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Tibby’s Bowl Online Entertainment Magazine » 2005 » December
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THE MONEY PIT - 12/23/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 23, 2005 at 10:43 pm)

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The second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc has come to a close, and we’re all packing up for the annual decompression of a week sans work, eager to recharge our batteries and just get the hell out of Dodge – you know… the true meaning of the season.

Every once in awhile, you run across something that just knocks your socks off – almost literally. The kind of uber-cool item that makes you wonder what the world would be like without something so wonderful in it, and happy that that’s not the case. That was my instant reaction when I held the very first full-size collection of Winsor McCay’s groundbreaking comic strip Little Nemo in Slumberland (Sunday Press Books, $120). Printed in the massive tabloid size in which the original Sundays ran (16”x21”), McCay’s artwork is a wonder to behold, particularly with the restoration undertaken here. Editor Peter Maresca has set a new standard for the presentation of classic comic strips that surpasses even the groundbreaking work done recently by Fantagraphics on Peanuts and Dennis the Menace. I simply can not find the words to gush about this beautiful collection more. I can think of no better gift for the comics fan in your life (or for yourself) than this edition, and I fervently hope they’ve got more up heir sleeve. Also available is a tabloid size 15-month calendar ($22.95) with choice images sure to make the passing of each month a delight to behold.

If all this talk of Nemo has gotten you interested to learn more about the artist behind the strip – and the first animated cartoon character, Gertie the Dinosaur – you should definitely pick up animation historian John Canemaker’s Winsor McCay: His Life and Art (Abrams, $45.00 SRP). As comprehensive as his other (must-have) art tomes, and the perfect companion to the Nemo book.

Animation fans will kick themselves if they pass up the latest wave of Disney Treasures (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$32.95 SRP each), full of gems culled from the Disney vaults and presented by film historian Leonard Maltin. The latest wave (of what one hopes is many more to come) contains the complete Adventures of Spin & Marty from The Mickey Mouse Club, The Swamp Fox, Disney Rarities (which more than lives up to its title, collecting odds and ends that don’t readily fit into other sets, such as the Alice comedies of the 20’s and various one shot shorts and featurettes, like Ben & Me), and the second volume of The Chronological Donald Duck (which encapsulates his wartime period up until the latter part of the 40’s – all amazing). Bonus features include introductions from Maltin, audio commentaries, featurettes (including a long-overdue spotlight of Carl Barks on the Donald set), and still galleries.

No matter how many TV shows there have been released to DVD in the last few years, there are still hundreds more – some short-lived gems, some forgotten classics – that remain unreleased. Filling that niche with a little of both of those categories is the recently launched S’More Entertainment, which inaugurates their offerings with the first 26 episodes of Wally Cox’s memorable 50’s sitcom Mr. Peepers (S’More, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), plus the entire run of Dom Deluise’s foray into television comedy (from Carl Reiner, Bill Pesky, and Sam Denoff, no less), Lotsa Luck (S’More, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP). Both sets feature the original pilots, interviews, and more. I can’t wait to see what else S’More has up their sleeves…

I know there are plenty of fervent, over-the-top fans out there (I was going to make a “Brown-nose” joke here, but I won’t), but I never liked Firefly. At all. I tried to – particularly since I was a big fan of both Buffy (before it crapped out something fierce in its final, pathetic season) and Angel (which managed to get even better as it went along) – but I just felt that Firefly was an overwrought, too-affected attempt at doing “different” sci-fi. While nothing to write home about, I will say that I enjoyed the big screen outing, Serenity (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP), more than its TV roots. Regardless of what I say, though, the Brownies will want to snap up this edition, full of deleted scenes, outtakes, featurettes, and a commentary and intro from Joss Whedon.

If you want a shortcut to remind you what the big “event” was in ER’s fourth season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), that was the year of the “live” premiere episode, “Ambush.” The clock was also ticking on George Clooney’s exit, and you could feel the strings being pulled to facilitate his exit. Oh – and the pain in the… you know… Dr. Elizabeth Corday (Alex Kingston) made her debut. So there you go. Bonus features include a pair of featurettes on the live show, deleted scenes, and the always-welcome gag reel.

Plan 9 from Outer Space (Legend Films, Not Rated, $19.95) is every bit as bad as every cliché has made it out to be – but it’s also of the “laughably bad” vein of campy bad, that’s sure to make you laugh at the wretched abomination unspooling before you. This new edition features both a restored version of the black & white original, plus a colorized print utilizing Legend’s quite good colorization technique. Long avoided by the folks at MST3K because it was just “too easy,” this edition gives you the next best thing, courtesy of an audio commentary from Mike Nelson. The disc also features rare Ed Wood home movies, commercials, deleted scenes, the trailer, and the “Lost Plans 1-8.” If you order directly from Legend’s site, you can get an edition signed by Mike Nelson himself.

It literally does seem like forever, but the next installment of the deluxe Simpsons episode guide – The Simpsons One Step Beyond Forever : A Complete Guide to Our Favorite Family…Continued Yet Again (Harper Collins, $14.95 SRP), covering seasons 13 & 14 – has finally been released. Of course, as Simpsons fans, you’re also obligated to buy Comic Book Guy’s Book of Pop Culture and The Ralph Wiggum Book (Harper Collins, $9.95 SRP each), both from the recently launched Simpsons Library of Wisdom. The power of Ralph compels you.

Okay, well, I gave it another shot, but I still can’t muster any interest in the reimagined Battlestar Galactica, particularly in the water-treading second season (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). I know there are fans that are absolutely gaga over it, feeling it’s some kind of brilliant piece of sci-fi television… And all I can say is, okay, good for you. I’m glad you like it. The second season set features all 10 episodes, plus the podcast commentaries originally available on the website, and deleted scenes.

The perennially downtrodden Salinger clan is back for the complete second season of Party of Five (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), in a season in which just about everyone’s hopes and dreams are shattered, and they even lose the family restaurant. Things would only go from bad to worse in coming years when Charlie finds himself stranded on a Pacific island. Bonus features include cast & crew commentaries and an interview with Jennifer Love Hewitt.

You know, it’s getting that I’m leery to buy any new DVD nowadays, for fear that my purchase will soon be obsolete (and my money wasted) when a new uber-edition of said flick is released. Such is the case with the new 2-disc “Razzle-Dazzle Edition” of Chicago (Miramax, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP), which boasts an audio commentary with Rob Marshall & Bill Condon, a deleted musical number, a history of the musical, extended musical performances, production featurettes, and more. Sheesh.

Like a one-woman show with heavy make-up, Tracey Takes On found Tracey Ullman “taking on” a different topic in each episode, exploring it with a clutch of characters that ranged from a young girl to a swarthy male cab driver. The topics ran the full gamut from death & fame to family & royalty, featured a bevy of guest stars (Michael Palin, Jon Favreau, Hugh Laurie, Tobey Maguire, Cheech Marin, Michael McKean) and were usually quite facile in their satire. The 3-disc first season set (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) features all 10 episodes, plus Tracey Takes On New York, shorts, and a character slide show.

Featuring essentially the same bonus materials as the original Ultimate Toy Box release, the main selling point of the new Toy Story 2 special edition (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – if you don’t already own the flick) is the remastered sound and picture, which manages to improve on the already stellar old release. There’s also a sneak peek at the next Pixar opus, Cars.

Fans of light opera and Monty Python will probably snap up the release of the 1987 televised performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP), featuring Eric Idle as the “Lord High Executioner” Ko-Ko. Bonus materials include a making-of featurette and cast bios.

While not offensive (read: Ephron-esque), there’s nothing terribly noteworthy as the by-the-numbers romantic comedy Must Love Dogs (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.95 SRP), about a divorced pre-school teacher (Diane Lane) who uses an online service to try and find a man. Unbelievably, she passes up Mr. Right (John Cusack)… or does she? Aren’t you… intrigued? Watch the movie! Bonus features include a gag reel, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and the theatrical trailer.

From its earliest domestic role to its global power position, the wonderfully comprehensive 5-part Battle History of the United States Military (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) more than lives up to its title, going in-depth on the history and development of each branch of the U.S. Military. Via combat footage and commentary from historians and veterans, it’s a historical document par excellence.

I’ve been in a documentary mood lately, and was particularly interested in a pair that looked at the dark underside of US history. Unfinished Business (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) looks at the Japanese-American internment camps set up during WWII hysteria to house American citizens guilty of nothing but their ethnic heritage, and a trio of resistors who refused to submit to the relocation order – and were subsequently convicted and imprisoned. The other film, A Time for Burning (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP), focuses on all-white Omaha, Nebraska Lutheran church in whose progressive pastor tried to convince his parishioners to reach out to their fellow black Lutherans sin the mod-60’s. Powerful stuff.

When faced with life as a quadriplegic – be it from an accident, a gunshot, or an infection – there are those whose lives collapse, there are those who soldier on, and there are those who, literally, grab life by the ball via an intense form of rugby dubbed Murderball (ThinkFilms, Rated R, DVD-$29.99 SRP). This documentary tells the story of the world-class athletes who refuse to lie down, but instead engage in gladiatorial combat with every bit as much passion and intensity as their bipedal equals. The DVD features commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, the Jackass Murderball special, and more.

The seemingly-random murder of their adoptive mother in a convenience store sends Four Brothers (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP) - Mark Wahlberg, Garrett Hedlund, Tyrese Gibson & Andre Benjamin - on the path of vengeance, but they soon uncover a tangled criminal web involving a local kingpin. A great ensemble and a tight little script make for a nice flick worth spinning. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

There’s no understanding many of the tensions still in pay in the modern middle east without a full understanding of the conflicts that shaped the middle ages – and the 2-disc The Crusades: Crescent & The Cross (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) does a great job of summing up the political, cultural, and religious tapestry that comprised the First, Second, and Third Crusades. The set also features a behind-the-scenes featurette and a bonus documentary on the Knights Templar.

In a casting move that is still a welcome surprise, the fourth season of The Shield (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), Glenn Close joined the cast as Monica Rawling, the new, take-no-guff captain. Vic & Shane are stuck on regular detective duty after the dissolution of the Strike Team, and run smack into Rawling’s agenda. The 4-disc set features all 13 episodes, plus audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and a documentary.

Like a goth cross between David Blaine and David Copperfield, Criss Angel’s death-defying stunts in the first season set of Mindfreak (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP) are enough of an oooo-ahhh spectacle to give enough bang for your buck. With celebrity guests including Mandy Moore and Penn & Teller, it’s got the street-cred necessary to erase those pesky Blaine comparisons… Because we all know what an A-class magician Mandy Moore is. The 2-disc set features all 15 episodes, plus audio commentaries, an interview, interactive illusions, and a guide to creating your own illusions.

