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THE MONEY PIT - 03/31/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 31, 2006 at 1:42 am)

You ever have one of those weeks where you swear that you’ve encountered the most ignorant person you’ve yet to encounter in your entire life, and any attempts to get that person to understand simple logic is a frustrating, infuriating, and ultimately futile gesture? That, my friends, is the week I’ve had. Sometimes, people work really hard at being idiots, and the most you can do is try and limit the damage they insist on perpetrating. That being said, I’m really looking forward to kicking back this weekend with a book in hand, a movie on the TV, a CD on the stereo, and a huge drink by my side.

The 5 films comprising the Planet of the Apes series (Planet of the Apes, Beneath, Escape, Conquest, and Battle) have long been available on DVD, but only as sub-par non-anamorphic transfers – excluding the original film, which recently got a remastered treatment via a new special edition. That new edition of Apes is included alongside full remasters of the other four films in the Planet of the Apes: Legacy Collection box set (Fox, Rated G/Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP). The 6-disc set also features the extensive bonus disc Behind the Planet of the Apes. For the uber-fan, though, there’s the 14-disc Ultimate Collection (Fox, $179.98 SRP), which contains all 5 films, the Tim Burton remake, the TV series (which was released previously), Behind the Planet of the Apes, and the complete run of the cartoon series (which is exclusive to the set and has never been released). If that wasn’t enough, the set comes in special packaging that hits the border between cool and creepy – a scale replica of Roddy McDowell’s Caesar.

Of course, if human-sized apes in masks aren’t ape enough for you, marvel to the best ape that money and computers can provide via Peter Jackson’s ultimate geek-out, King Kong (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP). While not as abysmal as the 70’s remake, it still pales in comparison to the ’33 original. Regardless, it’s a fun – if overly long – romp from Skull Island to the towers of Manhattan. As usual, ignore the single-disc “Why bother?” edition and go for the 2-disc set ($30.98 SRP), featuring an intro from Jackson, Post-Production Diaries (a necessary accompaniment if you purchased the box-set of diaries at the end of last year), and in-depth look at the “history” and evolution of Skull Island, and a look at 1933 New York.

Long available in the UK, I’ve been waiting years for The Best of Not The 9 O’Clock News (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP) to hit the US. Via skits, news clips, and more, NTNOCN is like a brilliant blend of SNL and The Daily Show, taking on politics, religion, society – well, everything. Starring an up-and-coming bunch of actors with names like Griff Rhys Jones, Mel Smith, Pamela Stephenson, and Rowan Atkinson, it’s late 70’s run is still considered one of the high water marks in British comedy, and I urge you to check out this 2-disc set… Particularly for Rowan Atkinson as Gerald the Gorilla.

Ever had a yen to learn exactly where some of the icons of our pop culture have come to rest? If those niggling thoughts have ever crossed your mind, then The Ruby Slippers, Madonna’s Bra, and Einstein’s Brain: The Locations of America’s Pop Culture Artifacts (Santa Monica Press, $16.95 SRP) is exactly the rainy day tome you need. Packed with the whereabouts of everything from Lizzie Borden’s axe to the motorcycle from Easy Rider, it’s all in here, packed with photos, annotation, and the perfect recipe from one wonderfully weird road trip.

With bullseyes painted on quirky shows like Arrested Development, it’s still a wonder to me how an oddball delight like Northern Exposure lasted as long as it did. Watch any of the episodes found in the fourth season (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP) and you’ll be wondering the same thing… I mean, come on, the celebration of the annual Mosquito Festival? We need more shows like this, dammit! The 3-disc set features all 25 episodes plus deleted scenes and gag reels.

MTV2 has quietly built a reputation as the daring red-headed step-sibling to the now mainstream mediocrity of MTV proper with a pair of shows that no other network (save for public access) would even think of putting on TV – and here they are, both getting a release of their complete first seasons on DVD. The first is the still-baffling Andy Milonakis Show (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP), which is what happens when you let a needy kid have valuable airtime (thankfully, it manages to be funny 50% of the time). On the other hand, you have to admire the sheer surreality of the kiddie-show-gone-to-seed that is the puppet-heavy Wonder Showzen (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). In fact, to even try to describe it will cause my head to explode, so better you just check it out for yourself. The 2-disc Milonakis set features commentary, unaired skits, interviews, extended scenes, and outtakes. Wonder Showzen brings guest commentaries (Dick Gregory!), auditions, outtakes, “Storytime with Flava Flav,” and more.

When it comes to definitive art based on iconic movie monsters, there’s no denying that the pieces features within Famous Monster Movie Art of Basil Gogos (Watson-Guptill, $24.95 SRP) more than lives up to the term “definitive.” Kick back, crack it open, and relive your own personal monster chiller horror theater.

Thrill to the continuing adventures of everyone’s favorite Bond substitute (and a lot better than that new guy) via the complete 5th & 6th seasons of Danger Mouse (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). The 2-disc set features all 37 pulse-pounding episodes, plus a bonus episode of the one and only Count Duckula… It’s like my 80’s childhood, come back to haunt me.

Adult Swim’s stop-motion toy sketch comedy Robot Chicken (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP) is pure hit-and-miss. Sometimes it reaches levels of sublime brilliance, and sometimes is falls flat on its plastic face. Thankfully, the segments comes so fast and furious that the dead spots are usually swept away rather quickly. The show always struck me as a brainstorming session put on film, with many ideas unformed beyond the “wouldn’t it be cool?” moment of inspiration. Regardless, though, I have high hopes for season two. In the meantime, check out the 20 episodes comprising the complete first season, which features behind-the-scenes footage, deleted scenes, commentaries, and more.

For a quick catch-all snapshot of a given artist’s career, check out the latest 2-disc releases from Sony Legacy’s Essential collection, the first of which celebrates the 70th birthday of the late Roy Orbison (Monument/Sony Legacy, $24.98 SRP) and features 40 must-have classics. The other release this go-round spotlights George Jones (Epic/Sony Legacy, $24.98 SRP), likewise sporting 40 cuts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contain one of my faves – the country anthem “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes?”… What’s up with that?

An otherwise by-the-numbers horror flick about a tormented college student (Ryan Gosling) who informs his psychologist (Ewan McGregor) that he’s going to end his life in three days in order to escape the hellish voices and visions he’s experiencing – phenomena that his doctor soon gets swept in – Stay (Fox, Rated R, DVD-$27.98 SRP) manages to be watchable solely on the merits of its cast. Both Gosling and McGregor elevate the material, and the presence of Naomi Watts doesn’t hurt either. Bonus materials include an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the theatrical trailer.

Sometimes I get the sense that Warners is – I hesitate to use the phrase scraping the bottom of the barrel, but that they’re reaching the outer limits of what can be legitimately termed as classic Hanna-Barbera cartoons. The complete 5th season of The Flintstones (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) is definitely a highlight, and was still going strong even as it began to approach the end of its run. On the other hand, the complete run of The Scooby Doo/Dynomutt Hour (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) does begin to stretch the aforementioned “classic” label, even if I still have fond memories of that loveable robo-mutt. The Flintstones set features rarities, a featurette on prehistoric parenting, and an in-depth look at the Gruesomes episode. Scooby-Doo/Dynomutt contains a featurette with the original voice actors, a history of Scooby and Dynomutt, and a gallery of rare art.

If you’re like me (meaning you have a love of history and a deep-seated desire to be surprised with facets of historical figures and events you’d never encountered), then you’ll love the new History Channel documentary on our 16th President, Lincoln (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$24.95 SRP). If you thought you knew the Great Emancipator, you owe it to yourself to check out this illuminating look at the man whose life was marked by tragedy and triumph.

Live Schreiber’s directorial debut, Everything Is Illuminated (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$27.98 SRP) is one of those flicks that you desperately want to embrace for its quirkiness, and you admire it for going there, but it just fails to make a true connection. To put it simply, it’s a bit antiseptic in its attempts to evoke an emotional response to a very emotional subject matter – namely, the Holocaust. Well, in a roundabout way, since the film focuses on the personal journey of young Jonathan Safran Foer (Elijah Wood), a collector of memories, who travels to the Ukraine in order to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis in 1942. The disc is pretty bare bones, featuring only a clutch of deleted scenes and the theatrical trailer.

As a subscriber to Nintendo Power in the late 80’s, I was required (by law) to watch the Saturday morning animated plumber-fest, The Super Mario Brothers Super Show (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$29.98 SRP). I still have fond memories of the live-action wraparounds starring Captain Lou Albano as our main paisan, Mario, along with his pasta-loving bro Luigi. This 4-disc set features 24 episodes of pure Bowser-bashing fun.

Six Feet Under (HBO, Not Rated, DVD-$99.98 SRP) ends its 5-year run in just as lyrically maudlin a way as you’d expect from the sometimes too ironically poignant series. If you think I’m being too harsh, re-watch the final 12 episodes for yourself. The 5-disc set contains 6 audio commentaries, a pair of retrospectives, and a farewell featurette.

And while we’re talking Sony Legacy, they’re one of the few companies out there doing spectacular remasters and re-releases of their catalogue titles, the latest of which feature the first two albums from Jeff Lynne’s ELO – No Answer and ELO II (Epic/Legacy, $11.98 SRP each). In addition to the remastered sound, both discs also feature a quartet of bonus tracks.

Michael Landon’s big-haired angel on a mission returns in the third season of Highway to Heaven (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$69.95 SRP), with the late Victor French in tow as his loveable human sidekick. It’s got more sass than the treacly Touched By An Angel thanks largely to French, who’s the spoonful of tart to make the sweet go down. The 7-disc set features all 25 episodes, plus interviews.

No animation library would be complete without Plymptoons: The Complete Early Works of Bill Plympton (New Video, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP), featuring 20 of his most memorable pieces (If you’ve never seen “25 Ways to Quit Smoking,” you *must* purchase this set). The set also includes a pair of documentaries and a sketch gallery.

