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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

'A NIght for Dying Tiger:' Ibsen Goes to Canada

The DVD, which is being released today, of the psychological drama "A Night For Dying Tigers" evokes thoughts of the dark trauma and family angst of the works of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen and the classic Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." Accolades for "Tiger" include recognition by the Canadian Leo Awards.

Consistent with the family drama genre to which it belongs, "Tiger" creates interesting histories for its deeply flawed and damaged characters. The predictable adultery and unexpected incest are strong elements and drive much of the action.

The cast's overall constraint reflects both the more understated nature of many modern dramas and the fact that "Tiger's" characters are simply worn out even before enduring the latest crisis that prompts their gathering. At the same time, more emotion would have provided a nice boost.

Similarly, the rapid-fire revelations in "Tiger" provide a clear picture of the true nature of the film's seemingly stable North American family. However, the "hit and move on" style of the confrontations present a challenge in the form of  trying to keep up and hoping for a little more in-depth discussion of the latest significant bomb that a character lobs.

"Tiger's" central plot is a farewell dinner the night before Jack, played by Gil Bellows, begins a five-year prison sentence. This event is being held at the gorgeous Frank Lloyd Wright style house of his parents, who passed away roughly a year earlier. The attendees consist of Jack's two natural brothers and adopted sister and others significant to Jack and his siblings.

Like an Ibsen play and the "Woolf" tale (pun intended), virtually every component of writer-director Terry Mile's production has great significance beginning with the opening scene in which Jack and his mistress, who attends the dinner along with Jack's wife, having playful rough sex. Even the fact that none of the characters have last names has meaning in that it indicates that the rest of us are the same as them.

This element of hidden meaning extends to other basic concepts that include the family home being maintained as a shrine to the parents and the caterer being a childhood friend whose past and present trauma associated with her clients adds to the drama.

"Tiger's" technique of telling its story through a series of reveals continues throughout the entire movie. An example is not disclosing the nature of Jack's crime until well into the film; his victim and the reason for the offense follow several minutes later.

We also learn early on that Jack's brother Patrick has a movie-industry career but wait an extended period to discover whether his role is in front of or behind the camera. That is the same time that the audience learns of the true significance of the challenging book on which Patrick's next project is based.

Similarly, Jack informs the sibs near the beginning of their repast that he has sold the family homestead. The buyer and the evil intent behind that purchase are revealed near the end of the film.

Other "wrap-ups" that occur near the end of the film include revealing the nature of the parents' deaths and a scene that describes the bizarre and tragic childhood experience that inspires the film's title.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Tiger" or the earlier works that inspired it are welcome to email me.

Monday, July 29, 2013

'Community' S4: The LIttle Show That Could


Community (2009) Poster

Next Tuesday's DVD release of the fourth season of the NBC "must-see" sitcom "Community" provides a good opportunity to reflect on that quirky show that is a true survivor.

A fourth season was doubtful when the third season ended, series creator Dan Harmon was out after separate feuds with the network and series star Chevy Chase, and the premiere date for the shortened fourth season was pushed back.

The differences as of writing this review are that "Community" is returning for a fifth season, Harmon is back in, and Chase is out.

The outward premise of "Community" is that it revolves around the academic activity of the seven diverse members of a study group at the rock-bottom Greendale Community College. The real scoop is that the series lets us share in the wonderfully weird lives of these hilariously quirky characters. In fact, one character comments in the pilot episode that the show used to be about a community college.

This "community" simply feels free to say what they think and act how they want.We keep coming back both for the entertainment value related to that candor and because, like the viewing audience and a group of "must-see" misfit friends from NBC's Thursday night '90s line up, the Greendale Seven love their fellow misfits enough to pull back and apologize when they realize that they have gone too far.

Part of "Community's" evolution has involved expanding the focus from dark and sarcastic disgraced former attorney Jeff Winger, played by Joel "Don't Call Me Tosh" McHale of E's "Talk Soup," to his fellow outcasts. Winger enrolls at Greendale in response to a requirement that he obtain an undergraduate degree after it is revealed that he had lied about obtaining a bachelor's degree.

Danny Pudi as uber-fanboy group member Abed whose inner child runs free steals the show. Enhancing Abed's overall gentle nature and obsession with all things pop culture are the fourth season's best elements.

The fourth season fun starts with Abed retreating to his happy place in the form of a traditional sitcom version of "Community" in response to Jeff announcing that he is graduating earlier. Replacing quirky sketch comedy legend Chase with quirky sketch comedy legend Fred Willard in that version of the show is a not-so-subtle commentary on Chase's current stock.

The "real-world" action in the pilot consists of outrageously zany Dean Pelton, played by Jim Rash, staging a "Hunger Games" style competition for spaces in a true gut (pun intended) course about the history of ice cream.

Pelton spends much of the episode in a red evening dress and ramps up his barely concealed homoerotic pursuit of the completely heterosexual Jeff. The openness of this pursuit increases as Jeff comes closer to finishing his studies; a gag reel clip involving puppet versions of Jeff and Pelton is particularly steamy and has mild but appropriate profanity.

Abed's obsession with the hilarious fictitious "Doctor Who" clone "Inspector Spacetime" leads to the gang attending the fictitious Comic-Con clone InSpecTiCon event.  A highlight of that episode include events that lead to jealousy on behalf of Abed and his bromance partner Troy. (Think of J.D. and Turk of the former NBC "must-see" sitcom "Scrubs."

Another highlight includes the derisive Jeff taking advantage of the strong similarity between his appearance and that of "Spacetime" villian Thoraxis to seduce a "Spacetime" fan played by "Battlestar Galactica's" Tricia Helfer.

A fifth season appearance by Thoraxis or at least Jeff dressing as that character in that season's Halloween episode are almost as certain as the Daleks showing up in "Doctor Who's" eighth season.

In typical "Community" style, the InSpecTicon hijinks lead the characters to learn something about themselves and/or another member of their study group family. Troy and Abed figuratively kiss and make up, naive good girl Annie discovers something about her true desires, and tough on the outside sweet on the inside Jeff displays his newly forming compassion.

A highly entertaining DVD special feature on the making of InSpecTiCon shows how the cast and crew really got into making that episode.

Another fourth-season episode that gives Abed a chance to indulge in his love of all things television has him purposefully schedule two dates for the same event so that he can frantically switch clothes and make excuses that allow bouncing between the dates in true sitcom style. Pelton's costume in that episode includes gray make-up and a June Cleaver dress that transforms him into a '50s sitcom housewife.

Abed's buddy Troy is one of the most interesting and appealing members of the group; seeing this former high school football star have such an awesome friendship with the nerdy Abed and care so deeply for that misfit is textbook charming.

In addition, many of us can relate to Troy having to deal with peaking in high school. The scene below in which middle-aged mom Shirley outshines Troy in a physical education education (PEE) class that Troy initially thinks is a gym class that he can sail through is hilarious. Another great scene has Shirley and Troy trying to deal with simulated locker room mayhem.

Another exceptional scene in the PEE episode is a montage parody in which Shirley and Troy help the alleged "Changnesia" afflicted former Spanish professor turned child army warlord "Kevin," played by "The Hangover" actor Ken Jeong, relearn simple tasks such as using a water fountain and throwing a basketball.

Although fourth season episodes do not prominently feature Chase's wealthy curmudgeon Pierce, he has some shining (pun intended) moments. A hilarious Halloween episode that is set in Pierce's mansion includes nice visual references to Chase's better days.

A subsequent episode that has most of the cast going to Shirley's for a particularly toxic Thanksgiving dinner provides a showcase for Chase's trademark pratfalls. Pierce also earns a big a laugh regarding asking African-American Shirley's (unseen but presumably large) female relative if she is Tyler Perry in drag.

