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THE MONEY PIT - 09/30/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 30, 2005 at 10:25 pm)

It’s been a long, long, not terribly good week, and I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait for this weekend to hit and for a little R&R and some distance to set in while watching, reading, and enjoying some much-needed entertainment.

In all honesty, the direct-to-DVD Family Guy movie, Stewie: The Untold Story (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is little more than 3 raunchier-than-normal episodes strung together under the umbrella of Stewie going off in search of what he believes to be his real father, with Brian in tow. In other words, it’s basically a road movie, which is what some of the best episodes of the series have been. Special features? There are special features? Of course there are! There’s an uncensored audio track, an audio commentary with the usual behind-the-scenes suspects, and an animatic comparison.

Who amongst you could possible resist a book with the title How to Cheat Your Friends at Poker (St. Martin’s, $19.95 SRP), especially when it happens to be cowritten by one Penn Jillette (with Mickey D. Lynn)? Ostensibly the “Wisdom of Dickie Richard”, an inveterate – and highly successful – card shark (and if you believe that, I’ve got a bridge I’d like to talk to you about), it’s a con’s delight, filled with tips, tricks, and strategy for the burgeoning hustler in all of us… Even though most of the techniques would take a nook like me a lifetime to perfect. I’m not a cardplayer, so I just read the tome as an enjoyable (and often funny in its acerbic tone) look behind the curtain at a world best experienced at a distance.

Pick up the third volume of Roald Dahl’s Tales of the Unexpected (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), featuring stories much more creepily surreal than anything found in its American counterparts The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits.

“HOGAAAANN!!!” Col. Klink’s worst nightmares return in the complete second season of Hogan’s Heroes (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), featuring all 30 remastered episodes but, sadly, no bonus features. Why can’t we even get a Richard Dawson interview?

The Evil Dead franchise has been a reliable – and perpetually re-released – cash cow for Anchor Bay. I can’t fault them with their latest dip – the Evil Dead 2: Book of the Dead Edition (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) – since it does go back and remaster the video and audio, as well as dropping a few more brand-new bonus materials (in addition to that creepy foam Book o’ the Dead packaging, this time with a screaming audio feature when you poke it in the eye). The bonus materials include an audio commentary (with Sam Raimi, Bruce Campbell, Scott Speigel, & Greg Nicotero), a behind-the-scenes featurette on the special effects with Tom Sullivan, “The Gore the Merrier” featurette, and the trailer.

While we’re talking Bruce, what else has Sir Campbell been up to lately? Well, you can now own both of his recent Sci-Fi Channel tele-movies – Alien Apocalypse & Man With the Screaming Brain (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP each) – in which you not only get to see him as an astronaut battling an insecty alien invasion with the help of Xena’s Renee O’Connor, but also as a murdered industrialist whose brain is fused with that of a likewise murdered KJB agent, who together team-up (in one head) to find their gypsy murderer. Yes, you heard that right. Both discs feature commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes, with the majority of the goodies on Brain.

But we’re not done! Any audio version of a book titled Make Love!* *the bruce campbell way (Rykodisc, $29.98 SRP), written by the be-chinned b-movie wonder Bruce Campbell, and read by performer’s performer Bruce Campbell, is an audiobook worth owning and, I daresay, cherishing. Seeing as how this, his first novel, is the story of a B-actor’s attempt to star in a major, super-duper Hollywood blockbuster – even if it kills him – it’s not hard to make the leap into thinking there must be a grain of truth in the often bizarre, thoroughly enjoyable proceedings laid before us. Well, there’s also the clue that Campbell calls it an autobiographical novel, but frankly, I’m more keen on my brilliant analysis… because it makes me look better. Hearing Campbell read it is just icing on the cake.

As a non-sports fan, sports-related flicks have a rather hard time of it with me. There’s a certain entertainment threshold they have to reach or they face automatic dismissal. Amazingly, The Farrelly Brothers romantic comedy – which I now dub “romedy” – about the burgeoning relationship between an analyst (Drew Barrymore) and a middle-school math teacher (Jimmy Fallon). The only thing getting in the way of bliss? His unfortunate fanatical devotion to the perpetual also-ran Boston Red Sox. Can she deal with his insanity as the season progresses, or will it tear them apart? And could the cursed Sox actually – gasp! – win? It’s about as middle-of-the-road as you can get, but I still found Fever Pitch (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP) to be a charming little trifle, and it also managed to sport a Fallon performance that didn’t make me want to drive nails through my TV (Hello, Taxi!). Bonus features include deleted scenes, an audio commentary with the Farrellys, featurettes, the Fox Movies “Making a Scene” spotlight, gag reel, and the trailer.

Chris Carter, the spin-off pariah, had his greatest success with Millennium – and it only lasted 3 seasons. That 3rd and final bleak, defeatist season is now available on DVD (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). Maybe it was the overwhelmingly depressive tone that made it such a pain in the a** to watch. The only saving grace? Weathered, lived-in Lance Henriksen as ex-FBI profiler Frank Black, who starts the season as a soon-to-be ex- member of the Millennium Group and facing the ramifications of the plague that has swept the country and killed his wife. Oh, it’s all so friggin’ complicated. In true Carter fashion, the show gets its epilogue via an episode of The X-Files, which is included in the set, as are a season 3 making-of doc, “Between the Lines” featurette, and commentaries on select episodes.

And if that has you pining for The X-Files, the 3rd volume of the Mythology crib notes, Colonization (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is now available, featuring 16 episodes from seasons 5-8, plus another installment of the “Threads of the Mythology” documentary and audio commentary on select episodes.

It’s refreshing to look back on the punkish roots of early Elvis – Costello, that is – in The Right Spectacle: The Very Best of Elvis Costello – The Videos (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). Not only do the 27 videos remind me of how out there Costello could be, but also what MTV was before the decline into pabulum. Also included are rare TV performances that, alone, is worth the price of admission.

Why is Gilmore Girls so watchable? And good, even?!?! I feel almost guilty enjoying the ongoing dramedy of the mother/daughter team of Lorelai and Rory, as the Dragonfly Inn opens, love blooms, and things get even more soapily complicated in the complete fourth season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), featuring all 22 episodes plus additional scenes, a collection of romantic moments, on on-screen factoids.

Just when you think you have a Britcom run completely in hand, they go off and do specials – which is just what happened with last year’s Vicar of Dibley holiday specials (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). Dawn French is back as everybody’s favorite female vicar, with outtakes and a Comic Relief sketch rounding out the bonus features.

Napoleon, Caesar, Cortes, King David, El Cid, Andrew Jackson – all of these historical figures and more are featured in the History Channel’s The Conquerors (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), a 12-part spotlight on the men who’s conquests altered the course of history, be they territorial or cultural. And, while we’re on the subject of conquerors – or, as they used to be known, explorers – you should pick up the companion piece Conquest of America (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), a 4-part series that examines men like Hudson, Bering, and Coronado – men who explored a new continent and, in some cases, brought violence and destruction along with knowledge. Always fascinating.

Peruse some of the finest, funniest advertising parodies ever to hit the printed page, crafted by those madcap maestros of yesteryear at Mad in the collected skewering of Madison Avenue to be found in MADvertising (Watson-Guptill, $24.95 SRP), which even features some of the original ads themselves.

It’s nowhere near as clever and endearing as Ice Age, but Fox’s second CGI outing, Robots (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is enjoyable enough (and not nearly as cloying as Shrek 2). In a world of robots, a cutthroat business-bot and his Lady MacBeth-bot mother hatch a plot to overthrow the benevolent inventor of the bot city (Mel Brooks) and stop supplies of replacement parts - forcing the existing robots to either fork over big-bucks to upgrade or risk becoming broken down “outmodes” destined for the scrap heap. Their savior? A young inventor named Rodney (Ewan MacGregor), his scrappy sidekick (Robin Williams), and a ragtag band of allies. Bonus features include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, character featurettes, tests, and more.

The Pretender (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was one of those series that I always intended to watch, based on its premise alone, that I just never got around to watching during its run. That premise found a genius named Jarod on the run from the think-tank facility that raised him after taking him from his parents at a young age, who used his unique abilities for financial gain. When he learned of this, he escaped from the Centre (a suitably creepy name for a thin-tank, no?) and went looking for his real identity, while assuming various fake ones at will and righting any wrongs he runs across. Think of it as Quantum Leap sans sci-fi. The complete second season is now out, featuring all 21 episodes plus audio commentaries on select episodes and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

If I were to choose a clear demarcation point where Enterprise went from mediocre to abysmal, it would be the wretched “Xindi Arc” or season 3 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$129.99 SRP). A half-a**ed attempt to bring some kind of scope and gravitas to a show suffering from flat characters and sub-par writing, all it managed to do was sharply define how wrong-headed the show was… Which is a shame, because some wonderful things could have been done with the pre-Kirk, pre-Federation concept. But alas, ‘twas not to be. Bonus features of the 7-disc set include deleted scenes, outtakes, and the usual bevy of featurettes and a character spotlight (this time on Connor Trinneer & Trip Tucker).

It may mean little to me, but my dad loves the original Gone in 60 Seconds (BCI, Rated PG, DVD-$24.98 SRP) – mostly due to the cars featured throughout. What can I tell you? He’s a car nut. Well, for fans of the original, BCI has put together a stellar deluxe special edition, including a remastered print of the film, behind-the-scenes featurettes, an audio commentary, interviews, and more.

In the flurry of post-Survivor copycats eager to jump on the high adventure reality show bandwagon, never did I think that the Jerry Bruckheimer produced The Amazing Race would take off. Never. I mean, just the logistical nightmare of a clutch of teams traversing the globe seemed insurmountable – though I did expect it to be a spectacularly entertaining failure. Still, there’s a globe-hopping glee to the first season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), particular since it was filmed pre-9/11 (in fact, the show premiered just 6 days beforehand). In addition to all 13 episodes, there are up to 30 minutes of additional scenes per episode, a quartet of audio commentaries, and a trio of featurettes.

Long before Bruckheimer decided to make a foray into the now-crowded procedural drama landscape, there was Dick Wolf’s Law & Order, which has now spawned it’s own spin-offs. One of those, Special Victims Unit (the one about sex crimes starring Mariska Hargitay, Christopher Meloni, Ice-T, B.D. Wong, and Richard Belzer, in case you need a cheat sheet), is getting it’s 2nd season release (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), with special features including profiles of Hargitay and Meloni, and more.

