Monday, February 29, 2016

Brooks on Books: The Hirschfield Century: Portrait of an Artist and his Age by Al Hirschfield and David Leopold

"The Hirschfield Century" is a beautiful, hefty art book that pays appropriate tribute to "The Line King" (as one documentary dubs him) Al Hirschfield, renowned for his caricatures of showbiz and other luminaries throughout the 20th century. If you want a fuller understanding of his art and his career, you will get that here. If you just want a lot of great reproductions of so many of the master's great drawings, you will get that, too.

David Leopold provides a mini-biography of the artist, successfully integrating his text with over 360 quality reproductions of Hirschfield drawings. There isn't a ton about his personal life, but the book serves as an excellent professional bio of the master. Leopold includes just enough about technique to give you a good idea of how Hirschfield works. Perhaps more importantly, his captions provide valuable context to the art. Everything is presented chronologically, with each chapter devoted a decade.

I personally enjoy the television- and movie-related portraits most, and I wouldn't have complained had "Century" featured them exclusively. However, Hirschfield's first and main love was the theater, so you get a heavy dose of Broadway in the volume. That work is compelling even if you aren't familiar with the subjects; Hirschfield's style is just that interesting. It's sure to nice who we ARE looking at, though. I was ignorant of many of the Broadway-related subjects in these pages.

Leopold does an amazing job arranging and presenting this material. I think this is about as good a Hirschfield coffee table book as you could ask for, with the only quibble one could make relating to wanting more artwork or being disappointed certain art wasn't included.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Enjoy, you blasted millennials

Not like the departure of H2 is any big loss--I am pretty sure "real" history shows were being phased out on it as they had been on History--but look at some of the upcoming shows on the network when it becomes Viceland (presented without comment):

F That's Delicious
Balls Deep

Don't think this channel will be for me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Shameless Self-Promotion: The Kid from Cleveland reviewed at ClassicFlix

I have a new review up at ClassicFlix, and it's a fun "social problems" movie that happens to have a ton of footage of the old Cleveland Indians--Paige, Feller, Boudreau...even Tris Speaker and Bill Veeck. Check it out, and tell 'em Cultureshark sent ya!

The Kid From Cleveland (Blu-Ray)
Baseball Fights Juvenile Delinquency in The Kid from Cleveland      
Olive Films' Blu-Ray release of Republic Pictures' 1949 feature The Kid from Cleveland is a fascinating time capsule for fans of baseball history that includes vintage game footage of the Cleveland Indians, as well as numerous glimpses of the team's personnel "acting" in this socially relevant drama about juvenile delinquency...

Monday, February 22, 2016

Good Times movie? One of the most bizarre news items I've seen

A bizarre story appeared on Deadline the other day reporting on the original cast of the 1970s urban sitcom "Good Times" crowdsourcing a new feature film.

The original cast of Norman Lear’s groundbreaking 1970s sitcom Good Times has taken to Kickstarter to fund an original movie the includes the same characters. The Original Good Times Cast Movie brings together all the original stars (sans Esther Rolle, who died in 1998).

Anything without Rolle is suboptimal, but the way I look at ANY potential new "Good Times"  project is: Does it involve John Amos? If so, it may be worthwhile. If not, it's a non-starter.

The project, which Jimmie “Dyn-o-mite” Walker calls a docu-drama-comedy, is being done to give fans closure on what happened to Lear’s fictional Chicago family.

"Closure"? The series wasn't yanked in the middle of a season. It had a final episode that depicted the remaining characters essentially leaving the projects, thereby eliminating the whole point of the series. Are there fans who see a copy of "Good Times" Season 4 on the shelf at Wal-Mart, pick it up, then think, "Nahhhh. I don't want to see these again.  The show left me hanging for 40  years."

The cast is doing this together outside of rights owner Sony, saying that they are not infringing on the copyright or trademark.

Oh, really? I don't doubt they are SAYING that, but...

“In the case of Good Times there is going to be a comparison, but it’s not an infringement of copyright,” said Shaun Weiss, who is the attorney for both BernNadette Stanis (who played Thelma in the TV show) and the project. Kevin Fontana is her manager. “What we are doing is bringing a new era into the cast. The characters have never been copyrighted or trademarked,” said Weiss.

Big props to Deadline for being professional enough to not ads a row of smiley face emojis after this. I'm guessing Weiss' legal expertise is not in the realm of copyright or trademark law.

Does Walker's phrase "docu-drama-comedy" mean they think they can play the actors playing the characters and somehow get away with it? And what the hell does that phrase mean, anyway?

Stanis, Walker, John Amos, Ralph Carter and Ja’Net DuBois are part of the new project, with Johnny Brown, who played Bookman, also likely to be involved, said Weiss.


