Wednesday, July 31, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

G.I. Joe: Retaliation: Or as it was titled internationally, "G.I. Joe: Unprovoked Imperilaist Aggression."

Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox: If you read Monday's post, you won't be surprised to learn I am really excited about this latest DC Comics animated feature. Oh, I'm not so excited that I can't wait 6 months for it to show up on Netflix, but I'm still excited!

Black Rock: I saw this Kate Bosworth movie described as a "female-driven Deliverance-esque thriller." OK, even the "female-driven" part can't erase unpleasant images of Ned Beatty.

Wanted Season 1/Banshee Season 1: It's really unfair of me to think this, but I don't think I could sit through a Cinemax original series without being anxious the whole time waiting for Shannon Whirry to go topless.

Nope, still got Ned Beatty in my head.

Between Us: An exploration of the issues couples face, this one might actually be decent. It stars familiar names like Julia Stiles, Taye Diggs, and Ned--DAMN!

Going Hollywood: A lot of people are gonna be excited about this vintage offering from Warner Archive. I say forget Bing Crosby and Marion Davies, the real story here is more Ned Beatty on DVD. I mean Ned SPARKS! Ned Sparks. I hate "Black Rock" already.

And in streaming...

There is very little going on this week. I imagine the monthly catalog dump coming tomorrow will bring something interesting. Meanwhile, I discovered this week that "The Fresh Beat Band" is now on Amazon prime, which tempts me to sign up just so I can give my son his favorite show on demand.

Also, have you noticed how great Hulu Plus' main page is in the summer? When there are no big network hits to tout, the service highlights these weird random shows you never knew were even on there. Maybe it's based on my viewing patterns somehow, but it's still kind of odd to see a spotlight on "Care Bears." Uh, thanks, Hulu!

Monday, July 29, 2013

ClassicFlix: Check out more of my writing on classic TV and movies...

I will have more to say about this in the near future, but I'm proud to be a contributor to the revamped ClassicFlix website. This company sells and rents DVDs of classic movies and TV shows, and I am writing a regular column (appearing soon) and reviews for the website. My first piece, a look at Abbott and Costello in "It Ain't Hay," is today's featured review:

There are more articles and reviews popping up all the time, so if you have any interest in what I do here, particularly my coverage of the classics, please check it out!

Instant Gratification Theater: Superhero Time!

In general, I find DC Comics animated movies much, much better than Marvel Comics animated movies. The DC efforts are almost always livelier, more character driven, and feature more entertaining voice work. Perhaps most important, while most Marvel animated movies disappear from my consciousness a half-hour after I see them, the DC ones linger, and that's because they tend to be ABOUT something.

The only issue lately is that so many seem to be about the same thing: the limits of power, or the need to put checks on the power that heroes have. I loved "Batman: Under the Red Hood," but two other recent DC efforts cover similar territory. You know what, though? They're still exceptional movies. Both of them are based on comic book storylines, and both of them are currently available for your streaming pleasure on Netflix.

Justice League: Doom: It's yet another incarnation of the Legion of Doom, this time led by Vandal Savage, but you will never read me griping about a Legion of Doom. Even though he was a familiar presence in the "Justice League" cartoon, the use of Vandal Savage here, as opposed to, say, Lex Luthor, is a bit of fresh air. The Doomers infiltrate Batman's lair and his files and take the secret blueprints he has developed to take down the other JLA' know, a contingency plan just in case anything happens.

So the League must combat the villains, who are incorporating Batman's tactical genius, and then they must also combat their own feelings of resentment that the Caped Crusader devised strategies to take them out. You get action and the usual sharp characterization of the heroes, but you also get a provocative exploration of ethics as the heroes debate the issue. Without giving away too much of the discussion, I'll just say one of the funniest (in a not really meant to be but not necessarily not meant to be, and either way it's not a knock kind of way) aspects of this movie is the utterly unrepentant attitude of Bats when confronted with the indignation of his teammates.