If you’re Fred Hembeck, than you’re probably going to rush out to buy the double feature of the original Hayley Mills Parent Trap and its made-for-TV sequel that, amazingly enough, is titled The Parent Trap II (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). What, they couldn’t go all the way and wrap it up with the final Mills Trap outing in III? What a gyp! The first disc features both films, while the second disc essentially cannibalizes the Parent Trap “Vault” release from a few years back, with behind-the-scenes featurettes and retrospectives on the original film.

I’m telling you – unless something earth-shaking happens on the subject of DVD residuals, every TV series, from the famous to the obscure, will eventually wind their way to DVD. Case in point – the release of episodes from The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$34.95 SRP). Was this show on *anyone’s* radar? Seriously… Was it? Well, it doesn’t matter, because it’s here now, and it’s actually a great old-school TV western, starring Hugh O’Brian as Earp and covering everything from Dodge City to the O.K. Corral. The 4-disc set features interviews with O’Brian and Mason Dinehart III (Bat Masterson), an Earp timeline, a featurette on High O’Brian Youth Leadership, and a bio of producer Louis F. Edelman.

If you’re enamored by the plastic surgeons of Nip/Tuck and want to know how accurate it is to the real life cutters, look no further than E!’s reality outing Dr. 90210 (E!/Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), the first season of which looks at the life of one of those aforementioned “self-esteem enhancers,” based in that infamous zip code. The 3-disc set features all 13 episodes, plus bonus stories and outtakes. The final cut? Nip/Tuck is a lot more accurate than you’d like to believe.

Somebody, somewhere, is probably giddy that Tony Orlando & Dawn: The Ultimate Collection (R2, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP) exists… They’re probably listening to “Tie a Yellow Ribbon” on their iPods right now, giggling like a schoolgirl. Well, this 3-disc collector’s is for them, featuring the best moments spanning their 1974 CBS summer replacement debut through their 1977 Rainbow Hour exit, with special guests (spanning the range from Danny Thomas to Alice Cooper) and bonus materials including a Tonight Show segment, footage from Fridays (now where is *that* DVD set???), and a Carol Burnett Show sketch.

It’s hard to not watch The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D (Dimension, Rated PG, DVD-$29.99 SRP) without seeing it as a huge masturbatory exercise of self-sufficient (and self-indulgent) filmmaker Robert Rodriguez. It’s all well and good to make a children’s adventure flick inspired by one of your kids – I’m down with that – but do you think you could have at least made it, you know, good? Even watchable would have been nice. Add to that the fact that the DVD features the same red/blue crappy 3-D that sunk the home video experience of Spy Kids 3-D (lenticular is the only way to go, people), and you get a flick that only exists as a glorified home movie. Bonus features include a making-of featurette and an audio commentary with Rodriguez.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 09/23/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 23, 2005 at 10:21 pm)

“Again???” Yes, Rocky, it’s time for another season of Rocky & Bullwinkle & Friends (Classic Media, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) on DVD! Featuring 33 complete episodes (including the “Three Moosketeers,” “Topsy Turvy World,” “Lazy Jay Ranch,” and “Missouri Mish Mash” story arcs), the original live Bullwinkle Puppet intro/outro clips, a best of Bullwinkle Follies, and a peak at Season 4 (which better come quick!). Of course, if you’re a fan of the & Friends part of the show and want a more concentrated package, pick up the first volumes of The Best of Fractured Fairy Tales, The Best of Mr. Peabody & Sherman, and The Best of Dudley Do-Right (Classic Media, Not Rated, DVD-$12.98 SRP each), featuring 15 classic installments apiece. Hu-freakin’-zzah!

You can’t throw a rock without hitting independent dramas… Be they coming-of-age, stranger in a strange land, generation gap, female empowerment, male empowerment, alternative lifestyle empowerment – whatever. The world is full of them. Independent comedies, however, are a much, much rarer beast – because, frankly, comedy is much, much harder to do. Just ask any actor and they’ll tell you. It’s easier to jerk a tear out of an audience than it is to get them to laugh intentionally. Maybe that’s why Martin & Orloff (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) was such a revelation – here was an independent comedy that was actually *funny*. The mind reels and the universe quakes. So what’s it about? It’s about a marketing man (Martin) and his shrink (Orloff). Martin designs mascots and has unsuccessfully tried to commit suicide, so he tries therapy with psychiatrist Dr. Orloff instead – and to say that the therapy is unorthodox would be an understatement. Written (along with Katie Roberts) and starring Upright Citizens Brigade members Matt Walsh and Ian Roberts, it features exactly the kind of brilliantly offbeat humor fans of the UCB have come to expect. It’s also loaded with cameos, including Andy Richter, Tina Fey, Rachel Dratch, H. Jon Benjamin, David Cross, and Amy Poehler. The DVD features audio commentary (with Walsh, Roberts, and director Lawrence Blume), deleted scenes, an alternate ending, makeup tests, astronaut striptease, bloopers, the theatrical trailer, and a fold-out board game.

I’ve been (rightfully) critical of Lucas’s disastrous story for and direction of the Star Wars prequels, but I can’t fault the often beautiful costume design of Trisha Biggar. She managed not only to retain the aesthetic of the original trilogy, but to expand it into the new territory featured in the prequels – if only Lucas could have done the same, the world would be a far better place. Biggar’s work is the focus of the extensively illustrated deluxe hardcover Dressing a Galaxy: The Costumes of Star Wars (Abrams, $50.00 SRP). Even for someone like me, who detests the prequels, this book is worth adding to the collection.

I think Ron Howard’s Apollo 13 is a greatly flawed film bogged down in Howard’s pretentious perpetual clutch for awards glory (which made flicks like A Beautiful Mind & Cinderella Man frustrating affairs for me). As far as flicks that capture the spirit of adventure, courage, danger, and insanity that made up America’s space race in the 60’s, nothing approaches The Right Stuff – except for Tom Hanks’s multi-hour HBO mini-epic From the Earth to the Moon (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP). With a stellar cast and fidelity quite rare in these kind of historical dramatizations, it’s a beautiful accomplishment that still holds up. Thankfully, HBO decided to revisit the original DVD release with a fully remastered new edition (the anamorphic picture alone is worth it), featuring expanded bonus materials in addition to the featurettes found on the original release.

Not since The Last Waltz has a film so eloquently captured musicians that defined a generation, so it’s no surprise that the filmmaker behind Waltz is also the one that paints such a vivid portrait of the legendary Bob Dylan in No Direction Home (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Featuring never-before-seen footage, interviews with contemporaries, and rare concert performances, it’s an essential edition to any music-lover’s library. Bonus features include additional rarities, including TV and live appearances.

Everyone who was too impatient to wait for the full special edition release and instead buckled and bought Best Buy’s bare bones release of the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica’s first season are most likely kicking themselves as the 5-disc edition, with bonus features (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), hits shelves. Bonus features include audio commentary on the feature (with director Michael Rymer and exec producers David Eick & Ron Moore), deleted scenes, 8 behind-the-scenes featurettes, and artwork.

Introduced to their work via their collaboration with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, I was fascinated by the PBS American Experience spotlight on The Carter Family: Will The Circle Be Unbroken (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). Though they only recorded from 1927-1943, their legacy formed the foundation of American folk, bluegrass, and country (and was prominently featured in the Coen’s O Brother).

The 365 Days series from Abrams Books is the very epitome of a great coffee table book – they’re thick, half-size hardcover tomes that cry out “Pick me up!!” and feature (as the title suggests) 365 entries of photos and accompanying text, that’s easy to just open up to any spot and browse through. The two latest entries are Creating the Worlds of Star Wars and The Beatles (Abrams, $29.95 SRP each). The Fab Four tome features many rarely seen pics of the Moptops , while the Star Wars tome is loaded with behind-the-scenes snaps (2/3 of which are from the prequels) and text from John Knoll, as well as a bonus CD of additional pics and videos.

He’s revisited all but a couple of his other flicks, so why shouldn’t Kevin Smith take another pass at his misunderstood post-Clerks failure Mallrats with a brand-new 10th anniversary cut (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$26.96 SRP)? Incorporating much of the deleted footage featured in the previous DVD release, it’s a much less popcorny flick. The DVD also features the original theatrical version, an audio commentary (with Smith, Jason Mewes, Ben Affleck, Jason Lee, Scott Mosier, and Vincent Pereira), a Smith Q&A, a look back at the film, a making-of featurette, a reunion Q&A, original cast interviews, Smith’s “Build Me Up Buttercup” music video, and outtakes.

Get your hands as soapy as can be with the complete first season (extended and uncensored!) of Desperate Housewives (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP), a show that managed to save the Radio Shack career decline of the fine Teri Hatcher, who no longer has to plug cordless phones at the holidays. Bonus features include audio commentaries, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with creator Marc Cherry, a wardrobe featurette, and much more.

It’s a growing trend, raunchier comedies are double-dipping on DVD with unrated editions, editing back in MPAA-unfriendly scenes. Add Scary Movie 3.5 (Dimension, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) to that list, which slightly expands David Zucker’s first film in the SM franchise, and features a new commentary (with Zucker, producer Robert Weiss, and writers Craig Mazin & Pat Proft), deleted scenes (with optional commentary), and additional bonus materials carried over from the original release, including an alternate ending, outtakes, a making-of documentary, and more.

With Disney’s ongoing decimation and outsourcing of their once visionary Imagineering department, projects like The Imagineering Field Guide to the Magic Kingdom of Walt Disney World (Disney Editions, $9,95 SRP) – a handy guide in which the Imagineers take you on a tour of the construction, trivia, and minutiae of the “Happiest Place on Earth” – all the more poignant since it’s an era that’s passing as Disney eviscerates its creative legacy. Oh well… At least you have a great guide.

Can you believe that even Heathcliff and the Catillac Cats (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) is getting a release on DVD? Though he predated the introduction of fat cat Garfield, Heathcliff has always been viewed as the poor man’s comic strip cat, which I think is a bit unfair. The set features 24 unedited episodes, an interview with current Heathcliff cartoonist (and nephew of creator George Gately) Peter Gallagher, a gallery of the cat through the years, and original promos.

Re-inserting over 20 minutes of footage and new bookend segments that bring it more in line with S.E. Hinton’s novel, the new edition of Francis Coppola’s The Outsiders (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) – titled, appropriately enough, The Complete Novel – is expanded, remastered, and packed to the gills with enough bonus features to start a turf war over. Those bonus features include a new introduction & commentary from Coppola, an intro & commentary from the actors (including Rob Lowe, Diane Lane, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Patrick Swayze, and Ralph Macchio), 10 more minutes of additional scenes, a making-of doc, a casting featurette, castmembers reading selections from the book, an S.E. Hinton featurette, an NBC Today segment, and the theatrical trailer.

