Search This Blog

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top 5 Best Home-Video Surprises of 2013

This year-end list of Top 5 best home-video surprises for 2013 has some overlap with November's "Black Friday" list of best complete series DVD and Blu-ray releases for the year. The primary reason is that a show being better than anticipated is a factor in including it in a list of best releases for the year.

A large difference is that the majority of home video sets that make the current cut are part of uber-awesome series of releases that bundle the best that Hollywood, London, Paris, etc. have to offer.

As is the case regarding the "Black Friday" titles, each entry on this list briefly explains why the release makes the cut and includes a link to original review to allow interested folks to read more about that set. These reviews almost always include a video clip that facilitates obtaining a sense of the film or program.

Product Details
The complete series set of the '60s fantasycom "My Mother the Car," which has the reincarnated (of course, pun intended) titular character returning to our level of existence to guide her adult son easily takes the top honors in this list of surprises for the year. This link will take you to the full review.

The fact that "Car" is far better than its well-known reputation for being one of the worst ever sitcoms independently earns it a place on this list. Stars Jerry Van Dyke and Ann Sothern do a good job in their roles, and every episodes has some at least moderately amusing moments.

Further, one need not look beyond the Sherwood Schwartz  astronauts in the stone age failedcom "It's About Time" or the self-explanatory Garry Marshalls flop "Me and the Chimp" from the same era as "Car" to find shows that make this surprisingly good series seem like Emmy-worthy comedy.

On top of this, the sturdy cardboard box in which TGG Direct places the two-volume set add a nice touch to the presentation of this series.


The incredibly well-chosen selections in the always independent and mostly foreign Film of the Month Club that Film Movement operates would earn top honors in a list of best film series and come in a close second to "Car" regarding best surprises of the year. The primary reason for this ranking is that "Car" greatly exceeds expectations and these exceptional films are merely uber-awesome.

The titles in this series include "Three Worlds," which was the first one of the series that Unreal TV reviewed, about an event placing three very different types of people living in Paris in each other's orbit. The Dutch film "The  Deflowering of Eva Van End," which Unreal TV also reviewed, is a much lighter and quirkier movie about a German exchange student greatly impacting the life of a host family.

The January 2014 release "The Key of Life" pulls off the dual neat tricks of making a romcom incredibly enjoyable and a Japanese film highly relevant to American audiences. Unreal TV reviewed that one this past weekend.

It is worth mentioning that not mentioning the other films in this series is not intended to communicate that they are any less good than the discussed titles. There simply is not enough room in this forum to touch on every release in this series.

Oz & James Big French Wine Adventure DVD Oz & James Drink to Britain DVD  Oz & James Big Wine Adventure - California DVD

The trilogy of "Oz and James" travelogues that BFS Entertainment has released on DVD comes in third only because a good quality series from the UK is never a surprise. The unexpected element is that these essentially reality shows go beyond being watchable to being highly entertaining.

Unreal TV's review of "Oz and James Big French Wine Adventure" and post on "Oz and James Drink to Britain" provide detailed information about the always interesting (and often hilarious) and informative exploits in which this odd couple engage while learning more about alcoholic beverages that range from fine wine to beer that is made in someone's garage. A review of "Oz and James Big Wine Adventure California" is along the same lines.

Danny Kaye: Goldwyn YearsDanny Kaye: Goldwyn YearsSecret Life of Walter Mitty, The (DVD) DVD
The numerous (mostly Warner "Prime" and Archive) DVD releases under the "Danny Kaye Centennial" that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of this incredibly talented and versatile actor come in fourth only because their high quality is a treat but not a particularly big surprise.

As the Unreal TV review states, Archive picks four particularly strong entries for the "Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years" release; the "Danny Kaye Double Feature" includes the fall-on-the-floor uber-classic "The Court Jester," and the video clip in the post on this one is of the very famous "chalice with the palace" scene from that film.

The reviewed Warner "Prime" release of the Kaye version of "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" provides an opportunity to compare this film with the vastly different current Ben Stiller film of the same name.

Product Details
The Blu-ray release of the "Star Trek: The Next Generation" two-part episode "The Best of Both Worlds" in which part one is the season three cliffhanger and the second part is the season four premiere episode rounds out this list of the five biggest DVD or Blu-ray surprises of the year.

The review of this one goes further into what makes this episode about one of the most serious Borg (think scifi archnemeses such as the Daleks or Goa'uld) threats in the "Trek" universe so awesome, but just this chance to see these two episodes combined into a single presentation without even credits or recap breaks interrupting it is an incredible treat for even the most casual Trekker or anyone with even passing interest in quality scifi. Resistance to buying it is futile to ANYONE to whom that description applies.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any entry on this list or who wishes to offer thoughts on their own choices is encouraged to send an email; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, December 30, 2013

'Oz and James Big Wine Adventure California' DVD: Best British Invasion Since 'Doctor Who' in Utah

Oz & James Big Wine Adventure - California DVD
This review of BFS Entertainment's DVD release of "Oz and James Big Wine Adventure California" wraps up the trilogy of posts on a trio of BBC series that has the odd couple of  proudly slovenly "Top Gear" host James May and the more polished noted wine expert Oz Clarke pairing up to explore regions known for producing wine and other alcoholic beverages.

"Oz and James Big French Wine Adventure" is the first entry in both the series and the reviews on these shows. The next post is on "Oz and James Drink to Britain," which is the third series in the trilogy of this group of BBC productions.

All three entries in this trilogy are extraordinary if only because they achieve the exceptional feat of making essentially a reality show thoroughly enjoyable. The very entertaining hosts and the almost complete lack of teasers, manufactured suspense, and minimal drama all contribute to this success. In addition, these shows provide informative and amusing lessons about wine, beer, whiskey, and other beverages that virtually every American consumes at a bar on his or her 21st birthday.

If forced to rank the three series, it would be necessary to state that they follow the pattern of most trilogies. "French" has the best blend of humor and wine education; "California" is very good but slightly falls in the "middle child" trap of trilogies in that it goes a little over-the-top,  and "Britain" brings the series back closer to the original.

