Saturday, August 31, 2013

Speaking on Sports

I compiled some sports-related "Shark Bytes"-ish comments into a single post. If you aren't into sports, though, feel free to turn right to the page with the horoscopes and the Jumble.

*I don't know why so many of us thought that Fox Sports 1 might provide a decent alternative to ESPN's Sportscenter, but we kind of did. My early thoughts are that the clutter is too much, the highlights are too little. and I can do without the panel segments. I haven't seen much of the personalities yet, but I just don't think there's anyone there besides Charissa Thompson who is compelling enough to keep me from changing the channel. That said, I like the idea of someone making an effort to give the Worldwide Leader some competition.

*I caught a little bit of ESPN2's new "Olbermann" the other night. This show stars former Sportscenter anchor...Larry Biel. No, it's Keith Olbermann, of course, and he is full-on Olbermann for better or worse. I thought what I saw was pretty good, but I was puzzled that he led off with a Johnny Manziel monologue, then had John McEnroe on to talk about Johnn Manziel. I love Johnny Mac, and it was a decent enough chat, but it was in the middle of the U.S. Open. Eventually Keith thanked McEnroe for leaving the tournament early to come to the studio, and I thought, "OK, next segment, they'll talk about tennis." But, nope, that was it! Maybe Tim Tebow will buy a racket and start taking lessons, and then the sport will be important enough to be spotlighted on ESPN's main shows.

*At some point it became acceptable for announcers and sports journalists to talk about "my" team, meaning the teams they root for. That was a terrible point in sports media history. I think hearing some guy talk about "my Patriots" or whoever in the middle of an analysis segment is even worse than hearing him talk about players being on his fantasy team.

*I have long hated the Philadelphia Eagles so much I don't even want to sit through their games long enough to root for their opponent, but with Chip Kelly putting in a fast-paced offense, the team might actually be fun to watch. That's good to know as we get ready for the weekly NFC East Game of the Week on Fox and NBC.

*I don't know if I can ever be more than a casual college football fan again. It's the combination of what happened at Penn State ("my" Penn State, that is) and the idiocy of the NCAA and all the off-field nonsense. Oh, well. I still check out the games when I can.

*Fascinating story by Don Van Natta for ESPN on the possibility of Bobby Riggs throwing the infamous Battle of the Sexes tennis match with Billie Jean King. I feel sorry for King, who has been proud of her victory for years and now has to confront the possibility that Riggs tanked to settle gambling debts. "Outside the Lines" had a good piece on this story. Hey, you know what would have improved it, though? Inviting John McEnroe to come on and give his take...on Johnny Manziel.

*This is a dumb thing to place as the seventh bullet point, but the one thing that annoys me about the advent of football season is how many people are willing to kick baseball to the curb.

*I've been waiting for the cheapskate special on MLB.TV. Last year, membership from September 1 to the end of the season was only $10. This year, the special is in effect now, and it's $20. I don't even think there's any discount there. It might just be a prorated amount based on the regular season price. Point being, it really isn't a cheapskate special at all. MLB, I guess you don't want my money, or at least the small amount of money I was willing to give you after not paying you all season for the regular version of your product. Well, fine, then!

Friday, August 30, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Pain and Gain: Mark Wahlberg IS Frank Pain. The Rock IS Bob Gain. Together, they are...

You knw, Michael Bay has directed a lot of movies with a lot of explosions and a lot of fantastical visuals, but I don't think any of his films ever had a special effect more ridiculous than Rock's physique in "Pain and Gain."

The Great Gatsby: I know, I know, I loved the book, too. But let's look at the bigger picture: Leo DiCaprio doing this one meant one less movie in which Martin Scorcese could cast him.

To Be or Not to Be: Criterion Collection: I guess this will have to tie us over until the Criterion Collection edition of "The Horn Blows at Midnight" arrives. I love Jack Benny, and I love Carole Lombard, but I only liked this Lubitsch classic the first time I saw it. I'd like to revisit it at some point, but I don't see anything about this release that would make me ditch the previous Warner Brothers release. Still, this has been a pretty good year for Jack Benny fans.

Walking Dead Season 3: Well, I fell off watching this show, but I feel like it's a waste of time listing this DVD release since, if the ratings are accurate, 9 out of 10 of you have already ever seen every episode 5 times.

Grey's Anatomy Season 9: Season 9? I've run out of things to say...much like the series has, I presume.

Best of Warner Bros 25 Cartoon Collection: DC Comics: Hey, I hope this DVD has the one where Aquaman talks to the fish.

Sorry, I keep forgetting if it's hip to sincerely like Aquaman, to sincerely dislike Aquaman, to sincerely like him but pretend you dislike him, or to sincerely dislike him but pretend to like him.

Turns out, this collection is a sampler of the 1980s on and doesn't include any of those old 1960s shorts (such as the Aquaman ones). It looks like a decent overview of the modern era, but just be aware that this doesn't go back any further than late-era Super Friends.

And in Instant Watching:

Several ABC season 2's arrive: Once Upon a Time, Revenge, and Scandal. Hey, I've read several things lately that make me think I might like "Scandal."

OK, go ahead and watch Dredd now that it's probably too late to make much money for this cool, underappreciated comic book adaptation. Yeah, go ahead and see it, you freeloaders. Just remember the early adopters who actually paid money to go see it in the theater and support the thing (And, uh, people like me who paid a buck and change to get it from Redbox).

Lego movies and shows: I remain fascinated that these are a thing. I had my money on Shrinky Dinks being the multimedia breakout.

The Road: I think that's what we all need: Instant access to a bleak, depressing, unrelentingly grim couple hours of misery. You know, in case we don't happen to have any copies of Grey's Anatomy Season 9.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Don't think of it as self-promotion...(ClassicFlix)

Think of it as a public service to you, because after you skim my latest piece, you can dig in and look at all the great columns and reviews available, not to mention the tons of DVDs available.

This is my way of telling you my latest ClassicFlix review, a look at a Soupy Sales collection,is now available on the site. Remember, tell 'em Cultureshark sent you...

