Monday, March 31, 2014

One of the worst sequels ever

I had "Staying Alive" (1983)--as if there could be another movie with the title "Staying Alive"--in my Netflix queue for a while because--well, I don't know why. It wasn't like I had never seen any of the movie before. I'm pretty sure I saw most of it years ago. I didn't like it then. I loved "Saturday Night Fever," but didn't care for the sequel. Maybe I just wanted to have easy access to Frank Stallone's 'Far From Over" without having to sit through an add on Vevo/YouTube.

It expires tomorrow, though, so last week I made time even in the midst of my busy schedule of helping orphans and cute animals. Yes, I sat down and watched the movie!

Sure enough, once you get past the wonderful cheese of the opening credits and the aforementioned Frank Stallone tune, it's all downhill for this sequel, directed and co-written by Sylvester Stallone. All told, Frank at least has an iconic "inspirational" 80s anthem and a few musical numbers. As far as Stallones go, he comes out best here.

Stayin' Alive isn't just ill conceived, poorly executed, and hopelessly dated; it's so unlikable that it threatens the reputation of the original. As I watch it and think that it's a bunch of lame music videos and a time capsule of the 80s--but not in a good way--I wonder, "Wait, was Saturday Night Fever like this?" I prefer to think not, that SNF epitomized certain aspects of the Super 70s in a good way, that its "music videos" were entertaining but supported the story rather than supplanting it, that it had compelling characters. That's what I choose to think. I'm too afraid to actually dig out the DVD and watch it again, though.

One of the big problems with this sequel is...not enough Frank Stallone. OK, that's enough Stallone references. It's time to discuss the Travoltas. John's Tony Manero character spends much of the movie as a complete d-bag, stringing along likable "nice girl" type Cynthia Rhodes while making time with vixen Finola Hughes. Manero has moved from Brooklyn to Manhattan, struggling as an aspiring pro dancer while tending bar and teaching (no, not astrophysics; dance). We're supposed to sympathize with his struggle, but he's not very likable, mostly due to his continued a-holish behavior to Jackie, the dancer/singer played by Rhodes.

At one point, hitting bottom, Tony walks to the old 'hood (I guess in 1983 NYC, he thinks it's safer then riding the subway) and chats up Mama Manero. He apologizes for being such a selfish prick, and Mama lets him off the hook by saying his selfish attitude is what got him out of Brooklyn in the first place. This INSPIRES him, and he's energized to go back to Manhattan, dance his booty off, tell Finola Hughes to kiss off while starring with her in a Broadway production, and live happily ever after. I don't know, this scene is supposed to remind us of Tony's roots and--perhaps more importantly--remind us that we like "SNF" and, hey, this is kind of like "SNF." Yet it just falls flat to me. If anyone needed motivation, I would rather have heard "Far From Over" again.  And if we needed a strong dose of family, instead of Julie Bovasso reprising her role as Tony's mom, maybe we should have seen Ellen (Hey, I'm his sister, not his mother!) Travolta make an appearance.

I will say that "Stayin' Alive" is almost worth watching for the fashions, the ridiculousness of the over-the-top dance numbers, the slick and silly eighties-ishness of it all. The production Tony ends up starring in, "Satan's Alley," has to be seen to be believed. I can only hope that somehow Sly personally supervised the creation of everything associated with it, right down to the choreography and the costumes. Against all odds, "SNF"makes disco on the edge of being cool, but "Staying Alive" makes dance itself, maybe even the concept of physical movement, repellent.

You don't really get to see vintage Travolta strutting to vintage Bee Gees until the end of the movie. Until then you get an hour and a half of bad music, annoying characters, and Frank Stallone. My advice: Fire it up before it expires, listen to 'Far  From Over," and let it poof out of your queue at midnight tonight.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Cool clip on You Tube/Mising in Action/Stuff We Should Bring Back

I'm cramming 3 post themes into one today because this clip epitomizes several things we need to talk about, like, for example, Ron Rifkin was on One Day at a Time?

First of all, though, where the heck IS One Day at a Time? When I was growing up, it was a fixture on CBS' primetime schedule, and it was even in daytime reruns. Somehow it fell off the national landscape after the series ended in first run, and apart from a run on E! (doesn;t that seem odd now?), I haven't seen it on a national platform in decades. I think one of the Chicago versions of Me-TV ran it, so it's presumably not in some kind of TV limbo. Yet it only got one DVD release--its first season--and although just about every other big Norman Lear sitcom has appeared on Antenna TV, ODAAT has never showed up.

Seeing this clip of the sixth season intro reminds me that the show was on a long time. In fact it was on a really long time--9 seasons. So if the sight of a sixth season jolts you, well, there were 3 more after this one, pal. Also, I just don't remember as much about this sitcom as I thought. For instance--well, let's just wach this clip:

Wow, where to begin? Well, let's begin at the beginning! That telop of Archie Bunker's Place is exactly what I was talking about last week when I said we needed to bring this stuff back. It's just beautiful.