Surprisingly, I’ve come to appreciate Adam Sandler’s acting range. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say he’s better at mixing drama and comedy than Jim Carrey, who always seems like he’s trying too hard to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, Sandler’s remake of The Longest Yard (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – in the role as the jailed football star forced to pull together a ragtag team of inmates to take on the sadistic warden’s guard team – just never seems to bridge the gap between it’s lighter moments and the darker moments that the original flick (starring Burt Reynolds, who’s cast here as an inmate who coaches the team) pulled off so well. Still, it’s enjoyable enough, but certainly not the classic the original has become. The DVD features an audio commentary with director Peter Segal, deleted scenes with optional commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a gag reel, and a music video.

Those still fascinated by the mystique of James dean will most likely want to pick up a pair of docs winding their way to DVD, James Dean: Forever Young & James Dean: Sense Memories (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP each). Both feature clips and interviews with friends and colleagues, and together they paint a comprehensive portrait of a young man whose legacy has long outlived his brief career.

If you’re still refraining (for some unknown reason, though I will accept economics) from buying the season sets, you will probably want to at least pick up Spongebob Squarepants: Absorbing Favorites (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$16.99 SRP), featuring 9 classic episodes (“Ripped Pants,” “Mermaidman and Barnacleboy,” “Karate Choppers,” “Gary Takes a Bath,” “Jellyfish Hunter,” “The Fry Cook Games,” “Club Spongebob,” “Plankton’s Army,” and the 2-part lost episode “The Sponge Who Could Fly”).

As far as titles go, The Sixties: The Years That Shaped a Generation (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP) pretty much sums up what the documentary is about, exploring the politics & culture that would have ramifications for decades to come, through interviews and archive footage. Much like his confessional Fog of War, I still find former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s insights to be the most fascinating.

In retrospect, it seems like a genius idea – take two of the most brilliant (and entertaining) magicians ever to grace the footlights and send them to a trio of the world’s most mysterious locations to root out the ancient precursors of today’s magic acts. The locations were China, India, and Egypt, the magicians were Penn & Teller, and the program was Penn & Teller’s Magic & Mystery Tour (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). The DVD features all three programs, additional footage, and production notes. Their performance of the cups & balls under the hieroglyphs of an ancient Egyptian tomb (purported to feature glyphs depicting the trick) is positively brilliant.

The list of quality TV shows cancelled before their time is longer than my arm, but DVD continues to provide a second life for these series, the latest being the release of the complete first and second season run of Michael Mann’s Crime Story (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP each). In his follow-up to Miami Vice, Mann cast Dennis Farina as a grizzled cop on the trail of the ruthless mobster Ray Luca (Anthony Denison) in the gritty milieu of 60’s Chicago to the decadent bright lights of Vegas. Thank you, DVD… And yes, I still want The Jackie Thomas Show.

While we’re on the subject of shows axed too soon, add Ned & Stacey to that list, which is getting a release of its complete first season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Starring Thomas Haden Church and Debra Messing as a pair of mismatched people in a marriage of convenience, it was a whip-smart sitcom that made TV a brighter place… And was therefore destroyed. The 3-disc set features audio commentary on the pilot and a 20-muinute retrospective featurette.

I’m not completely in the doom & gloom category that views the final episodes of the original run of Ren & Stimpy – available in the 3-disc The Ren & Stimpy Show: Season Five and Some More of Four (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) – as a complete disaster. True, they were not the best of the run, but they also aren’t the apocalypse acolytes of John K. make them out to be. The set features 13 audio commentaries and an interview with R&S.

History buffs will devour the contents of The LBJ Tapes: The Johnson White House Tapes (Kultur, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). The title is pretty self-explanatory, as the 4-disc set features audio & video – almost all of it previously unreleased – that provides a candid portrait of the goings-on behind closed doors of the administration that presided over one of the most tumultuous periods in US history.

I’ve said it before, but only the 80’s could give us the touchy-feely platitudes of Highway to Heaven (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP)… Until the 90’s sent us into sugar shock with the saccharine platitudes of Touched By An Angel. Highway, however, was leavened by the serene, big-haired presence of Michael Landon as helpful angel Jonathan Smith, who travels the country setting people’s lives straight, accompanied by gruff ex-cop Mark Gordon (the much-missed Victor French, whose sarcasm went a long way towards deflating the preachiness). The 7-disc complete second season features all 24 episodes and commentary with Cindy Landon & producer Kent McCray on “The Torch.”

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THE MONEY PIT - 09/16/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 16, 2005 at 10:17 pm)

I’m writing this week’s column in-between frequent power losses, as the wind howls and the rain pounds down, and Hurricane Ophelia teaches a few lessons about how hard it is to get work done during a “weather event.” While nowhere near the disaster of Katrina, this will still end up being a significant flooding event for us here in Eastern Carolina (Ophelia is a sloooooow moving storm), so here’s hoping everyone out there made it safely to higher ground.

During the power outages, I’ve been using a truly nifty device to get some reading in – the Lumos Book Light from LightWedge ($34.95 SRP), which also happens to be themed especially for Harry Potter fans (hence the name). Gone are the days of flashlights, penlights, and awkward head lamps (I’ve used them all), as the Lightwedge technology employs white LED light shown through an optical grade piece of flat acrylic that lays across the page you’re reading, providing a bright, evenly-lit reading experience. It runs off of 4 AAA batteries, which provide up to 40 hours of illumination (and you never need to change the bulbs). Where was this thing when I was a kid? The Lumos light features interchangeable Potter themed buttons with iconography including Harry’s glasses, a wand, the snitch, an owl, a broom, and the Gryffindor crest. Brilliant.

As the new TV season gets rolling, I find myself almost completely disinterested in all of the new fare (and much of the returning offal) being offered up, instead finding solace in a trio of classic series whose DVD rollout rumbles along at a nice clip. Still entirely featureless (And what’s up with that? The early seasons at least got *something*…), there’s the complete sixth seasons of Frasier & Cheers (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP each) – the latter introducing Kirstie Alley’s Rebecca Howe – and the third season of Taxi (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP). I sincerely hope they put the cast’s farewell Tonight Show soiree, live from the Boston bar that inspired the series, on Cheers’s 11th season set.

The fourth volume of SCTV: Network 90 (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$89.98 SRP) collects the final batch of episodes from the show’s NBC run, featuring the rise of Martin Short and a few classics (“Sweeps Week,” “Towering Inferno,” Ed Grimley, and the Happy Wanderers Salute to John Williams). Gone were Dave Thomas, Rick Moranis, and Catherine O’Hara (save for a guest appearance during the Christmas episode), but there are still plenty of gems to be found. The 6-disc set features an interview with Short, home movies of the cast & crew, Sammy Maudlin at Second City, Canadian TV references revealed, and a featurette with the producers. Does this mean we can finally get sets of the original seasons of the show?

If you’re a fan of The Office – or just offbeat British comedy in general (you know, the smart people) – you’ll probably dig Peep Show (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). Gosh, how do I describe such a unique premise… In the show, you see the lives of roommates Jeremy & Mark through their eyes – and inner monologues. Jeremy is a wannabe pop star, Mark is an obsessive loser, and their thoughts and actions are truly hilarious. Think of it as a small-screen take on Being John Malkovich, without all the arty pretension. Bonus features include audio commentary on a pair of episodes and six specially filmed bonus scenes.

Teasing their upcoming restorations of both King Kong and The Wizard of Oz, Warners has released a stunningly clean and dynamic special edition of everyone’s favorite chariot race, Ben-Hur (Warner Bros., rated G, DVD-$39.92 SRP). The four disc set features a luxurious 2-disc presentation of the film with commentary from Charlton Heston and film historian T. Gene Hatcher. Disc 3 features the Thames Television restoration of the 1925 silent version with full orchestral score, while the fourth disc contains a brand-new documentary (“Ben-Hur: The Epic That Changed History”), the 1994 documentary “Ben-Hur: The Making of an Epic,” screen tests, vintage newsreels, trailers, highlights from the 1960 Academy Awards ceremony, and an audiovisual recreation of the film via stills, storyboards, sketches, music, and dialogue.

It’s fitting that the 4-disc box set collecting Donovan’s hits and rarities, Try for the Sun (Sony Legacy, $4.98 SRP), is covered in purple faux-suede, as – along with the Beatles and Cat Stevens – no other artist truly represents the whimsical, folky flower power pop of the late 60’s. With hits like “Mellow Yellow,” “Season of the Witch,” “Hurdy Gurdy Man,” “Sunshine Superman,” and the storyful “Atlantis” (which was later turned into the tale of the submerged “Atlanta” in an episode of Futurama). Full of rarities and live tracks – plus a DVD featuring an unreleased 1970 documentary – it’s just the set you need to mellow out this weekend (and after this hurricane-filled week, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing).

So you’re trying to impress your wife and prove your manhood – but you’re pretty much the stereotypical picture of a weakling data entry specialist who may have trouble doing both. So what do you do? You set out on a quest to take part in some truly far-out competitions the world over, including bullfighting, sumo wrestling, arm wrestling, and even running backward, and then you write an engagingly funny and poignant book about your journey. That book is The Underdog (Villard, $21.95 SRP), by Joshua Davis, and I suggest you check it out.

The BBC are not giving an inch when it comes to releasing the recent relaunch of Doctor Who on DVD here in the states (yeah, like no one downloaded it either, Beeb – wake up), but they are giving fans a pair of classic Who releases – the Patrick Troughton-era The Mind Robber and the Tom Baker-era Horror of Fang Rock (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP each). As per usual, both discs are loaded with extras, including audio commentaries, featurettes, galleries, and more thank you can shake a Dalek at (NOTE: shake a Dalek at your own risk).

You can take your Crawfords and your Hepburns – for me, the ultimate in screen allure – and mystery – was Greta Garbo. On the eve of her 100th birthday (on the 18th), why not pick up a copy of the comprehensive Greta Garbo: The Signature Edition box set (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$99.92 SRP). Featuring 10 classics starring the starlet whose large, luminous eyes enthralled a generation of moviegoers, this is yet another entry in Warners excellent presentation of their library. The films include Queen Christina, Grand Hotel, Ninotchka, Anna Karenina, Camille, Mata Hari, Anna Christie, TCM Archives (with three silent films - The Temptress, Flesh and the Devil, & The Mysterious Lady), and the TCM documentary Garbo. Each disc gets at least the original theatrical trailer, with Grand Hotel, Camille, and the silent classics disc getting the lion’s share of goodies, including commentaries, documentaries, and featurettes.