Featured Reviews
Soupy Sales - In Living Black and White
Soupy Sales - In Living Black and White
By Rick Brooks

I'm not sure you can really "get" Soupy Sales if you didn't grow up watching him, but I think you can certainly appreciate him. The very notion of a local kids' TV show host, let alone one who runs a ship as loose as this, seems outlandish in today's era of homogenized children's programming. Sure, there are children's cartoons that aim to appeal to grown-ups with a sly reference here and there, but as cheap-looking as modern animation can be, nothing outside of public access is as ramshackle as The Soupy Sales Show. You know what, though? To me, that crude "What the hey?" kind of attitude is the whole charm of it.

Not a lot of vintage Soupy Sales material is (read more)

Awesome 80's Video EXTRA--check this out

I got a cool shout-out on Twitter the other day, and since I am still inept and inactive there, I am acknowledging it here. Plus I want to call your attention to it because I think if you are enjoying the Awesome 80's Video posts, you will love author Marc Tyler Nobleman's ongoing interview project, "The Girl in the Video":

Marc Tyler Nobleman@MarcTNobleman
 Follow Follow 
@Cultureshark Coming in round 2 of…..."I Can't Hold Back."

In case the link doesn't work there--hey, I'm as inept at cutting and pasting as I am at Twitter--go here to read the set-up for these "original interviews with MTV icons." He has already tracked down some great familiar faces, and it seems we can expect an appearance from  the lovely lady who appears in this video:

I have enjoyed Marc's blog for some time now--I'm not just saying that because he Tweeted me--and unfortunately I lost track when Google Reader evaporated, and so I had missed this. What a fantastic idea! Go to the site now, check this out, and while you're there, look at the other cool stuff he has posted. Best of luck to you on this series, Marc!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Launch of FXX proves we have too many cable channels

On Labor Day, Fox is turning Fox Soccer into FXX, a spinoff of FX designed to get more of those coveted 18-34-year-old whippersnappers' eyeballs that advertisers covet. While eventually we will likely see some new originals, the launch schedule is built around a bunch of recycled comedies. Apart from the anchor "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia," there is very little appointment programming here. In fact, though there are some quality shows on display, the whole schedule indicates that Fox really doesn't need another channel. Well, perhaps it NEEDS to make all the money it can, but I mean we as viewers don't need it. I wish they would have just made FX better.

"Sunny" moves to FXX from FX this season, and it's aging but still a buzzworthy program, so I consider that a big deal. I'm not a fan of "The League," but it's another established series making the move, so from 10pm to 11pm on Wednesdays, FXX is relevant. But elsewhere in primetime, it's reruns and--yawn--a predictable assortment of edited-for-TV movies.

Let's go to the Sitcoms Online article for more info, shall we? As usual, Pavan writes a great post about a lame network. He mentions that the network debuts with a "Parks and Recreation" marathon. OK, again, I'm not a fan, but I know it has a following. But look what else the article says: "It will also be on WGN America this fall and the upcoming new network Esquire." Right away, FXX loses some of its cachet. This trend of multiple channels airing the same program is a good indicator that we have too many channels. Of course, they could try innovative and different programming ideas, but...nah, we know that's not gonna happen. Case in point: the rest of FXX's lineup.

"Spin City" airs from 7am to 9am 7 days a week. This show was previously seen on, as the article notes, FX! The next two hours are filled by "Mad About You," followed by an hour of "The Hughleys." "Mad" seems to pop up every two years or so, fail, and then go back to the sidelines. Maybe FXX will have good luck with it. "The Hughleys" is hardly an exciting acquisition, but at least it hasn't been played to death and wasn't just punted over from FX. Noon brings reruns of late night talk show "Totally Biased," and then at 12:30, it's..."The Hughleys" again? Aren't there more sitcoms to fill the half-hours?

Yes, there are, and we get them in hour blocks from 1pm to 5pm: "Sports Night," "Arrested Develoment," "How I Met Your Mother," and "Parks and Recreation."  Then it's more "Totally Biased," and then it's "Anger Management" reruns and sometims MORE "Parks and Rec."

There isn't a single new and exciting program to anticipate here. The flagship offering was on FX, so it's not like fans will hail this new network for making its continued presence possible. If anything, this network's existence weakens FX. To me this is just another sign that, yes, we have too many cable channels.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Warner Instant update

My recent overview of the new Warner Archive Instant streaming service is my most-viewed post of the summer, so I thought I'd add a few notes here:

*The flow of new titles continues to be consistent, with 12-15 movies added each week, and not many (that I know of) being dropped.

*Lately the concentration seems to be on the late 50s through 70s era, with a lot of interesting genre titles like "The Giant Behemoth" arriving in recent weeks. Personally I'd like to see more 1930s and 1940s efforts, and I think that time period's selection could definitely be beefed up.

*That said, I'd probably be happy if they just kept adding Monogram and Allied Artists titles.

*This isn't the first time nor the first streaming service on which this happened to me, but I saw an interesting new add last week and thought, "Oh, I'll have to watch that," only to realize after a few minutes that, "Wait, I already own that on DVD." Oops.

*The TV selection still gets only sporadic updates, but I buried what for me is the most exciting tidbit: In a recent chat with Reddit, Warner Archive head honcho George Feltenstein gave a scoop: Coming soon to Instant are "Bronk" with Jack Palance--not a big shock since that was listed as coming soon earlier--and the 1970s Danny Thomas sitcom "The Practice!" Whichever month that arrives, I will gladly fork over my 10 bucks just to see that one.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

This Week (Well, almost last week by now) in DVD and Instant Watching

It's "CBS dumps a bunch of TV series releases out this week and reminds you the fall season is coming" week! Sorry this is up a little late, but sometimes my day job interferes with my blogging life. It's not easy being a jet-setting millionaire playboy, but it's a living.

Epic: Whoever says movie critics are irrelevant these days is way off. I pay close attention to anyone who reviews a new cartoon movie because whatever I put on for my kids, no matter how good or bad it is, is probably gonna be on dozens of times more.

Killing Season: John Travolta is a former Serbian military man who seeks revenge on Robert De Niro's American veteran, and they square off one on one in the mountains. 15 years ago, I would have thought, "I gotta see that; it sounds really cool." Today, I think, "I gotta see that; it sounds hilarious."