Uh, wait, I mean, no, I am not contributing to this. AHEM. Back to reality. Later in the piece:

Lear’s ACT III told Deadline that Sony owns the rights to Good Times, which Weiss acknowledged.
“They are the rights holder to the DVDs and VHSs … that’s a whole different entity to what the cast is doing,” Weiss said. “They are not going to use any part of footage from Good Times, so when it comes to licensing that, there is no licensing that must be attained for that. We’ve applied for copyrights for the trademarking the characters, the licensing and images and the logo, so when we go forward with the original cast for the Good Times movie, we can protect the movie as a logo.”

What the hell does THIS mean? This just looks massively off the mark.

The Kickstarter promo reel for the new project does use footage from the original show, for which they said they got clearance from Sony. The company had no comment.

Maybe Sony thinks this is some kind of elaborate prank and/or performance art piece. Is Shia LeBouf or James Franco on board with this project?

Another weird thing about this piece is that it makes no mention of Sony's own "Good Times" feature film project, which was announced last year and to which the creator of ABC sitcom "Blackish" was attached. One would think Sony would have more of an interest in this story than the piece indicates.

Fans, my advice: Don't invest any money in this yet unless you have a chance to get a John Amos autograph. If you need closure, the complete original series is on DVD for 40 bucks.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What's the matter with kids today?

They're afraid of being "old." apparently, and that fear manifests itself in a defensive preemption against anyone who dare accuse them of that on the basis of...[gasp]...liking something "old."

OK, so I shouldn't make broad generalizations based on several comments by staffers of "Entertainment Weekly." I really shouldn't. But hey, I can at least point out the comments and complain about them!

Look at the recent double issue with Cuba "Juice" Gooding on the cover and an Oscars Preview section inside. The page with the masthead features selected "staff picks" in response to "My favorite Best Picture Oscar winner is...Go!"

Current lead film critic Chris Nashawaty picks "Casablanca," and of course, this IS the correct answer. It should have ended the conversation, not started it, but it's good to see the guy prove his credentials.

Then Leah Greenblatt says, "I know I sound like an old lady with too much TCM, but: 'All About Eve'..." Since when does praising a consensus classic from the Golden Age of Hollywood render one "an old lady with too much TCM?" Is some millennial going to look at this and go, "Ewww...1950? Hey, lady, tell it to your cat. TCM isn't marvy anymore, dig?" (I really don't know how millennials talk when dissing people with too much TCM)

Come to think of it, what IS too much TCM? I, for one, don't get nearly enough TCM. I don't get it in HD, I don't get as much of it On Demand as I would like, and I am never around when it shows the stuff I really want to see. I envy these mythical ladies with "too much TCM." In the risk of sounding ungallant, how can you pick out these ladies? I'd like to meet them. Does their skin have a vaguely sepia-tinted pallor? Do their speech patterns resemble Bobby Osbo? Do they...kind of look like  Bobby Osbo? Because if they do, then actually count me out.  I think.

No, this is one of the oddest references to The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind (I have to use it every so often to preserve the copyright) ever made. It's almost as strange as if someone were to, say, create a TCM Wine Club.

Oh, wait. Never mind.

Anyway, the next two staffers go with "Titanic" and "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King," selections which make me wonder if they need to siphon some TCM from their colleague Leah Greenblatt. Next up is someone who picks "The Best Years of Our Lives" from 1946 and starts her explanation with, "I am not that old."

She's not that old, folks! No worries here. Good thing she reassures us, though, because of course the natural assumption is that anyone who likes something old must themselves BE old. It's the Transitive Playground Theorem of Liking Stuff and People.

What's with all the defensiveness about loving old movies? In fairness, the way the magazine business is, not to mention "Entertainment Weekly's" apparent demographic preference, some of the staffers may well be terrified they will get the axe, "Logan's Run" style, if they out themselves as being over 29.

And yes, I know "Logan's Run" came out in 1976. Don't worry, though. I'm not that old.

Monday, February 8, 2016

The curious case of Agent Carter

I wanted to see "Agent Carter" last year on ABC. I really did. But much like Peggy Carter's adventures take  place in the past, watching live television is a thing of the past. For reasons more complex than Marvel Universe continuity, I don't have a DVR, so I rely on Hulu and On Demand services to watch new shows.

Season 1 of "Carter" was available on both...for a while. It was subject to the dreaded "We have the last 5 episodes" rule on both Hulu and on CONcast On Demand, and when I didn't get to it for a few weeks, I had already missed out on the first episode by the time I was ready. What's the point of only offering the last 5 episodes when there are only 8 total?

Well, I figured, it'll show up on Netflix. Only it didn't. Then season 2 approached, and I figured it would show up before the season 1 premiere. Only it didn't/

It DID return to Hulu about a week before season 2 debuted. Hey, wonderful, I thought, I can finally check this out from the beginning. So the night that season 2 premiered, I arrived at Cultureshark Tower after it had already started, but I had no worried. Confident Me said, "I'll just start watching season 1 tonight, and I'll catch up in a few weeks so I can start season 2 before they start pulling THOSE first episodes."

