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THE MONEY PIT - 11/25/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 25, 2005 at 12:49 am)

Happy Turkey Day, people! Here’s hoping you and yours are having obscene amounts of wonderful food, while engaging in not-too-awkward conversation. What more can you ask for? Anyway, let’s get this quickie out of the way so I can beat feet for the holiday…

I think the joy of the original King Kong is summed up in one simple title card – the one in which the giant ape himself gets final billing as star of the film bearing his name, with the title “Eighth Wonder of the World.” That one gesture forever sets it apart from any attempt to tell Kong’s story that has come since – it was a gesture that elevated the beast beyond being a mere special effect. Warner’s long-awaited (and I mean *long*-awaited) 2-disc special edition release of the original King Kong (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) is largely a success, featuring a great film, a nice presentation, and plenty of quality bonus materials. The picture and sound restoration are not quite the revelation that Citizen Kane’s DVD debut was, but it’s certainly better than Kong has looked in the past. Those bonus features include an audio commentary (with Ray Harryhausen & Ken Ralston, with interview excerpts from producer Merian C. Cooper & Fay Wray), a 7-part documentary exhaustively deconstructing the entire production process, original Creation test footage with Harryhausen commentary, and a documentary profiling Merian Cooper’s career. While a spiffy edition with in a collectible tin featuring a reproduction of the original theater program is available, true cinephiles will want to pick up the 3-film set (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.92 SRP) packaging Kong with its sequel, Son of Kong, and the classic Mighty Joe Young (sporting a Harryhausen & Ralston commentary, plus a pair of featurettes). Kong is king!

It seems like we just started, but with the release of the complete 5th & 6th seasons of Seinfeld (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP each), we’re already past the halfway mark on the series, and cruising to a likely wrap-up next year (which begs the question, where are Newsradio’s remaining sets?). As these sets clearly illustrate, Seinfeld was a show that only got better with age, proving that a comedy about nothing is universal enough to be enduring. Heck, just referencing certain aspects of a given episode leads to instant recognition, and there are plenty of iconic episodes contained in the 5th & 6th seasons – the puffy shirt, the mango, the lip reader, the opposite, and the fuscilli Jerry. Like the previous sets, they’ve gone all-out on bonus features, including audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, promos, outtakes, and even “Sein-Imation” – classic scenes reimagined in animation.

It’s not as easy to categorize as the Mouse’s Disney Treasures releases, but the Looney Tunes Golden Collections are slowly making up for their haphazard presentation of multiple characters and time periods (with a still disappointing lack of B&W) with some quality restoration and a bevy of bonus materials. In fact, the third volume of the LT: GC (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$64.92 SRP) has – in addition to 60 more classic cartoons like Robin Hood Daffy, Rocket Squad, Wackiki Rabbit, Duck! Rabbit, Duck!, and Birds Anonymous – has choice rarities like the original Philbert pilot, Bugs Bunny Show bridging sequences, early B&W and wartime cartoons (huzzah!), plus audio commentaries and documentaries (including the long-awaited DVD debut of Chuck Amuck). While you’re on an animation kick, you’ll probably also want to snag the second Tom & Jerry Spotlight Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP), with 38 cat-chase-mouse gems.

While Disney dumps their TV product in unceremoniously bare-bones fashion (DuckTales & Rescue Rangers), Warners continues to provide top-notch treatment of the Hanna-Barbera library, with restored, remastered prints (many containing accurate credit sequences for the first time in decades) and bonus interviews, featurettes, and commentaries. The latest releases to come down the pike are the complete fourth season of The Flintstones, the first volume of The Huckleberry Hound Show, and the complete Yogi Bear Show (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP each), which also debuted the forever stage-exiting Snagglepuss.

Is it blasphemy to say that, at one time in my life, I got a kick out of the melon-bashing humor of Gallagher? Is that so wrong? If it is, then I don’t want to be right. And if you’re un-right like me, you’ll probably also be picking up the 3-disc Gallagher: Smashing Watermelon Collection (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD- $29.98 SRP), with 11 full specials. Go on… pretend you didn’t like him at one point… Go on…

Even though the numnutz at Fox decided to pull the plug on the still-funny King of the Hill after the current season wraps (again – what utter maroons!), at least the DVD’s will be with us. The 5th season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) rolls along with Bobby working for Buck Strickland (and picking up some unfortunate habits from the old man), Hank facing the horrible truth that he may be Yankee-born, Dale learning that his exterminator chemicals are killing him, Peggy failing the high school’s quarterback, and much more. But I do have to ask – where in the heck are the bonus features? Come on!

Jackson Browne is often dismissed as a mellow tunesmith of the singer/songwriter 70’s, but when you hear the startlingly raw power of an album like Running On Empty (Rhino, $24.98 SRP) – newly remastered with a bonus DVD featuring a 5.1 version of the album, bonus tracks, and galleries – you’ll realize what an underrated songwriter he really is. In fact, this album comes second only to The Pretender as a real fave, ranking right up there with anything the likes of Paul Simon released during that decade.

It’s unfortunate that director/producer Moustapha Akkad perished (along with his daughter) in the recent Jordan terrorist bombings just as his two groundbreaking films on Islam, The Message and Lion of the Desert (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP each), were released on DVD. Thankfully, the discs were both prepared before he perished, allowing for 2-disc special editions with his full participation and copious bonus materials, including commentaries and documentaries. It was these films, and his financing of a little film called Halloween, that made him a Hollywood legend, and it’s heartbreaking to know that he’s gone. At least we still have his films.

Everything – and I mean *everything* - is making its way to DVD, so it was only a matter of time before we got the Beaver, his brother Wally, and 50’s parents Ward & June. The Cleavers go digital in the complete first season of Leave It To Beaver (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), with the plum bonus feature of the original pilot (with alternate Ward & Wally). Unfortunately, this otherwise worthwhile set continues Universal’s lamentable trend of using the bastardized DVD-18’s for their TV sets.

Director Robert Zemeckis employs a lush all-CG canvas to bring the visual splendor of Chris Van Allsburg’s Polar Express (Warner Bros., Rated G, $29.95 SRP) to life, taking Tom Hanks along to play 5 different roles in the film - most important being the conductor of the magical train that carries a doubting child to the North Pole for a face-to-face with Jolly St. Nick. Unfortunately, that lush imagery doesn’t survive the translation to moving pictures, with much of the animation in the character’s faces being more akin to a zombie flick than a holiday perennial. The 2-disc set features behind-the-scenes featurettes, a nice mini-doc on Chris Van Allsburg, a deleted song, and more.

If you’ve heard the original cast album to the smash Broadway adaptation of Mel Brooks’ legendary comedy, you pretty much know what to expect from the soundtrack to the big screen version of The Producers (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP). The songs are virtually unchanged, with mainly a greater depth to the sound being the only real difference. Oh, and Bialystock’s main tune, “The King of Broadway” – which has (unbelievably) been excised from the film – is included as a bonus track.

Every time I see a film like Ringers: Lord Of The Fans (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$24.96 SRP) – which profiles the sometime stable, sometime terrifying Lord of the Rings - I can’t help but cringe. Like Trekkies before it, I can’t help but feel bad for some of the more delusional ones who can’t separate fantasy from reality. I’m all for being a fan and really, really liking something, but when you dress up and believe you’re a wood elf, well… ‘nuff said. Copious interviews with Peter Jackson and the LOTR cast add some much-needed gravity to what would otherwise be a borderline scary little fan flick, and narrator Dom Monaghan is a welcome presence as well. Bonus features include audio commentary, deleted scenes, and additional featurettes.