Scary Movie 5: What was once a decent parody concept has devolved into an excuse to round up celebrities with sordid pasts. This installment alone has Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen, Katt Williams, Heather Locklear, Kate Walsh...What, you never heard of Kate Walsh's South American gun running exploits?

Boardwalk Empire Season 3: Uh, this isn't a CBS show and doesn't fit the theme I declared in effect for this week, so I'm ignoring it.

Parenthood Season 4: Same here.

NCIS Season 10: Or as I call it, 'WTF," as in, why is this show so popular?

NCIS: LA Season 4: Or as I call it--Aw, crap, why did both of these have to come out in the same week?

The Good Wife Season 4: Another season 4? Meet 2009, the biggest year in network television history. Incidentally, I keep expecting The Good Wife to be booked like pro wrestling, with Julianna Marguiles snapping, bashing someone with a steel chair, and becoming the Bad Wife. I probably said that when season 3 came out. If so, hey, at least I'm consistent.

Mike and Molly Season 3: I always read snide comments about how people ignore this show because it's just a bunch of fat jokes. Well, there is a long and rich history of fat jokes and sitcoms, so I don't get that. I'm sure there are plenty of other reasons to ignore this show.

Revenge Season 2: I think Travolta as a Serb pursuing Bobby De Niro in the boonies is all the revenge I need this week, thank you.

And in Instant Watching...

A Haunted House: If the "Scary Movie" franchise just isn't enough for you...

MST3K (multiple titles): The good news is, "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is back after a Netflix hiatus. The bad news is, they're the same episodes that were on before. Bummer. I miss the days when you could count on the movies showing up several months after the Shout DVD set release.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The power of Cultureshark is again revealed!

Last week, I mentioned that Warner Archive Instant had inexplicably dropped "Medical Center" from its lineup of TV offerings. Well, folks, I can now report that it is back!

Yes, it's still only the first half of the first season, but we at Cultureshark are always gratified to see content added, not deleted, and the restoration of that which was previously removed is especially satisfying. We would like to thank the good folks at Warner Brothers for viewing our post and taking quick action to correct this situation.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why we love "Miami Vice" (or at least one reason)

After a brief hiatus, I just resumed watching "Miami Vice" from the beginning via Netflix, and halfway through the first season one of my memories is confirmed: The show started strong and was pretty much awesome viewing from the get-go. Another of my memories, that the show deteriorated rapidly after the first few seasons, is yet to be confirmed or refuted.

Last week I saw "Glades," a fun episode which features Crockett and Tubbs uncovering a drug smuggling operation that uses air fresheners to conceal pure cocaine. No, actually it's the EVERglades, into which the guys venture to find a witness who bails just before testifying against a drug lord. There's a lot of hallmarks of classic "Vice" in this one: Switek and Zito bumbling, Castillo simmering, and Tommy Shaw singing (OK, that's not a staple of the series, but it stands out in this installment, and in fact the song "Girls with Guns" is used to fine effect here, but is worthy of its own post someday)...and you get several unique features like John Pankow as a sleazy swamp degenerate.

One of the best parts of "Glades" is Crockett and Tubbs' effort to infiltrate the closed swamp town community in order to track their quarry. And when I say "effort," I mean lack of effort, and that's what I love.

Now, I grant that we as viewers don't really need a 10-minute montage of the cops leafing through encyclopedias, interviewing experts, and trying to invent Wikipedia to prepare for an undercover assignment, but I do find it amusing, considering how much emphasis the series as a whole places on the toll this kind of work takes on the officers, that they often make such a half-assed go at it.

In "Glades," they're posing as fishermen looking for a tour guide they had before, and I think even they know right away how unconvincing they sound. The thing is, they don't care. It's like as long as they have cool threads and a big dose of swagger, they'll bluff their way through it. The telling detail is when Sonny Crockett, the Tony Danza of vice cops, introduces himself and Tubbs as Sonny Blake and Leroy Higgins. OK, "Leroy Higgins" is actually a sweet moniker, but Sonny BLAKE? Really? Is changing your first name too risky? Keep in mind this is the guy whose chief alias is Sonny BURNETT, which is even more similar to his real identity than Sonny Blake.

What the hey, right? We know they're faking, and the cops know they're faking, but do the bad guys know they're faking? Yeah, they do! But it doesn't matter. They all have to go through the little ritual for at least a little while before the swamp degenerates dump Higgins and Blake in the middle of the Everglades without a ride home. I appreciate the fact that everyone at least puts on a little bit of pretense.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

All right, I think I need a DVR again

For a variety of reasons, I have been without DVR at Cultureshark Tower for quite some time now, and the void has really changed my TV habits. For one thing, I don't do my daily scans of the schedule of the Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind--that's TCM to you--because I don't want to torture myself by seeing the movies I won't be able to sit down and watch as they air.

But just a while ago a friend alerted me to the fact that it is Wally Beery Day on Turner Classic, and I was stunned. How could I have missed this? How could I have gone about my day doing errands, shopping, eating--basically, living and dumb stuff like that--when an entire day of Berry was unfolding without me?

I just looked at the CONcast program guide (Does anyone know if it's standard for non-DVR customers to only receive a day or two of listings at a time? For that matter is it standard if you DO have a DVR? Because if so, I ain't ever getting a DVR from them), and fortunately I have seen all the flicks that are on tonight. But I am afraid to go to the TCM website and see what already screened. If I missed something cool, I'll be heartbroken...even if I really did have important things to do today and probably couldn't have seen it, anyway.

This is no way to live life. Maybe I need to figure out a way to get a DVR again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

It's "Hey, those movies actually came out in theaters?" week on DVD...

Olympus Has Fallen: Between this and "White House Down," that's two "White House under siege" movies in recent months. Man, imagine if they just combined their resources and casts into ONE fi;m. Then they'd...still be following in the footsteps of "24," which did the same thing a few years ago.