Speaking of familiar presences, the casting has an air of getting the band back together, with Kevin Conroy returning as Batman, Tim Daly as Superman, Susan Eisenberg as Wonder Woman, Michael Rosenbaum as Flash (Barry Allen, not Wally West, though there is little apparent difference)...these are all excellent performers who have mastered the roles.

"Doom" is an intriguing movie that will draw you in and make you ponder the righteousness of Batman's actions. To its credit, it avoids a pat ending but still provides a satisfying, if not altogether "happy" ending. And it's also a fun movie. Highly recommended.

Superman vs. The Elite is especially relevant given the controversy over the live-action "Man of Steel" film in theaters this summer. Supes first teams with a group of young British "punk rock" heroes but then confronts them when they refusal to check their brand of brutal vigilantism.

This movie has a fun 1980s punk-ish opening credits sequence that distinguishes it from other DC cartoons, but it ultimately resembles its brethren. Yet it also feels fresh and innovative. Part of this is the Elite, an interesting group of antagonists who offer something new. It's a riot hearing a young snotty superpowered punk pepper his conversation with Superman with "innit" and "wankers" and the like. There's also some borderline edgy sexual tension from the female member of the group.

What makes the story standout, though, is its attention to tradition; that is, its emphasis of the Man of Steel I grew up knowing and loving: the guy who is always determined to do the right thing in a way that avoids killing and pure vigilante justice at all costs. At first Metropolis is enchanted by the Elite's no-holds-barred approach to law enforcement, but when things turn scary, Superman is there to remind humanity of...well, its own humanity. His struggle against The Elite is not just a dynamic bit of action, but a moral one. The tone is just right throughout, too, staying upright and true to the character without ever being pretentious or preachy. THIS is the Superman I want to see.

George Newbern returns as Kal-El in this one, and like Daly, he's mastered the role and does his usual fine job. The rest of the cast is also fine, though once again I wonder why Lois Lane has such brownish hair when she is being portrayed by quintessential brunette Pauley Perrette. This one gets more and more absorbing as it goes on and is also highly recommended.

Doc Savage, Man of Bronze: I watched about one minute of this on Warner Instant Archive before I had to turn it off. Oh, I still intend to watch it, but after seeing those excellent DC movies, something about the cheesiness of the music and the camp approach of "Doc," even in the first minute or so, turned me off. I realized I had to be in a different mood to view that one.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Vault of Coolness: Marvel Fun and Games Part 2

Here's another fun page from Fun and Games #1:

What a wonderfully random assortment of characters! One thing I love about this comic (you know there are many, many more than just one thing) is that it doesn't showcase only the big guns at the expense of other characters in the Marvel Universe. That makes it even more FUN!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

The good news there isn't anything akin to last week's "42" fiasco that will rile me up. I needn't worry about having my heart broken again because Redbox has been denied a hot new release.

The bad news is that there aren't any hot new releases this week. I'd like to think it's because all the studios are getting out of the way of "The Jack Benny Program," they aren't on that big Mill Creek collection, they're not part of those few dozen episodes in syndication on Antenna TV, and they weren't in the package that was sold to PBS stations a few years ago. Presumably they also weren't on CBN back in the 1980s. I think that about covers it.

It's Jack Benny, ergo it's worth getting. I could try to say more about this one, but I don't have the set yet, and I happen to know someone who wrote a fine review.

Really, I'm almost glad nothing else interesting is coming to DVD or streaming this week because I want to focus on that set. But I have to admit even though there is already way more on Netflix than I can watch, I still get disappointed when I look at the new releases and don't see anything that interests me.

Company head honcho Reed Hastings specifically mentioned long-form documentaries and stand-up comedy as areas Netflix is looking to explore as it expands its original programming slate. Hmm, sounds like it's getting more blatant about challenging HBO. I'll say again that I admire many of Netflix's moves so far, but honestly I wish they could just go back to trying acquire everything that's already been made.

In Hulu news, I tried to watch it today, and it crashed my Roku as it does every other time I try to watch it. So I put Netflix on again and had a good laugh at Hulu's expense...until I remembered I'm paying for Hulu, too.