All is right (or at least better) in a world that has Ali G. Much like Jon Stewart’s Daily Show, Da Ali G Show manages to deflate not only the personalities of the day – through the brilliantly clueless interview style of Ali G (Sacha Baron Choen) – but also the American culture, through Baron’s other creation, Borat. The complete second season (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) features unseen and uncensored bonus material, including Ali G’s commencement speech at Harvard, an interview with Noam Chomsky, visits to a historic naval vessel, Borat learning about American football in Texas (plus getting a hunting lesson and lunching with the Arizona Republican Party), Bruno gossiping with a Hollywood stylist and visiting a psychic, and more.

Even though I’ve already read the book, I find listening to Jim Dale’s performances in the Potter audiobooks to be equally as enjoyable, and that still holds true for The Half-Blood Prince (Random House Audio, $75.00 SRP). He’s (almost literally) portrayed a cast of 1,000’s by this point, and it’s worth it just to see what vocal acrobatics he’ll unleash in each new installment.

It’s hard to sum up just how disappointed I was in the big screen version of Douglas Adams’s genius Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Touchstone, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Maybe the most difficult hurdle to leap was that it’s simply not very funny – and that, as an adaptation of an Adams work, is a true crime. Very, very sad… Especially with the cast, who could have accomplished so much more given the right script and direction (particularly Martin Freeman’s Arthur Dent). Bonus features include deleted scenes (both real and fake), an additional guide entry, a “So Long” sing-along, a pair of audio commentaries, and a making-of featurette.

I’m frightened by how enjoyable I find the shows contained in the second volume of Jamie Oliver’s cooking show Oliver’s Twist 2 (Capital, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Maybe that’s because he’s just so darn cheeky, in that disarmingly yet irritatingly British way. It’s like a cooking show with Hugh Grant’s little brother.

Am I the only one perpetually freaked out by the works of Sid & Marty Krofft? I’m sorry, but if they weren’t on something, than they’ve got some serious issues going on upstairs. Case in point – the characters featured in the complete first season of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$34.95 SRP). What in the hell are they? Why do they haunt my dreams? Bonus features include audio commentaries with actors Johnny Whitaker & Scott Kolden, commentary from Sid Krofft, and interviews.

I’m a history buff – longtime readers know that – and there’s nothing I find more fascinating than viewing historic events from a different perspective. That’s exactly what you get with a pair of titles that present color footage from the WWII archives of Germany and Japan. The first is Hitler in Color, which spotlights the rise and fall of Hitler and his German Reich, and the other is Japan’s War, focusing on the Empire’s rise and fall )Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$9.95 SRP each). Both titles are narrated by Brian Cox, and feature rare footage, most of which has never been seen.

Golly, golly, golly – DVD never ceases to stun me. Or, more accurately, what gets released on DVD, as the format becomes a cheap and easy way for studios – desperate for more content – search every nook and cranny of their archives for flicks to unleash upon the public. What that means is that alongside such classics as Donald Sutherland & Jane Fonda in Klute (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP), you get cupboard classics like the 70’s, Gary Busey-heavy Cannonball Run precursor The Gumball Rally (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.97 SRP), John Ritter as an unlikely superhero in Hero At Large (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.97 SRP), and even that most perennial of Mark Hamill jokes, Corvette Summer (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.97 SRP). Ain’t that just an embarrassment of… somethin’?

If you want the most iconic of the Brady Bunch’s early seasons, then look no further than season 3 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP). Not only does it have Peter’s cracking voice, but you’ve got Marcia stalking Davy Jones, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!”, Greg’s uncool car, and a trip to the Grand Canyon. We still haven’t got any more bonus features since the first season’s tease, but the episodes themselves have never looked better.

Okay, so a themed 4-episode collection of the classic Ray Walston/Bill Bixby sitcom, My Favorite Martian: Time Travelers (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP), is all well and good, but where’s the complete season 3 release that was originally supposed to happen? Save the themed releases for later – give us the sets now!

Maybe it was just me, but the second season of Las Vegas (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) just didn’t seem to have the same schlocky, postmodern Love Boat joi de vivre of the first season – which is not to say that the sophomore season was a dud. Anything with James Caan can’t be a complete write-off… Okay, unless it’s Mickey Blue Eyes. But it’s got Jon Lovitz, too! Everybody loves Lovitz! Bonus features include a gag reel and a VIP tour of the Palms casino.

Any soundtrack that has the glorious chutzpah to put the full version of Joe Scarbury’s “Theme from Greatest American Hero” on it is a soundtrack I want on my shelf. The soundtrack in question? The 40 Year-Old Virgin (Shout! Factory, $18.98 SRP), which also has tracks from James Brown (“I Got Ants In My Pants”), Asia (“Heat of the Moment”), Lionel Richie (“Hello”), and the criminally overlooked Dr. Hook (“Sharing the Night Together”). Oh, and it has Steve Carrell’s deleted karaoke version of “The First Time” as well… Priceless.

I’m a sucker for stories that interweave into a tapestry, and Crash (Lions Gate, Rated R, DVD-$28.98 SRP) is one of those flicks, as a group of Los Angelinos are brought together in various vehicular ways – from racist cops making abusive traffic stops to character-revealing accidents – that never devolve into cute plot devices… Which is the danger these sometimes too-clever films often face. The DVD features an introduction by director Paul Haggis, a behind-the-scenes featurette, audio commentary (with Haggis, Don Cheadle, & Bobby Moresco), and trailers.

Did you know that Cracker Jack was introduced at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair? I didn’t, until I watched Expo: Magic of the White City (Inecom, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP), a documentary which takes viewers on an in-depth tour of one of the wonders of the 19th century, a precursor for the many innovations – and societal, political, and economic upheavals – to come. The DVD features a commentary with World’s Fair historian David Cope, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a production commentary, and deleted scenes. Highly recommended for history buffs, like myself.

No that there’s an easy cash bandwagon, or anything, but a trio of Universal titles are also getting all gussied up with new editions sporting brand-new transfers and bonus features. While the bonus features are the same as the original special edition release, the Loretta Lynn biopic Coal Miner’s Daughter (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$19.98 SRP) gets a sparkling new transfer and improved sound. The second of Francis Coppola’s S.E. Hinton adaptations, Rumble Fish (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is also all spiffy, with new features including an audio commentary with Coppola, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, a spotlight on the score, a music video, and the trailer. Finally, there’s “Ultimate Edition” (Does anyone really believe that PR move anymore?) of Al Pacino’s over-acting tour-de-force (though nowhere near Scarface levels) as drug kingpin Carlito Brigante in Carlito’s Way (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$22.98 SRP), with deleted scenes, an interview with director Brian De Palma, a making-of featurette, and more.

Malign them all you want, but one of the very first CDs I ever got from my many BMG music club accounts was a Genesis greatest hits collection. Sure, by the time of that collection – the Phil Collins era – they had all the self-important maudlin bombast of every other 80’s pop group. I didn’t care. I don’t know why I didn’t care, except I did enjoy tunes like “Invisible Touch,” “You’re No Son of Mine,” and “Land of Confusion.” All of those and more are remastered and featured on the 3-disc Genesis: Platinum Collection (Rhino, $24.98 SRP). Also available (and boy, what a time capsule it is) is Genesis: The Video Show (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring all of those videos that got almost endless MTV rotation “back in the day” – including the epic “Land of Confusion” video with the Spitting Image puppets that fostered many a Reagan-era nightmare. And speaking of maudlin bombast, you can also grab the greatest hits collection of Genesis member Mike Rutherford’s group Mike & The Mechanics (Rhino, $11.98 SRP) featuring the single biggest maudlin tune of the 80’s, “The Living Years.” Yeah, I like that tune, too. Sue me.

If there’s one thing you can say about Everybody Loves Raymond – and I mean this as a compliment and not a slight – is that if you’ve seen one season, you know exactly what to expect from any other. Over its run, the show remained remarkably consistent in tone and quality, and was like the comfort food of ensemble comedies. That maxim is absolutely true for the fourth season (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP). The 5-disc set features all 24 episodes plus audio commentaries on 4 eps (with Phil Rosenthal, Ray Romano, Brad Garrett, Patricia Heaton, and writers Lew Schneider & Aaron Shure), deleted scenes, and bloopers.

Following up on their stellar Rock Icons release comes another collection of Dick Cavett Show episodes – and if I ell you that the title is the Ray Charles Collection (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), can you guess who the spotlight is on? The set features 3 complete episodes featuring Brother Ray, along with guests like Tony Randall, Margaret Mead, and John Lindsay. Bonus features include episode introductions and an interview featurette with Cavett.

Punk: Attitude (Capital, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is the most comprehensive and entertaining look at the history and development of the Punk movement of the 1970’s, from its disaffected origins to its mainstream death, featuring interviews with the performers, writers, and people who were front and center in the period, as well as more performances than you can violently shake a stick at. The 2-disc set features additional interviews, segments, featurettes, and more.

Straight from the recently launched Military channel comes a pair of fascinating releases for the military enthusiast near and dear to you. The first is the 3-disc collection of Battlefield Diaries (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), which presents the wartime experience via firsthand accounts illustrated with photos, video, and interviews – sort of like a souped-up Ken Burns. The other doc is Ace in the Hole (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP), which tells the tale of the search for and eventual capture of Saddam Hussein.

If you need just one reason to get Legends: Live at Montreux 1997 (Eagle Vision, $14.98 SRP) – featuring the combined might of Eric Clapton, David Sanborn, Steve Gadd, Marcus Miller, and Joe Sample – it’s for the truly kick-a** version of Layla. Once that’s pulled you in, though, there’s over a dozen other cuts from this concert that will have you wishing a companion CD was available.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 09/09/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 9, 2005 at 10:04 pm)

I’m back. Huzzah. The Needcoffee FilmFest went great, Dragon*Con was surreal as ever, and even the Adult Swim panel I moderated went off with only a minor hitch. Shock all around.

Before I jump into the deep end of a massive guide, let me give a hearty shout-out and recommendation to the amazing caffeinated Foosh Mints from Vroom Foods. With 100mg of caffeine in each winterfresh bite, it was the only thing that got me home safe after an exhausting jaunt down to Atlanta and a 9 hour drive home. Truly, these mints (and their chocolate cousins, Buzz Bites) are a miracle of food science.

