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THE MONEY PIT - 02/24/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (February 24, 2006 at 1:36 am)

It’s a week after I returned from Toy Fair, and I’m still flat on my back. I think it’s time to pop more caffeinated Foosh Mints and get ready for my upcoming trip to LA, during which I’ll be lining up some major surprises for the coming months…

Why do the gods of TV take the good ones so young and let shows like According to Jim linger on for eternity? As a scathing satire of the vapid, cutthroat world of Hollywood filmmaking, Action (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$24.96 SRP) was probably far too inside (and accurate) to exist in the homogenizing milieu of middle-American TV fare. But by golly, I do so love Jay Mohr as the bastard son of Joel Silver and Jerry Bruckheimer, uber-producer Peter Dragon. The show only lasted 13 episodes, all of which are included here uncensored, but oh what genius they are. If you ever want to see exactly what Hollywood is all about, Action lays it all out in brutal, absurd, and hilarious form. Bonus materials include a trio of audio commentaries and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

While I got a huge kick out of the Rock Legends, Ray Charles, and John & Yoko-themed releases of classic Dick Cavett Show episodes, the honor of being my absolute favorite has now been awarded to the 4-disc Comic Legends (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). Featuring full, uncut episodes with new introductions from Cavett, the set contains must-see interviews with Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, Lucille Ball, Jack Benny, Jerry Lewis, Carol Burnett, Mel Brooks, and The Smothers Brothers. Cavett was an amazing interviewer, even if his dry style takes some getting used to – but he was able to make his guests feel completely comfortable, which resulted in the only candid pieces I’ve ever seen with famously “on” comedians like Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope. There’s also a new interview with Cavett, promos, and a rare “best of” episode from his summer replacement series run in the late 60’s. I really, really, really do hope a follow-up volume is planned.

In the ever increasing list of books written by anyone even remotely associated with the Beatles, Geoff Emerick’s memoir Here, There, and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of The Beatles (Gotham Books, $26.00 SRP) is a true highlight and well worth a read. From their earliest Abbey Road sessions, Emerick was the engineer behind the board of some of the most legendary recordings ever put to tape, and this collection of anecdotes and insights into the process and dealings with the Fab Four is the perfect companion to the massive biographical tome The Beatles, released last year.

Compared with the current level of poor decision-making skills, ineptitude, and corruption in Washington today, it makes the events depicted in All The President’s Men (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$26.98 SRP) – events which brought down a President - seem trivial. I mean, even Oprah thinks an author lying about the details of his own memoir is more important than events on a national, or international, stage. But All The President’s Men remains a positively crackling tale of journalistic daring-do, solidifying the legend of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein and their Watergate exposé, and making journalism (the real act of journalism – not sticking a camera in someone’s face and asking inane questions) a noble profession to enter. It’s sickening to think how far the once-mighty pillars of journalism have deteriorated – if crimes like these were exposed today, it would be met by talking heads, public dismissal, and a quick change of the channel to American Idol. The new 2-disc special edition features an audio commentary with Robert Redford, a making-of documentary, an interview with Woodward & Bernstein, a featurette on the recent revelation of Deep Throat’s identity, a vintage making-of featurette, an appearance by Jason Robards on Dinah!, and a trailer gallery.

Speaking of fools sticking cameras in people’s faces and asking inane questions, all you have to do is re-watch Network (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$26.98 SRP) to marvel at just how frighteningly prescient its prediction of the idiot-ification of network TV has proven to be. Paddy Chayefsky’s blistering satire of the TV business and its endless pursuit of ratings – and one veteran newscaster’s ultimately futile declaration of “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore” – is a painful reminder that the decline of western civilization is not a new invention… It’s just got better graphics and faster editing now. The 2-disc special edition features an audio commentary with director Sidney Lumet, a 6-part making-of documentary (including an interview with Walter Cronkite, who fell victim to the “newer, younger” scenario), an interview with Lumet, an appearance by Chayefsky on Dinah!, and the theatrical trailer.

It’s almost frightening just how prescient – and still relevant – the comedy of the late Bill Hicks remains. Recorded in Oxford on November 11, 1992, the 2-disc Salvation (Rykodisc, $17.98 SRP) finds Hicks at the absolute top of his game. Running almost 2 hours, Hicks hits on all of the topics he made his own – religion, drugs, smoking, and politics. Why, oh why, did he have to die and leave us with a world so in need of his caustic, pointed social commentary?

On the subject of comedy CDs, how can you not pick up Ron White’s new CD, bearing the “I must listen to this!” title of You Can’t Fix Stupid (Image, $18.98 SRP)?

It takes a special kind of intellect to delve into the sticky wicket of The Physics of Superheroes (Gotham Books, $26.00 SRP), but author James Kakalios does just that with a clarity and commitment to the premise that can’t help but be a page-turning bit of fun, offering a scientific analysis of an alternate universe in which flight, super-strength, invisibility, and x-ray vision are everyday occurrences.

From out of the blue, HBO has decided to release a half-dozen of their always-fascinating documentaries (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP each). In fact, I’d go so far as to say that HBO is to the US what the BBC is to the UK, in terms of presenting risky social subjects and topics most outlets won’t touch. Twist of Faith tells the story of a Toledo firefighter who faces ostracization from both family and community after he reveals childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a priest. Naked World is a new documentary on photographer Spencer Tunick, and his now-legendary photographs of naked subjects in public places. Death in Gaza examines the culture of hate that informs the continued conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and ends up involving the filmmakers as much as the people that try to make a life in the political hotbed. Soldiers in the Army of God, on the other hand, tries to understand what drives the members of the violent anti-abortion group The Army of God to commit murder. On a much lighter note, A Father… A Son… Once Upon a Time In Hollywood is the story of Kirk and Michael Douglas, a tinsletown dynasty built on iconoclasm, told via conversations between the father and son, film clips, and home movies. Finally, there’s the almost-failure of the liberal radio network Air America, whose rocky launch and eventual rebound is chronicled in Left of the Dial. All 6 films feature bonus materials including audio commentaries, additional footage, and more.

There’s a definite depressed ennui that permeates the life of Chicago weatherman David Spritz (Nicolas Cage). Even though he’s a local celebrity with a nice income with a minimal work requirement, he’s a divorced father with an increasingly distant relationship with his kids and a Pulitzer Prize-winning father (Michael Caine) who won’t take him seriously. I always love Cage best when he sets aside his blockbuster idiosyncrasies and makes a quirky little character piece (a la Raising Arizona), and The Weather Man (Paramount, Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP) fits the bill nicely. Bonus features include 5 featurettes (focusing on the script, the characters, the look of the film, becoming a weatherman, and collaboration), and the theatrical trailer.

It’s nowhere near the pleasant surprise that the original film was, but there’s no doubt that Transporter 2 (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP) has a propulsive, almost Bay-esque energy to it. Really, when does story matter when you can have action scene after action scene? Bonus features includes making-of and music featurettes, deleted/extended scenes, and a blooper reel.