The Big Wedding: My first reaction at seeing the cast writer/director Justin Zackham assembled for this (De Niro, Sarandon, Keaton, Heigl, Robin Williams, Seyfried, Ana Ayora--just seeing if you were paying attention) is, "Wow, this guy must have written one fantastic screenplay." My second reaction is, "Wow, this guy's father must be really well connected."

The Company You Keep: All I can say is it's sad when an espionage movie directed by Robert Redford and written by the guy who did "The Limey" can't get more pub.

Hatchet III: Finally a chance to tie up all the loose ends of "Hatchet II!"

Emperor: The idea of Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur? A really good one, actually. But I prefer to ponder the idea of Tommy Lee Jones dressed up as a penguin and waddling around an arctic landscape. That's just how I roll.

Perry Mason Season 9 Part 2: Bravo to CBS for getting the entire series out, even if it took a while, but just remember, the next time you want to make fun of a company for labeling something "the complete x season," well, here's why they do that: Some companies love their incomplete season sets.

Eight is Enough Season 4: Are you as excited as I am about the addition of Merle the Pearl to the cast? Well, if so, I hope you're a lot richer than I am. You're gonna need to hock some diamonds to afford the whole season of this at 60 bucks.

Family Ties: The Seventh and Final Season: I don't mean to alienate any Brian Bonsall fans, but the addition of a new kid a few seasons prior meant this show had long since run out of ideas even before it started doing "Skippy episodes."

Shane: Only Alan Ladd could be so, shall we say, not tall, and make the name Shane so bad-ass. The Blu-Ray should make this iconic Western  look like a million bucks--which is still less expensive than a full season of "Eight is Enough."

In Instant Watching...

Affair of the Heart: It's a slow week when the most interesting Netflix add is a Rick Springfield documentary. I mean, I don't mean to make fun of it--Rick Springfield fans are even more rabid than Brian Bonsall fans--and I might even check this out, but still...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Warner Archive Instant: An Overview

I thought my look at the "Jimmy Stewart Show" on Monday might inspire some curiosity about Warner Archive Instant in general, so here is my overview. Depending on your own combination of financial resources, amount of leisure time, and cable contract (or lack thereof), you may look at Warner Archives' new streaming video service and ask, "Do I really need to pay 10 bucks a month for this when I already have Netflix and Hulu Plus?" I know I ask that, and the answer is no. But to me it's worth pinching a few pennies elsewhere and continuing with this because the selection is so good.

I got hooked on the two-week free trial (still available if you're interested), and I have kept it for a few months. Do I get to watch it as much as I would like? No. Do I wish it were just a little cheaper, like maybe 5 or 6 bucks per month? Yes. Do I think it could offer a bit more value for the money? Yes, but its value is increasing each week. The key is that while Warner Archive offered a smaller number of titles than expected on its launch, it is constantly adding new movies and TV shows (mostly the former) while not dropping current ones...except in the TV section (more on that later). Make no mistake, it's only a tiny portion of the Warner Archive Collection, plus some titles that aren't yet IN that collection, and you're gonna have to go somewhere like Classic Flix (hint, hint) if you want access to more of those vintage WB efforts. But the selection is varied and prestigious enough to warrant a look.

The service is available online and via a Roku set-top box. I'm not aware of other TV options right now, but I've read that they are coming. It is easy to install and use, but it does load slower than most of my other Roku channels. Once you get in, you can choose from hundreds of old movies, TV movies, and selections from old TV series, all of them owned by Warner Brothers but not all of them available on DVD, either through Warner Archive or elsewhere. Many movies are plucked from old standard retail box sets like the Gangsters Collections, but many are only on DVD through the Archive, and some hidden treasures are only found--so far--on this channel.

Selections appear as horizontal rows of titles, with a search box and a TV button at the very top. The first row is a New Additions section with about a dozen or two titles at a given time. Then you scroll down to see categories like Classic Comedies, Incendiary Cinema, Mondo/Cult, Guilty Pleasure, Sci-Fi, Drama, Musicals, Noir, and many more. The amount of titles in each category varies, and there is significant crossover among the rows, so you may see the same movie show up in multiple sections.

Each title is represented by DVD box art or some kind of movie poster image, and when you click it, you see a brief synopsis that usually includes minimal cast information, a basic plot summary, the running time, year of release, and the theatrical MPAA  rating if applicable.There is a "Watch Now" button to click, but unfortunately there is no "Save to Queue" option, mainly because there IS no queue. I'd really like to see WB add some kind of feature to make it easier to track titles we are interested in viewing. As the selection of titles grows--never a bad thing, of course--it does become more difficult to quickly spot movies you've been meaning to get to, or just to remember ones you might have made a mental note to look at later.

There are all kinds of movies, ranging from turkeys to classics. I was most interested in the rarest and oldest of the WB library, and that portion of the company's vast holdings is fairly well represented. A lot of the pre-codes and old crime movies have been seen on DVD or on TCM, but it's still cool to have them available here. Besides, there are some relative rarities here, though I think most of those are of the more recent variety. Don't expect to see the very top tier of classics on here. For example, you won't see "Casablanca" or "White Heat," but you will see Bogart titles like "Dark Passage" and Cagney titles like "Blonde Crazy." 

The Astaire/Rogers musicals aren't on here, but some of the Busby Berkley classics are. The "Silent" row is pretty sparse now, with a half-dozen movies, and the "Family" section could use some beefing up as well. I'd love to see more Noir titles, but then again, I own most of the old WB Film Noir Collections, so as long as I'm paying for this channel, I'd much rather see movies that are either not on video or are only available through the Archives. The fact is, I'm always gonna want to see more, more, more, from a pay service like this, and even a few hundred titles may seem small compared to the vast Netflix selection.

However, you won't find many if any of these particular titles on Netflix, and if you are a fan of classic movies, you probably feel marginalized by that company, anyway, in recent years. WB Archive Instant is not exactly Turner Classic Movies, but it's a lot more than the on demand offerings that you get on Comcast or FIOS. The easiest way to say it is that while it is still a work in progress, this as close to a real TCM on Demand as we are gonna get.