Then, due to the kindness of this fantastic uploader, we see the classic CBS SPECIAL PRESENTATION bumper, perhaps the single most fondly remembered several seconds of television from my childhood. I find it amusing that a one-hour episode of One Day at a Time gets this treatment. I guess the "Special" in 'CBS Special Presentation" was a bit more loosely defined that I would have recalled.

The song itself is great. It's one of the most underrated theme songs in sitcom annals, maybe because of its limited exposure in recent years. It has energy, it sets up the premise. and it still feels fresh 30 years later. Watching more "One Day" openings on YouTube, you notice that it's one series that did not feel compelled to screw around with its theme song just for the sake of change. I respect any series that has the discipline to resist commissioning an "updated" (usually worse) version.

Now look at who is and who is not in these credits. Mackenzie Phillips, evidently in one of her dark periods at the time, is not there, but Ron Rifkin is. Ron Rifkin? Holy cow, I forgot he was ever a cast member. I remembered the rise of Michael Lembeck and even Boyd Gaines, I remembered the Glenn Scarpelli phenomenon, and if pressed I could have recalled the Howard Hesseman era. But Rifkin?

Wait, I just looked this up: Rifkin was the father of the Scarpelli character? And he was KILLED OFF after this one season? Bummer. OK, that makes sense.

Towards the end we see the credit of producer Bud Wiser, and many of the YouTube commenters express their amusement. I wish I had something witty to say, but, nah, I just chuckled at that myself.

The most fascinating credit is the co-creator one for Whitney Blake/ THE Whitney Blake of "Hazel" fame? Indeedy, and she based the series on her experiences raising Meredith Baxter. Wow. See, there is a lot going on here, and this is just one opening of 9 seasons' worth of show. Maybe someone should put this series back on so we can explore the Schneider thing again.

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching Part --yes, 3! Warner Instant

Hey, Warner Archive Instant, this is how you do it! Several weeks ago, they had a big movie update, featuring titles such as...uh, I didn't write them down, and it's hard to keep track because they disappear into the main catalog once they update again. The good news is, they updated again.

First, let's talk about the TV additions. Two weeks ago, we got the entire MGM Our Gang series, which is pretty darn cool. This week saw two sets of Fitzpatrick's Traveltalks. Are these titles stretching the definition of "television?" Yep. Do I care? Nope. Short subjects are always welcome on the service, and I look forward to seeing what else they throw up there.

Now back to the movies. One thing to note is that while WAI used to be consistent about updating each Friday, now new titles are liable to come during the week, so you have to keep an eye out. Two updates ago, we gained such movies as Background to Danger with Lorre, Greenstreet, and Raft. Virginia City (Bogart and Flynn), Stranger on the Third Floor (Lorre), John Ford's The Lost Patrol, John Wayne in The Wings of Eagles (also John Ford), I really should have paid closer attention.

THIS week, I can tell you we get Treasure Island with Wallace Beery, and shouldn't more Beery always be a priority for WAI?  Gangster fans get Kid Galahad (Robinson and Davis) and G-Men (Cagney). A few new Spencer Tracy titles including A Guy Named Joe and Cass Timberlane are up.

Speaking of Kid Galahad, it was reworked as The Wagons Roll at Night, which isn't Bogart's best film, but it's still Bogart. Bogart and carnies! Come on! Ronnie Reagan was always proud of Kings Row, but I've never seen it. Not because Reagan was proud of it, but just because--jeez, does everything have to be poilitical these days?

Film noir fans get Tension, mystery fans get a quartet of 1960s Miss Marple features. The slow trickle of Andy Hardy continues with Love Finds Andy Hardy. An all-star cast appears in 1936's A Midsummer Night's Dream. Harlow and Gable, two all-stars themselves, appear in Hold Your Man.

That's the good news. The bad news is I just noticed the watchlist only has allows up to 100 titles, which makes the concept a little useless if you go over 100 and titles you are trying to keep track of disappear from your list.  Worse yet, my watchlist still has several titles that are no longer available! Come to think of it, I can't dump anything from my watchlist. Uh, yeah, this thing is pretty screwed up. I guess I'm gonna have to send them an e-mail.

Speaking of disappearing, the other bad news is another purge took place. So long, Get Yourself a College Girl! Wish I could have seen you! Wish you weren't still tempting me by appearing in my watchlist!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

This Week (and Last Week) in DVD and Instant Watching part 2: The streaming

OK, thanks for joining us the other day for the DVD roundup. Now let's see what is new on the various streaming services.

Hulu added a few interesting older series. I don't get excited about adding new episodes of something like Surviving Jack because my attitude is that they SHOULD be adding those. Right? However, I see 8 episodes of Peter Graves' old horse show Fury. Ooh, 8 episodes! Can you spare it, Hulu?

"Hey, why should we bother putting up more than 8 episodes of that thing? It's OLD! And besides, even some nut who watches old shows could see one a week and go for TWO MONTHS without repeating anything!"