"California" has May and Clarke driving a 42-foot luxury RV around California wine country; the element of mishaps, which include a bad scrape and difficulty negotiating back roads, related to that choice of vehicle introduce the tiniest dash of "National Lampoon's Vacation" into this otherwise moderately sophisticated series.

Our hosts additionally seem to place just a touch too much emphasis on what they perceive as a "wild west" element to California wine making. Examples include occasionally emphasizing that the rules that govern making wine in France do not apply in California and taking the audience on tours of one wine-making facility in an industrial park and another that revels in taking an anarchy-oriented approach to their craft.

A segment on the terrific bargain wine, which is known as "two (now three) buck Chuck," that involves the "vineyard" that produces that line of "vintages" more than makes up for any reality show element of the series. The company's president is entertainingly brusque and May and Clarke offer assessments that validate the opinions of Friends of Chuck.

Te following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of this visit to "Chuck's" home. It provides an excellent sense of the spirit of this great series.

The standard series-long challenge in "California" is a good and proper one; it has Clarke looking for a decent California wine that he can purchase in the UK for 10 pounds or less; the interim challenges that May creates for Clarke are more of a mixed bag.

The pair "just happening" to visit a region where a large classic car show is occurring prompting May to have his companion pair wines with automobiles in the show is entertaining and educational regarding both the vehicles and the vintages. It is additionally amusing payback from a "French" episode in which Clarke has May pair wines with each element of a three-course meal.

Other May challenges stray into reality show territory via stunts that included having May drink wine while driving a bumper car at an amusement park and tread water in a lake until he successfully identifies each wine that May tossed to him. These segments have a bad taste of a son getting a chance to exact revenge by humiliating a parent.

 The final rating of all this is a solid 90 out of a 100; Clarke and May are clever blokes who put on a good show, are excellent sports, and have an very good (if not perfect) sense of when too much is too much. They also leave as wanting a fourth series, perhaps set in Australia.

Anyone with any questions regarding any series in the "Wine" trilogy is welcome to email me. You are also welcome to email me.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

'Key of Life' DVD: Awesome Japanese Rom Dramedy

Product Details
The subtitled hilarious 2012 Japanese romantic dramedy "The Key of Life" is a great example of the terrifically broad scope of  the monthly always independent and usually foreign selections of the film-of-the-month club that Film Movement operates. Members and folks who buy this title separately can start enjoying it on January 7, 2014.

The cleverness of this title regarding the central event related to largely failed and suicidal actor Sakurai switching lives with that of Kondo after the latter becomes disoriented in a freak accident is only part of what makes this film so awesome. The ensuing best identity switch since "Trading Places" has far more twists and provides scads more laughs than the entire collection of Katherine Heigel and Julia Roberts films combined.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Key's" spoiler-laden trailer shows the incredible feats that writer-director Kenji Uchida pulls off. It is remarkable enough when anyone who takes on two jobs in a film pulls both off with tremendous skill.

Uchida doing one better by making a film set in a very foreign culture both relatable and highly entertaining to an American audience that suffers through scores of badly done romcoms each year. Sitting down with him over a glass of sake would be a dream come true.
The woman who adds the rom to the dramedy is Kanae. She is a successful magazine editor who has decided to schedule her wedding before finding someone whom she wishes to wed. A chance meeting with Kondo, who has assumed Sakurai's identity and life, has this pair on a surprisingly smooth road to marriage. The same ensuing hilarity and drama that prompted Film Movement to add this film to titles such as the previously reviewed uber-awesome British movie "Broken" and earlier reviewed French film "Aliyah" make "Key" truly must-see.

Particularly good segments involve Sakurai trying to bluff his way through situations related to passing himself off as the significantly older Kondo under very harrowing circumstances and Kondo trying to make sense of living a life that does not seem to fit him. The inevitable pairing up of these characters roughly halfway through the film provides additional fodder for hilarity and mayhem.

For her part, Kanae's relationship with both her sister and father are particularly relevant to any American with a sibling and/or a parent; a scene that involves a DVD mixup in her storyline also helps make her tale memorable by providing one of the biggest laughs in the film.

Film Movement additionally does its great job of adding value to the set by including its regularly (but hardly standard) bonus short. This one, which is very aptly titled "Finale," is full of twists and moderate surrealism. It further proves the adage that it ain't over until the fat lady sings.

The international accord regarding this perfect blend of talents is that it will appeal to anyone with a yen for a story that will both make you laugh and feel deep compassion for two-dimensional characters.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Key" is welcome to email me; you can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, December 27, 2013

'In the Heat of the Night' S4 DVD: Carroll O'Connor's 'Matlock'

Product Details
TGG Direct's DVD release of the fourth season of the eight-season 1988-1995 crime drama "In the Heat of the Night" is a nice reminder of the "kinder gentler" type of character-driven police show that used to populate the airwaves. Further, "Heat" star Carroll O'Connor using a southern accent in his role as the police chief of a small Mississippi town provides the entertainment of imagining Archie Bunker speaking with a drawl.

Candor requires divulging that clearance issues prevented including the season premiere "Brotherly Love" and the mid-season episode "Shine on Sparta Moon" in the fourth-season set. On a happier note, TGG released a DVD set of the fifth season of "Heat" on the same day as the fourth-season set; Unreal TV will review that set in early 2014.

"Heat" is based on both the novel and film of the same name about a big-city black detective practicing his trade in a small southern town with its fair share of racial tension. Howard E. Rollins, Jr. plays the transplanted MR. Chief of Detectives Virgil Tibbs in the series.

The sampled 7 of the 19 fourth-season episodes in this set indicate that racial tensions had died down by then; the perpetrators seem to be pretty evenly divided between black and white people, and race does not seem to be a factor in any offense or the interactions between the officers on the Sparta police force.

The first episode in the set has O'Connor's Chief Gillespie and his officers investigating the death of a part-time prostitute operating from a local truck stop. This one manages to include a "Papa don't preach" storyline into a well-told and straightforward tale of a wandering husband, an "angel is a centerfold" type working girl, and a blackmail scheme.