The big screen iteration starring Charlize Theron has been triggering my spidey-sense, but you can relive all of the death-defying adventures of the athletically impressive secret agent/saboteur Aeon Flux (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP). Completely remastered under the supervision of creator Peter Cheung, the 3-disc set features the Liquid Television shorts and the pilot, plus audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, artwork, and a look at some of Cheung’s other work.

While the 3rd season of The Andy Griffith Show gave us the gift that was Gomer Pyle, the show’s 4th season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) both giveth and taketh away – Gomer was gone by the end of the season, spun off into military service in the USMC, but we got Gomer’s cousin Goober to take up the mantle of affecting dimwit. The 5-disc set features all 32 episodes in glorious black & white, but there are still no extras in sight.

Suzanne Sommers’ Chrissy made her exit and Cindy arrived on the scene in the fifth season of Three’s Company (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), but by now the show was on virtual autopilot and there wasn’t much that could happen that would shake things up too badly. Bonus features include a spotlight on the censors with the producers, and an interview with Jenilee Harrison.

Featuring both the large outsize performances that made him such a thrill to see in concert with smaller, more intimate venues, the 2-disc Still Growing Up: Peter Gabriel Live & Unwrapped (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP) presents both sides of Gabriel as a performer. Disc 1 features the bombastic 2003/04 concert, while the second disc contains the lower-key, much more revealing side of Gabriel that’s very rarely seen outside the studio. Bonus materials include rehearsal footage and additional performances.

Congrats to David Caruso for sticking around on CSI: Miami, as the complete third season hits DVD (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$79.99 SRP). I’m not a terribly big fan of the CSI franchise, but there are those who are wedded to its procedural gobbledygook. Good on you – you’ll be loving this set. Bonus features include a half-dozen audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

It’s not genius, but there’s a loveable boob charm to the episodes comprising the complete first season to Sci-Fi’s CG animated comedy Tripping the Rift (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The universe-spanning misadventures of bawdy purple blob Chode and the ragtag crew of the starship Jupiter 2 is good for a few laughs – just don’t look for brilliance.

It’s some kind of odd pairing, for the season sets of Home Improvement & Golden Girls to be geared for release on the same day, which has held true for every set from season one to the current 3rd season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP each). I don’t know, it just seems like an odd Mars/Venus thing. Go figure.

If you were disappointed in the PG-13 “eh”-fest that was the theatrical release of Alien Vs. Predator (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP), you’ll be slightly more enthusiastic about the new unrated edition, which restores some deleted scenes and gore to ramp up the otherwise glaring lack of suspense and shock in what still plays like a poor man’s version of the original Dark Horse Comics’ tete-a-tetes. The 2-disc special edition features audio commentaries, additional deleted footage, behind-the-scenes featurettes (including a look at those Dark Horse match-ups), and more.

Obviously afraid too much soft focus, feel-good sugary schmaltz might send fans into a diabetic coma, the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition folks have decided to collect only the best, most heart-warming moments from the 1st season into a 2-disc love fest of Ty Pennington proportions (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP). The set also features a behind-the-scenes look on how the show is put together, plus off-camera hijinks and bloopers… You know, like when they built that house over an Indian burial ground and all hell broke loose just as the family arrived for the unveiling.

I know there are diehard fans of Barbra Streisand out there (for shame!) and they’ll probably be gaga over Barbra Streisand: The Television Specials (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). This 5-disc set features all of her specials from 1965’s My Name Is Barbra right up until 1973’s – so help me, this is the actual pretentious title – Barbra Streisand… and Other Musical Instruments. Oy.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 11/18/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 18, 2005 at 12:46 am)

Is next week really Thanksgiving? What kind of cruel temporal joke has been played on us, that this year is disappearing like a metaphor through the hourglass? Are these truly the days of our lives? Am I so overworked at this point, that coherency is nearly lost? You decide…

It was my love of Scrubs that led me to getting the behind-the-scenes video blog over at FilmForce, and it was the show’s second season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) that cemented that the first season was no fluke, and I was watching a modern TV classic that I could unashamedly place on the shelf next to NewsRadio, Larry Sanders, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Arrested Development, Freaks & Geeks, and Seinfeld. The second season picks up with the repercussions of Jordan’s lid-blowing revelations to all, and keeps the ball rolling through 22 episodes of equal parts drama, turmoil, and “the funny.” In fact, few shows bring “the funny” as consistently as Scrubs, and even fewer do it so well while balancing it with a deep emotional well. Take that, lesser shows. The 3-disc set features audio commentaries on select episodes, a bevy of featurettes (on stunts, casting, music, and jokes), deleted scenes, an interview with John C. McGinley, and outtakes.

If you’ve yet to be won over by the brilliant comedy of Home Movies, then I pity your hard heart and thick head, and sincerely hope someone lend you a sense of humor (and I’m only partially kidding). Seriously, though, Home Movies is one of those shows that give me hope that wit has not died a slow death in today’s corporate culture, and the third season (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) ranks as the strongest in the show’s much-too-brief run. The 3-disc set features audio commentaries, Loren Bouchard’s tribute to comic-con fans set to music, animatics, a radio interview, and H. Jon Benjamin’s featurette for people who don’t like Home Movies.

Sam begins the process of reclaiming the bar, Rebecca’s corporate career disintegrates, Carla’s marriage to ex-goalie Eddie hits an unexpected iceberg, Frasier & Lilith plan marital bliss, and much more befalls the barflies in the seventh season of Cheers (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Meanwhile, in the seventh season of Frasier (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP), the good doctor inadvertently lets Daphne know about the 7-year crush Niles has been nursing for her… Hey, it had to happen eventually. Both sets feature zero bonus features, but I’m just happy – when studios like Sony drag their feet – that Paramount has been getting these out at a very nice clip.

Long before it became “hip” to do massive, mega-concerts for charity with a bill to kill for, George Harrison took up the cause of the famine-ravaged people of Bangladesh. Answering his call were the likes of Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, Billy Preston, Leon Russell, and Ravi Shankar, and the result was The Concert for Bangladesh. The original 2-disc album (Capitol, $34.98 SRP) has been completely remastered, and includes a bonus track. Even better, the original concert film has been completely remastered, and is now available as a 2-disc collector’s edition (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) with a retrospective documentary, additional previously unseen performances, and additional featurettes (one detailing the now-replaced original artwork for the album and film, depicting a starving Bangladeshi child).

You’ve got your Chaplin and your Keaton, but the thinking man’s silent comedian was the bespectacled Harold Lloyd, whose classic films that ruled the roaring twenties are now available in sparkling transfers loaded with bonus features via The Harold Lloyd Collection (New Line, Not Rated, DVD-$89.95 SRP) – 7 discs of comedy gold. Twenty-eight films are included, including the legendary Safety Last!, The Freshman, and Speedy. Bonus features include introductions & commentaries from Leonard Maltin, interviews, rare footage (including vintage interviews with Lloyd and home movies), radio shows, video biographies of Keaton’s collaborators, and much more. In fact, you even get a sample of his personal hobby – 3-D photography (viewable with included glasses).

No matter how hard Chicken Little: From Henhouse to Hollywood (Disney Editions, $19.95 SRP) tries to sell it as such, I can look at Disney’s “first” foray into home grown CG animated feature-land as neither groundbreaking nor good. In fact, browsing through the design artwork, I think the concept would have looked a heck of a lot better done as a traditional 2-D feature. But what do I know?

Another making-of book that may strike your fancy, if you have a piratical bent, is Pirates of the Caribbean: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (Disney Editions, $22.95 SRP). As you might have guessed, it charts the development process that made a theme park ride into a booming franchise.