More compelling is season 1 of the original Route 66. Now, THIS is a pleasant (and unheralded) surprise addition to the site. I haven't had a chance to see any, but they all run about 51 minutes, so I am assuming they are uncut episodes. Who knows, maybe by 2023 they'll add a few more seasons!

Netflix added some really intriguing new titles and some titles that are I mean, yeah, Big Wedding was in theaters last year, but does that make it inherently worth seeing? Folks might be curious to see Jobs, but most of America really wants to see more info about Ashton and Mila. Is she pregnant? Come on, guys, give us the scoop!

If you missed Mega Shark vs. Mecha Shark a few months ago on DVD, now's your chance to see it for "free." Harrison Ford has a supporting role in Paranoia, a poorly received tech thriller.

Kathleen Hanna is profiled in The Punk Singer, and Oscar winning doc 20 Feet from Stardom, about backup singers, comes to Instant Watching just as I hoped it would. Too bad my hoping for stuff never works on Hulu, huh?

Maybe the best recent theatrical to hit Netflix this month is Mud. Star Matthew McConaughey won an Academy Award for 'Dallas Buyers Club," of course, but many thought he really could have won for..."True Detective." It was _that_damn_good. But "Mud" is supposed to be good, too.

I have a lot to say about Warner Archive Instant, but it's so much I'm going to save it for Part 3 tomorrow. Yes, an unprecedented TRILOGY this week! Check it out tomorrow morning.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

This Week (and Last Week) in DVD and Instant Watching

Or should it be Last Week (and This Week)? I think you guys are smart enough to adjust. Sorry for the weeklong absence on the blog. I've been busy with my day job of bounty hunting in the Florida Keys. There should be a lot of content over the next few weeks, though.

There SHOULD be.

Anyway, we have two weeks worth of DVDs to cover:

Frozen: I didn't see this in theaters, but between listening to the songs a hundred times, seeing clips from the movie over and over, and hearing my own kids talk about it, I kind of feel like I had. Well, now that the DVD is out, I HAVE seen this, and I will write more about it soon.

American Hustle: Gee, no wonder I skipped last week--only a few Academy Award nominees, no biggie. Amy Adams alone makes this worth seeing, I'm sure, and you're gonna tell me it also has male perms? I'm there, dude! This looks to me like one of those movies like Boogie Nights where it's not exactly supposed to be a flat-out comedy but is funny as hell anyway. And if the cast lines up over the end credits and actually dances The Hustle, please don't spoil it for me.

Saving Mr. Banks: How did we get to the point where it was cool to spread scurrilous stories about Walt Disney being a chauvinist? I miss the good, old days when it was cool to spread scurrilous stories about Walt Disney being a Nazi.

Reasonable Doubt: Laurence Fishburne stars with Dominic Cooper in this thriller about--oops, wait, it was Samuel Jackson starring with Dominic Cooper. Sorry.

Classic Wrestling Battles: 2-disc set from Shout/Timeless consisting of mostly really old pro wrestling footage. It looks like a good buy for fans of the vintage stuff if you can get it for a good price. I don't know, maybe you can find it all online for free, but as a public service, here is the only detailed match listing I could find. Not even Shout!'s official site has this information. Why the heck not?

WWE: The Music of WWE: I'd elaborate, but I probably tested most folks' patience with that paragraph about "Classic Wrestling Battles."

This week brings:

Wolf of Wall Street: I made my peace with DiCaprio years ago, but is it too much ask that Marty Scorcese make a new "F-bomb movie"  (one in which you hear it at least a few dozen or hundred times) with someone else?

Walking with Dinosaurs: I see this title and I go right into the past. No, not the age of the dinosaurs, I mean the recent past, because I could have sworn this came out, like, 5 years ago. Is there something wrong with me?

Delivery Man: After donating to a fertility clinic, Vince Vaughn discovers years later he has 533 children. Somehow the thought of Vince Vaughn having sex 533 times, even if it's with himself, makes me want to avoid this movie at all costs.

Avengers Confidential Black Widow and Punisher: I find Marvel Animation features dull to begin with, and this is in that anime style, so...I'd rather catch up on a DC joint.

Veep Season 2: It may sound off, but I mean it as high praise when I say Julia Louis Dreyfus is as funny on this as Kevin Spacey is on "House of Cards."

William and Mary Complete Collection: Charming dramedy with Martin Clunes and...uh, someone else. But I know who Martin Clunes is, and he's great!

And Warner Archive releases 5 Richard Dix movies, a welcome dose of old-school, as well as a Blu-Ray of Nicholas Roeg's Performance. Last week brought the animated Green Lantern series, which didn't grab me at first, but the guys on the Warner Archive Podcast were so enthusiastic about it, I kind of want to give it another shot. Also coming last week: Tim Holt Western Classics Volume 4, several years after Volume 3. That's an indication of how seriously Warners takes this stuff: They didn't hold back to torture fans, but they were doing restoration, and good for them for putting the effort into a series of B-pictures.