The following episode is an even better one; this tale revolves around circumstantial evidence supporting an elementary school student's assertion that his teacher sexually abused him. The themes in this one include yellow journalism and the overall harm associated with accusations of this nature.

"Just a Country Boy" from later in the season is arguably the most entertaining one in the group; it has officer "Bubba" Skinner going to Los Angeles to escort a suspect in an arson case back to Sparta, Mississippi. Skinner humorously running afoul of big-city types and teaming up (and bickering) with an employee of the company that insured the burned building provides expectations of a spinoff that never materializes.

The season finale has father-of-baby-twins Tibbs facing internal and external pressure to find a less dangerous line of work; his being placed in harm's way while investigating a double shooting at a roadhouse does not help the case for his continuing to fight for truth, justice, and the American way.

The end result of the investigation of this season of this series is that NBC savior Fred Silverman assembled a good cast and talented writers to breath new life into  a solid time-proven concept.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Heat" is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

'The Outer Limits' CS DVD: Fables from the Family Room and the Final Frontier

Product Details
Along with the recently reviewed DVD release of the Showtime original series "dead like me" (and early seasons of "Stargate: SG-1"), the DVD release of the final season of the 2995-2002 seven-season Showtime series "The Outer Limits" demonstrates that that other leading premium cable network lacked a monopoly on high-quality cleverly quirky shows even in the late '90s and early 2000s.

"Limits" is a remake of the 1963-65 "The Twilight Zone" clone of the same name. Like "Zone," both "Limits" are anthology sci-fi series that often include a moral. They additionally share "Zone's" habit of using future, current, and faded stars to portray the characters.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the wonderfully creepy and trippy opening credits of the "Limits" remake indicates both how well it is produced and how close it keeps to the original series.

The 22 episodes from the seventh season of "Limits" are a prime example of the themes described above. Roseanne's former husband Tom Arnold stars as a business executive who defies his family's objections to buying a robot to assume some of his parental and household duties in the season premiere. The producers follow up Arnold's appearance with a young looking Jeremy Sisto of "Six Feet Under" and "Law and Order" in the season's second episode.

In true "Limits" (and "Zone,") style, things take a dark turn in Arnold's episode and his character learns the dangers related to sending a mechanical being to doing a parent's job.

The third episode of the seventh season is more akin to stories from the "Star Trek" universe in that it addresses dilemmas associated with traveling into the past to change the future. It also involves the classic "Trek" issue of whether the needs of the few can ever outweigh the needs of the many. The background regarding this dilemma relates to efforts to prevent a devastating plague.

The value of alien and newly-formed life are other "Trek" themes that this season of "Limits" addresses.

The penultimate episode of the season (and the series) truly is "the best of both worlds" in that it combines terrific elements of "Zone," "Trek," and even "Stargate." This one has "Star Trek: Voyager's" Robert Duncan McNeill literally matching wits with a very stoic android played by Zack Ward, who plays very unstoic roles in "A Christmas Story" and the Foxcom "Titus."

The action takes place on an alien planet that McNeill's character and his team is terraforming in anticipation of a select group of humans settling there after essentially disposing of earth. The snag is that the android engages in sabotage that is designed to prevent mankind from continuing to destroy planets.

In addition to the element of establishing footholds on alien worlds, the "Stargate" element comes into play by excellent use of flashbacks from prior "Limits" episodes to illustrate the destructive and vicious nature of man. The particularly surprising outcome in this adventure is another way in which it excels.

The series finale is also very good and is another "clip" show. This one revolves around a military officer competing for a coveted mission. This requires that he experience simulations so that his "superiors" can evaluate how he handles assorted challenges, which typically involve an alien threat. The payoff in this one is moderately surprising, but the story unfolds nicely and is well cast. Additionally, seeing a very poorly disguised "Stargate" set is great fun.

The moral of this review is that high production costs and other obstacles related to producing (mostly) high-quality scifi shows has made that genre all but extinct, and the DVD sets of the "Limits" are an excellent way to remember the good ole days in which that show and the others mentioned above still aired.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Limits" or any of the other scifi shows mentioned above is encouraged to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Classic '80s Sitcom Offers Apt Lesson in Peace, Love, and Understanding in Age of Robertson's 'Dynasty'

The recent controversy regarding "Duck Dynasty" star Phil Robertson is an early Christmas present to Unreal TV in that a post that reproduced a March 2013 review of the DVD release of "Family Ties" S6 was planned for today weeks ago when knowledge of "Dynasty" was largely limited to its title and Robertson's name was completely unknown.

The theme of the planned essay (and this post) is that "Ties" is a good reminder of an era of civilized and respectful political discourse. Technical difficulties regarding pasting the "Ties" review into this space require asking that interested readers please use this link to access it.

Reading the "Reality Stinks" manifesto that Unreal TV posted four days before the "Ties" review helps explain why knowledge of "Duck Dynasty" is so limited.

The incredibly frustrating partisanship on Capitol Hill, Main Street, and Hummingbird Lane motivates using the holidays to remind folks of the truly "kinder gentler" times that "Ties" reflects. The "Dynasty" incident is only icing on the fruitcake.

This event provides an even better example than the filibusters, government shutdown, Obamacare debacle, etc. of how America has become a deeply divided country and that (like Dana Carvey's grumpy old man from "SNL") our leaders apparently like it. They surely are doing very little to put on their listening hats and play nice with each other.

Robertson's own biography strongly supports the common perception that he is not particularly insightful or well-rounded. There is no doubt either that the lame "duck" holds some very ignorant and out-dated opinions or that he has the right to express them in any available forum.

The fact that former-Governor Sarah Palin and other Robertson supporters are blindly kicking up such a fuss without thinking that the "out" and "closeted" homosexuals who collectively comprise roughly 30 percent of the people in their lives do not deserve to be damned simply because of their preferences regarding which "Slot B" that they enjoy inserting "Tab A" shows part of the problem. These "ducklings" also seem to ignore both that the traditionally uber-conservative military largely did not enforce "don't ask don't tell" and have subsequently revoked that policy.

