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THE MONEY PIT - 10/28/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (October 28, 2005 at 12:40 am)

First of all, I hope each and every one of you have check out the inaugural batch of videos from our just-launched Scrubs blog. If not, head on over and give ‘em a gander.

Will the evil Count Olaf finally triumph over the resourceful yet perpetually mistreated Baudelaire orphans? Will we finally learn the one true meaning of V.F.D.? Who is Lemony Snicket? Why is the sky blue? All of these questions and much more are left mostly unanswered in the penultimate chapter of the Series of Unfortunate Events titled – rather appropriately – The Penultimate Peril (Harper Collins, $11.99 SRP). In some ways, I enjoy these books more than Potter – which, in large part, is probably because I only have to wait a year between these. But it all comes to an end next year… And frankly, I can’t wait to see how it all wraps up.

It’s been said by quite a few other reviewers, but Paul McCartney’s latest, Chaos and Creation in the Backyard (Capitol, $28.98 SRP), is awfully similar in tone and style to his first solo effort, McCartney. After the retro, hard-rocking outings of the past few years, he’s pared down to the basics again, playing most of the instruments himself on most of the tracks. I’ve never full understood how people can put Lennon on a pedestal and yet tear down McCartney for “trite” lyrics – who ever said that every single song must be a message? Can’t sheer musicality be a message just as powerful if the listener enjoys it? Enough with all the McCartney bashing – sometimes the world does need silly love songs, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The deluxe edition release is the one to grab, as it contains a bonus DVD with a making-of documentary and videos.

I’m of two minds about James Cameron’s massive homage to big budget uber-epics, Titanic (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Part of me detests its coy, treacly, Spielberg-on-speed love story, which still manages to grate all these years later. The other part, though, is the one that made me see it in theaters a total of 6 times (yes – 6 times… almost 20 hours in a theater). When I was in elementary school, I became enthralled by the story of Titanic’s ill-fated voyage after reading accounts of Dr. Robert Ballard’s discovery of the ship in National Geographic, which led me to check out Arthur Lord’s novel of the disaster, A Night To Remember, from my school’s library… Over 40 times. I would return it and check it back out again, reading and re-reading it, until finally – when my school was being torn down to be rebuilt “bigger and better” and I was moving on to middle school – the librarian gave it to me. It still is one of the kindest, most treasured gifts I’ve ever received. And, frankly, it’s that part of me which marveled at Cameron’s recreation of the ship itself, bringing to cinematic life what I had only read about – including the ship’s awful, yet mesmerizing demise. To see that on the big screen, I sat through the most god-awful of cliched love stories – and I was fine with it, because I got to see what I wanted. Watching the newly remastered 3-disc special edition (presented in anamorphic video for the first time, across two discs), I had the luxury of fast-forwarding through all the treacle and getting to the good stuff. As far as bonus features go, there’s a brand new commentary with Cameron, a “cast & crew” commentary (with Kate Winslet, Gloria Stuart, Lewis Abernathy, Jon Landau, & Rae Sanchini), and a historical commentary (with Titanic experts Don Lynch and Ken Marschall – my favorite of all the commentaries, naturally), plus branching behind-the-scenes vignettes. There’s also an alternate ending, over 45 minutes of deleted scenes with optional commentary (many of which were excised historical snatches), a ship construction time-lapse, a presentation on the dive to Titanic (with optional Cameron narration), videomatics, visual effects breakdowns, a “1912 Newsreel” shot during the filming, a cast & crew gag presentation. Oh – and the insipid Celine Dion video. Either way, for a Titanic buff like me, I’m thankful that Cameron made a movie that had enough visual fidelity that I still enjoy fast-forwarding to all the good stuff.

It’s one of my holiday picks this year, but here’s an early shot across the bow – go get yourself a copy of Rick Moranis’s country album, The Agoraphobic Cowboy (ArtistShare, CD-$14.95, Download-$10.95). Yes, that Rick Moranis. And it’s great.

No holiday season is complete without the classic journey into L. Frank Baum’s land of Oz, and I remember marking many a Thanksgiving watching The Wizard of Oz (Warner Bros., Rated G, DVD-$49.92 SRP) after a day of Macy’s parade and turkey galore. The newly remastered 3-disc collector’s edition is truly a wonder to behold, featuring picture and sound that trumps the already-stellar edition from a few years back. Honest to goodness, the film has never, ever looked this good. The 3-disc set is loaded to the green gills with an audio commentary (with historian John Fricke and featuring archival cast & crew interviews), a restoration featurette, retrospective documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes (I love the spotlight on the making of the twister sequence), deleted scenes, rare audio, outtakes, galleries and – even more spectacular – pre-1939 Oz films going all the way back to 1910. Making the package all the more classy are portfolio reproductions of the film’s programs and advertising materials. Oh, what a world!

The still-in-glorious-black-and-white second season of Bewitched (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) welcomed the arrival of Darrin & Samantha’s baby Tabitha, the first appearance of Paul Lynde as Uncle Arthur, and the final appearance of Alice Pearce as nosey neighbor Gladys Kravitz (the role was taken over by Sandra Gould after Pearce’s death). One of the great things about DVD is you rediscover why shows like this are so timeless, and it all comes down to strength of concept, great actors, and funny writing. I know – it’s’ a shocking revelation, but it’s also a rare alchemical alignment. I could watch Agnes Moorehead’s Endora all day long and still not solve the cognitive dissonance of her earlier roles in films like Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons. Thankfully, we at least get a nice blooper reel in this set… Even that little bit is a treat.

See Los Angeles through the lens of the greatest noir films ever in L.A. Noir: The City as Character (Santa Monica Press, $19.95 SRP). Featuring stills, behind-the-scenes pix, and photos of how the locations look today, it’s a fun flipper for and film buff.

My childhood will always be indelibly marked by the sights and sounds of the TV shows my young, supple brain was exposed to, and for that reason alone I shall never forget the opening narration of Hart to Hart, spoken by cartoonishly gruff-voiced butler Max (Lionel Sander), the loyal retainer of sleuthing socialites Jonathan and Jennifer Hart (Robert Wagner & Stefanie Powers). Clearly a Thin Man for the 80’s, they would inevitably find themselves neck-deep in a murder mystery, one that would draw them away from their devil-may-care, jet-setting lifestyle for the length of an episode, before they’d return to tennis and poolside caviar. And you know what? I dug it… Which says a lot for just how charismatic Wagner and Powers were, and how hypnotic Stander’s opening narration was. I kid you not – it haunts me to this day. The complete first season set (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) features all 23 episodes, plus an audio commentary on the pilot and a retrospective featurette on the first season.

It’s nowhere near the depth and quality of the classic Timm/Dini Batman animated series, but at least the concept behind Batman vs. Dracula (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) is something I think has a lot of potential, even if I’m not a fan of this anime-esque incarnation of the caped crusader. Bonus materials include behind-the-scenes featurettes and interviews with the voice talent.

Soak up every moment of In Living Color: Season 4 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) – it was the last bright, shining moment before Wayans brothers started bailing left and right, leaving a sad, pathetic shell of a show that could only look bad in comparison with its ground-breaking early seasons. Sadly, there are no bonus materials…

The first season of Tales from the Crypt was almost ludicrously brief, but the second season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was the first full outing, and it featured all the macabre, often gory, but always sly irony that made the series a keeper. Crypt always featured a wonderful range of guest stars, and this season is no exception, featuring turns from Don Rickles, Demi Moore, Harry Anderson, Jeffrey Tambor, Teri Hatcher, Kelly Preston, Iggy Pop, Patricia Arquette, William Hickey, Bobcat Goldthwait, and even a directing turn from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes “shockumentary” and a look at Crypt on the radio.

There’s nothing more depressing than listening to classic Bill Cosby albums – another, Inside the Mind of Bill Cosby (Geffen, $9.98 SRP), has just hit CD. Why, you ask? It makes me wonder why so gifted a comedian has turned his back on that gift… Bill, where did al the funny go? You had it once. Can you get it back? Or at least try? Please? If anything even close to a routine like “The Invention of Basketball,” it’s worth your time and effort.

Sydney (Jennifer Garner) goes Black-Ops and the world verges on zombie apocalypse in the fourth season of Alias (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$59.99 SRP), and that’s not even counting the shocking final moments of the season finale. The 6-disc set features audio commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes, a Director’s Diary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a blooper reel.

Now available in stores, the complete third season of The Kids in the Hall A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) contains such classic skits as the flying pig, Chicken Lady spotting Rooster Boy, Mississippi Gary singing the after-death blues, and a man accusing himself of sexual harassment. The 4-disc, 20 episode set features include audio commentaries with the kids on the two best-of compilations from the season, more classic live footage from the Rivoli Theater, and a slide show.

Produced by Sam Raimi, American Gothic (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) was a great, atmospheric show about an evil sheriff (Gary Cole) and his plans for the idyllic town of Trinity, South Carolina – plans the he was determined would not be derailed, not even by local doctor Matt Crower (Jake Weber). So what happens to great genre shows? It was cancelled, of course! But now you can get the entire 22 episode run, which includes 4 episodes that never made it to air, plus 15 deleted/extended scenes.

As soon as I finished looking through the entirety of Manga: Masters of the Art (Collins Design, $24.95 SRP) – a lavishly illustrated behind-the-scenes look at the world of the Japanese comic artform – my first impulse was to go back to the beginning and look again. And again. Beautiful stuff.