Check back tomorrow or Saturday for a look at the last week or two in streaming.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Stuff We Should Bring Back: " __ will not be seen tonight..."

Maybe they still make announcements when a network TV program is pre-empted--I seldom watch TV live these days--but I suspect the powers that be are wary of anything that would rob the parent company of 10 seconds of ad time it could sell. I mean, we don't even get full theme songs anymore.

Still, I miss the old days when after a commercial, you'd see a telop slide with a publicity still from the show that was about to be pre-empted. A network announcer would boom something like, "The Love Boat will not be seen tonight so that we may bring you the following special presentation." Maybe sometimes you'd get a reassurance that it would return next week at its regular time.

The best ones looked about 10 years older than they really were and maybe even seemed a little blurry at first glance. Often they wouldn't use an actual show photo, but a piece of artwork akin to something off the cover of an "Official Novelization" paperback.

This is the kind of simple yet charming little extra that made television fun back in olden times. I think we ought to bring it back.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Cut that Cord! Cut that Cord!

Remember Biography Channel? It was a spinoff of A&E, a channel that used to have a distinctive identity and a reason for being. When A&E dumped it's "Biography" franchise to its B-channel, well, that apparently wasn't enough to carry even a seldom-watched outfit like Bio, so it started to fill the schedule with drama reruns and ghost stories, other stuff, I suppose.

I don't really know what Bio was doing lately. I haven't watched it much since...ever. I did check out some of the specials it aired about old sitcoms. Most of America felt comfortable ignoring Bio, too, but instead of doing the honorable thing and turning it into something not like half the other useless channels on the dial, its owners have decided to make it a dreaded "lifestyle channel" called "FYI."

It promise programming focused on "fashion, food, style, and design." Announced already are a makeover show and two home renovation shows. Because nobody knows where to find those kinds of shows today.

We don't need another lifestyle channel. "Lifestyle" is a code word for cheap. At least Bio ran cool specials about old sitcoms every now and then. This looks like another skippable non-entity wasting channel capacity. Maybe this could have been something a little more highbrow, or at least higher-aspiring, with programming devoted to culture and the arts--something like the old A&E. Would it make money? No, but neither will this. If they aren't even gonna try to do something worthwhile, they could at least do a public service and show things nobody else is showing.

Meanwhile, Hallmark Movie Channel, another unwanted, unloved spinoff channel, is rebranding itself as Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. This sounds ridiculous, too, but at least this channel announced it is launching a movie wheel franchise of 3 ongoing mystery series, presumably efforts that will require a little bit of spending. Granted, there are dozens of other places on the cable lineup to get mystery movies, but at least they are doing something here.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Two more from the liberry

Trouble with the Curve: You  know how I know a movie is bad news? When it is about my favorite sport of baseball, when it is directed by and stars Clint Eastwood, and when it co-stars the awesome Amy Adams, yet I still have trouble motivating myself to watch it. I love Amy Adams as much as I love the sax solo in The Motels' "Only the Lonely"--which is to say, a lot--but Eastwood somehow almost turned me against her.

Yep, I knew this film would be a problem when the early commercials kept showing a scene in which Justin Timberlake (whose own presence means strikes 1, 2, and 3!) says to Adams about her backstory, "I'd love to hear it," and she gives him a snotty, "I don't want to tell it." I mean, this is one of my favorite actresses telling off Timberlake. It should be a huge applause line--no, it should inspire standing ovations. But it somehow turns me off. Right there, I knew I was not going to like "Trouble with the Curve."

Yet I watched it anyway. I was all prepared to do a snarky takedown of it, too, until I discovered sportswriter Joe Posnanski already did, and not only that, but he goes at it with the same approach I would have taken--not that I would have written anything nearly as good, but his likes and dislikes are pretty much as I just enumerated my own above. His breakdown of how terrible the film is at just about everything--including or maybe especially baseball--is way more entertaining than the film itself. Just read that.

Puss in Boots: Some day, the world will appreciate the genius of Antonio Banderas' brilliant characterization of the title character. In this animated feature, he proves he is not just a colorful sidekick in the "Shrek" franchise, but a creature capable of carrying his own film. I always had a soft spot for ol' Puss, whose combination of macho swagger with a willingness to utilize cat cuteness always cracks me up.  Salma Hayek almost steals the movie from HIM, though, she is so good.

To me, this is one of the more underappreciated toons in recent years. It has everything: comedy, adventure, a hint of romance...The story is actually compelling with some twists and vivid supporting players. I highly recommend this and anxiously await a sequel.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

The Book Thief: You know, as an avid reader and longtime lover of books, I find it reprehensible that anyone would steal books. What kind of despicable human being would do that? What? The movie is about what?

Oh. Never mind!