On top of this,same-sex couples are much closer to fully experiencing marriage "equality" even in Utah, which is the Mormon capital of the world.

Asserting the matter as a First Amendment issue further shows the blind faith, lack of reasoning, and scary level of hate (which exists on both sides of the political spectrum) that is completely absent from "Ties." It is particularly disturbing that a woman who could have been the Vice-President of the United States (thus occasionally having the powers of President) is among those who apparently  does not know that the First Amendment refers to suppression of free speech by the government, not a basic cable company or any other private business.

(In all fairness, it is equally despicable that potential First Lady Michelle Obama stated that she would be embarrassed to live in a United States in which her husband was not president.)

For that matter, Palin and the other "ducklings" out there should realize that any company can discipline anyone to whom it issues a check for service rendered for virtually any act that that employer deems harms the business.

The final word regarding all this is people who feel inspired to chime in the next time that a celebrity expresses an opinion that creates a national (or international) scandal are advised to remember the TRUE wisdom of Samuel Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, that it is better to remain silent and consider a fool than open your pie hole and remove all doubt.

Thoughtful and respectful responses to the views expressed here are welcome and can be emailed. Those who do not respect the request to be nice are reminded of the rubber and glue rule.

Monday, December 23, 2013

'Oz and James Drink to Britain' DVD: Beer, Whiskey, and Gin Oh (James) May

Oz & James Drink to Britain DVD
The BFS Entertainment DVD release of "Oz & James Drink to Britain" is the third installment in a trilogy of travelogue/reality series by wine expert Oz Clarke and "Top Gear" host James May. This review is the second in a trilogy of posts on these series.

The first review is on "Oz & James Big French Wine Adventure;" the third review will be on "Oz and James Big Wine Adventure - California." To further complicate things, BBC America aired the "Wine" series under the title "James May Road Trip."

Confused? You won't be after reading this review of "Britain."

This pairing of the crude and slovenly car expert James May and more refined wine expert Oz Clarke begins with their trek across France for the purpose of Clarke educating May about wine. After crossing the pond to continue their adventure in Napa Valley, the pair finishes their quest in Britain. The dual challenges in that eight-episode four-hour series are to brew a quality beer and to identify the beverage that best represents modern Britain.

As the first review in this series states more thoroughly, the element that makes the "Oz and James" shows especially awesome is that they essentially are reality shows that go beyond being palatable to being extraordinarily entertaining.

Clarke and May have terrific instincts regarding how far to push the odd couple aspect of the show; further, their good-natured bantering and the smiles that they bestow on each other demonstrate that much of the bickering is an act.

"Britain" begins in Yorkshire with a look at the ingredients that go into beer; this lead to traveling to breweries large and miniscule and a very lengthy pub crawl that leads to amusing misadventures but no fleeing from body snatchers or other "cornetto" elements.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of the beginning of the "crawl" segment. It lays out the details and provides a brilliant sense both of Clarke's wonderful enthusiasm and May's terrific sarcasm.
The third "Britain" episode is a wonderful and educational look at the whiskey industry in Scotland. A scene in which May uses a highly potent version of that distilled liquid for an unconventional use is one of the most amusing of the series.

The fourth episode is set in Ireland and arguably is the best of times and the worst of times. This offering mines a great deal of awesome humor from our hosts valiantly trying to adhere to a BBC regulation that requires avoiding mentioning the largest brewery in Ireland by name. This leads to establishing a form of swear jar, and May dearly paying for mocking Clarke.

May additionally provides great humor by ranting about Americans and English folks alike adopting a stereotypically phony folksy "top o' the mornin' to you" Irish style persona. This relates to his annoyance regarding a practice of drawing a shamrock in the trademark creamy head of the drink that shall not be named.

The "worst" element relates to Clarke and May adding an annoyingly strong reality show concept to this episode. This involves a scene in an Irish pub in which our heroes judge a contest that has owners of smaller Irish pubs making brief presentations regarding why their product best represents Ireland. The factors include the "blarney" element.

The fortunate aspects of this contest are that it lacks any trace of the painfully prolonged "suspense" and drama of similar fare in the US, and the segment only lasts a few minutes.

The pair's other UK adventures include tending bar at a pub, sampling Welsh vodka, and seeing how wine from Sussex measures up to France's best.

The terrific elements of this always amusing (and often hilarious) series show that the lesson from this "Oz" experience is that our heroes learn that there is no place like home when it comes to brewing beer and making whiskey.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding any of the "Oz and James" series is encouraged to email me; you are also welcome to contact me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

'dead like me: The Complete Series' DVD: Reaping Benefits of Awesome Showtime Walking Dead Series

Product Details
TGG Direct's recent DVD rerelease, which includes the 2009 direct-to-video film "Life After Death" of the 2003-04 two-season Showtime Original Series "dead like me" provides a good chance to get an affordable set of this series that demonstrates that "Dexter" was not that premium network's first awesomely darkly humorous offering.

As an aside, this release coincided with TGG's DVD release of the final season of the very good seven-season 1995-2002 Showtime remake of the uber-awesome '60s "Twilight Zone" clone "The Outer Limits." A review on that release will run within the next few days.

The "dead" premise is that the wonderfully cynical and deadpan late-teens Georgia "George" Lass is randomly selected to be a grim reaper on a toilet seat that falls from space striking her. Part of the humor relates to the accident occurring within a few hours of Georgia experiencing the first day of the rest of her life in a dead-end job at temp. agency.

One reason that this imaginative and humorous slant on a macabre origin story seems somewhat similar to the equally awesome 2007-09 dramedy "Pushing Daisies" about a pie maker who pays a price for extending the temporary period that he is allowed to bring a dead person back to life is that the terrifically creative Bryan Fuller created both shows.

Much of the wonderfully cynical tone of "dead" relates to the concept that life after death is even worse than the preceding version. George still must work a tediously soul-crushing job to pay "living" expenses and now must "daylight" as a collector of others' souls. She experiences additional angst witnessing how her death and other events affect her parents and younger sister but largely lacks any ability to help.

