I have a way to let the audience know what it needs to know in an entertaining manner while speeding up the process as well and letting us dive into an exciting adventure.

It's simple: Let Stan Lee introduce every single superhero movie. He comes out on camera and explains in a minute or two all we need to know about the characters we are about to see. Fans would accept it, audiences would be in the know, and then we could start the actual story without a lengthy do-over.

I know there is dispute about the extent of Stan's creation of certain characters, and I know he worked for Marvel Comics and not DC Comics and therefore had absolutely no impact on the invention of, say, Superman...but who cares? Fact is, Stan Lee is beloved by the general public and fanboys alike, and he is the de facto Ambassador of Comics. I doubt DC would mind if Stan appeared in one of its films. It should be happy to have someone with his likability representing the company. And do you think Stan would turn down a chance to do this? No way!

It's a win-win for everyone. Superhero movies, consider yourselves saved.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A great idea you're welcome to use

If nobody has made this T-shirt yet, they should. All I ask is a cut of the profits and a few samples for myself:

On the front, in big, bold letters: DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT TRYING TO TAKE AWAY MY

And then underneath, the logo of the band .38 Special:

On the back, it would read National Rock Association, with the N, R, and A bolded and bigger than the other letters.

Huh? Huh?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why I know "Ice Age 4: Continental Drift" is a good movie

Because my kids love it. They love it so much they want to watch it again and again...and again. And again. And we all know small children are discriminating consumers who don't crave repetition unless it's material of the highest quality, right?

Actually, "Ice Age 4" isn't bad, especially for a fourth installment, at least not from what I've seen. Really I should say from what I've seen in what order, because I've seen the whole movie, just never from beginning to end. It's solid animation with some good laughs and a few life lessons, and there isn't too much in there to really make me cringe on behalf of the kids.

But, man, I have seen a lot of "Ice Age 4."

Relief is on the horizon, though. Their mother recently bought them two NEW movies, a pair of DVDs to go right into the rotation and break up the routine. I look forward to the variety as something fresh comes into our lives for a change.

The movies? "Ice Age 2"  and "Ice Age 3."

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Normally I like to lead off this column with the most notable recent theatricals that are hitting DVD, but I think you'll forgive me if I break precedent and talk about a movie that barely got the proverbial cup of coffee late last year:

This Must be the Place looks horrible. A former rock star is hunting down a Nazi Criminal? And it's Sean Penn in Goth makeup? Unfortunately, according to Video ETA (whom I thank for the poster art), this is supposed to be a comedy, which makes this less bad-good and more bad-bad. Yet the cast includes Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch (who I suspect may be Penn's father in the film, and the idea of those two yelling at each other makes me smile, Bono's daughter (U2 Bono, not former QB Steve Bono), Harry Dean Stanton, and Liron Levo (OK, you got me; I don't know who that is, but the rest of the cast is so compelling, I just kind of figure).

Hitchcock: Now, this is a high-profile 2012 movie. I saw tons of ads for it, and I don't watch a lot of ads nor go to a lot of movies. As opposed to the recent HBO movie that portrayed a much darker side of the director in the production of "The Birds," this version turns the making of "Psycho" into what looks a romantic situation comedy. Well, at least it's not the lighter side of "Triumph of the Will" or "Birth of a Nation."

The Life of Pi: Ang Lee won an Academy Award for Best Director for crafting this visually stunning adaptation of a novel thought unfilmable. Fortunately virtually all of us now have giant-screen HD 3-D TVs so we can fully appreciate this achievement on a home video format. Wait, we don't? Aw, crap.

Rise of the Guardians: Animated adventure featuring versions of famous, mostly holiday-related icons banding together to SAVE THE WORLD! Alec Baldwin as the Santa equivalent is either inspired or a sick joke, but I think I do want to see this.

Sound City: Say what you will about Dave Grohl, and I hear nothing but raves for this documentary about a legendary recording studio and its console, but the dude is willing to get out there and promote. He was on "Ellen" last week, of all things. I think he's been on about a hundred different podcasts in the last few months. Dave, if you're reading this and would like to write a piece for the blog, let's get in touch. Or if you want to just hang out and watch "This Must Be the Place," that's cool, too.

The Devil's in the Details: If you count direct to video, I bet Ray Liotta has been in more movies than Michael Caine, Kevin Bacon, and Jude Law put together.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit 25th Anniversary Edition: This week's "OK, I feel old now," release.