Out of the Furnace: There should be more films set in Western PA steel country. And they should all find cameos for former Pittsburgh Steelers. This one doesn't have the charm of, say, a Kevin Greene cameo, but it looks like an intense, gritty drama. And really, how can you go wrong with Christian Bale, who is Mr. Intensity; and Casey Affleck, who clearly learned about adversity while growing up as Ben Affleck's brother?

The thing that gets me, though, is the presence of Woody Harrelson as some kind of menacing figure. Come on, who is ever going to accept Woody from Cheers is something dark and intense as this? Why not throw in Wooderson while you're at it? LOL

Inside Llewyn Davis: I know we're all supposed to love the Coen brothers, but there's just something about this movie that feels off-putting to me. Plus I must admit I want to see it even less after being irritated by having to look up how to spell "Llewyn" just now.

Homefront: Jason Statham action movie written by Sly Stallone (wait, really? I don't remember hearing that) and featuring Winona Ryder. I'm really sad that Winona seemingly only gets these character parts in lower-budget films now. Doesn't she still have a lot to offer?

Instant reader feedback: Hey, when was the last time you supported her by seeing one of those lower-budget films? And did you ever get around to seeing her in Iceman, the movie you were so glad to see was coming to Netflix a few months ago?

Ed. Note: Shaddap!

Warner Archive: I'm intrigued by the triple feature of the 1930 prison classic The Big House, which features the original English-language version AND the French and Spanish editions done with different crews and different casts. I was heartbroken to learn that they didn't have Wallace Beery speak French and Spanish in the foreign releases, but this is still a cool way to add value to a movie that was previously part of the WA collection. Of course, they added PRICE to it, too...

Also new is a slate of TV movies. Normally when WA releases a bunch of TV movies, I kind of think, "Eh, 1990s TNT Originals," and move on. But there are some intriguing 1970s/early 1980s efforts this time, including The Delphi Project, the pilot for a cool-sounding spy/adventure series. Maybe the series will follow. And Andy Griffith stars in The Girl in the Empty Grave.

Dennis the Menace Volume 1: Sure, the panel strip, the Dell comic book, and the black and white family sitcoms all have their adherents, but for many the 1980s DIC animated series is THE definitive Dennis. Just don't ask me to name any of these people/ This Mill Creek set contains the first 33 episodes of the series because--well, because. I guess 34 would have compromised the video quality of the set.

WCW Greatest PPV Matches: This is an interesting release in that just about all this content is now available for WWE Network subscribers. Not only that, but much of it was already released on other compilations. Not a lot here for serious fans, but I don't know how attractive it will be as a general release, either, which makes me wonder what direction WWE is heading with its home video releases in the Network era.

And in streaming:

It's still slow times for Netflix, which did add Rectify Season 1. Sundance Channel continues to try to establish itself as THE home for distinctive, fresh TV series that fill the gaps between endless "Law and Order" reruns.

The whole run of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is up, including the premiere of season 6. I may have to try to get into this. But does the series cover trade routes? I'm only interested if it delves into intergalactic trade routes.

There's another of those many movie parody movies up, The Starving Games, and if the title is an indication...I'm more interested in The Improv: 50 Years Behind the Brick Wall, but I'm disappointed it's only 58 minutes.

Hey, Hulu, I'm still waiting for the...OK, even I'm tired of saying it at this point.

Warner Archive Instant has had an odd several weeks. The New Additions row was messed up for a few weeks, and then just today I noticed it was fixed with some actual new movie additions. It's an eclectic group of 9 movies including Private Benjamin, The Killing Fields, The Left-Handed Gun, Elvis in It Happened at the World's Fair, Pink Floyd The Wall, and The Return of Dr. X. And if that isn't eclectic enough for you, how about 1985's Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer?

Monday, March 10, 2014

You Make the Call: The Key to Good Citizenship?

Last weekend, I was out for my daily constitutional when I spotted something on the ground. Always susceptible to the charms of a bright, shiny object, I bent down and saw a set of keys beside and almost underneath a driver-side rear passenger door of a nice SUV. The vehicle was parked alongside the curb of a house. I was 95% certain which house it was parked in front of., but it was far enough away from the mailbox to give me 5% of doubt..

I picked up the keys and walked up to the front door, then rang the doorbell. I waited a few seconds and heard some footsteps.  I rang the bell again, waited again, and gazed at the peaceful suburban cul de sac. That last part isn't really relevant, but I thought I'd try to add a little flourish to this post. Thing is, nobody answered the door! This despite the car in the driveway in addition to the SUV.

Folks. here's your chance to play along at home. What would YOU do in this situation? Yes, it's time again to play...


Do you...

A) Run back down to the curb, try the keys on the SUV, start it up, and drive off yelling, "So long, suckers!"

B)  Leave a flaming bag of dog feces on the doorstep (let's just assume you can get the bag on short notice), ring the bell several more times in succession, and run away laughing.

C)  Throw the keys as far as you can in the direction of the other side of that peaceful suburban cul de sac (Hey, that phrase sort of paid off, didn't it?)