It was never the greatest of sci-fi series, but the fact that its cast was headed by Roy Scheider always left a warm spot in my heart for the adventures of SeaQuest DSV (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). It was also a unique show, in that instead of exploring the outermost reaches of space, the crew of the SeaQuest explored the uncharted depths of the Earth’s oceans while defending the 21st century’s nascent undersea colonies from unknown dangers. The complete first season set features all 23 episodes, plus over 30 minutes of deleted scenes.

If there’s one major lesson to be taken from the story of grizzly expert and wildlife preservationist Timothy Treadwell – as documented in Werner Herzog’s mesmerizing Grizzly Man (Lions Gate, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP) – it’s a respect for nature. Maybe that’s because Treadwell – who lived unarmed amongst his beloved Grizzlies for 13 summers – was eventually mauled and eaten by one, in an event which was actually documented. You (thankfully) don’t hear that audio, but you do see Herzog listening to it… And his facial reactions are more than enough. As far as bonus features go, all you get is a lengthy doc on the flick’s music.

Like kryptonite, despite my higher-than-thou, deep-seated obligatory distaste for the lowbrow entertainment that is America’s Funniest Home Videos, if it comes on, I can’t take my eyes off of it. My will is even weaker when confronted by the subject matter of the 3-disc collection AFV: The Best of Kids & Animals (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). You just try and resist something as sublime as the bat (or anything else) to the groin.



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THE MONEY PIT - 12/16/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 16, 2005 at 10:39 pm)

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The second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc just keeps rolling along. You have been checking them out, right? Right? Do it!

The mystery of “Who Shot Mr. Burns” is resolved as the seventh season of The Simpsons (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) hits DVD, which also features the shooting of the Radioactive Man film, Lisa’s vegetarian conversion, Troy McClure’s courtship of Selma (“I love you, Dr. Zaius!”), Homer becoming Smithers, and much more. By now, you pretty much know the bonus features on these sets include audio commentaries on every episode, deleted scenes, an intro from Matt Groening, illustrated commentary, galleries, and a few easter eggs.

When word came down that Family Guy would be returning to the air with new episodes after being cancelled a few years back, my reaction was decidedly mixed. I loved Family Guy, but as with anything great that returns after a substantial break, there’s a fear that the spark will be gone, and the result will be less than pleasant. Well, that it would suck, really. Amazingly – and thankfully – that was not the case, and it’s like they literally picked right back up where they left off. In fact, in the 13 episodes featured in the new Family Guy: Volume 3 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), I can’t really name any stinkers. Oh, and even better, they’re all uncensored, with some containing additional footage cut by the network. Bonus features include audio commentaries (one of which, honestly, sports James Woods), a featurette on the show’s popularity, deleted scenes animatics, multi-angle table reads, storyboard/animatic comparisons, and a featurette on the show’s music.

It was a long time coming, but if you’re picking up the 3rd volume of Family Guy (technically the show’s 4th season), you’ll want to snag a copy of Family Guy: The Official Episode Guide (Harper, $18.95 SRP), which is packed with synopses and trivia about the show’s first 3 seasons (done in a similar style to the Simpsons episode guides.

Though I was largely unimpressed with the largely improvised Anchorman, I completely dug the similarly made 40-Year-Old Virgin (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), starring Steve Carell as the titular man-child. More intimate with his game console than the female form, his friends decide that it’s high time he got to know the opposite sex, so they conspire to get him… acquainted. I could dance around the word “laid” all night. The “Unrated” DVD features 17 additional minutes that, thankfully, never feel like padding, plus additional deleted footage and a dinner between co-star Seth Rogan and adult film star Stormy Daniels. Both the regular and unrated editions feature deleted footage, multiple audio commentaries, a gag reel, featurettes, and more.

The remarkable thing about Degrassi: The Next Generation is that it managed to update a groundbreaking concept - of attempting to portray high school life in a realistic fashion - and push the boundary even further, without seeming salacious or unrealistic (i.e. any WB show or The OC). That it also treated the original Degrassi as canon – bringing many of the actors back as their original characters – was also a delightful plus. Before you dig into the next generation, though, pick up the complete collection of the original Degrassi Junior High (WGBH, Not Rated, $99.95 SRP), featuring all 42 episodes from all 3 seasons, plus new documentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more. Once you’ve done that, you’ll next want to catch up on the complete first season of The Next Generation (Funimation, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) – featuring extended director’s cuts, deleted scenes, bloopers, and more – so you can fully enjoy longtime-Degrassi fanatic Kevin Smith’s dream come true, as he brings Jason Mewes along to star in a 3-episode arc that finds the geek auteur north of the border to film a movie in which their alter-egos must go back to high school. Jay & Silent Bob Do Degrassi: The Next Generation (Funimation, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) contains those episodes, plus commentary, additional footage, bloopers, an interview with Smith, and more.

As flawed as it is – and it’s not even comparable to his best – there’s still a macabre fun to Terry Gilliam’s The Brothers Grimm (Miramax, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP), which stars Heath Ledger and Matt Damon as the titular brothers, who travel the German countryside conning towns into paying them to rid their area of spirits and witches. Wouldn’t you know it, they inevitably are forced to confront a legitimate supernatural force deep in a haunted wood. Just check it out… Keep your expectations in check and you’ll probably be pleasantly surprised. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Gilliam, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Mad Max may have brought Mel Gibson to audiences, but it was Peter Weir’s drama about the real-life disaster that was Australia’s WWII battle of Gallipoli (Paramount, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP) that proved the young Aussie could act. The new special edition features an in-depth 6 part making-of documentary and the original theatrical trailer.

If you only know Elton John from his hits – or from the pabulum that represented nearly all of his 80’s and 90’s work – than you’ll find much of his early catalogue a revelation. If you think I’m wrong, check out the new 2-disc deluxe edition of his and lyricist Bernie Taupin’s autobiographical opus Captain Fantastic & the Brown Dirt Cowboy (Island, $29.98 SRP). Completely remastered, it charts the John’s & Taupin’s ascendancy from obscurity to stardom, from journeymen musicians to rock & roll legends. In addition to the original album and 4 bonus tracks, the second disc contains the 1975 “Midsummer Music” performance of the entire album at London’s Wembley Stadium (a start-to-finish play with energy to spare). Also available is special collector’s edition of his latest album, Peachtree Road (Rocket, $19.98 SRP) (which, like Songs from the West Coast, is a refreshing return his 70’s roots), featuring a trio of bonus tracks from the stage musical version of Billy Elliott, plus a bonus DVD shot live in Atlanta, 2004. Both are highly recommended.

Based on Frank Miller’s noir-heavy comic series, Sin City tells a batch of interwoven tales all linked to the corrupt, decadent pit that is Basin City. Crooked cops, sexy dames, violent sociopaths, tough-as-nails strongmen, and more come together in an unforgettable mix of grit and grim, brought to dark life by an all-star cast that includes Bruce Willis, Elijah Wood, Jessica Alba, and Mickey Rourke. You’re free to feel just a little bit screwed if you picked up the original lackluster release a few months back, because here’s the deluxe special edition – Recut-Extended-Remastered (Miramax, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) – wherein co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Miller revisit the film with an expanded cut and 2 discs worth of goodies, including audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, bloopers, and trailers. Also included is a pocket-sized edition of the Sin City graphic novel The Hard Goodbye. See… that’ll teach you to be patient.

Billy Bob Thornton continues the crotchety trend started with Bad Santa and Friday Night Lights by assuming the role of caustic little league coach Morris Buttermaker in the quite enjoyable remake of The Bad News Bears (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP) - a role made famous by Walter Matthau in the 1976 original - who somehow manages to whip a raucous group of misfit kids into a successful team. Bonus features include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, outtakes, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

The late 60’s and early 70’s were full of iconic rock & roll concerts – the era closing with The Band’s The Last Waltz. One of those documents was filmed as part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs & Englishmen tour in the US, with guests Leon Russell and Rita Coolidge. Always a livewire, Cocker was amped to the max during a setlist that included classic renditions of “Feelin’ Alright” and “With a Little Help from My Friends.” A remastered 2-disc deluxe edition of the soundtrack is now out (A&M, $29.98 SRP), along with a remastered edition of the film itself (Universal Music, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP).

Next in an ever-expanding web of diminishing returns, the dim-witted former-henchman-turned-cook from The Emperor’s New Groove (voiced by Patrick Warburton) gets a groove of his own in Kronk’s New Groove (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP), as he worries about looking good for his father’s impending visit, which is compounded by the return of the sly enchantress Yzma. Despite my distaste for these cheapquels, Patrick Warburton’s performance as Kronk makes this thing worth watching. You lone noteworthy bonus feature is a making-of featurette.

The greatest disappointment of the CG-animated Valiant (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) – which focuses on a flock of carrier pigeons during WWII – is that is squanders a simply amazing voice cast with a by-the-numbers script and mediocre design and animation. That voice cast includes Ewan McGregor, Ricky Gervais, John Cleese, Tim Curry, Hugh Laurie, Jim Broadbent… The mind boggles at what a classic would have been wrought were this but a better flick. As far as bonus features, all you’ve got are bloopers.

It was during the 5th season of The Dukes of Hazzard (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) that contract negotiations with stars Tom Wopat and John Schneider broke down, leading to their replacement with the ersatz Duke cousins, Coy and Vance. Suffice to say, people were not happy with the low-rent good ol’ boys, and those pesky contract negotiations were quickly resolved before the end of the season, leading to the return of Bo & Luke, Bonus features this go-round include a reunion of the show’s stunt team and a visit to Ben Jones’ (Cooter) Hazzard shrine.

A true historical document, Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Book (Abrams, $24.95 SRP) gets a 10 ¾ anniversary edition with a new introduction from Terry Jones and Brian Froud, a brand new section, and even a bonus DVD. The perfect companion piece, naturally, is Lady Cottington’s Pressed Fairy Letters (Abrams, $19.95 SRP).

In an age of dwindling shelf space in bricks & mortar retailers, record companies are allowing more and more titles from artists’ back catalogues to go out of print. As a way to compensate for the loss of many of those titles – and to fill consumers’ eternal desire for quick & easy greatest hits collections – Universal Music initiated their line of 2-disc Gold releases, which feature not only the standard hits, but also album cuts and rarities. Their like a box-set, lite. The latest artists to get the Gold treatment are Pete Townshend, Cat Stevens, Buddy Holly, the Neville Brothers, and a collection of Southern Rock greats (Universal, $19.98 SRP each). If you want a nice overview at a reasonable price, these can’t be beat.