It’s been a few years since the fans began lobbying via their “Bring Back the Magic” campaign for Fraggle Rock DVDs, and they’ve finally arrived in complete season form. What’s nice about the episodes contained within the Complete First Season (HIT, Not Rated, DVD-$44.99 SRP) is that the show hit the ground running, with even the shakiest of the early episodes clearly marking the patch the show would eventually take. Pitched as Jim Henson’s show for world peace, it’s still a stunning accomplishment that Fraggle Rock was never preachy, always fun, but with quite powerful lessons about friendship and understanding. And oh, the songs! Next only to Sesame Street, it’s the children’s show with the most stellar songwriting, and is just as listenable to adult ears as they were when I was a kid myself. Where HIT has also excelled with this set is the 50+ minutes of interview featurettes with most of the surviving principal performers, writers, and producers (hey, Jerry!). If that weren’t enough, they’ve also thrown the original Down At Fraggle Rock behind-the-scenes documentary hosted by Jim on there, and included a reproduction of his original concept notebook. All I can say is that Season 2 – and a music box set – better be on its way soon.

If you’re like me, you’re still a bit pissed at the “Oh, come on!” ending of Lost’s first season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP). Still, not since the pre-crap build of the X-Files has a cult show been able to suck audiences in with a dense mythology that teased and taunted more than it really answered anything, yet still attract a loyal (and sizeable) audience. As the second season premiere looms, now’s the time to revisit the first season and scrape around for clues… Or just watch the scene of Hurley hauling-Hurley across that airport terminal trying to make the doomed flight. Crikey, I love me some Hurley. The 7-disc set features 4 commentaries, audition tapes, more featurettes than are humanly imaginable, deleted scenes, bloopers, the MoT&R Paley Festival spotlight, and much more. Sadly, lottery ticket not included.

As if their marvelous handling of the Complete Peanuts weren’t enough to delight comics fans from here to Timbuktu, Fantagraphics has released the first volume of Hank Ketcham’s severely underrated Dennis the Menace (Fantagraphics, $24.95 SRP). The first volume spans the period between the strip’s 1951 launch to 1952, and even this early material is clearly the Dennis that became popular enough to one day spawn a TV show. They’ve also re-released Ketcham’s autobiography, The Merchant of Dennis the Menace (Fantagraphics, $24.95 SRP). Now where in the hell is the complete Pogo, treated with the same care and reverence?

Following on the heels of other studios, Universal launches their Legacy Series of deluxe editions spotlighting classic films from their library with a trio of releases that definitely fit the bill, starting with the long-awaited 2-disc edition of To Kill a Mockingbird (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). First and foremost, there’s the remastered picture. The bonus materials - which include an audio commentary with director Robert Mulligan and producer Alan Pakula, an interview with actress Mary Badham, Gregory Peck’s Oscar speech and AFI tribute, a making-of featurette, the theatrical trailer, and a massive documentary on Peck – are merely gravy on a stellar piece of film history. The other pair of flicks to get the gilded treatment are Redford & Newman’s The Sting (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$26.98 SRP), with behind-the-scenes featurettes, and Robert De Niro in the still powerful Vietnam-era The Deer Hunter (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$26.98 SRP), which includes an audio commentary (with cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond & film journalist Bob Fisher), deleted/extended scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

If you’re as thoroughly clueless about the world of wine as I am – and you happen to be a big Python fan – then there’s no better teacher of the arcane world of the grape’s fermented magic than John Cleese’s Wine for the Confused (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). From the importance of grape varieties, temperature, and soil to the art of developing a palette in determining which wine is the best for you, Cleese is an affable host. The DVD also features additional thoughts and tips from Cleese, as well as extended interviews.

Cleese is also features, along with a bevy of other Brit comic luminaries, in The Funny Blokes of British Comedy (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), a clip show celebrating the finest men ever to engage in verbal surreality or blatant slapstick across the pond.

Not only was Pirates of Silicon Valley (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) a nice encapsulation of the rise and rocky relationship of Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Apple’s Steve Jobs, but it also marked the return of Anthony Michael Hall (whose performance as Gates is brilliant in its cutthroat nerdiness). The DVD features an introduction from Noah Wyle (whose Jobs manages to be even more cutthroat and evil than Gates) and a TV spot.

If bonus features are what you’re looking for, the 10th Anniversary Edition of Toy Story (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) is really not going to excite you much if you already own the Ultimate Toy Box edition that came out a few years back. No, you’ll really want to snag this latest double-dip for the remastered picture and sound, which vastly improves upon that prior release. There are new bonus features to be found, though, including the “Legacy of Toy Story” featurette, deleted scenes, a sneak peek at Cars, and reminiscences from the production team – including the late Joe Ranft.

From Birth of a Nation to The Matrix, the mysterious power of film editing is explored in The Cutting Edge: The Magic of Movie Editing (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Masters of the cut discuss their craft, a process that can mean success or failure by the frame, in a candid and revelatory doc that’s sure to be on must-watch lists for aspiring filmmakers everywhere.

Ah, but the geekery continues with the first volume collecting the first season of that 80’s catty classic, Thundercats (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$64.92 SRP). Featuring 33 of the first season’s 65 episode run, the series looks and sounds better than it ever has before… Which is much-appreciated during those dramatic Mumm-Ra transformation scenes. Poor man’s Skeletor? I think not. Not only that, but the bonus featurette features fans of the show… including Wil Wheaton. Yes. Wil Wheaton.

Please tell me you’ve begun listening to me and are starting to pick up the Disney comics that Gemstone has been putting out… Get off that damn superhero fixation and wake up to the classic stories of Carl Barks, Don Rosa, William Van Horn, and more. This month brings the deluxe Uncle Scrooge #345 & Walt Disney’s Comics #660 (Gemstone, $6.95 each), and the regular edition Mickey Mouse and Friends #280 & Donald Duck and Friends #331 (Gemstone, $2.95 each). Come on, people! Restore my faith in humanity…

Anyone who thinks the Valerie Plame case was the first in which a CIA operative’s identity was revealed for political purposes will want to read My Father the Spy (Harper Collins, $24.95 SRP), John Richardson’s investigative memoir of a father he didn’t really know until much later in his life, who was a founding member of the CIA, a cold warrior, and a pivotal player in the overthrow of the South Vietnamese government – as well as being a father of two children. Just for its portrait of an operative’s double-life as a husband and father, it’s worth picking up the book.

Okay, by the time you got to the 3rd season of 21 Jump Street (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP), you couldn’t but wonder at the IQs of kids who still believed the 40 year-old undercover cop in chem class was just a fellow high school student. But hey, this is the season that gave us Richard Grieco and a guest appearance by Peter Deluise’s dad Dom, so all’s forgiven.

If Shaun of the Dead left you wondering what an American take on the same concept would be – namely a funny zombie flick – look no further than Dead & Breakfast (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), a cheeky little horror romp that finds a group of six friends taking a wrong turn into a creepy Texas town filled with zombies, murder, and an inn that AAA forgot. Bonus features include a production commentary (with the director, SFX supervisor, and a pair of the actors), a cast commentary, deleted/extended scenes, bloopers, and trailers.

Wicca’s first family returns with the complete second season of Charmed (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP), as the Haliwell sisters (Prue, Piper, & Phoebe) battle old foes and even manhood (a frightening Shannon Doherty in the most disturbing make-up job you’ll ever see). There are absolutely no bonus features to speak of… Come on, not even any whine sessions from Alyssa Milano?

I have a theory that MacGyver is actually a distant relative of Star Trek’s James Montgomery Scott, aka “Scotty.” Just think about it – they’re both engineering miracle workers, and both their shows are owned by Viacom. I’m just saying. Think about my not-completely-oddball theory as you partake of the complete third season of MacGyver (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP)

It’s become positively frightening just how many TV-to-DVD releases have begun hitting stores (and your wallet). In fact, let’s burn through the rest of the list lickety-split – starting with the fourth season of Married With Children (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), which features all 23 episodes but no special features (although it does have my favorite episode of all, as Sam Kinison guests as a Christmas spirit in “A Bundyful Life”). Both the first & second seasons of the short-lived classic (and Barbershop precursor) That’s My Mama (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP each) – though I’m miffed that Sony decided to use the edited syndication cuts for the majority of the episodes, Jebus knows why. For animation fans, there’s the penultimate fourth volume of Garfield and Friends (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). For TV buffs, you’ll be happy to know that the complete third season of Dallas (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) contains the legendary “Who Shot J.R.?” finale – plus a brand new documentary and a pair of commentaries from Patrick Duffy and Linda Gray. The 25-episode second season of Doogie Howser, M.D. (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features brand new interviews with Neil Patrick Harris and Max Casella, photos, and a quiz. You could follow the further adventures of Caine in the third & final season of Kung-Fu (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), with special features including an introduction and commentaries from David Carradine, as well as a video journal of Carradine’s trip to the Shaolin Temple Monastery. Mourn the loss of Rerun with the complete third season of What’s Happening!! (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP).

It’s hokey in parts, sure, but the original House on Haunted Hill (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$9.98 SRP) is still a classic, and features one of Vincent Price’s most pricelessly campy performances. This restored version presents the film in both black & white and color options, as well as an audio commentary with MST3K’s own Mike Nelson.

If you want a great “starter pack” for a given artist, I’ve become quite keen on Universal Music’s Chronicles series of releases, which package a trio of a given artist’s classic albums into one set. This week, I’d like to recommend the one featuring B.B. King (MCA Records, $29.98 SRP) which contains the albums Live at the Regal, Blues Is King, & Live In Cook County Jail. Right on.

Psychological thrillers don’t get any better than The Cabinet of Caligari (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), as young lady seeks help at the wrong house after her car breaks down. The ominous looking mansion is owned by Dr. Caligari, who begins to take our young protagonist on a trip inside her psyche that bodes ill, but she can’t get out of the house – and none of the other people there seem willing to help. Hey, it was written by Robert Bloch, so what do you expect?

When his New York Apartment faces demolition, Harry Golden (Art Carney) decides to set out for L.A. with his cat Tonto to live with his 3 grown children. After arriving, however, he decides that happiness is not in the offing in that arrangement, so instead decides to explore America with Tonto at his side, living the last big adventure. Carney won an Oscar for Harry & Tonto (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$9.98 SRP), and it’s no wonder why, since he plays Harry with a humor and grace that makes the film instantly endearing. The disc features an audio commentary with director Paul Mazursky, TV spots, and the original theatrical trailer.

Not content to rest on the first volume’s laurels (and a fine volume it was), anime fans will want to snag their own copy of the highly anticipated Anime Companion 2 (Stone Bridge Press, $18.95 SRP). For anyone who’s ever been confused by a Japanese comic or cartoon, this is a necessary addition to your shelf, as its extensive glossary clears up even the most obscure reference.

