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THE MONEY PIT - 08/26/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 26, 2005 at 9:48 pm)

Over the last few years, I’ve become more and more fascinated by the wealth of quality entertainment that lies untapped across the Atlantic in the UK. From comedies and dramas to music and books, there’s a wealth of stuff that just never makes it over here, and it’s more than a damn shame – it’s a crime. While channels like BBC America fail miserably as presenters of UK programs, letting only the occasional gem slip through their Discovery-programmed pap (do we really need 15 hours of Changing Rooms and only rare glances of a deliriously wonderful show like Black Books?). So this week, up front, I wanted to highlight a few of those gems that haven’t made it through the filter yet, but are readily available to discerning Americans with Region Free players (and all of you UK readers, you can revel in the great shows you have while we export The Apprentice – although I still blame you bastards for Big Brother). I’ll be going in-depth on some of these programs in the near future in a series here at IGNFF, but for now, here’s a gentle nudge towards you picking them up and giving them a spin.

As I mentioned, there are a few shows that I’m going to go much more in-depth on in the coming months, and two that are at the top of that list are Spaced and Black Books. Spaced is the Britcom co-created and co-written by Shaun of the Dead’s Simon Pegg, with co-star Jessica Stevenson, who play a pair of twenty-something flatmates struggling through their aimless lives (he’s a would-be comic book artist and she’s a writer with perpetual writer’s block) and secure their flat by posing as a married couple. And did I mention that his best mate is played by Nick Frost? Remember him? Honestly, the show is a brilliant combination of My So-Called Life and Thirtysomething (can you imagine that) with the same off-kilter geek sensibility as Shaun, but still manages to hit a whole scale of emotional notes. And guess what? The complete first and second series, plus oodles of bonus materials, are on DVD (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-£24.99). Far more surreal – delightfully so – is Black Books, which stars Shaun co-star Dylan Moran as customer-hating bookshop owner Bernard Black, a man fond of drink, swearing, antipathy, anger, but definitely not customers… Imagine if Basil Fawlty’s antisocial tendencies were given full reign and a bottle of vodka. Paired with Black is new-hire Manny (Bill Bailey), a good-natured man clearly out of his element and clearly the target for Bernard’s goading, which is only mitigated somewhat by the presence of daffy friend Fran (Tamsin Greig). Crikey, how I love this series – which is also, shock!, available in a box set that collects the first three series, with commentaries, outtakes, and more (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-£39.99). And the shame of it all? Neither of these shows have been given their proper due in the US. Do yourself a favor and discover them for yourselves, since you’re getting no help from the gatekeepers here.

Long before any of them became stars, actors with names like Jennifer Saunders, Robbie Coltrane, Rik Mayall, Alexei Sayle, Dawn French, and Adrian Edmondson formed the core group of The Comic Strip, which were the avant-garde envelope pushers of the 1980’s Brit-comedy scene. Desperate for programming, a newly-launched Channel 4 approached the group and basically offered them carte blanche (on a budget, naturally) to create some. What resulted was The Comic Strip Presents, which eventually became what is essentially 39 short films made over a period spanning 1982-2000, and all of them are some of the most surreally funny things you’ll ever see. The 9-disc Comic Strip Presents: The Complete Collection (VCI, Not Rated, DVD-£49.99) has got them all, plus documentaries and a rare live show. And hey, wouldn’t you know it – never aired in the US. Notice a pattern?

After sampling a few of their releases, I’ve fallen in love the Inside series of critical music reviews done by the folks at Music Reviews Ltd.. Focusing on a single artist or group – I watched their 2-disc definitive spotlights of both the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (Music Reviews Ltd., Not Rated, DVD-$44.85) and David Bowie’s Spiders period (DVD-$26.90) – they offer a candid, balanced analysis of the albums of each artist and the artist themselves, often acting like an intellectual Behind the Music, with interviews and rare footage to boot. The “Definitive” collections also come bound with a book of analyses as well. Honestly, this stuff is a real find for music fans and scholars alike, and I can’t wait to delve into some of their other releases.

While Gilliam’s Grimm is hitting theaters, refresh yourself on the original, shockingly gruesome Grimm originals via Grimm’s Grimmest (Chronicle Books, $22.95 SRP), a collection of the unexpurgated classics filled with some startling versions less Disney and more Poe.

There’s a legitimate argument to be made that repeated drilling of their tunes in my brain by filmmakers is the root cause, but I must admit that I enjoy most of the tunes to be found Smash Mouth: All Star Smash Hits (Interscope, $13.98 SRP)… And yes, isn’t that a clever slip of one of their hits into the title? So clever. Anyway, it may be the joi de vivre, it may be the brainwashing, or it may be something entirely unknown, but I like it.

Unlike the “can take ‘em or leave ‘em” featureless single-disc episode releases of The Simpsons, the Futurama: Monster Robot Maniac Fun Collection (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) decides that some exclusive bonus features make a nice enticement to compel double-dipping. In addition to 4 of the series best outings (“Hell Is Other Robots,” “Roswell That Ends Well,” “Anthology of Interest I,” & “The Sting”), you’ve got intros to the disc and each episode from Matt Groening, David X. Cohen, and the Futurama characters & crew, plus an exclusive audio commentary on the full-length (and longer than the final episode) animatic of “Hell Is Other Robots.”

HA! Okay, admittedly, it’s not the most creative opening in the world when writing about the second season release of ALF (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), but I couldn’t work in a Gordon Schumway joke. In addition to all 25 episodes (which are hopefully uncut this time, unlike season 1), there are 2 episodes of the ALF cartoons and interactive menus hosted by Gordon himself. So where are the commentary tracks?

Ever wanted to learn how to draw the legendary Warner Bros. characters like the pros do? And by pros, I mean the people in marketing. Okay, yeah, that takes some of the gloss off (and there are Preston Blair books to teach you that), but Draw the Looney Tunes: The Warner Bros., Character Design Manual (Chronicle, $40.00 SRP) is still a pretty darn good resource to have on your shelf, as it’s essentially the in-house guide meant to bring potential freelancers and staff up to speed on the look and mechanics of the Looney Tunes world. The tome is filled with full-color fold outs, overlays, and more.

The third season of Boy Meets World (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) is the one where everyone started to grow up all of a sudden, and Cory began to look at pal Topanga in a whole new way, while Shawn starts down the troubled teen path… And Eric just gets dumber. Think of it as Hogwarts without all that magic baggage. Sadly, the only bonus feature we get is a quiz… What’s up with that?

It’s amazing what DVD can do even for mid-level shows. Who would have thought that Once and Again would see the release of not just its first, but also its second season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP)? Sure, the Sela Ward/Billy Campbell dramedy is far from the dregs, but it also didn’t exactly break any boundaries. Still, here we are, and it even has audio commentary.

Fearing how her three squabbling daughters and banker husband (ex-Doctor Who Peter Davison) will react, Alison Braithwiate decides to hide the fact that she’s won £38 million in the first Euro Lottery. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to handle the pressures at home while maintaining the secret and spending the money responsibly, and wouldn’t you know that there are revelations aplenty in the offing when Alison’s secret gets out. That’s the premise behind At Home with the Braithwaites (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP Season 1, $59.99 SRP Season 2), another one of those Britcoms that should be airing regularly here in the US, if only for the fact that it’s a damn sight funnier and more entertaining than your usual US fare.

While we’re talking about great UK series that actually are available to folks in the US, how about Only Fools & Horses’s Nicholas Lyndhurst as a bumbling MI5 recruit codenamed “Piglet” in The Piglet Files (BFS, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP each), the first three series of which are currently available? Maybe Phantom of the Opera Michael Crawford doing an amazing bit of physical comedy schtick a la Mr. Bean in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em! (BFS, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). Or the classic wartime comedy Dad’s Army (BFS, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP)? Believe me, there’s plenty of great stuff out there just waiting for you.

IGNFF’s own Brian Linder is a huge OC fan. I mean HUGE. In fact, I often think that he has the viewing habits of a 13 year-old girl… Seriously. But anyway, even Linder was disappointed in the second season of his beloved OC (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$69.98 SRP). Bogged down in the usual sophomore slump of “what can we do to overly complicate the lives of our characters,” the one unequivocally shining moment was the return of Chrismukkah, a holiday I can get behind. The 7-disc set features audio commentaries on the Chrismukkah episode and “Rainy Day Women” (which also gets an extended cut), a featurette on O.C. fashion, a retrospective special, and gag reels from the first two seasons.