Of course, there is another option for those of you still keen on full albums, and that’s the 3-disc Chronicles releases (Universal Music, $29.98 SRP each), which contain a trio of an artist’s albums in one complete package. Recently, I’ve checked out their releases for The Moody Blues (featuring Days of Future Passed, In Search of the Lost Chord, & On the Threshold of a Dream) and Elton John (Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, & Madman Across the Water. And since the holidays are still in full swing, they’ve also got a Merry Christmas Chronicles, with over 40 holiday classics.

Messrs. Crockett & Tubbs return with the second trend-setting season of Miami Vice (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP), which again shelled out the big-bucks to ensure that every single bit of original music was cleared – no easy feat when the bands include U2 and The Who. Considering the cost, it’s no surprise that all you’re getting is just the 22 episodes and no bonus features.

Mystery writer Jessica Fletcher returns like a grim reaper to the lives of her closest friends in the complete second season of Murder She Wrote (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). With the trail of corpses she’s left behind her, I’m still stunned that anyone would give her the time of day. Not even Tom Bosley could see through her genial façade.

Longtime West Wing fans tend to agree that the show hit its nadir during the scattered, unfocused 5th season (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP). In fact, in a season marked by a whole lot of “huh,” the only thing that really sparked were the guest appearances by John Goodman and Glenn Close. It would take another year before the show started to click again. Bonus features include a pair of documentaries profiling both President Bartlett and Martin Sheen, A breakdown of the episode “Gaza,” a trio of audio commentaries, and unaired scenes.

Just when I was going to give up hope of it ever coming out, we finally get the second Gargoyles release, collecting the first half (26 episodes) of the lengthy second season (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Bonus features include episode introductions from creator Greg Weisman, audio commentaries, and “The Gathering of the Cast & Crew” featurette.

It seems any American dynasty with an offbeat job can get their family a camera and a series commitment, and such is the case of the Evangelistas, whose lives are the focus of Family Bonds (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). They’re not morticians – as you might have guessed from the title, they’re a family of bail bondsmen. I eagerly await when a series is greenlit focusing on the lives of a family of attention-seekers. The 2-disc complete first season set features all 10 episodes, plus commentary, featurettes, and a photo gallery.

This week’s soundtrack round-up features Patrick Doyle’s score for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner, $18.98 SRP) – which also contains the flick’s songs from the ball – and Alexandre Desplat’s score for Syriana (RCA Red Seal, $18.98 SRP).

Am I wrong for liking Gilmore Girls (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP)? I think it must be a combination of the snappy writing and the actors that make this a show that, while not appointment viewing, is always refreshing when I catch it. The 5th season meant a whole lot of good for Lorelai (the success of the Dragonfly Inn) and a whole lot of hurt for Rory (college, boys, and a career plan in flames). Bonus features include an audio commentary and featurettes on the 100th episode.

Nobody did low-budget like Roger Corman, as you will experience most viscerally with a quartet of re-released Corman “classics” replete with special edition bells & whistles, including commentaries, retrospective featurettes, and trailers. The films in question are Death Race 2000 (with David Carradine), Big Bad Mama (Shatner, people), Rock ‘n’ Roll High School (The Ramones!), and Dinocroc (Buena Vista, Rated R/PG, DVD-$19.99 SRP each).



Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 12/09/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 9, 2005 at 10:35 pm)

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Please tell me you’ve been partaking of the second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc gifts. There’s some cool stuff that has already hit, and plenty more surprises on the way.

It isn’t often that I’m not only impressed with, but also duly enraptured by, a DVD release. It just doesn’t happen… Admittedly, I’m just too jaded. So what managed to crack that thick, grizzled façade? The deluxe limited edition presentation of Peter Jackson’s King Kong Production Diaries (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP). Unless you’ve been living in a netless hole, you’ll know that the uber-fan-friendly Jackson has been extensively chronicling the making of his epic Kong via online web diaries that literally went into every nook and cranny of the process, often with a chummy, insider-y flair (as opposed to the much more sterile approach taken by other productions). On the eve of his Kong’s release, those diaries (54 segments totaling over 3 ½ hours) have been collected in this 2-disc set, presented in a oversize box meant to emulate a piece of luggage belonging to adventurer/filmmaker Carl Denham (played in the film by Jack Black). Inside, you’ll find the 2-discs, plus a 52-page production memoir (filled with behind-the-scenes photos, drawings, and info). Sweetening the deal, there’s also a quartet of art prints featuring some stunning production paintings (along with a numbered certificate of authenticity). If I wasn’t already interested in seeing the flick, this set would certainly seal the deal. Kudos to Jackson for making the filmmaking process fun again. See, I’m not all that jaded.

When I first listened to former-Monkee, country-rock pioneer, and all-around experimentalist Michael Nesmith’s new album, Rays (Nezcreative, $-TBD), I really didn’t know what to think. At first, admittedly, I was baffled – mostly instrumental with only two tracks one could legitimately identify as pop songs (the title cut and the closer, “Follow the Heart”), I really didn’t know what to make of it. My first reaction, post-bafflement, was that it was like I was listening to the soundtrack to a movie that didn’t exist, except as this aural document. There’s a definite mood to each piece, be it jubilant or contemplative. Like Nez albums before it, you can sense an exploration of various forms – including a countrified techno that crops up… Call it Ranch House music. Still, underlying it all, Nez’s stamp is clear and consistent – there’s no mistaking what you hear as coming from any other artist. If I have one complaint - minor, granted – it’s that I’d like to hear some of these tracks as rendered by a live band. Produced almost single-handedly by Nez, there’s extensive use of synths (something I’ve never been fond of). Given to a crackerjack backing band, I think these tunes would soar. As it stands, though, it’s a refreshingly idiosyncratic experiment worth a spin. Limited edition pre-release versions of the album (along with collector exclusives) have been selling out left & right at the official site, NezRays.com, and while the commercial CD won’t be available until April 1, it will be hitting iTunes on January 3rd. In the meantime, you can listen to an exclusive cut from the album (and greeting from Nez) as part of our Holiday Havoc celebration by clicking here

Kenny Vs. Spenny (VSC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) is a truly guilty pleasure, in that it unfortunately reveals – in stark reality – the sad, pathetic competitive nature that makes idiots of even the brightest men. In this series, best friends Kenny Hotz and Spencer Rice engage in the most inane of head-to-head competitions – from best sperm count and best peeing to best female impersonation. It’s madness, but so very accurate. The 3-disc set features all 24 first season episodes, plus audio commentary on a pair of episodes, clips from the international versions of the show, and their brilliant exploration of one of Hollywood’s worst catch-22’s, Pitch.

By no means an unflattering portrait, when Imagine (Warner Bros., Rated R, $19.97 SRP) was made in 1988, John Lennon had yet to make the transformation into St. John, unassailable purveyor of peace and artistic genius. What this film presents, then, is John Lennon the artist and man – flawed, brilliant, and utterly human. For that reason alone, it’s worthy viewing. The most poignant moment, though, is when a young man, obviously on a bit of a head trip spiritual journey, show up at Lennon’s Tittenhurst mansion in the early 70’s, under the delusion that Lennon’s songs were a deeply personal story about him… That somehow Lennon was writing for and about this stranger’s particular journey through life. To see Lennon on his porch, trying to tell this man that the songs were not grand statements about anything more important than Lennon’s life, right down to the mundane – including pointing out that a perceived profundity was merely a nonsense song – is a revelation. You literally see this young man’s delusions breaking down as Lennon speaks – quite kindly to him, as Yoko looks on. And then John asks him if he’s hungry. The man, obviously shaken, says yes… And Lennon invites him in for tea. To think that this is the same grounded, open, and inviting Lennon who was gunned down by another crazed fan while signing an autograph right outside his apartment building in NY… Well, I think you should draw your own profun-ditty. Bonus materials include a brief making-of featurette, Island House footage from the Tittenhurst Estate, a BBC Radio interview with Lennon, an interview with his elementary school headmaster, and a never-before-released acoustic guitar version of “Imagine.”

I admit, though it’s far from a good movie, I have a very special place in my heart for the Salkind’s over-the-top holiday epic Santa Claus: The Movie (Anchor Bay, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Only in the 80’s could a film about the origin of Santa Claus, his eventual betrayal by a tech-savvy elf (Dudley Moore), and his holiday struggle against a greedy businessman intent on owning Christmas (John Lithgow, in full slimy villain mode) be made. It’s gloriously full of itself, and a perfect companion to timeless “classics” like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. The 20th Anniversary Edition features remastered sound & picture, an audio commentary with director Jeannot Szwarc & Special Projects Consultant Scott Michael Bosco, a making-of featurette, and the US and foreign theatrical trailers.

You know, when I see a garbage adaptation like the big screen take on Marvel’s flagship title, Fantastic Four (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP), it makes me want to slap Marvel “guru” Avi Arad (as it so tackily – and falsely – claims on the disc’s cover) upside the head with a sense stick. Even then, I’m sure he’d repeat his belief that this was actually a good film, instead of a garish, poorly written, badly directed piece of trash that would surely make Joel Schumacher happy that his school of superhero filmmaking still has devotees. As far as bonus features (sadly, a better film – heck, even the Corman one – are not included), you get a cast commentary, a video diary, deleted scenes, a making-of featurette, Fox Movie Channel behind-the-scenes featurettes, music videos, trailers, and a featurette with Arad showcasing Marvel’s upcoming trainwreck, the Brett Ratner directed X3.

In the fourth season of 24 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$69.98 SRP), Jack Bauer has another one of those days as terrorist cells begin attacking America, leaving all the “save the day” heavy-lifting to the hardest working agent in America. Can’t the guy ever – ever – catch a break? Maybe a day off? How about that for Season 6? Bonus features include audio commentaries, an exclusive mini-episode bridging the seasons, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and “24 Conspiracy” promos.

And with Peter Jackson’s - retelling? reimagining? remake? – of King Kong fast-approaching its arrival in cinemas, now’s the right time to bone up on your knowledge of the great ape via King Kong: The History of a Movie Icon – From Fay Wray to Peter Jackson (Applause Books, $19.95 SRP).

