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Thursday, November 29, 2012

'Hazel' S4: Maid to Perfection

Shout Factory's December 4, 2012 release of the DVD set of "Hazel" S4 is the latest example of Shout earning deity status among hard-core sofa spuds for releasing sets of previously abandoned shows every few months.

This classic '60s sitcom revolved around the titular character, who was a live-in maid/busybody for successful attorney George Baxter and his nuclear family. Plots typically involved either Hazel, who was played by legendary actress Shirley Booth, undermining "Mr. B's" authority, trying to manipulate him, or interfering in the lives of her friends and neighbors.

Much of the humor came from Hazel's common sense and street smarts succeeding where Mr. B's "book learnin'" failed.

The nice thing about the fourth season was that the overall friendly disputes between Hazel and Mr. B. had toned down significantly since the more rancorous, but highly entertaining, first season.

One episode had Hazel surprisingly obey Mr. B's order to only respond "yes," "no," or "maybe" if the visiting governor of their state asked her a question. Similarly, the Thanksgiving episode included a scene in which Hazel encouraged Mr. B. to eat a piece of pie in contrast to scenes from earlier seasons in which she vigorously and stubbornly denied him sweets.

Similarly, the well done Christmas episode had Hazel gently encouraging Mr. B. to buy his wife Dorothy a relatively inexpensive gift in response to his declared war on the commercial aspects of the holiday. First season Hazel would have likely charged an expensive gift to the Baxter account and shamed her employer into accepting that outcome.

On the other side, Mr. B. was less harsh regarding Hazel and seemed more sensitive to her feelings.

This "kinder gentler" tone helped make S4 very tasty television comfort food. Like a well-made macaroni-and-cheese, each episode satisfied without making an unduly strong impression.

These episodes also offer a nice reminder of the "good old days" when families seemed to get along better than they do now, people sat down for dinner together, neighborhoods were real communities, and people were not isolated in the forms of constantly being glued to their cell phones, iPods, iPads, or other electronic devices.

One of the better of a good lot of episodes had Hazel getting Mr. B. provide the family's wonderfully daffy and aristocratic neighbors badly needed financial planning. Mayhem regarding missing bearer bonds was very amusing.

Another especially good episode had Hazel and lady of the house Dorothy team up to convince Mr. B. to pay to have the kitchen remodeled. Their chosen technique was much more subtle than the (perhaps literal) sledgehammer approach that Hazel likely would have used in the first season.

Further, S4 Mr. B. was a very good sport. S1 Mr. B. likely would have drawn the line at buying a new toaster.

It is worth noting as well that this was the final season in which Hazel worked for George and Dorothy Baxter. Those unfamiliar with the show must wait until Shout releases S5 to learn of the new format.

Shout's extras for the S4 set are entertaining vintage promos for the series.

Anyone with questions or thoughts regarding "Hazel" is encouraged to email me.

Monday, November 26, 2012

'Mystery Science Theater 3000' VXXV: The Fantastic Four

Shout has batted 1,000 regarding "Mystery Science Theater 3000: XXV"  (MST 3K), which is being released on December 4, 2012. This set pulls off the neat trick of simultaneously including some of MST 3K's best episodes and illustrating the wide range of B-movies that the long-running series skewered. 

Shout also maintained its great track record of rewarding fans with awesome special features and other treats. My favorite in V XXV is recently filmed segments in which the episode host shares memories of that offering. These five-minute offerings are great substitutes for episode commentary.

Shout provides the further gift of mini-posters that make the MST 3K characters the focus of movie posters for the B-movie of the week. I look forward to getting all of mine framed and displayed in my home office next to the collectible action figures, which I will never remove from their packaging, from my deluxe MST 3K sets.

Shout goes even further this time by giving folks who purchase MST 3K V XXV directly from Shout's store the bonus disc, which is not even available to dedicated Shout reviewers :-), that contains all nine chapters of "Radar Men From the Moon." MST 3K did an especially good job riffing on this steaming pile of celluloid, and the disc includes one chapter that has not been previously released in an MST 3K DVD set.