(NOTE: Edited to include the link to that "fine review" I mentioned. Oh, that must have seemed like such a tease until I actually linked to it...)

Monday, July 22, 2013

On the radio: It's hard out there

I'm having problems with my car stereo again, and so I am forced to listen to the radio while driving around. This makes me rather cranky considering that virtually all terrestrial radio in my area is unlistenable (may not be an actual word, but it should be) for more than 10 minutes at a time.

There are some bright spots, though: I discovered that vintage episodes of "American Top 40" are syndicated and run in many markets on weekends. What a joy it was hearing someone talk about Prince, thinking, "That sounds like Casey Kasem," and realizing, hey, it IS! Songs just sound better when accompanied by a factoid or two from Casey. "Raspberry Beret" sounds just as fresh and joyous today as it did then, by the way, and it sounds great in a car.

The episodes are chosen at random, I guess; last week I heard a little bit of an installment from 1980, and all I can say is the chart was full of music that does NOT sound as fresh today as it did then. Other than hearing my gal Olivia Newton-John, I wasn't feeling that episode. Still, any old episode of "American Top 40" beats two hours of today's hit music.

It seems every time I'm forced to listen to radio for an extended period, it's my double misfortune that Justin Timberlake has an album out at the time. I don't care how much I'm supposed to like the guy, I can't get into his music. Same for Bruno Mars. While flipping the dial (I am constantly flipping the dial trying to find something worthwhile), I keep hearing some song that sounds like a weak imitation of early Sting with a less reggae-fied beat.

One of the worst gimmicks to hit classic rock radio is "Two-for Tuesday." If a station used the concept of two songs in a row by the same artist to play deep cuts with that second track, well, I might get behind it. Instead, you hear the opening of "Born to be Wild," and you know, well, next up is gonna be "Magic Carpet Ride," because this station plays only the same couple hundred songs over and over and over again (Hey., I'd leave to hear "Over and Over" by the DC5 on the radio).

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: John Mellencamp deserves at least a small measure of respect. Twice last week I heard his early John Cougar-era hit "I Need a Lover," on two different stations--each time without the extended instrumental opening. Clipped versions of old Mellencamp songs may not bother some people, but they bug this old crank.

Talk radio is no better. The local right-wing rant station seems never to be actually talking about an issue itself, but rather whining about how the "mainstream media" is covering the issue. Why not cover the topic yourself instead of trying to be ombudsman for MSNBC or whatever? It amazes me how many of these talking heads and their callers spend time consuming media sources that clearly make them ill. I mean, when I come across a Justin Timberlake or a Bruno Mars song, I don't listen to it, take notes, and call a radio show.  I turn it off.

I tried listening to some sports radio, but this past week was brutal. Usually on weeknights, I have my choice of several different baseball games. But with the All-Star break, options were limited. Even during the daytime hours, the lack of games apparently made many of the hosts desperate to talk about something other than sports, even though they rarely dissect in-game strategies in detail, anyway.

The other day, one station had its own localized version of Espy awards for various sports achievements, complete with listener discussion and voting. great idea, I thought. On its competitor, the two guys were asking callers to give them movies that are popular but that stink. It wasn't even sports movies, but just movies. You really can't think of anything sports-related to talk about? I think the All-Star break just gives some of these guys an excuse to go to the "pop culture" well because, well, everybody can talk about that, right? Everybody thinks he knows enough about "pop culture" to start an argument at the barbershop, go on the radio, or write a blog--

Oh. Well, you get my drift.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Sorry the column is so late this week, but I had vital matters to attend to.

"Uh...we're, like, busy watching TV."

Stay out of this, guys. Let's get to it:

42: I'm especially sorry to post this so late when there is such an intriguing title to report. I'm glad this is out  already. Sweet! Whoo-hoo! Sorry for my enthusiasm, but it's just that there aren't a lot of movies I want to rush out and rent. I almost saw this Jackie Robinson biopic (the one with Harrison Ford in Cranky Mode as Brooklyn Dodgers General Manager Branch Rickey) in its theatrical run, and I look forward to renting it from Redbox this weekend since I should have a little extra time. It's really nice to see a dramatization of Robinson's struggles and reflect on the fact that race relations are now perfect in this country and we really don't have any further to go in achieving harmony.