Stating more about "dead's" lore would destroy the fun of learning how grumpy regional head reaper Rube (played by Mandy Patinkin) administers the reaping system, discovering the quirks of the '30s starlet Daisy Adair and other dead inside and outside types with whom George works, and watching the entertainingly sadistic activity of the invisible creatures who often play a central role in people losing their lives.  

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for the first season of "dead" provides a little more sense of this amusingly twisted show without spoiling much.

The numerous "life and death" issues that the series tackles include the necessity of someone who has done nothing to deserve having his or her life end passing away at the time that the force that controls such things considers appropriate. This lesson includes the chaos that ensues when that force is defied.

One wonderful "sit" that make for great "com" is a desperate George learning while staying at the home of her unduly cheerful and otherwise obsessive temp. agency boss Delores Herbig exactly how deep Herbig's eccentric streak runs. Another "sit" has Rube taking over cooking in the waffle house where his team meets. This experience provides Rube a great lesson about Karma.

A more common "dead" theme is either a scheme or other nefarious activity of Mason, a British "rough," going wonderfully comically awry. Callum Blue, who also played "Zod" on "Samllville" and starred in the brilliant British series "Book Club," did a great job as Mason.

The reunion film, which catches up with the gang five years after the series experiences its own death, has Henry Ian Cusick of "Lost" playing the team's new boss; this character taking a much looser approach than Rube creates chaos and shows how George has evolved since her encounter with the toilet seat.

The final word regarding this tale of the best group of the walking dead ever to populate a television series is that producers simply do not make them like this Unreal show anymore. Pulling off sick humor so that it does not offend or get old is a tough trick that Fuller and his team do marvelously.

Anyone with questions about "death" or "Daisies" is welcome to email me; you can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, December 20, 2013

'Bat Masterson: The Series' DVD: Fastest Cane in the West

Product Details
TGG Direct's recent well-produced 16-disc 108-episode DVD release of the 1958-61 Western "Bat Masterson" is a great choice for a last-minute gift for the classic TV fan on your holiday list. The six bonus spaghetti '60s Western films starring the gunslinger known as Django make an already fun set particularly special.

One of numerous elements that sets "Bat" apart from the gaggle of other Westerns that aired during its era is that portrays the (sort of) true stories of the titular William Barclay "Bat" Masterson, who earned his nickname by speaking softly and carrying a big stick that was as lethal as a gun in his hands. On a similar note, this show easily could have been titled "Have Cane, Will Travel."

The real and fictional Mastersons were a combination marshal and gambler. They also were snappy dressers who preferred derbies over Stetsons and well-tailored suits in lieu of rougher garb.

Gene Barry, who is also known for playing the titular character in the "Hart to Hartesque" '60s crime drama "Burke's Law" stars as Masterson in the series. His Masterson is very cool under pressure, seems to have a lady in every frontier town, and is kind to small children and animals.

Barry does not go so far as to appear as himself after each episode to invite viewers who want to learn more about Masterson to check out a 1957 biography of that man by Richard O'Connor from the library. However, the first season closing credits do appear over a cover of that tome. 

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, does a great job conveying the fun spirit of "Bat." It also provides the bonus of including the memorable theme song from the series.

Another terrific aspect of "Bat" is its similarities to the equally classic "Maverick" from the same era. Aside from both Western series featuring tall dark strangers, Masterson and les freres Maverick are professional gamblers who often find themselves squaring off against a bad guy or group of bad guys, who are equally often employed by an evil rich guy.  Additionally, all of these men keep violence to a minimum. The Mavericks achieve this by using their wits and charm as artfully as Masterson yields his cane.

Additionally, the very catchy Western-themed themes of "Bat" and "Maverick" have lyrics that establish each show's premise as well as "The Ballad of Gilligan's Island" relays the tale of the "seven stranded castaways" in that series.

One difference between "Bat" and "Maverick" is that Masterson either rides into town looking for that particular trouble or happily rises to the challenges that it presents; Bret and/or Bart Maverick typically have simply come to play poker and find themselves coerced into being a hero.

"Bat's" pilot gets things off to a great start by beginning with the typical narration that provides the background of that week's adventure. In this case, Masterson's mission is to help a saloon keeper who a rival is using an especially nasty method to run out of business. This conflict leads to Masterson facing said rival in a showdown that demonstrates that resolving disputes does not require using guns.

Barry offers another great surprise at the end of this episode in a scene that offers an amusing take on a alternate ending. That bonus makes a very good inaugural outing truly special.

Barry and the writers kept things going well for another three years until wrapping things up with two episodes that show how the tone of the series had loosened up some.

The penultimate episode has Masterson and equally real-life Western hero Wyatt Earp teaming up to recover a small fortune that outlaws stole from Earp. Earp and Masterson engage in good-natured bantering, Masterson shows his rascally side quite a bit, and Earp even plays an amusing joke on his friend at the end of this one.

The series finale is more serious than the Earp one and has a nice tie back to the pilot; it also provides interesting insights into forming our postal system and the tremendous value associated with being appointed as a postmaster.

The many rings of truth in this very appropriate end to a terrific series suggest that is closely based on an adventure of the real Masterson.

Anyone with questions regarding "Bat" or "Maverick" is welcome to email me; you can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

'Danny Kaye Double Feature' DVD: Two Classics Round Off Reviews of 'Danny Kaye Centennial' Titles

Danny Kaye Double Feature
This review of Warner Archive's recent DVD release of "Danny Kaye Double Feature" rounds out the series of posts, that began with discussing the four-disc "Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years" release, on titles associated with "The Danny Kaye Centennial." This celebration marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of a genuine screen legend.

Seeing Kaye express every emotion from sheer panic to heartfelt passion, skillfully undergo rapid costume and accompanying character changes, and perform song-and-dance numbers that involve lightning-fast transformations from operatic baritones to rapid-fire falsetto lyrics in every movie makes every Kaye film in any format a bargain.