By the fourth season of Quantum Leap (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP), it didn’t take a time-traveling scientist to figure out that the writers were running thin on ideas. As soon as the monkey episode happened, I knew the show was hitting fumes. Still, there were some highlights – particularly the episode in which Sam & Al switched roles. Bonus features this go round are limited to an episode from season 5 (“Liberation”).

I’ve been geeking out quite a bit as of late with a pair of Star Trek-related tomes that have managed to hit all the right nerd-buttons. First up is The Art of Star Trek (Pocket Books, $25.00 SRP), which delves into the design and concept archives of the Trek franchise, going all the way back to the original series and ending just before the crap that was Enterprise. For the uber-geeky, though, there’s Star Trek Star Charts: The Complete Atlas of Star Trek (Pocket Books, $17.95 SRP). As the name implies, it’s a collection of navigational maps for the Star Trek universe… Although, frankly, a lot of it was gobbeldygook to me. Pretty pictures, though.

Produced in conjunction with Major League Baseball, fans of both the 2005 Chicago White Sox (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$69.95 SRP) and the 1986 New York Mets (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$89.95 SRP) will want to snap up the definitive chronicles of their championship runs via a pair of World Series Collector’s Edition box sets. Featuring the complete championship games, plus additional interviews, victory celebrations, and much more, they really are a fan’s dream come true. Considering how large they are – Chicago clocks in at 7 discs with the Mets at 9 – they also make great doorstops.

Also for baseball fans, the interviews contained within Legend to Legend: Conversations with Bob Wolff (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) more than lives up to its title, as the legendary broadcaster interviews the legends of baseball in their prime in pieces filmed between 1956-1959.

Spinning off from Dallas, Knots Landing (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) was like the Beverly Hillbillies of soaps, as the middle Ewing son moves out to the titular upscale California cul-de-sac. Eventually running 14 seasons (I know – I’m shocked, too), the first 13 are features in this 5-disc set, as well as a pair of commentaries with Joan Van Ark & Ted Shackelford, plus a retrospective featurette.

As a concept, Showtime’s Masters of Horror seemed like must-watch TV – take a bunch of classic horror film directors and give them free reign to create a one-hour horror piece. Unfortunately, the formerly A-List directors are well past their prime, and the scripts are mediocre at best. The first two DVD releases from the series feature John Carpenter’s practically unwatchable Cigarette Burns and Stuart Gordon’s Dreams in the Witch House (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$16.98 SRP each). Both discs feature audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, and more.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 03/24/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 24, 2006 at 10:40 pm)

I’m still recovering from a nasty little post-trip cold following my extended jaunt to surprisingly cold and rainy LA, so let’s get this little dog & pony show off the ground…

First up, I want to point you all in the direction of a cool little musical act I stumbled upon out in LA, The Emotion Project. If you dug the soundtrack to Garden State, you’ll be kicking yourself if you don’t snap up the debut CD. Seriously – go. I’ll be waiting here for you to come back.

While the show had most definitely been headed in that direction, it wasn’t until the 7th season of South Park (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP) that the show fully morphed into one of the most astute, pointed social satires ever to grace the boob tube. From pop culture and politics to celebrity and religion, no topic was off-bounds, and no treatment of said topic was done with kid gloves. Metrosexuality, Christian Rock, Jennifer Lopez, Indian casinos, smoking, Mormons – it’s all there, and it’s al brutally funny. The 3-disc set features all 15 episodes, plus Matt & Trey’s patented mini-commentaries.

In the vacuum left by the loss of Chappelle’s Show, I was pleasantly surprised by Comedy Central’s newest comic-centric sketch comedy, Mind of Mencia (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$26.99 SRP). Carlos Mencia is the type of comedian I love – unafraid to have strong opinions on race, gender, politics, and society, and able to deliver those opinions with a pointed humor that forces us to laugh at ourselves. If you think I’m exaggerating, check out the first season, and I guarantee you’ll be identifying with everything he has to say – some of it hitting a little too close to home. The 2-disc set features deleted scenes, additional segments, behind-the-scenes footage, bloopers, and more.

Compared to what the show would evolve into when it became Justice League Unlimited, the first season of Justice League (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$44.98 SRP) was an uneven affair. Desperate not to make it the Superman & Batman show, Bruce Timm & Co. (minus the much-missed Paul Dini) erred too far in the other direction, to the particular detriment of Superman. Even at its worst, though, the 26 episodes features are still light years better than crap like The Batman. Bonus features include a trio of audio commentaries, featurettes on character design and storyboards, a panel discussion with the creators, and a rare promo film for the series.

Speaking of Timm & Co., something that did work – much to my surprise, considering the concept originally left me cold – was Batman Beyond (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$26.98 SRP). By mostly ignoring the Warner suits and making sure that the mythos that led young Terry McGinnis to assume the mantle of the Bat was firmly rooted in their animated Batman, it gave the series a depth and character it otherwise wouldn’t have had. The 2-disc set features all 13 first season episodes, plus a pair of audio commentaries, a featurette on the creators, and select score-only seasons.

One of Bruce Timm’s major artistic influences was the legendary Jack “King” Kirby, and I gotta admit – I love the large format version of the Jack Kirby Collector (Twomorrows, $9.95). The latest issue, #45, features a special 3-D back cover, and is jam-packed with enough rare, beautiful Kirby art to give any aspiring artist an inferiority complex.

It’s not often that an actress stars in two television series that – despite being relatively short-lived – made said star a national sweetheart… long before she became an Oscar-winning film star. Who is the actress and what were the series? The actress was Sally Field, and the series were Gidget and the still-unbelievable The Flying Nun (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP each). Beach bunny Gidget gets a complete series release featuring all 32 episodes (plus the original pilot and a retrospective featurette with Fields), while The Flying Nun penguin wings her way onto DVD with all 30 first season episodes (again, with an exclusive Field interview). The 60’s truly were an innocent time… Long before Smokey & the Bandit.

While the release of some shows like The Jeffersons, Newsradio, Larry Sanders, and Just Shoot Me moves at a glacial pace, Sony has really been good about getting Bewitched out on DVD in a relatively quick manner. In fact, we’re already up to the 3rd season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) – a momentous affair featuring the show’s first color episodes and the emergence of baby Tabitha’s witchy powers. Hey – as long as Endora and Uncle Arthur are back, I’m happy as a clam.

In my senior year of high school, I carried a bet with a friend a bit too far and found myself with one of the lead roles in the musical 42nd Street – which is as good a cautionary tale against betting as I can imagine. Still, the experience holds a warm place in the cockles of my heart, which is why I got a kick out of Warner’s new Busby Berkley Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$59.98 SRP). Elements and songs from the 4 films contained in the set – 42nd Street, Gold Diggers of 1933, Footlight Parade, Dames, and Gold Diggers of 1935 – were combined to make the musical. As per the usual Warner standard, all of the flicks look and sound exceptionally well considering their age, plus the discs are loaded with vintage featurettes, cartoons, documentaries, trailers, and more. In addition, the 6th disc in the set is The Busby Berkley Disc, which features 21 complete musical numbers from Berkley’s films.

The interminable wait between releases of the original Speed Racer is barely satiated by the arrival of the penultimate fourth volume (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$22.98 SRP), which features a measly 8 additional episodes. As an added bonus, though, the disc does come with a 1:64-scale diecast of the Mach-5. Now where’s that last set, people?

It should come as no surprise that Paul Mooney was one of the best writers that ever wrote for Richard Pryor – in Paul Mooney’s Analyzing White America (Shout! Factory, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP) he takes precision aim at racism in America, the “N” word, the skinny black fetish of big white women, and more hilarious, painfully true observations of our modern culture. If you’ve been jonesing for the same with that brought us “Negrodamus” and the ultimate insult at Wayne Brady (before Dave Chappelle took Chappelle’s Show away from us), then look no further. The disc also features an interview with Mooney.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not angry that Dave Chappelle decided not to pursue another season of his show. Frankly, it was his decision and he had his reasons, and I respect that. Thankfully, he has given us the incredible concert film Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, and its equally incredible soundtrack album (Geffen, $13.98 SRP).

First things first – I can’t hate Hank Azaria. It’s impossible for me to bring myself to be disappointed with him. Same thing goes for Oliver Platt. When you combine them both in Showtime’s breakout hit Huff (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Azaria stars as family man and psychiatrist Dr. Craig “Huff” Huffstodt, whose life is turned completely upside down when a 15 year-old patient commits suicide during a session, sending Huff into a spiral of self-doubt and evaluation. It’s a fine little dramedy that deserves to be discovered by anyone unfamiliar with it (much like Showtime’s “why did they cancel it?” Dead Like Me). The 4-disc set features all 13 first season episodes, plus deleted scenes, a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes, and audio commentaries on select episodes.

The third season of Tales From the Crypt (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) features a pair of the macabre series’ most beloved episodes (by me, anyway) - “Yellow” and “Top Billing.” The Bob Zemeckis-directed “Yellow” starred Eric Douglas as the cowardly son of Kirk Douglas’s tough-as-nails general who decides that courage and honor are more important than blood, while “Top Billing” finds Jon Lovitz willing to do anything to get a part in a production of Hamlet. The 3-disc set contains an additional 12 episodes, plus a pair of panel discussions on the show, and a music video.

Filmed during the Fillmore Auditorium appearance of their 2005 reunion tour, The Black Crowes: Freak ‘n’ Roll… Into the Fog (Eagle Vision, $14.98 SRP) is a rarity amongst reunion concerts – they’re still in top form. Shocking, I know.

Already given a deluxe special edition treatment a few years back, the new 3-disc 50th anniversary edition of The Ten Commandments (Paramount, Rated G, DVD-$24.99 SRP). Not only does this new outing feature a completely restored and remastered presentation of Cecil B. DeMille’s legendary 1956 version (starring Charlton Heston as the bearded guy with the tablets), but also DeMille’s 1923 silent original. The 1956 version features an audio commentary with author Katherine Orrison (writer of the making-of book Written in Stone), an extensive 6-part behind-the-scenes documentary, a newsreel of the film’s NY premiere, and a trailer gallery. The 1923 version features another commentary from Orrison, and hand-tinted footage of the “Exodus and Parting of the Red Sea” sequence.