It was during the second season of Roseanne (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) that the show really began firing and found the voice that would carry it through nine mostly-classic seasons. Even better, Carsey-Werner finally got their heads out of their collective places where heads need not venture and made sure the episodes are completely uncut this go-round (the season one set featured edited syndication cuts – the schmucks). Also included is a new interview with John Goodman, his audition tape, footage from the first season’s launch party, and more.

You know what the holiday season needs? It needs a complete set of MTV’s now-legendary Jackass (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$54.99 SRP), complete with tons of unreleased skits, audio commentaries from the gang of idiots, a 40-minute “Where Are They Now?” documentary, Jackass episode of Cribs, the entire Gumball Rally special, and much more. You know you want it. Don’t worry… We won’t tell anyone.

Maverick was all well and good, but James Garner became a TV legend with the ex-con-turned-private-investigator Jim Rockford in The Rockford Files (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Aces at cracking cases thought long-dead, Rockford was an off-kilter PI quick with a joke and more keen on R&R than actually working. The 3-disc set features all 23 first season episodes, plus an exclusive interview with Garner reminiscing about the genesis of Rockford. My one complaint – why can’t Universal wake up and realize no one likes the d*** flipper discs?

Director Ron Howard spins an old-fashioned tale of the “sweet science” in Cinderella Man (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$44.95 SRP), re-teaming with star Russell Crowe to present the Depression-era comeback of underdog boxer Jim Braddock in a guts and glory feel-good biopic that aims to get you cheering for Braddock’s odds-defying climb, eventually duking it out with heavyweight champ Max Baer (Craig Bierko) in a match that made boxing history. Unfortunately, we’re into Ron Howard maudlin, soft-focus biopic territory, and the Oscar-desperation literally drips from the flick… Which is a shame, because Crowe is in top form here. The 3-disc deluxe collector’s edition features an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, Crowe’s video diary, and more.

No matter what anyone said over the years, once the remake of “Do They Know It’s Christmas” happened last year, it was only a matter of time before (Sir) Bob Geldof decided the time was right to do another mega-concert in the vein of the legendary Live Aid. The goal this time around, however, was not to stump for donations – Live 8 (Capital, Not Rated, DVD-$50.98 SRP) was intended to raise awareness about the terrible burden of African debt while the G8 economic conference was meeting in Scotland. Like any good socially provocative outing, it attracted a large number of iconic (and up-and-coming) acts, from U2 and Coldplay to Paul McCartney and Robbie Williams (plus a “where did that come from and when did hell freeze over” one-off Pink Floyd reunion). A very nice representation of the extensive worldwide performances are included n the 4-disc Live 8 set – enough, at least, that no one will feel cheated. Also available is Live 8 at Eden: Africa Calling (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), a 2-disc set which focuses on the African portion of the worldwide event, including a behind-the-scenes documentary.

Gas up the General Lee and head back to Hazzard County as the Duke boys (Johnny Knoxville & Seann William Scott) run moonshine for their Uncle Jesse (Willie Nelson) and must thwart the evil Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) in his diabolical plan to turn Hazzard into a strip mine in the you-know-it-had-to-happen-eventually big screen Dukes of Hazzard (Warner Bros., Not Rated, $29.98 SRP). Oh, and let us not forget Daisy Duke (Jessica Simpson)… As if you could. It’s southern fried pap, but it’s not like you have anything better to do. Bonus features include additional footage, gag reels, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the obligatory Jessica Simpson music video.

The fat cat is back, with a pair of releases sure to please any aficionado of lasagna-loving striped tabbies. The first is a collection of all 9 primetime specials (minus the holiday outings) under the title Garfield: Cat Tales (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The 3-disc set contains Here Comes Garfield, Garfield on the Town, Garfield Gets a Life, Garfield in the Rough, Garfield in Paradise, Garfield Goes Hollywood, Garfield: His Nine Lives, Garfield’s Babes and Bullets, and Garfield’s Feline Fantasies. The other release is the 5th and final volume of the still-funny Garfield & Friends (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), produced by our good buddy Mark Evanier.

As soon as I heard Dolly Parton do bluegrass versions of “Shine” and “Stairway to Heaven,” I knew I had to hear her do more covers… Those two tracks were simply too amazing for it not to happen eventually. Well, my wish has been answered with Those Were the Days (Sugar Hill, $18.98 SRP), which sports a dozen covers of classic hits, all “Dolly-ized.” Ah, but that’s not all – she’s also brought a score of duet-ers with her, including Norah Jones, Mary Hopkin, Tommy James, Keith Urban, Roger McGuinn, Kris Kristofferson, and even Yusaf Islam (Cat Stevens) on his hit “Where Do the Children Play?” I want more.

Unfortunately, it was during the episodes features in the 4th volume of Aqua Teen Hunger Force (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) that the cracks began to show and the stories began to become tired caricatures of the show’s creative height. Even with these deficiencies, they still outshine anything to be found in Sealab’s final death throes, or the entirety of Tom Goes to the Mayor. In addition to the 13 episodes, bonus features include commentaries, featurettes on the voice artists & Comic-Con 2004, the Spacecataz pilot, and more.

It seems like M*A*S*H has been coming out on DVD for years (it has), but with the release of season 9 (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), we’re finally in the home stretch to the 11th and final season for the doctors and nurses of the 4077th. In fact, if all goes to schedule, we should have the final set (and the ultra-maudlin series finale) by the end of next year.

Watching Gennedy Tartakovsky’s Star Wars: Clone Wars – Volume Two (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), I couldn’t stop thinking to myself “My god, these are lightyears better than any of the garbage Lucas slapped up on screen in Episode III. In particular, the animated version General Grievous actually had some, you know, menace – not like the (ironically) cartoonish villain found in the big screen version. Oh bitter, bitter irony. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette, audio commentaries, concept art, and trailers.

Being the non-powered kid of the world’s greatest superheroes, Commander & Jetstream (Kurt Russell & Kelly Preston), is hard, sure, but then try attending the only high school intended to mold the superheroes of tomorrow. The school in question is Sky High (Walt Disney, Rated PG, $29.99 SRP) and the film in question is an amiable family comedy that – while certainly no Incredibles – is entirely guilt-free viewing. Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes, an alternate opening, a music video, and bloopers.

Like an even dirtier cross of Sex & the City and Desperate Housewives, the significant others of Brit-soap Footballers Wives (Capital Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP) return for a second season full of lies, scandal, sex, sports, and more sex. Did I mention sex? The 2-disc set features all 8 season 2 eps, plus a slang dictionary and photo gallery.

This week’s soundtrack corner starts with James Newton Howard’s score to Peter Jackson’s epic King Kong (Decca, $18.98 SRP), which features an equally epic sound (it makes me wonder what Howard Shore was doing so wrong that he had to walk away from the project). Also on the “check it” list this week are the soundtracks for Jarhead (Decca, $18.98) – featuring Thomas Newman’s score & a couple of tunes – and John Williams’ Memoirs of a Geisha (Sony Classical, $18.98 SRP).

Even all these years later, I couldn’t help watching the second season of Full House (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) without feeling like I should be profoundly embarrassed to be within even 10 feet of one of the most cloying, saccharine shows ever made. Yet it’s so compelling… like a TV train wreck. With Olsens.

Video records of Lenny Bruce’s stand-up act are quite rare – audio documents are far more common. The Lenny Bruce Performance Film (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) captures one of those rare visual records on film via his second-to-last performance at San Francisco’s Basin Street West in 1965. It’s a gem that any comedy aficionado should snatch up immediately.

While we’re on the subject of stand-up, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the release of Margaret Cho’s latest no-holds-barred concert film, Assassin (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). If you know (and love) Cho, than you pretty much know what to expect from this latest go round. Bonus features include a making-of featurette, a belly dancing segment, a pair of short films, a video, a gallery, and her opening act (Bruce Daniels).

Though the first season of A Different World (UrbanWorks, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP) is very much the Lisa Bonet Cosby Show spin-off it originally was, it would take until the second, post-Bonet season for it to become the groundbreaking show it’s remembered as, focusing on the trails and travails of college life. Sadly, the first season is very much a show in search of a voice, but already it was cultivating its memorable cast in the forms of Jasmine Guy’s southern belle Whitley Gilbert and Kadeem Hardison’s Dwayne Wayne. Bonus features include the “lost episode” featuring Tupac Shakur & Jada Pinkett-Smith, a retrospective documentary, and bloopers.

Say what you will, but all of the jokes about being to watch any episode of Law & Order with no prior knowledge of any concepts or characters on the show is absolutely true. You’d think the overall effect would be deadening, but it’s not – as I found myself compelled ever forward while watching the episodes contained in the complete Fourth Year – 1993-1994 (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) of the original iteration. Bonus features this go round are confined to 43 deleted and extended scenes, but that’s good enough for me.

The one comforting aspect of Everybody Loves Raymond is that you could drop into any season and not feel like you missed anything. That very basic accessibility remains intact in the complete fifth season (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) in which, well… Everything is basically still the same. Bonus features include a trio of audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and bloopers.

Just in time for the Saturday Morning TV fan on your list comes the complete Land of the Lost collection (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$99.95 SRP) which collects all 3 previously releases seasons into one easy 8-disc box set.

Before he devolved into a horrid pit of self-parody, Tom Green was a unique comic hosting a very, very weird local access show in Canada. There’s still a freshness to be found in the low-rent insanity of those 26 pre-MTV stardom episodes found on Tom Green Inside & Outside The Box: The Tom Green Show – The Complete Series (VSC, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). The 3-disc set features commentary on 2 episodes plus over an hour of unseen footage.

You know the holidays have finally descended when the Christmas specials come fast & furious, and the amount coming out have only increased since the advent of relatively cheap & fast CGI animation. Add to the list The Happy Elf (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), which stars Harry Connick, Jr. (it’s based on his song) as the titular helper eager to bring holiday cheer to the dreary town of Bluesville. All in all, it’s entirely watchable… Quite an accomplishment, considering the usual quality of these efforts.

Both Penny (Teri Hatcher) and Murdoc (Michael Des Barres) return to muck up our hero’s life in the fourth season of MacGyver (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), though I’m still not sure how to build a jet plane from bubblegum and paperclips. Maybe that’s in season five.

Anyone who didn’t see the writing on the wall during the final season of Newlyweds: Nick & Jessica (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP) must be blind as a bat. Not only are the two completely incompatible, but they’re hilariously so. I’m just waiting for the eventual announcement. The 2-disc set features a behind-the-scenes featurette, outtakes, and a retrospective.



Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 12/02/2005

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (December 2, 2005 at 12:53 am)

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I hope, by now, that you’ve begun to ring in the new year with us via the second annual IGN FilmForce Holiday Havoc. If you haven’t, what in the heck are you waiting for? There’s a lot more coolness to come…

I’m always a sucker for rare ephemera – like hard-to-find advertising pieces, artwork, membership cards… just relics of a particular subject. Disney got the ball rolling last year with the first of their Disney Treasures releases, which contained reproductions of the items I mentioned above, going all the way back to the 30’s, and bound in book form. I loved it. For NASCAR fans, there’s the NASCAR Vault (Becker & Mayer! Books, $49.95 SRP), a collection of over 150 photographs and 26 plastic-encased collectibles from the sport’s over 50+ year history, all magnificently recreated – including patches and licenses. If you’re a NASCAR fan – or you have one in the family – this is an absolutely essential Xmas gift. Currently, the book is a Books a Million exclusive, available via their online or bricks & Mortar stores.

It’s been years (and years and years) of waiting, but the original laserdisc director’s cut of Peter Jackson’s Frighteners (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$26.98 SRP) has finally made its way to DVD, packed with bonus features and sporting a version of the film that is far stronger (and, ironic for the subject matter, more fleshed-out) than the theatrical cut. Bonus materials include an audio commentary with Jackson (along with a brand new introduction to the film from Peter), a massive making-of documentary, and storyboards with optional commentary. But why, oh why, does it have to be a flipper disc?

Disney has begun to flex their felt muscles as the new home of Jim Henson’s Muppets with the re-release of all of the Muppet film catalogue (save for Muppets Take Manhattan & Muppets from Space, which still reside at Sony). That means newly remastered (but not restored, sadly) editions of The Muppet Movie, The Great Muppet Caper, Muppet Christmas Carol, and Muppet Treasure Island (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$19.99 SRP each). The transfers, in general, are a definite improvement from the Sony editions of a few years back, and the new editions of the original Disney releases – Christmas Carol & Treasure Island – are finally presented in widescreen. So what’s my major disappointment here? The criminal lack of extras, especially when there are some great specials (Muppets Go Hollywood & Muppets Go To The Movies) that could have been included on the first two films, plus commentaries. Heck, we don’t even get the original proof-of-concept test footage that was on the Sony release of The Muppet Movie. Get your act together, Disney, and treat these films like the classics they are.

Fuse together The War of the Roses and True Lies and you’ve got a fair idea of what to expect from Mr. & Mrs. Smith (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP), which stars Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt as an unhappily married couple who happen to be world class assassins – each tasked with rubbing the other out by their respective agencies. What follows is a high octane romp as they attempt to do just that. Bonus features include an audio commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, deleted scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

The legacy of Charlie Chaplin is celebrated in not one, but two releases hitting DVD this month, the first of which is the stellar series of documentaries under the umbrella Unknown Chaplin (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP). Featuring rare footage and rarely seen short films, utilizing reels of outtakes and deleted footage (which Chaplin had ordered destroyed) that paint a remarkable portrait of a perfectionist who would refine gags again and again until they matched the vision in his head. The DVD features a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the documentary series, plus two bonus shorts. Also available is Charlie Chaplin: The Forgotten Years (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP), which examines his work during the period after he left Hollywood, from 1952 to 1977.

Even though I read it completely enraptured as a kid, I always felt that there was an odd feel to Bob Woodward’s Belushi biography Wired. It just seemed… judgmental and slight. Well, Belushi’s widow, Judith Belushi Pisano, thought so, too, because she’s gone and done it right with Belushi (RuggedLand, $29.95 SRP). Using a style similar to the recent SNL history Live From New York, it’s John’s family and friends who tell his story via interwoven interviews, making for a first-person portrait of the man as comic genius and flawed – yet still beloved – human being. Forget Wired – this is the definitive work.

And while we’re talking bios, I also want to recommend one of the best ones I’ve ever read about (Fred Hembeck’s favorite band, The Beatles (Little, Brown, $29.95 SRP). Bob Spitz has taken the oft-told story of the four Liverpool lads and fleshed out scores of oft-ignored information, going all the way back to their respective childhoods and even the incredibly well-documented later years. It’s a comprehensive tome that reminded me very much of the now out-of-print though fondly-remembered documentary The Compleat Beatles.

Not since the Walt Disney’s classic nature documentaries have I been so enthralled by a camera pointed at wildlife who are basically just going about their business. What March of the Penguins (Warner Bros., Rated G, DVD-$28.98 SRP) has going for it is the title characters themselves – everybody loves a penguin. They just do. Find me a man who hates a penguin, and I’ll show you a mad Bond villain, bent on world domination. Or just a guy who hates penguins. This film pulls no punches – not only does it give us a look into the Antarctic lives of these flightless birds, but they cast a ringer as the narrator – the equally compelling Morgan Freeman. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes documentary, a National Geographic “crittercam” featurette, the theatrical trailer, and the Looney Tunes classic 8 Ball Bunny. Oh, and if that’s got your penguin fancy up, you’ll probably also want to check out David Attenborough’s doc Life in the Freezer (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), which takes a look at out tuxedoed tundra pals.

Long before Larry Sanders was even a notion in Garry Shandling’s mind, mid-70’s Canada had its own backstage look at the insane world of evening chat shows with The David Steinberg Show (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Hosted by comedian David Steinberg and featuring a different major celeb guest each week (the list includes Jon Voight, Conrad Bain, Tommy Smothers, Ed McMahon, Milton Berle, and even Scatman Crothers), the behind-the-scenes madness was just as important… if not more so, since it featured a who’s who of pre-SCTV legends, including John Candy, Martin Short, Dave Thomas, Joe Flaherty, and Andrea Martin. This 4-disc set features 21 episodes, plus a new 30-minute retrospective interview with Steinberg.

On the eve of Peter Jackson’s Kong, Universal has repackaged Steven Spielberg’s big lizard trilogy into the perfect holiday Jurassic Park Adventure Pack (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$26.98 SRP). The set retains all of the bonus materials from the original releases, so don’t feel like you have to pick this up if you’ve already got ‘em. However, if you still haven’t gotten these flicks – or you know someone on your holiday gift list still lacking – this is a great (and phenomenally cheap) way to get ‘em.

The first Tremors film was a revelation – it was the kind of B-movie schlockfest monster flick that every generation needs, just to reaffirm that there is a place in the world for fun cinematic junk food. The sequels progressively lost the verve of the first, but you can now own all four films via the Tremors Attack Pack (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). Like the JP set above, this is a great (and also cheap) way to get these flicks.

There’s something endearing low-rent about British sci-fi series from the 70’s, from Doctor Who to Blake’s 7. Add Timeslip (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$79.95 SRP) to that list. I don’t know – from Who to Narnia, the Brits really like their time travel and portals into space/time, which is exactly what happens here, as 15 year-olds Simon Randall & Liz Skinner stumble on a time portal while on a beach excursion that drops them back in WWII… which is only a stop on the way to various time periods, including the far-off 1990’s!… all under the guidance of the enigmatic Traynor. The 4-disc set features all 26 episodes, plus a retrospective documentary and intro.

Featuring an all-star cast, Shelly Duvall’s Tall Tales & Legends (Koch, Not Rated, DVD-$79.98 SRP) was a fun, funny presentation of classic stories presented for a contemporary audience of children reared on genre-bending kid shows like Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, The Electric Company, and The Storyteller. The complete series box set contains all 9 episodes (“Annie Oakley,” “Casey at the Bat,” “”Darlin’ Clementine,” “Davy Crockett,” “John Henry,” “Johnny Appleseed,” “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “Ponce de Leon,” and “Pecos Bill) starring a stellar list of celebs, including Martin Short, Brian Dennehy, Ed Asner, Danny Glover, Elliott Gould, Howard Cosell, Michael York, Molly Ringwald, Rob Reiner, and more.

The fifth season of CSI (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$88.99 SRP) is remarkable primarily because it’s the season the features Quentin Tarantino’s 2-episode stint directing that year’s finale. Besides that, it’s just another year in forensics… your standard procedural fare. Bonus materials include audio commentaries on 9 of the 25 episodes and behind-the-scenes featurettes (including one on Tarantino’s outing).

The episodes contained in the fourth and final X-Files Mythology collection, Super Soldiers (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) pretty much encapsulate when the show not only jumped the shark, but proceeded to do back flips and cartwheels over said fish, as the ever more unwieldy mythology finally collapsed into a full-bore parody of itself. Sad, really.

Just in time for “The Christmas Invasion” comes a pair of classic Doctor Who releases, both of which are sure to delight anorak-clad fans the world over – The Jon Pertwee-era The Claws of Axos (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP) and the 2-disc Tom Baker-era City of Death (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP), the latter of which was co-written by Douglas Adams. Both releases are chock full of extras, including audio commentaries, featurettes, and much more.

It’s a shame that fatigue from colossal period bombs like King Arthur and Alexander did in Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$29.98 SRP), because – unlike the other two – there was actually a good movie to be found in his sweeping tale of tale of a young Crusader (Orlando Bloom) who takes up arms in the 12th century Middle East to defend Jerusalem against those, both within its walls and without, who would occupy it out of greed and desire. Both the Muslims and the Christians are given remarkably even-handed treatment, showing that the true history of the period was not so cut-and-dried as the West has often portrayed it. The 2-disc special edition features a text commentary, and “interactive production grid” (a fun feature that puts you in the driver’s seat behind-the-scenes), History Channel “History vs. Hollywood” special, A&E “Movie Real” special, featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.

As a sci-fi junkie, I found the classic (though seldom-seen) 1970’s Brit-sci-fi series The Tomorrow People (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) fascinating viewing. Like a UK version of the X-Men, the basic premise centers around the adventures of the next stage in humanity – the Tomorrow People – who fight evil forces across time and space using the powers of telekinesis, telepathy, and teleportation. All in all, it’s a quirky little footnote that’s worth checking out. The 4-disc Set 2 features all 26 episodes from the show’s third, fourth, and fifth seasons, plus an audio commentary on the episode “Secret Weapon,” the 2nd part of the “Origins of The Tomorrow People” featurette, and cast bios.

All is sugar, spice, and everything nice with the second batch of remastered Shirley Temple releases, grouped under the intentionally saccharine banner – Shirley Temple: America’s Sweetheart Collection (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). The 3-film box set features Baby take a Bow, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, and Baby Take a Bow. Ignore the colorized versions and stick with the original black & white.