There’s no denying that Will & Grace (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) quickly devolved into a slapsticky show that traded on star cameos far too often for its own good, but there’s also no denying the comic strength of its cast – even if the comic relief of Megan Mullaly’s Karen and Sean Hayes’s Jack was beginning to wear thin by the time the fourth season rolled around. That fourth season did manage to score a few star cameos, though, including Matt Damon as a straight singer pretending to be gay to get into a male chorus and the always welcome Eileen Brennan as Jack’s hellish acting coach. The 4-disc set features am outtake reel and the always pointless “themed” clip featurettes.

With ABC’s abomination a fading memory and HBO’s take fast-approaching, delve into the actual history of Julius Caesar’s Rome (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) with the History Channel’s collection of 6 programs spotlighting the rise of Rome and its legacy. The programs contained in the set are A&E’s Biography of Julius Caesar, Antony & Cleopatra, The Republic of Rome, The Age of Emperors, Building an Empire, and The Enduring Legacy.

Twomorrows continues to prove themselves to be one of the premiere purveyors of comics history and appreciation with the continuation of their Modern Masters series of artists spotlights, with volume 5 featuring Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez (Twomorrows, $14.95 SRP), an in-depth look at the art and career of legend Gene Colon titled Secrets in the Shadows (Twomorrows, $21.95 SRP), and Michael Eury’s comprehensive look at the Silver Age of DC’s legendary team in his Justice League Companion (Twomorrows, $24.95 SRP). Where’s my Modern Masters volume on John Byrne?

After they killed off father James (John Amos), Good Times was never quite the same, which is clearly evident in the penultimate fifth season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). It’s like the show lost its steam, and like most shows of that era, relied heavily on the by-now cliché antics of J.J. (Jimmy Walker). For trivia buffs, though, this is the season that introduced Janet Jackson as Penny, so there is that.

In Hetty Wainthropp Investigates, Patricia Routledge (of Keeping Up Appearances fame) stars as Hetty Wainthropp, a Lancashire housewife in her 60’s who discovers she has a flair for sleuthing. She decides to open a detective agency, aided and abetted by a teenage sidekick - played by non other than Patrick Monaghan (in his first professional gig). Offbeat and entertaining, The Complete Second Series (Acorn Media, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP) features all 6 episodes.

It’s about time for some music on DVD action, and we’ll start with the video chronicle of a once-in-a-lifetime concert line-up featuring Jerry Lee Lewis, Ronnie Hawkins, Carl Perkins, and The Band. Let It Rock: The 60th Birthday Concert (Eagle Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) also features the award-winning documentary At The Crossroads of Rock ‘n’ Roll, with director commentary. If eclectic is how you want to go this weekend, there’s the compendium of the Austin City Limits Music Festival: Live from Austin, Texas 2004 (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring performances from Roseanne Cash, Franz Ferdinand, Ben Harper, Drive-By Truckers, The Pixies, The Neville Brothers, and over a dozen other acts. Finally, straight from the archives, there’s the Average White Band: Live at Montreux 1977 (Eagle Vision, Not rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP).

Mario Van Peebles’s mean streets flick New Jack City (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$26.99 SRP) gets stripped and refitted with a deluxe 2-disc edition more befitting it’s still relevant quality. What do you get? A new commentary with Peebles, featurettes (“JJC: A Hip-Hop Classic,” “Harlem World: A Walk Inside,” and “The Road to New Jack City”), music videos, and the theatrical trailer.

I have to admit, I’m burnt out on anything having to do with 9/11. I’ve reached my threshold, thank you. Maybe that’s why my interest in the BBC documentary Clear the Skies (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$14.97 SRP) took me be surprise. In it, the fascinating story of how the logistical nightmare of literally clearing the skies of all air traffic post-attack was accomplished is told, and you won’t believe what a feat it was. Look at it this way – almost 5,000 aircraft were in the air when the order was given, and the airspace was cleared in less than 3 hours. On a side tangent, another disc worth checking out is The Brotherhood: Life in the FDNY (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), which looks at the firemen in 3 NYC firehouses post 9/11, as they are still struggling to rebuild their ranks in the face of the disaster and stupefying budget cuts, while still retaining their humor and courage in the face of danger.

If you blinked, you probably missed Life As We Know It (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) during it’s all-too-brief network run, but now you can own the complete 13 episode run of the series that plays like a modern-day Freaks & Geeks (which makes sense, since the producers also worked on that classic portrait of teen awkwardness). The DVD also features audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and outtakes.

Thank Jebus for Sony Legacy’s Essential collections, if only for the fact that they provide a cost-effective way for me to introduce my clueless friends to musicians everyone should have a working knowledge of. Case in point is their two latest releases – The Essential Tito Puente and The Essential Artie Shaw (Legacy, $24.98 SRP each) – both of which are 2-disc affairs pack with tunes that live up to the title.

The souped-up re-release train rolls along with a quartet of uber-ized editions from Paramount that revisit not only the picture & sound of these catalogue titles, but also finally give them a fitting array of bonus features. Harrison Ford’s AmishFest Witness (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP) comes away with a 5-part documentary on the making of the film, a deleted scene from the network TV cut, 3 TV spots, and the original theatrical trailer. Jim Carrey’s first Oscar grasp, The Truman Show (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP), gets a 2-part making-of doc, a visual FX featurette, 4 deleted scenes, a photo gallery, 2 TV spots, and pair of theatrical trailers. Moving on to pure comedy, there’s the Clueless: “Whatever!” Edition (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP), which actually is old enough to justify a 10-year retrospective on the cast, an interview with writer/director Amy Heckerling, a fashion featurette, a spotlight on the memorable vocabulary, a “Suck ‘N Blow” tutorial, making-of stories from the cast & crew, and trailers. Finally, there’s the 2-disc(!) Tommy Boy: Holy Schnike Edition (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$19.99 SRP), with an audio commentary with director Peter Segal, a quartet of behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a Farley tribute), 6 deleted scenes, 6 alternate takes, 15 extended scenes, 7 storyboard comparisons, 19 TV spots, a gag reel, a photo gallery, and the theatrical trailer. Okay, Paramount, can you revisit Airplane! now?

I love history. If you’re ever read this column before, you know I do. Therefore, something like Battlefield Britain (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) – an 8-part documentary that examines the decisive battles that shaped 2,000 years of British history, presented by father & son team Peter and Dan Snow – is right up my alley. From Boudicca’s Revolt in 61 AD to 1940’s Battle of Britain, it’s a fascinating look at the effect warfare has on history.

In the past (around each time a set comes out, in fact), I’ve stated how I never really “got” Six Feet Under. It’s one of those shows that people say I should like – almost forcefully state it, in fact – but I’ve never enjoyed a single episode I’ve seen. But I know there are fans out there – plenty of them… Closet Goths, all. Either way, the complete fourth season set (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP) is for you, as the series winds down and the story of the Fisher & Diaz Funeral Home lurches towards its bitter end. Bonus features include 7 audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a Bob Costas interview with the cast, and an editing featurette.

I’ve got a friend who has been clamoring – Clamoring! – for the release of Emergency! and Adam-12 on DVD for the longest time, Now, with one fell swoop, he gets his wish as both classic 70’s series get the complete first season treatment (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP each). There are no bonus features to be found, sadly, but I’m willing to forgive that if they’ll hurry up and get the rest of the seasons out ASAP, if only so I no longer have to listen to my friend whine and plead.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 08/19/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 19, 2005 at 9:44 pm)

Ach, this has been a hellish week. Trust me, folks – eventually, the body revolts against only 3 hours sleep a night. Friggin’ Benedict Arnold, it is… Typical, really. Either way, let’s jump head first (the only smart way, natch) into this weeks pot o’ potential.