The hills are not only alive with music, they’re positively bursting with both pristine sound and sight with a remastered trio of Rodgers & Hammerstein classics – The Sound of Music, State Fair, & Oklahoma (Fox, Rated G, DVD-$26.95 SRP each). All three films are presented in 2-disc special editions, loaded with bonus features including audio commentaries (of particular note is the late director Robert Wise on SoM), documentaries, alternate versions of both State Fair & Oklahoma, screen tests, trailers, and much more. Also available is a newly remastered edition of The Sound of Music’s soundtrack (RCA, $24.98 SRP).

Speaking of musicals, one of my all-time favorites – and when I say that, I mean that I’ve seen it, literally, almost 3 dozen times as a kid – is the film adaptation of Lionel Bart’s Oliver! (Sony, Rated G, DVD-$19.94 SRP). There have been plenty of adaptations of Dickens’ classic tale of an orphan’s journey from the underworld to happiness (with money), but it’s this musical version that still strikes a chord with me. The songs are modern classics (“Food, Glorious Food,” “Pick a Pocket or Two,” and the unforgettable “Consider Yourself”), and the presentation in this new DVD set is sparkling. While bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a photo gallery, the real keeper is on the second disc – a CD featuring the complete 14-song soundtrack. “Please sir, I want some more…”

If it weren’t for DVD, many golden moments from television history would be relegated to cheap-o VHS bins in poor video quality, if they’re even released at all. Well, thanks to Time Life, we’ve got a pair of releases that are still just as funny – the finest juvenile faux pas in The Best of Art Linkletter’s Kids Say The Darndest Things & a selection of comedy legends in The Golden Age of Comedy (Time Life, Not Rated, DVD-$14.95 SRP each). The Golden Age disc is particularly sweet, as it also features rare early stand-up performances from Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Bob Newhart, and Jonathan Winters.

I’d like to say that the 10th and final season of Friends (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) went out with a bang, but the truth is that the show was pretty much going through the motions during the truncated 17-episode race to the finish. We all knew that Ross & Rachel were going to get together in the end, and that slowly but surely the core group would break apart – a fait accompli as soon as Joey was announced as a spin-off. In fact, the only thing missing was Joey flying over the city in a helicopter, with “Goodbye” spelled out in pizza boxes on the apartment building roof by an also-departing Chandler and Monica. The final DVD set features producers’ commentary on 3 episodes (including the hour-long finale), a retrospective featurette with the cast & producers, a Matt LeBlanc Joey music video, the “Friends of Friends” featurette, and best of all – multiple seasons worth of gag reels.

Packaged in a padded approximation of an actual base, The Great American Baseball Box (Shout! Factory, $59.98 SRP) is an audio dream come true for any fan of America’s pastime. Featuring 117 tracks on 4 CDs, it contains landmark moments from original game broadcasts going all the way back to 1939, interviews with legendary players (from Ty Cobb to Babe Ruth), press conferences, radio shows, commercials, comedy routines (yes, “Who’s On First?” is in there – naturally), and even iconic songs about the game (Are you surprised at “Centerfield” being there?). A perfect gift for any sports fan on your list.

Though nowhere near as sharp as his Opposite of Sex, you’ll be surprised to find out that the major attraction of watching Don Roos’ Happy Endings (Lions Gate, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP) is a subtle, affecting performance from… Tom Arnold. I kid you not. Bonus features include an audio commentary, a making-of, deleted scenes, outtakes, and more.

There’s nothing more awkward that to release a “complete” series box set of a TV show only to have it come back for more episodes… But at least you can be safe in believing that Tru Calling: The Complete Second Season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) really is the end for this now-cancelled series starring Eliza Dushku as a young woman with the power to go back and save people from death. Or something. It got real hazy towards the end. Either way, the 2-disc set features all 5 episodes including the unaired finale, plus a making-of featurette.

Even though the 3rd season of That 70’s Show (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) doesn’t fundamentally change the Kevin & Winnie of Eric & Donna, there are plenty of shake-ups this season – including Jackie going after Hyde (driving Kelso nuts), Fez landing a (certifiably) crazy girlfriend, Red deciding it’s time to clamp down on the kids, and Kitty feeling out-of-sorts as a mother. Bonus features include audio commentary on 6 episodes, cast introductions on 18 of the 25 episodes, and a season 3 retrospective featurette.

Twenty years of stars, interviews, makeovers, surprises and dreams come true are highlighted in the six discs comprising The Oprah Winfrey Show: 20th Anniversary Collection (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$54.99 SRP), which is filled to the brim with classic moments and bonus features, from interviews with stars like Julia Roberts & Jim Carrey to defining moments including Oprah’s trip to Africa. Bonus features include candid reminiscences and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Da plane! Da plane! Oy… Honestly, I tried, very, very hard to resist starting off like every other writer is sure to when talking about the release of the complete first season of Fantasy Island (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), but what can I say? I’m a weak, weak man. Sit back and watch all 16 original fantasies, brought to you by the enigmatic Mr. Roarke (Ricardo Montalban) and his ornery sidekick Tattoo (Herve Villechaize), with guests including Don Knotts, Leslie Nielsen, Bill Bixby, and Sandra Dee. Bonus features are limited to two retrospective featurettes and original promo trailers, but who cares? We’ve got “Da plane! Da plane!”

Kate Hudson makes an acceptably frazzled victim in the mildly frightening Skeleton Key (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP), making the mistake of traveling to Louisiana’s obviously creepy bayous and running afoul of a secret that doesn’t exactly make for a Cajun holiday. Bonus materials include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and even a “true” ghost story from Hudson’s past. Suuuure.

The third season of Charmed (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP) is probably best known as the season in which Alyssa Milano pushed costar Shannon Doherty out the door with the demise of Prue, 1/3 of the wiccan sister trio. Now that’s girl power.

Indulge in a little pure popcorn entertainment as a state-of-the-art stealth bomber with artificial intelligence goes rogue, forcing a band of seasoned pilots to hunt it down before it unleashes its deadly payload. Stealth (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP) was rightly lambasted when it crashed-and-burned this summer, but I have to admit – there’s an entirely watchable “oh god, did they really do that” glee to it all. The 2-disc special edition (whose contract was that in?) includes behind-the-scenes featurettes, in-depth scene deconstructions, a making-of documentary, and Incubus’s “Make a Move” video.

Now that I have a nephew, I find myself trying to direct him towards quality children’s entertainment that isn’t insipid or nauseating (stuff I can watch, too). One of the things I’ve been showing him are the collections of the Henson-produced puppet-ized Wubbulous World of Dr. Seuss (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP). Not only is the energy level suitably interesting for my nephew, but it’s got solid Seussical writing and nicely realized versions of the classic Seuss characters. The latest 3-episode release is Fun with the Cat, and you can be sure it’s going to be played to death… But it’s still light years better than Barney.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 11/11/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 11, 2005 at 12:42 am)

I hope you’ve been checking out IGNFF’s weekly blog with the cast & crew of NBC’s Scrubs. There’re some fun entries over there, with more to come (including some holiday greetings in the weeks ahead – but you didn’t hear that from me). I’m still trying to figure out how we got to the holidays so fast… I swear there’s been some kind of time/space warping in effect…

I went in really not wanting to like Tim Burton’s new take on Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$30.97 SRP). For one thing, I love Willy Wonka – a modern classic, and easily one of Gene Wilder’s finest performances. And then there’s the fact that Burton gave us the wretched beast that was his take on Planet of the Apes. Never forget. My heart began to soften again after I saw and enjoyed Big Fish, but I was still wary of Burton, particularly since this was him tackling another beloved flick. Imagine my surprise when I actually enjoyed Charlie, and particularly Johnny Depp’s off-kilter fop of a Wonka. The world of Dahl’s dark stories plays to Burton’s strengths, and he manages to make the film a visual storybook without going goofy. Does it trump Willy Wonka and Gene Wilder? No. Does it stand on its own? You betcha. The 2-disc deluxe edition sports behind-the-scenes featurettes, a look at how actor Deep Roy became hundreds of Oompa-Loompas, a spotlight on Dahl, an inside look at squirrel training, and even a tutorial on dancing like an Oompa-Loompa.

