Sunday, December 28, 2014

Journey Into Amazon Prime: Christmas Specials

So a while back I mentioned that I signed up for a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes its Instant Video streaming service. With my trial, I am not going for the high-profile originals like "Transparent" or...or...OK, Amazon doesn't have a lot of high-profile originals yet. I haven't really been checking them out, though, nor some of the exclusive reruns like "Justified" and "Orphan Black."

I'm checking out some of the oddball stuff. Finding anything that's not 'Transparent' is a major pain, but after digging, I found some cool things that aren't on Netflix, Hulu, or your cable provider's On Demand section. They may be on YouTube, but here you get them without commercials and you can resume watching where you left off. The quality should be better, too, though that's not always the case. Some of the offerings have company watermarks indicating they're lifted straight from the DVD.

Personally I like the idea  of a streaming service going through an old box of someone's VHS dubs and putting them online. Today let's look at some of the more interesting holiday-related shows on Amazon Prime Instant Video:

Christmas with the King Family: I would argue that the King Family is way off the collective radar at this point, but this wholesome bunch was all over the airwaves in the 1960s and 1970s, starring in a variety show on ABC and a slew of syndicated specials, many tied into the holidays.

This hourlong special is from 1967 and was released on DVD as an extra feature accompanying a King Family documentary. You see the Kings--and there appear to be about 50 of them, though I think many of these performers are just invited guests, but one of them is actual relative "My Three Sons" star Tina Cole--singing, doing a little dancing, doing a little (very little) comedy, and singing some more.

If you're looking for the 1967 of Vietnam, Buffalo Springfield, and social unrest, look elsewhere! This thing makes an Andy Williams special look like "Bad Santa." You will get an apparent surprise reunion involving the military, though, and if it's genuine, it's one heck of a moment. The singing is old-fashioned, and even the colors and the film look suggest looking at your parents' or grandparents' old home movies. This isn't a bad thing, though, and it's nice to see this kind of cultural artifact.

Christmas with Danny Kaye: A couple years ago, Inception Media Group released a DVD consisting of two holiday episodes of "The Danny Kaye Show," and Prime streams each one separately. The first is a black-and-white edition with Mary Tyler Moore; Peggy Lee guests in the later color episode.

The DVD is a worthwhile purchase if you're into old-time variety and/or Christmas specials, so it's really a treat to get these for "free" on Amazon. There are some entertaining comedy sketches to go with all the music, and Kaye often breaks character in amusing fashion. Harvey Korman and Jamie Farr are on hand in the color episode. Moore is charming as ever--she's maybe even more adorable than Tina Cole--and Nat King Cole, 100% class, is also in that show. One thing that amuses me: Each episode features Kaye dueting on "Jingle Bells" with the main musical guest, each time using the same "hip" arrangement with lyrics like, "in the customary one-horse open sleigh."

Also look for an impossibly young Wayne Newton on the Peggy Lee episode. I remember seeing Newton on an old Jack Benny show and being stunned. Here, he somehow looks even younger even though this is several years after that guest shot.

The All-Star Christmas Show (1958): I saw this on Hulu last year when it was labeled with a different name and different year. In short, I loved it. It's worth it if only for the bit at the beginning with all the stars introducing themselves.

The Bob Hope Chevy Show (1950): A holiday-themed installment of Hope's program includes Bob Cummings and Eleanor Roosevelt! Hope seems off, which makes his monologue even less effective than it would be 75 years later, but it's still a fun special. I have no idea why this is streaming, but I am not complaining.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Merry Christmas, everyone!

EDIT: I apologize for not noticing that wouldn't let me link to its image. Bah, humbug!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Coming Soon: My Journey into Amazon Prime Instant Video

After Amazon practically begged me to sign up for a free month of Prime--I could have sworn I already used a free trial years ago, but who am I to argue when I can get free shipping for the holidays--I got on board and started browsing the kind of vast but even more kind of inaccessible Instant Video library.

It turns out it's still a major pain (Hey, is Major Payne on there? It's not on Netflix, so what a GAME CHANGER it would be if Prime had it!) to find things on there, but after digging a bit, I've found some cool oddball items that I haven't seen elsewhere. See, Prime has some high-profile movies, like the just-added "Wolf of Wall Street," for example, but most of those are already on Netflix. What appeal to me are the rarer shows and films Netflix isn't bothering to carry.

Look for some posts over the next few weeks talking about some of these finds. I'm not saying these are all what you'd call..."good" or "worth watching," but they're not on Netflix, and that's something!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

New TV Time up at ClassicFlix!

My latest TV Time column looks at a diverse group of classic Christmas Tv episodes. Check it out!

TV TIME: Classic Christmas Episodes
12/18/2014 | by Rick Brooks
Even though the "holiday shopping season" now begins right after Halloween, it flies by more quickly each year. I loved all the Christmas episodes and specials on television as a kid, but they somehow made the wait even more agonizing. Today it's all a blur, but at least with DVD I can slow down and get a dose of yuletide cheer whenever I need it....