The brutal honesty regarding the Tyler Perry joke is another element of "Community" that is almost as great as its embracing of childish behavior and related tendency to put awesomely dark spins on things as innocent as pillow forts and child-oriented animated adventures.

The fourth season's last episode, which likely was considered the series finale, when it was filmed is one of many examples of the love that the cast and crew have for the fans. Dean Pelton's obsession for Jeff, a melding of our universe with the one from "the darkest timeline" from a third season episode, and the unsentimental nature of Chase's departure are all very true to "Community." This episode also provides hope that "Community: The New Class" becomes more than a fantasy starring Marc Paul Gosselaar in this fan's head.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Community" is encouraged to email me. E pluribus  anus everyone.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

'The Adventures of Superboy' S3: Emerging Man of Steel

Superboy, The Adventures of: The Complete Third Season
The long wait for Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1990-1991 26-episode third season of "The Adventures of Superboy" has paid off. Releasing this set after "Smallville" completed its decade-long task of showing how my favorite Kryptonian becomes Superman, and more recently after "Man of Steel" has offered a condensed origin story enhances the enjoyment of these episodes.

Although this review of "Superboy's" third season was intended to end the series of posts that are designed to keep the spirit of Comic-Con 2013 alive a little longer, Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the '70 Hanna-Barbera Saturday morning cartoon "Captain Caveman and the Teen Angels" requires extending this streak a little longer. This review will run in early August.

The third season of "Superboy" takes a significant step forward in transitioning Clark Kent from Superboy to Superman by moving the action from Shuster University, named for Superman co-creator Joe Shuster, to The Bureau of Extra-Normal Affairs where college intern Kent is obtaining experience that is relevant for a journalism career.

The special two-part season premiere is a nice bridge between the campus and real world based settings. This plot has newly hired Kent's work at the Bureau making him aware of the return of his flawed duplicate Bizarro causing chaos. Superboy's arch-nemesis Lex Luthor ramps up the mayhem by manipulating Bizarro into helping Luthor with his quest to kill the intern of steel.

Other episodes prompt Superboy to ponder his role as earth's protector. An attempted shotgun wedding to a super-powered alien female who dominates the weaker beings on her planet reinforces Superboy's decision to use his powers to aid humanity. Thinking that he accidentally killed someone in another episode prompts Superboy to retreat to his family's farm, and a particularly brutal encounter with arch-nemesis Lex Luthor requires great restraint regarding the principles that guide Superboy's heroics.

The two-part series finale, which is the best episode of the third season and deserves a honored place in "Superman" lore, notches up the transition from Superboy to Superman. This one, which includes a goateed double who is not evil, has Superboy visiting two parallel dimensions in which his paths differ from the one that he is traveling in ours. An encounter with Tarzan portrayor Ron Ely as a AARP aged Superman is particularly cool and important to Superboy's road to being the real greatest American hero.

A second-season change, which Unreal TV's review of that season addresses, that is also relevant regarding the awesome aspects of "Superboy's" third season is casting uber-fanboy (and probable series savior) Gerard Christopher as the College Man of Steel.

Christopher's sincere intensity when contemplating his fate and hilarious adorkability when Kent faces a serious risk of having his secret identity revealed are spot on.

Although Kent's gal pal and secret crush Lana Lang survives the third-season reboot and is a fellow intern, the role of Kent's goofy roommate sidekick from earlier seasons is jettisoned with the exception of a brief appearance by (now real-life professor) Ilan Mitchell-Smith as scheming Andy McAllister in one episode. Keeping college life well in the background adds a slightly more adult-tone to this still very fun action-adventure romp.

Kent's work at the Bureau leads to formal assignments that have him investigating creatures such as a werewolf and a forest-dwelling monster. Less formal employment-related peril includes Kent and his co-workers being held hostage during a going-away party for a colleague at a bar and contending with events that result in his uptight typical bureaucrat boss letting his id run free.

On a much more general level, "Superboy" supports that theory that some television series are like wine in that they are perfectly paired with some occasions. This program was ideally scheduled in its Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning airings during its first life as a syndicated series. 

Anyone with questions regarding "Superboy," Superman, or even the "ruff ruff and away" (really) adventures of Krypto the superdog is welcome to email me.

Friday, July 26, 2013

'The Miracle of Morgan's Creek:' Divine Preston Sturgess Comic Masterpiece

The Miracle of Morgan
Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1944 Preston Sturges comedy "The Miracle of Morgan's Creek" is a great opportunity to introduce modern audiences to the genuine genius of this man behind personal favorites, which have the same awesome social commentary as "Creek." "Sullivan's Travels," "Christmas in July," and "Hail the Conquering Hero," along with "Creek," show that Preston is king.

In his own way, Sturges is just as good as his contemporaries Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock; he also provided Woody Allen an excellent model. 

The DVD extras that "Creek" provides in the form of a surprisingly informative and entertaining 14-minute look at Sturges' career and a 7-minute review of Sturges' gleeful manipulation of the Hayes Code censors regarding "Creek" are just as "must see" as the film itself.

Sturges gets the frantic action in "Creek" started literally as the famous Paramount logo fades; the audience sees a mad dash to the newspaper office in the small town of Morgan's Creek and an excited call to Governor McGinty, who is also featured in the 1940 Sturges film "The Great McGinty." McGinty's uncertainty regarding whether Morgan's Creek is in his state is particularly funny.

The action then shifts to the commencement of the events that cause the hubbub. Town police constable Edmund Kockenlocker, played by Sturges regular William "Uncle Charley" Demarest, forbids late teens daughter Trudy, played by Betty Hutton, from attending a dance for soldiers who are on their way to fight in World War II.

Trudy agrees to forgo the dance and see a movie with nerdy but sweet longtime friend/not-so-secret admirer Norval Jones, played by "Conquering Hero's" Eddie Bracken. However, Trudy's thoughts while walking to the theater that the soldiers deserve a loving sendoff prompt ditching Norval and defying her father by attending the dance.

In true Struges fashion, hilarity ensues and sacred cows provide the basis for a thoroughly awesome barbecue.

The fun starts when the evening's festivities result in Trudy, who insists that she only drank sugar-free "victory lemonade," blacking out and soon discovering both that she is married to a soldier regarding whom she has absolutely no memory and that said doughboy has put a bun in her oven.

The threats of  her father's extreme wrath and of a small-town scandal prompt Trudy to recruit Norval to participate in a fraudulent proxy wedding.

One of the most hilarious scenes in "Miracle" involves an attorney telling Norval that the attorney is glad to sue anyone anytime for any reason but simply needs to know who to sue. An even  more memorable scene has Edmund stating the concept that is radical for the '40s that God may not be the universe's guiding force.

Sturges also skewers the formula, which the 1946 film "It's A Wonderful Life" executes especially well, of a Christmas miracle at the end of the film. Trudy giving birth during the Christmas season is predictable, but Sturges' twist on that blessed event is not.

A spoiler is that papa does not preach at the in-trouble deep Trudy, who keeps her baby.

Hutton and Bracken are well-cast and play their roles well, but straight-man Demarest steals the show. His blustering frustration regarding dealing with a town full of fools of all ages and wonderful personal schtick that he learned during his vaudeville days is wonderful entertainment.

Demarest's best bit by far involves lining up a kick to the seat of someone's pants only to end up flat on his back. Seeing '60s sitcom "My Three Sons'" Uncle Charley being over-the-top feisty and physical is a genuine treat.