The most intriguing yet also baffling section is the TV section. For one thing, isolating it from the main page by making you click an extra button to get there is odd. The choices combine both predictability and randomness. In addition to the Jimmy Stewart Show, there are other one-season wonders like "Lucan" and "Jericho." I'm not surprised to see Warners standbys like "Adventures of Superman" and "Cheyenne," but I am disappointed it's in limited quantities. Similarly, classic series like "77 Sunset Strip" and "Hawaiian Eye" are represented in "Best of" form, not even in full seasons. TV Movies were all lumped together in one additional click-through section but now are dispersed in the movie categories. What is most vexing, half of Medical Center season 1 showed up one week, then disappeared a few weeks later. Half of season 1 of "Gilligan's Island" was up when I signed on but was removed, again without notice or explanation, a few weeks back.

It's all pretty easy to use and enjoy. There is a resume watching function, but it's not apparent at first. If you start something, leave it, and return later, you have to click the "Watch Now" before you are prompted to resume where you left off. I think this could be improved, but the queue function is the biggest thing that would make this more user friendly.

I'd love to see an expansion in the number of available titles. In particular, the TV section is not updated nearly as often as the main movie section. I kept the service after the trial mainly to keep watching "Jimmy Stewart," then continued exploring the movies and felt it was worth it. But if Warners can dig up some more obscurities like "Jericho," the TV section alone would be an enticement. After all, 10 bucks a month is a lot cheaper than paying 50 bucks for a season set.

I suppose at some point, Warner Brothers will start rotating its titles, and as new ones are added, some may be dropped. I hope that's not the case, and I hope that if it DOES happen, the channel will at least give better notice than Netflix does. For now, though, the catalogue is expanding slowly but surely with no end in sight. At launch, it didn't seem like such a good deal, but it adds value each week as it grows the library, and I am enjoying it right now. If it keeps this pricepoint and continues to bolster its selection, in a few months, this might really be something.for the enthusiast, if not necessarily something the general public is going to seek out.

Monday, August 12, 2013

"The Jimmy Stewart Show" on Warner Instant

I have been binge-wat--uh, seeing a lot of a certain TV show lately. It has a prominent name, many well-known faces, it hasn't been seen in years, and it is currently only available via online streaming.

That show of course is..."the Jimmy Stewart Show!"

Bet I threw a few of you there, huh? I was excited about the return of "Arrested Development," but I was more enthused to discover Warner Instant Archive had all 24 episodes of "The Jimmy Stewart Show" available for viewing. In fact, it's what made me go ahead and sign up for the free trial...and partly what made me PAY for the blamed service after those two weeks.

One of my favorite TV reference books is "Harry and Wally's Favorite TV Shows," a fun book loaded with capsule reviews of just about everything that aired up until the book's publication. But the guys, hamstrung by their format, sometimes really drop the ball. Their entry on this series begins:

"Hollywood film star Jimmy Stewart is wasted in this mundane sitcom. Stewart plays James Howard, a college anthropology professor who learns some new facts about life when he allows his married son to 'temporarily' move back home, along with a wife and child. this doubling of the Howard household population results in TV sitcom mayhem."

OK,. well, most of that is true enough, though it neglects to mention that Stewart "allows" his son to move back in after he burns down his son's house by falling asleep with a cigar, which puts things in a different light and gives the whole thing a little more tension and meaning. Plus Stewart already has a much younger son living with him and his wife, meaning the two 8-year-olds in the house are uncle and nephew.

So, really, the book's capsule is pretty skimpy. I mean, come on, it's Jimmy Stewart! In a sitcom! Don't you want to know more about this show? I sure did. Like the basic fact that it's shot single camera and not before a live studio audience. There is no laugh track. The book does tell us that it's in color and that it appeared in the 1971 fall season. It's set in California.

You can tell by the fact that I kept watching episodes after the trial ended that I either like the series or am a masochist. Well, the fact is I do enjoy it, and it grows on me with each installment. But before I get to its good points, let me list some of the factors that might make you wary of the whole endeavor. You see, the series is loaded with *WHIMSY*. When done wrong, whimsy can be pretty overbearing, and here are some factors that threaten to make the series insufferable:

*Stewart, as himself, introduces each episode and frequently addresses the camera.
*He also closes each episode in character by saying he and his family wish you "love, peace, and laughter."
*The opening credit sequence shows Stewart's character riding a bicycle home..
*That same open features a whimsical-sounding instrumental theme.
*The credits list the names of the cast and close with not an "And..." credit but a "And quite often John McGiver as Dr. Luther Quince."
*Stewart's character insists on wearing a cowboy hat to work, an angle that is pushed pretty heavily at first, likely to establish his uniqueness.
*Stewart plays the accordion. Not only that, he gives lessons to his nephew.

OK, if I had read all of that in a book, I might have seen an episode out of curiosity (I mean, come on, it's Jimmy Stewart! In a sitcom!), but I would have had low expectations. Yet despite the sometimes strained efforts to bring that whimsy, I find this gentle sitcom quite digestible. Let me discusssome of the stronger aspects of the show, ones that either refute or hold in check the whimsy:

Stewart's direct address gimmick is often fairly effective. It is often used to just let Stewart be Stewart, but it's sometimes pretty amusing in its own right. And I notice its use diminishes as the series progresses. Besides, Stewart IS Stewart, and he's always fun to watch, so it would be hard for me to say he's "wasted" here. I for one welcome the chance to see the kindly but wry everyman version of Stewart do a sitcom-style comedy take every now and then. Sometimes other characters comment on it, asking him if he's talking to them or telling another character, "He's talking to himself again."

There's also this somewhat troubling yet also somewhat fascinating aspect of the James Howard family: He's married to Julie Adams, who is in her mid-40s during production but still looks foxy as all get out. I assumed at first that she was Howard's second wife, but, no, he apparently had both sons with her and  had the second later in life. At least once he mentions having been married 30 years to her. In fact, at the time of production, Stewart is nearly 20 years older, and, boy, he looks it.

This creates an interesting dichotomy: On one hand, you get odd situations like the writers apparently trying to age Adams by calling her character "Martha" and, in one episode, lametning that she cant do the things she used to. Yet on the other hand, she says that right after the camera shows her bent over in a hot yoga pose, proving that, yeah, she's still got it. Then again, you kind of don't want her to show it off because she's married to Jimmy Stewart. So when she shows him a bathing suit she bought for him and he makes a comment about why would he need a bathing suit and she tells him she thought he would appreciate seeing her in it, you're pretty much thinking...Ewww.