Evil Dead: No Bruce Campbell=No sale. Ah, who am I kidding? 1) For all I know, he IS in here in a cameo or something, and 2) I'm just not really interested, anyway.

Erased: Looks like a direct to vid--hey, wait. Redbox isn't carrying 42 this week after all. It's apparently one of those that will be delayed 30 days. Screw you, Warner Brothers! Talk about killing my buzz this weekend.

Solomon Kane: The Robert E. Howard character comes to--you know what, Warners? Do you think this is gonna make me buy the DVD? Uh-uh.

Damages: Final Season: This'll probably show up on Redbox.

When Things Were Rotten: It's cool that this short-lived Mel Brooks does Robin Hood series is on DVD, but I have a feeling this isn't gonna be as all funny as we want it to be. it likely stems from the fact that when I saw a few episodes 20 years or so ago, they weren't as funny as I wanted them to be.

Virginian Eighth and Final Season: For some reason it amuses me that while Damages just calls its new set the final season, "The Virginian" goes for extra emphasis. It's the eighth AND FINAL season, dadblast it!

In streaming...

It was a quiet week in streaming additions. I got an email from Roku telling me Hulu Plus had revamped itself to allow easier searching and navigation, then the next time I tried to watch it, it showed no apparent changes and crashed the box.

I suppose I could rent 42 from Amazon or another streaming video service for 4, 5, or 6 bucks, but I don't think so. I want to pay a buck and change to get it from Redbox!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why I feel less and plugged in than ever

On one hand, I rarely watch TV live anymore, and I feel increasingly disconnected from what's going on in TV Land (television in general, I mean; I'm pretty sure TV Land the network continues to stink). I picked up a month-old issue of "Entertainment Weekly" last week and saw a review that told me FX's "Wilfred" was back on.

Dang! I like that show and would very much like to see new episodes. But this magazine was a month old.

Well, I went to my cable company's On Demand section, and, voila, the first several episodes of season 3 were available for viewing. So am I more connected than ever? Less? The same but in different ways? Or am I just a fool for enjoying "Wilfred" so much?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Instant Gratification Theater: The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945)

"Instant Gratification Theater" is my new, rather uninspired title for posts commenting on stuff I see on streaming video. This should replace the equally uninspired but much clunkier "Stuff I Scrambled to See on Netflix Before It Expired." Sometimes, though, I may even write about movies that DIDN'T just become available.

Today is not one of those times. Many of the old Republic catalog titles that had been on Netflix for several years apparently expired this weekend. Who knows, though? They might well return THIS week for all I know.

The only "strange" thing about Uncle Harry's affair is the terrible ending of the film. Now, I don't want to spoil it for y'all in case you want to go back in time to last week when it was still on Netflix and watch it yourself (or I suppose you could watch it on TV later or in the future, but I like my time travel scenario better--should we go back and kill Hitler while we're at it?), so when it comes time to talk about the specifics, I'll give you a big warning.

You know, I was wrong. There are actually TWO strange things about this movie. The other is that George Sanders, one of the most credible cads to ever appear on the silver screen, plays such a milquetoast. He's the surviving male member of a long line of town big shots, and he constantly plays subservient to his sisters, one in particular played by Geraldine Fitzgerald. This doesn't cause too much of a problem, except Harry Quincey is pretty much unenthused by life in general till he meets Ella Raines' Deborah and falls in love with her. The town is talking about their "affair," chaste as it is, but the one fuming and conniving to undermine it is Fitzgerald's Lettie.

The principals make this routine melodrama worth watching. Sanders is always compelling, even when kept in check, Fitzgerald is quite effective, and Raines is luminous. She has a unique look that contrasts well with Fitzgerald, and her character knows what's up right away and indulges in some fun verbal sparring, first light and then heavy, with Lettie. I appreciate the fact that Deborah is not portrayed as a pushover nor an idiot but just a frustrated woman who sees what's going on and loves her man, but thinks, come on, enough's enough with his overbearing sis.