Although the self-aware cracks were beginning to show, the 6th season of The Simpsons (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) was one of the last wholly great runs of a once great show. The “Treehouse of Horror” episode contained not only the brilliant time toaster, but also “The Shinning” and the “Nightmare Cafeteria.” Regular episodes included Homer’s induction into the Stonecutters and Krusty impersonation, Lisa’s rival, Maggie’s birth, Marge’s stints as teacher and cop, and Grandpa’s miracle love elixir. This was also the season that ended with the mystery of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” Bonus features remain nicely consistent, with audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, easter eggs, and more. And now, just to balance things out, a bit of a rant. Who was the moron who thought it would be a good idea to change to the new plastic clamshell packaging in the shape of the family’s heads, abandoning the packaging style of the first 5 seasons. My big problem? The package size is taller than standard DVD packaging, so you can’t even put the thing on your shelf. To add insult to injury, you can’t even stand the thing upright, since the bottom isn’t flat. Can we go back to intelligent packaging, please?

Let me say this right out of the gate – I respect what Robert Rodriguez was trying to accomplish with his big screen take on Frank Miller’s violent noir series Sin City (Dimension, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – a true filmic representation of the look and feel of Miller’s comic pages. The reality of the movie, though, is that Rodriguez’s slavish faithfulness (along with co-director Miller and guest director Quentin Tarantino) is more of a curio than an engaging flick, which feels incredibly disjointed and features visuals that are more of an exercise in geek than a storytelling tool. The real shame of it all is that great film is to be had from these characters, and the actors certainly brought their A-game (Mickey Rourke, welcome back) – if only Rodriguez would get over the “Look at me!!!” factor of the visuals and just tell the damn stories, because they really are very classic noir pieces Miller crafted. The DVD is entirely featureless save for a token behind-the-scenes featurette, the better to milk us when the deluxe special edition comes out in a few months time.

Robots! Toys! Japanese Robot Toys! Oy, what a geekfest Super #1 Robot: Japanese Robot Toys 1972-1982 (Chronicle Books, $18.95 SRP) is for anyone whose ever loved, well, Japanese Robot Toys. Packed with over 200 gorgeous photos, it’s the ultimate visual feast for fans.

When it comes to celebrity interviews on TV, I hold only two interviewers in the highest esteem – Bob Costas and Dick Cavett. No one has been smart enough to start collecting Costas’s Later episodes for DVD release yet, but at least someone understood that a Cavett set was a long time coming. The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features classic Cavett interviews with and performances by David Bowie, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin, David Crosby, Joni Mitchell, Ravi Shankar, Paul Simon, Gary Wright, Stephen Stills, Sly and the Family Stone, The Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airplane. Shown uncut and in their entirety, each episode also features a new introduction from Cavett, and there’s also an exclusive interview with him. Rock on… And for criminy’s sake, somebody snag Costas!

It seems you can’t avoid Judd Apatow nowadays… But maybe that’s because there’s a plane skywriting an ad for 40 Year-Old Virgin over my house right now. Either way, hot on the heels of their success with Freaks & Geeks, Shout! Factory decided to release another Apatow producorial effort that was cancelled far too soon, the almost painfully real college comedy Undeclared (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). You’ve got all 18 episodes with commentaries, deleted scenes, bloopers, auditions, rehearsals, behind-the-scenes footage, a table reading, Loudon Wainwright concert footage, and the Museum of Television & Radio Q&A. Oh, and a bit of a nitpick for other journalists out there – Apatow DID NOT create Freaks & Geeks. F&G was created by Paul Feig, and was produced by Apatow. Get it right, people…

Who makes an epic feature film using nothing but marionettes? Well, besides Matt Stone & Trey Parker – I mean a completely serious feature. For the answer to my question, check out Strings (Wellspring, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) – a visually stunning fantasy about a slain Emperor, political intrigue, and a young man’s journey to avenge his father’s death against the wrong enemy, and finds love in the process. Intrigues yet? The DVD features a behind-the-scenes featurette and the theatrical trailer.

If you were to take The League of Gentlemen and attempt to iron out its eccentric, gothic oddities and mainstream it up for a more general audience, you’d get Little Britain (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Starring and written by Matt Lucas & David Walliams, it’s your standard Britcom sketch show, full of surreal character work as we look in on such oddballs as white trash teen Vicky Pollard, the lustful aide to Britain’s Prime Minister (a PM played by none other than Buffy’s Tony Head), the completely unconvincing “Lady” Emily Howard, and the hilarious duo of “handicapped” Andy and his caregiver, Lou. The 2-disc set features the complete first series, with bonus features including audio commentaries, the pilot episode & deleted scenes (with optional commentary), a behind-the-scenes documentary, live sketches, and interview with Matt & David, and clips from their show Rock Profiles.

It’s hard to imagine a Scorsese movie sans its soundtrack, and that goes for the unbelievable music selection presented (finally!) on the soundtrack album for Raging Bull (Capitol, $24.98 SRP). With a line-up that includes Marilyn Monroe, Louis Prima, Robbie Robertson, Gene Krupa, The Ink Spots, Benny Goodman, Bing Crosby, and over a dozen more, it’s an eclectic mix that instantly brings memories of boxer Jake La Motta’s story to the fore.

Honestly, I really don’t want to know what happened with Dave Chappelle’s “episode” and abandonment of Chappelle’s Show. I only regret that such a brilliant comedic outlet has been silenced, and Chappelle has gone… I don’t know where. Anyway, why don’t you drown your tears while watching his pretty damn funny stand-up special For What It’s Worth: Dave Chappelle Live at the Fillmore (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP). It’ll make you feel better.

For anyone needing an additional nudge towards picking up the third season of The Andy Griffith Show (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), keep in mind that this is the season that gave us Jim Nabors as the immortal Gomer Pyle. With a calling-card like that, how can you not pick up the third outing of one of the finest shows ever to be broadcast into the ether? Sadly, the only bonus features continue to be the original sponsor ads. Where are the commentaries? The interviews? Get me Don and Andy, stat!

No, it’s not as brilliant as the original British version (which is virtually impossible, if only because you’ll never duplicate Ricky Gervais’s iconic David Brent), but the American version of The Office (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) manages to shake of its awkwardness by the 3 episode of the Brit-like 6 episode first season, and become its own animal. Steve Carell assumes the Brent-role of clueless office manager Michael Scott, who oversees the staff of the Dunder Mifflin paper supply company. The DVD features audio commentaries and deleted scenes, but no mea culpas. Hey – at least it’s not Coupling.

Long out-of-print on DVD, you can now get the fully remastered (and bonus-laden) special edition of My Left Foot (Miramax, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP). I usually have very little tolerance for button-pushing “overcoming adversity” flicks, but Daniel Day-Lewis won me over with his portrayal of real life Irishman Christy Brown, who overcame a debilitating case of cerebral palsy to become an artist and writer – utilizing the only appendage he had any control over, his left foot. The DVD features a making-of featurette, a look at the real Christy Brown, and a still gallery.

By no means perfect, I still dug the history of the Cuban experience in the 50’s as presented in The Mambo Kings (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP), which stars Antonio Banderas and Amrand Assante as two Cuban musician brothers who attempt to conquer America. The scenes showing their big break on I Love Lucy – with Desi Jr. standing in for his father – are the stuff of movie magic. The DVD features an extended cut of the film, an audio commentary with director Arne Glimcher, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original theatrical trailer.

My family has been trying fervently to talk my father out of getting a Harley motorcycle, so I probably won’t be letting him listen to Harley Davidson: Ride (EMI, $18.98 SRP), a collection of rebel classics to crank up on the iPod while cruising the byways, including tracks from Hendrix, Nickelback, Steve Miller Band, George Thorogood, and Billy Idol. Nope… Not gonna let me father near it.

After wrapping up the first season, we’re now into the first season 2 volume of the expanded Starburst Editions of Farscape with volume 2.2 (ADV, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), which collects the middle third of season 2 with 7 episodes spread across 2 dual-sided discs, with all the original bonus materials plus a few surprises.

“Hooker’s a good cop!” Well, duh – he is William Shatner. Now you can own the first two seasons of Shatner’s post-Trek but pre-911 outing as a police detective T.J. Hooker (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), who decides to go back to street patrol and train new recruits… and partner with Heather Locklear. Does she ever age? She’s like the female Dick Clark. The DVD features the original pilot and the original network promos. Heck, there’s even an episode guest-starring Leonard Nimoy!