If the tepid, uninspired soundtrack to Chicken Little (Walt Disney, $18.98 SRP) is any indication, Disney had better start worrying if the sky is falling on their foray into Pixar territory. It’s almost embarrassing how desperately hard it tries to emulate Shrek, from classic rock to characters breaking into karaoke classics, it’s a derivative melange that feels more manufactured than entertaining. Something tells me this Chicken Little is a Big Turkey.

Woody Allen decides to get all intellectual with Melinda and Melinda (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$27.98 SRP), a mostly-clever film that looks how the single action of a stranger crashing a swank New York dinner party can be spun out to be either a tragedy or a comedy. The usual Allen All-Star Cast is here, including Will Ferrell, Wallace Shawn, Chloe Sevigny, Amanda Peet, Josh Brolin, and Steve Carrell. Like all other Allen DVD releases, there are zero bonus features. Bah!

The status quo was basically unchanged (once Dick defeated evil Dick, of course), but the second season of 3rd Rock from the Sun (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP) is most-remembered as the season which featured the two-part 3-D special, which brought the alien’s dreams to life with pretty decent effects for a TV budget (the set even comes with a pair of glasses). Bonus features include a John Lithgow interview, behind-the-scenes featurettes, an alternate ending to the 3-D episode, and bloopers. Now when do we finally get Shatner as the Big Giant Head?

Mickey’s got nothing on the titular star of Cosgrove Hall’s classic Danger Mouse (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – who cares if you’re beloved by millions when there’s a superspy rodent in the world, with a faithful hamster by his side? The Complete Seasons 3 & 4 features another 14 episodes – but sadly, no extras. A&E - take a cue from the recent Count Duckula set and get us some DM goodies!

Point Pleasant (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is one of those shows that have become all too cliché in the past few years – a genre series quickly axed by Fox. The (alarmingly frequent) ultimate clash between good and evil centers around a young girl who washes up on the sand of the small beach town of Point Pleasant, but her presence begins to have increasing effects upon the people around her (remember that whole looming “battle” thing?). As with and cancelled series, there’s no real resolution in the 13 episodes contained in the 3-disc set, but there’s at least enough atmosphere to make it worth a spin.

Buckle your swashes and practice your alphabet before popping in James Horner’s surprisingly enjoyable score for The Legend of Zorro (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP). Mask optional.

Documentary time again, people! Eternally referred to as a liberal bastion, the elephant in the closet is the subject of Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP), which looks at the growing conservative movement in Tinseltown, from Schwarzenegger’s gubernatorial win to interviews with avowed conservatives Drew Carey, Patricia Heaton, John Milius, and more. Meanwhile, The Brooklyn Connection: How To Build a Guerilla Army (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) focuses on Florin Krasniqi and the army he was able to build running guns from the US to Kosovo after his cousin is killed in an attack on the Yugoslav army. Fascinating stuff.

The second (and final) season of The Munsters (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) makes it to DVD in time for Halloween, but it’s the bonus features that make this a must-have set, with a quartet of in-depth feature documentaries produced by Kevin Burns - “America’s First Family of Fright,” “Fred Gwynne: More Than a Munster,” “Yvonne DeCarlo: Gilded Lily,” and “Al Lewis: Forever Grandpa.” Why oh why isn’t The Addams Family on DVD yet?

I’m sorry, but I can’t watch Herbie: Fully Loaded (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – which places everyone’s favorite Love Bug front-and-center on the NASCAR circuit – without lamenting the train wreck that star Lindsey Lohan has become, which makes the film’s title more than a passing irony. The film itself is cotton candy piffle that leaves no real lasting impression, but it shall mark the last flick featuring the “old,” pre-stall Lindsey. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Angela Robinson, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, bloopers, and a music video.

The sad irony of Dominion: Prequel to the Exorcist (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) – which was shelved when studio execs were unhappy with director Paul Schrader’s more psychological-than-schlocky take on the material, firing him and reshooting a version which ultimately bombed at the box office – is that, although it’s much better than the hoary reshot version, is still not a particularly good flick. It is better, though… At least there’s that. Personally, I hope the prequel fad dies a quick death, because with very few exceptions, expanding on an existing flick – usually a classic – only serves to make the original look better in comparison to the derivation. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Schrader, additional scenes, and a stills gallery.

It’s nothing to write home about, but Invasion: Earth (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) is a serviceable enough sci-fi miniseries about two warring alien species that decide Earth is their next battleground and – as usual – it’s up to a small group of Earthlings to try and save the Earth from total destruction. Isn’t it just always the way?

If there’s one thing in favor of the teen-terror remake of House of Wax (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$28.98 SRP), it’s that they were canny enough to cast Paris Hilton as a victim-in-waiting. No matter how good or bad the flick actually is, it’s worth watching just to count the time until her eventual demise. Go figure. As a teen-terror, HOW is a disposable but enjoyable gorefest sure to make many a Halloween marathon list this year.

Narrow in its focus but still powerful, Gus Van Sant’s Last Days (HBO, Rated R, DVD-$27.95 SRP), inspired by the final days of Kurt Cobain, follows a troubled musician isolated by the creative, social, monetary, and emotional demands of friends, family, and the public at large, who seeks solace in and around his wooded home. To say anymore is to ruin the portrait painted by Van Sant – it’s well worth a spin. Bonus materials include behind-the-scenes featurettes, a deleted scene, and a music video.

I have to admit – I do get a kick out of seeing “star” shows from the 50’s – the kind of shows that spotlighted a single performer doing what they do, along with their “friends.” Case in point is a series of variety shows sponsored by Timex in 1957, starring Frank Sinatra. One of these, guest-starring Dean Martin & Bing Crosby, is presented on The Frank Sinatra Show: High Hopes (MVD, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP), 60 minutes worth of time capsule performances (plus the original ads!).

It’s pure pulp schlock, but there’s an undeniable train wreck appeal to Kevin VanHook’s The Fallen Ones (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), starring Casper Van Dien as archeologist Matt Fletcher, who must face down a potential apocalypse and a giant 42-foot mummy. Pure, loveable schlock. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, galleries, and a trailer.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 10/21/2005

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

As Jackson Browne once sang, I’m running on empty… This past week has been a hectic maelstrom of projects coming together, including some special coverage that’s launching next week revolving around one of the finest comedies ever to grace the boob tube (that’s called a tease – keep an eye out next week to see what al the hubbub’s about). But hey, let’s get this sucker rolling…

It’s not too much of an understatement to say that I was caught completely off-guard by Batman Begins (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$30.97 SRP). After the wretched devolution of the original franchise in the late 90’s, I’m understandably gun-shy about any attempt to venture back into the Batcave. Admittedly, I was not overly enthused by the initial images of Christian Bale’s rubber batsuit and the testostertank Batmobile, but shock of shocks, director Christopher Nolan and writer David Goyer managed to pull off a Batman flick that reinvigorated the franchise without ignoring the character’s roots or mythology, and – unlike the Marvel movies to-date – wasn’t ashamed of those 4-color roots. It goes without saying that you should pick up the 2-disc deluxe edition, which features all of the behind-the-scenes goodies like production featurettes, plus a 72-page comic with a trio of Batman tales that influenced the film.

So, after watching Batman Begins’s surprisingly enjoyable reboot of the Batman franchise, I revisited the quartet of flicks contained in the Batman Movie Collection (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$79.92 SRP) – Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. Looking back, anyone who didn’t see the seeds of the camp tragedy of Schumacher’s outings right from the outset of Burton’s overly-goth take are blind… Sadly, I was one of them. Bad Ken. Bad. Fully remastered, all 4 films get a deluxe 2-disc special edition treatment, with audio commentaries and copious documentaries, all newly produced (with participation running the gamut from Jack Nicholson to Sean Young… And yes, we get insight into her infamous Catwoman outfit lapse in sanity). The best feature of all, though? Joel Schumacher’s mea culpa for Batman & Robin.

Oh, but we’re not done with the bat just yet – not when you can pick up Batman: The Complete 1943 Movie Serial Collection (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). Based on the timeframe, it should be little surprise that these serials found the caped crusader caught up in the war effort, with the villain of the piece being a heavily caricatured stereotype (read: racist) Japanese baddie intent on bringing down America.

It took a few years, but by the time we get to the latest volume of The Complete Peanuts (Fantagraphics, $28.95 SRP), covering the period from 1957-1958, the strip as we know it has finally begun to emerge in full force. The main development has to do, surprise, with Snoopy, who begins standing up and developing his inner dialogue. What’s even more wonderful is just how truly funny the strip was during this period… And dark. This volume features an introduction by Jonathan Franzen. But come on - where’s my Pogo, people?

This month’s Donald Duck and Friends (Gemstone, $2.95 SRP) features a real Halloween classic – Carl Barks’s comics adaptation of the Donald cartoon Trick or Treat (you remember – the one with Witch Hazel and Huey, Dewey, & Louie teaming up to give plenty of tricks to a stubborn Unca Donald). As if that weren’t enough ghoulish fun, your local comic shop is giving away free ashcans of the original back-up feature to that story, “Hobblin’ Goblins.” Get ‘em both, people!

Is there anyone – anyone – who can exude as much cool as Quincy Jones? It’s astonishing and, frankly, a bit frightening. If you think I’m kidding, check out the remastered editions of From Q With Love (Qwest, $19.98), Back on the Block, and Q’s Jook Joint (Qwest, $13.98 SRP each). These are some phenomenally soulful yet swinging albums. Heck, even his soundtrack to The Color Purple (Qwest, $19.98 SRP) – newly remastered – is a must-listen. Cool man… cool.