Who knew poetry could be so competitive? That’s just one of the revelations in the documentary Slamnation (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), which delves into the world of high-energy spoke-word readings known as “Slamnation,” the “Super Bowl” of poetry readings. The 2-disc set features the television pilot Slammin’, plus hours of raw, uncensored footage. On a far darker tack, there’s The Execution of Wanda Jean (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP), which chronicles the death row plight of convicted murder Wanda Jean Allen. It’s a fascinating look into Oklahoma’s execution machinery, from the bureaucracy down to the condemned themselves.



Comments: None

Joe Corey’s PARTY FAVORS - 12/2005

Posted by Ken in Party Favors (December 1, 2005 at 10:28 pm)

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MEMPHIS - If you don’t like Elvis and ribs, don’t ever come here.

For my birthday I finally made the pilgrimage to Graceland. And it truly was a religious experience. Mojo Nixon was right when he talked about the healing power of Elvis. This is the American Holy Land. My feet felt the glow of walking on sacred ground or blessed asphalt as I passed through the gates and arrived at a place that has been a mythical residence since I was a child. Graceland was a Mt. Olympus with shag carpeting on the walls.

Instead of my normal vacation standards of staying at a dumpy motel near the railroad tracks, we went first class and booked a room at Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel which is really at the end of Lonely Street. My married life has changed my overnight accommodation standards. I wasn’t quite sure where the action was in Memphis so it was a safe pick to stay at the Estate’s official hotel. Plus they threw in discount tour tickets. Plus they had a free airport shuttle. Anything that saves me car rental fees is a plus.

We flew Airtran from Raleigh to Memphis. Airtran’s kinda like Southwest Air without the sassy fun. They assign seats so we didn’t have to spend our hours in various airports waiting in the cattle chutes. Airtran can pretty much get you anywhere in the country as long as you don’t mind going through Atlanta. Which for once worked out for me since it was on the way to that city on the Mississippi.

The flight attendants kept pushing a $35 business class upgrade on the flight. But the promise of a few extra inches and free booze wasn’t alluring enough. It’s sad that plane travel has gotten more no frills over the last few years. Whatever happened to getting the full soda can from the refreshment cart? But even the formerly posh airlines have come to resemble the no frills. And with my portable DVD player with a 7 inch flat monitor, I don’t even miss the in-flight movie. Plus I can continue watching the movie while stuck in the airport waiting for my connection. No more Jackie Collins novels for this traveler.

SCAN THIS

Did I forget to bitch about airport security? They only had one X-ray machine working as the crowd packed up. And they had the whole “take off your shoes” business. Every time I have to take off my shoes, I should be permitted to slap them against that idiot shoe bomber guy. Who said public stoning is a bad thing? It also drove me nuts that I had to unpack all my stuff to get the electronic equipment out for inspection.

Also contrary to the rules, I discovered twice that you can slip a $20 bill to these federal officials and be escorted to the front of the line. Are these TSA guys security or skycaps? You can’t give FBI agents $20 to get a better look at a body. You can’t slide $20 to Park Ranger to get Old Faithful to puke an extra time. And you’d be laughed at giving $20 to a Congressmen. And now these bums no longer have to stop people from bringing scissors and tools onto planes so they can focus on bombs. We’re these guys brought into power because certain foreign nationals brought small blades onto airplanes? I don’t recall any bombs going off in airplanes on Sept. 11. Do I feel safer knowing these goofballs are bribable and don’t have to look as carefully for scissors?

Seeing how it’s been over four years since these new security sections have been made, why do they still use card tables and have the permanent feel of a Christmas tree lot? Well at least the Airtran people were nice to us. Even though they didn’t give me the soda can.

Memphis’ airport is a rather cold place that looks like it hasn’t seen an upgrade since Elvis left for the Army. The baggage claim reminded me of the old Fisher Price Airport. There probably was a crew on the roof turning the handle. It took almost 30 minutes for our luggage to bounce down the conveyor belt. We figured the TSA cops weren’t through rummaging in our suitcases looking for bombs in the shape of cameras and jewelry. During this joke, we saw a TSA Cop sneaking through an Employees Only door holding a bolt cutter. Guess he must have found the suitcase with the laptops.

The true Elvis experience kicked in when we boarded the hotel shuttle. They had Elvis playing on the radio - but not any radio. Turns out that Sirius satellite radio has a 24 hour Elvis station. Every tune that Elvis hummed is being beamed down to us from Outer Space. Strange to think that Elvis and Howard Stern will be sharing space on the same satellite - especially after the wonderful kinky answers Lisa Marie Presley gave Howard on her sex life. Normally I’d be excited about a channel that plays 24 hour Elvis except for one small kink - I already own over 100 Elvis CDs which covers every song that Elvis ever released - I’m still missing a lot of studio outtakes. But as we sat on the shuttle heading into town, it was nice to be greeted by Elvis singing “Welcome to My World” because we were in his world.

Unfortunately instead of a gleaming Disney production, Memphis is a rather gloomy town. Sure it didn’t help that we arrived on a chilly November night. But it didn’t sparkle as we looked through the windows. Instead of taking in the sights, I was looking to make sure the door was locked. Even though this city his the home to FedEx, Holiday Inn and AutoZone, it didn’t seem to be a city on the move.

I did get excited when we arrived on Elvis Presley Boulevard. I remember seeing the footage of Elvis’ funeral procession as he made the trip down this roadway in his white hearse. Instead of being a happening address, this street was covered in ratty strip malls. There was nothing that reflected the glory of the King of Rock n Roll - except that all the businesses tried to work in Graceland or Elvis Presley Blvd into their names in order to claim the king without fear of trademark infringement. Sure there was a Krispy Kreme and a Piggly Wiggly, but they were surrounded by used car lots and dollar stores. When we cut down Lonely Street to the Heartbreak Hotel, it just didn’t seem like I was near the kind of neighborhood that would have Graceland at its core. This might as well been a trip to Leisure Suit Larry’s Sansabelt Hall of Fame. But in the daylight, I knew we’d see the rockin’ gates of Graceland.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL

If you are going to immerse yourself in Elvis, this is the best place to lay your head. The folks from the Presley estate have gone the extra mile to make sure the place isn’t full of crying guests. The color schemes look like shirts Elvis would have bought at Lasky brothers. The furniture in the lobby had that retro styling, but were still comfortable to sit in. And like the shuttle, the lobby was filled with Elvis music from Sirius. Oddly enough the one place that didn’t have Elvis playing was the elevator. It was a silent ride that allowed passengers to focus on the numerous posters advertising the V.I.P. tours of Graceland.

They have an AAA discount. Also they provide a breakfast in the morning Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the feast that Elvis used to devour with 2 pounds of bacon and 18 eggs. It was cereal, bagels, donuts, yogurt and pineapple juice. I found myself downing lots of pineapple juice thinking about Elvis in Hawaii.

Even though it was the off-season, the hotel was filled with an international assortment of guests. We met folks from all over Europe and Australia. I was taken back that there weren’t any Japanese tourists. I was told by the desk clerk that the Japanese fans come during the major weeks (Elvis’s birth and death).

We had a room with two double beds. All the rooms have mini-kitchens with small fridges and microwaves. So you don’t have to worry about what to do with leftovers. The rooms were large enough for us to spread suitcases all over the floor without tripping. And the bathroom wasn’t creepy. So it was beyond my usual standards.

But with two giant portraits of Elvis over the beds, I felt like I had finally found the hotel that understood me.

ALL ELVIS TV

Perhaps the most amazing thing about staying at the Heartbreak Hotel is channel 17 on the room’s TV. It was all Elvis movies. All 31 of his features, both of his concert films (including both versions of “That’s the Way It Is”), “Aloha From Hawaii,” the “Comeback Special” and a few other specials. It was the most amazing cable channel ever. I was in bliss.

Critics have always dismissed a majority of his films as mindless fluff. While they’ll admit his pre-Army films have merit - especially “King Creole,” they’ll never concede the greatness of “Girls! Girls! Girls!” That’s a shame. Because I really get a kick out of Elvis breaking into song without much effort. A simple tap on a washing machine turns into a musical number. And while constantly checking back on this channel, I noticed that Elvis was always believable in his character’s shoes. You could buy him as a G.I. since he wasn’t supposed to be Rambo. He was a fisherman or a helicopter pilot or even a raceway demon. Even as a doctor in “Change of Habit,” Elvis didn’t seem out of his league. He didn’t give off cheap laughs with miscastings like when we’re supposed to believe that Steven Segal is a human being.

And getting glimpses of Elvis’ movies over the 5 days spent at the Heartbreak Hotel, I found joy in his light weight cinematic efforts. The one film that got me hooked was “Live A Little, Love A Little” from 1968. This was a strange film since it was a chaste sex farce. Elvis plays a photographer who gets laid off by his paper after sleeping for a couple days at Michele Carey’s beach house. But were not supposed to believe Elvis was having a drug and sex orgy with the flakey gal. The movie does have one of his best fight scenes when he’s fired in the printing room of the newspaper.

An employee of Graceland told me that Quentin Tarantino has been getting tight with Lisa Marie Presley in hopes of making the 32nd Elvis feature. Tarantino want to use Robert Rodriguez’s “Sin City” toys to create a CGI Elvis movie. Tarantino said that he wanted Bill in “Kill Bill” to be played by Elvis. It’ll be interesting to see if this project ever touches a projector.

People are quick to dismiss Elvis’ Hollywood career as a joke that ruined his music. But I think these movies helped make him the mega-star he is. When I was a kid, Elvis was part of the cinematic Trinity with Godzilla and Jerry Lewis. It was a treat when he appeared as the nightly movie on the indie station out of Charlotte. His Paramount output was perhaps his finest genre. It’s a damned shame those guys on Melrose won’t put out a proper boxset.

Even now, weeks after staying in the hotel, I turn to channel 17 in hopes of catching “Viva Las Vegas.” Why can’t cable give us the channels we really need?

LEAVE THE DRIVING TO THEM

If you have a fear of driving in Memphis where that second to last wrong instruction on Mapquest will lead you to a location used in “Hustle and Flow,” we recommend the Heartbreak Hotel. It’s shuttle central.

The hotel will pick you up at the airport. They also run a nightly shuttle service down to Beale Street. It lets you off right next to the empty building that once housed Elvis Presley’s Memphis restaurant. It’s kinda sad that after 2 years, the place is still empty although the windows had various souvenirs that you can still nab at Graceland. The only bad part is that the shuttle’s last pick up is at 10:30 p.m. This is probably done to prevent guests who’ve enjoyed the “Call the Cab” frozen booze at Wet Willies from Technicolor puking all over the mini-bus.