Remember that Shelly Long movie from the 80’s, Hello Again, in which she plays a recently departed woman who returns to earth? Yeah, well, it seems to have been loosely remade as Just Like Heaven (Dreamworks, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP) with Reese Witherspoon in the Long role, as a woman who shows up at the newly-leaded apartment of David (Mark Ruffalo) insisting it’s hers… and then proceeds to vanish before his eyes. Is she dead? Is she alive? Will they inevitably fall in love? Gee, what do you think? It’s an affable romantic comedy made much more palatable by the presence of Jon Heder. Bonus features include a making-of featurette, deleted scenes, and a gag reel.

If you don’t recognize the name Jon Heder, then you’re obviously not a fan of the cult hit Napoleon Dynamite, and probably wouldn’t want the Napoleon Dynamite: Final Shooting Script (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, $12.95 SRP), featuring deleted scenes. If you’re one of those yet to be converted, it’s your loss. Give it a spin.

In the mad flood of albums at the end of last year, I somehow missed the new album from fellow Jacksonvillian Ryan Adams, 29 (Lost Highway, $13.98 SRP). Of course, I can almost be forgiven since it seems like Adams released 29 albums last year, as every time I turned around another one seemed to be hitting. I can forgive his prodigious output since I’ve largely enjoyed each of the albums that have dropped, this one included.

You’ve got to love how firmly entrenched the 60’s TV version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is in its cold war time frame, as the crew of the submarine uber-weapon Seaview take on mankind’s enemies, like an underwater James Bond. The 3-disc first volume contains the first half of the show’s lengthy first season, plus the original (never-before-seen) pilot, Irwin Allen’s home movie footage, a promotional reel, and still galleries. But why, oh why, do these studios insist on giving us double-sided discs? Stop already!

I have to admit – by the third season of Moonlighting (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), I was elated by the addition of Curtis Armstrong to the cast – I still think he’s an underrated actor, as anyone who saw Ray will attest. This is also the season in which the meta-comedy reached its height – and the one which ended with the infamous “sleeping together” mis-step. The 4-disc set features all 15 second season episodes, plus commentaries and a brand-new half-hour documentary with cast & crew interviews (including a Shepard/Willis reunion).

I’ll admit – all I really know about Living Single (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is that is starred Queen Latifah and Tootie from The Facts of Life. There – that’s the sum total of my knowledge about the show. The 4-disc set features all 27 first season episodes, plus a retrospective featurette.

Like sands through the hourglass, so is the snail-like page in which new seasonal sets of NYPD Blue are released. Years after the first season’s release, we’re finally getting the third season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP).The relationship between Sipowicz (Dennis Franz) and Simone (Jimmy Smits) is running at full tilt, and the show really got into its groove. The 4-disc set features audio commentaries on a few episodes and a trio of featurettes (“Life in the 15th Precinct,” “Father and Son,” and “Women o NYPD Blue”). And yes, Fox has done double-sided discs with this release. Don’t you people learn? Stop! Now!

I still have trouble wrapping my brain around the idea that Billy Elliott has become a musical, but if Abba can have one, why not? With music by Elton John, the cast album (Decca, $ SRP) is a surprisingly punchy affair. The 2-disc set features a bonus disc with a trio of Elton demos.

Congrats must go to Marvel for somehow managing to completely ignore the precedent set by Bruce Timm & co.’s excellent handling of DC’s iconic characters in animation with a complete 180 handling of their own big-hitters in Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Crap story, crap casting, and crap animation add up to – you guessed it – a crap direct-to-video abomination. Bonus features include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a – get this – sneak preview of Ultimate Avengers II. Feh.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 02/17/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (February 17, 2006 at 5:35 pm)

I’m currently typing this from my none-too-palatial hotel room in NYC, overlooking a cab repair shop and having just changed rooms after waking up in the middle of the night to find a freshly engorged bed bug sharing my pillow. The things I do for IGN. Speaking of which, on to this week’s guide!

For some reason, Quick Change (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$14.98 SRP) doesn’t get the respect that it deserves. Co-directed by and starring Bill Murray, it was a quirky little low-key heist comedy co-starring Geena Davis and Randy Quaid as Murray’s cohorts in crime. Featuring a performance more akin to the kind of subtle roles that would mark his career resurgence in the late 90’s in films like Rushmore and Broken Flowers, Murray is a stressed city-dweller desperate to get out of the rat race, by any means possible – even if that means robbing a bank to fund his flight. Hot on our trio’s heels is a veteran cop (Jason Robards) eager to get the bank’s millions back and put our anti-heroes behind bars. If you’ve never seen this film, you don’t know what you’re missing… It really is a lost gem.

On the other hand, Club Paradise (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$14.98 SRP) can’t, in good conscience, be called a gem – but I love it so. It’s a comedy that truly epitomizes 80’s comedic fare – light, fluffy, and so endearing it’s got to be bad for you. It’s like a cinematic Twinkie. In what must seem like a theme, Robin Williams is a stressed-out firefighter who decides to use his disability settlement to purchase a ramshackle tropical club whose grand opening is jeopardized by a corrupt island politico and a foreign developer intent on getting Club Paradise’s land. Directed by Harold Ramis and starring SCTV castmembers Rick Moranis, Eugene Levy, Andrea Martin, along with Peter O’Toole and Jimmy Cliff (whose soundtrack is still a favorite of mine), it’s packed with Twinkie charm.

While not as primo as the two previous flicks, Warners has been digging through the vaults to unleash a slew of catalogue titles. Some are from Hollywood’s Golden Age, and some are from the 80’s… Not exactly a Golden Age, but certainly packed with many a film that saw endless repeats on cable, searing themselves into the minds of an entire generation. Along those lines, we’ve got Madonna and Griffin Dunne in Who’s That Girl? (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP), the Mad Magazine Police Academy/Stripes rip-off Up the Academy (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$14.98 SRP), the legendary (and underrated) teaming of Gene Wilder and Harrison Ford in The Frisco Kid (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP), and the flawed teaming of Chevy Chase, Gregory Hines, and Sigourney Weaver in Deal of the Century (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP). All of the discs are featureless save for the theatrical trailers.

As both Marvel and DC eliminate their company historians (Marvel eliminated Peter Sanderson years ago, and DC just axed Bob Greenberger), thank jebus that Twomorrows exists to shine a light on the past. Their latest must-have tome is the Legion Companion (Twomorrows, $24.95 SRP), which goes in-depth into the 40-year history of the Legion of Super-Heroes.

And while we’re on the topic of Twomorrows, be sure to pick up their DVD spotlight/interview on George Perez as part of their Modern Masters series (Twomorrows, Not Rated, DVD-$35.00 SRP). Not only does it feature interviews with George and his friends and colleagues, but also sports footage of Perez at work. Maybe Twomorrows can do the same thing with John Byrne if I beg enough…

If only for Courtney Love’s hopped-up-on-goofballs-and-out-of-her-mind appearance, the Comedy Central Roast of Pamela Anderson (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) is a glorious train wreck that puts all previous roast wrecks to shame – well, maybe not Chevy Chase’s, but his was more brutally funny than surreally funny. The DVD features the uncensored version of the roast, plus additional “rehearsal” footage, outtakes, interviews, and more.