Mixing up the Joel & Mike years from Comedy Central up until the Sci-Fi Channel run, 8th volume of The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Collection (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) features the unparalleled fromage of Monster A-Go Go, The dead Talk Back, The Phantom Planet, and Hobgoblins. We’re talking some real glorious trash here, folks. Sadly, they don’t continue the precedent set by the past few collections of including some choice bonus material, but here’s hoping that changes for the next release.

I hate being put in the position of panning something while praising it. What has put me in such an awkward position? Disney’s first batch of releases featuring DuckTales & Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$34.99 SRP each). First off, I thank them for finally getting around to releasing their back catalog of shows I actually loved as a kid – particularly the adventures of Scrooge & his nephews, based largely on the comic books stories of the legendary Carl Barks. But just when they do something great like this, they make me want – no, *need* - to slap them upside the head by omitting the 5-part pilots from both sets. No “Treasure of the Golden Suns” or “To the Rescue” – no set up for either series in what were some of the finest episodes of their respective shows. Does anyone at Disney have even a rudimentary knowledge of their library? Or access to Google? Those episodes damn well better be on a future release, or I’m gonna have to bust some heads. I’m not even going to mention that they didn’t even bother to clean the prints, which contain dust and scratches aplenty… oops. Come on Disney- treat your library with a little respect… You know, like Warners does with the Hanna-Barbera releases.

For a Disney release that is far from disappointing (and makes a wonderful gift for any fan), set aside a few hours to fully enjoy every wonder contained in The Disney Keepsakes (Disney Editions, $60.00 SRP). A companion piece to The Disney Treasures, it features beautiful reproductions of rare ephemera straight from the Disney archives, including an original 1930’s Mickey Mouse Club membership card, promotional displays, 3-D glasses from the 50’s, Good Housekeeping comic pages, and much more, all with accompanying text that puts everything in context. I hope this isn’t the last of these releases, because they really are a downright cool delight.

Learn about the early television megastars that launched the fledgling medium and really made the idea of “must-see” TV a reality in the PBS documentary Pioneers of Primetime (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP). From Hope & Berle to Lucy & Desi, they came from vaudeville, radio, and nightclubs to develop a new way of entertaining that would eventually surpass all others in its influence.

As soon as I saw Kung Fu Hustle (Sony, Rated R, DVD-$28.95 SRP), I knew that Asian cinema had finally matured. You can’t take an artform seriously until someone comes along and knocks its feet out from under it, parodying brilliantly all of its clichés and self-importance – and with this film, co-writer/director Stephen Chow does just that, brilliantly. From Kurosawa to Woo, Ang Lee to Jackie Chan, everyone gets walloped. What’s the point in having an Alfred Hitchcock or James Whale unless you’ve got a Mel Brooks to put it all in perspective? Bonus materials include an audio commentary with Chow and the cast, deleted scenes, an interview with Chow, behind-the-scenes featurette, and bloopers.

Fictional Indian immigrants the Kumars have bulldozed their backyard and created a studio to house the homemade talk show of son Sanjeev (Sanjeev Bhaskar) in the brilliant comedic satire The Kumars at No. 42 (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), another wonderful Britcom import that should be on your must-view list. Sanjeev wrangles his family into the proceedings - doting mom (Indira Joshi), overeager small-businessman dad (Vincent Ebrahim), and tart-tongued Granny Sushila (Meera Syal) – as he welcomes real-world celebrities into the surreal proceedings that is part Larry Sanders and part The Office… Needless to say, it’s funny as hell. In addition to the 6 episodes comprising the first season, bonus materials include unseen footage, a tour of No. 42, and a writer’s commentary.

Kenneth Turan’s Never Coming to a Theater Near You (Public Affairs, $14.00 SRP) is one of those books that has a concept so good, you wonder why no one ever did it before. Turan presents a look at a few dozen wonderful flicks that most likely never made it to your local cinema, but are well worth viewing at your leisure – movies like Election, Fast, Cheap, & Out Of Control, Sexy Beast, and more.

You’ll never look at a board game the same way again after revisiting this amiable family action-adventure flick starring Robin Williams as the now-grown victim of the game Jumanji (Sony, Rated PG, DVD-19.95 SRP), who was sucked into its world as a child. He’s released 26 years later by the children now living in his old house, who made the mistake of rolling the dice and keeping the game going – with all its consequences. Worse yet, they all must finish playing the game – which means also finding the girl friend who witnessed his disappearance all those years ago. The new 2-disc collector’s edition features an audio commentary from the special effects crew, making-of & production design documentaries, a special effects featurette, storyboards, galleries, and the theatrical trailer. The box even folds out into a playable version of the game… at your own risk.

Now that you know what’s in the hatch – for what it’s worth – and are fully answered within its awesome event horizon, you’ll probably want to pick up a copy of the official companion book to everyone’s favorite mind****, Lost. The Lost Chronicles (Hyperion, $18.95 SRP) is fairly informational (considering how much of the show is still built on mystery, and you really only have perspective on a single season), and comes with a bonus DVD featuring some reuse of behind-the-scenes material off the DVD set, although there are 3 deleted scenes not in the set.

In re-imagining the classic 1930’s alarmist screed against the evils of marijuana use, Reefer Madness: The Musical (Showtime, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) pulls off a spry, witty, and mostly wonderful moralistic tale of one all-American clean-cut boy’s descent into crime, depravity, and madness at the hands of the demon weed. Not since The Rocky Horror Picture Show has debauchery been so addictively musical, with plenty of catch tunes and great performances from a cast that includes Christian Campbell, Kristen Bell, Steven Weber, Never Campbell, Ana Gasteyer, and Alan Cumming as the lecturer whose over-the-top claims of marijuana’s ills terrify his enthralled audience of parents. Bonus features include a cast commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the original 1936 film.

The secret of his past still remains, but Laura Holt and her mysterious partner grow even closer as they continue to solve cases in the second season of Remington Steele (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). The 4-disc set contains all 21 episodes, plus audio commentaries and behind-the-scenes featurettes. Frankly, I still think Pierce Brosnan should be Bond… He was born to play the role.

The irony of Star Trek Voyager: Distant Shores (Pocket Books, $14.00 SRP) is that the short stories presented within – celebrating the show’s 10th anniversary and featuring tales from within the crew’s 7-year journey home – are often better than the mostly poor scripts of the show itself. Even though the cast was mostly stellar, the cracks in the storytelling of the Berman/Braga regime took hold during Voyager’s run, and eventually undermined any chance Enterprise might have had to be a watchable show. While I’d recommend only about a third of Voyager’s episodes, I enjoyed this collection quite a bit.

Further proof that everything will one day hit DVD – Jeopardy: An Inside Look at America’s Favorite Quiz Show (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP), whose title is pretty self-explanatory. The disc contains the first episode hosted by Alex Trebek in 1984, Ken Jennings losing episode, and the trio of Ultimate Finals episodes. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes, a multi-camera look at an episode, and some tips on becoming a contestant.

It’s hard to really describe Rob Zombie’s mini-magnum opus of a shock film, The Devil’s Rejects (Lions Gate, Not Rated, DVD-$27.95 SRP). Honestly, it’s like a bizarro, madcap, creepy exploitation hybrid of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Bonnie & Clyde, Natural Born Killers, and Smokey & the Bandit. I kid you not. The 2-disc special edition features the unrated director’s cut of the film, audio commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes, make-up tests, a 2+ hour making-of documentary, and more.