Casablanca/African Queen Double Feature: OK, there are a ton of combo DVDs/Blu-Rays out this week pairing classic or at least notable movies, and they may well offer good value to people that don't already own the movies, but somehow I can't help but feel insulted that two all-time classics like this are lumped together.

The Mob Doctor: The Complete First Season: Awww, they called it the first season instead of "The Complete Series." Their optimism is so cute!

Ripper Street: Yet this one has no "season" designation of any kind. I guess working on a Victorian London show brings you down a bit.

In streaming news, it was another slow week for Instant Watch adds, but we did get season 1 of Call the Midwife, which is like Downton Abbey, only with...with...uh, sorry, I haven't actually seen "Call the Midwife." In fact, I haven't even seen "Downton Abbey." I'm just gonna end this now.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Daylight Savings Time for TV? (Part 2)

If you haven't read yesterday's post, please do so because I want to get right into it today. I'll give you a few.

OK, here we go. The one hour I would Spring Forward past and thereby eliminate from television history is...

"Moonlighting," originally airing March 31, 1987 as the next-to-last installment in the show's third season. The official title of the episode is "I Am Curious...Maddie," but it is informally known as "The One Where David and Maddie Finally Do It."

This is a famous episode that had tremendous viewership (over 60 million viewers according to a newspaper article cited in Wikipedia), and a long-lasting impact. This was the apex of the hourlong romantic comedy series, and soon after it declined creatively and commercially, struggling to crank episodes out. The conventional wisdom is that this episode torpedoed show by "killing the romantic tension" which made the show great before the lead characters slept together.

Now, we could argue this conventional wisdom. I remember being excited about the episode. ABC was not shy about telling everyone that It was gonna be Done that night in March. It did everything short of taking out a full-page ad proclaiming it. In fact, it was a half-page ad. I sat down with my dad to watch the show (if that sounds awkward, well, I guess it was, but I think mainly because of how it played out), and eventually saw David Addison (Bruce Willis) and Maddie Hayes (Cybill Shepherd) get it on.

Now, my memory may be off on this one, and I have not gone back and rewatched this episode, but I recall none of the wit, elegance, and sophistication for which the show is famous today. Instead, as I picture it, the consummation of the relationship was depicted in a blunter manner to dramatize the intensity of the passion between the characters...and probably to have a little fun at the series' own expense and all the "Will they or won't they" discussion. I remember a violent argument followed by a lot of feverish rolling around, crashing into inanimate objects, and a general catastrophic destruction of an entire building. It was a rough session of lovemaking as the lovers left a burning pile of rubble Incredible-Hulk-sized carnage that led to a SWAT team intervention and a HAZMAT cleanup.

At the time, I kind of thought, "Oh, my." It was...different, but I was kind of uncomfortable, and not just because I watched it with my father. It didn't really feel like the show, or at least my ideal vision of "Moonlighting" to that point. Did this scene "kill" the series or perhaps make its death inevitable by taking away that romantic tension the creators had kept going for several years?

Keep in mind the series already suffered from turmoil behind the scenes, as tales circulated of feuds off and on the set between the cast, the cast and the producers, et cetera. It's likely "Moonlighting" was destined to flame out shortly afterwards no matter what happened in that third season, and I don't think the inability to assemble a legitimate full slate of episodes, is attributable to David and Maddie getting it on. Really, were fans turned off by the fact that they had "seen what they wanted" and moved on or by the fact that whole episodes were spotlighting Herbert Viola and Agnes DiPesto?

Also, I believe people think the unfulfilled sensual tension at the heart of the show simmered longer than it actually did. This was the end of the third season, remember, not the result of 5 or 6 years of foreplay. It was the 38th episode of "Moonlighting," meaning David and Maddie had bantered, flirted, and whatnot without having sex for the better part of 37 installments. That's not really a whole lot, is it? Sitcoms used to have 30-some episodes per season back in the day, and even for hourlong dramas of the 1980s, that's like a season and a half or a little more worth of episodes. So while it seemed like "Finally!" because of the hype and because of the machinations the series had gone through to keep the two apart, it really wasn't that long before they gave up and put them together.