I didn’t think it was possible, but with Saw II (Lions Gate, Rated R, DVD-$28.98 SRP), they found away to make an even more uncomfortable gorefest that made me seriously wonder why in the heck I was even watched it… It just makes you feel… Dirty. Bonus features include an audio commentary (with director Darren Bousman and actors Donnie Wahlberg & Beverly Mitchell), featurettes on the props and traps, storyboard & conceptual galleries, and trailers.

So help me, I really do love the infectious fun of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, including the newly-released third season set (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Like a Fresh Prince song of old (before Will Smith made the decision he wanted street cred), it’s bright and fluffy. The 4-disc set still doesn’t have those Alfonso Ribeiro commentaries I keep hoping for, but it does have a blooper reel.

Tori Amos has always been one fascinatingly odd bird who’s marched to the beat of her own drummer, and nowhere is that more evident than in the 19 videos collected in the 2-disc Fade to Red: Tori Amos Video Collection (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$24.98 SRP). Even the vids that don’t quite succeed offer something to think about and a decidedly unique personality. Bonus features include a remix of “Professional Widow,” the UK version of “Cornflake Girl,” and audio commentaries from Amos.

Just when I began to think that Disney Home Video gave a damn about fans of their animated shows – albeit with the flawed (where are those missing episodes, ya mooks??!!) multi-disc releases of DuckTales and Rescue Rangers – they go and release single-disc, 3-episode volumes of Goof Troop and Quack Pack (Walt Disney, Not Rated, $14.99 SRP each). What the heck??? Granted, I though Quack Pack was a truly crappy show, but Goof Troop deserves better treatment than this. Get your heads out of your nethers, Disney, and start to wonder why we get special edition releases of He-Man while the quality of your animated TV releases… well… suck.

The 80’s – for a devout TV junkie kid, such as I was – were a time when, admittedly, I had yet to develop any real quality filters. With that in mind, realize that I have fond memories of shows that I really shouldn’t – 2 of which are getting complete first season releases. The first is the Scott Baio “classic” Charles in Charge and the second if Nell Carter’s Gimme a Break (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$34.98 SRP each). If you’re of my generation, I dare you to try and keep their respective theme songs from out of your mind… Go on… Just try… “Charles in charge of my life…” “Gimme a break, I sure deserve it…” Charles in Charge features a second season preview episode, while Break features bonus episodes from Kate & Allie’s first season, Charles in Charge, and Break season 2. Both sets also contain an engaging documentary on the 80’s television landscape.

The fifth season of The Andy Griffith Show (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP) features a landmark that forever changed the dynamic of the show’s final seasons – it was the last to feature Don Knotts as lovably bumbling deputy Barney Fife (though there would be later guest appearances). Lured away by a film career, Knotts decided to move on, which meant a far different feel in Mayberry’s later years. In other words, enjoy Barney’s swan song for all it’s worth, and fear the coming color seasons.

In today’s monotonous entertainment climate, we need more shows like Significant Others (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP) – a completely improvised show that looks at the strained and sometimes surreal, but always relatable, relationships of four couples. It’s like a classic Woody Allen film sans excessive neuroses, and all the more fresh in its execution. The 2-disc set features all 12 episodes of the show’s 2 season run. Bonus materials include audio commentaries with the show’s creators.

Jarod is still on the run in The Pretender’s 3rd season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), still using his massive IQ to master any profession, still looking into his background and that of his ex-captors, and just a little surprised that his long-lost Dad has entered the picture. Bonus features include audio commentaries and a 3-part making-of featurette.

No one can deny that Richard Pryor had quite a spotty movie career, and a few of those spots are featured in the extremely value-priced Richard Pryor Collection (Universal, Rated R/PG, DVD-$26.98 SRP). The double-sided disc features Bustin’ Loose, Car Wash, Which Way Is Up?, and Brewster’s Millions. Of the four, I still dig Brewster’s Millions – if for no other reason than it teams up Pryor and John Candy.

I know everyone has taken to it as the next best thing, but I can’t quite get over the fact that Grey’s Anatomy lies in a nebulous, uninteresting middle-ground on the TV landscape – it’s a medical show that’s neither as fun as Scrubs nor as serious as ER. You’d think I would spark to its middle ground, but no-go – it just lies there for me. Well, you fans out there will be sure to clutch the complete first season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$29.99 SRP) to your breast, and you’re welcome to it. Bonus features include deleted scenes, commentaries, an analysis of the pilot, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Proof (Miramax, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP) is one of those unfortunate cases where an adaptation from stage to screen fails to interject anything to overcome the tendency towards small-scale sterility that is the mine field of that tricky process. In other words, it’s just a long, boring flick punctuated by a great performance from Anthony Hopkins as the brilliant, mentally unstable father of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Catherine, who must decipher the mystery her father leaves behind as his mathematical genius slips away. Bonus features include an audio commentary with director John Madden, deleted scenes with optional commentary, and a making-of featurette.

The only thing with a more awkward track record on the big screen than comic book adaptations are the routinely abysmal flicks based on video games. Case in point is the latest schlockfest, Doom (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), which wasn’t even bright enough to import the serviceable storyline of the games. Oh, and the Rock is here, being the Rock… Which is a shame, because he’s a good actor deserving of better material. As expected, the unrated edition simply amps up the gore factor… What, you were expecting plot? Bonus features include behind-the-scenes featurettes and an extended version of the first-person shooter sequence.

Ignore the clichés – The Golden Girls, in its prime, was one the funniest, best-written sitcoms on network TV. It was still firing on all cylinders in its 4th season (Buena Vista, Not Rated, DVD-$39.99 SRP), but the biggest reason to check out that year on DVD is for the cameo from an unknown actor named Quentin Tarantino. I kid you not.

Finally, let’s wrap things up this week with a quartet of catalogue titles that are part of Warner’s Black History Month promotion – Passing Glory, Buffalo Soldiers, Heat Wave, and Freedom Song (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP each).

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 02/10/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (February 10, 2006 at 3:17 am)

Can you believe that this mark’s the 200th shopping guide I’ve written? Do you know how tired that makes me feel? Oy, what a blur it’s all been. I’m currently up in New York covering Toy Fair, so be sure to check out all the fun at IGN Comics next week.

It takes a lot for a book to make it onto my “By crikey, this is brilliant!!!” list. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… Terry Jones’s Chaucer’s NightHuckleberry FinnGreen Eggs and Ham… and The Prydain Chronicles are just a few past honorees. Anyhoo, just such a work of literary brilliance has recently come to my attention – its name is The Areas of My Expertise (Dutton, $22.00 SRP), and its author is John Hodgman, a man of letters (26, to be exact – and he used every last one of them to write this book). Presented in the form of an ersatz almanac, it’s a hilarious journey into the secret Hobo culture (and the list of 700 Hobo names), the American presidents who had hooks for hands, little known facts about the 51 U.S. States, Lycanthropic Transformation Timetables (very important), and much, much more. Hodgman writes in an easily accessible, quite matter-of-fact style about matters most surreal – yet disturbingly plausible. I love this book, and I think you will, too…

Hot on the heels of Batman’s massive success at the box office and the Superman franchise entrenched in its post-IV cooling off period, Warner Bros. was keen to get another superhero franchise off the ground, and they decided it would be a TV project starring the scarlet speedster himself, The Flash. Starring John Wesley Shipp as police crime technologist (think CSI, only even more science-y) Barry Allen, the show only lasted 22 episodes, all of which are contained in the 6-disc The Flash: The Complete Series (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). There are no bonus features to be found, but it’s nice to have one of the better superhero series to hit the tube all in one place after years of nothing but crappy convention bootlegs, and where else do you get to see Mark Hamill cut lose as the maniacally evil Trickster?