D) Put the keys right back where they were (Note that a significant snowstorm was forecast for that evening and thus it might have been tough to find the keys later).

E) Cut your walk short and rush home to watch an episode of "The Larry Sanders Show," totally forgetting you still have the keys in your pocket, but, hey, so what, because you're watching "Larry Sanders."

E) Set the keys down on the door step in a gentle fashion, then walk away sheepishly, hoping you really were being a good Samaritan and not just preventing some poor clod from finding his damn car keys because he knows he must have dropped them right by the rear passenger door.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching

Wow, looking at the high-profile releases this week, I realize I can't make smart-ass comments about any of them for various obvious reasons. This is going to be a dull one unless something interesting happens on the streaming end. Hey, maybe I'll answer some reader mail.

The Hunger Games: Catching Fire: RIP Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

12 Years a Slave: Slavery. Nothing funny about that.

Hours: RIP Paul Walker.

Oldboy: Don't want to aggravate Spike Lee.

Rawhide Season 7: Don't want to aggravate Clint Eastwood. Hey, let's answer some reader mail. Remember, these are not necessarily actual letters from actual readers.

Q: Why didn't you live-tweet the Academy Awards?
A: Well, I am averaging about one tweet every 6 months, but it just so happened I DID return to Twitter on Sunday night in an effort to revitalize my presence there. I was live-tweeting a rerun of "The Mentalist." In retrospect, that might have been a piece of bad timing.

Seattle Seahawks: Super Bowl Champions: Eh, good for them. I'm sure there's no correlation between their success and the high number of PED-suspensions the franchise has had over the last few years. Let's answer another Reader Mail question.

Q:What's a good retro PPV to check out on WWE Network?
A: I'm not saying it's the best--did it really need to give nearly 20 minutes to Michael Hayes vs. Russian Assassin I?--but Chi Town Rumble '89 is one of my old favorites, headlined by Steamboat vs. Flair and memorably featuring Dave Meltzer in the front row facing the hard camera all night long.

Warner Archive had an all-Joan week, and I don't mean Joan Van Ark. No, it's 5 vintage Joan Crawford pictures: The Last of Mrs. Cheyney, Our Blushing Brides, I Live My Life, The Bride Wore Red, and Montana Moon.

And in streaming:

Netflix's March 1 catalog haul add yielded few surprises. Oh, there are some goodies--The Bad News Bears, Capote, Easy Rider, Donnie Brasco, Dr. Strangelove, Taxi Driver, Silence of the Lambs--but a lot of it is recycled. I mean, can anyone who has had Netflix more than a year or two be excited about the return of the likes of--Hey, Over the Top is back? YES! I missed that last time around, but I'm finally gonna watch the whole thing through, baby!

Oh, and there's the original version of Rake if the Greg Kinnear series has you curious. And of course, I can't ignore Fireplace for your Home: Cascade.

Hey, Hulu Plus, still waiting on those CBS/Paramount shows!

Warner Archive Instant made an unusual move, adding two seasons of the mid-1990s animated series adaptation of The Mask. That's it. OK...I don't remember it, but it looks like this one was actually decent. I guess it's good to see variety on WAI, but here's hoping for some old movies this weekend.

Acorn TV added the first 3 series of Rumpole of the Bailey, family series Wild at Heart, miniseries Edward and Mrs. Simpson, comedy panel show QI, another set of Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, Derek Jacobi in Cadafel, and a series of chats at a museum setting called Talks About Nothing. Hey, talk about variety, that's a lot more Brit telly than what you typically see on your local PBS station on Saturday night.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Instant Gratification Theater: "Bedside" (1934): Pre-Code Fun from Warners

Warner Archive Instant has added quite a few Pre-Codes early in 2014, and not all of them are even available on DVD. George Feltenstein has indicated more Forbidden Hollywood is on the way, and if Bedside is a part of any such set, well, that set is going to be worth a look.

This 1934 Robert Florey drama is a ludicrous series of rapid plot developments, each one less credible than the last. It culminates in the most ridiculous scenario of all, then tries to redeem its main character, who spent the previous 95% of the film proving he is irredeemable. In short, "Bedside" is absurd.

It's also entertaining as hell and one of the most fun flicks I've seen since I signed up for Warner Archive Instant, and I strongly recommend it. If you have WAI, see it already. If you don't and you ever do the free trial thing, put it on your short list of things to sample.

Just look at the trailer for Bedside, which WAI has posted along with the main feature. Actually, don't look at it until after you see the movie--like many old trailers, it spoils much of the story--but bear in mind that it sells itself as a lot more risqué than it actually is. It plays up the "bedside manner" aspect, with Warren William apparently sleeping with all his female patients. Well, the movie itself has its share of racy moments, and William is no saint, but the movie is not at all  about that.