After his bizarre lapse in hermitude during this year’s Grammy Awards, you may be interested in hearing more from Sly and the Family Stone. Well, that’s not going to happen… remember the whole recluse thing? The next best thing, though, is Different Strokes By Different Folks (Epic/Legacy, $18.98 SRP), a collection of 14 covers of classic Sly by the likes of Isaac Hayes, Moby, John Mayer, Janet Jackson, Chuck D, Maroon 5, and more.

I really wanted Over There (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) to succeed. Created Steven Bochco and Chris Gerolmo, it dared to try and tell a dramatic series about the U.S. military in the current Gulf War, focusing on both the soldiers in the Middle East and their families back home. In the end, it just never quite seemed to pull off the initial promise of the concept, but it still manages to feature some shockingly gritty storytelling and will go down as a landmark series regardless. The 4-disc set features all 13 episodes, plus audio commentaries on select episodes, a documentary on the process of filming the show, and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

I am a huge, huge fan of the Classic Albums series of documentaries focusing on the creation of some of the most iconic records ever recorded. The latest focuses on The Making of A Night at the Opera (Eagle Vision, Not Rated, DVD-$14.98 SRP), the album that launched Queen into the stratosphere as a truly legendary rock band. The DVD features an additional 50 minutes of footage not in the original TV broadcast.

Nothing beats the classic World War II flicks of yesteryear, and Stalag 17 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP) certainly ranks among the best. Directed by Billy Wilder and starring William Holden as the scheming Sergeant J.J. Sefton, a prisoner at Germany’s notorious POW camp, who runs rackets and trades favor for special privileges. Sefton comes under suspicion from his fellow prisoners as a spy for the Germans when a pair of escape attempts end in death. The newly remastered special edition features an audio commentary, a making-of documentary, a featurette on the real POWs of Stalag XVIIB, and a photo gallery.

Even all these months later, I still have a bad taste in my mouth about Disney’s crass foray into the CG game, Chicken Little (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Featuring a half-hearted attempt at melding Shrek-like postmodernism with Pixar-esque charm, they instead created a Frankenstein’s monster of a flick, clearly uncomfortable in both worlds and crying out for a soul. Sadly, that soul is nowhere to be found in this reworking of the classic tale of CL, with our young hero instead identifying the arrival of extraterrestrials and being inevitably forced to rise to the challenge. The DVD features a making-of featurettes, deleted scenes (plus 3 alternate openings), and a bunch of crap music videos.

There’s definitely something discomforting about the latest trio of Shirley Temple flicks released under the “Shirley Temple Collection” banner (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$14.98 SRP). No, it’s not the tiny tyke as the littlest pickpocket in Dimples… it’s the Temple flick version of the old south portrayed in The Littlest Rebel and The Little Colonel. Even with co-stars like Hattie McDaniel and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, these most definitely are flicks made in a far less enlightened time. Still, as cultural artifacts, I’m glad they’re available, and can only hope Disney will eventually get around to releasing Song of the South.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 03/17/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 17, 2006 at 12:51 am)

You know, as much as I love going places, I loathe travel – for the time wasted in transit, and for the disruption in routine (and deadlines). While you’re reading this, I’m currently in LA lining up some fun (I hope) coverage for the future… And dreading the time wasted on the return trip.

In his Oscar speech, George Clooney made a point that Hollywood, while being a barometer of the times, can also be a social and political motivator. In his portrait of Edward R. Murrow’s journalistic battle against Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his Communist witchhunt in the 50’s, Clooney uses Good Night, and Good Luck (Warner Bros., Rated PG, DVD-$28.98 SRP) to show a time – and a struggle for free speech in the face of political fear-mongering – that is sadly not dissimilar from the climate we currently find ourselves in. The war on terror is being waged in much the same way as the war on communism espoused by McCarthy, with a chilling of open discussion and much political chess being played. David Strathairn is wonderful as the stoic-yet-electrifying Murrow, who used the medium as a means of fighting for the public good… Remember when journalists used to do that? Bonus materials include an audio commentary from Clooney and producer/co-writer Grant Heslov, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the theatrical trailer.

I’ve come to anticipate the release of each new volume in the Conversations series of books, which collect together interviews from various sources and time periods into an engrossing, and always informative, portrait of their given subject. The latest volume, Walt Disney: Conversations (University of Mississippi, $20.00 SRP), features over a dozen interviews with the man behind the mouse.

With the impending Superman flick on the horizon, superhero-centric DVD releases are going to be coming fast & furious – and that includes both the good and the bad. On the good side, there’s Cartoon Network’s hyperkinetic take on The Teen Titans, finally getting a complete first season release (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). While I was not overly enamored of the series at first, it’s grown on me considerably, due in most part to the fact that they have a solid grasp on the essential core of the characters. On the other hand, the first season of The Batman (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is just a disaster. Who thought we needed a new animated Batman, when the Bruce Timm version still remains as valid today as when it premiered. Way to crass it out, Warners. The 2-disc Teen Titans set features all 13 episodes, plus featurettes on the voice actors and the translation of comic to screen. The 2-disc Batman set features all 13 episodes, as well as featurettes examining the poor thinking that went into this useless abomination.

There’s something refreshing and new in watching the first season of I Dream of Jeannie (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) in its original black & white. One of the cornerstones of the 60’s TV fantasy movement (alongside Bewitched), it’s a show that I only remember ever seeing in color. Without it, the comedy comes to the forefront, and it still holds up to this day as pure escapist entertainment. The 4-disc set features all 30 episodes, plus an audio commentary on the pilot and a retrospective featurette.

Warners continue to mine its incredible catalogue by bringing to market titles that cinephiles have been desperate for. In order to facilitate the release of these vault classics, they’ve taken to crafting themed boxes to insure that the economic model supports the admittedly niche sets. The latest on the docket is a quartet of classic Agatha Christie flicks featuring the sleuthing Miss Marple, played by Margaret Rutherford. The 4-disc Miss Marple Collection (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) contains Murder She Said, Murder at the Gallop, Murder Ahoy, and Murder Most Foul. While not as feature-packed as most of Warners’ releases, the discs do at least feature the original theatrical trailers.

While not a Marple mystery, another Agatha Christie classic, Ten Little Indians (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) is also hitting DVD. Revolving around a mysterious dinner party (with 10 guests, natch) and the progressive deaths of said guests, it’s a fun little whodunit beautifully restored. The DVD features the original “Whodunit Break” segment from the theatrical release, plus the film’s trailer.

In a field dominated by Pixar and Shrek, Fox’s CG animation studio Blue Sky managed to pull together a surprisingly funny foray with Ice Age, a prehistoric tale of mismatched migrating animals led by the dulcet tones of Ray Romano as a wooly mammoth. With the sequel on its way, it should be no surprise that we’ve now got a 2-disc “Super Cool” special edition (Fox, Rated PG, DVD-$19.98 SRP), featuring the bonus materials found on the original release (audio commentaries, deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes) with a new “Extreme Cool View” version of the film packed with fun facts, a scene-specific audio commentary with John Leguizamo’s Sid, additional featurettes, and much more.

For all its criticism as yet another Oscar attempt via de-beautifying, Charlize Theron makes the Norma Rae-esque factory worker heroine of North Country (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD- $28.98 SRP) a believable character in a gender-equality story that we’ve seen far too many times before. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, Theron plays a worker in the highly hazardous Minnesota iron mines who rallied her fellow workers and instigated the country’s first class action sexual harassment suit… And do I even have to tell you it’s based on a true story? The disc contains a making-of documentary, additional scenes, and the theatrical trailer.

I’m very selective about the country music I allow through my musical filters – gimme Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson, and keep your modern country to yourself. One of the few country bands that have made it onto the short list is Alabama, who are celebrating their 25th anniversary with a deluxe 3-disc box set – Livin’ Lovin’ Rockin’ Rollin’ (RCA/Sony Legacy, $39.98 SRP). With over 50 tracks worth of hits, demos, live cuts, and rarities, it’s certainly an enjoyable box o’ mountain music.

Like Mr. Holland’s Opus, Remember the Titans is one of those unashamedly button-pushing flicks that I know, in my heart of hearts, I should detest with the fire of a thousand suns but, for some reason, embrace to my embarrassed chest. Even more buttons are pushed in the newly-released extended director’s cut (Walt Disney, Not Rated, DVD-$19.99 SRP), featuring a featurette on Denzel Washington, a behind-the-scenes documentary, “Beating the Odds” featurette, and additional deleted scenes. I feel so dirty.

In the 5th season of MacGyver (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), I halfway expected to see the cliché the series had become – you know, our hero crafting a hoverboat out of toothpicks and twine. But would you believe a time travel adventure? Huh? Caught you by surprise, didn’t I?

If anyone doubts that Pamela Anderson is the absolute reining queen of guilty pleasure TV, look no further than her action adventure series VIP (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), which stars the surgically-endowed high mistress of schlock as the owner of a Tinsletown bodyguard agency. If you doubt its irresistible appeal to the basest of pleasure centers, partake of the 5-disc complete first season, featuring cast intros on select episodes, an audio commentary on the finale, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and a trivia track on the premiere.

Why is it the that fiction’s greatest sleuths all border on the geriatric? Is it the grizzled life experience, or just the level of thespian they attract when brought to life on the big or small screen? Two such super-sleuths get additional seasons of their respective series, with Columbo (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP) reaching its fourth while Jessica Fletcher and Murder, She Wrote (Universal, Not Rated, DVD-$49.98 SRP) hits its third season of crime-solving. Columbo feature another episode from the spin-off Mrs. Columbo (“A Riddle for Puppets”) and Murder, She Wrote contains the crossover episode of Magnum, PI.