Including Kaye's arguably best-known film 1955's "The Court Jester" makes "Double" a great release on which to end this series on his uber-awesome movies. The other film is the much different, but equally good, biopic "The Five Pennies" from 1959.

"Jester" is set in medieval times and has Kaye playing circus performer Hubert Hawkins, who has joined the band of Robin Hoodesque the Black Fox. These merry men and women are dedicated to ousting the current king of England, who has wrongfully seized control by having every known rightful heir to the throne killed.

In typical Kaye fashion, Hawkins longs for bigger and better things than being a low-level lackey; the element of a proverbially fateful encounter that gives Hawkins a chance to be a hero is an equally prevalent theme in these offerings.

In this case, Hawkins seizing an opportunity to impersonate the titular comedian to gain access to the castle as part of a larger scheme to overthrow the king sets the primary action in motion. The interval between Hawkins arriving at the castle and the inevitable happy ending has enough sword fights, hilarious wordplay, murders, and elaborate song-and-dance numbers to hold the attention of even the worst sufferer of ADHD.

As Unreal TV's review of the Olive Films release of the Kaye film "Knock on Wood" mentions, this fractured fairy tale that precedes the equally hilarious "The Princess Bride" by roughly 30 years includes the "chalice with the palace" scene. Very few people could doubt that this is the most famous scene from any Kaye film; even fewer could deny that it is one of the funniest scenes from any film ever made.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube,  is of that classic scene.

Other notable elements of "Jester" includes the opening credits in which Kaye as the titular character sings about what the audience can expect in the film. He simultaneously seemingly manipulates the coming-and-going of the credits. The one "rogue" name is that of early big-screen Sherlock Holmes portrayor Basil Rathbone, who provides an Oscar-worthy performance as the slyly evil Ravenhurst.

The plethora of other notable casting choices in "Jester" include a very hubba hubba Angela Lansbury as Princess Gwendolyn, the equally famous and hubba hubba Glynis Johns as the brave and daring Maid Jean, and John Carradine as the jester who Hawkins impersonates.

A very clever song-and-dance number that has Hawkins portraying the Black Fox also makes "Jester" a "must-see" film. Stating that it is awesome on multiple large and not-so-large levels is hilarious to anyone who is familiar with this segment.

"Pennies" is radically different than "Jester" and is a moderate departure from most Kaye films. The primary common element is that Barbara Bel Geddes from the original "Dallas" plays Kaye's wife. Bel Geddes was an early choice to play Jessica Fletcher in "Murder, She Wrote." Of course, Angela Lansbury of "Jester" took the role.

"Pennies" is an awesome biopic in which Kaye portrays the dramatic ups and downs in the musical career of bandleader and jazz musician Ernest Loring "Red" Nichols. The music business theme and plethora of appearances by musicians of the era, such as Jimmy Dorsey and Artie Shaw, evoke thoughts of the film "A Song is Born" in which Kaye plays a musical historian. The "Goldwyn" release includes "Song."

With all due respect to Dorsey et al, Louis Armstrong provides the most memorable cameo of the music legends in the film; it seems clear that he as excited to perform with Kaye as Kaye is to play music with Armstrong. The mutual admiration is greatly deserved. Further, Kaye and Bob Hope have equal fun in a very short scene in what seems to be the Brown Derby restaurant.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of Kaye and Armstrong performing "When the Saints Go Marching In" conveys the wonderful chemistry between those two greats.

Much of "Pennies" revolves around Nichols' marriage to Willa Stutsman and the raising of their daughter. Seeing the highly recognizable Bel Geddes bring the same compassion, kindness, and occasional fire to the role of Willa as she does to Eleanor Farnsworth Ewing Farlow, a.k.a. Miss Ellie, 20 years later is great fun. Further, who knew that J.R.'s mom could belt out a tune?

One scene in which Willa defends Red to his first boss Wil Paradise creates a strong image of Miss Ellie saying "Now listen here" Jock Ewing, J.R. Ewing, or Clayton Farlow.

Another bit of fun casting has future hubba hubba girl Tuesday Weld play the early teens version of Nichols' daughter Dorothy. Her star quality shines through in even that small role and likely led to casting her as the dreamy Thalia Menninger in the early '60s sitcom "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis."

Although "Pennies" has relatively little of the clowning and cowering of a Kaye comedy, it does an awesome job telling the story of a talented musician with admirably high professional standards, strong devotion to his family, and a willingness to sacrifice his fame if necessary.

On a final note, writing about nine of Kaye's best films in this series of reviews has felt like a marathon. This effort has been worthwhile if it conveyed even a fraction of Kaye's genuinely unique talent and the great job that the producers, directors, writers, and co-stars who clearly "got" him helped bring out.

Anyone with questions about Kaye or any film mentioned in this review is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

'Oz and James' Big French Wine Adventure' DVD: British Series that Could be Titled 'Travels With Felix Unger'

Oz & James Big French Wine Adventure DVD
BFS Entertainment's DVD release of  the 2006-07 series "Oz & James' Big French Wine Adventure" has demonstrated that British television is even more awesome than previously believed; it has made what is essentially a reality show beyond palatable to being highly enjoyable and informative.

This series, along with "Oz & James' Big Wine Adventure California," aired on BBC America as "James May's Road Trip." The third installment in this group is "Oz & James Drink to Britain." Unreal TV will run review of the other two series over the next few weeks.

"French" is a six-part series that has the slovenly and laid-back James May, who hosts the long-running auto-centric British series "Top Gear," and more refined wine expert Oz Clarke traveling about the French countryside for the purpose of Clarke educating May about wine and May annoying Clarke for the entertainment of the audience.

Although our hosts experience inevitable (and most likely exaggerated) personalty clashes, our lads mostly keep it civil and generally regale in what each perceives to be his superiority over his companion. May blowing a whistle during the first episode each time that he believed that Clarke is particularly being a "wine ponce" is the closest to open hostility that is reached during the three episodes watched for this review.