Instead, it focuses on the dishonest rise to prominence of William's med school crashout, who obtains a medical diploma under false pretenses and opens a practice in New York. He meets a shady press agent played by Allen Jenkins (I know, I know--SOLD, right?) and develops a reputation, but with one catch: He doesn't exactly DO anything. He charms his female patients into returning for multiple visits just so they can swoon in front of him, but he lets his "assistant," the unwitting former insurance company doc Wiley, do the actual work. All the while, he somehow manages to keep on Jean Muir as a loyal nurse/partner/girlfriend despite her realizing early on he's a fraud.

The plot contrivances and coincidences do pile up, but everything moves so fast in this 65-minute picture that it's tough to dwell on them. I did nearly reach the end of my patience, though, when William's character is forced into a situation where he is asked to perform brain surgery because no one else is available. Despite the fact that we--and multiple other characters--see that he has been getting sloshed at a gala, and despite the fact that he used this excuse earlier in the film, William somehow doesn't tell anyone, "Hey, I was just getting bombed out of my mind; I can't do freaking brain surgery!" Of course, if he did, we wouldn't have the dramatic denouement and the cheesy conclusion. Really, if you just enjoy the first, often dark 55 minutes of "Bedside," you can try to forget the awful, false last 10 and still end up with a great taste in your mouth.

The cast is almost perfect here. William is, as always, a delight as the roguish would-be doctor. Sure, he's an ass, but there's something compelling about him. Look at the way he winks as he tells Jenkins, who is suggesting ways to get him publicity, "I've always made it a point to be strictly ethical." It's hilarious. Jenkins is a riot, cooking up some great schemes to get his client in the papers. For his pat, he tells  William, "For 10%, I'd promote an epidemic."There's a fine montage that shows Jenkins at various public events, grinning with smug satisfaction as someone calls for the doctor over the P.A. system.

Even the smaller roles are well cast. Donald Meek is earnest as Wiley, and he manages even to pull off one of the more fantastic plot devices the movie makes him carry. David Landau is somewhat off-kilter as a morphine-addicted disgraced doctor who keeps causing trouble for William, but that works for the character. Renee Whitney scores in a minor part as "Madame Varsova," and lovers of old Hollywood will enjoy the likes of Henry O'Neill and Louise Beavers.

The only drawback for me was Jean Muir as nurse/love interest Caroline. Perhaps some of my discomfort is due to the fact that I have such a hard time buying Caroline's willingness to give the guy a second chance over and over again. But I just wasn't impressed with her work, and I found some of her scenes to be a little unsteady.

I have thrown a lot of negativity at "Bedside," so let me remind you again what a great watch it is. It involves drugs, pre-martial sex, fraud, greed, extortion, and a lot of general scheming and trickeration. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

WWE Network: Great idea, but is it great now?

The free trial period of the brand-new "over-the-top" WWE Network (that is, not on cable or satellite, but available online and through some connected devices) ends today. Is it worth the 10 bucks a month it'll cost going forward? Particularly since they are asking for 6-month commitments?

There are a lot of bugs to work out, but if you're a hard-core wrestling fan, this is a no-brainer. If you buy even a few pay-per-view events per year, this is worth it because $10 a month is much, much less than $50 a month, plus you get so much more content. If you're not into wrestling at all, forget about it.

So what about lapsed fans like myself? I haven't watched the current product for years, but I loved pro wrestling for years, and I still enjoy following the industry and watching old footage. So for someone like me, it might be a more difficult choice. Let's look at the good and bad:

GOOD: PPV Value: Every pay-per-view will be shown live and on demand going forward.

The Main Feed: The live stream works pretty well and looks great.

Unpredictability: The exciting array of interstitial footage--old vignettes, miniature feature pieces shot for the network, vintage promos--make for fascinating in-between programming fodder on the live stream. It gives the channel a sense of fun, or better yet, adventure, like the old days of MTV. So much of the element of surprise is missing from today's WWE; it's nice to see some of that restored here.

On Demand: Almost every PPV event of WWE, WCW, and ECW are available on demand. Also, a smattering of other old-school programming, apparently all previously aired on WWE 24/7 (later Classics on Demand) is there.

Access: Kudos to WWE for making all programming closed captioned.

BAD: Limited compatible devices: I hoped I could enjoy WWE Network on Wii, but it is not supported yet. I hoped I could enjoy it on Roku, but it is only available on newer models. I hoped maybe my Blu-Ray would get a WWE Network app, but that is not the case, and there is no indication that it's coming soon. I know many are watching the service on Playstations or other devices, and there have been big problems with XBOX 360. But I am just saying for me personally, I can only use my laptop, and if I connect via HDMI, I can see it on my TV. That's kind of a pain, though. I'd love to have this on as background while I'm doing stuff ON my computer.

Technical Glitches: Signing up was difficult, and many have experienced inaccessibility in accessing the On Demand parts of the network. The big live event, an NXT special last week, was plagued by issues, which has many concerned about the viability of the live broadcast of WrestleMania next month.

No RAW/Smackdown: At least not for 30 days. They are protecting their deals with NBC/Comcast and Hulu (which offers replays), I assume, and that's understandable, but it's disappointing to cord cutters who would love to bypass USA and SyFy.