Fans of top-grade comedy and awesome social commentary should take advantage of the "miracle" regarding "Creek" coming out on DVD and get a copy.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Creek" or Sturges is welcome to email me.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

'Time Trax' S2: 'Quantum Leap' Meets 'I Dream of Jeannie' Meets 'Brimstone'

Time Trax: The Complete Second Season
This review of the 22-episode second season of the '90s cult sci-fi time travel show "Time Trax" is part of a small informal series that is intended to keep the spirit of Comic-Con 2013 alive in the same way that some folks extend the holidays by not removing the Christmas tree from the living room until Valentine's Day.

I have never made it to Comic-Con, but "next year in San Diego" has been a personal motto for quite some time.

This series of reviews began with last week's analysis of the most recent DVD release of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" and is ending with an upcoming discussion of the recently released DVD set of the third season of "The Adventures of Superboy."

Aside from being a fun and quirky series, "Time Trax" is unreal because it is a genuinely cult show that unites its fans. Exchanging emails regarding this program with a fellow classic TV fanatic led to discussing other great scifi time travel shows.

This correspondence included discussing the hilariously campy '60s Irwin Allen series "Time Tunnel" and convinced my friend to try the recently reviewed British show "Crime Traveller."

"Time Trax" revolves around the journals of 22nd century man Captain Darien Lambert of the Fugitive Retrieval Section. His superiors have sent him back 200 years in time to capture roughly 100 escaped criminals who used a time machine called Trax to relocate to the '90s.

Like any good scifi show, Lambert has an arch-nemesis. Dr. Mordecai Sahmbi. Sahmbi, who has also traveled back "to the present," is the madman with the evil mind who invented the time machine and sent the felons back to our era for fun and profit. Doc Brown he ain't.

Similar to time-traveling Dr. Sam Beckett of "Quantum Leap" and even closer to pursuer of 113 Hell-escapees Ezekiel Stone of the unfairly cancelled 1998 Fox drama "Brimstone," Lambert must remain in the past until he captures each escapee.

On capturing the wrongdoer, Lambert either sends that individual back to the future or  has him or her otherwise face justice. This code of justice includes almost never zapping the bad guy in the back with Lambert's futuristic weapon. Lambert usually faces said malfeasor and makes sure that he or she sees the "bullet" coming.

A typical episode involves Lambert's quest by beginning with an event that puts him on the trail of one of his prey. Examples include a tabloid story on a thief using a freeze ray and recognizing a fugitive in a televised rugby game.

That quest often results in Lambert teaming up with a temporary partner who is not always a complete innocent. One of the better episodes has Lambert and a wonderfully feisty female sheriff pursuing a bank robber from the 22nd century who delights in tormenting Lambert in the 20th century.

The short Youtube video that is provided below offers a great primer on Lambert's background and explains his enhanced, but not super-natural or alien, abilities.

The "I Dream of Jeannie" aspect of "Time Trax" relates to Lambert's highly devoted credit card sized technology-based assistant SELMA, which stands for Specified Encapsulated Limitless Memory Archive. SELMA appears in the form of a hologram when Lambert orders "SELMA visual mode."

Unlike "Leap's" highly informative but largely impotent holographic Al Calavicci, SELMA's great powers warrant comparison to the abilities of Jeannie the genie. Additionally, SELMA's aforementioned devotion to Lambert runs much deeper than Al's to Sam. (Comic-Con 2014 panel anyone?)

SELMA's massive database includes in-depth information regarding the 22nd and 20th century backgrounds of  the escapees and of just about everyone else. She is also a very sophisticated GPS and comes in handy when Lambert needs his personal information inserted in a law-enforcement agency's database as part of his undercover work.

On a lighter note, SELMA's abilities to mimic voices and to simultaneously realistically project a myriad of sounds are among the seemingly countless ways that she can create diversions to assist her captain. SELMA additionally narrates the series. Other powers include opening locks and controlling most electronic devices.

Revealing new abilities of SELMA during the second season are one way that the writers keep "Time Trax" fresh. The audience also learns of new limitations.

The offering titled "Out for Blood" easily earns the "Episode of the Year"  award if only for guest-starring "Star Trek: Voyager's" Jeri Ryan as a literal nine-of-nine whose resistance turns out to not be futile.

As if having Seven of Nine guest star is not enough, the main story line is a "Terminator" style plot about a future villain killing the ancestors of a man who he feels done him wrong 200 years from now.

An especially fun episode can be considered "Lambert's Island"  (Gilligan's first name was Willie) in that it involves Lambert and six others stranded on a small uninhabited South Pacific island. The characters include a former navy man, a dreamy adorkable highly resourceful professor type, and an all-American small-town type girl.

A particularly fun scene from this episode in which a passenger states that she will welcome an approaching helicopter full of bad guys with open arms begs fans of the '70s rock gods "The Who" to add the next line from one of their classic songs to the woman's declaration. (Google it millenials.)

Second-season episodes that are particularly true to the comic-book nature of "Time Trax" include having Lambert wrangle with a Sahmbi-created lookalike android and a story involving a 22nd century inventor whose advanced technology catches the attention of a 20th century crime lord.

Another episode also has a very different type of evil twin; this pairing is much more yin and yang than the killer android plot. One spoiler is that neither evil twins sports a goatee.

The second-season episode that contributes the most to the lore of "Time Trax" and also gives Lambert some closure involves an investigation that puts Lambert in contact with a 22nd century relative "with a past" who is living in the 20th century. This one also includes some nice scenes with SELMA.

Another especially fun second-season episode has Lambert helping a very friendly and mostly gentle alien, who understands English but can only vocalize in dolphin-like tones, whose mate shared E.T.'s fate of being stranded during a prior expedition to earth.

The alien plot is very predictable but is entertaining and provides an interesting departure from the quest for future felons. Further, the audience truly feels for the brother from another planet who undergoes a very heroic quest for his boo. We really want to toss him a ball to balance on his nose.

The series finale is similar to an earlier one in which Lambert gets disabled in the line of duty, really should call it a day and return to the future, but sticks around and copes with the help of his latest bodacious romantic prospect. Stand out elements of this one include fun flashback scenes to the future and Lambert displaying great courage even for him. I would want him around if a 22nd psycho ever targeted me; SELMA would be our little secret.

Anyone with questions about this awesome action-packed series is welcome to either email me or place a personal ad in The Washington Post. You can stay in communication via Twitter by locating @tvdvdguy.

Monday, July 22, 2013

'Vehicle 19:' Paul Walker Drives Fast and Furious Through Johannesburg

The Paul Walker action-adventure flick "Vehicle 19," which is being released on DVD and Blu-ray tomorrow, evokes thoughts of a former professor's regular jokes regarding rental cars. The professor regularly remarked that he and his business colleagues would refer  to the rental automobiles for which they would purchase full-coverage insurance as "disposable cars."

The first comment regarding the professor's comments is to not try that at home. The second comment is that the ordeal that Paul Walker's Micheal Woods puts his rented mini-van through really tests Hertz's concept of full-coverage insurance.

The best thing that can be said about "Vehicle 19" is that it is a much better movie than anticipated. Additionally, the clearer picture and crisper sound associated with the Blu-ray version make it worth spending a few extra bucks to select over the DVD if you decide to add the film to your collection.

"Vehicle 19" does largely consist of the reckless high-speed chases and explosions that one expects from a film starring dreamy Paul Walker of the seemingly never-ending "The Fast and the Furious" series. The added appeal comes in the forms of nice homages to Hitchcock films and the original "Die Hard."

The Hitchcock element of this film primarily relates to randomly placing an average Joe in a highly perilous situation; a lesser element relates to setting the intrigue in what is an ordinary setting for many people. The difference is that Hitchcock is a master of that genre, "Vehicle 19's" director merely holds the audience's attention for 90 minutes.