Complications ensue as Lettie continues to sabotage the relationship, wanting to keep Harry to herself (and director Robert Siodmak doesn't go overboard on the psychosexual aspects of this saga, but how could they NOT be there?), and you keep wondering why Harry puts up with it. Even Deborah gets frustrated and starts delivering the ol' "her or me" ultimatums--not uncommon for a lover to do that to a man and his ex, but to a man and his sister? It's a little frustrating to see George Sanders put up with all of it. I mean, it's remarkable enough that he plays a designer at a fabric factory, let alone how passive he is for most of the film.

Uh, wait a minute. SPOILER WARNING

I'm still not gonna reveal the whole ending, but I will talk about it in general terms. Some terrible things happen in the movie, then there are some twists, and a cruel bit of justice ends the story. It's sinister but not sinister in the way we expect. But it's still sinister--or so we think.

THEN we get the "real" ending, in which George wakes up and we realize that most of the dark, twisted stuff (OK, the dark and twisted stuff APART FROM a sister subverting her brother's romantic relationships) was...all a dream! Talk about a letdown. The real beef I have with this is not so much the tacked-on "never mind" of a coda, one clearly mandated by production code enforcers or people fearing production code enforcers. No, it's the text that closes the film, one of those, "Please don't tell your friends about the ending" notices. I usually LOVE seeing that in a movie, but not when the ending is so lame.

I think what it should say is, "Please tell your friends to leave about 90 seconds before the actual ending, so they can witness the film the way it was meant to be and not endure our mandated cop-out finish." I almost feel obligated to tell my friends about the ending of "Strange Affair." I'll give 'em a SPOILER WARNING first, of course.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Admission: There's supposed to be some business about Tina Fey meeting a student who may be the child she put up for adoption, but according to the commercials I saw, the real story is Tina Fey and Paul Rudd meet cute and (I assume) hook up, thereby making the head of every "Entertainment Weekly" staffer explode.

Dead Man Down: I can't keep them straight: Is this one of the Colin Farrell takes a character role in a cool indie movie movies or one of the Colin Farrell tries to be a movie star in a colossal failure movies?

Spring Breakers: 15 years ago, I might have wanted to rent this movie to be disappointed at the lack of nudity among the stars. Now I see this premise and this cast, and I have no desire to see it for any reason. And, folks, that makes me feel old.

Tyler Perry's Temptation: I have no desire to see this for any reason. And, folks, that makes me feel white.

The Host: Alien invaders take over humans' minds "while their bodies remain intact." Have the aliens been to a Wal-Mart lately? There aren't as many human bodies worth preserving intact as there used to be.

Would You Rather: What's next? "I Never"? "Beer Pong"? "Post Office"? (OK, it's been a while since I've played a non-board party game)

Unforgettable: Season 1: If CBS was going to release this, you'd think it would have done so by now. There are now as many full season sets of "Unforgettable" as there are of "Sgt. Bilko." Wait, I just remembered (notice how scrupulous I have been about avoiding a "forgettable" joke?) this is coming back this summer, hence this DVD release. Now, as to why "Unfiorgettable" is coming got me. I guess CBS just wants to be in the Marilu Henner business.

Quincy: Season 6: More of the Q-man is always welcome. This season features the episode in which Quincy gets indignant and rails at the system. What? OK, more specifically, Quincy investigates a plane crash, goes on TV to rip a faddish diet book, and helps "unravel" a Nazi plot to smuggle loot inside an Egyptian mummy. Forget my pun and just enjoy the fact that there's a mummy episode.

Bonanza: Season 6: Now, finally, the episodes that have run thousands of times on TV Land can be yours.

How the West Was Won: Season 1: Expansionist aggression? Fractured native populations? Veteran leadership from Tim Duncan and Tony Parker? Regardless of how it was won, this is an interesting release for Western fans.