It certainly was a far more genteel ear when a pair of dancers – Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers – could have film upon film built upon them. As the 5 films contained in the Astaire & Rogers Collection: Volume 1 (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP) attest, however, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t surprisingly enjoyable. Those 5 flicks are Top Hat, Swing Time, Follow the Fleet, Shall We Dance, & The Barkleys of Broadway, and each are presented in the quality I’ve come to expect from Warners’ DVD restoration team. Bonus features are also extensive, including featurettes, vintage cartoons and shorts, audio commentaries, and trailers. When it comes to releasing their immense catalog, Warner Bros., is still the studio that’s setting the bar.

Can you believe we’re just about finished with the full run of I Love Lucy? If you haven’t been keeping up, now’s the time to hurry up and snag the first 4 seasons in addition to the just released Season 5 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$54.99 SRP each). The fifth season was chock full of traveling, including Hollywood, Manhattan, Paris, London, and Rome, as well as some truly classic Lucy moments that have gone down in TV history. What kind of moments, you ask? How about Lucy & Ethel’s foot-stomping encounter with vineyard grapes? That classic enough for ya? The 4-disc set features all 26 episodes, plus bloopers, lost scenes, featurettes, promo spots, and 5 episodes of Lucy’s radio show My Favorite Husband.

You’ve got to love it when Hollywood decides to fully embrace and exploit a rising cultural movement. Remember the explosion of grunge/GenX films that littered the 90’s? Or the rap films of the new millennium? Well, the trend goes all the way back to the dawn of tinseltown, and was in full force when rock n’ roll hit the scene in the 50’s. A beautiful artifact of that era can be found in Jamboree (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP), a concert film featuring performances by Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Frankie Avalon, Connie Francis, Buddy Knox, The Four Coins, and even Count Basie & His Orchestra, if you can believe it. Bonus features are limited to the original theatrical trailer, but with a time capsule like this, having the films is good enough for me.

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THE MONEY PIT - 08/12/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 12, 2005 at 9:39 pm)

“Get up every morning slaving for bread, so that every mouth can be fed…” Yeah, it’s another week, another shopping guide, another way to drop all the hard-earned money that could be going to much better use somewhere else – but won’t, because it’s so much more fun to drop it on toys, books, CD’s, and DVDs. You know it’s true… As a wise man once said, “Rama-lama ding dong.” Admittedly, that wise man was completely nutters.

It’s time to light the lights, as Disney finally manages to do something right by the Muppets and begin releasing long-awaited complete season sets of The Muppet Show (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). All 24 episodes are fully (and nicely) restored and remastered, and while the show didn’t really find its footing until season 2 (when the nascent Piggy, Fozzie, and Gonzo found here finally gel into the characters we know and love), there’s a lot of great material here. Finally learning the lesson the Henson Company never did, the set features some choice nuggets from the vaults, including the original (and truly hilarious) pitch for the show, original “Sex and Violence!” pilot, and original promo spots. Here’s hoping future sets will give us the Muppets Valentine Show special, the Of Muppets & Men documentary, and – if all my wishes come true – the complete 1979 episode of The Tonight Show hosted by the Muppets. Come on, people… Make this happen.

If you want a harrowing look at Disney not doing right by The Muppets, than look no further than the abysmally bad Muppets Wizard of Oz (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), as Kermit and the gang get shoehorned into playing second fiddles to the glassy-eyed Ashanti in an adaptation of the classic children’s story, while desperately trying to bring some of their classic appeal to an ill-conceived morass. Bad Disney. Bad. The DVD features outtakes, a behind-the-scenes featurette with Pepe, and an extended interview with Quentin Tarantino about the uber-bloody “Emerald Duel” excised from the film.

You can’t get a bigger knife in my back that the big screen version of Marvel’s classic hero quartet, The Fantastic Four. Reading the behind-the-scenes Fantastic 4: The Making of the Movie (Titan Books, $19.95/£14.99) is quite illuminating, revealing much of the hubris blended with sheer idiocy that made a trainwreck out of brilliant source material. Much better is Comics Creators on Fantastic Four (Titan Books, $17.95/£14.99), in which 14 of the artists and writers who have left their mark on the FF – including Stan Lee, John Byrne, Roy Thomas, Walter Simonson, Joe Sinnott, and Paul Ryan – discuss the creative forces that shaped their tenures with the “World’s Greatest Comics Magazine.”

So what would happen if you decided to make a TV show that combined the narcissism of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman with the greed and power-lust of Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko – and that man was your protagonist? That show existed, albeit briefly, on Fox in 1996, and it was called Profit (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). And it lasted 4 brilliant episodes before being cancelled. Even if audiences were ready for the corporate climb of charismatic sociopath Jim Proft, the network certainly wasn’t. Well, you can judge for yourself now that the complete series is available on DVD – including 4 never-aired episodes – with interviews and audio commentaries.

The internet is chock full of lists and petitions full of people clamoring for this or that to get released on DVD. When it comes to older “classic” titles, there have been consistent and plaintive calls for the release of the classic flicks featuring sleuthing couple Nick & Nora Charles, AKA The Thin Man series. As portrayed by William Powell and Myrna Loy, the memorable series presaged everything from Hart to Hart and Moonlighting to Romancing the Stone and Mr. & Mrs. Smith. The 6 flicks comprising the series – The Thin Man, After the Thin Man, Another Thin Man, Shadow of the Thin Man, The Thin Man Goes Home, and Song of the Thin Man – are all lovably featured within The Complete Thin Man Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP), which also contains a bonus 7th disc featuring a pair of documentaries on Powell & Loy, and an episode each of the radio and TV series. There’s another one to scratch off the request list.

It seems like every group and artist under the sun is getting a greatest hits collection from the Mighty Mighty Bosstones (Mercury, $9.98 SRP), Rick James & Friends (Motown, $9.98 SRP), and even a 2-disc overview from Cher (Geffen, $19.98 SRP) – which includes both her solo output and hits with Sonny. Also on my playlist is the 2-disc Reggae: Gold (Hip-O, $19.98 SRP), which contains the most infectiously wonderful reggae tune of all time – Desmond Dekker’s “Israelites.”

After the untimely death of Grateful Dead keyboardist Brent Mydland, the Dead’s September, 1990 concert date was cancelled. At the last minute, though, the Jerry Garcia Band stepped in to fulfill the date, and what occurred was a rather poignant pair of sets that are captured in their entirety on Jerry Garcia Band: Live at Shoreline 9/1/90 (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), in 5.1 surround. The disc also features interviews with Robert Hunter and band members, plus a mini-documentary.

When arrogant businessman Malcolm King (Anthony Anderson) decides the only way to foil his ex-wife’s impending divorce settlement windfall is to stage a kidnapping, his careful plan goes awry when he makes the mistake of depending on his intelligence-deficient mistress (Regina Hall) and her incompetent ex-con brother (Charlie Murphy). King’s Ransom (New Line, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.95 SRP) is one of hose comedies that, in the 80’s, would be made classic by endless repeats on cable (you know who you are, Brewster’s Millions). If we have only one thing to thank Dave Chappelle and Chappelle’s show for, it’s giving the world the joy of Charlie Murphy. The DVD features an audio commentary (with Anderson, Jay Mohr, and director Jeff Byrd) deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a gag reel.

Call it soft rock, but I’ve still got a place in my heart for those mellow tunsemith’s of the 70’s – just not the Manilow or Orlando type. No, my threshold is the laid-back So-Cal rock of bands like the Eagles and America, whose hits included “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man” and the immortal tale of going through the desert on a “Horse With No Name.” All those and more are contained in their 1979 concert film America: Live at Central Park (Capitol, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Even more than the performances themselves, it’s a remarkable visual document of the city itself – always a plus. The DVD features an audio commentary with director Peter Clifton.

About as 180 from America as you can get is Iggy Pop and his concert film, Live at the Avenue B (Virgin/EMI, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Shot in Brussels and with a set that stretched all the way back to The Stooges – and backed by his ace band, The Trolls – it was a hardcore night to remember, brilliantly captured in 5.1 surround. Also available is the 2-disc A Million in Prizes – Iggy Pop: The Anthology (Virgin, $24.98 SRP), the perfect companion to the DVD.