This set's release is additionally particularly timely on many levels. It Boy Seth MacFarlane's "The Cleveland Show" recently included a hilarious MST 3K parody. 

Also, V XXV includes the "Operation Double 007," a.k.a "Operation Kid Brother" episode. Including this blatant Bond rip-off in the annual December MST 3K release soon after "Skyfall" was released may not have been coincidental.

Those of use who Shout blesses with advance copies of these sets further got to recreate MST 3K's annual Turkey Day Marathon by watching this set on Thanksgiving. Some previously released MST 3K DVD sets include special Turkey Day material that was created especially for those marathons.

The premise behind this perfectly executed cult favorite is that human host Joel, and his successor Mike, is trapped on the Satellite of Love where a mad scientist, later replaced by his even more evil mother, forces him to sit through "cheesy movies" that are "the worst we can find." The host "keeps his sanity" by relentlessly riffing on the film with two robots that Joel built to keep him company during his exile.

The man and his 'bots also make the best of a bad situation by engaging in gleefully silly skits that primarily either depict their daily lives or are inspired by the horrible film du jour. Other segments include short films that range from segments from early episodes of "General Hospital," to hilariously bad educational films on topics such as cheating and asking girls for a date, and chapters from incredibly low-budget serials.

"Operation Kid Brother" is my favorite episode in V XXV because it has the dream cast of Joel, evil scientist Dr. Forrester and dim-witted Igoresque sidekick TV's Frank. Further, MST 3K inspired my thoughts of "the buck stops here," "stag party," and "The 'Home Alone' franchise has taken a really dark turn" while watching "Skyfall." (I will refrain from mentioning my Jamie Lee Curtis with a British accent remarks.)

This one stars actual Bond actors and Sean Connery's real-life brother Neil in a low-budget film in which a spy agency recruits Neil to foil a plot against the world's steel supply. A host segment in which Joel and the 'bots track the respective careers of les freres Connery is true must see TV.

The "The Creature From the Black Lagoon" sequel "Revenge of the Creature" gets the silver medal in this set. It opened the series' ninth season and resolved cliffhangers from the terrific end of the eighth season. The plot of "Revenge" is that said creature is captured and put on display at a Florida marine park. 

A riff on "Tributary to the Amazon" as one of the cheesy star-studded '70s specials is fall on the floor funny. References to the tight and skimpy swimwear of the male lead is equally amusing.

"Kitten With a Whip" gets the bronze but comes very close to scoring silver. This wonderfully horrible melodrama has a young "creamy" Ann-Margaret manipulating a senatorial candidate played by John Forsythe. This is one of the relatively few times that MST 3K veered away from low-budget sci-fi or horror flicks.

The riffs come particularly fast and furious, but the lack of references to "Charlie's Angels" or "Dynasty" is slightly disappointing. A plethora of nods to Ann-Marget's Elvis films helps make up for this.

This episode is noteworthy as well for being a very early one in which MST 3K's then-home the Comedy Channel was not widely available. I remember both calling the Washington DC cable company regularly to request that channel and driving to a friend's home in Arlington, VA to watch the series.

"Robot Holocaust" brings up the rear only because the film itself is the least watchable of the four. This incredibly poorly made "Mad Max" rip-off had very scantily clad young actors who look as if they escaped from the set of "Flashdance" on a quest across a wasteland to defeat the robots who conquered humanity. Not even the incredibly cheesy giant spider helps.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding MST 3K is encouraged to email me "in the not too distant future."

Friday, November 23, 2012

'Men in Black (Alias Smith and Jones) III;" A Sequel that Hits a Trifecta

"Men in Black III" (MIB III), which is being released on November 30, 2012, has everything that one could dream for in a sequel; the primary behind-the-scenes and on-screen talent returned, we learned more about the main characters, and the effects were amped up. It is also one of the few TV shows or movies on DVD that I plan to watch again soon.
It is worthy noting as well that Blu-ray seemed made for the bright colors and other sharp images that director Barry Sonnenfeld, who also did an awesome job bringing "The Addams Family" to the big screen, created.