Dynasty: Season 7: "Conveniently" available in split season form for fans who would rather be gouged on the individual volumes at their leisure than be gouged all at once for the whole set.

And in Instant Watching....

Barry Levinson's The Bay is an ecological horror tale of residents of a Maryland town hosting deadly parasites (but do their bodies remain intact?) Worst of all, they lose all their knowledge of Baltimore Colts trivia.

The Expendables 2:  It's a good thing there's no PED testing in Hollywood.I'll check this cheesy all-star action extravaganza despite the franchise's continued inexplicable snubbing of Michael Dudikoff.

13 Going on 30 is not a terrible nor a great film, it's an innocuous rom-com with Mark Ruffalo and Jennifer Garner that is nearly 10 years old. I highlight it because it's been listed as a "hot" queue add all week on instantwatcher , further proof of how eager Netflix customers are for mainstream theatrical movies.

And Chris O'Dowd's (The IT Crowd--which is available on Netflix and Hulu--Family Tree, which is on HBO, so fat chance of it arriving on Netflix and Hulu) Irish sitcom Moone Boy, in which he plays the imaginary friend of a young boy, debuts this week on Hulu.

Oh, and the latest Netflix Original, Orange is the New Black, is now available, and while "from the creator of Weeds" doesn't make me want to see it, the rapturous early reviews do ignite some interest in this prison dramedy. I might write more about this next week, but, jeez, I'm still working my way through the other Netflix Originals.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Stuff We Should Bring Back #1

Here's something we oughta revive: The practice of calling someone "Jack" when assuming a macho stance against him in some kind of conflict.

This was especially cool in professional wrestling, as in:

"If you want a shot at this title, just step up on, Jack, because I'm ready 24/7 to defend it."

What can I say? I just like it. Nobody seems to be using this anymore. Maybe it's because we don't have real men heroes anymore, or even posers trying to pass themselves off as such, but I'll bet even Orlando Bloom could seem a wee bit tougher if he tried addressing someone as "Jack" if things got tense.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Stuff I Scrambled to See on Netflix Before It Expired Theater (Part 2)

Well, it's been nearly two months since I scrambled to see it all, but, hey, I still saw it. So here are some capsule reviews of another batch of those titles that kept me busy before the big May 1 Massacre. Today's installment is Monogram Madness.

There's something about that Monogram logo coming up at the beginning of a picture that fills my heart with joy. The Poverty Row studio cranked out a bunch the man nicknamed "One Shot" cranked out tons of these  of movies in Hollywood's Golden Age, and, sure, many of them were considerably less than golden, but many are still enjoyable today. One type of film the company specialized in was the comedy thriller. Often it featured a sassy lady and a bland but well-meaning fella teaming up to solve some kind of mystery, experiencing some scares and some bumps on the head (maybe even a moider or two) along the way.

Netfliz quietly added a bunch of these (and other studios' similar efforts) a few years back, and they are unpretentious little programmers that almost always get in and out in under 70-75 minutes.

Fashion Model (1945) is an enjoyable picture that is still available on Instant Watching. The name William Beaudine is a familiar one to B-movie buff; "One Shot" cranked out tons of these back in the day. It's tempting to say that all of the cheapo quickies Beaudine made, this of them. But really this is a legit charmer.

As the opening credits rolled, I wondered why this "Tim Ryan" fellow was getting such prominent billing with Robert Lowery and Marjorie Weaver. Then I saw the screenplay credit: "Tim Ryan." Aha! Ryan is a police detective (unimaginatively named 'O'Hara") who tries to solve the murder of a fashion model in conjunction with/competition with/in pursuit of the leads' stockboy/model combo. See, Lowery's character is himself accused of the crime, so he has to clear his name by finding the REAL killer, and his girlfriend helps him, and--well, hey, just because it's a familiar tale doesn't mean it can't be entertaining.

I'm happy to report that this title survived the May 1 purge and returned a day or so later. So if you have an hour to kill and seek an unassuming time-waster, I recommend "Fashion Model" for your Instant Watching pleasure.