Saturday, December 13, 2014

The worst thing about making a return

I am proud to say I was not dumb enough to go shopping at Wal-Mart on Black Friday weekend.

I am less proud to admit I was dumb enough to return something. It wasn't even something glamorous like a vacuum cleaner or a ladder; I wanted a refund for two food items I had bought there earlier in the week. The items were...not good when I tried to use them.

(Oh, I'd tell you what those items were, but I think we can all agree that Wal-Mart is highly attentive to the ramifications of one person bringing back $4 worth of merchandise and therefore must have instantly launched a thorough investigation of similar items and removed any problematic examples from its shelves. Right?)

On my way back home on Sunday evening, I figured, hey, I'll return them now. The hubbub is surely over by now, even though the parking lot is still busy. This was not one of my better impulse decisions. It was barely better than the impulse that drove me to buy the things that I had to return. The experience shook me to the core.

The worst part wasn't waiting 20 minutes in line to get a $4 refund.

The worst part wasn't standing behind a flustered woman who kept making theatrical sighs because of the wait (That was actually kind of cool).

The worst part wasn't seeing people lug in 50" televisions to the returns area and wondering if they were pulling scams of some type or other (That was a fun way to pass the time).

Here's the worst part: There were two small electronic signs posted high behind the customers, in clear view of employees on the other side of the desk but only visible to us if we happened to turn around and look up. The two signs were flashing the following message in blue letters:


The worst part about making a return at Wal-Mart at the end of Black Friday weekend was that those signs were flashing from the time I first noticed them until I got my refund and walked out...and who knows how much longer?

Can you imagine the state of an unattended Wal-Mart restroom after several days of hardcore holiday shopping? [SHUDDER]

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Shameless pomotion: New "Batman" review up at ClassicFlix

My epic review of the season 1 DVD of the long-awaited 1966 "Batman" series is now live at ClassicFlix:

TV TIME: Exploring Batman - Season 1

TV TIME: Exploring Batman - Season 1
Yesterday | by Rick Brooks

Since this is one of the most eagerly anticipated TV-on-DVD releases in the history of the format, I'll say right off the bat (please consider that awful pun an homage) that Warner Home Video delivers with Season 1 of the 1966 Batman series...

Don't you dare miss it!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Burning Questions: Charlie and Franklin

Yes, I'm writing about a Peanuts special again. Hey, I know it's an easy label, so if you want to go ahead and call me That Guy Who Blogged about a Bunch of Different Things, Retired the Blog for Months, Then Came Back and Wrote 2 of the First 3 Posts about Peanuts, and the One in Between Was Just a Picture...well, that's fine by me.

The kids and I enjoyed another screening of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" last week, and it was a joy to share with them some of the great moments I've enjoyed over the years: The business with Lucy and Charlie and the football (and Lucy disappearing for the rest of the program); the "Little Birdie" song; Snoopy sandbagging all the kids by making toast and popcorn, then whipping up a turkey dinner after they all leave...It's not as exciting as the Halloween and Christmas specials, but it has its one charm.

My favorite moment is when Peppermint Patty and a few of her hangers-on arrive at Chuck's house for the nice dinner she invited herself to. Charlie opens the door, and Patty and Marcie walk right through with a cordial but unspectacular greeting. However, when Franklin walks in, Charlie does a little hand mojo with him before slapping him five.

Here's something I've always wondered: Why do Charlie and Franklin share this exchange? More to the point, why do the makers of "A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving" include this bit? On the surface, it's a friendly little gesture, maybe nothing more, nothing less, but I wonder...

Why doesn't Charlie do this with Patty? Why does he just barely acknowledge Marcie? Is it because they're girls? Does Franklin get this distinctive treatment (from Charlie and from the creators) because he's a guy?

Maybe it's because he's the last one in the door, and only then does Charlie feel he can really "cut loose" and relax. Maybe he just hasn't seen Franklin in a while. It just looks weird that he's the only one with whom he does this.

Perhaps Charlie and Franklin are part of some secret neighborhood club and this interaction is some kind of ritual. It's possible that Franklin has brought over some gourmet chocolates for the meal (a nice move considering everyone else shows up emptyhanded) and is transferring them to Charlie so he can take them into the kitchen.

I guess one of these could explain it, but none of my ideas really hit home with me. The more I think about it, the more I just don't get it. The kid lives in the same neighborhood. He's apparently the same age. I'm pretty sure I remember that he goes to their same school. What reason could there be for the producers to single out Franklin and have HIM be the one that does a funky little "slap five" with Charlie Brown?

(On a totally unrelated note, it took me years to notice that whoever put together the DVD actually titled one of the chapters "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?")