In addition to providing a star vehicle for Will Smith, the premise behind the MIB series is that a ultra-top-secret government agency monitors and controls aliens from all corners of the universe who secretly live among us. Each film in the franchise has hip young sassy Fresh Prince of New York Agent J, played by Smith, and older much more stoic Agent K, played by Tommy Lee Jones, take on a particularly onerous threat from a visitor from another planet.

The tagline for "MIB III" could well have been "This Time It's Personal." Boris the Animal, whose race conquers worlds more brutally than any Borg, Dalek, or Ori, breaks out of prison in the opening sequence with the goal of traveling back to 1969 to kill Agent K before K can foil Boris' plot to conquer earth. 

Saying more about this scheme would ruin great surprises for those who have not seen the film or for others like me who forgot a significant amount about it in the past six months.

J learning of the plot prompts him to travel back to 1969 to put right what once went wrong. Rather than teaming up with a tackily dressed horn dog hologram, J joins forces with the Agent K of 1969. The enormous praise that Josh Brolin received for his portrayal of that character is well deserved.

As stated above, the sequel delivers new and larger effects than the prior very good films. The prison break sequence gets things off to an excellent start that continues through use of jet packs and the closing sequence that had was very well done and had enough Saturday morning kids' show elements to prompt thoughts of "I said lunch, not launch."

The visualization alone makes getting this one on Blu-ray a no-brainer. Our friends at Sony make this easier by augmenting the gag reel and 'making of ' features with other exceptional extras that include a comparison between the MIB of the '60s and today and a really fun Spot the Alien game; I did respectably but not well enough to have K recruit me.

Sony also went beyond include a code for an UltraViolet copy to provide access to the brand-new cool MovieTouch app that allows transferring the film to an iPad. I only have an iPod Touch, but this makes me want to get an iPad.

Anyone with questions or thoughts regarding any MIB film is welcome to email me.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

'Black Friday 2012' Best Complete DVD Series: The Year of Shout

Shout Factory's typically great job with "All in the Family" the complete series earns that set top honors on this year's Black Friday list of best complete series DVD sets. It is genuinely a coincidence that the Shout Factory store is running a good sale on that set as of the writing of this post.

As I wrote in my review of "Family" when Shout released it, this example from of CBS' golden age of sitcoms in the '70s depicted the daily life of a middle-aged blue collar WWII veteran, his loving and seemingly simple-minded wife, their 20-something quasi-liberated daughter, and the daughter's suburban radical husband.

The range of the superbly written and perfectly acted theatrical quality series went from slapstick scenes, such as two people getting stuck in a doorway, to deep drama regarding countless still timely topics such as abortion, addiction, and virtually every form of bias.

The "Family"  DVD set has every element of the complete series sets that Shout does so well. It is a classic show that another studio stopped releasing after a few seasons, it is chock full o' extras that include previously unseen pilot episodes and rare episodes of "Family" spinoffs, and it includes a comprehensive booklet with television experts' entertaining and insightful comments and detailed episode synopses. 

Shout does such a great job with these sets because it is clear that their executive sofa spuds share my deep love of these classic shows.

Shout's very good complete series set of the '60s quasi-anthology series "Route 66" earns second place in this list. "66," which depicts two young men hitting the road looking for both adventure and whatever comes their way.

This is a great set, and the show is as much of a classic as "Family." The set however is not quite as good as "Family" simply because it lacks the same comprehensive booklet that distinguishes the Shout Factory complete series set. 

Also, there are not quite as many special features as other Shout Factory complete series sets. Having said that, a 1990 Paley Festival Panel on "66" is a must see for new and old fans.

Before moving on to awarding the "bronze medal" for this year's sets, I want to mention other outstanding Shout complete series sets from prior years. These sets are just as great as the "Family" set.

I believe that I awarded top honors to Shout's complete series release of Judd Apatow's early classic "Freaks and Geeks" when it was released. This show launched the careers of many folks, including Seth Rogen and James Franco, and the set simply rocks.

In some respects, I liked Apatow's second effort "Undeclared" even better than "Freaks" because I could relate a little more to this series about college freshman adjusting to dorm life and classes than I could about high school kids in the '70s. 