I love Shout! Factory. I really, really do. What other company would have gone to bat and given up feature-laden special edition of Freaks & Geeks, Undeclared, Home Movies, and SCTV – show’s the other studios were hesitant to deal with the clearance issue on. But Shout! stepped up to the plate and delivered a boffo release in every case. From a sentimental point of view, though, I’d have to give bonus judos to their latest release – 1 4-disc overview of The Electric Company (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). Featuring 20 full-length, uncut episodes including the very first outing, it’s a pop culturist’s dream. It’s still amazing to see the original cast – featuring Rita Moreno, Bill Cosby, and Morgan Freeman… oh, and Spider-Man. Best of all, though, this set is clearly aware that adults will be snapping it up, as it features retrospective interviews with Moreno, June Angela (“Julie” in the Short Circus), the creative team, and creator Joan Ganz Cooney. Not only that, but it also contains a gag reel! A gag reel with some decidedly more adult references! I fervently hope we’ll get additional volumes, and that this release also paves the way for Shout! and Sesame Workshop (formerly Children’s Television Workshop) to deliver sets of unedited classic Sesame Street episodes in a similar fashion, full of bonus materials. Come on, people…

It’s certainly no substitute for the interminable wait between seasonal releases (although the recent short gap between the release of seasons 6 & 7 was a welcome change), the 4-episode “theme” discs make the wait at least a little easier. The latest is The Simpsons: Kiss and Tell – The Story of Their Love (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), which features a quartet of Homer & Marge-centric episodes about their relationship – “Natural Born Kissers,” “Large Marge,” “Three Gays of the Condo,” and “The Way We Weren’t.”

It’s certainly a hit, but Peter Jackson’s King Kong certainly wasn’t the 9,000-lb gorilla that most were expecting. Still, there is plenty of fun and fascinating information to be gleaned from the process of bringing the film to the screen, all of which is nicely covered in the aptly-titled The Making of King Kong (Pocket Books, $19.95 SRP). Far more unique, though, is WETA’s faux field guide to the film’s mysterious locale, The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island (Pocket Books, $35.00 SRP). As the title suggests, it uses the extensive design and pre-production art done by the WETA team to present a fictional history of Skull Island’s ecosystem and inhabitants, and is most certainly a offbeat companion volume to the film.

In 1968 Prague, under the oppressive air of communism, surgeon and inveterate womanizer Tomas (Daniel Day-Lewis) is completely oblivious to the political storm around him, intent instead on pursuing pleasure and a “lightness of being.” With The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$26.98 SRP), director/screenwriter Phillip Kaufman does a wonderful job adapting Milan Kundera’s novel – and Roger Ebert wasn’t kidding when he compared its eroticism to Last Tango In Paris. The 2-disc special edition features an audio commentary, an in-depth making-of documentary, and the theatrical trailer.

I was shocked to discover that the 2-disc special edition of Ryan’s Daughter (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$26.98 SRP) was the first time David Lean’s epic story of adultery and treason had made it to DVD. While not as well-known as Bridge on the River Kwai or Lawrence of Arabia, it’s still a powerful – and visually impressive – tale worth picking up. The 2-disc special edition features an audio commentary (with over a dozen contributors), a 3-part making-of documentary, two vintage documentaries, and a pair of theatrical trailers.

Drew Baylor (Orlando Bloom) is a top-flight tennis shoe designer whose revolutionary new shoe – years in the making – is a complete flop… to the tune over almost a billion dollars in development and production costs. Suffice to say, his downfall is swift – but not so swift that that the news has hit the press yet. Unfortunately, he returns to his apartment to an urgent call from his family – his father has died, and he has to fly back to his father’s hometown of Elizabethtown, Kentucky for the memorial. Depressed and listless, he encounters a vivacious young stewardess on the flight out (Kirsten Dunst) and a family completely alien to him. Now, before I say what I’m about to say, let me make it clear that I do love Cameron Crowe. In fact, I had a decidedly powerful reaction to Almost Famous. And then came Vanilla Sky… and I hated it. There was no wit, so magic, no interest – it was, to say the least, a disappointment. Therefore, I really wanted to like Elizabethtown (Paramount, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.95 SRP)… and I didn’t. It’s almost as if Crowe has made a cliché of a “Cameron Crowe Film” – there’s a heavy dependence on music, a heavy “awwww” saccharine content, plenty of daddy issues… It’s all there, cranked up to 11. Saddest of all, Bloom is a cipher as Baylor – a young man cut adrift without an emotional investment in anything – but Bloom plays him like an actor without a hook. Is it wretched? No. It is disappointing? Yes. Bonus features include extended scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a photo gallery, and trailers.

I was first introduced to the infectious sound of Los Lobos when they recreated the hits of Ritchie Valens for the film La Bamba, and instantly fell in love with their sound. Those La Bamba tracks and over a dozen more Lobos originals are featured on their very first greatest hits compilation, Wolf Tracks (Rhino, $18.98 SRP)

Certainly, there’s an undeniable low-rent charm to low-budget horror flicks like Demon Hunter (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), which stars Sean Patrick Flannery as a bargain-basement John Constantine up against a Satan intent on impregnating LA’s prostitute population. I kid you not. The DVD features an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a trailer.

Squad 51 and Rampart Hospital are back just in time to treat California’s endlessly sick, dying, and accident-prone citizens in the second season of Emergency! (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). The 3-disc (sadly double-sided) set features all 21 episodes, plus guest shots from John Travolta and Dick Van Patten.

There’s no rhyme or reason to the release schedule, but I assume that eventually we’ll get the entire Survivor run. The latest full-season set is the show’s seventh, which found its cast of money-desperate castaways toughing it out in the Pearl Islands (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP). The 5-disc set contains all eps (including the finale and reunion), 5 episodes worth of cast commentaries, and a pair of featurettes featuring interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

With all the attention garnered by the big screen look at Truman Capote, it’s no surprise that Paramount dipped into the vault and pulled out a special edition re-release of the classic adaptation of Capote’s novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) starring Audrey Hepburn in the role that made her a legend, and helped the massive hat industry immensely. The new special edition features a commentary from producer Richard Shepherd, a making-of featurette, a look at Audrey’s sartorial sense, and more.

For the longest time, Grounded for Life was the little sitcom that could – a perfectly enjoyable family sitcom featuring Donal Logue and Megyn Price as the early-30’s, party-loving parents of a trio of headstrong teens, it survived multiple networks and multiple seasons with the axe always on the verge of falling. If only for the extremely likeable Logue, the 4-disc complete first season (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is worth checking out. Bonus features include cast & creator interviews, audio commentaries, and bloopers.