If you’re itching for a look at the man who will be filling Bond’s shoes in the not-too-distant future (Daniel Craig, in case you’ve been living under a rock), you’re in for a treat with Layer Cake (Sony, Rated R, DVD-$26.96 SRP), a brilliant little crime flick which stars Mr. Bond… er, Craig… as a London drug dealer eager to start a new life who must make the tried and true “one last job” as a favor to a friend, negotiating a sale for a million Ecstasy hits. In true “one last job” fashion, everything goes wrong when it’s discovered that the pills were stolen from a quite agitated Serbian drug lord, which puts our eager-to-retire antihero between a rock and a hard place. God, I love smart films – and this is one of them. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director Matthew Vaughn and writer J.J. Connolly, a Q&A with Vaughn and Craig, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a pair of alternate endings.

Quadrophenia is nowhere near the artistic level of The Who’s Tommy, but both reach a whole different level when performed live – as they are in the star-studded 3-disc The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$34.99 SRP), featuring a pair of concert performance of both rock operas. Guests included Elton John, Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, Billy Idol, and Patti LaBelle, while the 3rd disc contains a smattering of other concert performances, including the hits-packed second set from the same 1989 Universal Ampitheatre performance as the first disc’s Tommy.

Okay, so you’re putting together a video game featuring an undead protagonist in stereotypical 50’s Cold War America, and you want the soundtrack to be unique. What do you do? You collect 13 alt-bands and unleash them on iconic 50’s tunes, from “Lollipop” to “Earth Angel” – that’s what you do. And that’s just what Aspyr did for Stubbs the Zombie (Shout! Factory, $18.98 SRP). Does it work? You bet it does, buck-o. Just hearing Death Cab for Cutie’s “Earth Angel” makes everything right with the world.

The second season of The Partridge Family (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) comes home to roost just when unfortunate comparisons to a punky, fresh-faced Danny Bonaduce can be made to his current monstrous persona on VH-1’s unfortunate reality series… brrrrr. The 3-disc set features all 24 episodes, but sadly no bonus features.

If you’re in need of a quick holiday flick fix with a trio of perennials, be sure to fix a cup of cocoa, grab a blanket, and be sure you’ve picked up the Classic Holiday Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) featuring Boys Town, Christmas in Connecticut, and the 1988 version of A Christmas Carol. If that wasn’t enough, you also get vintage featurettes, trailers, and even a bonus movie (Spencer Tracy & Mickey Rooney’s 1941 sequel Men of Boys Town). Viva la holidays!

Coinciding with the desert mecca’s 100th anniversary, Las Vegas: An Unconventional History (PBS, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP) lives up to its name, looking at the sunny, steamy, sordid past of the Nevada town that could – and did – make its own history from nothing but sand, dreams, and money both legitimate and not so much.

Before Diana Ross went crazy – well, crazier – she starred in the still powerful biopic of Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$14.99 SRP). Even more memorable for geeks (yes, like me) is her costar, Billy Dee Williams, not to mention Richard Pryor (okay, for you Superman III geeks). Bonus features include an audio commentary (with Berry Gordy, director Sidney Furie, and artist manager Shelly Berger), a behind-the-scenes featurette, and deleted scenes.

Admittedly, I never did like the asinine antics of Beavis & Butthead during their original MTV run. I could never shut my brain down long enough to go with the flow (although, surprisingly, I did like Do America, so go figure). Despite my apathy, tho, there are a lot of fans out there who have waiting impatiently for a decent collection on DVD (hey Steven!), and your prayers have finally been answered with Beavis And Butthead: The Mike Judge Collection - Volume 1 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), a 3-disc set featuring 40 cartoons handpicked by creator Mike Judge, 11 music videos with B&B commentary (long a sticking point for any release), the Thanksgiving Special with Kurt Loder, VMA appearances, promos, and the first part of a retrospective documentary.

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THE MONEY PIT - 11/04/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (November 4, 2005 at 12:43 am)

I hope you all had a pleasant Halloween (like holding a 24-hour Night of the Lepus marathon… you know who you are, and you should be so ashamed…). We’re now officially in the holiday season, so let the madness begin…

My faith has wavered a bit over the years, particularly after they were gobbled up by Warner Bros., a few years back, but Rhino always had a knack for treating its releases of classic materials with the utmost care and respect, not only in its remastering, but also in how it presented those recordings. Their massive Pure Genius: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (1952-1959) (Rhino, $149.98 SRP) collects the entirety of Ray Charles’ legendary output from that period, completely remastered and beautifully presented across 7 discs, with a bonus 6th disc comprised of rare performances at the Newport Jazz Festival and more. When I mentioned that Rhino goes the extra mile in presentation, they go a mile-and-a-half here, packaging the set in a portable record player case from the period, with a plastic insert of the play-deck itself, under which are the discs. All in all, it makes a classy set just that much more classier. Also available is a unique blending of recordings made by Brother Ray in ’97 & ’98, which are paired off with a bevy of stars - titled Genius & Friends (Rhino, $ SRP) – that is worth a spin as well, after you’ve plowed through the box set.

To anyone who’s ever felt zombified by their job, there was Office Space (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$19.98 SRP) – a film which perfectly summed up the mind-numbing lunacy of the modern workplace. For all those still toiling under the yoke, Mike Judge’s ode to cubicle life gets a special edition with extra flair to spare (though I still long for a commentary track). Bonus features include a retrospective documentary, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

Who is Randy Newman? Listen to his music, and he’s the man of 1,000 faces – he’s been a bigoted redneck, a naïve child, a northern liberal, a southern farmer, Sigmund Freud, a senator, God, the devil, and more. More than any popular artist save for Bob Dylan, Newman has written songs from the perspective of narrators other than himself – which has led to much confusion amongst listeners who follow standard singer/songwriter doctrine that if you write and sing it, it must be first person (these people also tend to need help getting their shoes tied and probably shouldn’t run with pointy objects). If you’ve ever wanted to peer beneath Newman’s masks, there’s no better start than Kevin Courrier’s engrossing dissection of the man and his work in Randy Newman’s American Dreams (ECW Press, $18.95 SRP). I don’t always agree with Courrier’s take on the meaning of a given song, but it’s definitely thought-provoking.

With the release of Spielberg’s flashy take on H.G. Wells’s classic sci-fi invasion opus on the way, it’s inevitable that we’d finally get a decent DVD release of producer George Pal’s 1953 classic version of War of the Worlds (Paramount, Rated G, DVD-$14.99 SRP) in a snazzily restored special edition. The bonus features include an audio commentary with actors Ann Robinson and Gene Barry, an appreciation audio commentary (with Joe Dante, Film Historian Rob Burns, and author Bill Warren), a making-of documentary, a spotlight on Wells, the original theatrical trailer, and Orson Welles’s famous Mercury Theater radio adaptation. As if that weren’t enough, the first season of the 1988 War of the Worlds TV series (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) is also making it to DVD in a 6-disc set featuring all 23 episodes that pick up where the 1953 film left off, as the aliens are accidentally revived.

Don’t get me wrong – the Rock Icons and Ray Charles collections of Dick Cavett Show episodes were great, but the one I anticipated the most is the John & Yoko Collection (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) featuring the trio of legendary programs that featured the Lennons, presented complete and uncut. Also included are new introductions and an interview with Cavett, as well as some original promos.