When it to adapting the classics – be it Shakespeare, Austen, Wilde, or Wodehouse – there’s no place better than the BBC. Sure, they’re productions can veer towards stuffy and lush, but at least they consistently manage to hew close to the text (making them fodder for ever lazy high school teacher and student). Such is the case with the 6 adaptations contained in The Charles Dickens Collection (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) – Oliver Twist, Martin Chuzzlewit, Bleak House, Hard Times, Great Expectations, and Our Mutual Friend. The set also features Simon Callow’s recreation of Dickens reading the scene between Sikes and Nancy in Oliver Twist, Denholm Elliott in The Signalman, a 30-minute documentary on the Victorian society portrayed in Our Mutual Friend, and a behind-the-scenes teaser.

Imagine my surprise when I learned that The Morning After (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP) I had just popped in was not the post-nuclear bomb cautionary tale that traumatized me as a child, but instead a taut whodunnit? directed by Sidney Lumet and starring Jeff Bridges, Jane Fonda, and Raul Julia. Boy, what a shock. The DVD features an audio commentary with Lumet and the theatrical trailer.

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THE MONEY PIT - 09/02/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (September 2, 2005 at 10:00 pm)

Right now, I’m probably prepping for major shindiggery at this year’s Dragon*Con in Atlanta, sitting in a hotel room and contemplating the next night’s FilmFest with Widget Walls. Or I’m passed out from exhaustion. The latter is the safe bet.

After Python wrapped, its 6 members went to the four winds, finding projects of their own to pursue, with the results being shows like Fawlty Towers & Rutland Weekend Television, and movies like Jabberwocky. Longtime writing partners and friends Terry Jones and Michael Palin, however, stuck together and mined the absurdly pulpy children’s adventure novels of their youth. The resultant show was Ripping Yarns, an unfairly forgotten masterpiece of parody that evokes the worlds of those novels – from prison escapes and bullies to murder and high adventure – while exquisitely skewering them. All 9 episodes are featured in the 2-disc Complete Ripping Yarns (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), plus audio commentaries with Palin & Jones, a deleted scene, the Comic Roots feature on Palin from 1983, a restoration clip, and the option to watch the episodes sans laugh-track. Smashing good!

I’m okay with the double dip on The Blues Brothers for what is titled the 25th Anniversary Edition (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$22.98 SRP). Why? Well, not only does it contain the extended cut that made its debut on the original DVD, but it also sports the theatrical cut of the film – both of which also have been completely remastered. As far as bonus materials go, the documentary on the initial release is joined by an introduction to the film by Dan Aykroyd, interviews, a featurette on the many BB spin-offs, a remembrance of Belushi, and a behind-the-scenes spotlight on a BB concert. My only regret? Universal’s love of the horrible flipper disc.

The hundreds of full-color images contained in Visions of Mars (Abrams, $29.95 SRP) are a breathtaking view of a once-alien – now almost familiar – world. Still, the more you see of the red planet, the more enticing its allure becomes. Maybe one day we can remember the joy of space exploration and get people excited again about boldly going…

Compared with the more mainstream antics of the show’s black & white first season, by the time we get to the third (and final) season of Gilligan’s Island (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is a surreal, almost Fellinni-esque affair. You get Gilligan as Dracula & Hamlet, Mary Ann becomes Ginger, Phil Silvers washes up as a Hollywood producer, a Gilligan look-alike spy, and more insanity. Bonus features include a Sherwood Schwartz commentary on the aforementioned Silvers episode “The Producer,” and “Gilligan’s Island: A Pop Culture Phenomenon” documentary.

If you had asked me a year ago if Hugh Laurie would headline not only a great show on American TV, but also one that managed to avoid Fox’s notoriously fast axe, I would said “No chance in hell.” Well, there must be plenty of chances in Hades, because House (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) is a wonderful show, spotlighting Laurie as the brilliant Dr. Gregory House, who has an abominable bedside manner with an amazing knack for saving patients. Good thing someone didn’t ask to bet me. The complete first season contains featurettes on the concept, medical cases, Dr. House, a set tour, and Laurie’s casting session.

While we’re talking tact – or lack thereof – I can’t help but mention the release of the most awkward talk show ever committed to tape, Knowing Me, Knowing You (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Host Alan Partridge (played to perfection by Steve Coogan) is equal parts ego, ignorance, & smarm, all of which are focused on making his talk show – a rolling disaster – a huge success. Nobody does awkwardness like the Brits. The 2-disc set features the complete 6 episode run, the Christmas special “Knowing Me, Knowing Yule,” audio commentaries (sadly with no Coogan at all), Comic Relief segments, the original test footage, promos, and “Ruralan.”

It may be a blatant attempt to cash in on what they thought would be the massive success of the Dukes of Hazzard flick (whatever happened to that?), but fans can get their inner redneck on with the Roscoe-baiting fourth season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) adventures of Bo & Luke, as well as their bizzaro contractual counterparts. Clocking in at a massive 9 discs (thanks to a 27-episode season), bonus features include an audio commentary on “Double Dukes” (with Wopat, Schneider, & Bach) and “The Dukes Story” cast & crew featurette.

I’ve been waiting years for a reissue of the stereo mixes of the Motown classics to come out, and with the 4-disc Motown Box (Shout!/Motown, $59.98 SRP), my wait is over. Some of these tracks are even superior to the well-worn Mono originals, but that’s all a matter pr personal taste (just as I prefer the Beatles Anthology version of “Ob-la-di” to the original White Album cut.

As brilliant and funny as ever, the fourth season of Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) has become quite poignant after the passing of Anne Bancroft, who guest-starred in the finale with husband Mel Brooks as Larry David opened on Broadway in the Max Bialystock role in The Producers. The cameos were hilarious, and it’s a nice button for a season that fired on all cylinders, as Larry stumbled and kvetched his way towards that Broadway debut, angering co-stars (accidentally spearing Ben Stiller in the eye is a classic comic moment), friends, and strangers alike. But why, oh why, are there no bonus features?

Though the show ended with an ego-meltdown, there’s no denying the legacy – and hilarity – to be found through 90% of the run of Roseanne. The sitcom was a groundbreaking look at a working class family far from New York or LA – Lanford, Illinois, to be exact – and you couldn’t help but feeling, with all their foibles, failures, bickering, and yes, love, that you knew (or possibly even were) the Connors. Thank goodness we’re finally getting the show on DVD, starting with that landmark first season (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) – which is packed with bonus features, including an interview with Roseanne, highlights, an interview with John Goodman, and bloopers. It’d be nice to have Roseanne’s original Domestic Goddess stand-up special on a future release, if someone can find a way to make that happen.

Every generation has a guilty pleasure show, be it Dynasty or Melrose Place, and I think, with its second season pushing even beyond the already strained boundaries of the first, Nip/Tuck (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) has achieved that lofty perch most often occupied by shows produced by Aaron Spelling. From blind love and porn stars to life coaches with secrets bulging, season 2 was out to push plenty of buttons. The 6-disc set contains all 16 episodes, plus deleted scenes and a featurette on the three loves of Dr. Troy.

My grandmother is a big true crime buff, and the story of North Carolina author Michael Peterson’s murder trial – he stood accused of murdering his wife, who was found in a pool of blood on the stairway of the couple’s upscale Durham home – is one she would be fascinated by. Was it murder? Was it an accident? Documentarian Jean-Xavier de Lestrade is given unprecedented access to Peterson’s lawyers, family, and home for his documentary series The Staircase (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), and the 2-disc set (featuring all 8 episodes as they originally aired on the Sundance Channel, plus bonus footage) is as gripping as any movie you’ve seen. The DVD also features additional interviews, a making-of documentary, and more.

Yeah yeah yeah – we all know the story of the ho-to-riches classic Pretty Woman (Touchstone, Rated R, DVD-$19.99 SRP), so what new do we get with this “15th Anniversary Edition”? Well, you get a brand new transfer, a new audio commentary with director Garry Marshall, footage from the wrap party, “The Pretty Woman Tour” of LA, the original production featurette, Natalie Cole’s “Wild Women Do” video, a blooper reel, and the original theatrical trailer. So there you go.

In s bid to squeeze one more dollar from the fanbase, the 5 surviving Pythons (and one deceased) have all selected their favorite sketches to be presented in a series of 6 Monty Python: Personal Best collections (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP each). So how are they ensuring that they get those nickels & dimes out of you? Well, each Python (save for the dead one) have contributed new linking material for their respective sets. First out of the gate are the collections of Eric Idle (who reprises his reporter character, last seen in the Rutles sequel) and Michael Palin (who revisits, in character, the scene of the legendary fish-slapping dance). Sadly, the new linking material isn’t stellar – age is a harsh mistress – but the material stands up as it always has.

Why did Disney have to go and ruin the warm fuzzies still lingering from their quite enjoyable Lilo & Stitch by cranking out another of their crass cheapie sequels? Why? Can anyone answer me? Why is there a Lilo & Stitch 2: Stitch Has a Glitch (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$ SRP)? Based on the title, can you guess something goes wrong with the experimental killing machine AKA Stitch? Whoda thunk it? The DVD features a background featurette on Experiment 626 and a music video. It’d be nice if we actually got the long-promised deluxe edition of the original flick rather than this pap.

Long before the hot-tempered perfectionist tirades of super-chef Gordon Ramsay, there was Gareth Blackstock – the short-tempered head chef of the prestigious Le Chateau Anglais restaurant. A master chef with a microscopic fuse, both staff and customers are completely at the mercy of Blackstock’s tirades. As Blackstock, Lenny Henry made his mark on the Britcom landscape, creating a character that has made it through three enjoyable series, all of which are contained in Chef!: The Complete Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP). Bonus features include interviews with Henry and co-star Caroline Lee Johnson and an appearance by Henry on BBC’s Good Food Show.

Who cares about story when you can simply sit back and watch the amazing physical feats accomplished by martial artist Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP). The only true inheritor of Jackie Chan’s “I can’t believe he did that live!” crown, take a look at this flick and see and be amazed for yourself. The DVD features behind-the-scenes stunt footage, a live Tony Jaa performance, “The 8 Movements of Muay Thai,” and a rap video with Jaa.

For anyone who thought National Treasure wasn’t popcorn movie enough, feast your fried retinas on Sahara (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP), when an adventurer (Matthew McConaughey), his wiseacre buddy (Steve Zahn), and a beautiful doctor (Penelope Cruz) set their sights on the ultimate treasure, and you’ll never guess where it is. Like I said, it’s brainless bombast, but after crap like Fantastic Four, it can only look better by comparison. The DVD features a pair of commentaries (from director Beck Eisner and Matthew McConaughey), a trio of featurettes, and deleted scenes with optional commentary.