It seems like only yesterday that the last deluxe edition of Sharon Stone’s ice pick wielding stab at cinematic immortality was released (complete with an ice pick), but it seems the time has come for another special edition of Basic Instinct (Lionsgate, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). Obviously intended as a tie-in to the film’s upcoming sequel, this “Ultimate Edition” features the unrated director’s cut, an audio commentary with director Paul Verhoeven and DP Jan De Bont, an intro and interview with Ms. Stone, a making-of featurette, screen tests, storyboard comparisons, and more. Sadly, no ice pick.

For the learned amongst you interested in such things (you know who you are, Mark), Poetry on Record (Shout! Factory, $45.49 SRP) is a 4-disc set collecting dozens of classic poems, read by the authors themselves – everyone from Walt Whitman & Robert Frost to Allen Ginsburg & Derek Walcott. Some of the recordings in question date back to the early part of the last century, and as with any creative writing, it’s always a unique experience to hear authors deliver their work in their own voice.

On the reality front, a new pair of documentaries explore sexuality in modern America – one through the prism of an infamous porn classic, and the other through the very notion of sexual identity. Debbie Does Dallas: Uncovered (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP) is pretty self-explanatory, going behind the scenes of the porn that launched a thousand parodies in the same fashion as last year’s Inside Deep Throat. Transgeneration (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP), on the other hand, follows a quartet of college students as they juggle classes and the weighty decision of gender reassignment – heady stuff, to be sure, but handled surprisingly well in this 8-part series. Dallas features an additional film, while the 2-disc Transgeneration contains deleted/extended scenes.

There’s nothing like going out on a sour note, and that’s exactly what J. Michael Straczynski did with his final (not by his design, mind you) outing within the once-great Babylon 5 universe. Having already stumbled with the mediocre Crusade, The Legend of the Rangers (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP) was like a blow to the gut – none of the storytelling panache of JMS’s original B5 run was to be found, and this driven home by the welcome but wasted presence of the late, great Andreas Katsulas as G’kar, one of the finest characters to ever hit the realms of fiction. What can I say? At least we have the original series…

Even though their friendship is kaput, you can still get one last look at the sheer, unbridled idiocy found in those paragons of the idle class, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie, in the 3rd and final season of The Simple Life (Fox, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP). This season, our two loveable boobs wreck many a business as cluelessly destructive interns. Now please, let it end.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 03/10/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 10, 2006 at 12:46 am)

Before we dive into this week’s guide (and I begin the always painful process of packing for a trip), I wanted to let you all know that my good buddies over at TV Shows on DVD” are hosting a poll allowing fans to choose the box art for the long-awaited release of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. on DVD. Click here to head over and vote.

Also, on a programming note, check out the new comedy special from Carlos Mencia, No Strings Attached, premiering this weekend on Comedy Central (Sunday, March 12 at 10:00pm, to be exact). I really dug Mind of Mencia, and his stand-up is caustic, un-PC tonic that’s truly refreshing – and funny – in this day and age.

I wasn’t a terribly big fan of the incredible amount of story compression that went into the 3rd Harry Potter adaptation, The Prisoner of Azkaban – it just seemed like I was strapped to a bullet train that wasn’t even bothering to stop long enough at important story points to attain comprehension. Oddly enough, I actually thought the compression on the much more sprawling Goblet of Fire (Warner Bros., Rated PG-13, DVD-$30.98 SRP) worked a lot better, and left me feeling much more satisfied with the end result. Harry’s fifth year was a big affair, containing the budding romances for all of our heroes, the return of Voldemort and the Deatheaters, and the massive TriWizard Tournament. Like I said – there was a lot going on… Yet, somehow, screenwriter Steve Kloves and director Mike Newell make it work, along with the ever-strengthening acting skills of the kids. There are both a single disk vanilla and 2-disc versions available – but who in the heck wants the single disc? The 2-disc edition features cast interviews, deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and an in-depth look at the TriWizard challenges.

To view the design work of Chip Kidd – which has graced both the covers and interiors of many fine books from dozens of authors on just as many different topics and genres – is to witness a unique artist practicing a craft wholly unique from the surrounding pack. If you doubt that high-falutin’ assessment, look no further than the collected work found in Chip Kidd: Book One (Rizzoli, $65.00 SRP), covering the astonishingly productive period between 1986 2006 – a period during which Kidd worked on everything from John Updike to Superman. Speaking of Updike, he’s crafted the massive tome’s introduction, heaping loving praise upon Kidd’s achievements. Heck, when you’ve become a Jeopardy question, you know you’ve accomplished something – and Kidd has certainly accomplished quite a bit.

Why did people flock to mediocre garbage like Chicken Little and ignore a gem like Zathura (Sony, Rated PG, DVD-$28.95 SRP)? Based on another boardgame-centric children’s book by Chris Van Allsburg (What is with him and board games? Someone’s got some issues…), it’s the first film in a long, long time that reminded me of the flicks that enraptured me during my 80’s youth – flicks like The Goonies, Explorers, The Neverending Story, and The Last Starfighter. Much like Jumanji, it features a pair of completely unprepared kids – this time it’s bickering brothers – who are swept up into the space adventure of the antique gears and motors board game Zathura that the youngest sibling stumbles across in the basement of their new home (occupied by their recently divorced, over-stressed and somewhat distant Dad, played by Tim Robbins). What follows is a rollicking, dangerous, and action filled journey through the cosmos – and they never even leave the house. Unlike Jumanji, though, the warmth of the main story – that of two brothers finally able to see eye to eye – is never drown out by CG or Robin Williams. Kudos to director Jon Favreau for pulling off a great film, and one I hope gets a much-deserved life on home video. Bonus features include an audio commentary with Favreau and producer Peter Billingsly, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and a spotlight on the world of Chris Van Allsburg…. But again, buy the guy “Chutes & Ladders” already.

The press likes to claim that the Priceline ads were the reason for William Shatner’s most recent cultural comeback, but Shatner would not have gotten those legendary ads if not for a beautiful little comedy gem called Free Enterprise (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP), about a pair of geeks (Eric McCormack & Rafer Weigel) in pursuit of love in sunny LA – who just so happen to encounter their childhood hero… Who’s nothing like they expect him to be. Full of pop culture wit and – what makes it all work – real heart, I’m glad the flick is finally getting a bonafide deluxe treatment on DVD, with a 2-disc special edition featuring remastered sound and picture, audio commentaries from filmmakers Mark Altman & Robert Meyer Burnett and the cast (yes – even Shatner), a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, screen tests. The music video for Shatner’s rap opus “No Tears For Caesar,” a TV spot, and the theatrical trailer.

In the annals of war flicks, Jarhead (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$39.98 SRP) is a unique case. It’s got all of the elements – gung ho soldiers ready to utilize their training to fight for their country in a foreign land. Only it’s about a war that was over practically before it started, after months of build-up, leaving those highly trained soldiers not just stir crazy, but completely unfulfilled. This particular tale follows Marine Corps sniper Anthony Swofford (Jake Gyllenhaal) from his stint in boot camp to the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq during the first Gulf War, and all of the uncertainty and lack of clarity inherent in that conflict for those on the ground. It’s a sobering look at modern warfare and the highly trained cogs in the war machine. Ignore the single disc editions and go with the 2-disc special edition, featuring deleted scenes, interviews, Jarhead diaries, and behind-the-scenes documentaries.

Much like the spin-off “Best-of” collections that came out of the Rocky & Bullwinkle sets for features like Fractured Fairy Tales and Dudley Do-Right, a pair of recurring classics from the Underdog show get their own Best-ofs – Go-Go Gophers and Tennessee Tuxedo and His Tails (Classic Media, Not Rated, DVD-$12.98 SRP each).

Coming so close on its heels, it’s hard not to compare the Johnny cash biopic Walk the Line (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$39.99 SRP) with the story of Ray Charles in Ray. Both men had hardscrabble depression-era childhoods, both men were scarred by the deaths of their brothers while they were kids, both suffered from a lust for women and substance abuse – but most importantly, both found refuge in music, and eventually gained international stardom while facing down their demons. Walk the Line – again, like Ray – is held together by a remarkable performance, with the Man in Black being brought to silver screen life by Joaquin Phoenix. Just as vital to the story, though, is Reese Witherspoon as the eventual rock in Cash’s life, his wife June Carter. As always, stick with the 2-disc collector’s edition (rather than the single disc affair), which features an audio commentary with director/co-writer James Mangold, deleted scenes with optional commentary, a trio of extended music sequences, an extensive making-of/tribute to Cash, a featurette on the Folsom Prison concert, a featurette on Johnny and June’s love affair, and the film’s theatrical trailer.

I’ve praised them in the past, but in an age where shrinking shelf space in bricks & mortar stores has left little room for catalogue releases from most artists, Universal Music’s 2-disc “Gold” collections are ready-made primers for anyone unfamiliar with an artist’s work – and even manage to throw a couple of rarities (including live, alternate, and demo tracks) that make them worth picking up for even the diehard fans. The latest artist-specific releases feature Loretta Lynn and the Righteous Brothers, while there’s also a pair of genre collections spotlighting the 70’s and Love Songs (UMe, $19.98 SRP each). Similar to the “Gold” line is the “Definitive” collection, which condenses a given artist down to a single disc of must-have material at a lower price point – sort of a desert island disc. The latest addition is from Satchmo himself, Louis Armstrong: Definitive Collection (UMe, $13.98 SRP). “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world…”

Consider this another one of my gong-banging exhortations to buy the latest issues of Uncle Scrooge and Walt Disney’s Comics & Stories (Gemstone, $6.95 SRP each) – the latest issues of which are 351 & 666, respectively – featuring some great stories (and even one or two by the master, Carl Barks.

For some, Japanese cinema begins and ends with Kurosawa, but a newly-released box set celebrates a trio of films from a forgotten maverick, Seijun Suzuki. Reinventing his 60’s penchant for yakuza psychedelia, his Taisho Trilogy (Kino, Not Rated, DVD-$79.95 SRP) were set in a 1920’s Japan being remade by modernity and on the cusp of the militarist 30’s. This 3-disc set features all three films – Zigeunerweisen, Kagero-za, and Yumeji – plus an interview with Suzuki, trailers, and essays.