One reason that this dynamic works is that both men avoid the true extremes that would make them as noxious as the Snookis and Honey Boo Boos that populate American reality shows. May has no problem being nice and playing well with others, and Clarke is hardly one to either raise a fuss when things are not to his liking or snidely degrade May or anyone else.

The show further rises above the usual level of reality TV fare by taking us through incredibly scenic French countryside and teaching those of us whose knowledge of wine does not extend much beyond knowing that "two (now three) buck Chuck" is a perfectly good choice for most meals.

Each episode ends with Clarke presenting May with a challenge that tests his retention of the knowledge that Clarke is imparting.

The first episode occurs in the Bordeaux region of France, and the instruction begins at a truly "Wine 101" level. Especially interesting aspects of this lesson include learning that understanding wine extends beyond using sight, taste, and scent to include touch.

Clarke amusingly instructs May about the relevance of the scents of pleasant and not-so pleasant items to evaluating a wine; the more "earthy" items are the least pleasant of this group.

The portion of the first episode in which Clarke uses a visit to a spa that incorporates wine grapes into its treatments is among the most bizarre segment in this (or any other) series. His stated purpose for this trip is to teach May about the texture aspect of wine.

Our heroes get grape facials and don skimpy G strings to bathe together in a tiny jacuzzi full of grape juice. This latter scene at least provides proof that the spa recycles this juice and offers a theory regarding the taste of the low-end Chardonnay that Robert Mondavi produces.

The entertaining challenge at the end of this episode has May trying to accurately describe the smell of a glass of wine. His humorous remarks are only part of what makes that scene entertaining.

The second episode sends May and Clarke out into the vineyards for literally hands (and feet) on experience making wine. It is a little disappointing that May crushing grapes does not lead to an altercation reminiscent of the famous "I Love Lucy" episode set in a vineyard.

May making wine as his challenge at the end of this one makes those of us who attempted the same in a college dorm not feel so bad about our results.

The next stop on the road trip is a bit of a departure in that it focuses on pairing wine and food; May once again steals the show in putting his low-brow spin on his challenge.

The series ending up in Champagne is particularly apt considering that wine ponces are particularly fond of reminding the less informed among us that only the wine that we think of as champagne that is produced in that region of France can properly be called by that name; everything else is sparkling wine.

The final rating of this wine adventure is that it deserves high marks; Both Clarke and May fabulously entertain us while Clarke teaches us more about wine than many of us ever expected to learn.

Anyone with questions about "French" is welcome to email me; you can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

'Knock on Wood' Blu-ray: Danny Kaye as Ventriluquist Throwing Voice and Catching Trouble

The Olive Films extraordinarily well-produced Blu-ray release of the Oscar-nominated 1954 Danny Kaye "Knock on Wood" shows that Danny Kaye, like the similarly featured Ralph Malph" of the '70s sitcom "Happy Days," still has it. This film stands the test of time as awesomely as Kaye's other masterpieces. This film is also a great homage to the 1946 thriller "Dead of Night."

Kaye fans and Unreal TV readers know by now that this release is part of the "Danny Kaye Centennial" celebrates the 100th anniversary of this indescribably talented and versatile performer who got the stellar career that he deserved. Despite appearance to the contrary, there are not 100 reviews in this series.

A particular good aspect of "Knock on Wood" is that it includes a scene that is very reminiscent of the uber-classic "chalice with the palace" scene in Kaye's 1955 film "The Court Jester." That film is one of the two selections in the "Danny Kaye Double Feature," which will wrap up this series of reviews of Kaye films this week.

Kaye's character in "Wood" is ventriloquist Jerry Morgan who, ala Chuck Campbell on the '70s sitcom "Soap," expresses his anxiety through his dummy. The difference in this case is that Morgan's outbursts are jeopardizing his career.

Consistent with the winning formula of numerous Kaye films, the neurotic Morgan soon finds himself the proverbial unwitting pawn in nefarious dealings. Having these events begin in Paris, move onto Switzerland, and finish up in London adds a nice element of international intrigue. Regular dramatic narration adds a nice touch of "Rocky and Bullwinkle."

Along the way, Kaye performs a few song and dance numbers, meets the woman that every Kaye fans knows will be our hero's gal at the end of the film, and leads pursuers on a chase that requires that Kaye undergo several rapid costume changes.

A routine that Kaye performs as Morgan's father is one of the best numbers in the film; his femme essentiale is Mai Zetterling as the hubba hubba and level-headed psychiatrist who is treating him, and the climatic chase helps bring things to a very entertaining and satisfying end.

Great moments include said shrinker de tetes realizing that she will be caring for Morgan the rest of her life and scenes involving a sporty little car that seems more complicated to operate than a space shuttle. You also do not want to miss a scene in which Kaye gets trapped under a top villain's desk.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of one scene involving said automobile provides a good sense of "Wood's" humor. The subtitles, which seem to be in Hebrew or another language from the Middle East, indicate the widespread appeal of Kaye's films.

Writing more about the specifics of the film would spoil the amusing surprises galore that are typical of a Kaye film. Suffice it to say, everyone from eight minutes to eight hundred years who has a sense of humor will love it. It is wonderful that Kaye still has it and even better than we can now get it.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding Kaye or "Wood" is welcome to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, December 16, 2013

'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty' (1947) DVD: Daydream Believer (but not Homecoming Queen) Saves the Day

Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The (DVD) DVD
Warner's December 10, 2013 DVD release of the 1947 classic film "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" is part of the "Danny Kaye Centennial" that celebrates the 100th anniversary of this truly unparalleled genius' birth. Unreal TV's review of "Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years" is the first entry in a series of posts on recent DVD releases of his films. A review of the release "Danny Kaye Double Feature" will wrap up this series before this celebration ends.

This release of "Mitty" also provides folks who are eagerly anticipating the Christmas Day opening of Ben Stiller's remake a chance to see what Stiller is up against. World-class sofa spuds may also remember the Mittyesque 1983 six-episode sitcom "Reggie," which starred "Soap's" Richard Mulligan.