The comparison to "Die Hard" relates to a sad-sack ex-husband finding himself having to fight a "big bad" while on a last-ditch romantic effort to win back his former spouse, who truly is the love of his life but has become fed up with him.

The simplistic plot of "Vehicle 19" is that Woods is a recently paroled American prisoner who has just arrived in Johannesburg to woe his former  spouse, who works for the American Embassy there. The former Mrs. Woods' discontent extends beyond Michael's "unfortunate  incarceration" to his heavy drinking and seemingly all-around lack of reliability.

Woods has rented a sedan but soon discovers that Hertz has provided him a mini-van. Using a typical plot-advancement method, Woods' haste to meet his former spouse motivates him to keep the mini-van over the objection of the Hertz rep. to whom he speaks on his cell phone.

The suspense builds as Woods adapts to driving on "the wrong side of the road" and tries to make sense of the confusing street names. He also gets uneasy as he travels through particularly foreign-looking poverty-stricken areas of Johannesburg.

The story then heats up as Woods discovers a cell phone in the car. That leads to arranging with the intended renters of the mini-van to meet for the purported purpose of swapping vehicles. Any movie-goer over the age of five know that things are not going to end that simply.

Woods next finds a gun and subsequently a bound woman in the vehicle. Once Woods convinces the woman that he is a good guy, she tells him that she is a prosecutor working on a case against the especially powerful operators of an enterprise that is involved in a particularly ugly aspect of prostitution. The bad guys had kidnapped her and dumped her and the other discovered items in the mini-van as the prelude to having someone kill her.

The game is soon afoot, and said fast and furious chases commence. A personal favorite involves a detour through a grocery store. The patrons were no longer shopping happily that day.

Stating that the bad guys ultimately face justice is hardly a spoiler. The unknowns relate to who survives, how the chases unfold, and whether Woods and his former spouse reunite or he decides to move on.

On a more general note, "Vehicle 19" achieves it purpose of providing 90 minutes of escapist fun on a Friday night. Additionally, the wide gaps in the plot that Walker could drive a Winnebago through do not matter because his brooding good looks and the action sequences are the film's main attributes. This film is more of a savory appetizer than a sweet desert and is a perfectly valid part of any movie-watching diet.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Vehicle 19" is welcome to email me. Anyone interested in learning more about "The Fast and the Furious" series is out of luck; I have never seen any of the films and often confuse Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson.

Folks who are generally interested in updates regarding "Unreal TV" are welcome to connect via Twitter by following @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

'Anything Goes:' Crosby and O'Connor Revise Porter

Anything Goes (PMT)
The 1956 film version of the musical comedy "Anything Goes" that Warner Archive recently released on DVD is terrific for many reasons; the big one is this is the last film that Bing Crosby filmed in his 23-year professional relationship with Paramount.

Other reasons for loving this version of "Anything Goes" include TV god Sidney Sheldon writing the screenplay. Casting  Kurt Kasznar, who subsequently played "The Land of the Giants" villain Fitzhugh, as Broadway producer Victor Lawrence is another nice television connection.

This innovative production of "Anything Goes"  keeps the genuinely timeless classic Cole Porter songs from the original play and toss the accompanying story overboard. The film opens with Crosby's character veteran song-and-dance man Bill Benson wrapping up his long-running solo show and starting work on a new Broadway production with up-and-comer Ted Adams, played by song-and-dance man Donald O'Connor.

After Lawrence manipulates Benson and Adams into performing one of the movie's best numbers, Benson agrees to co-star with the already signed-up Adams in Lawrence's show. One hilarious bit in that scene has Benson and Adams being very agreeable regarding things such as the billing and division of songs in the show to each other's face only to covertly lobby Lawrence for greater prominence a minute later.

The decision that sets the primary action in motion relates to casting the Broadway show's leading lady. Crosby hires Mitzi Gaynor's Patsy Blair after seeing her perform in London. The problem is that O'Connor signs up French ballerina/actress Jeanmaire's wonderfully named Gaby Duval after catching Duval's act in Paris.

Benson and Adams quickly learn of the casting dilemma but delay informing their leading ladies of the conflict.

Somewhat truer to the original "Anything Goes" plot, and to the classic '70s series "The Love Boat," the activity then moves to the cruise ship on which the quartet is traveling from France to New York. Romantic entanglements and complications related to resolving the casting problem prompt hilarity and great musical numbers.

The best of a great lot of song-and-dance routines are a fantasy sequence in which Duval's dancing and beauty entrances both "Newsies" style young paper peddlers and older New York males and O'Connor's separate performance with a gaggle of young cruise passengers.

A particularly clever shipboard bit has squabbling (pun intended) French sailors drowning out discussions of plans that are central to the inevitable happy ending in which the proper boy gets the appropriate girl and the show goes on.

The entire cast does an awesome job with their roles and the film is as entertaining as the original show. Further, the Cole Porter lyrics are world-class clever.

Additionally, the new arrangements of the Porter tunes are very good. Hearing these familiar compositions in a style other than their traditional big Broadway show style truly is simply different and not at all bad.

Anyone with questions about "Anything Goes" is encouraged to email me. Expectations are that the responses will not be shocking. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

'Mystery Science Theater 3000 V XXVII:" Post-Comic-Con Communists, Prehistoric Monsters, and Slime People Oh My!


Shout Factory's release of "Mystery Science Theater 3000 V XXVII" (MST 3K) in the not-too-distant future, specifically next Tuesday, gives MSTies a great chance to maintain the spirit of Comic-Con after that awesome event ends. This collection is one of the best of the numerous MST 3K sets that Shout has released.

Folks who show Shout particular love by buying V XXVII from get a bonus DVD that includes the show's shorts segments from "The Phantom Creeps," "Undersea Kingdom," and early black-and-white "General Hospital" episodes.

The rest of us, including lowly DVD reviewers, must be content with the terrific mini-movie posters that Shout includes with every "MST 3K" set. These genuine collectors items are newly created masterpieces that put beloved "MST 3K" cast members in the action of the films around which the episodes in the set are centered.

Aside from being one of the most clever and hilarious series of all time, "MST 3K" is notable as one of the first shows to demonstrate the extraordinary potential of both local and basic cable television.

A very boiled-down description of the concept of "MST 3K" is that average-Joe Joel, followed by the even bigger dullard Mike in later seasons, is trapped on a space station-like satellite and forced to watch truly terrible films to test his endurance for schlock. These characters survive this ordeal by riffing on the movies and performing skits with the robots that Joel built for that purpose.

The series started on a local Minneapolis TV station and moved to the Comedy Chanel, which later became Comedy Central, in the late '80s. It later aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, which became SyFy.

The Beau Bridges/Tommy Kirk '60s juvenile delinquents on a rampage grow to roughly 50-feet tall and terrorize a town largely devoid of adults film "Village of the Giants" is the best of the four incredibly awesome episodes in this set.

Having an "The Andy Griffith Show" era Ron "Opie" Howard star as a young scientist who creates the "goo" that leads to the Beau and his gang growing provides ample opportunities to riff on that classic sitcom.

Another great series of riffs relate to "Giants" characters using a gumball machine prompting the gumball-machine appearing robot Tom Servo to become very agitated regarding these scenes of his mother undergoing intense abuse. Having said maternal figure give it up for a coin particularly upsets Tom.

The gumball machine bit and copious "Aunt Bea" jokes are hilarious, but the absence of any reference to "Taylor made" concoctions or even to "Cunningham in my office now!" or to Ralph and Potsie are a little disappointing.

The episode is terrific as well because of the hilarious series of skits related to mad scientist Dr. Forrester laying off his dim-witted lab assistant "TV's Frank" just to be evil. Having occasional guest-star Torgo from the "MST 3K" classic "Manos: The Hands of Fate" apply for Frank's job and a separate montage of Frank's physical and psychological abuse at the hands of Forrester are some of the more memorable moments of that episode's bumper segments.