From the triumphs to the tragic, every animated feature released in the US since 1926 is covered in animation historian Jerry Beck’s essential Animated Movie Guide (Chicago Review Press, $26.95 SRP), a tome that should be on the shelf of any self-respecting cartoon fan. Jerry’s a friend of mine (even if he rarely returns calls – hey Jerry!), and I can heartily recommend you pick up just about every book he’s written, as they’re all exactly the kind of well-written reference books that you’ll find yourself returning to again and again.

The 10-episode collector’s sampler set released a few months back was merely a teaser for the deluxe special edition of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe Season One: Volume One (BCI, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), which contains the first 33 episodes of the 80’s toy commercial classic. The relaxing of FCC rules was a boon to toy companies, who jumped up and down at the chance to craft cartoons that could be little more than glorified ads for their product lines, and He-Man was a glorious example of that. I don’t know what was in the kool-aid, but we drank deeply, we children of the 80’s, putting shows like He-Man, GI Joe, Transformers, and their ilk on pop culture pedestals, so much so that a special edition release of something this schlocky feels, not only right, but completely justified, dammit. Oh, and I loved Orko as a kid. My favorite character. There… I’ve said it. The 6-disc box set features 2 in-depth documentary features on the creation and production process of the show, an animated storyboard for the episode “The Taking of Grayskull,” detailed profiles, and even a pair of collectible postcards (by Alex Ross and Bill Sienkiewicz, no less). More kool-aid, please…

On first viewing, I didn’t like The Big Lebowski (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Which upset me. I mean, I had enjoyed the other Coen flicks I’d seen up to that point, and was looking forward to their latest effort… But again, I just didn’t like it, at all. Then I watched it again, and – don’t ask me why – but it all just clicked, and I finally “got” the film. Now I love it’s quirky, laid-back tone that’s every bit as eccentric as Jeff Bridges’s The Dude. The next-to-last of their films to get special treatment (come on – where’s that Hudsucker Proxy special edition???), the film gets a brand new introduction from “film preservationist” Mortimer Young, a carry-over of the making-of documentary featuring interviews with the elusive Coen Brothers, and a gallery of Jeff Bridges’s photography.

George Romero’s return to his zombie infested reality hits DVD just in time to make it into your Halloween viewing line-up, right after Night of the Lepus (Yeah, Widge – you know who you are). Land of the Dead (Universal, Unrated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) finds humanity reduced to isolated pockets in fortified cities, faced with a zombie army that is – shock! – evolving! Ach! The unrated version is the way to go, featuring all the extra gore your little hearts desire. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes on everything from the make-up effects to a zombie casting call.

You pretty much know what you’re getting with the Saw: Uncut Edition (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) – more gore, natch. Bonus features include 2 audio commentaries, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an alternate storyboard sequence, “Full Disclosure Report” on the Jigsaw investigation, director James Wan’s original short film, trailers, and an on-set preview of Saw 2. What’s really mesmerizing, however, is the packaging, which features a blood packet under the case that simulates a pool of dripping blood across the cover. It’s the creepiest packaging I think I’ve ever seen, so kudos!

I’m not a big fan of the CSI franchise, but I had to check out the Big Apple spin-off CSI: New York (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$64.99 SRP) when I learned that its lead was Gary Sinise, making his network series debut as Detective Mac Taylor, the head of New York’s Crime Lab. The first season is a shaky affair, as the series is clearly finding its footing, but the always-enjoyable Sinise (okay… except for Snake Eyes) is worth the effort. The 7-disc set features audio commentaries on 7 episodes, plus 5 behind-the-scenes featurettes.

After seeing Frank Sinatra’s performance as a strung-out heroin addict in the 1955 Otto Preminger classic The Man With The Golden Arm (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), you’ll probably agree with me that he was robbed of the Oscar that year, despite the “honor” of a nomination for Best Actor (overlooked is the always-welcome presence of Darren McGavin). The 2-disc “50th Anniversary Edition features commentary with film historian Ken Barnes, an audio/visual presentation of the recording session for Sinatra’s unused title song, interviews with Sinatra and composer Elmer Bernstein, and the original theatrical trailer.

Okay, I’ll admit it – even though I’m a guy, I enjoyed The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$28.98 SRP). Author Ann Brashares’ best-selling novel about the first summer apart for a quartet of lifelong friends whose discovery of a single “perfect” pair of pants becomes a means of communication as they separate, each taking a week in the jeans before passing them along in what proves to be an eventful two months for them all, managed to push my buttons. Just like Fried Green Tomatoes. Don’t look at me!!! Bonus features include additional scenes with optional director commentary, select commentary from the stars, featurettes, and a conversation with the author.

Of the network newsanchors of my generation, I always gravitated more towards Tom Brokaw (we all have our favorite), but I always respected ABC’s Peter Jennings as a journalist with integrity (a true rarity these days). The 2-disc Peter Jennings Collection (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) features 6 of the late newsman’s acclaimed full-length documentaries – “How To Get Fat Without Really Trying,” “Ecstasy Rising,” “LAPD,” “Guantanamo,” “From the Tobacco Fields,” and “No Place To Hide.” While Brokaw focused on his Greatest Generation, Jennings went out and did Murrow’s legacy of investigative journalism proud.

I’m still on the fence regarding whether I like Dualdiscs or not. For those not familiar, Dualdiscs feature regular CD audio on one side, and 5.1 surround and DVD video features on the other. Honestly, I think it depends on which titles get the treatment – but releases like Bill Withers’s classic Just As I Am and The Soul of Nina Simone (Sony Legacy, $19.98 SRP each) are an excellent start. The Withers disc features documentary on the making of the album, while the Simone disc contains rare live performances and her first ever national TV appearance on Ed Sullivan. Gimme more stuff like this, and I’m sold.

Even over a decade later, I still only half-understand what they heck is going on in Oliver Stone’s miniseries Wild Palms (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$14.94 SRP), which stars James Belushi as a pawn/player in a tale of greed, sex, religion, and virtual reality in a dark future Los Angeles. Funny thing is, I like it. But really – if anyone knows fully what’s going on, write me.

The remastering fairy has finally made her way to Bruce Lee, showering her spiffening pixie dust over a quintet of flicks from the master’s catalogue, all of which are collected in the Bruce Lee: Ultimate Collection (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). The flicks in question are The Big Boss, Fist of Fury, Way of the Dragon, Game of Death, and Game of Death II. Bonus features include celebrity & martial artist interviews, outtakes, trailers, photos, and more.

I always feel sorry for a remake that doesn’t manage to run rings around a mediocre original, and I felt sorry for the new take on The Amityville Horror (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$28.95 SRP). Maybe it’s that it brings nothing really new to the hoary cursed house genre played so poorly in the original and given very little life here, either – which is a shame, because producer Michael Bay was able to bring that elusive “something new” to his Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake. Still, no matter, what I say, I know you’ll pick this up and give it a spin on Halloween. I just know it. Bonus features include an audio commentary, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a discussion of the real DeFeo murders.

Okay, now I’m scared. Somebody, somewhere, must be holding a small child hostage. How else could one explain the face that not only does the mediocre Daredevil get a bloated-but-still-mediocre DVD Director’s Cut, a pitiful sequel that no one asked for in Elektra, and that Elektra gets its own bloated-but-still-pitiful DVD Director’s Cut (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP)? With 2-discs, no less! Somebody find that kid, please. Bonus features include an audio commentary (with director Rob Bowman & editor Kevin Stitt), behind-the-scenes documentaries, deleted scenes with optional commentary, galleries, trailers, and more.

Wasn’t Will Smith great, before the big-movie paydays, in the simpler time of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air? Smith rarely uses his remarkably sharp comedic skills nowadays (Hitch being a slight exception), and instead – much like Tom Hanks – has decided to seek “important” roles. Forget that! Watching the second season of Fresh Prince (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), I couldn’t help but feel disappointed at the loss to comedy. The bonus bloopers are a hoot as well.

Holiday season momentum is building, and gift sets are becoming more and more frequent – including an upcoming spate of classical musical releases from multiple studios. The first down the pike is the 3-film American Movie Musicals Collection (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$29.96 SRP), which sports a trio of MGM classics – Guys & Dolls, West Side Story, & Fiddler on the Roof. Both Dolls and West Side are bare bones, but Fiddler features an audio commentary with director Norman Jewison & star Topol.

And while we’re talking holiday gifts (and MGM sets), how about the complete Sabata Trilogy (MGM/UA, Rated PG-13, DVD-$35.95 SRP), starring both Lee Van Cleef and Yul Brynner as the avenging gunslinger with the gunsight eyes. The three films in question are Sabata, Adios, Sabata, and Return of Sabata, and they’re a perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon.

If you were a kid in the late 80’s, you probably owned a Nintendo. Sometimes, I think they were government-issued brainwashing apparatus. Ownership of a Nintendo also meant you probably subscribed to Nintendo Power magazine and also watched at least a couple of installments (even if you won’t admit it) of 1989’s Super Mario Bros. Super Show!, with cartoon versions of your pixel heroes and live action wrap-arounds starring Captain Lou Albano as Mario. The Super Mario segments are coming next year, but right now you can buy the complete Legend of Zelda (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), which featured the animated adventures of Link as he defends Princess Zelda and the kingdom of Hyrule against the evil wizard Ganon. Ain’t nostalgia a sucker-punch?