I’m still on the fence about themed episode collections like the new Star Trek Fan Collective series, the first of which focuses on the Borg (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). With 14 episodes spanning 4 discs and 3 series (TNG, Voyager, and Enterprise), owners of the previous season sets of each series will be a bit miffed that this set features a new audio commentary on the Enterprise episode “Regeneration” and Okuda text commentaries on another 3 episodes. Why weren’t these included in the season sets?

Along with a 2-disc special edition release of Miyazaki’s Academy Award-nominated Howl’s Moving Castle (Walt Disney, Rated PG, DVD-$29.99 SRP), we get another pair of must-have Studio Ghibli classics, My Neighbor Totoro and Whisper of the Heart (Walt Disney, Rated PG, DVD-$29.99 SRP each). Each 2-disc set features behind-the scenes featurettes, while Howl’s and Totoro also contain trailers, storyboards, and more (with Howl’s getting a wonderful interview with Pixar’s Pete Docter).

With all of the animation books out there, you’d think that at least one would have been written about the art of character design. Well, you’d be wrong. Sure, there have been chapters in many a volume devoted to it, but none that have taken that alchemical art as the main focus – until Tom Bancroft’s Creating Characters With Personality (Watson-Guptill, $19.95 SRP). Bancroft, a former Disney animator and creator of the gorgeous you-should-be-reading-this comic book Opposite Forces, expertly distills the process of unlocking appealing designs in diverse styles, depending on the project at hand. It’s an excellent foundation on which to build a solid knowledge about the process, and a necessary addition to any art library.

A few years back, Fox tried marketing their 2-disc editions of catalogue classics under the banner of “5 Star” editions. Long out of print, the titles were eventually re-released as single-disc editions – which was unfortunate, since the bonus materials on those second discs were often exceptional in-depth documentaries and interviews. Thankfully, Fox is bringing back those 2-disc editions, packaged in gold foil slipcases, as their new “Awards Series.” The films in question are Cleopatra, Speed, The French Connection, and M*A*S*H (Fox, $19.98 SRP each).

If you like your rock southern fried, and you think “Free Bird” is one of the greatest rock anthems ever penned, then you’ll probably want to pick up the 2-disc Deluxe Edition of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Gimme Back My Bullets (Geffen, $29.98 SRP). The first disc features the album, completely remastered and sounding better than ever, while disc 2 features the group’s live appearance on the BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test. Keeping it in the family is just what Lynyrd Skynyrd Family (Hip-O, $13.98 SRP) does, featuring both Skynyrd hits and tracks from the various spin-off bands formed by the former members after the band broke up.

Still flush from women’s lib, the 70’s were literally flooded with series starring powerful female characters – Maude, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, Alice, and Angie Dickinson in Police Woman (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP). As Sergeant Suzanne “Pepper” Anderson, Dickinson starred as the LAPD’s top undercover cop, backed up by a bevy of guest stars – from Larry Hagman and Pat Morita to Bob Crane and Philip Michael Thomas. The 5-disc complete first season features audio commentaries form Dickinson on select episodes.

By the time Hogan’s Heroes hit the halfway point of its 6 season run in season 3 (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), the formula was completely locked – Hogan and his motley crew subvert the authority of prison camp commandant Col. Klink through farcical hilarity. It’s a solid TV classic in the same mode as Gilligan’s Island or Green Acres, and if that’s good enough for you, then this set is worth adding to your collection. Personally? I dig it.

Every time you looked around, it seemed like there was another celebrity starring in another TV movie series in the 80’s – and one of the most viewed was the series of telefilms based on Kenny Rogers’ song “The Gambler.” All three of those initial telefilms (The Gambler, The Adventure Continues, & The Legend Continues) starring the bearded one himself are collected in The Legend of the Gambler (Time Life, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP). Heck, you even get a limited edition set of Kenny Rogers playing cards… So you better know when to hold ‘em, and know when to fold ‘em…

On the eve of the hideous Tim Allen-starring remake of Disney’s The Shaggy D.A., thank the gods of cursed human-to-canine transforming jewelry that we at least get remastered special editions of the original Dean Jones Shaggy D.A. and its Tommy Kirk-starring predecessor, The Shaggy Dog (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$19.99 SRP each). Both films sport audio commentaries and featurettes, with the original Dog sporting a touching tribute to the late Disney staple Fred MacMurray).

Next Friday is St. Patrick’s Day, so why not start getting a bit o’ the Irish into your entertainment rotation early, starting with The Essential Chieftains (RCA Victor, $24.98 SRP), with 2-discs spanning 40 years as Ireland’s musical ambassadors, featuring both traditional tunes and their star-studded collaborations. If you’d just like a 2-disc set that will make your St. Paddy’s even more traditional, pick up Whiskey in the Jar: Essential Irish Drinking Songs & Sing Alongs (Sony Legacy, $19.98 SRP) – and yes, “Danny Boy” is there. Finally, what’s an Irish celebration without a concert film from the Irish Osmonds – The Corrs: Live in Geneva (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$19.98 SRP).

If you want a quick and easy visual clue to identify the fifth and final season of The Brady Bunch (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$38.99 SRP), look no further than the ludicrously uniform perms that all of the show’s menfolk took to sporting. It’s almost like they all caught the hair version of a cold. Not only did these 22 episodes give us the musical stylings of Johnny Bravo, but also the utterly forgettable jumping the shark of Cousin Oliver.

It’s not the worst, but I can’t help but cry out “inappropriate touching” when I view a touchy-feely fuzzfest like Curtis Hanson’s In Her Shoes (Fox, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Like oil and water, flaky Maggie (Cameron Diaz) and dependable sister Rose (Toni Collette) who share a lot, bicker a lot, and eventually fall out – only to be brought back together on a quest for a recently discovered long lost grandmother (the teary-flick touchstone Shirley MacLaine). Bonus features include a trio of behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Based on the exploits of NYPD detective Barney Ruditsky in the roaring 20’s, The Lawless Years (Timeless Media Group, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) was a 1959-1961 TV series that recreated those exploits long before shows like Law & Order. This 3-disc set contains all 27 first season episodes, guest-starring up-and-coming actors like Burt Reynolds and Martin Landau.

How many people actually remember there was a short-lived TV show based on the true life fight of small-town sheriff Buford Pusser, starring Bo Svenson is the role made immortal by Joe Don Baker? If you don’t remember, then you might want to pick up the 2-disc collection of the complete Walking Tall (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$24.96 SRP), containing all 7 episodes.

If The Producers has gotten you thinking about the surprisingly interesting tales of Hollywood musicals gone horribly wrong, then you’ll get a real kick out of Second Act Trouble: Behind the Scenes at Broadway’s Big Musical Bombs (Applause, $27.95 SRP). As the title suggests, it’s a journey through all of the times shows on the Great White Way went so very wrong.

Why didn’t Lisa Loeb ever take off beyond her hit Reality Bites hit “Stay”? Listening to the 18 tracks found on The Very Best of Lisa Loeb (Geffen, $13.98 SRP), I found myself wondering that again and again as I dug what I was hearing. Why don’t you giver her a spin and see for yourself…

Paper Clips (Hart Sharp, Not Rated, DVD-$24.99 SRP) is the interesting story of a middle school class in Tennessee whose study of the Holocaust resulted in a project that brought home the horrible nature of the Nazi’s crime in a unique fashion – via paper clips. Invented as a means of showing anti-Nazi solidarity by the Norwegians, paper clips were collected as a means of quantifying the horrific death toll inflicted by the Holocaust – and once word of the project spread across the world, the tiny fasteners flowed in – eventually totaling 11 million, all of which were then housed in an authentic German rail car and made a permanent memorial to a dark chapter of modern history. The only thing marring this poignant documentary is the wretched “PTC Seal of Approval” that adorns the DVD’s cover – but don’t hold that against the film.

If you’re in the mood for a piece of harmless romantic comedy confection, there are worse flicks than Prime (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$29.98 SRP), which stars Uma Thurman as a 37 year-old single woman who falls for a 23 year-old painter… Who happens to be the son of her therapist (Meryl Streep). Romantic comedy ensues. Bonus features include deleted scenes and bloopers.

Comments: None

THE MONEY PIT - 03/03/2006

Posted by Ken in Shopping Guides (March 3, 2006 at 12:44 am)

No gibber-jabber this week… let’s get this convoy rolling on down the road so I can get the heck out of Dodge for the weekend… Happy Oscar Weekend… or something…

If I were pressed to choose my favorite sitcom of all time, the answer I’d have to give is Newsradio. I still think it remains one of the finest written and acted ensemble comedies to ever hit the tube, and I can only hope that the DVD releases cement its classic status. Out of the show’s 5 seasons (the last of which was after the untimely death of Phil Hartman), I can’t name a single bad episode – in fact, event he weakest outings still topped the majority of its competitors. What can I say? I love the show. The third season (Sony, Not Rated, DVD-$39.95 SRP) was a banner year, featuring Bill McNeal’s massage chair, the fever dream episode (in which a faulty AC inspires hallucinations), Jimmy James’s run for president, Rocket Fuel Malt Liquor, the Halloween party, and the space finale (in which the show had an “imaginary” what if episode, wherein WNYX was turned into a space-bound news station in the distant future). The 3-disc set features 9 commentaries (with cast and crew), behind-the-scenes footage with optional commentary, and a great gag reel. Bring on the final two seasons!

No matter what happens at the Oscars this weekend, the only film deserving of the Best Animated Feature award last year was, hands-down, Aardman’s big screen adventure of a cheese-loving adventure and his much cleverer canine companion, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (Dreamworks, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP). I love the fact that, in the age of CG, the greater achievement comes from a hand-crafted feature that – like Pixar – realizes character and story are more important than the animation methods employed… And Wallace & Gromit was simply one of the funniest films I saw last year. Bonus materials include deleted scenes with optional commentary, a behind-the-scenes featurette, and the Aardman short film Stagefright.