The special features on this disc are a new interview with "Giants" star Joy Harmon and the theatrical trailer for that film.

"The Slime People" earns second place in the ranking of this set that will have MSTies wetting themselves with excitement. This 1963 tale of subterranean generally humanoid creatures with turtle-like armor emerging in Los Angeles is so bad that it is good. These siblings from another strata quickly erect a dome around the area in an attempt to create and maintain a habitable atmosphere.

The film's heroes are a small but not especially intrepid group who spend their time in this early biosphere battling the creatures. Self-conscious riffs on the implausible aspects of the film and on early '60s pop culture that include references to dreamy Fabian, who is the Justin Bieber of his era, greatly add to the entertainment value of this offering.

Those of us who are Tivoing this summer's series "The Dome" but have not watched any episodes yet can only hope that that Stephen King tale is half as entertaining as "The Slime People."

The special features on this disc are the theatrical trailer for "The Slime People" and a new interview with that film's star Judith Morton Fraser.

"The Deadly Mantis" comes up an incredibly close third in V XXVII. It has a terrific combination of the wonderfully horrible '50s monster movies that "MST  3K" riffs on so well and the aforementioned hilarious skits that air just before or just after commercial breaks.

The actual film "The Deadly Mantis" is an "homage" to the better-known and more successful film "Them!"

The "Mantis" plot is that nuclear testing 1,000s of miles away releases a giant praying mantis from ice near the North Pole. After attacking a nearby radar station, said mantis ultimately makes (presumably) his way to the continental United States in a tour that includes visiting some of the top attractions in Washington, D.C. Of course, soldiers ineffectively battle said mantis during that journey.

The more then-timely and hilarious jokes from this 1997 "MST 3K" episode revolve around Republican leader John Sununu abusing his position as Bush I's chief-of-staff and a joke about Republican candidate Bob Dole's unsuccessful 1996 presidential campaign.

The only disappointment regarding the riffs is that the multiple reports of "Bogies," i.e. unidentified flying objects, in relation to the mantis appearing on radar screens do not prompt any Bacall jokes.

Further, the theme of the bumper skits and the skits themselves are above-average even for "MST 3K." This plot line begins with Mike inadvertently playing a major role in completely destroying earth and leads to the gang's tormenter using a space-travel capable Volkswagen bus to chase them across the universe.

The special features associated with that offering include a look at the career of "The Deadly Mantis" producer William Alland. Mr. Alland's cinematic opuses include many movies that aired on "MST 3K" and are included in Shout's "MST 3K" collections.

Alland's celluloid cheese includes "Mole People" from "V XXVI," which Unreal TV reviewed a few months ago, and the "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" sequel "The Revenge of the Creature" from "V XXV," which Unreal TV also reviewed.

Even more notably, Alland produced "This Island Earth," which was the movie that the Best Brains at "MST 3K" chose for the mid-90s feature film version of the show. Shout is releasing its highly anticipated Blu-ray/DVD version of that film on September 3, 2013. Unreal TV will review that one as well.

The fourth place but still good "Rocket Attack USA" movie deals broadly with Cold War paranoia regarding Soviet espionage activity and general weapons capability. Specific concerns relate to speculation regarding nefarious purposes behind the USSR's Sputnik space satellite. This ineffective propaganda piece is slow paced, and the riffing has amusing moments but is surprisingly generic and lacks remarks regarding the deprivation and oppression associated with Soviet-era Russian life.

One of the more hilarious skits in "Rocket Attack" has Joel and the 'bots meeting their Soviet counterparts. Having then-"MST 3K" head writer Mike play the human member of the Soviet team provides a small glimpse of things to come.

The special feature on the "Rocket Attack" DVD is a look at the life of the post-"MST 3K" life of series star Trace Beaulieu.

The results of these four experiments regarding the extent to which humans can endure "the worst we can find" from Hollywood are that they prompt some of the best comedy that ever aired on the small or large screen.

Any fellow MSTies or "muggles" with questions or thoughts regarding "MST 3K" are encouraged to email me. Folks are also invited to connect via Twitter by locating @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Newburyport Brewing Company: Three Beers, Two Guys, and a Tasting Room

Wanting a slight change of pace and the association between beer and mad-scientist level hot summer days have motivated a departure from reviewing DVD releases of "unreal" television series and films to offer thoughts about the Newburyport (Massachusetts) Brewing Company (NBC) in Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Watching and reviewing the awesomely entertaining and informative documentary "Beer Wars" a few years ago, a general interest in regional underdog competitors of national firms, and a desire to entertain a special beer-drinker in my life prompted visiting the recently opened NBC facilities.

Brewery owners and buds, but not chief cooks or bottle washers, Chris Webb and Bill Fisher started the business ala Drew Carey and his buds in Carey's '90s ABC sitcom out of a desire to make their own beer. Having a venue to play music with their band was a bonus. No, their group is not Fischer Z. (Google it everyone.)

A large poster in the tasting room that prominently included the quote that "cans are the future" prompted asking Webb to explain the reason for that bold declaration. The skepticism related to cans being the traditional receptacles for beer and many current microbreweries promoting jug-like growlers. Webb initially stated that the snobbery regarding cans was fading.

Webb then explained that cans protected beers from their arch nemeses light and heat. He added that cans were light-weight and recyclable.

A clever Webb-design innovation related to the six packs was using plastic caps that looked like the lids that kept open cans of pet food fresh to hold the beer cans in place. Webb beat me to the punch regarding essentially joking that the cap design saved Flipper from a choking hazard.

Webb added that the caps were made from 96-percent recycled material and were 100-percent recyclable. He demonstrated as well that that design made it very easy to snap your empties back under the cap for easy transportation home. That design also allowed for easy post-purchase customizing of the variety of brews or other beverages in a six pack.

A special bonus regarding the really cool design was that it facilitated including the free guitar pick in every six pack. Looking for that SWAG was almost as much fun as childhood Saturday mornings digging through cereal boxes for the toy.

The product-design cleverness extended to NBC's beer-can style pint glass. Webb demonstrated how it could be tilted to rest on its edge.

Seeing the expression "yeat" on t-shirts and other merchandise prompted asking Webb about that term. He explained that it was a very early form of "holmes" in that 18th and 19th century sailors from Newburyport would shout it as their ships passed to identify themselves as being from Newburyport. Modern variations include "the Bs (or the Celts, or the Sox, or the Pats) are wicked pissah this year."

As a aside, a street-wise high school classmate from Los Angeles introduced me to the term "holmes" many years ago. I stupidly thought that he was calling me Sherlock Holmes because I was pretty clever; I guess that I was not as clever as I had thought. My classmate got a huge laugh when I asked about it.

Returning to the business at hand, sampling the very tasty British grains that enhance the beers was the highlight of a great tour of the brewery. It was also fun to see the small-batch manufacturing process and smell the different types of hops that Webb and Fisher freeze to keep fresh.

Complete candor requires confessing that the "Laverne and Shirley" theme song ran through my head while watching the cans wend their way through the assembly line. 

Additional topics regarding the facilities included NBC only using metal kegs for reasons that included avoiding accidents such as the truly tragic death of a genuinely "nice young man" at the nearby Red Hook Brewery when the plastic keg that that worker was cleaning exploded last year.

On a happier note, Webb reported as well that efforts to use renewable energy included plans for wind turbines.

A tasting of the three beers that were named for Newburyport-area landmarks was another high point of this great visit. Beginning with the light and slightly citrusy and spicy Plum Island Belgian White introduced me to that style of beer. It was good but a little non-traditional for my taste.