If you’re a Sex and the City fan who can’t afford the still-costly season sets, or the recently released compendium – or maybe you just want to sample the series – there’s now a quartet of themed releases dubbed Sex and the City Essentials (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP each). The themes in question are “Mr. Big,” “Lust,” “Breakups,” and “Romance,” and features 3 episodes apiece… and absolutely no bonus features.

What’s all is new again, and the resurgence of punk-flavored anti-bubblegum is on the rise, slapping the Britneys, Justins, and Christinas upside the head. Case in point is the beautifully-named Morningwood (Capitol, $12.98 SRP), whose eponymous debut album is just such a biting breath of fresh air.

You know, watching episodes of Growing Pains via the new first season set (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP), I now realize just how poorly it compares to its nearest family sitcom competition at the time, Family Ties. Maybe it’s the presence of the life-sucking Kirk Cameron, but there’s just nothing to spark to in Pains… Except for Alan Thicke. Just for penning the theme tunes to Diff’rent Strokes and The Facts of Life, the man deserves a pop culture medal. The 4-disc set features the original pilot (with unaired scenes and different casting for Carol), the cast reunion, and a gag reel.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 02/3/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (February 3, 2006 at 2:19 am)

We’re one week from my long drive up to Toy Fair, and that means all kinds of prep work for covering the mother of all trade shows (well, at least for a toys and collectibles nut like myself). The “to do” list is a long one, but there’s plenty of cool coverage on the way. By the way, don’t forget to check out this week’s Scrubs blog for a special trivia contest.

When I first saw longtime pals Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s travel documentary Long Way Round (Goldhil, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), I wished I had the nerves and gumption to go on a road trip like that. The two decided to circumnavigate the globe on motorcycles, disembarking to other modes of travel only where absolutely necessary, with only a minimal camera crew as support (engaged as a means to cover the costs of the trip – their original hope was to go off and do the trip just for themselves, but who could turn down the underwriting of such a costly venture?). There’s no star trips here – both McGregor and Boorman get hurt, push their bikes to the limit, nearly destroy their friendship, but eventually come through with a stronger bond and an amazing journey under their belts. I can’t recommend this chronicle enough… And only wish I could one day do something similar.

While Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$28.98 SRP) certainly looks like it should be just as enjoyable and appealing as the now-classic Nightmare Before Christmas, there’s just a certain something missing that prevents the package from jelling. Maybe it’s that the story – about a socially advantageous marriage between two parentally-oppressed young lovers that goes horribly wrong when, naturally, the groom-to-be (Johnny Depp) becomes inadvertently wed to the titular corpse (Helena Bonham Carter) instead of his true love (Emily Watson), and is then whisked away to the colorful land of the dead (a far departure from his drab Victorian world) – just lacks the zing of Nightmare. The stop-motion animation is still a beautiful way to execute a film, but there’s no real spark there, which is a shame. It’s a flick worth checking out, though, but just don’t expect NBX-level greatness. Bonus features include 7 behind-the-scenes featurettes, a pre-production art gallery, a music-only track, and the theatrical trailer.

There are a few shows that truly deserve their groundbreaking, legendary status, and one that absolutely deserves that recognition is Hill Street Blues, which you’ll quickly determine for yourself as you view the 17 episodes comprising the show’s first season (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). The cops of the Hill Street Station are not Friday’s – they’re multi-layered, fallible, stressed human beings fighting the good fight on the street and at home as best they can. Without nuanced, shads of gray Hill Street there would have been no NYPD Blue or The Shield. Bonus materials across the 3-disc set include audio commentaries on 2 episodes and a retrospective featurette. One big request, though – stop giving up the crappy double-sided discs, like Universal’s TV releases. It just comes off as cheap, and it’s a pain the a** to deal with.

I may sound like a broken record on this topic, but Warners remains the studio to beat when it comes to proper mining of an extensive back-catalogue of classic films – many of which haven’t seen the light of day in decades, let alone in the beautiful presentation they’re getting on DVD. The latest batch of classics to hit the pike include Spencer Tracy & Lionel Barrymore in Rudyard Kipling’s Captains Courageous, Paul Muni in The Good Earth, Jane Wyman & Lew Ayers in Johnny Belinda, Ginger Rogers in Kitty Foyle, Edna Ferber’s Cimarron, and Kirk Douglas’s memorable portrayal of Vincent Van Gogh in Lust For Life (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP each). The discs feature classic cartoons, vintage shorts and newsreels, and Lust For Life sports an audio commentary from film historian Dr. Drew Casper.

Crikey, how I love Twomorrows. Striking a balance between historians, scholars, and fans like no other company, they manage to produce the most consistently enjoyable – and must-have – comics reference and appreciation books on the market yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Their latest is a look back at the grim, gritty, graphic, and ultimately destructive period that permeated the 1990’s – The Dark Age (Twomorrows, $19.95). Featuring interviews with the perpetrators themselves – names like McFarlane, Lee, Gibbons, Ross, Smith, and more – it’s an essential overview of the point when comic books abandoned their traditional child audience and began fashioning an ever-tightening noose around the neck of a once-mighty industry.

Suck all of the pigment from Steven Wright, give him a manatee fixation, and make him look like a mad cross between Elton John and Philip Seymour Hoffman, you’d get Jim Gaffigan. Easily one of the most offbeat and surreal comics of the current generation, his odd delivery and often subtle, left-field wit remind me of the glory days of Emo Phillips. All of this is to say you should check out his new CD, Beyond the Pale (Comedy Central Records, $12.98 SRP) and its companion DVD (Image Entertainment, Not Rated, DVD-$ SRP), which also contains his first stand-up appearance from 1991, a cartoon, and more.

If I were to go for the cheap and easy way to mention that the 2nd season of Diff’rent Strokes (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) has made its way to DVD, I’d probably mention Arnold’s pop culture lynchpin, “What’s you talkin’ ‘bout?” But I’m not going to say that. Nope. Not going to succumb to the pressure to go for the cheap pop reference. Instead, I’ll take the high ground and mention that the 3-disc set features all 24 episodes, with guest stars like Muhammad Ali and Reggie Jackson. Sadly, this was also the season that Mrs. Garrett (Charlotte Rae) left to go work at some girls school and was replaced by Adelaide Brubaker. Oh, and there are absolutely no bonus materials. What’s you talkin’ ‘bout, Sony?

I know you’ve been absolutely dying to know for the past 20 years who shot J.R., and it’s during the 4th season of Dallas (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) that you get your answer. Not only do you get that little mystery out of the way, but the 4-disc set also features much more Ewing intrigue, plus the 2004 reunion documentary The Return to Southfork, featuring cast interviews, behind-the-scenes footage, and bloopers. Oh, and for the record, it was Waylon Smithers.