In what can only be described as a tidal wave, HBO has decided to empty its vaults of 18 catalogue titles, including theatrical, but mostly their TV movies. With casts that include John Lithgow, Tom Berenger, Kevin Spacey, Rick Moranis, Phil Hartman, Eric Idle, Michael Caine, Burt Lancaster, James Garner, Bill Pullman, Martin Mull, Beau Bridges, James Coburn, Ben Kingsley, Gabriel Byrne, and more. The titles released are: Body Language, Traveling Man, Doomsday Gun, Loving Couples, Shot Through the Heart, Head Office, Arthur Ashe: Citizen of the World, Blue Ice, Go Tell The Spartans, Strapped, The Heist, Dead Silence, Mistrial, Dance With Death, Mom and Dad Save the World, The Second Civil War, Weapons of Mass Distraction, and The Late Shift (HBO, Various, $9.99 SRP each). Whew! Of the lot, the best of the bunch are the last four… But that’s just my opinion… And it’s right.

As he mulls another run for the presidency, you can watch the adaptation of Senator John McCain’s memories of his war service Faith of My Fathers (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$24.96 SRP). Surprisingly, it manages to be a nice little biopic with plenty of insight into what made McCain the man he is, including his time as a POW in Vietnam. The DVD also includes an interview with McCain on the set.

It’s taken a while (and the release of most of the series individually), but we’re finally getting a complete box set of all 9 outings of the long-running comedy As Time Goes By (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$179.98 SRP), starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer as two lovers reunited after 40 years. The set features interviews and excerpts from Judi Dench’s BAFTA tribute.

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Joe Corey’s PARTY FAVORS - 9/2005

Posted by Ken in Party Favors (September 1, 2005 at 9:56 pm)

HOLMBY HILLS – Hugh Hefner is the saddest man on TV since Ozzy Osbourne retired from the reality world.

“The Girls Next Door” on E! should be a tribute to the life of the party. Here’s a guy who created his own Playboy Philosophy. This man should have one foot in the grave, but instead he’s climbing into bed with barely legal girlfriends. We should be all jealous that this man who is days away from having Willard Scott wishing him a happy 100 as he bangs his 100th Playmate. But instead, I feel pity for a man trapped in a life that he must maintain in order to pay the bills. Remember that the board of Playboy was in the process of evicting Hef before he turned his Harem of gals into a publicity machine. Long as he can show that his life promotes Playboy enterprises, he validates the millions the company spends to subsidize his lifestyle. If he doesn’t keep up his harem, he’s moving to the Sunshine Assisted Living Community in Arizona.

Maybe Hef is the life of the party, but he doesn’t really expose it on the show. Instead he seems like a feeble gangster that shuffles into court in bathrobe and slippers in an attempt to make things seem out of his control. Each episode, he seems like Ozzy except he gets to molest his troublesome youths. And like the Ozzy, he’s trapped himself in a house filled with shitting yappy dogs owned by his women. If I ever get rich, little yappy dogs will only be in my house so I can feed them to my Siberian Tiger.

We see Hef go out with a bevy of 9 women – girlfriends and Playmates inside the limo. They go out to a fancy restaurant. Instead of taking home a doggy bag, Hef brings his own food to the chef. They even have the instructions sealed in a baggie so the chef won’t smug it. He’s having lampchops in a Japanese joint. And then he gets upset cause his food doesn’t arrive with the gal’s menu items. The whole night seems to be Hef and his harem sealed away from the world. The girls talk of inane crap and Hef bobs his head as if modeling for his spring neck giveaway. There are no other males at the table. And Hef seems trapped in this world carved out by a plastic surgeon’s knife.

Of course we learn that Hef has rules for his women – including a curfew. They must be in the Mansion gates by 9 p.m. – even if it’s not their night to spend in Hef’s bedroom. Hef is a greedy man. Instead of grooming other men to continue his life, he has bodyguards to keep the next Hef in his place. He’d rather tease us with his women than share the love. I think that Dennis, the owner of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch is a better hedonistic role model because he doesn’t flaunt his life and women on “Cathouse.” Dennis lets us know that if we have the cash and manners, we can drop on by his place of business and hook up with his girlfriends – especially the twins. Hef just wants you to buy videos and magazines – don’t touch the flesh! Hef comes off as a sad, yet greedy man. He’s like a miserly antiques collector.

Even the Playboy Mansion seems sad. It’s like a frat house covered in so much crap. Hef’s bedroom is overflowing with piles of books, videotapes and paper on the floor and bed. It looks like my old bedroom. What good is it to have everything and not a decent shelving system? The girlfriends’ rooms look like dorm rooms. And let’s not forget the constant poop from all those yappy dogs. Where’s the fantasy in living in a hellhole?

When I was working at a film archive, I had a fantasy about running movie nights at the Playboy Mansion for Hef. That was a dream job – hanging around the screening room with the ladies hanging off of me. They’d be overwhelmed by my cinematic genius. I’d make them laugh, cry and think with my programming choices. And they’d have to drag me into the grotto to thank me for running “Ponette.” What a wonderful sweet dream of youth that was. Of course the nightmare was that I accidentally run “Star 80” and found myself buried beneath the grotto.

But now I see that the screening room has been taken over by his bleached puppets that want to see Jim Carrey movies that they can’t quite remember the title – not even “Eternal Sunshine of a Spotless Mind.” What’s the point of having a massive collection of videos if your harem can be kept happy with TBS cable programming? Lately when I have my harem watching “movie night,” it’s Warner’s Film Noir collection.
Of course my fantasy doesn’t compare to the three girlfriends with their dream of being the next Mrs. Hefner. Or are they mainly fighting to see who will get the seat next to the casket? He’s an old man. Shouldn’t these women really be making moves on Hef’s sons that live next door with the last Mrs. Hefner?

If “The Girls Next Door” teaches us one lesson, it’s this: Give us back our fantasies, Mr. Hefner. Don’t show us what really goes on in the Playboy Mansion because it’s a sad house. It’s one door down from the House of Usher.


I’ve watched way too many cable show that talk about the fabulous places that hot and beautiful celebrities frequent. How many bars in NY & LA brag about having Scarlett and Ms Lohan and Ashton paying big bucks for their booze? Sure Butter is the hot spot – but what about those who prefer margarine? Where do the ugly celebrities party in the big cities?

Where can I see Abe Vigoda sipping Ripple out of Bea Arthur’s pumps? How about Steve Buscemi dancing on a table with Phyllis Diller and Cloris Leachman stuffing his Speedo with C-notes? Where can yesterday’s sitcom stars mingle with today’s nobodies? How about Aunt Ester shaking her groove thing to Prince’s “Erotic City?”
I plan on opening up a Casino-Hotel in Vegas called “Club Khaki” – home of the bland. We’re going to attract a crowd that just doesn’t want to waste their time looking beautiful. This is a casino where Gene Hackman is the height of fashion. There’s a two shrimp cocktail minimum at our main stage room featuring a Tiny Tim impersonator. And our big suite is named after Robert Davi. Cause he knows ugly stardom.

Ugly is gonna be hot next year. Just look at the pimply and bloated face of Britney Spears. She’s goin’ ugly before it gets too cool and Oprah does a week on it.


“Trailer Fabulous” is the second best show this summer – right behind HBO’s “Cathouse: The Series.”
When I first received word of this MTV production, I imagined the worst. And why not – since we are talking MTV – home of the fake reality show called Laguna Beach? But someone in charge of this show decided to make something that’s more entertaining that irritating.

Host Brooks Buford has an out of control Southern charm. Supposedly MTV wanted Kid Rock, but I doubt that the son of a car dealer would give the 110% that Brooks puts out every minute on camera. The man is a showboat powered by Jolt cola. He’s perky and pesky.

Of course Johnny Hardesty is the real star of the show. His long blond hair and Fu Manchu mustache makes him look hillbilly gay instead of Metrosexual. The kinda guy who’d get liquored up on schnapps while listening to Rush and pining for Burt Reynolds of old – not the guy from “Stroker Ace” mind you, but the Burt from “Fuzz.” Johnny’s designs do add speed to the mobile homes. It’s like “Monster House” creations on wheels. His company bio reads: Since moving to New York City from California the last 10 years have been quite an adventure for Johnny Hardesty. He has provided set and production design for several feature films including Super Troopers and Perfume; and his work has appeared in Vogue, Harpers in Queens, Jane, and the Neiman Marcus catalogue. Working for the fashion production company Bureau Betak, he has contributed to several “special events” such as the 50th Anniversary Playboy Party, the Victoria Secret Fashion Show After Party, and Christian Dior at the Frick. 2005 marks the launch of Johnny’s third commercial interior design project: Alexis Bittar’s new up town jewelry store.

The man worked on Super Troopers – that means he might have met Lynda Carter. The man must have melted. After watching a few of the transformations, I wish I lived in a trailer park. But then again, it’s tornado season and you know God loves seeing things on wheels go airborne.


Is MTV’s “My Sweet Sixteen” a good reason why need to revoke all those laws that prevent parents from beating their kids? I can’t help it, but want to smack half of the stuck up teen bitches that get featured on the show. They are spoiled. They are disgusting. They are brats. And they know it and refuse to change. They truly need to receive a beatdown to learn that no matter how much stuff you have in the world, you need to have manners and courtesy. If you can’t treat people properly, you deserve to have your ass tenderized.

If any of these Sweet Sixteen girls were ever knocked over the head with a stray ladder, everyone at home would think, “That bitch had it coming!” It’s kinda like when the jerk owner of the Washington Redskins disclosed he had cancer and the sports world collectively said, “So what?” Do you know how big of a jerk you have to be to get cancer and receive so little sympathy?

I want to create a show where parents take their kids to K-Mart and beat the brats until one million people watching the show call in to the “she’s learned her lesson” hotline number. Or they can text message – there’s more cash in that action.


For the fifth year, the Association of Internet Critics rated the six major studios’ DVD divisions when it comes to their vault releases. Who knows if anyone in Hollywood takes these rankings seriously, but certain people better learn to please their customers or they’ll find themselves looking for work outside Wicked Pictures. So without further ado, let’s make like a VH1 special and countdown.