Webb explained while sampling the Green Head IPA, named for the most deadly insect since Mothra, how an India pale ale is heavier than a pale ale. He added that its alcohol content was higher than its cousin. These elements made the IPA a little too sturdy for personal tastes.

Webb added that the heavier qualities of the IPA essentially made it the beer to have when you are only having one. 

Ala Goldilocks, the Newburyport Pale Ale was just right for me. It had the proverbial full flavor without making me feel as if I had just eaten a meal; it was also smoother than the IPA.

Webb shared that brewmaster Mike Robinson was working on new beers, which included seasonal varieties. He also did tell me a little bit about Mr. Robinson, who made absolutely no effort to seduce me, for my files.

Webb did not go as far as stating that he would have to kill me if he told me of Robinson's plans but stated that he could not share more information. Whether these plans include Market Square Mead remains to be seen.

Anyone with questions regarding NBC is better off contacting the brewery than emaling me.  Folks who are interested in seeing what I am up are invited to follow me on Twitter at @tvdvdguy. Lats' Watson.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

'Spy' S2: Bond Family Bond

Spy - Series 2 DVD

As yesterday's review of the DVD release of the wonderfully wacky britcom "Spy" S1 promised, today's subject is the recent DVD release of the second season of "Spy." The US format release of that show deserves high praise if only for including the  2012 Christmas special; UK format releases of British shows usually only release those specials as separate sets.

The prior review covers much of the lore of this series about "ordinary bloke" Tim Elliott, who stumbles into the MI5 training program in the pilot episode. The condensed version of that brief summary of "Spy's" concept is that the career change is part of Tim's efforts to earn the love and admiration of his borderline demonic nine-year-old son Marcus who barely expresses any emotion during the first season.

The second season opens with Tim advancing to full-fledged spy status after spending the first season in the MI5 training program. The numerous other changes in that episode include a new actor playing Philip, who is Marcus' headmaster and is also dating Tim's ex-wife Judith, goofy sidekick Chris becoming a highly unmotivated and unqualified gym teacher at Marcus' school, and the Elliott family being assigned a new court-appointed family therapist regarding Tim's and Judith's legal battle for custody of the now 10 year-old Marcus.

A more significant change comes in the form of introducing Marcus' new classmate Nick Chin, who knocks that former dictator of his grade school down enough notches to warrant noting that Marcus takes it on the Chin in several episodes. The season premiere has Marcus and Nick competing for school president. Other competitions involve comparing a talent for bicycle tricks, membership in a Mensa-style society, and getting a literary work published.

In the spirit of the first season, Tim covertly uses his spy skills to help Marcus in bids to gain his favor. Examples include conducting surveillance of a campaign meeting that Nick is holding in a 10-year-old girl's bedroom, using spy tech to cheat during a father-son quiz show that Nick tricks Marcus into signing up for, and slipping a diarrhea-inducing drug in Nick's beverage during a pre-teen dinner party.

Tim's official work-related escapades include involvement in a hilarious hostage situation and harboring a woman in the witness protection program after his psychotic boss "The Examiner" publicly reveals her identity.

Tim must also deal with his status at work falling when "The Director," played by awesome British actress Lindsay Duncan, takes over for an assassination addicted and newly mellowed "The Examiner." In true "Spy" fashion, these developments play a pivotal role in Marcus' latest power grab. 

The best of a plethora of great story lines relate to genius-level combination of Tim's personal and professional lives. The funniest example is a bring-your-son to work day that requires that Tim take Marcus to MI5 headquarters while shielding him from both the hazardous activities in the building and the true nature of Tim's work. Marcus' presence triggering "The Examiner" experiencing paranoid thoughts is only part of the fun.

Another classic has Judith developing amnesia after catching Tim participating in an MI5 training exercise. "The Examiner's" role in that episode includes targeting Judith for assassination to protect Tim's identity as a spy. Judith subconsciously acting on her open dislike of Tim and apparent ill will toward Marcus is equally amusing.

Further, the second season episode that is closest to the spirit of the Mel Brooks' '60s sitcom "Get Smart" involves "The Examiner's" cowardice and a co-worker's bumbling turning a hitman's scope on Tim. The resolution of that plot is terrific television.

The Christmas special, which is also the series finale, wraps up "Spy" well. A mutiny against Marcus' leadership and an incident that requires that Tim's MI5 colleagues covertly operate from Marcus' school on the day of a Christmas pageant in a manner that literally requires that most cast members get into the act are highlights.

That special also includes "The Director"in one of the most hilarious scenes of any "Spy" episode. The Mexican standoff that involves her, Caitlin, Tim, and "The Examiner" is fall on the floor funny.

The analysis of the threat assessment regarding "Spy" is that not watching this clever and entertaining show deprives American TV fans of missing one of the best television comedies that most of us have never seen.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Spy" is welcome to email me a coded message. You can also communicate via the secure  method of Twitter via the alias of @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

'Spy' S1: 'Get Smart' Meets "After You've Gone'

Spy - Series 1 DVD
The hilarious award-winning 2011 first series (my people call them seasons) of the britcom "Spy" is another example of how British shows kick the arses of American fare. A review of the even better second season of this show will be posted tomorrow.

The pilot of "Spy" depicts how typical suburban dad Tim Elliott transforms from an electronics store clerk to an MI5 trainee. Darren Boyd's smashing (my people call it awesome) portrayal of that everyman won him a well-deserved BAFTA, a.k.a. British Emmy, award for "Best Male Performance in a Comedy Programme"

A condensed description of the pilot is that Tim's hilariously pathetic desire to gain the love and respect of his equally funny 9 year-old son Marcus, who is a great combination of deadpan robot and evil super-villain, prompt Tim to seek employment as a civil service data entry clerk.

Tim's quest for government works results in accidentally taking the qualifying exam to be an MI5 trainee. In classic sitcom fashion, the head of MI5 hires Tim despite his lack of any relevant education or typically appropriate experience.

The rub as they say is that knowing that his dad is a spy would impress Marcus enough for his face to actually display emotion, but Tim must keep his vocation secret from his friends and family. Watching Marcus openly and venomously deride his father in ways that the audience, who are aware of Tim's secret identity, knows is false is terrific comedy.

This dynamic allows Marcus to truly steal the show as a brilliant pre-teen who gleefully embraces the dark side to the extent of being a brutal enforcer but loves the Miley Cyrus Disney kidcom "Hanna Montana." Marcus' quest for power extends beyond dominating the perfectly nice Tim to rule over both the students and teachers at his school.

The segments that involve Tim's MI5 training are reminiscent of the granddaddy of all secret agent sitcoms, Mel Brooks' extraordinarily brilliant "Get Smart." Ongoing schtick right after the opening credits in which Tim experiences assorted challenges getting through the secured door to his office is a great nod to "Get Smart's" classic opening credits that depict the titular Maxwell Smart's arrival at CONTROL headquarters.

Having Tim work for a man known only as "The Examiner" is reminiscent of Maxwell Smart reporting to "The Chief." Unlike "The Chief," "The Examiner" is a mentally unstable and completely unethical leader who delights in intended torture of underlings and shrugs off accidents such as wounding a trainee with ninja stars that "The Examiner" flings throughout one episode.

Casting 11-season britcom "My Family" Robert Lindsay as "The Examiner" is as perfect as having Boyd play an ordinary bloke with an extraordinary job. Choosing Lindsay evokes memories of Sherwood Schwartz selecting Bob Denver to play Gilligan in essentially the same manner that Denver had perfectly portrayed beatnik Maynard G. Krebs in "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."