Every time another batch of DVDs hits stores, my theory that eventually every TV show will get a release (at least until SAG works out residuals for disc sales) is reinforced. Want proof? This week we’ve got the release of the complete first & second seasons of Dennis Weaver as the fish-out-of-water cowboy deputy in New York, McCloud (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), the complete first season of the sleuthing Police Commissioner and his significant sleuthing other, McMillan & Wife (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), Fred Dryer in the complete second season of Hunter (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), and the complete third season of Columbo (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP)… which even features an episode of the short-lived spin-off attempt, Mrs. Columbo.

The remastered reissues of the Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass continue with a trio of new releases – The Beat of the Brass, Sounds Like, & Herb Alpert’s Ninth (Shout! Factory, $13.98 SRP each). I do love me some brass.

So, how do you use bribes to get your license? Or avoid tipping off other drivers with turn signals? Or get a good sleep while at the wheel? Maybe you want to scare the bejeebus out of pedestrians, or keep driving when you’re blind as a bat? All these secrets and more are revealed in The Bad Driver’s Handbook: Hundreds of Simple Maneuvers to Frustrate, Annoy, and Endanger Those Around You (Santa Monica Press, $12.95 SRP). Finally, a practical book.

It didn’t exactly leave with a bang, but fans will be happy that, with the release of the complete 3rd season of Roswell (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), they can finally have the full run of the alien teen drama that made Tabasco geek shorthand. The 5-disc set features all 18 eps, plus select episode commentaries, “Class of 2002” featurette, and “Shiri Appleby’s DVD Tour to Japan” featurette.

Why has it taken for so long for Scarecrow (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP) to hit DVD? I mean, come on… It stars Gene Hackman and Al Pacino as a pair of hard luck drifters trying to rebuild their lives – one just out jail and one back from 5 years at sea and eager to see the child he’s never seen – and heading cross-country. Both actors are at the height of their powers, and the film is a brilliant piece of Americana, like celluloid Steinbeck. Bonus features include a vintage featurette and the theatrical trailer.

If you want a perfect portrait of the price of freedom, look no further than Jonathan Demme’s documentary portrait of the assassinated Haitian journalist and freedom fighter Jean Dominique, The Agronomist (New Line, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.95 SRP). Assembled from over 10 years of footage, it’s a fascinating look at the owner and operator of Haiti’s only free radio station, and his struggles against the oppressive regimes it survived through, until his still-unsolved assassination in 2000.

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THE MONEY PIT - 08/05/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (August 5, 2005 at 9:45 pm)

In less than a month, I’ll be holed up in muggy Atlanta, siting on panels, waxing Plumosophic, and co-hosting the 3rd annual mega-colossal Needcoffee Seventh Annual Gonzo Moving Pictures Extravaganza at DragonCon. Here’s hoping you’re all booked for a fun-filled weekend of me looking the fool.

First off, another one of those program notes (since I’ve been in a nonfiction mood lately with my limited TV-viewing) – The History Channel’s documentary Ape to Man airs this Sunday, August 7th, at 9pm/8c. Detailing the quest to fully trace the evolution of, well, ape to man, it’s a fascinating look at the convergence of genetics, archeology, and history.

Although I’m loathe to answer the question, if pressed to name a favorite film I would most certainly place the original Ghostbusters towards the top of the list. Every kid has a film that was released at just the right time to resonate with them (and completely ensnare their imagination so fully that they dress up in their father’s flight suit, strap on a proton pack made from an old concentration game and a microphone, and patrol the neighborhood on their bike for specters… but I digress…), and this film fit the bill during my impressionable youth. Although the new 2-disc Ghostbusters Gift Set (Sony, Rated PG, DVD-$19.94 SRP) doesn’t contain anything truly new in terms of special features compared to the original releases of the film and its sequel (save for the inclusion of a pair of episodes from the Real Ghostbusters cartoon and the odd exclusion of the first film’s video commentary feature), it does sport brand new, quite spiffy transfers for both flicks – which, frankly, is a good enough holdover for me, until the uber-edition comes out (featuring the must-have Ray Parker, Jr. music video). There’s also a quickie “scrapbook” included in the package which features some artworks and pics from the film, but it’s really neither here nor there in terms of desirability.

Believe it or not (and yes, I did have to go for the obvious opening line), but the 3rd and final season of The Greatest American Hero (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is already hitting DVD. It seemed like only yesterday that the beloved “classic” TV series was one of those programs being loudly pined for by pop culture geeks the world over… And now it’s all over. There are no bonus features this go round, but who cares? We’ve got the whole series now!

It seems like such a simple concept – swap the first letters of words in your prose, and watch as the verbal delights unfold. It may sound simple, but it took the late Shel Silverstein (he of Where the Sidewalk Ends & A Light in the Attic) to make it the instant classic that is Runny Babbit: A Billy Sook (Harper Collins, $17.99 SRP). While you’re entering that world, why not pick up The Best of Shel Silverstein (Columbia/Legacy, $11.98 SRP), a disc collecting Silverstein’s classic prose and songs, and a must-have for any child you may happen to know… Including yourself.

The last few seasons were painfully awkward (in that “the time has come to call it quits” kind of way), but it takes only the first few minutes of The Cosby Show’s premiere episode to remind me just what a truly funny (and groundbreaking) sitcom it once was. Based largely on Cosby’s stand-up (in fact, some of the bits are recreated nearly verbatim), you instantly get swept up in the family Huxtable, without the sense of treacly sap that eventually swallowed up the family comedy genre during the rise of ABC’s “TGIF” block. Check out the first season (UrbanWorks, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP and see if you don’t agree. The 5-disc set features all 24 episodes, plus the 90-minute Cosby Show: A Look Back special, deleted scenes, bloopers, audition footage, celebrity guest appearances, and cast retrospectives. A caveat, though – for some ungodly, unknown, and unforgivable reason, the set features the syndication cuts of the episodes – which means there’s tons of material missing. What’s the deal, people? I hope this issue is rectified post-haste – this show deserves better.

When I travel, I often bring plenty of movies with me to fill any downtime. The only problem is that I’ve always hated – HATED – the tinny sound you get out of laptop speakers. Compounding the problem, I recently bought myself an MP3 player, and those speakers just don’t cut it when I want to cue up some music to listen to whilst working (something I’m doing right now, as Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” plays). I’ve explored the option of portable speakers in the past, but always encountered models that were far too clunky to travel with, and didn’t feature terribly great sound, either. Thankfully, I’ve finally found a solution in the Gen3 Portable Speakers from Sonic Impact ($59.99 SRP). Measuring only 4” tall, they feature aluminum-skinned flat panels for maximum high/low frequency response, and a 1 watt per channel (RMS) effective output of a 3 watt per channel system (bottom line – they sound great). Even better, they run on only 4AAA batteries (a USB power cord and AC adapter is available via their website). Heck, you even get a hardcover case for easy transport (which makes it about the size of a small, thick notebook). These are truly beautiful marvels of engineering, and – joy! – it means I can watch movies and listen to music on trips without wanting to drive pencils into my ears… Quite a boon, that.

Various groups were up-in-arms when Oliver Stone announced he would be editing the DVD release of his historical epic Alexander (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP), claiming it would be excising the content related to the Great one’s flexible sexual preferences. Well, they needn’t have been worried – that material is still here, but the “tightening” Stone did to the film does little to make it an enjoyable experience, as it still is a draggy, ponderous affair that is ill-served by the miscast Colin Farrell, who plays the role as a pissy Russell Crowe-lite. The 2-disc set features an incredibly defensive audio commentary with Stone, a trio of behind-the-scenes documentaries, a features on the Vangelis score, and the theatrical trailers.

Spend this Saturday morning being completely weirded out in a disturbingly enjoyable way watching Saturday Morning with Sid & Marty Krofft (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP), featuring the premiere episodes of Krofft classics H.R. Pufnstuf, The Bugaloos, Lidsville, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, Land of the Lost, The Lost Saucer, and Far Out Space Nuts. There’s also a interviews and a Lidsville commentary with George Lopez. Proceed to full freak-out mode.

If you have fond memories of when you were actually interested in the mythology that eventually devoured The X-Files, be sure to pick up the second volume collecting those episodes from seasons 3,4, & 5, The X-Files: Black Oil (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), which contains commentaries on selected episodes and the first part of a brand new mega-documentary, “Threads of Mythology.”