Never never never (never) did I ever envision that Fern Gully: The Last Rainforest (Fox, Rated G, DVD-$19.98 SRP) would ever get a 2-disc special edition. It’s a likeable enough animated feature, sure, but it’s far from being a classic – but you wouldn’t know that from the copious bonus features crammed in here, including an audio commentary with the filmmakers (director Bill Kroyer, coordinating art director Susan Kroyer, and art director Ralph Eggleston), behind-the-scenes featurettes, a music video, trailers, and more. The end, truly, is nigh.

It’s almost an insult that Disney is releasing such useless half-a**ed editions of Tarzan and The Emperor’s New Groove (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP each) instead of re-releasing the stellar collector’s editions from a few years back, which were compiled at a time when Disney still cared about sets that would appeal to animation fans. Both were prime examples of how to do Disney DVD right, with 2 discs full of information and behind-the-scenes materials. These new single-disc editions strip those materials down to a pair of audio commentaries, deleted scenes, cursory featurettes, and insipid music videos.

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THE MONEY PIT - 10/14/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (October 14, 2005 at 10:08 pm)

This week’s column is a difficult one for me, because it forces me to confront the issues I have with my hometown, on the eve of my high school reunion (which I will not be attending). No one should attend any high school reunion under their 20th – at a point when people have actually accomplished something in their lives… careers, kids, death. What have you. Which brings me to the fact that…

I hate Ryan Adams. There – I said it. I hate Ryan Adams because I dig his music, and for what it does to me based on that insidious likeability. It makes me feel nostalgic about my hometown – which happens to be Adams’s hometown as well – Jacksonville, NC. You see, Jacksonville is a military town, bordered by country and coast, dotted with pawn shops and car dealerships and motels. It’s not really a place you’re supposed to be nostalgic about, from its interminable stoplights to its ten McDonald’s franchises packed into a 5 square mile area. And yet, particularly with his new country-heavy album – Jacksonville City Lights (Lost Highway, $13.98 SRP) – Adams makes me feel for this Carolina backwater. Why couldn’t he have made a crap album about Onslow County’s crown jewel? Bastard…

I didn’t have it in time to feature last week, but I have to say – the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection (Universal, DVD-$119.98 SRP) should be a prominent fixture on the shelves of any self-respecting cinephile, containing as it does the entirety of the suspense master’s prolific Universal oeuvre. What films am I talking about? Let’s see if any of these ring a bell – Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Marnie, Torn Curtain, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot, The Birds, and Psycho. How can you not be awestruck at a collection encompassing so many classics, all in one handy package? Each film is fully remastered, supplemented by 14 documentaries and 9 featurettes. Heck, there’s even an additional bonus disc with the AFI tribute to Hitchcock, Masters of Cinema: Alfred Hitchcock, and spotlights on The Birds, and Psycho. How prestigious is this collection? Even the box gets all spiffy with a velvet finish. Posh treatment for a beautiful set.

How many times do people have to be told that Arrested Development is one of the best comedies ever to grace the idiot box before they’ll finally listen? Anyone who watches the complete 18 episode run of the second season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) and still isn’t swayed must have ice water in their veins and tapioca in their heads. Bonus features include audio commentaries on a trio of episodes (far too few!) a blooper reel, and an easter egg featuring the hilarious ads for George Michael’s high school election.

It’s taken me a few weeks to finally get enough free time to start reading Neil Gaiman’s latest novel, Anansi Boys (Morrow, $26.95 SRP), and I’m loving it so far (high praise indeed from one as picky as I). For an almost ludicrously in-depth analysis from my good buddy (and IGN columnist) Peter Sanderson, click here.

Comparing the first and sixth seasons of South Park (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) is like comparing a high school freshman to their post-college selves – sure, there are similarities, but there’s a level of sophistication, intelligence, and worldliness that’s just not present in their younger years. By the sixth season, South Park had morphed from a funny, sometime puerile comedy into one of the foremost satires of our age, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (and no, I am in no way being facetious). I would even go so far as to say, despite this season’s wonderful “Simpsons Did It,” that Trey Parker & Matt Stone have replaced The Simpsons as the sharpest, and most incisive, comedy on television. Look at the critique of the Catholic Church in “Red Hot Catholic Love,” sensitivity training in “Death Camp of Intolerance” (which also gave us Lemmiwinks), overreactive parenting in “Child Abduction Is Not Funny” and “My Future Self n’ Me,” or even the wretched tinkering of Lucas and Spielberg in “Free Hat.” That, my friends, is what brilliant satire is – not the lumbering hulk that The Simpsons has become. As with the past few seasons, Trey & Matt prove their brief mini-commentaries for each of the 17 episodes, but despite their claim that it’s more than enough, I certainly wish they had talked a bit longer about the construction of some of the stories. Regardless, this long-awaited set is a keeper, and makes me hope that Paramount will be much quicker in getting future seasons out.

How is it that 11:14 (New Line, Rated R, DVD-$19.97 SRP) went almost unreleased in theaters, and was met with indifference? Five lives hinge on a single moment in a small town, involving a disastrous blend of murder and happenstance that seemingly begins when a young man’s life goes to plaid as the clock turns to 11:14pm. The twists and turns are half the fun, and the cast – which includes Rachel Leigh Cook, Hilary Swank, and Patrick Swayze – are pitch perfect. Films like this so often can be too clever for their own good – his one manages to pull it off. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Greg Marcks, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, and a storyboard gallery.

Since Buffy crashed and burned at the end, leaving me disappointed with what had once been a brilliant show, it’s left me without a show featuring a strong female protagonist that I could latch on to and enjoy. Well, Veronica Mars (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) managed to fill that spot, and without the help of vampires or a Hellmouth. Nope, all it took was ubercutie Kristen Bell and her season long turn as a small town Nancy Drew in search of the person who murdered her best friend and restore her ex-sheriff father’s tarnished reputation, as he was forced to resign after accusing the girl’s billionaire father of the murder. By golly, I like this show. The 6-disc set features over 20 minutes of unaired scenes and an extended version of the pilot.

If someone were to make a big screen version of The Critic as a cross between an SNL character flick and a Christopher Guest improv-a-thon, you’d probably wind up with the not-as-brilliant-as-should-be Jiminy Glick in LaLaWood (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$24.96 SRP), starring Martin Short as his large alterego who perfectly encapsulates a kind of clueless entertainment journalism that is far too prevalent. The film is funny enough to make it an enjoyable watch, but the real highlight is its deft skewering of David Lynch. Just trust me on this. As far as bonus features go, you get what you’d expect from this type of flick – plenty of deleted scenes.

The fire may have waned as we put more distance from the last installment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films, but that doesn’t mean you should refrain from picking up a copy of Alan Lee’s beautiful Lord of the Rings Sketchbook (Houghton Mifflin, $30.00 SRP). Containing over 150 illustrations and 20 full-color plates, it’s a tome that you’ll flip through with eyes fully agog.

With the release of Soap’s fourth and final season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), the twisted, hilarious tale of sisters Jessica Tate (Katherine Helmond) and Mary Campbell (Cathryn Damon) – and their dementedly surreal extended families – comes to an end, but oh what an end it is. Jessica awakes from her coma only to get kidnapped by counterrevolutionaries, Mary fears her newborn baby is the spawn of her tryst with an alien Burt (Richard Mulligan), while the real Burt is being blackmailed by a mob boss who staged a series of naughty photos, Jodie (Billy Crystal) wins custody of his daughter but is threatened by the mother… Oh, it’s all too much. If you’ve never seen the show, grab all 4 seasons, buckle down, and enjoy a truly classic sitcom (although the early seasons slightly edge out the latter, if only due to the presence of Robert Guillaume as caustic butler Benson).

Launched in 1974, Los Angeles-based Z Channel was one of the country’s first pay cable stations, serving up an eclectic programming slate that left a memorable mark on those who viewed its offerings – a slate that went into overdrive when Jerry Harvey took over as head of programming in 1980. Z Channel: A Magnificent Obsession (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP) chronicles the rise and fall of Z Channel, much of it in tandem with Harvey’s descent into madness and a shocking murder/suicide. The 2-disc set features extra interviews, and AFI panel, commentary, a radio interview with Harvey, and more.

I have always – always – been a bigger fan of The Jeffersons than All in the Family. Family is, inarguably, a landmark show, but The Jeffersons always made me laugh more when I would watch back-to-back episodes in syndication growing up. It’s been a long, long, LOOONG time coming, but the 3-disc third season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) – featuring all 26 episodes – is finally here after a multi-year wait. They better get the next piece of the pie to us a lot quicker.

Will nothing stop Stargate SG-1? Entering into its 8th season (MGM/UA, Not Rated, DVD-$55.95 SRP), it became the longest-running science fiction shows in US TV history (second only to Doctor Who on the world stage). The 8th season also brought Michael Shanks back to the cast after a brief hiatus, and saw the fallout of season 7’s alien invasion, plus some cast goodbyes (one in death form) and a continued reduction in the presence of one Richard Dean Anderson. Bonus features include audio commentaries and featurettes… But not additional Richard Dean Anderson.

Who needs Vin Diesel when you can have the high-octane thrills of the original Gone in 60 Seconds (BCI, Rated PG, DVD-$24.98 SRP), fully remastered and loaded with extras, including behind-the-scenes featurettes and documentaries?