"Undeclared's" themes were also just a hair more timeless than "Freaks." However, Shout did Apatow proud once again. Further, I can state that the rumors regarding missing episodes and episodes being out of order are completely false.

Apatow also worked on another all-time Shout favorite, "The Larry Sanders Show." I loved this talk show veteran Garry Shandling series that was a dark take on late-night talk shows when HBO aired it, and Shout did its usually great job of adopting it after another studio abandoned it.

Garry Shandling's first series "It's Garry Shandling's Show," which aired on Showtime and did not bother with any form of a fourth wall between the actors and the audience, is another great example of Shout improving the lives of true lovers of awesome (had to work that in at least once) television.

It is also worth mentioning that Shout's deluxe sets of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" are in my list of top 10 favorite all-time sets. Shout's great extras plus an exclusive toy and mini-posters are tough to beat.

Returning to this year's awards, the third place honors must be an honorable mention to "The Fugitive: The Most Wanted Edition," which is a Paramount release. Because I do not YET have a copy of this set, I cannot grant it official honors.

"Fugitive" is similar to "66" in that it is a classic '60s quasi-anthology series in which the main character gets involved in the lives of folks who he meets on the road. In this case, that character is trying to evade being arrested for his wife's murder long enough to capture the one-armed man who committed that dastardly deed.

The film noir style artwork on "The Fugitive" set looks way cool, and the extras seem very interesting. They include extended episodes and even a "Mike Douglas Show" interview with series star David Janssen.

"Fugitive" will definitely make its way into my collection next year if it is not under my tree in a month.

Genuinely with all due respect to the terrific folks at Shout, I feel obliged to follow my annual tradition of sharing my two all-time favorite complete series sets. In these cases, Warner outdid Shout. 

My complete series set of Mel Brooks' '60s spy sitcom "Get Smart" is on my desert island list. This barely beats out "Sanders" because the show is a little better and the complete series set packaging is a clever reproduction of the multiple doors that the titular Smart enters in the classic opening credits. 

Like the Shout sets, "Smart" includes rare footage and interviews but lacks a booklet of terrific essays. The series itself is one of the few that makes me laugh out loud, and its trademark jokes are still timely. 

Many friends have been subject to both "sorry about that Chief" and "that's the second biggest X I have ever seen."

Warner's treatment of the more traditional '60s spy series "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." is just as good as its job with "Smart." The sturdy cardboard briefcase packaging is good, and the set includes two bonus discs full of rarities. That other '60s spy show is the one in which the briefcase self destructs.

Anyone with questions regarding any of the sets listed or who simply wants TV on DVD gift suggestions is welcome to email me. I hope that you enjoy your holiday; that day is sponge cake worthy to me in the sense that I will enjoy a Twinkie from the small stash that I amassed last Friday. 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Birthday of Snoopy Voice Actor Coincides With Release of 'The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show'


  In this Feb. 18, 2000 file photo, Peanuts animator Bill Melendez is seen here in his Sherman Oaks studio in Los Angeles. Melendez, the animator who gave life to the Peanuts characters in scores of TV specials and movies, including holiday classics such as "A Charlie Brown Christmas," died Tuesday Sept. 2, 2008 in Santa Monica, Calif. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)

Fellow long-time fans of the vocalizations of everyone's favorite beagle Snoopy will share my joy in learning that today is the birthday of the late Bill Melendez, who provided Snoopy's voice from 1965 to 2006. These projects ranged from the 1965 genuinely iconic "A Charlie Brown Christmas," which will find its way into my DVD player in the next few weeks, to the Emmy-nominated 1983-85 Saturday morning series "The Charlie Brown and Snoopy Show."

Melendez also produced these classics and every other fondly remember Peanuts special. I still look forward to "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" every year and have great fun claiming that I received rocks instead of candy trick or treating.

The good folks at Warner Archives co-ordinated the DVD release of "Charlie Brown and Snoopy" with Melendez's birthday. Anticipation of receiving my copy has had me Snoopy dancing all week, and I look forward to sharing my thoughts on it next week.

Anyone who wants to share their memories of the Peanuts specials, and particularly anyone else who had the Snoopy electric toothbrush that I loved as a child, is encouraged to email me.