Only...the show was GONE from Hulu. The return of season 1, unbeknownst to me, was a temporary engagement. Puzzled, I checked Netflix the next day, assuming the series was finally on there, hence the removal of the first season from Hulu. But it wasn't on Netflix, either.

So, you know what? Hell with ABC/Marvel/whoever decided to hold back the show from streaming video services.  I don't need to see it so badly that I'm gonna pay 2 bones an episode for it. 

And guess what happened to "Agent Carter" that night season 2 premiered? It tanked. So there's virtually no chance of a season 3. I doubt that it would have been a big hit had the first season been on Netflix, but from my research (looking for info on Twitter), I know a lot of people wanted to get into the series but were stymied by its absence. Who knows, maybe the series could have grown an audience in between seasons.

I'll still watch it if it comes to Netflix. In fact, it might be easier since I'll know there are only a few dozen episodes and I don't need to "catch up!"

Friday, February 5, 2016

Instant Gratificaton Theater: Documentaries Part 2

A recent Showtime preview weekend offered me the opportunity to catch up on the channel's selection of original programming, feature films, and specials.

And I didn't really take advantage. But I did watch a couple documentaries!

Listen to Me Marlon: OK, so I only watched one documentary on Showtime. I heard great things about this idiosyncratic look at the life of Marlon Brando--I think I read the word "mesmerizing" in about 4 different places--but after about 8 minutes of Brando's voice (he "narrates" the film via archival audio), I had to bail.

"You know what? I'm just not in the mood for this," I thought. Maybe some other time, perhaps, but there are days when one just can't handle 100 minutes of Marlon Brando's ponderings.

The Death of "Superman Lives": What Happened?: This Kickstarter-funded account of the failure of the proposed Jon Peters (Executive Producer)/Tim Burton (Director) / Nicolas Cage (Star) late-nineties Superman flick is surprisingly thorough...maybe even to a fault. It's a fascinating story of one of the biggest and most notorious blockbusters never made, but I must admit that when the documentary delves into the intricacies of the proposed costumed designs, it lost me a little.

Still, this is as definitive a record of the whole tale as you'll ever get on film, aided by archival pre-production footage of Cage and contemporary interviews with most of the other principals, most notably Burton and Peters. I get a big kick out of seeing Peters appear on camera to address some of the wild claims Kevin Smith (one of the screenwriters initially attached to the project) has made for years. Peters seems full of it, perhaps, but at least he's enough of a sport to go on the record (and apparently play some power games on camera, as  you will see). And, yes, Smith himself is one of the interviewees and delivers just as you would expect.

Director/writer Jon Schnepp does insert himself into the narrative by appearing on camera so often and serving as a visible interviewer for no apparent reason, and the documentary has some rough edges. Still, the guy made a movie about "Superman Lives," and he put in pretty much everything anyone who cares about the subject would want  to see. For that, I think he deserves a pat on the back. The film may be a bit long and unpolished for non-fans, but it's a must-see for those who followed the saga of the aborted project over the years and always wanted to get the rest of the story.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Instant Gratificaton Theater: Documentaries Part 1

Over the next few...uh, whatevers, Instant Gratification Theater will  cover some documentaries I streamed in recent weeks.

Kareem: Minority of One (HBO Now): Remember when HBO Sports was the standard bearer in quality sports documentaries? It's sad the network basically ceded the position to ESPN (and now even Showtime and Epix are cranking them out more often), but maybe this incisive piece is a sign that HBO is still in the game.

This profile of basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar uses extensive archival footage and new interviews with Jabbar himself (and many others) to create a surprisingly emotional portrait of a man who had a reputation as being detached if not aloof during his career. The Hall of Famer really comes off as a complex individual but certainly human and likable, and by the end you are gratified to get the feeling he has come to terms with basketball and with himself and is in a good place in life.

The main flaw is that the movie pretty much skips over his entire post-NBA career, which is a compelling portion of the man's life. He has become a prominent author, social commentator, and historian. "Minority of One" focuses on his basketball life, for sure, but even some more talk about his unsuccessful attempts to get head coaching gigs would have been interesting.

Fortunately the documentary does touch on his acting career, including his all-time great performance as Roger Murdock in "Airplane." And I think the movie explains how the hell he wound up fighting Bruce Lee in "Game of Death," but to be honest, I still don't quite understand how that came together.

"Kareem: Minority of One" is a strong comeback effort from HBO and a valuable chronicle of the most underappreciated greats in sports history. Plus it gives Pat O'Brien another chance to remind everyone that he partied with all the cool kids in 1980s Los Angeles.