Warner Bros. continues to earn mucho brownie points from me for their offbeat yet most welcome collections of catalogue titles, the latest being a collection of 9 horror classics from producer Val Lewton, contained within the appropriately titled Val Lewton Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.92 SRP). The films in question are Cat People, The Curse Of The Cat People, The 7th Victim, Shadows in the Dark, The Leopard Man, The Ghost Ship, I Walked With A Zombie, The Body Snatcher, Isle Of The Dead, and Bedlam. All are genre classics, but the pairing of Cat People and the non-sequel Curse of the Cat People is the real keeper here. Bonus features include commentaries, trailers, and a new documentary, Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy.

Get ready to hardy har har for the holidays with a festively-themed collection of the common man’s funniest bits on America’s Funniest Home Videos: Home for the Holidays (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), culled from the Tom Bergeron era. Come on, candy cane to the crotch!

A far less guilty pleasure to ring the holidays season in early is Christmas with SCTV (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), which features the two legendary holiday episodes of the equally legendary comedy classic – “SCTV Staff Party” (in which John Candy’s Johnny LaRue gets his face-to-face time with Santa after a holiday “Street Beef” gone south) and “Christmas with Catherine O’Hara and Andrae Crouch.” Both episodes feature audio commentaries, and there’s even a featurette on the Juul Haalmeyer Dancers.

Unleashed (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is one of those small little films that you expect so little from and, therefore, manage to catch you completely by surprise. It’s also Jet Li’s most nuanced performance, as a man raised from childhood by a brutal crime lord (Bob Hoskins) with only one purpose – to be his own personal killing machine. He manages to get free and finds his way to a blind piano tuner (Morgan Freeman) who takes him in, but his past is not far behind. Think of it as a martial arts version of Pete’s Dragon… Just think about it. The DVD features an unrated, extended cut of the film, plus a look at the fight sequences, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with director Louis Leterrier, and music videos.

I love it any time a classic Hollywood icon’s catalogue gets the restored DVD treatment, which Warner Bros. has elevated to an art as of late. It’s ironic, then, that one of the restored John Wayne classics getting that treatment from Paramount was originally a Warners flick – Hondo. Obviously, the rights to both that and McLintock! (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$14.99 SRP each) – the other film getting all snazzed up – have reverted back to Wayne’s Batjac Productions. Both films look and sound wonderful, and bonus features include commentaries (Leonard Maltin, western historian Frank Thompson, and actor Lee Aaker on Hondo – Maltin, Thompson, Maureen O’Hara, Stefanie Powers, Michael Pate, Michael Wayne, & Andrew McLaglen on McLintock!), introductions from Maltin, behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, trailers, and more. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

The real highlight of The Beatles: From Liverpool to San Francisco (Eagle Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$9.98 SRP) – an otherwise forgettable and cursory documentary overview of the Fab’s career – is the rare television appearances peppered throughout. For those alone, the disc is worth picking up.

BBC continues to roll out classic TV product, both new and old. On the old side, there’s the latest volume of Only Fools and Horses (Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), featuring the complete 6th series plus the 1989 Christmas special The Jolly Boys’ Outing. Rightfully considered a classic of British comedy, it focuses on the failed schemes of cockney con man Derek Trotter (David Jason), who’s convinced the big score is always right around the corner. His kid brother (Nicholas Lyndhurst) is continually pulled in and tries to offer some vague sense of reason, but it doesn’t stop Derek from reaching for the brass ring. On the newer side, there’s Rupert Everett as the titular detective in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking (Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), as Holmes and Watson (Ian Hart) reunite to track down a serial killer tearing apart the aristocracy in 1902 London. The DVD feature commentary with director Simon Cellan Jones and producer Elinor Day.

It’s not prime Will Ferrell, but there’s a marginally-likeable family flick nature to his turn as a frustrated father-turned-soccer-coach in Kicking & Screaming (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP), as the formerly mild-mannered Phil Weston (Ferrell) becomes a raving nutter on the field, eventually going up against the team coached by his hard-as-nails dad (Robert Duvall). The disc features deleted scenes, outtakes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and more.

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THE MONEY PIT - 10/07/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (October 7, 2005 at 10:29 pm)

Right now, I feel like I’ve been hit by a Mac truck, drug a few dozen yards, then backed over by a steamroller. That, my friends, is what exhaustion is all about. But sleep is for more fortunate souls – I, on the other hand, forge ahead like a drowsy madman…

A bit of the magic may have worn off towards the end of the strip (and it was probably the right decision to walk away when he did), but Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes remains one of the finest comic strips ever to grace the newspaper page. Like a cross between Dennis the Menace, Little Nemo, and Peanuts, the ongoing adventures of Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes were a joy to visit day after day, not only for the humor, but also for Watterson’s beautiful artwork. It was that pursuit of quality that led to years of friction between Watterson and newspaper editors across the country, who continually cut costs over the past half-century by gradually shrinking the comics page from the luxurious grandeur of its early 20th-century origins, when strips would regularly fill entire pages (a far cry from the postage stamps of today). Watterson won eventually won that battle, and the later strips have much more room to breathe and feature unconventional layouts. Much like the massive Complete Far Side, our boy and his pet tiger get their due with the gargantuan The Complete Calvin & Hobbes ($150.00 SRP), containing every strip - dailies and Sunday (in full color) – plus a new introduction from Watterson, presented on premium paper and housed within an impressive slipcase. Oh – and it’s heavy. Very heavy. Good golly, this is almost hernia heavy. But it’s also bliss.

But what did I listen to while partaking of C&H? Well, I devoured the 5-disc The Band: A Musical History (Capitol Records, $89.98 SRP), that’s what I did. From their barnstorming days backing early rocker Ronnie Hawkins across Canada to backing Dylan when he went electric, to producing their landmark debut Music From Big Pink (whose “The Weight” would be made legendary thanks to a little independent flick called Easy Rider) and winding up with their farewell concert documented in Martin Scorsese’s The Last Waltz, every leg of The Band’s history is presented across the set. There’s album tracks, sure, but there’s also dozens of rarities, alternate takes, demos, and live performances to make this a beggar’s banquet, and ultimately a fitting tribute to band that can clearly and without contest lay claim to being pioneers. The set also features a bonus DVD with rare performances, including rehearsal and concert footage, as well as The Band’s (unprecedented) 3 sets from their SNL appearance just prior to filming The Last Waltz.

Ba-dump ba-da-da-da bump ba-dump… Come on – you know that sounds familiar. That’s right – it’s the theme to Alfred Hitchcock Presents (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), the complete first season of which hits DVD in all its suspenseful glory. The 3-disc set features all 39 episodes, plus interviews with Hitchcock’s daughter Pat and associate producer/actor Norman Lloyd. Classic stuff, people!

Want more Hitch?. Well, the first thing you can do is pick up the special edition of Hitch’s psychological tour-de-force Lifeboat (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), with an audio commentary from film professor Drew Casper, a making-of featurette, and a still gallery. If you’re still looking for more, than you can find 9 of his public domain flicks (from his early career) in The Essential Alfred Hitchcock Collection (BCI, Not Rated, DVD-$19.97 SRP), which contains Champagne, Murder!, Number Seventeen, 39 Steps, The Skin Game, Jamaica Inn, Easy Virtue, The Manxman, The Farmer’s Wife, and the bonus program Alfred Hitchcock: The Master of Suspense.

First of all – don’t get rid of your original Columbia/Tristar DVD release of Jim Henson’s classic holiday special Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas (HIT, Not Rated, DVD-$11.99 SRP). Thanks to the splintering of Jim’s legacy at the hands of his children, Kermit the frog is now owned by Disney, while Emmet Otter is owned by the Jim Henson Company – and, thanks to that, Kermit’s original intro (during which he first rode a bicycle onscreen) and outro to the special have been excised. Okay, now that we’ve got that straight, the new edition has a lot going for it – in fact, it’s wonderful (save that glaring omission). Not only has the picture been remastered, but there are bonus features, including a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes (many of which were in the original broadcast), a lost song, bloopers, and even a sing-along. All thanks must go to Craig Shemin for really pulling out all the stops and bringing together the best edition of this perennial favorite yet. Now, here’s hope someone will wise up (or the Muppet Holding Company will be sold to someone who cares) and the special can finally by released whole and uncut. Oh, and while you’re grabbing Emmet Otter, why not make the wait for the complete second season of Fraggle Rock a little bit easier by picking up the latest single-disc release, Doin’ Things That Doozers Do (HIT, Not Rated, DVD-$11.98 SRP)?

I really miss the Nickelodeon I grew up with in the early 80’s – the Nick of You Can’t Do That On Television, Nick Rocks music videos, Mr. Wizard, and the cartoons imports from UK animation studio Cosgrove Hall. One of those classic cartoons, Danger Mouse, made its DVD debut last year from A&E, and now we finally get the companion piece with the complete first season of Count Duckula (Capital Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Once villainous, the evil count is resurrected by means of an ancient ritual – gone terribly wrong, when his faithful butler Igor and maid Nanny accidentally substitute a bottle of ketchup instead of blood. Instead of his bloodsucking former incarnation, he’s now a mild-mannered vegetarian who sets out on far-flung adventures around the world, teleporting from his ancient castle. Where in the heck’s the feature film???? The DVD features an interview with Brian Cosgrove, an interview with producer/artist John Doyle, a “how to draw” segment with Mike Whaite, a restoration featurette, and a photo gallery. I’m already salivating for season two.