Even though there’s definitely something lost in the translation to a smaller format, I still get a kick out of the films produced for IMAX – if only because they tend to contain some of the most stunning visuals you’ll ever see, regardless of the medium. Such is the case with the IMAX look at the International Space Station (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), and by golly, the views of our planet are truly spectacular. The DVD includes an audio commentary with director Toni Myers and astronaut Marsha Ivins, audio/visual tours of the station, a featurette, and a gallery.

Clearly the precursor to today’s reality TV craze, the idea of filming everyday people for the entertainment of the TV audience at home started with Allen Funt’s Candid Camera way, way back in 1949(!). You can now experience the choicest of highlights spanning a half-century in the 10-disc Candid Camera: 5 Decades of Smiles set (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$99.95 SRP). The earliest material is still the funniest (before the era of America’s Home Videos made watered-down versions of the classic Funt “gotcha” moment de rigeur, abandoning the borderline sadism of some of the original setups), and it’s still shocking to see the material Funt captured in the controversial 1960’s episode in which he snuck cameras into the Soviet Union.

Jeff Lynne was a shameless as Oasis when it came to their slavish love of the Beatles showing up in their songs, but I could really care less when the tunes are as infectious as the ones featured on the newly-remastered All Over the World: The Very Best of Electric Light Orchestra (Epic/Legacy, $18.98 SRP). I hereby dare anyone dismissive of Lynne and ELO to listen to “Mr. Blue Sky” and not get caught up in its unbelievably infectious execution… It’s an unresistable impossibility, I tell you! Of course, I still don’t know why Simon is on the cover…

As flawed as Katsuhiro Otomo’s Victorian-era steampunk epic Steamboy (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$26.96 SRP) is, it’s required viewing for the breathtaking visuals alone. And honestly, after a legendary flick like Akira, it’s hard for anyone to live up to their legacy, but there’s just something about Steamboy – which tells the tale of young inventor Ray Steam, who uses his steam-powered mechanical devices to fight off a mysterious invading force of futuristic war machines decimating London – that just never comes together, and it’s a shame, because this is so very, very close to being the follow-up it should be. The DVD features a featurette on the English dub, an interview with Otomo, a landscape study, the end credits sequence sans text, production drawings, and animation onion skins.

In this age of DVD glut, it’s a bonus when a pair of classic – yet long-unreleased – titles from a major Hollywood legend make it to market, and such is the case with the John Wayne’s The High and the Mighty (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) and Island in the Sky (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP). Both titles have been beautifully restored and remastered, and are filled to the brimming with bonus features, including commentaries, featurettes, trailers, newsreel footage, and much, much more. It’s an added bonus that both films are pretty damn good, too.

While we’re touching on screen legends being well-served by DVD, be sure to check out the recently-released pair of box sets spotlighting two of the most iconic actresses ever to hit Hollywood via the Bette Davis and Joan Crawford collections (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$49.92 SRP each). The Bette Davis set features The Star, Mr. Skeffington, Dark Victory, Now, Voyager, and The Letter. The equally impressive Crawford set features Humoresque, Possessed, The Damned Don’t Cry, The Women, and Mildred Pierce. All the films are beautifully remastered and loaded with extras, including commentaries, featurettes, trailers, shorts, and more.

It’s not a terribly clever take on the classic Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner – in this, a white fiancé (Ashton Kutcher) surprises his wife-to-be’s black family, including her none-too-happy papa (Bernie Mac) – but there’s enough entertainment in Guess Who (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP) that I can’t completely dismiss it. Don’t you hate when that happens? Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Kevin Rodney Sullivan, deleted scenes with optional commentary, a making-of featurette, and a tepid gag reel.

Years before his show for Thames television took off like a rocket and made him a worldwide star, Benny Hill launched the original Benny Hill Show on BBC in 1955. Still cheeky but not nearly as slapsticky as he would eventually become (but oh, so funny), the best of those early years are collected on Benny Hill: The Early Years (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Originally available on VHS, the DVD edition has been expanded with 34 minutes worth of additional sketches. The only thing missing is the yackety sax.

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Joe Corey’s PARTY FAVORS - 8/2005

Posted by Ken in Party Favors (August 1, 2005 at 9:41 pm)

SAN JOSE, CA – The future of home entertainment is being made here.

Apple has already hinted that the next generation of iPods will feature a video screen and the ability to play music videos. They’re short selling the revolution. Because there’s a big picture in that small white box that’s going to rock Hollywood hard.

The iPod under construction at the moment will be able to store and play 40 hours of video, according to our major mole. And instead of pulling content off Apple’s website to purchase programming, you’ll be able to download shows off Apple’s version of a Digital video recorder that you’ll have at home. It works just like a Tivo. Indeed as a tribute, the programmers informally call the recorder Steve-O.

The iPod players are designed so that you won’t have to watch on the tiny screen. You will be able to plug the unit into your computer, home TV set and car DVD player. People traveling will be able to use a transmitter so they can watch on a hotel TV. This is the same way that you can listen to your musical iPods with your car stereo.

Imagine the possibilities that are lurking in these small devices. A business traveler will be able to hit the road with a week’s worth of shows inside their iPod. They won’t have to buy adult programming in their hotel since they can stash it on the iPod. Parents can just load their kids favorite TV shows and not have to buy various DVDs to stash in the mini-van.

Expect a firestorm to come out of Los Angeles and New York when the potential of this new iPod system hits the trades. Apple guru Steve Jobs is doing his best to keep this info away from Disney as he tries to get Pixar a mega-deal with the Mouse. He’s doing his best to fan the flames of Bit-Torrent as a distraction for Apple’s megavision.

But as our mole is reporting, who gives a rat’s ass about music videos on a 2-inch screen? But how many secretaries would love to be able to secretly watch their soaps while allegedly working? With a little iPod and a compact video projector, you can set up outdoor screenings of Star Wars without much of an effort. Instant drive-in movies are on the way.

What’ll panic Hollywood are plug-ins that will disable the Macrovision so that people can upload their DVDs into the video iPod. The whole economic system will be flipped around again thanks to Steve Jobs.
The funniest thing is that the one rule in the workshop is that the Apple employees can’t use Pixar movies as demos, but Disney titles are fair game.


I was hired to PA on a shoot for the new “Girls Next Door” series on E! It’s another reality show except it’s about a few of the ladies that “date” Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy. The episode I was working on involved one of the gals bringing a surprise gift box to her brother and his troops at Ft. Bragg.

I was kinda looking forward to sharing car time with one of Hef’s women. So much I want to know about the man. But the day before the shoot, the bombs went off in London and Ft. Bragg was shutdown to outsiders. Our shoot was canceled. So there are no stories about the Playboy Mansion thanks to terrorists. No accounts of the grotto. And I’m screwed out of a paycheck. When will we win this war against terrorism so I can get to work?


The Violent Femmes played a freebie outdoor show in downtown Raleigh. And it was great to see the original trio back together and belting out nearly all of the tracks from their masterpiece first album. The big disappointment was their refusal to perform the “Spongebob Squarepants” theme. They play it on the DVD! Play it for me! Tell me who live in the pineapple under the sea, Gordon Gano!


You want to know why the outdoor sheds are losing their popularity? We went to see Carol King on her “Living Room” tour. And while she gave an amazing show that led us through her nearly 50 years in music, there was something wrong. The tickets for our back of the venue seats cost $55 each after all the extra charges. And we were sweating like pigs before Carol hit the stage. And the crummy plastic seats were sticking to our legs. Even with the sun setting, it was extra nasty. We tried to sneak onto the hill to catch a breeze, but found ourselves being eaten alive by bugs.

It’s hard to enjoy a show under such circumstances. For $55 I want to be able to focus on the performer and not have to worry about dehydrating. For a quiet evening of music, I want the sweet comfort of air conditioning. Let’s move these shows indoors.

At least we lost five pounds doing “The Locomotion” with Carol. How much would that cost at a Gold’s Gym?


I can’t write a review of “Reel Paradise” since the subject of the movie, John Pierson, is a friend of mine for way too many years to count. John and his wife Janet executive produced both of my short pieces that ran on his “Split Screen” that aired on IFC. So there’s no way I can give an objective opinion about this documentary about how John took his wife, son and daughter to Fiji to help him live his dream of running a movie house.
The film opens this month at the IFC Center in Manhattan. I had a chance to see it in Durham at the Full Frame Festival. If you like movies about cinema, culture clashes and tropical islands – go!