There is a veteran team of talent assembling ths, led by Hal Kanter, who created the series and also writes and directs many episodes.The supporting cast is led by Adams and McGiver, who is supposed to be a shade curmudgeonly but really comes across as so likable that it's hard to picture his supposed Nobel-winning chemistry prof is anything but a big teddy bear. Really you kind of feel sorry for the guy. He hangs out at the family's house virtually every night, sponging off them for dinner and then posing for portrait painting by Martha, often while playing chess with James. When the girls in the house try to fix him up, Luther is enraged by their meddling with his confirmed bachelorhood. About a handful of episodes later, the show changes its mind and lets Luther fall in love, which is either a sign of how effective the character is and how committed the show is to him...or a sign of how hard it was to come up with original plot ideas. Another notable thing is that Luther often makes frequent "joking but not really" references to how he wishes Martha were his. I keep waiting for the episode in which Luther poisons everyone at the dinner table but he and Martha in a misguided attempt to take her away.

Stewart's son P.J. is the uptight conservative who contrasts with his father's casual, liberal persona. As played by Jonathan Daly, the character never gains much traction. His most distinctive feature is his speech pattern, which makes him seem like he's sputtering each line. Somehow this links him a little to Stewart's famous halting (although not so much on this show) speech pattern. P.J.'s wife Wendy is played by Ellen Geer and has a rather odd air about her as well. There is something slightly off kilter about this couple, though perhaps much of it comes from the sometimes corny dialogue. As for the kids--well, they're kids, and they're adequate. The gimmick of one being the other's uncle is emphasized less often as the series rolls on.

Speaking of the ongoing continuity, halfway through the run of 23 episodes presented here (one of the 24 episodes is skipped for some reason--yes, there's a LOST EPISODE of "The Jimmy Stewart Show"), we get a couple of apparent flashback episodes. Stewart resets the premise for everyone as a way to explain why we're covering ground that has already been covered. Apparently the programs were broadcast out of production order, and  I can see why; at least one of those midseason reset episodes is one of the weakest of the lot and was probably delayed for artistic reasons.

The situations are fairly standard here: One of the kids struggles with self-esteem, PJ disagrees with his father politically, a comely student propositions James...There are lessons learned, and it's all very pleasant. The "edgiest" episode I've seen so far features Jimmy's struggle to get a bathroom in the morning. It's not exactly Archie Bunker flushing the john to uproarious laughter, but, hey, it is bathroom humor.

The guest stars are mostly more of the Herbert Anderson and Pat Buttram variety than the superstar variety, and I suppose it was a bit of a coup to get Regis Philbin (who plays a late night talk show host in a funny episode), though later in the run you get Ruth Hussey and Vincent Price as himself. But Vincent Price guested on everything in the 1970s, didn't he? The bottom line is, why do you need guest stars? It's Jimmy Stewart! In a sitcom!

Call it nostalgia for an era before my time, call it my love of the novelty of it, call it my desire to justify the $10 a month for Warner Instant, but I LIKE this series. The writing is often a tad too precious, and the whimsy does threaten to overwhelm the entire experience, but it's difficult not to at least smile at the results. Of course there's always the joy of watching the great Jimmy Stewart. It's rarities like this that make Warner Archive Instant such a potentially interesting proposition.

Friday, August 9, 2013

My Classic Flix column debuts this week

Last week I told you about my first review appearing over at Classic Flix; this week my monthly TV Time column debuts with a look at "Beat the Clock." I'm having a lot of fun writing about classic television over there, and I hope you'll check it out. I want to thank my buddy and Friend of the Site Ivan for inviting me to be part of the revamped website. He has assembled a fantastic roster of contributors (once you get past that guy doing the classic TV column) who are producing some really entertaining content.

And while I'm certainly not impartial, and, yes, I am compensated for my writing (but not for saying this), while you're looking at the articles and reviews, I suggest you explore the commercial part of the website. Not only can you buy lots of classics on DVD, you can rent them by mail. Let me tell you, if you were dismayed several years ago when Netflix started de-emphasizing vintage material, then tried to dump mail order rentals altogether, you really want to take a look at ClassicFlix. If there's any other way to rent all those Warner Archive and other MOD catalog titles, I don't know of it. There are a variety of membership plans available, and you can get a whole month of service for the price of less than one of those MOD discs. The selection is amazing, and the service is excellent.

If you're already a Classic Flix member and that led you here...uh, I really hope this isn't the first post you saw. Trust me, I do a lot more than just hype my Classic Flix articles. Stick around, and I'll try to post something interesting soon. I'm here 365 days a year. I don't POST 365 days a year--what am I, crazy?--but I'm here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Oblivion: Tom Cruise keeps making big movies, and I guess they're making money. He's not going away anytime soon, unless of course [SCIENTOLOGY JOKE DELETED BY CULTURESHARK LEGAL COUNSEL].

Mud: This movie garnered enough decent reviews to make me think it belies my theory that the more fun a movie it is to say, the less fun it is to watch.

The Place Beyond the Pines: Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper headline the cast, but I'm drawn to Ray Liotta as a corrupt police detective. Hasn't Ray Liotta played a corrupt cop in a dozen movies by now? (That's a rhetorical question. I don't want facts to get in the way of my presumption.)

To the Wonder: Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko (hey, she's in "Oblivion," too) star in this drama from Terrence Malick. I know virtually nothing about it, but I think it's safe to say it's long, often impenetrable, and features at least one long take of a blade of grass.

The Sapphires: As a big Chris O'Dowd fan, I must mention this period piece about an Australian aboriginal girl group

On the Road: Between this and "Gatsby," everyone's taking a crack at the unfilmable novels lately. What;s next, "Gone With the Wind"? I'd like to see them try to do THAT one.