And a little bit of warning. If it’s 38 degrees on the street don’t get the frozen drink. Frostbite, brain freeze and the hard liquor air suck at once. And I write that from experience. They had to drip wax on my forehead to bring me back from a Ted Williams fate.

While you might complain that you’d have to rent a car if you want to party like a madman on Beale Street till last call, you’d still be better off hailing a cab. No need to get busted for drunk driving in a strange city. Do you really need to explain to the kids why pop is now staying in the Johnny Cash suite at a Tennessee prison?

During the day you can catch a shuttle sponsored by Sun Studio. The shuttle drops you off at the legendary studio that first laid down the King of rock ‘n roll on vinyl. Plus you can visit the Rock and Soul Museum. This museum is part of the Smithsonian. It’s also right next to Beale Street which is great if you want to get an afternoon cocktail at B.B. King’s club after seeing the Al Green exhibit. Who said the thrill is gone?

Until a few months ago, the van also made a swing by the legendary Stax Studio. I was very interested in seeing the studio that gave us that amazing soul sound. Even Elvis recorded a few tunes there. Sam our Sun shuttle driver told us that Stax was under new management and they didn’t want to chip in on the shuttle. He also said that his last customer who went over there didn’t get a real tour. There was a person there to take money and the tourists were left to read the exhibit cases. I’m not paying nearly $10 for a ticket and $40 on a cab ride for that. It did hurt that one night Peter Guralnick was having a signing party at Stax for his latest book, “Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke.” Guralnick wrote the two volume biography on Elvis (”Last Train to Memphis” and “Careless Love”) that helped get people to view Elvis not as a bloated “he’s alive” joke on the cover of the Weekly World News.

I feel bad about skipping Stax, but that’s what they get to refusing to drop me off at their doorstep.

On our way to Sun Studios, our driver pointed out the original graveyard that Elvis was buried in before he was moved to Graceland. We also saw the destruction that once was Baptist hospital where Elvis was declared dead. I wondered if amongst the twisted metal and concrete was any of the foil that the Memphis Mafia taped to the windows when Elvis checked into the building to be examined.

SUN RISES AGAIN

While Sun Studio is a small place to visit, it’s got a big heart.

This is the studio that launched the careers of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and Rufus Thomas. There are major labels today that don’t have rosters with as much talent as Sam Phillips recorded.

The staff at Sun are a fun loving bunch. Imagine the cast of “High Fidelity” when it goes to Broadway. Those are the kind of folks you’ll find giving tours, making milkshakes and selling records. The studio is more of a complex. Back when Sam leased the space for a decade, he only had the studio space. But the new owners now have control over the building on the corner. The downstairs of this space is a soda fountain in the front. I did enjoy their milkshake since I saw them put plenty of scoops of strawberry ice cream into the metal cup. No cheap pre-blended non-dairy stuff here. They have a wide variety of Sun t-shirts on the walls. I eventually bought a t-shirt that sported the Million Dollar Quartet photo. They also had replica work shirts for the companies Elvis and Johnny Cash worked for when they showed up on Sam’s door hoping to make a song that would impress Sun.

In the back of the shop is a record store that sales original Sun singles. The records are gift shop priced. But one title that is a must have is “The Legendary Sun Records Story.” It’s two three CD boxsets with 120 of the finest releases Sam laid down in his tiny studio. Well it should be subtitled “All the Great Singles that Elvis Didn’t Record Here.” But I already have three releases of Elvis’ Sun sessions. His only appearances on the second volume is part of the Million Dollar Quartet - a legendary riff session between Elvis, Carl and Jerry Lee. What about Johnny Cash - who appears in the photo? Johnny once told me that he only showed up for the photo and didn’t stick around for the hour long jam session. That’s why you don’t hear his voice on the CD that documents the moment. But they did have photos when in the mid-80s, Johnny stuck around to record with Carl, Jerry Lee and Roy filling in for Elvis.

The tour was $9 and worth every penny if you care about rock n’ roll. They take you upstairs to a museum exhibit which gives a sense of Sam Phillips life and the Sun Records legacy. You actually get to see the acetate recording machine that is written about in all the good early rock books. Plus they explain how “Bear Cat” by Rufus Thomas was the reason why Sam had to sell Elvis’ contract to RCA. You can only take non-flash photos in the upstairs exhibit area.

The next stop on the tour is the legendary space itself. It’s just like it was 50 years ago when Elvis wandered in eager to make a song for his momma. Sam would record anyone at anytime. And it’s since a welcoming office. Over the top of the front office’s desk, you stare through a window into the studio. There’s no secrets in this space. The space is still covered in the original sound tiles. And you can see what made the Sun Studio so special - the ceilings. Instead of being flat, Sam had it angled to help bounce the sound just right around the space.

What’s even cooler is that Sam’s policy of recording is still in effect for Sun. For $70 an hour you can record in Sun Studio and that includes the fee for the sound engineer. If only I had enough time, I could have recorded my version of Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades.” Although I did run into one hotel guest who was a children’s entertainer from England. She had brought a CD of her backing tracks with her and was going to head over to Sun to put on her vocals. You can only book the studio after the tour times. Guess this means Axl Rose won’t be doing his latest tracks for “Chinese Democracy” there.

Also they do permit flash photography and video in the studio space. Although because it is a working studio you can’t get into the control room. It’s not much of a loss since it’s been upgraded to record digitally so it’s no longer a mad scientists lab full of knobs and glowing tubes. But all those devices lurk around the tour.

One thing they don’t tell you on the tour, but will talk to you about if you ask them is how Sam Phillips became rich. It was not from Elvis or Sun. It was not from his second venture when he opened up Phillips Recording a few blocks down after his 10 year lease on Sun ran out. He hit paydirt as an original investor in Holiday Inn. How did this happen? Kemmons Wilson, the founder of the hotel chain, was Sam’s college roommate. If Sam had skipped college and gone straight into showbiz, he wouldn’t have made the fat dollars.

WALKIN’ IN MEMPHIS

We headed down Union Avenue in search of the Mississippi. Contrary to the song, this is not a good town to walk in. We seemed to pass a lot of abandoned buildings including quite a few with busted out windows and police tape. There were a lot of posters for “Hustle and Flow” and “Walk the Line” pasted up on these dumps.

Crossed the Danny Thomas Expressway. His legacy lives on through the St. Jude’s Children’s hospital. He was a cultural hero to my family so I made sure to get a photo taken beneath his street sign. Thank goodness nobody hit me because I’m too old for his hospital.

The ducks at the Peabody Hotel were passed out in the indoor water fountain. They slept with their bills beneath their wings. Shouldn’t that be a Bette Midler song? We tried to visit Mud Island, but discovered it was closed. Who knew it was seasonal. Thank goodness Tom Cruise didn’t have to avoid mobsters that afternoon. “The Firm” would have ended with him shot down by the locked gates to the cable cars.

When we finally saw the mighty Mississippi, I was taken back to see that there were no buildings on the Arkansas side. This is because that side is a major flood plain. Memphis is build up on a bluff and during the Civil War, Grant kept his troops busy during the time before the Battle for Vicksburg, by having the Union men build up the hills facing the river. Does this make Grant the anti-Sherman?

We did get to sample Lenny’s Sub Shop. Shame they don’t have Lenny’s around here. They knew how to pack a sub with all the good stuff - and freshly cut meat. Yummy.

BEALE STREET BLUES

A relative who will remain nameless since my Christmas gift still hasn’t arrived, kept going on about this Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street. So we decided to go there for dinner to get it out of the way. Well we showed up too early for the music. Although according to the guitars all over the ceilings, the place is a popular jam session for major bands. We ordered their BBQ dinner for two. They first brought us gumbo. And we should have just ordered the gumbo. It was a powerful cup of creole lovin’. The BBQ is a different story.

There’s a war in Memphis. But it’s no longer divided among races. It’s BBQ. There’s the dry and the wet factions. And you will eventually take a side if you have a hankering for pork. Rum Boogie was a deep wet location. Their sauce was extra sloppy on everything. And somehow I lost my appetite. We picked at the racks and the pile of pork. But nearly everything went into the doggy bag for lunch.

After all the hype about Beale Street, I was taken back to discover it’s barely two blocks long. It’s like strip mall that lets you wander with booze from store to store. With all the small tastes of Memphis, it was strange to find a massive Hard Rock Cafe in the middle of it. I would later find out that the head of the Hard Rock Cafe’s mother lives right off Beale Street. She’s a big mover and shaker in the art scene. She helped lure the Gibson guitar plant to the area. Plus she was instrumental in getting the Grizzles to relocated to the Pyramid arena from their Canadian home. Trouble is they swiftly built the new FedEx arena that’s next to Beale Street so now the Pyramid is empty. And supposedly the town isn’t exactly packing the FedEx to support their pro team. Oh well.

FTD OUCH

Along with Guralnick, Ernst Jorgensen and Roger Sermon’s work on the star’s catalog, restored a luster and glory to Elvis that had been turned into a joke. Their boxset of his 50s output immediately gave the King back his crown. And they’ve been properly mining the catalog ever since.

Their big project for the last few years has been the FTD label. This is there way of keeping the faithful happy with rarities, live recordings and studio outtakes without overwhelming the bins at Best Buy. The only real places you can buy these collections in America is at Graceland and the elvis.com store.

Walking into the music shop at the Graceland mall was like being in a candy shop as they had all the FTD titles in the racks. I probably would have gone completely nuts except for one thing: each CD was nearly $30. While I have over 100 Elvis CDs back home, most of them were gained through 12 for 1 record club deals. I probably paid $30 for all of them.

Since I didn’t want to tap into my hooker stash, I had to use restraint while touching the pretty collections. BMG has pruned the Elvis CD collection down to 40 titles. One of the biggest things you can’t get regularly are the soundtracks. To remedy that, FTD has been repackaging the film music along with tons of outtakes. I found it hard to get too excited at paying the price for “Tickle Me.”

But I did nab two of the best titles. “Elvis As Recorded Live On Stage In Memphis” was from his 1974 tour. When the record was originally released 30 years ago, RCA snipped the concert short - mainly because it was the third year in a row a live album was released and there was no need to completely duplicate the set list. This is the only “real” Elvis record that was missing from my collection because I had heard rumors of FTD giving it a complete release years ago. It was worth the wait.

The latest thing FTD is doing is focusing on giving the original albums expanded editions with the outtakes and singles recorded during the sessions. With that in mind, I nabbed “Elvis Is Back.” This contains all the sessions he recorded after getting discharged from the Army. It’s a two disc set that was also priced at $30. This was more like the bang for the buck FTD should be aiming for.