Midnight Cowboy (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$29.95 SRP) is one of those classic films that have cried out to be treated right on DVD, in a fittingly reverent deluxe special edition featuring behind-the-scenes material and – most of all – a fully restored print. Thankfully, that has come to pass with the new 2-disc edition of John Schlesinger’s controversial Academy Award-winning flick about the unlikely bond between the endearingly naïve Joe Buck (Jon Voight) and the consummate New York outcast Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman). The movie also gave us the Fred Neil tune immortalized by the late Harry Nilsson, “Everybody’s Talkin’” – a true gem in film history. The 2-disc set features an audio commentary from producer Jerome Hellman, a retrospective documentary, a documentary on the film’s controversial X rating and its success in spite of it, and a featurette on John Schlesinger.

I really don’t need to tell you how much of a page-turner the 350 international and domestic versions collected in the Star Wars Poster Book (Chronicle Books, $50.00 SRP) are to a guy who grew up with the Star Wars trilogy (yes – it remains a trilogy to me… deal with it). Culled from the massive collection of LucasFilm ubergeek Steve Sansweet, there are posters in here that range from the beautiful to the truly ludicrous. And even though I detest the prequels, there are still some quite nice poster images that were done for them. I would love if a companion volume for Indiana Jones were contemplated.

The next Disney Platinum DVD release has come down the pike, and this time it’s the film that gave us the most evil Siamese cats ever, Lady & The Tramp (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP). Beautifully restored and looking and sounding much better than the original, long out-of-print DVD release from a few years back, this is definitely the edition of the film to own. I only wish the 2-disc special edition would stick to the rarities – like deleted scenes a making-of, and the original 1943 storyboard version of the film – than the crap games and trivia that pull these affairs down to their crassest level.

As I mentioned in my original review, Dream On Silly Dreamer (WestLund Productions, Not Rated, DVD-$20.00 SRP) is a poignant documentary featuring interviews with former Disney animation artists – some of whom were present at the closing of Disney’s Burbank facility, only to be shunted over to Florida and fired for good a short time later – who paint a portrait of an artform whose vitality remains, but is currently without a home. It can’t help but come off as a polemic against Disney management, even though it is not overtly so, by the very nature of the story it tells – that of a studio too blind, or unwilling, to see the reasons behind traditional animation’s recent lack of box office success (too many managerial cooks in the kitchen). The DVD release of the film just happens to be on the cusp of a potential revival or Disney’s 2-D division – ironically enough from the 3-D mavens at Pixar and John Lasseter in particular, who has inherited the role once occupied by Uncle Walt himself. The DVD features additional footage, animation tests, radio interviews, departmental goodbyes, and much more. Here’s hoping the golden age has returned and these people get back to doing what they love…

One of the most heartbreaking things about the absolutely brilliant Good Omens (William Morrow, $29.95 SRP) is that Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of the Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett novel never got off the ground. Why? Because as soon as I read it, I could instantly visualize the story of hell’s and heaven’s representatives on Earth, who are caught completely flat-footed after centuries of “going native” when the Antichrist is born and the call to arms is issued. After years of being available solely as a tiny paperback, it’s getting the hardcover treatment again, featuring an interchangeable cover, a new foreword, FAQ’s, an interview of Pratchett by Gaiman, and a Gaiman interview by Pratchett. If you’ve never read this book, you must.

Not merely another retread collection of classic Python bits, the Personal Best series (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP each) presents the favorite sketches of each of the Pythons, personally chosen by the legends in question. What makes the series hard to dismiss is the new material the each of the Python’s have provided for their discs, with the latest batch spotlighting John Cleese, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam, and the late Graham Chapman (with Cleese’s sporting a hilarious “behind-the-scenes” featurette as well).

You know, some days are just really bad days to rob a bank. Just ask Sonny and Sal (Al Pacino & John Cazale), a pair of New York nobodies decide to go for broke at a Brooklyn bank on a sweltering summer day. What started out as an little old-fashioned robbery turns into a media circus and a public attraction in Dog Day Afternoon (Warner Bros., Rated R, DVD-$26.98 SRP), one of the true classics of the 70’s, which is just as funny and thrilling 30 years later. The 2-disc special edition features an audio commentary with director Sidney Lumet, a 4-part making-of documentary (including an exploration of the real-life inspiration), a vintage featurette on Lumet, and the theatrical trailer. The film is also available alongside All The President’s Men and Network in the second volume of Warners Controversial Classics collection (Warner Bros., $59.98 SRP).

When you think about, even though it sometimes seems like there’s a new DVD released just about every second, there’s still a staggering amount of rare material that has yet to make it to disc. Case in point are a pair of releases that are such a pleasant “must-have” surprise that it makes you hope more are on the way. The discs in question are a collection of short films from the late humorist Robert Benchley titled, appropriately enough, Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Algonquin (Kino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP) and an amazing collection of shorts under the title Cavalcade of Comedy (Kino, Not Rated, DVD-$29.95 SRP). The latter title in particular is a fun discovery, featuring early Paramount comedy shorts starring young comedians like Jack Benny, Milton Berle, George Burns & Gracie Allen, Eddie Cantor, and more. Please, Kino, release more!

Just when I was beginning to lose faith in one of my favorite comedy directors, Harold Ramis, he goes and surprises me with the pitch-perfect The Ice Harvest (Universal, Rated R, DVD-$29.98 SRP). Starring John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as a pair of n’er do wells that steal a load of cash from a mob boss – and then run into an ever-increasing string of predicaments and betrayals – it’s an endearingly Coen-esque affair. Bonus materials include an audio commentary with Ramis, alternate endings, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a scene analysis, and a Billy Bob outtake.

The first CD I ever purchased, sometime in the late 80’s, was the soundtrack to Ghostbusters – my favorite flick growing up. I remember showing off my new prize to all my cassette-owning friends. As such, it’s remained a sentimental favorite of mine, so I was quite happy to learn that it would finally be getting the remastered treatment (Arista/Sony Legacy, $13.98 SRP). The new sound quality is an immense improvement, and they even put a pair of bonus tracks in there as well – “Disco Inferno” and the 12” remix of Ray Parker’s title track.

Also getting the remastered treatment is the soundtrack to Rocky IV (Volcano/Sony Legacy, $11.98 SRP). This was the Rocky vs. Russia flick that gave us Survivor’s anthemic “Eye of the Tiger” and James Brown’s “Living in America.”

Before romantic comedies developed a bad name in the 90’s, the unassuming flick that launched a thousand clichés was Four Weddings and a Funeral (MGM/UA, Rated R, DVD-$19.94 SRP) – the romedy (and Mr. IGN Proofreader – don’t touch my incredibly brilliant combination of “romantic comedy,” okay?) that gave the world the ultra-foppish Hugh Grant. After years as a bare-bones disc, the film finally gets the special edition treatment with an audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, a retrospective documentary, and deleted scenes.

Re-watching the 27 episodes comprising the complete 3rd season of Third Rock from the Sun (Anchor Bay, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP), I can’’ help but marvel at what an amazingly fun show it was at its height – which it most certainly was during this season, which included guest stars John Cleese and Roseanne. The 4-disc box set features audio commentaries a profile on French Stewart, interviews, TV spots, and a gag reel.

Admittedly, it’s not the season sets I was hoping for, but it was nice to sit down with 6 episodes of The Drew Carey Show and an additional 6 episodes of Night Court (which did receive a 1st season set) as part of Warners’ TV Favorites sampler line (Warner Bros., Not Rated, DVD-$9.98 SRP each). Here’s hoping those season sets are on their way in the very near future.

In the pantheon of artists whose work elevated the desirability of any project I found them to be gracing, Arthur Adams ranks right up there with the likes of Byrne, Mignola, Perez, and Buscema. Kudos to the fan-friendly folks at Twomorrows for choosing Adams as part of their ongoing Modern Masters series of artist spotlights (Twomorrows, $19.00 SRP), featuring tons of rare artwork and an in-depth interview. Even better, their next volume is on my favorite comic artist, John Byrne. Can we get a Walt Simonson volume soon?

I honesty think that A&E is trying to bankrupt people. How else can you explain the uber-release of – wait for it – The Complete Emma Peel Megaset Collector’s Edition of The Avengers (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$179.95 SRP). Spanning 16 discs, it features every single episode of the classic Brit-adventure series starring Diana Rigg as the beauteous Peel, of the ultra-tight cat suits. That’s 51 remastered and completely uncut episodes, all in one heavy brick. Also available exclusive to the set is a bonus 17th disc, featuring a trio of “lost” episodes from The Avengers’ first season, a wonderfully in-depth documentary on the series originally produced in the UK and never-before-seen in the US, an excerpt from the rare promotional short “The Strange Case of the Missing Corpse,” an alternate US opening sequence, and an Avengers ‘77 episode featuring a Peel cameo. They really do want to bankrupt people… Damn them and their amazing set!

In the annals of Disney’s abysmal track record of direct-to-video train wrecks, Bambi II (Walt Disney, Rated G, DVD-$29.99 SRP) stands out as a pleasant surprise, featuring remarkably solid animation (thanks in large part to the presence of Andreas Deja, who treated the project as a creative lifeboat as Disney dismantled traditional animation) and a story that doesn’t automatically make me reach for the remote, as Bambi reunites with his father and learns the ways of the forest. Bonus materials include a behind-the-scenes featurette and a fun little “How to Draw Thumper” featurette with Deja.

Once known for their often stuffy, utterly faithful literary adaptations, the BBC has finally discovered the 20th century with their fast-paced, gripping adaptation of Charles Dickens’ Bleak House (BBC, Not Rated, DVD-$39.98 SRP). With a cast that includes Gillian Anderson, Charles Dance, and Johnny Vegas (if you’re a Brit, you know why I laugh as I type that) it’s a classic tale of love and murder given a fresh coat of paint.

If you were to take the addictively offbeat sensibility and personality of Mythbusters and apply it to a show that visits the oddest locations in America, you’d have the History Channel’s Weird U.S. (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$19.95 SRP each). Hosted by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran, it’s a spirited trip across the continent, encountering the stories of the Emperor of the United States, hollow-earth cults, creepy graveyards, a dead-talking town, and more. I only wish they had released a full season set instead of these 3 individual volumes.