I found it fascinating to get a peek into the lives of friends. It was great to see how they interact with their kids during their final month of running a movie house. But Steve James hasn’t constructed a fancy home movie. There’s a real story to tell about how a remote cinema on an island in Fiji affects the locals. How John’s simple joke in the LA Times about the locals worshipping Curly from the Three Stooges as a god turns into a feud with the church. Director Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”) gets underneath so many of the issues. This is “The Swiss Family Robinson” meets “Last Picture Show.” And he gets an amazing narrative element out of the film since on James’ first night, the family returns home to discover that someone broke into their house and stole their computer. So we get this great criminal mystery with the threat that the thief will strike again. We aren’t allowed to view the island as safe.

There are a lot of laughs in the movie. My favorite moment is a bunch of kids from Temple University who show up to screen their student films. And we learn that even in the most remote part – people aren’t starving enough for entertainment to watch student films.

You’ll learn that people in Fiji can’t get enough of Queen Latifah and The Rock. If someone teamed them up, it’d be the biggest film ever in Fiji. And after the film, you might want to visit Fiji. But John won’t be going back with you – there’s another mystery that gets exposed in the film.

John invited me to visit him in Fiji before he left, but I couldn’t make it down. After watching the “Reel Paradise,” I felt like I had dropped in on them. This is my pick of the month!


Starting in October, TV Guide will turn into any other magazine on the rack. They’re going to make it normal magazine size. They’re going to quit publishing the listings for your local TV stations. There will just be an Eastern and Western edition.

Normally I’d sit here and whine about an end to an era, but I never bought TV Guide. We would get a weekly TV schedule in the newspaper. And now I have digital cable so with the press of a button, I get instant info as to what’s on and what’s coming up. The magazine meant about as much to me as “Oprah the Magazine.”

And after Rupert Murdoch bought the magazine, it turned into way too many plugs for Fox programs – even Fox movies. The covers no longer gave a sense of what’s truly happening at the moment. Instead it became an excuse to run multiple covers for an X-men movie special.

The nice part about Murdoch owning the magazine is that he bought it when it was going for $90 a share and now it trades for $3. Billions of dollars were vaporized on Wall Street. Only way he would have lost more money was investing with Bill O’Reilly on a Falafel chain.

I did get a little bit of my writing published in TV Guide when I wrote the description blurbs for “Rob and Bill’s Talkshow.” But they never allowed me to publish my fan fiction about the Golden Girls.

So goodbye classic TV Guide. You’ll never be missed as long as people reach under the cushions of their sofas.


I’ve been enjoying the Late Night with David Letterman reruns on Trio. When did Dave turn into a retread superstar suck up? Also it’s been nearly 9 months since NBC-Universal stopped letting Trio buy new shows. Has there ever been a cable channel stuck in this position? It stinks since this is on my Top 10 of stations. I heard a rumor that NBC might want to turn the channel into a Classic Movie station with Universal’s vault – this also includes Paramount’s pre-1948 titles.

And has “The Secretary” turned into Oxygen’s version of Lifetime’s “Burning Bed?” Everytime I graze by the channel, Maggie is getting tied down. Which isn’t a bad thing.


The great Jackie Earle Haley should have played a strip club owner in the remake of “The Bad News Bears.” What other job would we have expected Kelly Leak to take when he grew up? Shame they didn’t do this casting because the film would have been a hit. At least it would have sold one more ticket last week.


For the 25th time, Neil Cavuto has read one of my letters on Fox News! He even let me call him an economic Chamberlain for thinking the Chinese pose no threat to our pocketbooks.


Summer is almost over for today’s school kids and they won’t have a catchy summer tune to remember 2005 by. This is a disgrace. This is the second summer in a row that we’re not sick of a catchy pop tune that clobbers us at the beach. What is the problem with the music industry? You are allowing a generation of kids to live without something they’ll feel nostalgic about in five years.

I blame Andrew Lack at Sony/BMG. He’s killing music in his soundproof office.


Like last year’s “Starsky and Hutch,” I will see “Dukes of Hazzard” when it comes to HBO. This film’s trailer is painful. Jessica Simpson looks like she was auditioning for a “Schindler’s Lust.” She has lost way too much weight. And why is a Duke wearing a Led Zep t-shirt? This movie is pathetic on all counts. But at least it gave Burt Reynolds work.


Recently Dreamworks and Pixar have learned that their sales projections on DVDs for their CGI animated blockbusters were flawed. They had high numbers forecasted for back-to-back quarters. But the second quarter was a bust. And they paid the price on their spreadsheets and stock prices with five million copies of “Shrek 2” and one million copies of “The Incredibles” being returned to the warehouse. And now these companies are publicly scratching their MBA beancounter heads wondering, “What happened?”

So I ask Pixar and Dreamworks: Do you really want to know why your “blockbuster” family DVDs aren’t selling months after their release? Why nearly 80 percent of your total sales take place in the first two weeks? How much is a studio willing to pay for such sensitive information? I’m going to give it away for free so brace yourself for a hard scientific fact that my crack team of researchers discovered after thousands of hours of focus groups and data crunching: Consumers have learned that new DVDs are cheaper on the first week they come out. And they take advantage of that benefit.

I bought “The Incredibles” the Tuesday it debuted at a Circuit City. They had it priced $14.99 – nearly half off the suggest retail price (SRP) of $29.99. And they threw in a mini-basketball covered with Incredibles characters. Right now I can buy the DVD from the same store for $22.99 without a ball. What’s the point of being a second quarter stooge for the studio?

Why does Hollywood expect a majority of the public to refrain from grabbing a blockbuster they want in the first week? Why do they think sales will be steady and long range on major titles?

Perhaps they are too busy treating DVDs like theatrical releases or music CDs when they consult their projection graphs that show millions of sales over the long haul. But this is a different commercial animal. The heavy promotional work for a title was done during its theatrical run four to six months back. People have been exposed to trailers, specials and various infotainment programs featuring Mary Hart and Billy Bush. By the time a DVD is released, the average viewer knows the score of a blockbuster (we’re not talking about small arthouse flicks that might not have made it into a medium sized town). Does Hollywood think the person interested in spending $20 on Will Smith’s “Hitch” has no clue about the film? That somehow from the day it debuts on DVD, a consumer will slowly get conscious of the title and end up with the craving to buy it a few months later? Why does a studio’s marketing wizard predict that two months after the DVD comes out, a hoard of consumers will get the hankering to buy “Hitch” for $7 more? A bump in sales months after the initial release has a name: Christmas.

A blockbuster DVD is not like an album that picks up steam as it becomes more popular with increased radio airplay. These films are still a year away from being aired nightly on TNT or USA. Their popularity relies on their theatrical audience. So the buzz does not build in a traditional sense.

DVDs are not like movies. The water cooler chatter about a film normally leads to workers making a trip to the movie theater. But office talk about a movie on DVD will lead to coworkers merely renting the title. And sometimes your co-worker will loan you the title after they blabber on about how great it is. This is what Hollywood fears the most – a circulation process that doesn’t involve them earning any coin.

The success of Netflix has cut into the causal DVD purchaser. In the early years of DVDs (back in the late 90s) some people purchased hot titles because if they forget to return the shiny disc, Blockbuster’s late fees were more than paying retail for it. Netflix said, “take as much time as you need – long as you pay your monthly membership fee. And this factors into kids titles. When I visit friends with youngsters, I notice they’ll use one of the three titles for a major family film. The kids watch the film nearly continuously for a week and get burned out on it. Then the parent swaps it out for another movie the kid is whining to see. They aren’t actively buying these titles because like their child’s pants, they outgrow them. Why let them pile up with the baby toys?

The studios and retailers are dealing with the limited shelf space. This is one of the culprits for the massive returns because your local Wal-Mart can’t have 10 giant displays of blockbuster films sitting around the store for three months. Everyone wants to maximize volume in a limited floor space. The discussion should include the limited shelf space of the consumers. Not everyone has the library space of a Gatsby. The consumers that would have picked up a blockbuster DVD without a second thought a few years ago; are a bit more cautious because their living rooms are overwhelmed. Their bookcases have become clogged. Their wives are sick of piles of black boxes piling up on the floor and under the bed. Nobody enjoys the moment when their spouse holds up a bunch of DVDs and asks, “Are you ever going to watch this, again?”