While I like the concept of the collector’s label, I fear that as it takes over the regular catalog titles, it’ll reduce the number of new Elvis fanatics. It’s just not good for the wallet to charge top dollar for “Harum Scarum” songs. It’s just not good to reduce his space at the regular record store to greatest hits collections.

RIB STORY 2

On our return trip to Beale Street we decided to eat at the first joint after the shuttle stop: Blues City Cafe.

They claim chef Bonnie Mack is world renowned. And his fame has now spread to my belly. Now they do the ribs the way they should be done. They cook them dry and then apply the sauce so it gives it flavor without making the meat taste like a sponge. Our biggest regret on this tour is that we didn’t come here instead of heading down to Rum Boogie (although we still liked their gumbo).

THE SECOND GREATEST DAY OF MY LIFE

On my birthday, I was making out with my wife in the Jungle Room. It was such a beautiful moment that I should have asked the guard if I could get a copy of the security cam footage. It’s just a damn shame those velvet ropes kept us from humping on the deep green shag carpet giving a view to all the Hawaiian gods caught in the furniture. But we were good kids in Elvis’ house and just kissed and groped.

It’s what Elvis would have allowed.

The house has been opened for tours since the early 80s. And even as a hardcore Elvis worshipper, I had never had a chance to make the pilgrimage. I picked up various books that showed off all the rooms in the house. I knew every room - every nit-nack. Every door handle. I’m happy it took this long to make the trip for many reasons. The best is that there is now a VIP tour of the house. This entitles the user to visit the estate as many times as you want during the day. On top of that, you get a special shuttle bus so you don’t have to waste your time in line with the one-trippers. Plus you get to hang out in Elvis’ carport. They also guide you to the back of the 13.5 estate to get a good view of the horses and Elvis’ barn. Plus you see the mobile home park where some of Elvis’ entourage used to live. Now it’s the offices for the folks who run the tours.

This is truly a boon for the hardcore sideburn freak. Since we were staying at the Heartbreak Hotel, we could wander back to our room and take a rest before the last tour time. There was no rush. We were going to spend a day immersed in Elvis - whether my wife wanted to or not.

Standing at the front door of Graceland was like a childhood dream come true. As I opened the door to the house, I felt like I was entering the promised land. I’ve been to a lot of famous houses. But I never felt this buzzed at the door - without the promise of sex on the other side. The rooms were amazing. I almost cried at the beauty of the basement TV room. They had three sets built into the wall. The most amazing thing was “Dr. Strangelove” was showing on one set. Kubrick in the land of Elvis. I like Dr. Strangelove, too.

What truly sets a visit to Graceland apart from a visit to Mt. Vernon or Monticello is the ability to relate to the furniture. On a display of Elvis’ desk, I saw book I read as a kid. Lisa Marie’s toybox was just like mine. Sure dad didn’t own a giant shag bed or a crushed velvet tuxedo. But there were mutual elements between myself and Elvis. I grew up in a home with shag carpet - it’s still on the family room floor. It’s not like a tour through Donald Trump’s houses where he wants to outdo us all with his expensive lifestyle. If Elvis was alive today, he’d be shopping for stuff at Target like the rest of us.

A house like Graceland should be part of a mansion row. But instead as you can see into the numerous small houses with their backyards up against the estate’s wall. Normal little homes which looked better than nearby apartment complexes that come with high fences wrapped in razor wire. It’s just not a safe neighborhood. A local explained to me that back when Elvis lived there, the neighborhood of Whitehaven was one of the most affluent suburbs of Memphis. It had the best shopping centers. It was not the dumpy kinda section that it has become. The area’s name proved to be its downfall. It was a haven for whites. And when the first black families moved into the area, white plight went into overdrive. The local remembered how after the first black family moved two blocks away, about half of the neighborhood had for sale signs on their lawns. They moved in droves and the property values dropped. And the classy stores shut down and moved off to malls. And in came the used car lots and dollar stores.

While roaming the grounds of Graceland, it was easy to see how Elvis created his own little refuge from the world that shrieked whenever he stepped on stage. He even built a racquetball court building so he didn’t have to deal with the hassles of a club. We sat on a bench and took in the beauty of the world Elvis lived in for nearly two decades. This was his home. He didn’t build it. But he altered it. He opened it up to family and friends. He made it his world. And even though he’s been gone for nearly 30 years, I could share in his view. He choose wisely when he picked a homestead. And Elvis isn’t leaving anytime soon.

To the side of the kidney shaped swimming pool is the meditation garden. And there lays Elvis, his mother and father. Plus there’s a plaque for his stillborn twin brother. It was nice to finally be able to pay my respect to a man who did his best to keep me entertain. It’s easy to think of all the “crap” Elvis did in movies and songs. People always talk about he should have done this or that. But in the end, he’s still Elvis. Could we exist in a universe with a perfect Elvis? One who made “To Kill A Mockingbird” or “Last Tango in Paris?” An Elvis who could have sung music written by Elvis Costello?

But we have an Elvis who sang Dylan and the Beatles. We have an Elvis who proved a farmer’s boy from Mississippi could rock the world. I felt guilty when my shadow touched his grave.

Before the tours start, Graceland is open for people to walk up to the mediation garden. After my VIP day, I took advantage of this freebie visit. In the early morning, I walked up the long driveway towards the giant pillars that are guarded by the white lions flanking the staircase. Occasionally on the walk, I’d stop and stare around. It was easy how this land could mean so much to a man. How a visit could recharge the creative batteries.

On the morning before we left for St. Louis, I stood before Elvis’ grave once more contemplating my life that involved memories of him. I remembered my flight to LA where they had an channel on the inflight radio that played the 50s boxset. I remembered the record department at J.C. Penneys shortly after Elvis died. They had this giant box full of Elvis tapes. I was in awe of it. and decades later I’d have those titles in my record closet. I remembered John Swain at the Record Hole selling me the Sun Sessions album. And I remembered running for student body president at NC State with posters declaring “The Ghost of Elvis told me to run.” My memories were filled with Elvis moments. I didn’t want to leave.

But the time for the visit was ending. I didn’t want to say goodbye. But I didn’t want to be escorted off the property by the Memphis police. So I whispered the word he taught us, “Aloha” and slowly headed down the driveway soaking in his world. As I approached the guard booth next to the musical front gates, I came face to face with a Japanese tourist.

PORK HEAVEN

Memphis is so much about ribs, the kids learn to count in racks.

A guy running the gift shop told us we hadn’t eaten in Memphis till we hit Marlowes. And the place would come and get us for dinner. That’s more than my relatives do for us.

They sent a pink limo with tiger stripped seats to pick us up at the hotel. Talk about a class act. This is one of the few businesses that I can recommend on Elvis Presley Blvd. When we arrived at the place, we were amazed they had room for tables with all the trophies displayed. The place is mega-Elvis friendly. They even had the Sirius radio playing the 24 hour Elvis channel. Did I forget to mention that during the day at the Graceland plaza, the channel has DJs broadcasting from a booth attached to the record store. So they aren’t joking when they say they are broadcasting from Graceland.

And the gift shop guy wasn’t kidding us about Marlowes. The ribs were amazing. They also smoke them dry and apply this succulent apple sauce on them before the plate hits your table. Pure bliss. Supposedly towards the end of his life, Elvis would get ribs from Marlowes. I could easily see why Elvis would tear into a rack of ribs here. Although he might be a little uncomfortable having to see his picture all over the place.

I feel bad that we never had a chance to hit the Interstate BBQ - featured in John Landis’ amazing documentary, “The Slasher.” But Marlowes was so good, there were no leftovers. I didn’t want to risk reheating the beauty of the pork. The miracle of the pork - Jean Genet would write. As I sat in the back seat of the pink limo heading back towards Graceland, I knew the satisfaction Elvis must have had in his belly.

ELVIS OVERDOSE

By our fourth day in Elvis World, my wife was overdosing. I think it was the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich that finally made her realize that she couldn’t hang with my obsessions. Luckily for our trip up to St. Louis, we listened to the Sun Records collection that didn’t have any Elvis. I promised her that next year we’d spend a week at Page Davis’ house - whether it’s open to the public or not.

COLBERT - STEWART ‘08

While at the hotel, I became glued to the double dose of “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” These guys are doing the work Doonesbury did before Trudeau took his vacation in the 80s. Seeing how dull and boring the next presidential election is shaping up to be, I demand we draft Steven Colbert and Jon Stewart to run for the White House. Let’s make things interesting, America.

STRIPCLUB CONCEPT

We were hoping to find an adult entertainment complex called Mamphis. No luck.

THROW ME A ROLL!

As we headed up to St. Louis, we were told to stop off for lunch at Lamberts in Sikeston, Missouri. The guy kept talking about how they threw rolls at you. I didn’t quite get what he was talking about, but I wanted to eat somewhere besides McDonalds. We weren’t sure what to expect, but when we walked into the joint, we were overwhelmed.

Imagine a Crackerbarrel with a soul. They had the walls covered in weird stuff - mostly Dale Sr. and other heartland icons. This place was packed and it was easy to see why. Fine family style food served all you can eat. They brought me a Coke in one of those mega-trucker cups. They know my ability to suck down fluids. And while waiting for our meatloaf, they brought us fried okra. Plus they had black-eyed peas. We had to order meatloaf because we had pretty much overporked on ribs.

And then we got to experience the rolls. This guy pushes around a cart with these huge hot rolls that cooked in giant muffin trays. And people would wave their hands and he’d throw the rolls across the room. It was amazing. I actually caught one without letting it bounce on the chair. We were completely blown away by Lamberts and wish they had one near us instead of a crummy Crackerbarrel.

You can find out more by visiting www.throwedrolls.com.

NO RUSH FOR YOU

Funny that Cape Girardeau has these giant billboards up for all the famous people connected to the town except they overlooked one person: Rush Limbaugh. I guess they didn’t want to attract the wrong element as people would assume you can get hillbilly heroin out of the bubble gum machines.

KOSHER

If you ever want to detox from overporking, attend a wedding with a kosher menu.

DANGER VACATIONS

While staying in St. Louis, they released the list of the Most Dangerous Cities in America. Guess what came in #3? With that bit of news, we locked the hotel room door. Number #2 was Detroit or DetRiot as we called it during our stay there last year. This means that next year, I’ll be dragging the wife to Camden, New Jersey. Let’s see what it’s like to stay at the city that always shrieks.



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