The reason I would eliminate "I Am Curious...Maddie" from TV history is because ever since this happened to "Moonlighting," practically every single light drama or comedy with a man and a woman suffers under the momentous burden of the "Will they or won't they" speculation and the assumption that as soon as they will, it inherently ruins the program by taking away what makes it great. There is this perception that a man and a woman on a TV series can't NOT get together eventually, a perception made worse by the simultaneous perception that when they DO get together, the show will be, for all intents and purposes, spent. I reject that premise and wish that more series would learn how to be creative and maintain the tension, or at least find other aspects on which to focus.

Instead, I think of, as examples, "Lois and Clark" and "Ed," romantic comedy/dramas with a light touch and a desperate record of contriving to keep characters who are clearly meant for each other away from each other in an intimate sense. Rather than just tell other kinds of stories, these shows (and others since) go through a kind of hand-wringing about, "Oh, how are we gonna prolong this," so we get straw men/straw women love interests that often end up just wasting our time." Why? Because "Moonlighting" supposedly "proved" you can't get them together. So, hey, if we got rid of that single iconic hour of television on ABC March 31, 1987, maybe  creators wouldn't have that hanging over them. Maybe characters with delightful chemistry could hook up sooner and we could see more stories about loving couples making it work. Or maybe with less pressure, it would be easier to keep the characters apart WITHOUT constant reminders that they are of the opposite sex (or same sex if things get really progressive, but that's a discussion for another day), and you could have more programs with male/female combos portrayed as equals with no inherent expectation they have to sleep together or at least confront the issue at some point.

Oh, I'm sure that even without "I Am Curious...Maddie," the situation would have come up again, maybe even on "Moonlighting" itself, but I would love for this particular TV event NOT to be invoked so often. I think television could well have been much better off without it, not because of the weird execution of the Big Event, or even the Big Event itself, but because of the lessons television people took from it and the gigantic shadow it still casts over the medium today.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Daylight Savings Time for TV? (Part 1)

This piece was originally going to be "in honor of" Daylight Savings Time, and then I realized, wait, I hate Daylight Savings Time. So while I still hope this is a worthwhile read, I want it to be in spite of Daylight Savings Time.

Oh, I can handle it well enough when we Fall Back and get an extra hour. But Spring Forward--fuggedaboutit. And this thing seems to happen earlier and earlier each year, so every 11 months, it seems like, this arbitrary construct pops up and snatches an hour of my life away from me, an hour I could use to live, to love, to cure diseases, to fight crime, or even to craft an outstanding blog post.

OK, I'd surely just be sleeping another hour. But that hour of sleep is a precious commodity when you have children!

Anyway, I got to thinking (I tried to stockpile as many thoughts as I could before losing that hour of sleep this weekend), if I could, in similar fashion, somehow just snatch away one hour of television like that, what would I choose to eradicate?

Now, I don't mean that I would eliminate, say, 9:00 PM to 10:00 PM Tuesdays on TLC, though without looking I can tell you it would probably benefit all mankind. No, I mean one particular hour of television that already aired--if I could pick one to have removed so that it would be as if it never happened, what would it be?

There are many ways to go about this. One might want to erase any random hour of a lousy series like "Pink Lady and Jeff" or "The Brady Bunch Variety Hour" (though I got to admit, I like watching those). You could tighten a miniseries by chopping off one hour of it.  Or how about deleting an awful pilot or TV special from the record books forever? Just don't get rid of anything that offers genuine entertainment value. Jackie Gleason's notorious "You're in the Picture" game show, paired with the follow-up episode in which he apologized for how bad the game show was, is a flop for the ages, but it's hilarious in context and is one of my favorite TV rarities.

Another person might take a stinker of an episode from a beloved series and obliterate it. Some might argue the "Seinfeld" finale or the "Sopranos" finale would be better left unaired. Maybe you would want to prevent a shark-jumping moment, like, say, Fonzie jumping the shark.

I can imagine some people just wishing they had never watched "Cop Rock." For as many people who complain about each week's episode of "Saturday Night Live," I'd think a lot of people would welcome the chance to kill an hour of a "Worst Episode Ever" that came to mind.

One of the notorious fiascos of all time is the "Star Wars Holiday Special," which is actually longer than an hour. Would you get rid of most of the wookie stuff but keep the Boba Fett cartoon?

Hey, maybe the politically minded TV fan would want to nuke the first Kennedy/Nixon debate in hopes of getting Tricky Dick elected. Or a Democrat might want to wipe Reagan's "I will not use my opponent's age against me" quip from the 1984 debate in hopes of getting Mondale elect--oh, who are we kidding, it would take a hell of a lot more than that, but you get the idea.