All Brian Herzlinger wanted was a date with Drew Barrymore. Of course, in today’s media age, that meant Brian had to take up a camera and build a film around his nigh-impossible quest, which – strangely enough – has become My Date With Drew (First Look, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP). Armed with only a pair of friends, $1,100, and a camera that has to be returned to Circuit City within 30 days, he goes out in search of his quarry – a move that would be creepily stalkerish if it weren’t so funny and endearing. I promise I won’t ruin the ending for you. The DVD features a behind-the-scenes featurette and a trailer.

Margaret Cho has gotten years of comedy out of the network notes admonishing her on her weight and “suggesting” ways of broadening the appeal of her short-lived sitcom All-American Girl (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), but I was one of those people who actually liked its non-traditional Asian-centric cast and thought it was pretty dang funny, and I always thought Cho was hilarious (her stand-up bears this out), and thought Amy Hill’s performance as grandma was priceless. You can check out the entire 19-episode run via this 4-disc set, featuring commentary by Cho and Hill on select episodes, plus interviews.

Like the Spruce Goose, few (myself included) ever thought we would see the long-rumored extended edition of Dune (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$27.98 SRP) fly, but like the Goose before it, fly it has… finally. This edition contains both the 2 hour 17 minute cut, plus the extended 2 hour 57 minute epic, all with great-looking video that makes all of those old VHS boots obsolete. Bonus materials include featurettes (on FX, wardrobe, design, and models), deleted scenes, and a photo gallery.

It’s the guiltiest of pleasures, but I still get a kick out of every episode contained in the fourth collection of Benny Hill episodes (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), presented completely uncut. Covering the period from 1978-1981, the 10 episodes comprising this 3-disc set featured the introduction of the legendarily buxom Hill’s Angels, a visit from Michael Caine, and Benny’s receipt of the “Funniest Man on Television” award. The set also sports the interview featurette “I was a Hill’s Angel.”

With the departure of Gloria and Mike, it became a little harder to find new stories as All in the Family ended its 10th season. In an effort to keep the ball rolling a little bit longer, the show morphed into Archie Bunker’s Place (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$29.925 SRP), which shifted the focus out of the Bunker’s home and into Archie’s Queens bar, partnered in the business with Murray Klein (Martin Balsam). To keep a little of Archie & Edith’s home life going, they were saddled with a niece (Danielle Brisebois). Though the show lasted 4 seasons, the writing was clearly on the wall – despite Carroll O’Connor and Jean Stapleton’s still reliable performances – that the end was near. The 3-disc set features all 24 episodes from the show’s debut seasons, but nary a bonus feature to speak of.

Putting aside the sensationalistic title meant to grab your attention, Da Vinci and the Code He Lived By (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP) is a nicely in-depth analysis of the famed genius. From his masterpieces on canvas to the mind that was able to give form to inventions that still astound the thinkers of today, Da Vinci’s life is worth the exploration, especially via this excellent documentary. The disc also include a behind-the-scenes featurette.

With Black History Month upon us, the History Channel brings to DVD their 2-disc Voices of Civil Rights (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), which contains a trio of documentaries on the movement itself, and a pair of A&E Biographies of Civil Rights legends. The documentaries included are Voices of Civil Rights, Mississippi State Secrets, and Crossing the Bridge, with Biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thurgood Marshall.

The rich & famous – and eccentric – clientele of Las Vegas’s Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company and it’s equally eccentric staff – led by Motorcross champion Carey Hart – is the focus of A&E’s latest reality series Inked, which hits DVD with a best-of covering the show’s first season (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP). Honestly, I can’t stand tattoos, but every reality series has a nice train wreck realism to it, and this one is no exception.

As a kid, there were two subjects in history that held my tender little psyche enthralled – the Titanic, and Ancient Egypt. Therefore, it goes without saying that I’m a sucker for documentaries on either subject, which includes the newly released King Tutankhamun: The Mystery Unsealed (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP), which examines not only the death and archeological afterlife of the boy king, but also his short life. Hosted by Frank Langella, it tells its tale via a bevy of scholars, plus some pretty nifty computer animation.

No matter how many times I hear Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd (Nonesuch, $21.98 SRP), there’s always some new color that I take away from the experience. That goes doubly for the cast album to the newly relaunched and retooled revival starring Patti LuPone and Michael Cerveris, which manages to breathe new life into the old barber’s tale. The package also features a deluxe booklet packed with photos and the lyrics.

I do think that you can reach a saturation point with the explosion of TV-to-DVD releases, particularly when it’s the cheese-fest of the 80’s. Case in point – and a warning, certified I’m sure by some doctor or another – you should never, ever, watch the complete third seasons of Knight Rider, Magnum PI, and The A-Team (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP each) back-to-back. You’re risking permanent brain damage and potential blindness… So it’s heavily advised against that you even attempt to do so. A little bit here and there, sure, but not consecutively. You have been warned.

Raised as an evangelical prodigy from the age of four, Marjoe was a fire and brimstone preacher until the 60’s counterculture lured him away in the swinging 60’s before he returned to preaching with a vengeance and full of rock n’ roll salesmanship. The documentary Marjoe (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) picks up with the titular preacher as he embarks as his “farewell to faith” tour, revealing the hucksterism used to take advantage of the easily led of religious persuasion. The DVD also features the documentary Thoth. Of course, I can’t get away from this week’s documentary mentions without bringing up another fervor-raising subject, discussed in Kim Cattrall’s Sexual Intelligence (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP). Through art, history, cultural, and social discussion, the topic of sex is covered from many a fascinating angle.

Comments: None

Joe Corey’s PARTY FAVORS - 2/2006

Posted by Ken in Party Favors (February 1, 2006 at 3:22 am)

AUSTIN - I’ve lost my sense of reality.

“Laguna Beach” is already the most fake reality show going. I’ve worked on nearly a dozen reality shows and so I can smell it. When you have complete coverage, blocking and proper lighting, you do not have reality. You have what I like to term “Unwritten drama.” You can smell a producer/director lurking behind the cameramen throwing topics to the “real people” as they try to capture them acting naturally.

Ringo Starr and Buck Owens weren’t too wrong when they said they could have been stars - except it’s not quite in the movies. It’s on “Laguna Beach.”

And when it comes to the female roller derby craze that’s sweeping the nation, there’s an unwritten rule - flat track is real - oval is theatrical. The Los Angeles Thunderbirds were an oval track operation.

So when the crew from Laguna Beach hang out at the oval track run by the Lonestar Rollergirls, it’s a match not seen on TV since Vince McMahon created the Rock and Wrestling Connection. And oddly enough, it airs against the WWE’s “Monday Night Raw.”

A&E spent a fortune making and hyping “Rollergirls.” It’s an attempt to cash in on the female roller derby leagues that have cropped up around the country. I’ve spent some time videotaping the Carolina Rollergirls. So we’ll I’m not an expert, I have seen and heard enough to get a sense of what’s behind this sport. And mostly what’s behind it is pain.

The game is very taxing on the body. An college friend of mine destroyed her shoulder joint playing a few years ago. Broken bones and deep bruises are the norm. I haven’t been around this many injured women since I left ballet school (those girls were always on crutches between Swan Lakes). This is not a game that you can play every night.