6. Sony – This has been the fifth straight year that Sony has been ranked at the bottom. This was a label notorious for overcharging on Three Stooges short collections and its love of pan and scan on Cinemascope films. After buying MGM, we expected them to rise up. But instead Sony’s release schedule has been a source of frustration for DVD fans. MGM’s “Midnite Movies Double Features” was the first victim of Sony’s screw ups. The DVDs were supposed to come out as Best Buy exclusives. But they didn’t come out anywhere in America. Fans had to import them from Canada. They finally trickled out in America, but the serious received less than enthusiastic promotion and many fans of these American International Pictures fear the series is at the end of the line. There was going to be a major push of Pink Panthers moves that were tied in with the new Steve Martin movie that MGM produced. Included in the batch was a boxset featuring all the Pink Panther cartoons. The summer was looking pink for collectors. But the folks at Sony took one look at the feature film and delayed its release until February. And they pushed back all the DVDs. Their “Soap” DVDs look like they were transferred off of EP speed VHS tapes from the 80s. Their latest folly is Dean Martin’s “Matt Helm Lounge” boxset. It contained all four of Dino’s spy spoof classics and was due out the first week in August. Then without an explanation, Sony pushed it back until December. This is a company that is clueless when it comes to treating the customer right and is so far behind the pack that fifth place isn’t on the horizon.

5. Paramount – This is a studio that still hasn’t found it’s bearings when it comes to how to work its vault outside of The Godfather and Indiana Jones. There’s a workmanlike attitude on their DVDs. “It’s just a job” seems to be attached to their recent vault releases. The release of Jerry Lewis DVDs could have been a big event if they’d offered some sort of boxset. But instead they sold them all individually so you never knew what to get. It was easier to just put them on the netflix queue than purchase them.

4. Universal – These guys used to rule the roast when it came to quality packaging of their titles. But since the studio was bought by NBC, they’re spending too much time repackaging their major titles. It is nice as a collector to get the complete Classic Monsters collection at a major discount. Their recent Marx Brothers collection was a disappointment since they refused to dig through their vaults to find shorts and newsreels involving the Marx Brothers (something Warners had no problem doing). Lately their focus is putting out TV shows.

3. Fox – While they still have a problem putting together a decent boxset outside of the Aliens collection, they top Paramount because of their willingness to dig up unique extras for titles. Their work on “Laura” was great since they put on the A&E Biographies for Vincent Price and Gene Tierney. It would be nice to see them

2. Disney – Between their Platinum Editions and the Disney Treasures collection, Disney has done an amazing job at giving collectors a reason to enjoy their releases. Plus in the last few years they’ve been aggressively releasing their prime live action titles.

1. Warners – There was once a discussion about Criterion DVDs and how great they were. But I announced that a studio could do without Criterion if they gave a crap about quality. And Warners has accepted the challenge. Since the release of Warners Legends Collection two years ago, the studio has thrilled collectors with themed boxsets that are chocked full of extras and priced low enough that you can’t pass them up. Every month they put out a boxset that is a must buy – Classic Comedies, Marx Brothers, James Dean, Alfred Hitchcock, Controversial Classics, Gangsters, Film Noir and The Thin Man. The folks at Warners understand Packaging, Presentation and Pricing –the essential elements when it comes to appealing to DVD consumers.


There are so many good boxsets coming up in the next few months that I might have to pawn my collection of Franklin Mint plates that celebrate great porn stars of the 70s. Do you know how much Seka’s First Silk Scarf is worth on ebay? Maybe just enough to cover these desired collections that are begging for shelf space at my Twilinger Estate.

Greta Garbo Signature Collection - Sept 6
This is pretty much all her best sound features (Anna Christie, Mata Hari, Grand Hotel, Queen Christina, Ana Karenina, Camille and Ninotchka), a collection of her silent films (Flesh and the Devil, The Temptress and The Mysterious Lady) and a documentary about her. This is to celebrate the quiet Swede’s 100th birthday, but you get the gift.

Hammer Horror Collection - Sept 6
Universal lumps together all 8 of their Hammer Horror films (Brides of Dracula / Curse of the Werewolf / Phantom of the Opera (1962) / Paranoiac / Kiss of the Vampire / Nightmare / Night Creatures / Evil of Frankenstein) on a 2 DVD set with an amazingly low price. Damn shame other studios won’t package their horror collections this way. I’ve been waiting to see “Werewolf” for a while. Warners is putting out “Dracula AD 1972″ for nearly the same price as this collection. That shall go on my Netflix queue.

Bela Lugosi Collection - Sept 6
This contains five of his non-Dracula roles where he shares the screen with Boris Karloff. The collection is sad in a way since it shows Bela going from a horror superstar to losing his stature to Boris as the films go on. Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Black Cat, The Raven, The Invisible Ray and Black Friday are the spine tingling titles. Hopefully the folks at Universal will start putting out their various horror and sci-fi titles in bulk sets.

Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends Season 3 - Sept 6
Even more episodes of the moose and squirrel. It is amazing to finally get to see the adventures in the proper order. They price these sets to move. Plus they’ve dropped the price on the first two seasons in case you haven’t caught on. The adventures should include Three Moosekateers, Lazy Jay Ranch, Missouri Mish Mash and Topsy Turvy World.

Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection - Oct. 4
This boxset contains all 14 of his films that are controlled by Universal plus a bonus DVD. Supposedly they’ve remastered the various titles so they look better than the original releases. Now the price has dropped so that the 15 discs will cost $85. When the DVDs first came out they were $35. Now I can grab “Torn Curtain” without worrying if it’s really worth the money. Also on the same date they’re putting out the first season of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

Val Lewton Horror Collection - Oct 4
This is what makes Warners the kings of vault DVD at this moment: a tribute given to a guy that the casual AMC viewer is probably clueless about. Who was Val Lewton? The man is a $2,000 answer on “Jeopardy.” For those of you who don’t know, Val was a producer at RKO who oversaw their frightening flicks. He also came up with the scene in Gone With the Wind where the camera rises and we see miles of wounded and dead soldiers. The spooky films included here are Cat People, The Curse of the Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle of the Dead, Bedlam, The Leopard Man, The Ghost Ship and The Seventh Victim. They also have created a documentary on Val called “Shadows in the Dark.” After this boxset, you’ll never forget Val.

Looney Tunes Golden Collection Vol. 3 - Oct. 25
Sixty more shorts and a bunch of bonus features including the Chuck Jones documentary “Chuck Amuck.” This is essential purchasing for a Classic Cartoon fanatic.

Tom and Jerry Vol 2 - Oct 25
This collection will contain a lot of the 1940s adventures of the cat and mouse. There is an intro from Whoopie Goldberg in order for Warners to explain Mammy Two Shoes. Hopefully these won’t be slightly clipped like three of the cartoons on Vol. 1.

Hanna-Barbera Sets - Nov. 15
The First season of Huckleberry Hound, the complete Yogi Bear Series and the 4th season of The Flintstones. This means that you’ll be able to own the complete Snagglepuss. They really should shut down schools to celebrate this moment. You will have so many Yogi Bear episodes that you’ll be tempted to steal your neighbor’s picnic baskets. Plus the Flintstones episodes cover the arrival of Bambam.

King Kong Collection - Nov 22
If you grew up with New York City’s WOR on your cable box, you have fine memories about their Thanksgiving Day marathon of King Kong, Son of Kong and Mighty Joe Young. It was Big Apes that kept us on the sofa along with too much turkey in our bellies (cause the Lions stunk). I so missed not being able to share that experience with my own family. But now I can thanks to this wonderful DVD set - that comes out just before Thanksgiving.

I had a chance to see King Kong on the big screen a few times and it’s still an amazing film. I don’t care what they can do with CGI, Kong still comes alive on the screen.

If only Universal would put out King Kong Vs. Godzilla, the experience would be complete.

Now for the big specs that you are wondering about on this set:

The King Kong: Two-Disc Special Edition will include the 104-minute restored and remastered B&W film on video in its original full frame, with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio and English, French and Spanish subtitles. Extras will include audio commentary (by Ray Harryhausen and Ken Ralston, with Merian C. Cooper, Ernest B. Schoedsack, Ruth Rose, Fay Wray and Robert Armstrong), the 2005 I’m Kong: The Exploits of Merian C. Cooper documentary, a gallery of trailers for other films by director Merian C. Cooper, the new RKO Production 601: The Making of Kong, Eighth Wonder of the World documentary by Peter Jackson (featuring the following featurettes: The Origins of King Kong, Willis O’Brien and Creation, Cameras Roll on Kong, The Eighth Wonder, A Milestone in Visual Effects, Passion, Sound and Fury, The Mystery of the Lost Spider Pit Sequence and King Kong’s Legacy) and Creation test footage (with commentary by Ray Harryhausen).

The Son of Kong will include the 70-minute restored B&W film on video in the original full frame, with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio and English, French and Spanish subtitles. Extras will include the theatrical trailer.

Mighty Joe Young will include the 94-minute restored B&W film on video in its original full frame, with Dolby Digital 2.0 mono audio and English, French and Spanish subtitles. Extras will include audio commentary (by Ray Harryhausen, Ken Ralston and Terry Moore), 2 new featurettes (Ray Harryhausen and The Chioda Brothers and Ray Harryhausen and Mighty Joe Young) and the film’s theatrical trailer.

Did anyone else around here enjoy King Kong vs. Godzilla Thanksgiving on WOR? Can I have a witness?

Matt Helm Lounge – Dec. 6
This was supposed to be in my collection by now. But those goofs at Sony have pushed it back so now it’s a Christmas gift. These four films (The Silencers, Murderers Row, The Ambushers and The Wrecking Crew) feature Dean Martin as secret agent Matt Helm. His cover is as a cheesecake photographer and he seems to hate having to do his primary job. What he loves even more is his booze. There is so much drinking in these films that you’re banned from trying to match him bottle for bottle. Dino actually drinks and drives in his spy station wagon that has a built in wet bar. This boxset should come with a Surgeon General’s warning.

Walt Disney Treasures – Dec 6
This year’s wave features Disney Rarieties: Celebrated Shorts, 1920s – 1960s, The Chronological Donald Duck, Volume 2 (1942 – 1946), The Adventures of Spin and Marty and Legendary Heroes Elfego Baca and The Swamp Fox. The exciting one for me is Elfego Baca since it features movie tough guy Robert Loggia as a Disney hero. What? The old guy who beat the crap out of the lawn guy in the Sopranos once palled around with Walt? Now this makes the whole Orange Juice ad he starred in kinda strange because anyone who hadn’t followed his career would think he was still a nice guy. And the Swamp Fox is Leslie Nielsen in a serious hero role. I guess this means no fart jokes from our favorite Canuck.


Tune in next month to read about my work as a producer on America’s Most Wanted.

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