Halloween is the only time that the bottom-barrel release of 5 schlocky “classics” from the bowels of Warners’ catalogue would actually get me excited, but what can I say? Halloween was made for schlock, and you can’t get more intense than Demon Seed, Dracula A.D. 1972, Private Parts, A Stranger Is Watching, and – wait for it! – Night of the Lepus (Warner Bros., Rated PG/R, DVD-$19.97 SRP each). Killer rabbits, people! And Bones! Killer freakin’ rabbits! Hey, if it worked for Monty Python…

And while we’re talking Python, if you still haven’t treated yourself to the complete series, now’s the time to pull the trigger and pick up The Complete Monty Python’s Flying Circus 16-Ton Megaset (A&E, Not rated, DVD-$199.95 SRP), containing the entire 45-episode run, plus the 2-disc Monty Python Live!. If you already own the previous releases, don’t worry – there’s nothing new here save for the slimline packaging and bundling of the Live! into the set. If you don’t own the previous releases, what the hell are you waiting for?

Years before the rise of Python and right after the surreality of the Goons, Britain’s satire movement began with Beyond the Fringe (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP). The quartet of brilliant minds behind the show – first performed at Scotland’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival before moving on to London’s West End and then Broadway – were Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Jonathan Miller, and Alan Bennett (all fresh from college and bursting with anti-establishment acerbity). This disc features the only filmed performance of the legendary show in its entirety.

And if that piques your interest in one of the finest comedy minds ever to write a sketch, the late Peter Cook, there’s the Cook bio-flick Not Only But Always (Acorn, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), starring Rhys Ifans as the troubled genius. The DVD features an audio commentary with writer/director Terry Johnson, career highlights of Cook and Dudley Moore, and filmographies.

With the release of Cinderella (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP), every classic Disney animated flick save for the elusive Song of the South has been released on DVD (although a few, including Lady & the Tramp and 101 Dalmatians, are out-of-print). First off, the restoration of the picture and sound are stunning (and thankfully, the morons in marketing have not decided to add any “should have stayed deleted” scene back in – Aladdin, Lion King, and Beauty & the Beast, I’m looking at you). Sadly, we don’t get the much-missed audio commentaries of early Disney special edition DVDs (John Canemaker would have been most welcome… Stop going middle-of-the-road on these classics, Dis… including the godawful ESPN “Cinderella Stories”), and the behind-the-scenes material is constructed for presentation to the mentally deficient, but there are some choice nuggets in the bonus materials, which include deleted scenes, The Art of Mary Blair featurette, unused songs, a 1922 Disney Laugh-o-Gram of Cinderella, a Mickey Mouse Club excerpt, a making-f documentary, a tribute to the Nine Old Men, original trailer & TV spots, and more. So, where is Song of the South?

Another week and another shout-out to IGN Comics columnist (and comics legend, natch) Fred Hembeck, as the complete third season of his beloved Spongebob Squarepants (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP) hits DVD with 3-discs packed with 37 episodes plus the pilot, a “how-to-draw” segment, and pop-up trivia. Let’s see you google that, Fred…

The Warriors come out to play-ayy in a new Ultimate Director’s Cut edition (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring an expanded cut of the 80’s classic (it’s like The Outsiders meets Escape From New York). Bonus features include an introduction from director Walter Hill, 4 featurettes (“The Beginning,” “Battleground,” “The Way Home,” and “The Phenomenon”) and the original theatrical trailer.

I have a theory – let’s call it the “Theory of Documentary Legitimacy.” It states that everything ever produced – no matter how good or bad – will eventually be the subject of a documentary seeking to legitimize its importance. Case in point is the documentary Inside Deep Throat (Universal, Rated NC-17, DVD-$27.98 SRP), which examines the impact of the most notorious – and highest-grossing – porn film ever made. My theory has legs, methinks…

The Interpreter (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is one of those films that has a good cast but just never manages to engage in the energy and interest that the director obviously sees in the material. In this instance, the director is Sydney Pollack, and the film is about a United Nations translator (Nicole Kidman) overhears plans for an assassination, but she becomes emerges as a suspect as a federal agent (Sean Penn) digs deeper into her past. Sounds like a great premise for a thriller, right? I just wish it were on the screen. The DVD features behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a must-see one on widescreen vs. full screen, for all of you cinematic luddites out there), deleted scenes, and an alternate ending.

It can be a sad affair when a classic 60’s rock band reunites after years of being apart for the kind of epic date that one hopes will not only evoke memories of past glory, but also give you just as much of a thrill sans the pity that comes from a performance by performers clearly past their prime. Thankfully, the reunited trio of Ginger Baker, Jack Bruce, and Eric Clapton featured on the 2-disc Cream: Royal Albert Hall – London, May 2-3-5-6 2005 (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) features none of those awkward moments, but instead spotlights a group that still knows how to jam even after decades of separation (ironic that this release comes on the heels of The Band’s box set, since it was Clapton’s experience listening to their stunning Music From Big Pink that prompted his departure from Cream). Bonus features include additional songs, an alternate take, and interviews.

It was during the fourth season of Smallville (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) that the cracks in the Superman prequel’s premise began to show. Viewers had already endured years of X-Files-lite as Kryptonite monsters aplenty imperiled the thickheaded residents of Smallville, only leavened by the ongoing subplots involving the always-watchable Luthors (Jr. & Sr.). By now, everyone and their brother should know that Clark Kent has super-powers, but – like I said – it’s a town of thickheaded dolts. Oh, and Lois Lane shows up. Huh? Would you just make him Superman already? The 6-disc set features a behind-the-scenes look inside the writers room, a featurette on Lois Lanes past and present, audio commentary on a trio of episodes, and deleted scenes. Still, I believe Welling as Superman before Singer’s boy toy Brandon Routh.

It’s time for another intoxicating round of “Hi, Bob!” as the second season of The Bob Newhart Show (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) hits DVD. Unlike the bare bones S1 release, we get a brand-new making-of featurette and audio commentaries on select episodes. That’s worth a glass right there!

You know, I still can’t make it al the way through David Cronenberg’s The Fly (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$19.95 SRP) without taking at least one “walk away from the gore” break. It’s still as disturbing today is it was on its original release, and it’s getting the 2-disc special edition whizbangery, with an audio commentary from Cronenberg, behind-the-scenes documentaries, deleted scenes, an alternate ending (that must be seen, if only for the trivia), promotional featurettes, test footage, TV spots, trailers, and more. Not nearly on the same level is the sequel, The Fly II (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$19.95 SRP), featuring the “eh” tale of Goldblum’s son – and yet it gets the 2-discery as well, with an audio commentary, an alternate ending, deleted scenes, a documentary on the Fly movie series, a behind-the-scenes documentary, featurettes, trailers, and more. Buzz buzz.

As a concept – iconic cartoon archetypes stuck together in a Big Brother/Surreal World-esque reality show – I can get behind Comedy Central’s Drawn Together (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP). As executed, however, it’s only intermittently funny – which is a shame, because the concept certainly supports the potential for brilliant pop culture comedy. In far defter – and less puerile – hands, it could have been that… Instead, it’s just flatter than is 2-D cartoon characters. The 2-disc set features all 7 first season episodes, plus audio commentaries, deleted scenes, four never-before-seen segments, and a karaoke sing-along.

I can’t fault David Duchovney for the self-penned story of his directorial debut, House of D (Lions Gate, Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.98 SRP). In principle, it’s a nice coming-of-age story (aren’t all small directorial debuts?) about an artist (Duchovney) revisits the events that changed his life as a 13 year-old, when his best friends were a mentally challenged janitor and a detainee in New York’s Women’s House of Detention (Erykah Badu). It’s a poignant, funny flick… Until the janitor ham-fists his way through his scenes… And that’s what I fault Duchovney for… Since he’s the one who cast Robin Williams. Why, David? Why? Bonus features include a commentary with Duchovney, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes and interview featurettes, an alternate ending, and trailers.

It’s not the season sets one would hope for, but it’s obvious Warners is testing audience response with their inaugural batch of Television Favorites (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$9.97 SRP each) – single disc editions featuring either 6 (for comedies) or 3 (for hour-longs) episodes from across a show’s run. The first round of samplers highlights F Troop, Maverick, Chico & the Man, and – oddly, since there already are season sets – The Dukes of Hazzard. Of this group, I hope full-on sets for F Troop and Maverick aren’t too far off!

Documetary nuts (like myself, okay?) will want to sample a trio of Docurama’s latest (Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP each) – the Academy Award-winning Who Are The Debolts? And Where Did They Get Nineteen Kids?, a fascinating look at a couple and their extended family; Resident Alien, chronicling the adventures of New York’s flamboyant cult figure Quentin Crisp; and the pretty self-explanatory Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst, which focuses on the freakish kidnapping of the publishing heiress by the Symbionese Liberation Army.

As a series, the ongoing adventures of cynical investigative reporter Carl Kolchak’s run-ins with the supernatural were nowhere near as clever or well-written as the initial pair of telemovies. However, the real reason that Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) remains a must-see series is for the always wonderful performance of Darren McGavin in the title role. And just in time for Halloween, all 20 episodes are yours to own in one handy-dandy box set. Now if only it would get the taste of that horrid remake out of my mouth…

All roads seem to lead back to The Band this week, as I also took the time out to listen to the man who made them his backing band during the most seismic period in his career, right before they went solo – a man named Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan – No Direction Home: The Soundtrack (Sony Legacy, $24.98 SRP) doubles as both the accompanying audio release to Martin Scorsese’s brilliant documentary, as well as the 7th volume of Sony’s equally brilliant Bootleg Series. Like the film, the 2-disc set spotlights – through rare unreleased tracks, including alternate takes and live cuts of classic tunes – only a small early chunk of Dylan’s early career, ending just when he went electric… A defining moment in rock history that closes disc 2, as the audience attitude prior to Dylan & The Band launching into a rocking “Like a Rolling Stone” is summed up in a brutal shout of “Judas!”