I think my selection looks at a little bit of a bigger-picture scenario. I believe I could change the medium for the better if I were able to just take away the one hour I have in mind, a sort of Daylight Savings Spring Forward for TV, if you will. I also assume that if we had done so at the time and prevented it from airing, the events and hours of television broadcasting that followed would change as well.

What would YOU choose given the power? I have made my choice, but as I have rambled on enough for today (I blame lack of sleep), I will reveal that choice tomorrow, thus giving you a chance to mull over your own ideas. (I put "Part 1" in the title, so this ain't a bait and switch...right?) Of course, if you so desire, you can simply Spring Forward to tomorrow's post, in which case I will join you right above this one.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Twilight: This one came out over the weekend in some kind of big deal midnight event. Well, good for the fans, and I hope everyone who waited or went out in the cold enjoyed the experience, but personally I think midnight sales should be reserved for important things--you know, like Madden football games.

Wreck-It-Ralph: I didn't see it, but many critics lauded this animated film as funny, charming, and well made with a good dose of heart. Yet of course because it was not made by Pixar, it is inherently inferior to "Brave." What, isn't that how it works?

Playing for Keeps: This could well be the most generic movie of all time. Take a familiar genre--the romantic comedy. Add some of the old standbys from some of your favorite familiar romantic comedies--Gerard Butler, Jessica Biel, Catherine Zeta-Jones...Give it a title with a particip--a particip--uh, a gerundial--well, a title with an "ing" word in it. I see Judy Greer is in it, too, no doubt as a sly but sensible best friend. The movie has an appropriate score of 5.4 at IMDB. This post is becoming more and more generic the longer I write about this film. Enough!

Red Dawn: Did the Cold War break out again while I was wrapped up in my "Quincy" reruns? I mean, there must be a good reason to reboot a movie that came out in the 1980s, right?

Lay the Favorite: Speaking of generic, this is apparently supposed to be a comedy movie, so perhaps this synopsis is intentionally parodying itself, but the description from Video ETA actually uses the phrase "stripper with a heart of gold." In some ways, this sounds horrible, but the cast list is interesting: Bruce Willis, Vince Vaughn, Rebecca Hall, Catherine Zeta-Jones (her again?), Laura Prepon, Pacey, Corbin Bernsen, Joel freakin' Murray...and it's directed by Stephen Frears, and it's apparently a real movie that came out for like 2 or 3 days back in December. Maybe this is worth a shot?

In streaming, the first of the month brought its usual dump of catalog titles to Netflix's Instant Watch library, but this is a weak batch. I think most of the titles are MGM second-tier efforts that cycle through every now and then, though I wonder what the quality of the Bela Lugosi White Zombie is. Plus there are some 80s movies I've seen parts of but never the whole thing, like From the Hip and Hiding Out. I might just watch those as a double feature someday and write about it. Do you dare me? Huh? Do you?

(I might well do it regardless, but it would be a lot more fun if you dared me.)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Does Crime Pay? #1 (first in a series)

I got a great book for Christmas, Dark Horse's trade paperback sampler of its archival reprint series collecting 1940s/1950s comic book "Crime Does Not Pay." I thought it would be fun to go through the stories in this volume and determine whether or not Crime does indeed Not Pay. I think a lot of things, and some of them actually turn out to be valid.

Why would I be skeptical? Well, comics like this one became targets for social critics, psychologists, and cranks who blamed the vivid portrayals of violence and illicit behavior for the corruption of America's youth. Even the series' logo indicates that we might be seeing just a bit more than a righteous series of cautionary warnings for impressionable readers. The title really looks like CRIME does not pay.

And sure enough, there is a lot of titillating material in these pages: gun play, blood, scantily clad women...and all of it is drawn in that Golden Age style that looks so crude to modern eyes, a style that makes the material seem even more lurid.

This book is so great that unless I offer some kind of structure to these posts, it will be way too easy for me to lapse into comments like, well, "This book is great!" So with each story, I will summarize what's going on and attempt to discern whether crime pays or doesn't pay in each case. I'll highlight a moment, if there is one, that even makes me cringe a bit today. I'll also ask what a 9-year-old version of me reading in, say 1949 would think.