As I said when the flick was originally released to DVD, I found myself really getting a kick out of Jennifer Garner’s much-cleverer take on the kid-to-adult genre made popular in the late 80’s (Big, Vice Versa, etc.). 13 Going on 30 was a real hoot, and the new Fun & Flirty Edition (Sony, Rated PG-13, DVD-$19.94 SRP) pluses the bonus features found on the original disc (deleted/extended scenes, blooper reel, cast interviews, and behind-the-scenes featurettes) with both an alternate beginning and ending and a featurette on the 1980’s fashions.

Rather than make fans wait for multiple volumes, aficionados of those more than meets the eye robots can snag the entire series of Transformers: Beast Machines (Rhino, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP) via a 4-disc set containing all 26 episodes. Awakening on Cybertron after their defeat of the evil Megatron, the Maximals find themselves confronted with radically reformatted bodies and facing the return of an even more powerful Megatron, who now rules Cybertron. Bonus features include interviews (with series developer Marv Wolfman, voice artist David Kaye, voice director Susan Blu, and story editor Robert Skir) and audio commentaries.

I don’t know if the world really needed yet another adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice (Universal, Rated PG, DVD-$29.98 SRP), but if you have to have one, it doesn’t hurt to have Keira Knightley as reluctant Darcy-devotee Elizabeth Bennett. Bonus features include an audio commentary from director Joe Wright, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and the HBO first look special.

Alyssa Milano worked a little bit of her own magic and got Shannon Doherty banished from this dimension, which left a vacancy in the witchy triptych at the start of the fourth season of Charmed (Paramount, Not Rated, DVD-$49.99 SRP). That slot was filled with Rose McGowan as the clichéd “unknown half-sister” Paige Matthews. This is also the season when Cole (Julian McMahon) went all demony and I keep wondering why no one realizes this is Buffy-lite.

If, like me, you just never got around to picking up Eddie Murphy’s surprisingly enjoyable Nutty Professor flicks, you can now get both in a single, double-sided disc edition (Universal, Rated PG-13, DVD-$19.98 SRP). See, sometimes it pays to be lazy.

I never cease to be enthralled every time I see color footage shot during World War II. Growing up, it was always a black & white war, making its triumphs and tragedies seem at arms length. Digging into the remarkable footage contained in the 5-disc, 17-program The Color of War (History Channel, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP), I was mesmerized all over again – in each frame of color footage, there’s an immediacy and renewed relevance to a conflict that no longer exists as a museum curio.

Based on the novels by John Mortimer, Rumpole of the Bailey starred Leo McKern as attorney Horace Rumpole – defender of the lower class and all that is good and decent. It’s brilliant satire done with a real character-driven flair, and you can now own the complete series in a 14-disc megaset (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$159.95 SRP). Bonus features include the feature-length Rumpole’s Return, episode intros and an interview with John Mortimer, an interview with McKern’s daughter, and much more.

If mystery is more your speed, sleuth along with Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple in Marple: The Classic Mysteries Collection (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$59.95 SRP). The 5-disc set features 9 Marple films, digitally remastered and looking better than ever, so pour yourself a cup of tea and don’t mind the body.

The Hobart Shakespeareans (Docurama, Not Rated, DVD-$26.95 SRP) is one of those documentaries that can’t help but renew your faith in the future of mankind. The doc revolves around teacher Rafe Esquith who, against all odds, manages to get through to the violence-scarred children of a Los Angeles neighborhood with the likes of Shakespeare, Mark Twain, mathematics, and more. At the end of the year, they even pull of a production of Hamlet – with special guests Michael York and Ian McKellen. Must-see.

I admit, I was a fan of Ellen by the time it rolled around to its third season (A&E, Not Rated, DVD-$49.95 SRP). The cast had solidified, including the always-welcome Jeremy Piven and David Anthony Higgins, and the unfunny, awkward, socially-relevant end of the show was still in the future. Bonus features are limited to a blooper reel.

Comments: None

Joe Corey’s PARTY FAVORS - 3/2006

Posted by Ken in Party Favors (March 1, 2006 at 12:55 am)

TURIN - Is it safe to stop calling this town “Torino?” Sure it’s sexier to add two “O”s. But it seemed to be the only thing sexy about this Winter Olympics - outside of the hole in the medals.

I’m just going say that if anything was lacking from these games, it was sexy moments. The ice skating turned into “last woman standing.” The same with the skiing. When are they going to dump the spiderman outfits for the alpine squad? And the ski boarding team with those white with barely there black pinstripes baggy uniforms made them disappear in the half pipe. Sure we had the “Flying Tomato,” but he was wrapped up in the giant burrito. The US hockey uniforms looked dull. Can we not design a jersey the intimidates? I want a logo on Erik Cole’s chest that a kid from Sweden fears having bruised into his ribcage. Enough with the friendly logo action. Why not just put a smiley face on the uniforms?

You want to know why the US didn’t “win?” Because we didn’t dress like winners. We didn’t even dress like tourists. We dressed like we were hungover.

My favorite moment was the Texan speedskater who went from national hero to pain in the ass loser in one event. A fellow speed skater didn’t want to race in a phony “team” skate event. And the golden boy whines since he won’t be able to collect five gold medals. So frickin’ what, Tex? The guy won three medals of all the colors. But he’s gotta be a little bitch. Ice skating should never be a team sport. He does need to send one of his medals to Bode Miller for taking the “most annoying athlete not named Terrell Owens” title. Did anyone really want to go visit “” Wonder how many people in New England are going to name their kids Bode this year or will they settle for Goat?

I’m happy this Winter Olympics was cancelled after two weeks. The only sad thing is that now they want us to watch “The World Baseball Classic.” Who cares about international pick up baseball that had teams picked by random weirdness. How exactly did Nomar and A-Rod get considered for countries they aren’t citizens of? Here’s my little rule for international play - whatever country collects the most income taxes from you is the country you should play for.

Will I watch this made for…I don’t know who this freakish tourney was made for. And why is it already a “Classic?” This is the first time it’s played. There’s no history. You should not be able to call something a classic until something else comes along to threaten your standing. There wasn’t Coca-Cola classic until that New Coke. And now that there’s no New Coke, we don’t call Classic Coke “classic” anymore. If Coca-Cola is willing to drop the “classic” title, why must every frickin’ sporting event latch onto it?

And after the failure to attract eyeballs for international pick-up hockey at the Olympics, does the world really want to watch teams of pros playing a tourney before they’ve even had a spring training warmup? Why not an International Kickball Classic Tourney featuring NFL kickers?

if you catch me watching any WBC games, it’s because I’ve been bribed by Bud Selig.


Lately I’ve read too many reports of home crowds booing their superstars. And I say, don’t do that. Booing must be reserved for those pesky visitors.

I’m not giving you some namby-pamby advice to hug your homers. Nope. If your favorite player is stinking it up, you need to let him know that you don’t approve. I prefer to shout out, “Come on!” or “Please get it right!” These are encouraging words that also let the player know that you expect more from them by shouting, “I paid $60 to put my butt in this seat. Don’t half ass it, millionaire!”

There’s only one time when you should boo a home player, when you know he’s going to skip town and play for the Yankees. Boo him or throw batteries…make that throw car batteries. They deserve scorn so they’ll get used to it when they have to button up the pinstripes and insert the pole up their rectums.


I hate to curse a series, but I hope that “Free Ride” lasts longer than a single DVD. The new Fox show is a great depiction of college graduate with no desire to get a career. Nate Stahlings (Josh Dean) returns to his folks house in order to recover from his education overdose. Friend of the Favors Allan Havey plays the boy’s dad and he’s nailed his character. He’s the dad who wants to remain hip and figure out why his wife is going nuts on him. I’m rooting for Havey. Cause if this show doesn’t stick around, he’ll end up in my biopic of Foster Brooks: “Drunk Before Dishonor.”

But the real star of the show is Dove. He’s that guy who thought you could get advanced placement credits from smoking cigarettes in the woods between 4th and 5th period. He’s got a kickass job at a faux-Costco so he can party in bulk. He has a monster truck so nothing blocks his view. And he’s got all the Journey records - well the ones that didn’t suck. Dave Sheridan plays Dove to the hilt. The best is the second episode when he dates Nate’s aunt.

You might remember Sheridan as the nutjob guy who practiced his mad kung fu skills at the mini-mart in “Ghost World.” The man has the potential of being one of the great comic actors of our time. Worship the Dove now!

Now watch Fox cancel this show by the time this column gets posted.


Now that Johnny Cash, Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis have all had their lives turned into Hollywood movies (or mini-series in the case of Elvis), when is the final member of the Million Dollar Quartet going to claim a slate? Where’s “The Carl Perkins Story?”


Things are looking really bad for “Rollergirls” as the series winds up. A&E has given them up for dead like a coyote on the side of the road. There’s no more Friday night rerun. It’s the Monday night original and a replay at 2 a.m. No weekend marathons. No major promo push for the finale.

Why no love for Punky Bruiser?

According the ratings: the premiere of the series had a new episode of Dog The Bounty Hunter. Everyone’s favorite “Escape From New York” character pulled in 2.7 million viewers. Only 1.6 million stuck around for the heavily promoted Rollergirls. And the second episode (without the benefit of a new Dog) only brought in 600,000 folks. That over 2 million people who turned off the wheeled gals from Austin. And I’m guessing the numbers haven’t gone back up since there’s no hype for the show.

Maybe a few of the girls will get invited to be on the Surreal Life. Although I do wish none of them end up on “Flavor of Love 2.” That show still creeps me out. I can almost understand being Jerry Hall’s boy toy - she’s got a nice laugh and sultry stare. But Flava? I’d rather guest star on “Taking A Second Whack at Love with Ike Turner.”