"The Examiner" is as hilariously pompous and insensitive as "My Family's" Ben Harper. Even the manner in which "The Examiner" says "Tim" when "parenting" or coning his underling is exactly how Ben addresses younger son "Mikey, Mikey, Mikey" under similar circumstances. "The Examiner's" tone when expressing disdain is exactly how Ben addresses utterly charming but imbecilic older son Nick.

The "Get Smart" parallel extends to the character of attractive female spy Caitlin, who is more competent than Tim and possibly shares his romantic feelings. This pair lacks the extraordinary chemistry and comic timing of Smart and Agent 99, played by the still gorgeous and sharp Barbara Feldon, but do a great job.

The domestic side of Tim's life closely resembles "After You've Gone," which is another must-see britcom. That one stars lovable British goofball Nicholas Lyndhurst, who is an older version of Boyd, as a slacker divorced dad who circumstances force to move back in with offspring who openly do not respect him.

Much of the comedy in the first season of "Spy" relates to Tim's professional training overlapping with elements of his personal live. These include a particularly amusing episode, titled "Codename: Tramp" in which the effort to conceal the true nature of an accident in which Tim injures a homeless man early in Tim's training leads to the man moving into Tim's house and joining forces with Marcus against Tim.

Some of the best moments from "Tramp" relate to an ongoing storyline regarding Tim's legal battle with very bitter ex-wife Judith for custody of Marcus. The court-appointed family therapist has assigned Marcus to award Tim a black star for every bad act of parenting and a gold star for every good deed. The spoiler alert relates to Marcus rapidly burning through the black stars.

Another episode has Tim and Marcus simultaneously becoming drunk with power. Marcus' new-found admiration for this assertive version of his dad is very amusing. 

The season finale expertly sets the stage for the exceptional second season by including both the custody hearing and Tim's final exam regarding becoming a full-fledged spy. This episode has Tim's gonzo sidekick Chris undergo a comically dramatic transformation and introduces very studly CIA agent Portis, who is Caitlin's former boyfriend, as the MI5 team's newest member.

The audience is also treated to a slight thawing of Marcus' tough shell at the end of this episode in which he packs his luggage before the custody hearing in anticipation of both Tim losing the case and Judith "rescuing" him from living with Tim.

The conclusion to draw from the intel in the first season of "Spy" is that it this genuinely wry and witty show will not disappoint.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Spy" is encouraged to email me.

Monday, July 15, 2013

'Rick Springfield Documentary 'An Affair of the Heart:' I Believe You Better Call Him Mister Tonight

Reviewing tributes, such as the Blu-ray version of the Rick Springfield documentary "An Affair of the Heart" that is being released tomorrow, to pop stars presents a challenge. Not sharing the strong devotion to said American (or Australian) Idol as the ardent fans who are the target audience places some poor scribes in the tough spot of wanting to be fair but simply not understanding the super-human appeal of these musicians to those who would sell their first-born for one-on-one time.

In all fairness, non-Trekkers require an explanation regarding why I always say "everyone remember where we parked" when we arrive somewhere in a car or why I declare that "fun will now commence" at the beginning of an outing. I confess as well that I would consider sacrificing a kidney for an hour with Leonard Nimoy.

Personal experience in the world of "Ricksters" dates back to October 2008  I had selected Springfield's awesomely psychedelic 1973 Saturday morning cartoon "Mission Magic!," which remains a favorite, as a subject for one of my first DVD reviews.

That entry included a heavy dose of teasing Springfield and prompted record-breaking angry email. It truly seemed that I had blasphemed a genuine Australian god of the same caliber as "The Almighty Johnsons."

Along those lines, I warn hard-core Ricksters that you may not like my treatment of "Heart" much better. 

As an aside, my love of "Mission Magic!" earns me the honor of being one of Springfield's earliest fans. His theme song, which is provided via the following You Tube link, truly is a great tune and goes along well with the incredibly trippy opening credits.

Before moving onto sharing thoughts regarding "Heart," it is also worth mentioning that dreamy teen idol Springfield was set to replace the equally dreamy teen idol David Cassidy as Keith Partridge in the '70s sitcom "The Partridge Family" if that show had aired a fifth season. Seeing footage of Springfield as Keith and watching him rock out with co-star Shirley Jones would be incredible.

Sharing a reasonable standard for evaluating documentaries helps provide additional perspective regarding "Heart." An outstanding documentary does an exceptional job both informing and entertaining. Films of that caliber  include "Super Size Me," "Journeys With George," "Gasland," and many episodes of the PBS series "Independent Lens" and "POV."

"Heart" is a well-produced film that simply is not as compelling or insightful as anticipated. At the same time, it has won several film festival awards.

"Heart" differs from many behind-the-scenes looks at the lifestyles of rock and pop gods in that it focuses on Springfield's fans and their relationships with their favorite mate from down under. The Jersey soccer moms, the 14 year-old aspiring rock god, and the two women who found great comfort in Springfield's music during separate hard times that would break many of us are moderately interesting but still leave audience members wondering exactly how Springfield has "it."

Additionally, we see Springfield showing his fans kindness but do not get a sense that he goes much more above and beyond than other celebrities. Springfield providing the soccer moms with surprise turn-down service is entertaining, and preparing the teen rocker to perform with him is very kind. At the same time, this largely seems to go along with the territory of being a celeb.

Not getting the level of insight into Springfield that might have led to become at least a junior Rickster, rather than a casual fan, was disappointing. One does not even learn whether the point is probably moot regarding why Springfield shares Matthew Mcconaughey's fondness for taking off his shirt.

There was also almost no discussion regarding what inspired Springfield's hits or his 21st century comeback.

Learning of Springfield's history of severe depression provided some insight into his more recent work, but even learning that he was a world-class working class horndog did not explain his apparent infatuation with his bro's woman. We also never got any sense of the apparently one-sided relationship that inspired another of Springfield's hits.

At least people know that Carly Simon dated an extremely egotistical man and that a "Full House" star likely wished that Alanis Morisette would have "cut it out."

The only discussion of Springfield's television career, which included a heavily publicized comeback story arc on the Brooke Shields '90s sitcom "Suddenly Susan," was limited to two brief mentions of his '80s stint on the soap "General Hospital."

Children of the '70s would have enjoyed hearing about "Mission Magic!" and "The Partridge Family," neither of which were mentioned, and discussing that era of Springfield's life would have provided younger fans more insight into their idol. 

Other neglected topics included the efforts to induct Springfield into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and why he uses his guitar as a "deflowering" tool.

The bottom line is that Springfield largely seems to be following a policy of not talking to strangers. Millions of us who are still somewhat isolated from him are here anytime that he opts to open up. We will make our best efforts to be funny and cool with the lines when it is our time to respond.

Anyone who wants to share his or her thoughts regarding this review is welcome to email me. I remind the Ricksters out there who disagree with my views of the rubber and glue rule.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

'Front Page Woman:' Bette Davis Girl Reporter

Front Page Woman
Warner Archive's recent DVD release of the 1935 Bette  Davis comedy "Front Page Woman" provides an entertaining look at Davis' early career before she fully reached her stride as one of Hollywood's "thoroughly modern" classic tough broads with a soft center.

"Woman" is a nice blend of a battle-of-the-sexes screwball comedy and B-movie murder mystery involving a love triangle among the rich and famous. Comparisons to the classic "The Front Page" are highly justified.

Davis' character Ellen Garfield is a cub reporter for a New York newspaper who is dating the aptly named rival newspaperman Curt Devlin. George Brent, who later co-starred with Davis in the awesome classic melodrama "Dark Victory," plays Devlin.

The primary conflict between Garfield and Devlin is that he shares the seemingly unanimous sentiment among male members of their profession that dames essentially do not have any business being reporters. A possible exception is the hard-drinking cross-dressing Nell Bonnett who is as at least as tough as any man.