On Demand Programming: First of all, nowhere near the amount of library footage we hoped would be there is there now. Furthermore, not even all the footage that was reported to be there at launch is there now. Some PPV events were missing at launch. Some of the programs that were there last week have mysteriously vanished. I expected all the home video releases would be there, but so far virtually none of it (other than the PPVs) is.

No Love for Territories: Before Vince McMahon took over wrestling, there was a rich variety of action all across the country in the form of the regional promotions (territories) that ran their own cards and had their own talent. So far there is hardly any of that television even though McMahon owns most of it. Perhaps some of this is due to technical concerns, perhaps much of it is not digitized and network-ready, but a lot of it aired on 24/7 and could be ready to go now. So far, just a few World Class shows are up and an assortment of early ECW. Where's the AWA? Where's the Mid-Atlantic? I don't expect everything to be there at once, and there's still way more there than I have time to sit down and watch, but we were told we would get "unlimited access to the vast WWE library," and the offerings so far at launch are only a fraction of the fraction of that we would even reasonably expect to get. So far very little of what's been released is new, unaired footage to excite the enthusiasts.

No Resume Feature/No Watchlist/Inadequate Search: These are some things that we the viewing public expect from our SVOD (Subscription Video on Demand) services. I'd really like to see a resume watching feature considering much of the most appealing material is several hours in length. Given that finding some of the programming is difficult right now, it would be great to have a Watchlist/Queue where we could stash interesting material once we DO locate it.

Overall, there is a lot wrong with WWE Network, but I have to come back to the value. Depending on your level of interest, this may be an easy decision. I have faith that the technical issues will be resolved eventually, though I do think WWE should extend the free trial by a week as a show of good faith considering how much trouble there was signing up for the service. However, at this point, we have a pretty good idea of what we're getting.

To me the big question mark is the library: How much of the vault will WWE let us see? If the first week's lineup is indicative, I will be very disappointed. If they are saving much of it for after the free trial and if they are diligently working to get more stuff on there, then this will be well worth the cost. The availability of the big events may even get me interested in the current product.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

This Week in DVD and Instant Watching EXTRA

You know, folks, I forgot to mention the Warner Archive DVD releases this week, and it was an interesting slate of new titles, so let me rectify my oversight:

Show Boat (1936): Long-awaited classic makes it to DVD. It's not the Howard Keel/Ava Gardner full-on musical, but the black-and-white James Whale version. Hey, Ava Gardner was 14 in 1936. What are you, some kind of pervert?

Winner Take All: This disc gives us two things of which there can never be enough on DVD: Jimmy Cagney and old boxing movies.

Here Comes the Navy: Pre-WWII service film with Cagney (wait, I think I smell a trend this week), Pat O'Brien, and of course the most charismatic Warner Brothers star of them all, Frank McHugh. It features the "Arizona," one of the battleships lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor, so there's something cool for you history buffs (as if Frank McHugh weren't enough).

The Oklahoma Kid: Not only can we always use more Cagney on DVD, we can always use more Bogey. In fact, it should already be a law that no Humphrey Bogart movie should be unavailable on home video at any given time. I know we don't normally associate these guys with Westerns, but it's still odd that if not for showings on TCM, most people would only know this from that scene in "Goodfellas" where Joe Pesci shoots Michael Imperioli in the foot. "Hey, I'm the Oklahoma Kid!"

The FBI Season 7: I am not a fan of the series, but it is impressive that WA is cranking these out, and apparently the show is doing well for them. It was on for about 10 years and over 200 episodes, yet I never saw any trace of it until American Life (or whatever it was called at the time) showed some reruns a few years ago, and then these DVDs came along.

Speaking of Warner Archive, let's get some Instant Watching into this post. George Feltenstein, grand poobah of the Archve program and a true friend to cinephiles everywhere, made a good point when discussing why titles rotate in and out of the Instant Archive. He said that some movies need to be removed as they are made available for other windows--presumably things like pay cable. I admit I hadn't thought about that. Perhaps they want to protect a partner that buys rights to air a package of old movies. OK, I'll buy that. He also specifically said that those titles would then come back, but in the meantime they always strive to have new ones coming in so that there would always be something fresh to watch on the service. Sounds great, but it's been slow the last few weeks...

One last thing: The Warner Archive Podcast is a great 40 minutes or so of listening pleasure each week. Feltenstein and his two co-hosts run down the week's new releases, give Instant Archive recommendations, and answer viewer mail. The love they have of movies and the joy they take in presenting the material is infectious and makes for a delightful experience. You can't help but want to go watch a bunch of classic movies after listening to these guys. Oh, and this week's episode also explains in detail why the 1936 version of "Show Boat" is now available but not the other two famous movie versions. I was too busy making dumb Ava Gardner jokes, but the podcast give a great explanation.

(NOTE: I linked to the no-frills XML feed so that you can download the MP3s directly without worrying about iTunes)