Seven year-old Damian gets a literal gift from above when a suitcase full of cash falls from the sky during the holidays in Millions (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$27.98 SRP), but while Damian is keen on sharing the wealth with those less fortunate, his brother Anthony would rather have the time of his life. That the cash turns out to be stolen leads to some complications, to say the least. Director Danny Boyle turns in a surprisingly joyful comedy that features quite a few unexpected twists not often seen in family fare. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Boyle and screenwriter Frank Cottrell Boyce, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Nothing anyone could have done would have saved Enterprise. By the time it limped into its fourth (and final) season (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$129.99 SRP), it was a crippled beast waiting to be put out of its misery, permanently disabled by the inept, destructive guidance of producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga. Now, having said that, the final season did manage to make itself more watchable than the previous 3 outings due to the presence of showrunner Manny Coto, who at least understood (and seemed to respect) what franchise he was working on. Sadly, Enterprise and its characters were too far gone to save. I’m interested to see what Coto could do with Trek if given a clean slate. The 6-disc set features a pair of audio commentaries on the Mirror Universe episodes, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes, and a photo gallery.

Massively egomaniacal actor Jack Wyatt (Will Ferrell) casts an unknown actress (Nicole Kidman) as his costar in a in a remake of the television show Bewitched (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP), in hopes of re-igniting his fading Hollywood star - but it turns out his Samantha is actually a real witch who decides a spell or two might be in order to set him straight. It’s really hard to isolate just went wrong here, but it seems to be a lethal concoction of too much post-modernism and too little humor, with a dash of overexposure (Hello, Will!) thrown in. Where the Brady Bunch Movie played nicely with the idea of throwing the idea of a basic TV-to-Film adaptation for a loop, Bewitched is mired in its own sense of effervescent cleverness. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and deleted scenes.

Now that November is finally here, I can begin recommending holiday music releases with a clear conscience (far be it from me to pull a Wal-Mart and start before Halloween has even passed). So what should be the first CDs you snag? Well, there’s the 20th Century Masters Christmas Collection (Universal, $11.98 SRP each), which includes individual releases from Loretta Lynn, Great Voices of Christmas (featuring Pavaroti, Domingo, Carreras, and more), Englebert Humperdinck, Donna Summer, Motown Christmas: Volume 2 (with Stevie Wonder’s “What Christmas Means To Me”), The Four Tops, and Santa’s Greatest Hits (which has all of the essentials, from Brenda Lee rockin’ around the Christmas tree to the Chipmunks and Alvin’s hula hoop plea).

Jane Fonda makes a triumphant return to comedy as the titular beast in Monster-in-Law (New Line, Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.98 SRP), the overbearing obstacle in the path of prospective marital bliss for daughter-in-law Charlie (Jennifer Lopez) and son Kevin (Michael Vartan). Intent on short-circuiting the nuptials, she tries every obnoxious trick in the book to get Charlie to beat feet, but Charlie’s not about to just roll over – leading to (you guessed it) a wild & wacky contest of wills. The 2-disc Platinum edition features behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, bloopers, and more.

Portions of the print look like it’s been pulled across hot asphalt, but there’s a reason why Whoopi Goldberg’s 1985 HBO special, Direct From Broadway, made such a splash – Goldberg presented a handful or character performances that managed to resonate and provoke fits of laughter at the same time (not an easy task, as comedy with relevance is an art, not a hobby). That special is presented on the second disc of Whoopi Goldberg: Back To Broadway (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP), her funny return to form special. Bonus features include bloopers, an interview, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

A trio of John Hughes 80’s classics (The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, & Weird Science) get collected in a mini-school binder and bundled with an 8-track CD featuring iconic songs from the flicks (from Oingo Boingo’s “Weird Science” to Simple Minds’ “Don’t You (Forget About Me) in the cleverly-titled Brat Pack Movies + Music Collection (Universal, $39.98 SRP). If you don’t already have these, this is a nifty, quick way to get ‘em.

Kevin Costner goes a long way towards reclaiming watchability (I never forget, Kev) in The Upside of Anger (New Line, Rated R, DVD-$27.95 SRP), a poignant dramedy in which he plays a former baseball star-turned-local DJ who becomes the paramour for a lonely mother of four (Joan Allen) whose husband unexpectedly disappeared. Her headstrong daughters (Evan Rachel Wood, Alicia Witt, Keri Russell, & Erika Christensen) are left to pick up the emotional pieces in both their mother’s love life and their own. Keep it up, Kevin, and I may – may! – just forgive The Postman. Bonus features include audio commentary, deleted scenes, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

It was during the fourth season of The Brady Bunch (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) that puberty began to take hold, with great results for Marsha and unfortunate results for Greg, Peter, and Bobby (perms were right around the corner). However, the classic episodes are still in full force, from the Don Ho-infested and Tiki Idol-cursed Hawaiian trip to the infamous football to the nose. But where are the bonus features? Come on!

Motorheads should begin counting the pennies in their change dish in order to snag their copies of the complete third seasons of Discovery Channel’s Monster Garage & American Chopper (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$19.94 SRP each). Of the two, I can’t get enough of the father-son soap opera that is Chopper – it’s almost embarrassing soapy that thing gets, for what ostensibly is a show about building dream bikes. Seriously guys – go see a counselor. Or just duke it out.

It’s not quite the same as the in-theater 3-D experience, but James Cameron’s enthusiasm for his subject matter is infectious in his latest deep sea exploration, Aliens of the Deep (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP), in which he documents life overcoming the odds in the ocean’s deepest depths. Who’d have thought that Cameron would go on to have this kind of Cousteau-like career? The disc features an extended version of the film, almost doubling its theatrical length.

Lindsey who? Hilary Duff returns to the screen in the not altogether unwatchable The Perfect Man (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP) as a daughter hoping to curtail her mother’s habit of picking up and moving after another failed romance by crafting a secret admirer for mom (Heather Locklear) with the aid of a schoolfriend’s uncle (Chris Noth). Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted Scenes, and outtakes.

Literary adaptations can be a tricky business - sometimes ingenious, sometimes sterile. The adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey (New Line, Rated PG, DVD-$24.95 SRP) – about a group of diverse travelers who meet a supposedly untimely end when the bridge they are crossing collapses, but whose “circumstantial” demise is investigated by a Franciscan monk who discovers that there are secrets in each of their pasts – managed to keep my attention, which is not an easy thing to do. The cast certainly helped – including Robert De Niro, Gabriel Byrne, F. Murray Abraham, Geraldine Chaplin, Harvey Keitel, and the always-watchable Kathy Bates – certainly helped matters.

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Joe Corey’s PARTY FAVORS - 11/2005

Posted by Ken in Party Favors (November 1, 2005 at 12:50 am)

LEASBURG, NC – No. Ty isn’t here.

If you can say that 8,436 times, then you could have done most of my job when I went back to work for Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

We arrived in the early hours to surprise Bobby, a 101st paratrooper who lost both of his legs when the troop transport rolled over a roadside bomb. I’m not sure how many details I need to hide from you since all shall be revealed on Dec. 11 during the show’s “Pay It Forward” special. But I can say that once again, this is the only job I work where at the end of the shoot, I felt like I’ve brought some good into another’s life. We’re not merely making television or foolish entertainment. We’re helping a person get one major problem out of their life so they can focus on bigger issues. When we arrived his house looked like it was was the Douglas’ home on “Green Acres.”

I better wait until December to give you the real skinny. I worked with Paige Hemmis. And if you’re curious, she does wear a lot of pink in person. It’s like she should be sponsored by the pink fiberglass folks.

So I better not tell too many tales about what went on during the shoot - not yet. Is that enough teaser? You should be able to spot me in crowd scenes since that was the best place to hide from the camera. But I do have two other tales from the world of being the Creepy P.A.


Ever work with a man who cursed your life without him knowing it?