A major factor in the decline of blockbuster DVD purchases is a simple one: too many of these popcorn movies stink. If someone felt burned after paying $10 to see a film in the theater, why would they spend $25 to bring the experience home? Are the bonus features really going to make you realize “Surviving Christmas” was a misunderstood work of genius? Who really wants to own “Van Helsing?” Maybe people are curious about a film that was putrid like “Catwoman.” But they’re going to rent (or wait for HBO). Some people might dream of a career in politics and don’t need to explain why they have a copy of “Bewitched” in their house. To inspire someone to own a title, they have to have affection for the movie. And if a studio is expecting people to grab a DVD on an impulse, it has to be priced within the “what the heck” range. Wal-Mart doesn’t stock their diamonds in the checkout counter rack with the gum and batteries. So once the price goes up, the curiosity index wanes.

People have also learned that if they are semi-interested in getting a DVD for their collection, they can wait six months or so and pick them up on the used shelf at Blockbuster as part of a 3 for $25 deal. And the studios will lower the price on DVDs still wrapped in plastic. When Universal put out “Lost In Translation,” the SRP was $26.98. Now it can be picked up new for under $10. Those who wait, pay less.

How come the braintrust at Pixar and Dreamworks can’t understand that consumers have learned that if they really want a film in their collection – buy it the first week? Even if a viewer doesn’t have time that week to watch it, what’s the point of not buying it when it comes out? It’s not like the DVD is going to spoil sitting on the shelf unwrapped. It’s not going to get any cheaper (in the next six months).

The studios will probably spend millions to discover what I’ve told them for free. But if by chance an executive reads this and decides to accept my truths instead of wasting time on a think tank, please pay in cash and not promo DVDs.


I’m watching Hanna-Barbera’s “Dastardly and Muttley in Their Flying Machines: the Complete Series” and I can’t quite figure out who is the pigeon working for. In the middle of an episode, the members of Vulture Squadron are promised a vacation if they stop the pigeon. They want to go to Miami Beach and Hawaii. Now if we’re to believe that the pigeon is American, why are the enemies taking holidays in America?

I wonder if this cartoon was about corporate espionage? Perhaps pigeon worked for a military industrial complex? They never seemed to encounter any battles on the ground.

This cartoon took place in the middle of the Vietnam War when there was plenty of money to be made providing the latest weapons. So maybe that was the key to the conflict.

No matter what the reality, Muttley still rules.


When Deepdiscountdvd had their 20% off sale, I found myself grabbing a bunch of boxsets. “The Tarzan Collection Starring Johnny Weissmuller” collects his MGM loincloth classics. I remember catching these flicks on Sunday afternoon TV. And they are freakish in their approach to Africa. The midget tribe that attacks them in the first film must be experienced. There’s great documentary giving insight to the creation of the characters, the films and the legend of Johnny.

“Marilyn Monroe: The Diamond Collection” has most of her movies worth collecting (only major title missing is “Some Like It Hot” which is out by MGM). It has a great bonus of a documentary on the making of her uncompleted final film, “Something’s Gotta Give.” Plus they cut together all the footage to give us a 40-minute peek at what Ms. Monroe and Dean Martin were up to. Plus you get to see the cut scenes from “Seven Year Itch.” This is a great way to understand the icon that is Marilyn.

“Elvis Presley: The Signature Collection” puts together six of his 31 features. Seeing how Paramount hasn’t put out the truly legendary Elvis boxset (GI Blues, Blue Hawaii and Fun in Acapulco) this will make due for now. At least it has “Viva Las Vegas.” No bonus features though.

“Lidsville” had the Krofft brothers showing us a world inhabited by hats with legs. It’s as freaky as it sounds with a teenage Eddie Munster battling Charles Nelson Riley. Don’t watch this sober!

“The Fantastic Films of Ray Harryhausen” features his non-Sinbad titles. Ray is one of those amazing figures who put his stamp on a movie with his special effects without directing. Who directed “Mysterious Island?” Don’t know. But you know Ray did the effects. Each title has a bunch of bonus features.

“Don Knotts: The Reluctant Hero 4 Pack” gives us the premiere thespian at his peak. Can anything top Don as “The Love God?” They just don’t rerun these enough.

“On the Road with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby Collection” puts their first four “Road to” movies on a single flip disc. Good international cheesy fun is in store. It’s nice to see two comics that knew how to give each other the business without being complete pricks.

“Wonder Woman: Season Three” completes the series. It’s sad that Lynda Carter didn’t fall on hard times and have to make Cinemax After Dark Eurocore. She was so hot making this series.

“WWE Greatest Wrestling Stars of the 80s” reminds us that Bob Backlund was the pastiest wrestler of all time. My favorite moment was getting to watch the Mid-Atlantic Wrestling matches at the WRAL studio. When I was a youngster, my dad took us a couple times to sit in the peanut gallery and watch the matches with legends like Paul Jones, Tony Atlas, Black Jack Mulligan and Ric Flair. And once I thought he didn’t love me.


Are we supposed to believe that “Laguna Beach” is a documentary on these spoiled brats? This show is about as real as MTV’s classic “Undressed.” I still have fond memories of staying up all night watching marathons of “Undressed.” When is that show coming out on DVD? Although I’ve just shocked myself by seeing there are 222 episodes. Wow. That means if it was a regular series, it would have been on the air for a decade. That’s a lot of people getting slightly naked in hot tubs. That’s a lot of boxsets to complete the series. But I’m up for the gig if they are!

I barely watched four minutes of “Laguna Beach” before I had to just give up on it. The camera angles and the lighting were better than “CSI.” There’s no way the production crew is merely following these kids and capturing their lives. They’re actors. They’re recreating what they think their life is like. This show is as fake as “The O.C.” except MTV doesn’t have to pay for Peter Gallagher’s eyebrow wrangler.

“Hogan Knows Best” is also on my fake list. This show is about a believable as Hulk Hogan’s wrestling moves. It’s a low budget sitcom. I didn’t quite understand why Hulk would want to put a tracker on his daughter’s car when she went on a date with an older guy. Sure the average dad should be nervous when his 16 year-old pop tart goes to the zoo with a 22 year-old mechanic. But the couple had a camera crew in the car. Did Hogan really expect the grease monkey to take his daughter’s virginity in front of a camera? Granted it would have been good test footage for her career in porn.

At least Hulk isn’t as creepy about his singing daughter as Joe Simpson. Can I just mention that since Scott Sartiano has been linked to Ashlee Simpson, he’s not longer my idol. That’s a downgrade. The only way Scott is going to get back into the Party Favors Pantheon of Studs is to hook up with Milla Jovovich. I want to make a movie with Milla– so bad. Actually I want to make a film where she goes up against Asia Argento. They’ll playing two young witches looking to take over a coven in Europe. That’s all I’m going to say for now.

And later Hulk gets upset since his son was locked his bedroom door while studying with a gal. Did I mention that he also locked the camera crew in his bedroom? There’s a fraud going on in reality TV and it’s a damn shame that there’s nobody trying to expose these shows. Ultimately they are a cheap way to make sitcoms with topics that would normally get clipped by the censors. But because they are presented as “reality,” we can show an open condom on the air.

And speaking of cheap reality, why didn’t anyone in Austin, Texas just run a herd of cattle through the Real World House? This show has touched bottom. The kids aren’t hot anymore. Did they decide to cast the kids who think they look beautiful? They just want to get drunk, fight and screw. And even worse – this house is pathetic. There is not one element that you’d want to recreate at home. At least I’m out of the target demographic – and proudly.

I would like to retract all my statements about having a torrid affair with “The First Supermodel” Janice Dickinson. After seeing the first few episodes of “The Surreal Life” with her in the cast, I’ve realized this a fantasy is a nightmare. This woman has more mood swings than a bus full of Liza impersonators. There’s a self-centered meanness that would kill the effect of a Viagra bottle. Sure the Vegas hotel would be trashed, but for all the wrong reasons. I’d like to apologize to my wife for publicly suggesting that Janice would be a fun fling. I should wash my brain with Lava soap from having such thoughts. Janice makes Omarosa look sane. Although that Caprice might be worth a weeknight in Reno – has she ever heard Caesar sing?

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