On the soundtrack front (Quiet? No…), there’s Howard Shore’s ersatz Copeland for Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (New Line Records, $16.98 SRP), and Rachel Portman’s evocative Dickensian riff to Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP).

Star Trek: Nemesis was a colossal disappointment. Actually, that’s being quite kind to it… It was atrocious. As a swan song for the Next Generation cast, it made me want to reach for a shotgun and put that swan out of its misery. Still, Paramount had to finish its series of Special Collector’s Edition (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$19.99 SRP) for the Trek film franchise, and Nemesis is the last to get that treatment – even if the previous edition contained a fair amount of bonus features. Returning from the previous edition is director Stuart Baird’s commentary, the deleted scenes (now expanded) and 4 featurettes (“New Frontiers: Stuart Baird on Directing Nemesis,” “A Bold Vision of the Final Frontier,” “A Star Trek Family’s Final Journey,” and “Red Alert! Shooting the Action of Nemesis”). New to this 2-disc edition are an audio commentary with Rick Berman (feh), text commentary from the Okudas, 11 featurettes (“Nemesis Revisited,” “Storyboarding the Action,” “Build and Rebuild,” “Four-Wheeling in the Final Frontier,” “Shinzon Screen Test,” “The Enterprise-E,” “Romulan Lore,” “Shinzon & The Viceroy,” “Romulan Design,” “The Romulan Senate,” and “The Scimitar”), storyboards, props, and trailers. What a sad, sad exit.

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Joe Corey’s PARTY FAVORS - 10/2005

Posted by Ken in Party Favors (October 1, 2005 at 10:35 pm)

ROCKY MOUNT— It is always an adventure when you step through the TV screen.

Sunday evening I watched news reports about the latest Amber Alert. A 28 year-old sex offender had abducted a 12 year-old girl (all names have been withheld because of the nature of this case). The incident took place an hour from where I live so I took note, but there was no indication that they would be coming my way. Neither was there an indication that I’d be going their way. I saw the girl’s grandmother pleading for a safe return. I felt for her, but what could I do?

Monday night, I was doing a lot. I received a call from “America’s Most Wanted.” They needed me as a producer to cover the latest press conference featuring the local police, the FBI and the grandmother. Within an hour, I was reviewing all the information on the case that had been released to the media. I was no longer a casual observer keeping an eye out for people that match the faces on the police flyer. I was a producer for the most popular law and order show in TV history.

When we arrived at the police station, we were treated like royalty – as opposed to the normal news stiffs. As my cameraman set up for the press conference shot, I introduced myself to an officer working on the case. He was impressed. When you say, “I’m from America’s Most Wanted,” there’s a certain sense of power. The FBI agents didn’t mind standing to the side and going over the facts of the case that can be shared with me. Nobody refused to talk with me about the missing girl. What was also strange was that nobody asked to see any sort of ID.

But I didn’t let this rush of respect completely go to my head. Because I knew that I wasn’t merely doing a job. I was an extension of John Walsh, the host of AMW. John’s son Adam had been abducted and killed by a convicted sex offender. So working on this case made me twice as professional. When the abducted girl’s grandmother arrived for the press conference, I went over to not merely ask her questions about the case, but to comfort her. She was on the point of emotional exhaustion. She couldn’t figure out how her granddaughter would leave her house at 1 a.m. on a Saturday and take off with a 28 year-old guy that had just gotten out of jail for not registering as a sex offender. Through the various talks with authorities, I concluded that they suspected that the girl had met him when she was 10. He was working at a convenience store near her mother’s place. Somehow they had stayed in touch. He was convicted once of statutory rape of a 15 year-old girl. He had a second case dropped against him. He was living in a trailer park with his mother and had stolen a friend’s car the night he decided to abduct the girl. It was hard to figure the appeal this guy could have.

The day we were at the press conference was during Katrina’s rampage against the gulf states. An FBI agent told me that the sex offender only known cash supply was $400 he had stolen by using his mom’s bankcard. I asked if the FBI was keeping an ear out for drive offs at gas stations. Gas prices were already soaring and $400 doesn’t go too far on the road anymore. The FBI agent said sure, but I’m not sure if he took me seriously. We interviewed the police chief and the FBI agent in order to get a sense of what was going on and what viewers should keep an eye out for.

We were supposed to interview the grandmother, but she was in no emotional shape to talk to us. Her press conference was a tearful plea for her granddaughter to return. She spoke of how her husband was already in bad shape from a disability and the pressure from not knowing what was happening was killing him. As we packed up our gear, I told her that we’d visit in a few hours. We needed to shoot a couple other things for b-roll.

Our big trip was to locate the abductor’s mom’s mobile home. If you’ve never been to Rocky Mount, well just imagine getting lost in Hooterville. It’s a town of train tracks and roads that keep changing names. We kept getting lost trying to locate the trailer park. When we finally found the place, it was truly in the boonies. The windows had been covered over in black trashbags – probably the last few days of their missing son being a face on Fox News had made them shy of sunlight. AMW wanted us to talk to his parents. But there were no cars and no one inside the trailer came after us with a baseball bat. So we got our front shot. But then we noticed something in the backyard – the real home of the abductor was a camper. We captured a nice shot of where this creep crawled from to lure this girl into his life.

We headed to the grandmother’s house. She was busy talking to a former FBI-agent who was now part of a group that helps parents find kids that were abducted. The house was really small – about the size of a beach cottage with a main room that worked as the living room and kitchen and two bedrooms. The place was done in knotty pine paneling. This was a family living on a tight budget. The grandmother’s job was a substitute teacher that pays $60 a day. She led me to the granddaughter’s room to figure out shots for the cameraman. I entered the space like Clarice Starling in “The Silence of the Lambs” when she visits the first victim’s bedroom. Even though the authorities had picked apart the place and taken objects for clues, my eyes kept trying to size up why this happened from the elements of her life. As if there was a single clue that would let me grasp why this kid would do something this foolish. The day before had been the first day of school and there was a list of things she needed to have for classes. I checked out the pile of VHS tapes next to her TV. The top title was “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me.” She was watching stuff a little more mature for her age.
I learned that this was a girl that grew up fast. Her parents had split. Her father moved to Florida with her brother. Her mom had problems that forced the grandmother to raise the child. This was a girl that thought she was older than she was as survival instinct. But she wasn’t wise enough to avoid the sex offender.

We spent a long time interviewing the grandmother. She had recovered from the morning press conference. She had never heard of the man who had taken her grandchild. She had no idea how they had carried on the relationship or why she left in the middle of the night. Her only clue was the granddaughter badly wanted to see Snoop Dogg in concert. Maybe the abductor had promised to take her to the big show.

The most valuable question I asked her was how would someone know they are near her granddaughter if they ran into her at a convenience store. Did she have favorite junkfood or phrases? Did she hate eating certain things? But the grandmother didn’t have a solid answer and it tore into me. You want to be able to spot this child instead of seeing someone who kinda looked like her and have the cops go nuts. We finally found out that the girl hated junkfood and liked fresh fruit. That could help a suspicious Fast Fare employee.

What ate at me was that AMW doesn’t air until Saturday night. I couldn’t believe that these people would have to go through this emotional nightmare for another five days if this aired. As we were packing up, I gave the grandmother a hug and told her that she’d hear from her granddaughter before this footage aired. I didn’t feel like I was lying. The main thing that gave me hope about the case was that the sex offender hadn’t attacked his under-aged victims. He seemed to seduce them. There was a chance this poor girl wasn’t dead in a dumpster behind a Piggly Wiggly. I didn’t feel like I was lying to this drained woman. There was a chance. The family thought she was going towards Alabama and were scared that Katrina would cause havoc.

The big thing that the folks up at the AMW headquarters wanted was a shot of the highway information sign flashing the Amber Alert. Even though we were on I-95, the “local” sign was nearly an hour away in Fayetteville. It was easier to get the shot back in Raleigh on the trip home. When we got to Raleigh, all the highway info signs were black. How could the Amber Alert get canceled now? We did what we could do. So we went to FedEx and shipped out three tapes at 6 p.m. and went home.

When the 11 o’clock news came on, the lead story was that the granddaughter had turned up at a bus station in Iowa at 8 p.m. My tapes hadn’t even made it up to D.C. and the girl had been located. I called AMW to let them in on the news. They shipped all my footage over to the fugitive department. The next day the evening news reported that the abductor had been arrested in Colorado. How did they catch him? He drove off without paying for a tank of gas. Just as I suspected. I called up AMW to give them the news. With that information, my story taken off the schedule. My big nationwide producing gig was finished. But I didn’t feel bad for getting bumped. This wasn’t merely entertainment. There was a life at stake and now it was safe and secure. And there was one less sexual predator lurking on the streets.

So I didn’t get to see John Walsh talking over my footage. And we had nothing to do with the finding of the girl. But for those hours I spent with the grandmother, I kept her from totally losing it. I was able to give her the hope and compassion that we’d all need in such situations. Something that I suspect John Walsh would see as important in such trouble times.


How come I can’t get the U.S. Postal Channel on my cable box? I spend a couple hours watching it at the post office. It’s just amazing to see stuff I can buy at the post office while in the post office. It’s such immediate programming. I’ve got Boomerang, why can’t I get this?