The Best of Fridays: When it was announced that the early-80s ABC 'Saturday Night Live" knockoff was coming to DVD, fans got excited for the complete run. Then when they discovered it would be a best of set, fans got excited for handpicked complete episodes. Then when they discovered even the selected episodes were cut (apparently it's mostly musical performances that are deleted), they...well, they decided that if they want more episodes, they'd better buy this, anyway. In fairness to Shout Factory, it was probably a difficult process (in other words, it cost money) to clear all the music for this series. The company did put together a pretty impressive list of bonus features. Plus it looks like most if not all of the Andy Kaufman material is here. But does anyone have any reason to think there'll be more sets of this show? I say buy this because you want this, not because you think that eventually the rest of it will appear on video.

Community Season 4: Season 4 is now on DVD! Buy it now...and bury it in a pile next year when it winds up as clearly the weakest of the 5. I would have loved to hear showrunner Dan Harmon, who spent this season in exile, do commentary tracks for this set. As it is, you know, the show wasn't at its best, but it had some great moments and some fine episodes in season 4.

Duck Dynasty Season 3: I wish Dan Harmon did commentary tracks for THIS series, too. Why? I dunno, I just think it would be funny. I didn't know this show was such a big deal until I saw entire displays of licensed merchandise at a bookstore a while ago. Big, comfy chairs and dedicated staff are on the way out in the bookselling biz; "Duck Dynasty" t-shirts are in!

And in streaming...

Netflix gained some interesting new titles this past week, including Erased, an action/adventure flick starring and Aaron Eckhart and...Olga Kurylenko??? Seriously, if this is National Olga Kurylenko week, then someone needs to do a better job of hyping it.

Also "new" to streaming are a bunch of James Bond movies, which will probably expire at the end of the month if past history is any indication. The 007 movies go, they come back, they go, they come back...

I haven't seen David Fincher's Zodiac, and I don't remember it being on Instant Watching before, so maybe now I'll check it out.

Hulu premiered Seth Myers' animated series The Awesomes, which may or may not be worthwhile. I was struck by an article about Hulu that referred to Myers as a "fading TV star." Ouch! The guy is taking over Fallon's show. Isn't that worth anything?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

"Honeymooners" again: What's the real shocker in this episode?

Speaking of "the Honeymooners"--and really, why shouldn't we--I was watching one of the Lost Episodes the other day and I found a double whammy of items that dated the episode. Now, I think a great show is a great show and I usually find virtually nothing "dated" about the show in the sense that people most often use the word when referring to television programs. But this episode, "The Brother-in-Law," contains a few elements that place it way down on the list of samples I'd present to someone who has never seen the program.

Ralph's constant toothless threats of physical violence have been commented on time and time again by modern commentators who are appalled by even the empty references to wife beating. Personally, I do find it amusing when Ralph says, "Bang! Zoom!" I also find it funny when Alice stands up to him, clearly recognizing Ralph is all bluster and would never dream of hurting her.

Less funny in a genuine way but still kind of funny in a "Wow, it was a different time back then" way are the references the Nortons make to domestic violence, especially in the rougher, gritter Lost Episodes (as opposed to the filmed Classic 39, the standard syndicated package that represented the show for decades). Not only does Ed make frequent references to belting Trixie, but he sometimes comes downstairs with a bump on his head, remarking about not being able to dodge a frying pan or something to that effect. I can still  appreciate the spirit of these remarks and laugh, but they do take me out of the narrative a bit. They remind me that I'm watching a 60-year-old program and kind of make me take a brief mental step back.

Then there are some moments that just make me think, "Hoo, boy." In "The Brother-in-Law," Ralph asks Alice if she'd like a belt, and when she doesn't back down, he says he won't give her one because, he says with disgust, "You're just the type that would call the cops." Whoa! For whatever reason, even the original studio audience doesn't seem to know how to react to that one, and there are some odd yells and subdued laughs. It does kind of take you out of it for a second.

But Ralph made similar comments in other episodes. I think what really shocks in this episode is not Ralph's mouth, but something a bit lower--namely, his tie:

Where the heck did he get that thing, the clearance rack at the Bensonhurst Fat Man's Shop? Was it a door prize at a Raccoon Lodge social? Are those supposed to be sunflowers?

I just don't think there's anything Ralph Kramden could utter that would distract me more than that tie. And here's the kicker: Several weeks later, in "Kramden vs. Norton," Ralph faces off against Ed in court after a dispute over a television set, and guess what he wears. That's right, not only Ralph Kramden the character, but Jackie Gleason the performer, or at least somebody behind the scenes, thought this tie was spiffy enough to be part of his dress-to-impress duds.

Monday, August 5, 2013

That's a lot more than "a mere bag of shells"...

Remember when the initial hype for then-fledgling video formats Blu-Ray and HD-DVD included speculation about entire seasons of TV would be able to fit on a disc or two, thus making long runs of shows more feasible and affordable? Well, some years later, there is not a lot of TV on Blu-Ray, certainly not a lot of classic TV, and what we are finding is--surprise, surprise--the gimmick is in many ways just another way to get fans to buy what they already have, only this time at a higher price.

Case in point: My all-time favorite TV show, "The Honeymooners," is finally getting a Blu-Ray video release from Paramount this fall. This is not the Lost Episodes, mind you, but the 39 episodes from the single season Jackie Gleason did the classic as a stand-alone half-hour sitcom and not a sketch on his variety programs. The Classic 39 have been available on DVD for years, and the set is adequate, but it's not really remastered, nor is it loaded with extras.

So while I don't know if I NEED to "upgrade" a set I own now that I have a Blu-Ray player, well, if anything were to tempt me, this would be the thing. When I heard the news, I started thinking about possible archival footage that could be included. I began wondering how much better the show could look given a legitimate remastering. And it IS my favorite show. "Yeah..." I thought, "I might consider that."

Then I saw the pre-order price at a certain major online retailer: $75!

And that was with a 32% discount! The suggested retail price was well over 100 bucks for one season of 39 half-hour episodes. It IS an excellent show, but in the immortal words of Gorilla Monsoon, "Gimme a break."  That is way too much unless it comes with a free bowling bag ball--I mean a bowling ball bag--a few cans of KranMar's mystery appetizer, and maybe even a string of poloponies.