Garfield and Devlin agree early in the film that she will marry him if he admits that she is as good a reporter as any man. The test turns out to be coverage of an apartment-house fire that leads to a brief search for a missing resident of that building, followed by a murder investigation and coverage of the subsequent trial. Not much screen time is devoted to whether all is fair in love, but much of the terrific humor revolves around the concept that anything goes regarding circulation wars.

Devlin's wonderfully entertaining antics in pursuit of a scoop extend beyond his efforts to trip up Garfield. A typical ploy has him use his sidekick, and comic relief, Toots the photographer to distract the gatekeeper of the moment so that Devlin can snoop. One of Toots' best scenes comes early in the film when police officers confront him while he is sitting in Devlin's car soon after Devlin recklessly drove to cover a story.

Aside from Davis' good performance and the overall virtues of the film, "Woman" is an awesome example of the fast-pace and good-natured cynicism of classic '30s cinema.

Seeing reporters in a mad rush to literally phone in their stories before their many competitors in an era in which large cities has far more than two newspapers is highly entertaining. Further, Davis has a few great scenes that involve witty fast-paced banter with her editor, who seems to accept most of her gaffes as a by-product of the need for speed in the great newspaper wars of  '35.

A memorable example of the jaded attitudes of reporters who have seen it all and lived to write the tale include a remark that fires such as the one that sets the action in motion reveal the truth behind men telling their wives that they are in Chicago on business.

The ultimate scoop regarding "Woman" is that it offers an entertaining look at the fascinating world of big-city newspapers in the '30s and tells its stories well. It also provides Davis' fans a good chance to see her in a role for which she is well suited.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Woman" is welcome to email me. Also, as a good 21st century journalist, I participate in Twitter under @tvdvdguy.

Friday, July 12, 2013

'Falcon Crest' S3: Sex. Wine, and Corporate Control

Falcon Crest: The Complete Third Season
Watching all 28 episodes from the "must-see" third season of '80s prime time soap, and "Dallas" companion series, "Falcon Crest" for this review of Warner Archives' DVD release of that season revealed that the wonderfully "unreal" escapist aspects of the show passed the test of time well and that the program is still highly relevant.

This is not to mention that this season is the one with the off-the-charts melodramatic cliffhanger that features the unforgettable line "Hell Denver; we're going down." Suffice it to say, that last scene of the season greatly affected the contract-negotiation power of most of "Falcon Crest's" stars and was in the same spirit of fellow '80s prime time soap "Dynasty's" Moldavian Massacre.

The awesome aspects of every "Falcon Crest" episode extends well beyond its weekly melodrama and shameless use of sex and wealth to achieve goals while simultaneous betraying friends and family.

"Falcon Crest" is a true classic because the stars understand and relish their roles, and the writers sprinkle in humor that is worthy of classic sitcoms. A terrific example of lighter third-season moments is the poetic justice regarding bad-boy Lance, who is discussed further below, getting doused in red wine after two related displays of sour grapes.

"Crest's" setting of the thinly disguised Napa Valley wine country outside San Francisco provides a nice easy topic to start a deeper discussion of a Dickensian quantity of third season elements. That locale is central to "Crest," which centers around the California wine industry in a manner that has similarities with the Boston area craft beer market.

Thoughts of the aggressive (and sometimes ruthless) business tactics of long-time Falcon Crest Winery head Angela Channing, expertly played by Ronald Reagan's former spouse Jane Wyman, came to mind during a recent tour of the facilities of the fairly new start-up Newburyport Brewing Company roughly 30 miles from Boston on Massachusetts' north shore.

A more comprehensive "very special" review of this producer of really tasty "small batch" white beer and pale ales is scheduled for the end of the summer, but the parallels between that business and Falcon Crest's competitors are too obvious to ignore.

The analogy relates to the tendency of Angela, not so affectionately known as Angie to those who should be her nearest and dearest, using the power of Falcon Crest as the region's largest vineyard to crush her competitors like the grapes that are used to make their products. EVERY Tuscany Valley resident knows that he or she wants to avoid inclusion on "Angie's List."

An arguably improper FDA ruling that effectively eliminated competition from a company that a former Boston Beer Company executive founded is one of many indications that the Boston Beer Company, which produces the Sam Adams beers, at least partially emulates Angie in utilizing its market dominance to limit or entirely eliminate grocery store and/or bar sales of regional craft beers.

Any reports that the Newburyport Brewing Company can no longer obtain the special British grains, which genuinely make for good eating fresh from the silo, or variety of top-quality hops that it uses may provide additional evidence that the Boston Beer Company is taking a page from Angie's playbook.

Returning to "Falcon Crest" itself, the third season opens with the funeral of the latest victim of the character who shot vineyard owner Carlo Agretti in the second season. That death and the simultaneous wounding of Angie's nephew and highly unwelcome business partner Chase Gioberti set much of the third season action in motion.

The impact of Chase's injuries prompt Angie to "persuade" Chase's treating physician to declare Chase incompetent to participate in the daily operation of Falcon Crest; this declaration would grant Angie the sole control regarding how Falcon Crest operates that she enjoyed before Chase forced his way into the business in the second season. (A fairly cursory Google search did not produce any results regarding recalled power struggles at the Boston Beer Company.)

The funeral and medical plot lines also open the door for adding Cliff Robertson to the cast as Chase's emotionally scarred neurosurgeon cousin Michael Ranson. In addition to jumping in when members of the Channing or Gioberti clan face life-threatening injuries or illnesses, Michael hooks up with the sister of Chase's wife Maggie.

In true soap fashion, Michael's beloved is a former prostitute/party girl who moves to the Tuscany Valley to mooch off her wealthy sister and hop into any bed anytime that doing so provides physical or financial pleasure.

Not to be outdone, Angie's grandson the aforementioned dreamy but unfortunately named Lance Cumson continues to battle and scheme with and against his bride of convenience Melissa Agretti. Melissa's sources of power, with which she bargains evenly, are her son (and potential Falcon Crest heir) Joseph and her control over her murdered father's grape harvest.

Other story lines regarding Melissa involve the impact on her regarding the identity of her father's killer and the marriage of her former quasi-significant other Cole Gioberti to the daughter of a baker with a long-standing world-class grudge against the Channing and Gioberti families.

As if all this is not enough to keep you glued to your television or whatever device that you use to watch the DVDs, Lance' mother Julia Cumson goes off the rails in an even more campy fashion than her sister Emma Channing spectacularly did in the first season.

Julia's adventures include stints in an entertainingly brutal women's prison and a more humane mental hospital, a run from the law, and a terrifically dramatic effort at revenge. She ultimately resorts to an old habit (this reference will be hilarious when you watch the DVD) in the third season's final episodes.

The other main stories involve the intertwined plots of the importance of Chase's half-brother Richard Channing, who is the result of an affair between Chase's mother and Angie's husband, developing a literal bromance and Richard's determination to build a race track that would generally be contrary to the agricultural culture in the Tuscany Valley and specifically take vineyard land from Falcon Crest.

The race track plot line involves a scene that makes the audience genuinely sympathize with Angie. Although virtually everyone can find the methods of the divine Ms. C. to retain control over Falcon Crest and to see it thrive despicable, we can relate to her love of her land and her devotion to maintaining her family's legacy.

The epilog of this "novel" approach to sharing thoughts regarding television's most entertaining and informative look at the alcoholic beverage  industry is that the roughly 25-year gap between CBS putting a cork in "Falcon Crest" and this DVD set coming out shows that Warner Archives sometimes goes far beyond a policy of not releasing a DVD set before its time.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Falcon Crest" or who has good jokes about the "mahvelous" Lorenzo "Lance" Lamas is encouraged to email me.