Two Shadow movies starring Kane Richmond as the pulp hero are not currently available on Instant Watching, but they are worth tracking down. Of the two, I found the second, The Missing Lady,  tenser and more involving than Behind the Mask (both from 1946), but be forewarned: These movies present a much lighter take on the character than, well, just about any other take on the character outside of "Mad" magazine.

Richmond, already a veteran of serials when he starred in The Shadow Returns (which was NOT one of the titles available on Netflix, and I'd sure like to see it), is a solid if unspectacular presence as Lamont Cranston. He receives able support from Barbara Read as longtime gal Margo Lane, but more importantly, ubiquitous era character actor George Chandler makes an amusing and compelling sidekick.

The pictures Netflix posted, plus the Shadow name and the movie titles, made these sound noirish, but these are much more comedy-mysteries in the typical Monogram vein than anything resembling hard-boiled. They are competently made, though, under the direction of Phil Karlson, who went on to make some truly stellar legitimate noirs. I'm sorry to report these are NOT on Netflix now, but I'll keep an eye out and try to let you know if and when they return.

UPDATE: As we were going to press (Actually, I could have revised this post to integrate this, but I always wanted to say that), I saw 1945's Tragedy at Midnight, one of the Republic pictures that is set to expire from Netflix on July 15. It is in much the same vein, under an hour, featuring a pair of radio detectives of sorts who  become suspects in a case. It's fast-moving with some amusing touches, like when Roscoe Karns, a detective assigned by the beleaguered police to basically harass John Howard's radio star because he makes them look bad, is talking to his boss on the telephone in a split screen, and at the end of the exchange, they gasp at each other. This one is apparently only gonna be around another week, but it's also worth a look.

Friday, July 5, 2013

This Week in Instant Watching

Special thanks to the Founding Fathers for helping out with the column yesterday, but today's words and thoughts are all mine--though they can't help but be influenced by the enduring legacy of Alexander Hamilton. Dude was bad-ass!

The standard beginning-of-the-month Netflix catalog dump brought few surprises--mainly a bunch of the same MGM titles that keep rotating in and out--but there are always some interesting things that jump out. Jimmy Stewart's Call Northside 777 is interesting because it's part of the Fox Film Noir DVD series, and Fox classics are always welcome on streaming. Along those lines, I note the presence of Liz and Dick in the notorious 1963 Cleopatra. All those new Elizabeth Taylor fans Lindsay Lohan made when portraying the legend can now see if the original can possibly stack up to the modern-day version.

The big highlight for me is 56 Up, the latest in Michael Apted's brilliant documentary "Up" series, films produced 7 years apart that show a constant group of subjects at the various stages in their lives.

Recent films like 6 Souls, The House That I Live In, and As Luck Would Have It (Did I mention Salma Hayek is in that one? I did last week? Sorry, it's hard to keep track of things sometimes. I'm no James Madison, you know) arrive at about the same time they hit home video.

Also new are a bunch of Ken Burns and other PBS titles, reflecting a recent trumpeted business extension between the network and Netflix. I'm all in favor of this because it's a broad deal with some depth to it, and it probably didn't cost a ton. I'm less enthused by the arrival of The New Girl and the hoopla accompanying Netflix's deal to become its exclusive online distributor. This is a moderately successful current sitcom with some but not a whole lot critical cachet. It may have some buzz, but not nearly as much as media elite favorites like Mad Men. i'm sure there are some people that are excited about seeing the episodes they just saw again on demand, but as a subscriber, I don't want to see Netflix spending acquisition funds on things like this.

Let me mention an odd thing that happened on Netflix last week: I wanted to watch Cheers, but the show was absent from my Recently Watched row. Uh-oh, I thought, that usually means something went bye-bye. I did a search for the title, and the show's name came up, which was a good sign, but not the show itself. I tried searching for Ted Danson but couldn't get the show. I tried looking at the row of recommended titles marked "1980s Comedies that Ended with Event Finales Including Tonight Show Appearances with Most of the Cast Plastered, the Tape of which You Still Have and May Actually Be Able to Dig Up Now." But it wasn't there, either.