There’s a lot of big questions not addressed in the series. It seems like several of the gals didn’t start roller-skating until they wanted to join the league. How can a girl grow up without roller-skating? What drives a woman to want to play this sport especially one that’s never been on wheels? Did they get imprinted as girls when they saw Raquel Welch in “Kansas City Bomber?” What did they do with their free time before they had to dedicate themselves to three practices a week and a lot of time applying heating pads to their ass? Are any of these women regulars at fetish parties which have also taken off in the past few years? Are they bruise-oholics?

What’s up with the mystery men that lurk at the edge of the camera frame at the rink? For all the talk of women in charge, what is the male involvement in the league? Is this another Suicide Girls situation?

Most of the boyfriends they show are dorks. One gal’s man looks like he spends all day studying to look like Hunter S. Thompson. Another one thinks he’s going to move in with girlfriend and her teammate/roommate. She turns him down on camera. I personally thought the guy was nuts because a house with two women is one that does not have toilet paper. Do any of these girls date guys with personalities? Or is the director swaying the conversation with the guys to make the women look large and in charge of the relationship? “The lamest moment in the first five episodes was nearly five minutes of two boyfriends trying to work on a song while their ladies go bar hopping. Are they really this lame? How do they expect to keep these rock star girlfriends happy?

Maybe a couple of these questions will be answered over the 13 hour long episodes. But I doubt it. There seems to be an amazing unspoken rule between the documentary crew and the rollergirls - no one tells the secrets. The mythology will be preserved at all cost. The women assume their roller derby names and are never connected to their real names. We sometimes hear that Sister Mary Jane being called by her real name, but the filmmakers never connect the dots on screen.

The biggest question of the series is the fighting. Is it always real? During one episode, they showed two teams having a scrimmage days before the real match. And two of the gals start play fighting on the track. Are the fights choreographed? During one episode two gals fight and after the match they meet up for drinks. Now during my rec league basketball days, I would get tangled up under the boards. After a hard foul, I wasn’t in the mood to kid around with the other forward at the soft drink machine. The only people who grab a drink after beating each other silly are pro wrestlers. Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair didn’t mind hitting a nightclub after a World Title tussle.

Does the game work like the show? Do they juice the track drama to keep the eyeballs?

While I like to compare roller derby to rec league basketball, it isn’t. Roller derby has to attract a paying crowd. And to do that, it has to have razzle dazzle and dramatics. And in the case of oval tracks, you have to sell tickets to pay for the wood and bolts. And you have to make sure the fans get their money’s worth. Games can’t be blow outs. And fights do excite a hockey crowd. You want that crowd drunk, cheering and ready to come back. They don’t want homecoming blowouts.

Just like how the makers of “Kansas City Bomber” didn’t expose the realities of the sport, “Rollergirls” makes sure that that we think it’s all for real. But it is “Sports Entertainment.” There’s almost too much “plot” in the real days of these women. And that’s just the nature of what reality TV is about now.

What burns me up most is how insignificant the game is to the show. They give us the score, but we don’t know how much time is left in the game. Half the time, we’re given way too many close ups that are from different jams (that’s what they call a session around the track). The game footage is cut for people who don’t want to watch the sport. They don’t give us a real countdown clock - even when we get the score. It would have been nice if A&E had the show set up so they’d run the complete matches on the weekends after midnight or maybe Saturday mornings. The game only exists to boost the drama.

While we get to know everything about the Holy Rollers, the Hellcats, The Rhinestone Cowgirls and the Putas Del Fuego, we learn nothing about the Cherry Bombs. It’s a five league team and after five episodes, we have no clue about them or their names. They played one game against the Hellcats and they had no storyline action. How do these women feel that the producers have decided that they’re the Washington Generals to the other 4 teams Harlem Globetrotters?

Will “Rollergirls” lead to bigger and better things for the sport? A while ago I sensed that this could become the next Robot Battles or Poker. But when I was pitching a female roller derby show to certain industry folks, there was a wait and see what the numbers hold for “Rollergirls.” It’ll be interesting to see what sort of coverage comes from the Dust Devil, a nationwide invitations for flat track Roller Derby. Can this sport get a cult viewership? Can it go beyond being a weekend warrior sport? Will someone try to create a national league? Or will it become like in-line hockey of the mid-90s?

I don’t think the sport will fizzle out because it’s not just a college fad. The teams around here feature women from just out of high school to mothers claiming 39. But they all seem to be equally sore after a hard game on the flat track. It’s kinda like Fightclub except they don’t mind talking about it.

I’ve sort of enjoyed watching “Rollergirls.” There’s an allure to several of the women including Sister Mary Jane - although we never learn if she does take break at 4:20 p.m. between teaching kids and giving lessons on the track. But I know that I’m not being a fly on the wall in their lives. I’m sitting in a reserved seat and they are performing. I just hope none of them elbow my beer.


Here’s my prediction for 2008: A reality TV president. I’m not talking about the president being the winner of a TV show. But instead of blitzing us with 30 second ads, a candidate will invest in creating a reality show that’ll air as paid programming on a few cable channels and UHF stations in Iowa and New Hampshire. The show will give us a “real” insight on how he views America, deals with people and dreams of how he’ll make this place better. We’ll see this man outside the filter of the press corp.

Remember that each year we hear idiot pundits going on about “Who are these candidates?” Well now one shall have several 30 minute episodes of “unscripted drama” that will give a viewer insight. This will allow the viewer to vote not for a politician, but a TV friend.

The candidate will have to hire a crack crew that will be able to present him as a cross between Robert Young and the Fonz. They don’t want him to come off as a dork. People will come out to the pancake breakfasts to say hello to the star. Although you need to make sure that your wife and kids are camera ready. You might want to send junior off to take a few improv classes so he’ll look natural as your son. And unlike Big Brother, you won’t have to keep the cameras around 24-7. You shall pick your moments to illustrate your beliefs and policies. The cameras are not their to record reality, but as tools to project your reality to the masses.

Sure candidates come out with books that relay their message, but who wants to read? How many people would rather take home a free DVD and watch a few episodes of “D.C. for You and Me?” This idea works on so many levels. And your opponent will be caught off guard. If they try to get into the game, you get to call them a copycat. You become the original.

By the way, if anyone uses this idea in their presidential run, I’m sending you a bill for $250,00 - which is a bargain for a million dollar idea.


They just announced the Oscar nominations yet and I’m already bored of this year’s award season.

While I’m a fan of Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Paul Giamatti, they’re schlubs. It’s sweet that they’re considered front runners, but it’s a strange feeling when the popular kids elevate them. These are two guys who eat at the dork table in the cafeteria (and I’m at the end of that bench). It’s like they’re being set up for a “Carrie” moment. Do they have buckets of blood in the Kodak Theater?

I fear that Felicity Hoffman is going to get jobbed by Reese Witherspoon. Why? Because there are certain people that the Academy members embrace and want to be winners. Remember when Renee Z. won an Oscar for impersonating Granny Clampett? How about last year when Virginia Madsen was robbed by Cate Blanchett? Did Cate have a moment in “The Aviator” that came within hollerin’ distance of Virginia’s wine speech in “Sideways?” Virginia nailed that moment as she spoke of the grape. And in the end she got rejected. Why? Because she’s a straight to video sequel queen and Cate is the princess of the Academy.