First up is "Two-Legged Rats (September 1942, Bob Montana),"  the story of a false prophet in Corvallis, Oregon:

The self-proclaimed "Joshua the Second" lures many of the women of the area and forms a cult, mistreating them, demanding they bring him their money, and making a killing by predicting the outcomes of Oregon State football games.

OK, I made up that last one, but Joshua is doing enough other shenanigans to steam the menfolk. In one panel, a gent complains, "That fellow has my wife under a spell! She's broken all our dishes and I have to cook all my own meals!" A pipe-smoking neighbor chimes in with a "Same here!" Got to love the mid-20th century American male. Their spouses are spending the better part of each day with a raving lunatic with apocalyptic visions and a dominance complex, and they're bitching about having to fix a plate of franks and beans.

Things happen quickly in this ridiculously compressed 4-pager, and eventually Joshua is tarred and feathered, and presumably the men start filling up on beef wellington again before heading right back out to get drunk at the nearest saloon.

Perhaps my favorite moment in this one is the graphic swearing we are subjected to in this panel:

I promise to try to work *@!! into casual conversation when I can. It's unfortunate that it fell out of favor before George Carlin could give us the 8 dirty words you can't say on television.

This guy's misfire is the first in a frenzied chain of homicides and attempted homicides that closes the story. The "irate father" of a woman who joined Joshua's cult is unsuccessful in his assassination try, but two panels later, another woman's brother gets the job done. In the NEXT Panel, though, that same woman kills her brother!

Let's just look at the last two panels, as the tale ends with this puzzler:

Forget the shocking shooting in the back of her own brother. Forget the irony of Mitchell getting away with killing Joshua, only to be done in by the woman who was saving. The big question here is how does brunette Esther Mitchell become "blonde" in between panels?

DOES CRIME PAY? Well, everyone who harms someone else winds up either incarcerated or dead or otherwise punished--I imagine that off-panel those heartless women who made their hubbies cook a few dinners on their own were punished with at least a good, solid week of passive-aggressive neglect--so I suppose you could say no. Yet George Mitchell pretty much accomplished what he wanted to do and snuffed out a dangerous maniac, and her sister got revenge. As for "Joshua the Second," well, he had a pretty good run, with scores of female followers doing his bidding, and I ain't talking whist. kind of does! I have to say yes and no in this story.

WHAT MAKES ME CRINGE TODAY: Actually not that much, as this short one is a comparatively tame opener for the book, but the tarring and feathering could have been a lot worse had Montana stretched it out over a few more panels.

WHAT YOUNG ME WOULD SAY IN 1942: Jeepers! She shot him right in the back! Ain't that just like a dame? I sure wish I know what that guy was saying when his gun flopped on him.

Friday, March 1, 2013

I don't know much about antiques, but I know brass when I see it

Krause Publications recently canceled one of the few magazines I still subscribed to, "Comics Buyer's Guide," and it did so with such abruptness that the last issue was #1699, depriving readers of a celebratory milestone 1700 issue and any kind of print farewell, for that matter. "CBG" had been a shell of itself for years, but I still enjoyed getting it each month.

The news that my subscription would be transferred to "Antiques Trader" didn't ease my disappointment. I never read an issue of "Antiques Trader." In fact, as of Friday, I had never received an issue of "Antiques Trader."

(Take special note of that last sentence, folks.)

Friday I received an envelope in the mail from "Antiques Trader." It was way too small to be an issue of the magazine, so I knew what it was going to be: A plea for money. Sure enough, I tore it open (I wish at least they used some faux parchment envelope and paper for that antique-y kind of look, but, alas, everything was plain) and saw a letter telling me, "Time is Running Out!" and that my subscription "will expire very soon!"

A few sentences of hype followed, along with a P.S. that I could "save time and trees" by renewing online. But, hey. the mag was thoughtful enough to include a "convenient" invoice at the top of the letter so I could go ahead and renew in the provided extra envelope.

I realize that much of this is automated and that once you're in the system, you're in the system, but I repeat...

I had not received an issue of "Antiques Trader!"

There are two easy ways to ensure my non-renewal of a magazine subscription: Publishing a magazine I don't want is one of them. Another? Send me a renewal notice for a magazine of which I haven't even seen a copy!

(Postscript: the next day, I got my first issue of "Antiques Trader" in the mail, which actually made me even angrier because then I knew I couldn't build this post around a declaration of "I still haven't received an issue of Antiques Trader!")