When I was in college, people used to compare me with professional know-it-all Cliff Clavin on “Cheers.” We both were notorious for being able to spout trivia at the drop of a beer coaster. Indeed I feared becoming Cliff so much that I retracted my job application at the Post Office when they were looking for Christmas help. I just couldn’t get that close to becoming that character. I didn’t want to live with my mom for the rest of my life.

I was hired to work on a video presentation about Smart Houses - wiring your house with copper so you can control every aspect of your life through remote control. Cliff…I mean, John Ratzenberger is the spokesman for them. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I feared we’d get into “the Incas actually were the first to…” matches. But John isn’t quite like Cliff.

First off, he’s grown a goatee. He looks like Cliff doing Shakespeare in the Park. He also didn’t wear a postal uniform. While he can’t carry mail, he showed me his Deputy badge for Allegheny County in Pennsylvania. I asked him why he didn’t arrest Tommy Maddox for impersonating a Steelers quarterback. He laughed. Although I was pretty serious about cuffing Maddox so his hands won’t be tempted to pick up a football.

At one point I was involved in cue cards for Ratz - we called him that whenever he was in his trailer. It was strange to think that there was Cliff reading my crummy handwriting. Yet, like a true master thespian, he was able to decipher my chicken scratch. No wonder he was nominated twice for an Emmy. And once when the wrong card went up, I learned that at least one person at Cheers knew my name.

What was interesting was that adults recognized Ratz from his 11 seasons on Cheers. The kids knew him as the voice of the pig from “Toy Story.” Geeks wanted to know what it was like to be in “Empire Strikes Back.” And freaks mentioned he was in “House II: The Second Story.”
Ratz appeals to everyone. I think he should run for senate. But he’s still a busy man.

Ratz’s big focus at the moment is “Made In America,” his show about American factories. He spoke of how he felt that Hollywood was demeaning to factories. We spoke about trying to do an episode about the company that makes the sabers for West Point cadets. Hopefully
something will come of it.

While some sitcom stars are prima donnas, Ratz did whatever was necessary to make the shoot work. When he realized his black shirt had a red pocket tag with a logo, he asked for my Sharpie and blacked it out. He knew how to make the people he was interviewing about their
houses feel relaxed. I doubt any of that footage will make it onto the final project.

While we didn’t have time to share a beer and chat, he did ask if I’d ever visited the Bull and Finch, the Boston bar that inspired Cheers. I recounted the night we stepped into the bar and two strides later hit the far wall. It’s a broom closet with a tap. “You’ve been there,” he replied.

It was hard to not think of him as Cliff. Indeed I started getting that George Wendt feeling. And when I finally recognized him as Ratz, during the middle of a take he unleashed, “Do it prah-pah. Make it Cah-pah!” He was Cliff. And I was eager to have a beer.


I’m hanging around one of NASCAR WInston Cup champion Terry LaBonte’s garage and it strikes me that this is the first grease monkey heaven I’ve visited that had a gift shop. Under the hot lights were Terry (champ in 1984 & 1996 in a Kelloggs car), his brother Bobby (champion
in 2000) and his son Justin. We were doing a PSA for the Coast Guard, Justin’s Busch car sponsor.

I showed up early and got a nice tour from the guy in charge of the Labonte’s three garages. He told me that the late great Dick Trickle had a working cigarette lighter in his car. The man was never seen without a smoke - which in a world that deals with gas being spilled around, shows what a thrillseeker Dick was. Remember when NASCAR was all about cigarettes? I hate how today’s NASCAR announcers declare former champs as “Nextel Cup Winners.” I saw Terry’s trophy case and the biggest cups read “Winston.” Will someone ever write a book entitled “When NASCAR was smoking?”

While you might be complaining about the price of gas, a gallon of the high test that goes into a NASCAR racer went for $6 pre-Katrina kick. While the juice is free on race day, you do get charged for the test laps.

Among the odd things found in the garage was Kenny Schrader’s old 36 M&Ms car (before Elliot Sadler took over the ride). Turns out Terry sends out old cars for exhibits at malls and such. In order to minimize expenses, the engine had been removed. That cuts down on idiot kids reaching in and cranking the engine.

The three LaBontes spent most of their downtime during the shoot trying to figure out their travel arrangements for the coming months. These guys don’t stay still for long. Terry has lightened his load running only selected races, but he was still crisscrossing the country. This
isn’t a sport for weekend cruisers anymore. The garage guy remembered back in the days when he’d help out as part of the pit crew. He didn’t seem to envy the guys hauling the tires over the wall today. They now practice everyday as they shave milli-seconds off the pit times.

I did ask Bobby about the tire blowouts at Charlotte Motorspeedway. He pointed out that most of the racers that had problems were notorious for tire difficulties cause they push the Goodyears in the wrong direction. The two brothers weren’t too gabby about NASCAR since they don’t want to get fined. Recently NASCAR hinted they might restrict the number of cars a race team can field. I joked with Terry that NASCAR might limit the number of racers with the same last name. He just smiled. Can the France family fine for smiles?

It was strange to be in a garage that was completely useless to my own car. There was nothing I could palm. Tires were already bald. And the extra hoods weren’t my color.

I’m not sure what the tour schedule of the garage is, but if you plan on visiting the High Point area to buy furniture, you might call over. Just don’t bring any smokes.


While theater goers get antsy in anticipation of Peter Jackson’s remake of “King Kong,” I’m getting a bigger buzz from the Kong-mania that’s flooding the DVD section of your local Big Box Store. Never in the history of DVDs has every major studio drafted on a blockbuster title.
Everyone is looking to make hairy big cash off the giant ape. And they can count on collecting a few dollars out of my wallet.

When I was a teen, Thanksgiving meant three things: Turkey, Godzilla and King Kong. Back when WOR was a real superstation on cable, this New York channel would bring a two day celebration known that would show the giant reptile and ape duking it out. It was a battle that took over the afternoons on both Thanksgiving and Big Sale Friday. They showed all the RKO movies and a few of the best Toho classics including Godzilla “Vs. The Smog Monster” and “Vs. Megalon.” But of course the highlight of the day was “King Kong Vs. Godzilla.” After a turkey leg and pumpkin pie, I was ready to pull the lever on the La-Z-Boy and watch a battle in the pits that was better than Lions Vs. Bears. This was as much a Corey family turkey day tradition as watching Jack Lord introduce the parade in Honolulu. Or taking bets that the Underdog balloon would get stuck on a lightpole during the Macy’s parade. But in 1985 WOR stopped running the love and it became a nostalgic memory. We were stuck watching the Lions suck. You can read about this beautiful moment in television history at Plus they have the newspaper ads.

Thankfully this year the folks at Warners have gotten smart and instead of waiting till Jackson’s Kong is released in December, a boxset featuring the original Kong and its spinoffs will be released on Nov. 22, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. I suspect somebody in Burbank had
cable. The boxset will contain “King Kong,” “Son of Kong” and “Mighty Joe Young.” All three films feature the miniature work of Willis H. O’Brien. There’s no CGI here. It was all about Willis moving the model around frame by frame. Besides the films, there’s also a feature length documentary about the making of the original Kong. Plus there’s an hour long documentary about Merian C. Cooper (who co-directed the film with Ernest B. Schoedsack). There’s also a special tin collection that just has “King Kong” DVDs and a bunch of reproduction items from
its original release - including an offer to get the movie poster.