I just can’t get hyped up over “Brokeback Mountain.” Gay cowboys. Big whoop. How come Andy Warhol didn’t win any awards for “Lonesome Cowboys?”

Ang Lee is the most boring and overhyped director working today. “Ice Storm” made sexual liberation look dull. Even with the promise of Jewel’s naked breasts, I fell asleep while watching “Ride with the Devil.” I didn’t even feel the desire to rewind the film to see her nipples for fear I’d conk out again. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” had it’s moments, but the opening segment was just two people talking about a sword. I remember falling asleep and not realizing that the whole desert scene was a flashback till the end. “The Hulk” is not the worst superhero movie thanks to stinking turds like “Daredevil” and “Fantastic Four.” But the way the critics praise the film as “thinking man’s action,” was pathetic. I wanted to fall asleep during this film, but it was just too loud and dumb.

Ang Lee must mean “Cinematic Nap” in Chinese. Which is the reason why I’m not paying $10 to see this film - even with the promise of seeing that “Princess Diaries’ gal show off her breasts. And having the most boring director team up with Jake Gyllenhaal, the most boring new actor of 2003 makes me know this is Somonex territory.

And don’t play the “this guy doesn’t want to see guys making out” card. Cause I’ve seen every episode of “Queer As Folk” - English and American. Plus I consider Bruce LaBruce’s “Super 8 1/2″ one of the greatest films of the 90s. Of course those shows don’t bore me to sleep.

Between me and you, they just need to cancel this year’s Oscars and announce that this year’s films will get lumped in with next year’s offerings.


And who is in charge of Eric Bana’s career?

I loved this guy in “Chopper.” But since then he’s become the superstar that hasn’t happened. “Black Hawk Down” he was just another face on the screen. If I hadn’t seen him in “Chopper,” I wouldn’t have noticed him. He was equally bland in “The Hulk.” Man didn’t make me forget that his Bruce Banner was no David Banner. “Troy” almost had him go over, but he had to play second fiddle to both Brad Pitt and that sissy Orlando Bloom. He didn’t even try to stake out his place in the frame. And finally there’s Spielberg’s “Munich.” Who wants a nationalistic killer with a heart? Spielberg turns him into Alan Alda with a gun. Someone needs to slap Bana around and remind him it’s time for him to play a hardcore asskicker or he’ll end up fighting for crappy “chick flick” roles with Matthew McConaughey. And being a Poker player hooked up with Drew Barrymore ain’t cuttin’ it. What’s the point of you draggin’ your ass across the Pacific to play roles that Benny Hill could pull off?


One of the warnings the MPAA gives us on Tim Burton’s retake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is for “Quirky Situations.” Are they kidding me? These are the same people who wouldn’t flag “I, Robot” for Will Smith cussing, but somehow they want parents to be forewarned about “Quirky Situations?” Maybe there should be a warning for “Plot” or “Human Interaction.” What is a movie without a “Quirky Situation?” Did they slap this warning on every Bugs Bunny cartoon?

I want to know if the people who rate the movies are recruited from head trauma clinics around Los Angeles? Are these morons the same goofs who design shopping mall parking lots?

And speaking of Burton’s “Charlie,” the film will not make me forget “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I’m not going to use that “old” DVD for skeet shooting. When I have kids, they’re going to think of Gene Wilder is Willie Wonka. There’s no reason for them to see Johnny Depp’s take on the candy genius. There’s no real panache to Burton’s vision. And it doesn’t make sense.

How exactly can the Buckets be poor when they have that much property around their shack? How can they afford the property taxes? And Charlie let the candy shop owner keep his nearly Nine pounds worth of change when he wins the ticket. He got ripped off by the guy and didn’t care. For a poor kid, he sure doesn’t mind letting the cash flow out of his hands. And why did the tour have to be a contest with everyone knowing that one kid gets the big prize? This is a kid’s story - no Survivor Jr. Edition.

And while I won’t give away the ending, it’s dishwater dull. It just painfully boring and over-extended. Almost wish Depp would choke on his gobstopper.

The only thing that Burton’s version has going for it: Geoffery Holder as the narrator. I thought Geoffery was dead. He’s the best damn thing in “Live and Let Die.” You should rent that Bond movie instead of this film.


March brings employment for Allan Havey. The greatest late night host of the 90s plays a semi-hip dad in Fox’s “Free Ride.” Havey has been interviewed in the Party Favors so we always rejoice when he appears on TV - like last year when he was on the Wendy’s Ad and Larry David’s show.

Allan’s new show seems goofy enough to survive longer than “Heather Graham Can’t Get Laid.” Was that the dumbest concept for a TV episode? What’s next, a sitcom where Ron Jeremy fears he’s losing his back hair?


I’m slowly working my way through “The Pink Panther Classic Cartoon Collection.” All 124 of the theatrical Pink Panther shorts are on 5 DVDs. That’s 11 hours worth of pink lovin. And they threw in a coupon that’s good for a free ticket to see the crummy new “Pink Panther” movie where Steve Martin proves that hack performance in “Cheaper By the Dozen” wasn’t a fluke. I really hope Steve is back to doing drugs so he has an excuse for this period in his life.


In the “You’ll pay more for less” file, Universal is coming out with single titles from their recent Alfred Hitchcock collection. They want $20 (SRP) for Topaz. I was able to pick up all 14 titles in the boxset for $84. So who is going to buy 4 of these DVDs because they’d rather not get the other 10 “free.”


As of Jan. 21, 2006, any public quoting of “Napoleon Dynamite” is now restricted to middle management.

“Flavor of Love” should really be called “Be My Bitches.” It’s shows like this that make bigamy sound like a bad thing.


I’ve got a question about whether “Enron: Smartest Guys In The Room” is really Oscar eligible. According to HDnet’s own press release:

“Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” was produced by HDNet Films, the high-definition production division that is co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mark Cuban, who also own HDNet and HDNet Movies. It was the first film to be distributed in the ground-breaking day-and-date release strategy, making a joint debut in both theatres and on HDNet Movies on the same day, April 22nd, 2005 and is currently available on DVD.

According to the Oscars, the rules about films are:

3. Films which, in any version, receive their first public exhibition or distribution in any manner other than as a theatrical motion picture release will not be eligible for Academy Awards in any category. (This includes broadcast and cable television, as well as home video marketing and internet transmission.) However, ten minutes or ten percent of the running time of a film, whichever is shorter, is allowed to be shown in a nontheatrical medium prior to the film?s theatrical release.

Now when I raised this issue with the Academy Awards folks, this was the response: “Enron” had completed is qualifying run between April 15 and April 21. On April 22 it went into wide release as well as running on HD Net.

Did the public have the chance to buy a ticket and see the film a week before it aired on HDNet? If yes, than it wasn’t a groundbreaking event since it wasn’t a joint debut. If no, then the film shouldn’t be up for an Oscar.

This means one of two things, either distributors of Enron lied about when the film really opened to the Academy or they fudged the truth on their press release to hype a vapor event. Which makes it kind of ironic that a film about Enron would play fast and loose with the truth.

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