For all of you people who complain about how recent movie trailers give away the entire plot, I ask that you take a look at the “Story of Dogs” bonus feature on “Lady and the Tramp” DVD. Watch how Walt Disney’s guys give away the entire film in storyboard form on his network show. And Walt didn’t give us a “spoiler warning!” He just gave away the tale and yet people still came to see the film.

Perhaps Walt understood that if you have a really good movie, people can know the story and it won’t ruin it. It also doesn’t hurt that most of Walt’s feature animations were based on fairy tales so everyone already knew what they were about. But I think it comes down to one big fact - if a movie is really good, even if you know everything that’s going to happen - you still want to see it happen.

It’s not like a crummy M. Night Shyamalan movie. Did you really want to see “The Village” after you were told the “gotcha” moment? I didn’t want to sit through 2 hours to be “gotcha”ed. By the way, I really take offense when M. Night had the nerve to call DVDs a “souvenir” of a movie. If anything, a DVD is more than the movie. When done right, it allows us a chance to see a film in context of both it’s time and content. A great “making of” documentary gives us a sense of what made this film important. It also reminds us that certain elements were the basis for the hacks that ripped it off over the years. And unlike seeing a movie in a theater, I don’t have to tolerate a 100 urchins roaming the aisles. I don’t have to pay $6 for my popcorn. What about image size, you declare? When I get my video projector, i’ll be able to watch a 25 foot image on the side of my neighbor’s house.

A movie barely lasts a month or two in the theater. It’s shortest part of a movie’s “life” is on video. M. Night needs to understand that the theatrical release of a movie is the “advertisement” for the DVD.

And if I can advise you, pick up “Lady and the Tramp” just for the footage of Peggy Lee working out the songs. It’s funny to see what she had to do for a home multi-tracking.


I bought “The Electric Company” DVD set for one reason - to hear Morgan Freeman sing the Easy Reader theme song. When I was a kid, Easy Reader was like Shaft - except we only saw the newspaper ads for RIchard Roundtree. And as I slowly watch the 20 episodes included in the collection, the show still holds up. It’s a great educational tool and nostalgic fun. Shout! Factory has done another great job.

My wife and her girlfriends loved watching the series to check out the groovy early 70s fashions.

And here’s a piece of freakish trivia: the first head writer of the show was legendary character actor Paul Dooley. Save that piece of “betcha don’t know” for a big moment.


The local cable guys had a free preview weekend of their in-car camera action for the Daytona 500. It was kinda fun to swap channels and glimpse Tony Stewart or Dale Jr’s view of the road. But it became annoying in that every few seconds the feed would break up. Half of the time nearly half of the cams weren’t working. It became too much of an effort to find a channel with a moving view.

What I enjoy about NASCAR is that it’s something nice to nap while watching on a Sunday afternoon. I find the roar of the engines as they lap the asphalt (much more soothing than viewing it in person) soothing. Having the in car cameras on my remote control didn’t make me fall asleep. My brain couldn’t drift. I kept flipping to try and find the car that would crash next.

If only the feeds didn’t keep breaking up, I’d recommend this for any hardcore race fan. But at $100 for the year, it’s not worth the aggravation.


Why exactly does director Terrence Malick get treated like a cinematic wonder?

You think the guy’s name means gold with the way film critics faun over him. Yet there seems to be so little currency associated with his name. Norman Taurog holds as much value to the marketplace than Malick,

Malick created a wonderful mythology of himself with his early films of “Badlands” and “Days of Heaven.” He plays himself off as the intellectual hermit who shuns the spotlight and normal Hollywood channels. He doesn’t make movies - he creates cinematic poetry. If Stanley Kubrick didn’t care about scripts, he’d be Malick.

But ultimately Malick creates films for people who don’t pay to see them. He creates films that don’t attract the subject’s audience. He goes out of his way to use his quirks to drive producers nuts. He creates films that he doesn’t have to answer for. And he is forgiven for his transgressions more easily than his peers. He shot “Days of Heaven” for nearly as long as “Heaven’s Gate.” But Michael Cimino gets nailed to the wall for making a box office dud in “Gate.” Even though “Days” didn’t cost nearly as much to shoot the entire film at magic hour, it was still a box office stiff barely pulling in $3.5 million. Which is about what “Gate” made.

Malick helped create his mystique by disappearing for two decades before he decided to comeback by remaking “Thin Red Line.” The original film directed by Andrew Marton was a neglected masterpiece with Keir Dullea and Jack Warden battling each other and the Japanese in Guadalcanal. Malick loaded up his version with tons of Hollywood talent including Sean Penn, George Clooney, Woody Harelson, Nick Nolte and John Travolta. He went down to Australia to shoot the film with what read like a great script. But once he conned his producers into funding his “vision,” he threw out the script and had his actors improvising. While the film had it’s moments, it’s a war movie without gusto or true reflections. It’s a war movie about a bunch of guys trying to write poetry and merely confuse the Japanese into giving up with metaphysics.

I rarely saw any critics compare Malick’s version with Marton’s treatment of the James Jones novel. And it helped that the original film never came out on VHS or DVD in the U.S. I had a copy from a dead man’s collection of stuff he taped off AMC (before the channel sucked). I remember trying to discuss the original with three major film critics who gave Top 10 honors to the remake. None of them had seen it. None of them had experienced the amazing feat of a dream sequence that mingles a flashback of America to revisiting the Private’s first kill and wraps it up in a harsh awakening.

While the critics praised Malick, the movie scored a box office anemic $36 million - especially compared to the $216 million racked up by Spielberg’s “Saving Private Ryan.” There was an audience for World War II movies that year and Mallick didn’t connect with them. And when a few producers wanted to expose what it’s really like to work with the celluloid poet, Malick took their names off the film.

Malick then used his name to executive produce new filmmakers’ works. But he didn’t quite score Spielberg returns. “The Beautiful Country” didn’t make half a million dollars. For his first two films, David Gordon Green made films that followed Malick’s poetry over plot productions. When they teamed up to make “Undertow,” Green scored a box office of $124,171. It’s got to suck when you work with your idol and produce a film that doesn’t even score half of what your first indie film did. Sure there are folks that blame the situation at United Artists for the tanking, but if people really cared, they’d buy tickets. We’re living in the days of the internet so they can know where a film is playing without needing a full page ad in the New York Times.

What got me to write this piece is how annoyed I’ve become at Malick’s behavior with the release of “The New World.” This telling of the John Smith and Pochontas story was supposed to be one of the big films of Christmas. But then New Line got smacked around trying to please Malick to the point that they got scalped. After a limited opening in New York that scored high per screen numbers, Malick decided he wanted to cut 15 minutes out of the film so the wide release would be only two hours. Malick supposedly thought his ass fell asleep while watching Colin Farrell. And then before he puts it out, he also lets his minions squeak out the fact that the DVD will have a three hour cut of the film. Right there and then I boycotted the film. What version of this movie am I supposed to see? Am I supposed to waste 7 hours and 15 minutes of my life watching all three versions? Maybe he’ll come up with a forth version? Who dares tell the poet that he’s needs to shut up and realize that silence around him isn’t awe - it’s boredom.

It must be amazing to wake up as one of the ball-less wonders at New Line having allowed Malick to make his special cut only to witness their New York wonder turn into a film that couldn’t outgross Big Mama’s House II. “The New World” has made $12 million. It didn’t win any major hardware. And now it’s time to make the money in the next stage: home video.

The DVD of either the 2 or 2:15 hour version is due out soon, but then we’re told there’s going to be a second DVD coming out in a few more months with an extra hour and tons of bonus features. The devoted Malick fans won’t care because New Line will be sending them free copies to review. Nothing makes consumers happier than knowing that if they buy early, they’re paying for less.

What’s the point of Malick’s name going above the title? You can rationalize that he makes art films that aren’t meant for the masses, but the nearly $50 million that was spent to make and pimp “The New World” could go a long way in the art world. Tyler Perry’s name goes before the title on “Madea’s Family Reunion” and it matters since it made $30 million its opening weekend. Tyler equals box office gold. Malick’s name means another batch of producers were taken for a bath under the promise that somehow he’s going to make ‘em either rich or Oscar worthy.

In the end, Malick gets to make another one of his freaky voice over flicks that irritate my mom when they appear on TV yet allows movie critics who don’t want to be entertained to feel like they’ve experienced cinema. Of course these critics are also people who don’t have to pay $10 to see these films. I recommend Malick take a job as a Wal-Mart greeter for a month so he can learn how to engage an audience.


I feel sad that Don Knotts has died. One of the big regrets of my work on Split Screen was that I wasn’t able to make my dream project. It was going to be Don Knotts, Steve Buscemi and John Waters sitting on the front porch of a large house. They’d be cranking ice cream and talking showbiz. The budget was too much. It would have been fun.


I can’t watch MTV anymore. Every time I have turned on the channel it’s been a freakish dating show. Can this new generation date without a TV camera? They want people to date mothers, to date a busload of suitors, to date who their parents pick or to date people who look like lame musical stars. What does the M stand for at MTV? Cause it has no reason to be hanging around that station.


Gotta love the Sex Pistols telling the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame to screw off. It’s sad that the Hall spokesperson tried to act like it was an act. Get a clue, Johnny Rotten thinks your Hall of Fame is a lame joke. And what a joke since they refuse to give a nomination to Van Halen or Kiss. I’m not even a major fan of either band, but they are Rock music in America. Where’s Rush? Where’s Yes? Where is Kansas? Yoko Ono will get in the hall before Patti Smith.

The Rock Hall of Fame is a joke. And thanks to the Sex Pistols for pointing at those snobs and laughing. The whole point of being a punk is to not give a crap about pleasing the popular kids.


Forget “March of the Penguins,” this month brings the DVD release of Tennessee Tuxedo. The late Don Adams voiced the animated penguin who seemed to know just a little bit more. Get it for your kids.


“Reel Paradise,” a fantastic documentary about John Pierson dragging his family to Fiji to run a movie theater is out on DVD. Please buy it so John can drag his family to run a Drive-In theater in Antarctica.


Neil Cavuto read two of my letters on the air in one episode including one about Gene Simmons’ tongue. I’m a pundit!

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