Friday, November 29, 2013

THAT'S how you stuff a turkey

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

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

Happy Thanksgiving weekend, everyone.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

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

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

From all of us to all of you...


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in streaming....

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mag Rack #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 25, 2013

Stuff We Should Bring Back: The Statue of Liberty Play

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 18, 2013

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paradise: Whatever happened to Diablo Cody? This.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And in streaming...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

MIA: The Baseball Bunch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 10, 2013

This Week in Instant Watching Part 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 9, 2013

This Week in Instant Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 8, 2013

This Week in DVD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 4, 2013

Instant Gratification Theater: Warner Instant roundup

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 1, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

Q: Wait, is there animation in this?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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