Mind you, I am not complaining about Amazon's--uh, I mean a certain major online retailer's--price. It offered a heavy discount on the outrageous MSRP provided by the M. I'm often irritated by seeing online commentators defend the initial pricing of a DVD because "it'll be much lower than that on Amazon, anyway." Well, yeah. But it would be even LOWER if the studio gave us a break!

After venting but before publishing this post, I realized it had been a week or two since the announcement, so I figured in the interest of fairness and accuracy I should double-check the listing and make sure the pricing wasn't a simple error. Hey, those things happen, right? So I went back to Amazon and found that the pre-order price is no longer 75 bucks.

It's $114.99.

Maybe I should be thankful here; after all, Paramount's apparent $130 price point will make it a lot easier for me to avoid double-dipping this October. That'll free up some bucks to check out what's coming from Shout or Timeless...

Saturday, August 3, 2013

An entirely selfless "rerun" this weekend...

I just want to call attention to a book review I did a few months ago, a strong recommendation of "The Great American Cereal Book." I do this because the author was kind enough to leave an appreciative comment, and I want to run it here because it may not be easily seen otherwise:

This is Marty Gitlin, author of The Great American Cereal Book.

I was just going through some of the reviews of the book and I stumbled upon this one. The book was featured in the New York Times, Time Magazine, Reader's Digest and Wall Street Journal, but I must say that I never got more of a kick out of a review than I did this one. The reviewer here really captured the essence of the book.

If anyone is interested in an autographed and personalized copy, please go to I will be glad to do just that ... and ship it to you for free. How often can you get a 365-page full-color book that is so much fun for $20?

Marty Gitlin
The Great American Cereal Book

I want to thank Marty again for the comment and extend congratulations on a fine book.

I am in no way calling attention to this to:

1) Pat myself on the back
2) Fill space on a slow weekend
3) Put this out there in the hopes of scoring review copies from publishers/studios since, hey, I like to read and watch DVDs, you know, folks

I repeat, in no way is any of that my motivation.

Well, maybe in an itsy-bitsy way,

Friday, August 2, 2013

Awesome 80's Video #2: "I Can't Hold Back" by Survivor

OK, so not only does this video, the second in our series of Awesome 80's videos,  have perhaps the single greatest collective cockblock ever perpetrated on a lead singer by his scrub bandmates, it also offers, I posit, one of the greatest freeze frames in the history of the medium.

Hyperbole? No, of course not. How could there ever be hyperbole when the band in question is…SURVIVOR.

That’s right, 80s superstars Survivor are up with not Eye of the Tiger but “I Can’t Hold Back,” which was a pretty big hit for them and is still remembered today. It’s not an obscure song, but I don’t believe this great video is remembered as it should be.

It starts with the band inside a bookstore (sadly, in another 5 years, this will be the most dated aspect of the video) acting like jackasses at the magazine rack, with a couple of the guys leering at a centerfold. I thought at first the band was looking at a centerfold of an electric guitar, which would be a good gag, but after multiple viewings I’m pretty sure I see the telltale sign of a “Data Sheet” on the back of it, an indication that it is indeed a Playboy centerfold…or so I’m told. Ahem.

The lead singer goes over and picks out a big picture book of trains, possibly because, well, you know what trains going through tunnels represent, but just as possibly because he like when the big choo choo go choo choo! Right about now he sees his object of desire, a gorgeous blonde with a quintessential Totally 80s look (and who is damned familiar—if anyone knows who she is, let me know) who we see coming down a ladder. Ladies and gents, it’s our first butt shot of the video, and it will not be the last. It confirms that while the woman is smart enough to be looking at a book (OK, it’s a book about Elvis, but that still counts), the lead singer of Survivor and the video’s director are most interested in other assets.

(Incidentally, Is it standard operating procedure to let customers scale ladders to get books off the top shelves? Or are certain customers encouraged to go up those ladders so rock bands who happen to be in the store can look up at them and watch them come down?)

Lead Singer makes eye contact with her and starts SMOLDERING. At some point the band starts making fun of him, flashing “OK” signs and giggling like they’re in third grade and, hey, look, he’s talking to A GIRL.

“How old are you, Beavis?”

The guy that stands out, if only because he’s tall and has distinctive specs, is the Ray Manzarek wanna-be. In the performance clips, we see him playing his keyboards and gazing admiringly at the singer, but in these scenes, he seems determined to wedge the singer and the girl apart. I mean, it’s almost as if he doesn’t want him to—ohhhh, wait, I think I just figured out what’s going on here.

Anyway, the Totally 80s babe returns a smoldering gaze and transforms into an 80s video babe, wearing a skirt now and strutting like she means business, as fog makes its inevitable appearance and the band is playing on stage. Again, the message is clear: Yeah, it’s nice the girl is in the bookstore and all, but wouldn’t it be great if she were a GROUPIE? YEAH!

The singer (I really should have looked up his name, huh?) is wearing a way-too-tight reddish ensemble that he probably stopped being able to fit into about 5 minutes after he gave up cocaine. It’s touch and go as it is.

Back in the bookstore, the singer is still trying to give sexy looks, and I think he accidentally gives a choo choo a sexy look because we are transported to a subway scene, with the Totally 80s babe now in leather, the singer wearing a ridiculous but still cool tie, and the band members in various guises as passengers who watch the two leads meet and make out. One dude is dressed as a nun, and Ray Manzarek Wannbe is an uptight businessman.

The train fantasy plays out in PG-rated fashion, and we get back to the bookstore, where our couple is making good eye contact when—what the hell—the band literally drags the singer away. It’s like, “Hey, he’s doing pretty well with her. Let’s get him out of here!” I would expect the singer to say, “Hey, losers, you’d better shut up unless you want to have to scour the Near East for another guy to sing Eye of the Tiger,” but he meekly accepts his fate until they get outside and the band turns the corner. So the singer slinks back and heads back towards the babe, who is going away in the other direction (cue more butt shots), only it’s too late and she gets on…o cruel fate…a train as he stands helplessly on the platform. She gets the train, he gets the shaft, and we get the best freeze frame ever.