Neil Cavuto has read over two dozen of my letters on the air and when it comes time for his latest book tour, he visits Charlotte instead of spending a day signing in beautiful Raleigh. How he turns on his providers.


Is there a deeper silence than Adam Corolla’s monologue? This is where black holes are born.


Paris Hilton just called off her impending marriage. So does this mean she won’t be retiring from showbiz? Does this mean she’s going to force herself on us for another decade? Will we have to see her act and sing? Perhaps she’ll return to her true passion – amateur porn.


My wife knows that I love her because for our wedding anniversary I bought her the first two seasons of “The Gilmore Girls.” I did only pay $18.88 for each DVD set and they’re part of a rebate deal – so I didn’t pay the $60 SRP. I’m not insane. But I did have to get a Target male employee to go in the back and get season one. I might as well have asked him for a crate of Depends. I’m not a man in that kid’s eyes. I should have just asked him if he had any Clay Aiken DVDs while he was looking.

I only watch the show with her cause someday Lauren Graham will forget what project she’s making and ask Santa for backdoor loving. “Badder Santa” is the most precious gift this Christmas. Plus the younger Gilmore Girl was a hooker in “Sin City.” I’m hoping the director’s cut DVD will include that Gilmore Girl proving that her mom isn’t the only one who can satisfy Santa-style lovin’. Ho Ho Ho! If I can only score with one mother-daughter combination during a torrid weekend in the Nutmeg state, it’ll be with the Gilmore Girls. Am I watching this show with a different eye than my wife?

But my wife thought it was touching that I bought a DVD set that she knows I won’t be watching alone. And when I touch her heart, it means I’ll have to touch myself less.


Where exactly have all the good horror marathons gone this October? What channel is running all the AIP, Universal and Hammer Scary flicks? AMC is showing their usual crap. Turner Classic Movies has a few titles on Halloween weekend, but is mostly fixated on showing Hitchcock classics. Looks like I’ll be digging in to the DVD collection for a couple shockers.

Supposedly there are three competing Horror channels trying to get into the cable business. Is there really enough quality material for all three to exist? Sure one has Joe Bob Briggs as part of their team. But what about the movies? Even Joe Bob understands how there are so many stinkers in the genre that you get stuck running. We’re talking films that were beneath the worst offerings on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Has it really been six years since it went off the air? Well at least they’re putting out DVDs to keep the love of schlock in the eyes of the faithful.


Did you notice that MTV started running the promos declaring “MTV doesn’t play music is a myth” at the same time they cut back on daylight running of music videos. This is an ad campaign brought to you by the guy who invented New Coke.


So the show will be called “Junk Food Kingdom” where stars and witty unknowns talk about their favorite bad foods. Plus a strange history of cereals, candy bars and fake meats. Plus there will be showing of vintage commercials. It’ll be cooler than VH1’s programming cause you’ll be hungry when it’s over.


Leave it to AFI to come up with another bogus greatest list. Now it’s the top 100 film scores! Who could have guessed this one? Me? How about the 100 greatest supporting characters? 100 best films featuring pro wrestlers as actors? 100 greatest nepotisms? 100 greatest heterosexual actors….scratch that list, not enough entries. I swear the greatest 100 films to watch while getting wasted is coming.
And how come the music to “Deep Throat” was overlooked?


Fox canceled “Head Cases.” Adam Goldberg had the greatest bad hair of the season. His hair even tops the bad haircuts in the upcoming “Miami Vice.” Oh well. Guess I’ll have to wait until the “Complete Series” comes out on a single DVD next month.

I’m just too engrossed with “Criss Angel: Mindfreak.” The man is amazing – especially since he can escape a straight jacket in a giant tank of sharks, but he can’t let go of looking like a roadie for Extreme. Does Criss really tour or just hangs out in Vegas parking lots?


Now that Raw is back on USA, I don’t have a reason to watch Spike. If I want a CSI fix, I’ll just turn on CBS and see a fresh one. I’m already missing Howard Stern on E! Sure they are repeating the old ones, but the strippers seem a little stale. Where’s my piping hot pixilated boobies?

And what happened to Triple H’s boobies during his time off? It’s like he’s taking bodyshaping tips from Ric Flair.

When will Rufus R Jones return to wrestling?


Forget DVD, here’s a movie needs to be experienced at a drive-in. This coast-to-coast race flick is amazing in its full cinemascope glory. Enough with the dirty, dingy pan and scan version that aired on TV over the last three decades. This is a clean and confident print that looks as sleek as its high performance cars. The film deals with a rumored illegal race that was also the source for “Cannonball,” a Roger Corman production that came out at the same time and “Cannonball Run” and its sequel. After the long gas lines from the oil embargo and the instituting of the national 55 mph limit, America went to the theater to race vicariously through the cinematic speed demons.

The characters in “Gumball Rally” aren’t as cartoony as Burt, Dom and the all-star gang in “Cannonball Run” films. But the Gumballers do have their hammy sides – especially the late great Raul Julia as Franco, an Italian racing champ. I have fond memories of the trailer with Raul Julia yanking off his rearview mirror and declaring, “Whatsa behind me is not important!” Why wasn’t this part of AFI’s Greatest Movie Lines?

The star of the movie is Michael Sarrazin as Michael Bannon, the host of the “Gumball Rally” and the defending record holder for making it across America in a day and a half. Sarrazin looked like Peter Fonda’s stunt double back in the day. And he was a mid-70s Drive-In Superstar with this film and “The Reincarnation of Peter Proud.” Tarantino better cast him in “Grindhouse.”

The race starts out with fantastic footage of the sports cars zipping around Manhattan. And it’s amazing to see so many dashboards with only AM radios. Of all the films in this genre, “Gumball” is the one you can enjoy with the least amount of guilt in your pleasure.

The only extra on the DVD is a trailer. This is a shame since Sarrazin and others must have freakish tales of driving those expensive cars like a pack of maniacs.


There’s also another amazing car flick that just came out on DVD: “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.” The film stars Peter Fonda as former NASCAR driver who has left the track for a life of crime. He’s driving a getaway Dodge Charger while lawman Vic Morrow burns after him in a helicopter. Susan George plays Dirty Mary and she’s not really that dirty. She doesn’t do anything that would cut it in the world of German videos. She looks clean enough to work in a McDonalds. But the British actress does cut it as a backwoods slut who wants to keep hooking up with Fonda. She wears a denim bikini top that deserves a visit to Jerry Springer. Anchorbay did an amazing job with the DVD. The print glistens. They have a 30-minute background documentary that explains how the second unit director from the Avengers TV series came to America and made a drive-in classic. The key living figures all chat away. There’s also a filmmaker commentary track. But the strangest piece is an ad for the ’69 Dodge Charger where they adapted “Midnight Special” into a sales jingle.

You want an old-fashioned speed demon night, get your hands on “Gumball Rally” and “Dirty Mary Crazy Larry.”


Blue Underground – June 28, 2005

This is the legendary show that was whispered about across America, but only available on Manhattan cable. Al Goldstein (publisher of Screw) is a great host since he wants to elevate these films to legit status, but he’s a dirty old man hitting on his female guests. Imagine Charlie Rose with a raging libido. Even 30 years later, there’s nothing quaint about this show. It would still widen eyeballs on any cable channel – even in this era of Howard Stern and HBO’s “Real Sex.”

This 2-hour compendium of episodes on this DVD features Al’s interviews with “Deep Throat” related figures – director Gerard Damiano, star Harry Reems, supporting actress Carol Connors and Chuck Traynor, the ex-husband of Linda Lovelace. I haven’t had a chance to see “Inside Deep Throat,” but from all accounts, this is more entertaining.

While Al doesn’t have a commentary track, he gives us a modern perspective with informative subtitles. There are a few shockers among Al’s tidbits. What would be one? That Carol Connors, who played the nurse in “Deep Throat,” is Thora Birch’s mom. I didn’t know that. (Thora’s dad was erotic actor John Birch.) That fact alone was worth the rental. The producer wanted Carol to be the star of “Deep Throat,” but she couldn’t perform the star stunt so she took the supporting role. Although in her interview, she mentions having added that technique to her repertoire.

Reems’ interview is amazing for his future vision of what will happen to the porn film industry with the introduction of home video. He is a naked Nostradamus. He speaks of his court case when he was on trial for his involvement with “Deep Throat.” Traynor’s a weird character since as Lovelace’s husband he’s been accused of being beating her. Traynor’s defense is that they had a BDSM relationship. Either way, the man is creepy. Damiano comes off as a filmmaker instead of merely a slimy mobster tool. Although for a former
hairdresser, he has a hideous wig.

People complain about commercials, but on this DVD set, you will be glued to the screen during the breaks. They didn’t advertise hamburgers on “Midnight Blue.” It’s hilarious how they have to hint what goes on at “leisure spas.” Are we really supposed to believe the naked women are merely giving therapeutic massages and baths? There’s a porn theater letting you know what you can get for $2.49 – “Your best hardcore film bargain!” There’s even an ad for “Synth Coke” that can be had by sending your money to a PO Box in Kittery, Maine. Plus you get to see the pool at Plato’s Retreat. This is a well-rounded view of Manhattan’s carnal underbelly.

The video quality is better than what you’d expect from a mid-70s to 80s cable access show. There are periodic glitches, but nothing that ruins the experience. If you’re interested in the subject of “Deep Throat,” this is essential viewing.

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