The next day, though, it was back, and I could again watch "Cheers." What happened? Glitch? Sunspots? Voodoo? Beats me, but the incident is yet another reminder of the volatile nature of instant watching.

Speaking of that, regarding those unaired Don't Trust the B episodes I wrote about last week, after rechecking Hulu Plus, I can report...nothing. They're still not there, though the 11 AIRED episodes ARE, which somehow only makes me angrier.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

This Week in DVD: Special PATRIOT edition!

In honor of a very special birthday, I decided to not just list the most notable new DVDs out this week, but to dig up some comments by noted American patriots about each title. While there are some interesting new streaming titles this week, we won't be covering them here this week. I mean, come on, how would the Founding Fathers know anything about streaming video? That's just absurd.

6 Souls: "I regret that I have but 6 souls to give for my country." -- Nathan Hale, noted spy

The Girl: "'Tis better to live well and be well read than to bypass theaters for video instead. Now where is this girl about which you speak?" -- Silence Dogood, noted know-it-all

The House I Live In: "My house is but a humble extension of myself, built and maintained with industry, perseverance, and the manual labor of my slaves." -- Thomas Jefferson, noted hypocrite

Venus and Serena: "The redcoats will find their misery inescapable should they choose to advance now...also, should they watch an entire movie about the Williams sisters." -- George Washington, noted tree surgeon

Inescapable: "Give me Marisa Tomei topless or give me death!" -- Patrick Henry, noted loudmouth

The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis: "If this be the cobbler Gillis, the same Doberman Prescott Gillis who is betrothed to my sister, he shall be stoned for this frivolity." -- John Hancock, noted autographer

Night Court Season 9: "A television program, once jumped over the shark, can never be restored. Credibility, once it is lost, is lost forever." -- John Adams, noted cousin of the noted beer maker

Last Resort: The Complete Series: "Yeah, the show bombed, but Andre Braugher kicks ass." -- John Morgan, some carpenter

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

My mom buys "Us" Magazine so you don't have to

Well, you won't be seeing any "My wife reads People..." posts here anymore because while "People" continues to crank out its glossy infotainment each week, I no longer have a wife. Fortunately I have another female family member to throw under the bus (and, no, those posts aren't the reason I no longer have a wife--at least I don't think so). My wonderful mother was helping me get situated at the new Cultureshark Tower, and she got an "Us Magazine" at the store and left it for me to read.

After a few days, I succumbed and invested the 3 minutes necessary to read it. I won't even rant about the 40 pages of stars that are "just like us" juxtaposed with 40 more pages of red carpet photos that prove they're not. But one of those red carpet pages did irritate me. It's an inane collection of 3 paired photos, each  challenging us to decide "Who Wore It Best?" Here's the kicker: All these photos are of little kids, and most are toddlers.

We don't even have to think too hard deciding which preschooler wore Nico Nico or Stella McCartney better--probably good for us--because "US asked 100 people in NY's Rockefeller Center," and we see the results. Now, I hope these 100 people, assuming they, you know, exist, didn't actually consider the question. I'm picturing someone on their way to a hot dog cart (like my vivid depiction of life in Manhattan?) pointing at one of the pictures and shaking their head as they rush on to grab a quick bite.

At least these kids are celebrities--Matthew Broderick's girls (I assume), a Jolie-Pitt kid, David Beckham's son, two other little girls (sorry, never heard of them)--but still! Even if this feature is intended to be tongue in cheek, it's still presenting little kids in some kind of fashion competition. This ridiculous feature makes the next page of content, an look at Katie Couric's "Secret Love Life," look like a piece in "Foreign Affairs."

Let's just say that until I remarry, or until my mother returns for a visit, we won't be seeing many pieces about "People" and "Us" on this site.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Vault of Coolness: Marvel Fun and Games

It's a cliche to ask, "Remember when comics were fun?" But...well...sure, there are tons of fun comics books being made these days, but there is something to be said for the era when you could go to the drugstore and pick up something like this:

Here's just one of the fun things you got in this issue: A SECRET CODE!