Universal has also joined in WOR Turkey days memory by not only putting out “King Kong Vs. Godzilla,” but also including “King Kong Escapes.” Unfortunately it doesn’t hit the shelves until Nov. 29 so it won’t be in the DVD player on Pilgrim’s day. Even though Universal is on a
DVD-18 flipper disc binge, these films will each get their own DVD. I’ve been told these are the American cuts of the film. While some folks demand the uncut Toho versions, I want to see the versions I remember. Recently I rented “Godzilla Vs the Smog Monster” or Hedorah as he’s now called on this Sony release. It wasn’t nearly as freaky as the butcher AIP version. The Toho King Kong isn’t nearly as cool Willis’ work. But both DVDs can be nabbed for $14 total. Why nitpick?

Paramount brings us Dino DeLaurentiis’ 1976 remake of “King Kong” on Nov. 22. This is appears to be a repackaging of the DVD that’s been out for several years. But there’s a 3 hour cut of this movie that was used for TV runs so that it could be split in half allowing a TV station two nights at 2 hours. It would be nice if Paramount puts this out, but I can’t tell from the scant info the studio has released. It’s not hyped on the cover. Contrary to what people think, this remake was not a box office turkey. It made a tidy profit for Dino. When his Kong died, he cried all the way to the bank. Plus it was Oscar nominated. The film is noted for giving Jessica Lange her big break. She did an amazing job as Kong’s first girlfriend. The film brought Rick Baker to the public. The man would go on to win an armful of Oscars for his make up work. This wasn’t even his first Ape action - I liked how he transformed John Landis into “Schlock.”

Fox presents the follow up “King Kong Lives.” This is already on the shelf. I had a chance to talk to screenwriter Ronald Shusett (also co-wrote “Alien”) about how this project came about. Ronald said Dino had just passed on a script idea when he threw up a last gasp idea in order to get a gig. “How about a sequel to King Kong?” Ron suggested. Dino asked how could that be since King Kong died at the end of the film. “He gets an artificial heart!” Ron declared. Dino’s eyes lit up and he green lit the project. Ron left the office elated that he had made a deal and dreading that he had to figure out how to pull this off. The film has a soft spot in my heart because it was filmed in Wilmington and a couple pals showed up in crowd scenes. It also has
Linda Hamilton in the lead. I don’t think she puts this on her resume.

MGM-Sony goes across the Atlantic to present “Konga.” This formerly Midnite Movie VHS will be put out as a regular MGM DVD on Dec. 6. In this film a mad botanist returns to England with an African baby ape and strange plants. Guess what happens when he combines them? Well it’s a big monkey terrorizing London on the DVD cover. Sony is also putting out the complete animated King Kong series on Nov. 15. I don’t remember this cartoon as a kid. But judging from a few still captures - it looks really painful. Warners might out do the pain with “Kong: King of Atlantis” surfacing on Nov. 22. It’s animated feature about a Kloned Kong. How did we miss this at Oscar season?

What about Disney? You don’t remember them having a King Kong clone (although they did do that hideous “Mighty Joe Young” remake)? Well they don’t have one proper. But through Quentin Tarantino’s Rolling Thunder label, they’ll be pimping “Mighty Peking Man” in Kongmania. This Shaw Brothers flick shows that Hong Kong needed to get some King Kong lovin. Although it’s not quite Kong, it still features a blond and a giant ape and rampaging through a model community. You can get this for under $7.

The indie DVD players are also getting into the Kong action. Image Entertainment has “A*P*E.” If Ed Wood Jr. had found South Korean backers for a rip off of “King Kong,” this would be that movie. It so cheesy, it should have been shot in Wisconsin. There’s a great scene
where the guy in the really bad ape suit wrestles a rubber great white shark. It reminds me of the octopus scene in “Ed Wood.” I can almost see Johnny Depp near the camera asking that the monkey shakes the shark more to make it look alive. “Perfect!” It was also shot in 3-D although
the print on the DVD isn’t. So be impressed by stuff coming straight at your face. Joanna Kerns plays the blond that has ape troubles. You might remember her from Growing Pains as the mom. She went by Joanna DeVarona for this production - probably something to do with Witness protection. This is a film that needs to be relished for its badness. Damn shame Mystery Science Theater 3000 didn’t get to give this the “Manos” treatment. Image also gives us the double feature DVD featuring “Mighty Gorga” and “One Million AC/DC.” The second film is a caveman sex comedy done by Ed Wood Jr. “Mighty Gorga” is a guy in a really bad ape suit. Plus they also have the double bill of “Queen Kong” and “Kong Island” on a second collection.

Now you might be wondering, doesn’t it stink to be Peter Jackson and miss out on all this DVD action that’s tagging onto your marketing machine? Well don’t shed a tear for the Kiwi. He’s putting out “King Kong - Peter Jackson’s Production Diaries.” For under $30, you can buy
all the bonus features on Dec 13, right before the movie comes out.

When Peter Jackson’s Kong dies, everybody profits!


Did the NBA season really just start? Honestly I can’t remember who won last year’s title. Wasn’t the team that had the gal from Desperate Housewives sitting next to them? Speaking of that woman - why are we fascinated with such a lame celeb? Whenever I catch her on the
entertainment shows, she’s so dull. Bea Arthur’s farts give more personality on the red carpet. Well at least we know who will be turning the letters when Vanna White’s elbows give out.


Has anyone seen John Norris’s new rug? It’s Shatneriffic.


I’m watching “Catwoman” on HBO. This film was amazingly lame and stupid. Will the executives who greenlit this film please have their testicles removed. This isn’t entertainment - it’s inhuman. Where is a Senate subcommittee investigating how the American public was expected
to like this.


So I bought a box containing 11 packs of the second series of Wacky Packages - the next generation. And amazingly enough of the 67 stickers, I had a complete set of 55. Pretty frightening when that works out. The best card of this batch is “Count Funkula.” This time he
has only one gold tooth. I’m still not sure why the Count Chocula went monotooth. Nobody at General Mills will go on record to the bad oral hygiene from their bloodsucking superstar. I also nailed a magnet containing the classic “Hawaiian Punks.” The weird thing is that the bonus card if you buy the big box at WalMart is “Poop on Pop.” This has to be the grossest Wacky Package ever. Look it up on google images.


I’m not catching on to any of the new shows. Who thought “Freddie” would be entertaining? I’m also disgusted at “Run’s House” cause it’s so staged that he should move to Laguna Beach. Something sad in seeing a once badass rapper turned into a lame version of Bill Cosby. Do I
really need to see this much of his life? And I’m not buying the woman president show. How about a show about a drunk jerk who finds himself as the president? Imagine him showing up in the New Orleans destruction and demand “No boobies - no FEMA!” Why doesn’t HBO put on “The Horny President?” What if a Billy Carter won the election? How about they mom got their names confused and it turns out America didn’t elect the sensible brother?


Has anyone bought the Kabballah vs. Scientology chess set?


Somebody at Paramount needs to get a nice fat gutshot for the “War of the Worlds” Special Edition DVD of the George Pal version. They did an amazing job of cleaning up the image and giving us a great vibrate image. But someone didn’t notice that they also made every wire holding up the space ships visible. It’s so tacky that Ed Wood would call it amateur hour. While I’m normally not one for CGI on classic films, it ould have been nice if they’d hid the wires.


Did you notice that after the big oil companies confessed to their record profits that prices at the pumped dropped. This must be part of their distract us with little drops. You can’t blame big oil for sticking it to us - they have to pay for the 2006 elections. Graft don’t come cheap in the 21st century.


Why exactly is the Underdog show on Boomerang missing all the opening themes to the various cartoons? It’s insane, I say. Are they just trying to save a dollar by not paying the songwriters? I want my real theme to Commander McBragg.


You have been given the baby version. It’s the one that appeals to the MPAA and the networks. But don’t worry cause Steve-O is coming.


The next column will be coming from Graceland. Seriously. We’re going to Graceland! Graceland! Graceland, Tennessee!

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