Both films and the sitcom are based on the well-known 1939 short story "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty" by uber-awesome humorist James Thurber. The Kaye film does a great job using the concept of a middle-aged man escaping his problems by entering vivid daydreams to showcase Kaye's talents.

Kaye's Mitty is a mild-mannered proofreader for a publisher of pulp-fiction magazines that offers scifi, crime, horror, and "true romance" publications that are typical of the day. His home life consists of living with his constantly badgering mother and regular visits with his fiancee through what is essentially an arranged marriage.

Triggering the daydreams requires a stressful situation, such as Mitty's boss once again claiming one of his ideas as his own or his mother nattering on about errands that she wants him to run on his lunch hour, and a stimulus for the setting of the daydream. An image of an 19th century sailing ship mentally transports Mitty to piloting such a vessel through a very violent storm, and reading about a flying ace leads to Mitty imagining himself easily shooting Nazis out of the sky.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Mitty's" trailer offers a glimpse of every fantasy sequence and provides a sense of the great fun of the film.

The flying ace segment particularly provides Kaye a chance to shine. An evening of drinking with his comrades-in-arms leads to said Ace doing a wonderful impersonation of a heavily accented music professor who is using song, dance, and clowning to instruct his class on the components of a symphony. This is very reminiscent of a scene from "Up in Arms" in the "Goldwyn" set in which Kaye uses an extended musical number to relay the entire plot of a film.

Another particularly amusing fantasy sequence has Kaye imagining himself as a flamboyant French hat designer. His singing the line "I hate women" and designing a hat with a model of a home on it are hilarious.

One constant of the daydreams is that the persona that Mitty adopts inevitably becomes the hero of a gorgeous blonde, played by regular co-star Virgina Mayo. As the "Goldwyn" review states, Mayo should always be held but never excluded.

Fantasy and reality quickly intersect when Mayo's Rosalind van Hoorn and Mitty are strangers who meet on a commuter train. van Hoorn's attempt to escape a pursuer soon ensnare Mitty in real life intrigue. Aside from dodging assassins, Mitty faces the challenge of convincing the people in his reality that the real-world perilous adventure in which he has embarked is not a fantasy.

In addition to telling a wonderfully entertaining story in glorious technicolor, "Mitty" offers the fun casting of Boris Karloff as a very sinister member of the criminal gang who is after Mitty, and the chorus that makes up the Goldwyn Girls who appear in several Kaye films show up as models.

This film is as fun one to watch over the holidays either while snowed in or during a period in which a prolonged visit with family makes thinking about escaping into a fantasy world very appealing.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Mitty" or Kaye is encouraged to email me. You can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

'The Promise' DVD: Exceptionally Balanced Look at Israeli Conflict

The Promise
BFS Entertainment's recent 2-disc DVD release of the 2010 six-hour four-part British mini-series "The Promise" is a great example of that form of "sweeps" staples up through the '80s on this side of the pond. This seemingly well-balanced look at the decades-long Israeli conflict alternates between the roots of that war and conditions in 2005.

British actress Claire Foy plays recent high school graduate Erin Matthews, who discovers her grandfather's journal depicting his experiences while serving in then British-ruled Palestine at the end of WW II and the following year. Christian Cooke, who is uber-awesome in the 2009 British supernatural series "Demons," does a great job portraying Sergeant Len Matthews during that period in Len's life.

These parallels result in, sometimes overlapping, alternate scenes in the 1940s and 2005. For example, depicting a bombing of the British military's headquarters in 1945 roughly coincides with Erin being outside a cafe in which a suicide bomb detonates explosives.

The fact that Erin discovers the journal a few days before leaving London for a pre-planned trip to Israel to provide her Israeli friend Eliza emotional support during Eliza's basic training with the Israeli army is a bit forced, but the wonderful on-location cinematography and well-presented story more than compensate for that.

Recognition of the quality of "Promise" includes nominations for awards such as the BAFTA, a.k.a. British Oscar/Emmy hybrid, for best drama serial.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of the trailer for "Promise" is arguably unduly intense but provides a good sense of the wonderful qualities of this film.
The fact that "Promise" writer/director portrays every aspect of the 1940s and modern stories without making one side a hero both makes this production controversial and a rare chance to get a balanced perspective regarding the "troubles" over there.

Taking the historic events chronologically, Len arrives in Palestine near the end of WWII. The graphic footage of his initial tasks of liberating the concentration camp survivors and burying those who did not survive is rough to watch. These incredibly disturbing scenes, and one of European Jews climbing down the side of a decrepit ship, to settle in Israel look like something out of a zombie movie.

The primary '40s era conflict during the first part of "Promise" relates to native Jews attacking British soldiers in retaliation for the the British government's efforts to control the large numbers of Jews coming in from Israel. Len being in the thick of all this has his struggling to maintain his humanity while still fulfilling his duty as a soldier.

The conflict from this era then shifts to the still-ongoing battle between Arabs and Jews for possession of territory in what while soon transform from Palestine to Israel.

For her part, Erin learns of the Palestinian side of the story from Eliza's brother Paul. Paul goes from literally being a good soldier to opposing some Israeli positions after serving in the occupied area of Hebron. Erin witnessing a tense conflict at the Hebron border is one of the more compelling scenes in this engrossing mini-series.

The events during Erin's subsequent journey to Gaza for the purpose of fulfilling the titular promise of Len provides a very apt end to this series.

The conclusion additionally proves the adage that history repeats itself, although the current leaders over there should heed the equally well-known saying that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. This aspect of the conflict make the whole thing seem like an extraordinarily long and  horribly violent "Tom and Jerry" cat-and-mouse style war.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Promise" is encouraged to email me. You can also reach me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Friday, December 13, 2013

'The Last Tycoon' DVD: F. Scott Fitzgerald's 'Citizen Kane'

Last Tycoon, The (1976) DVD
The interesting behind-the-scenes aspects of the 1976 Robert De Niro film "The Last Tycoon," which Warner Archive has released on DVD, make its topic of 1930s studio executive Monroe Stahr a very apt subject. The film is based on an unfinished F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that reflects Fitzgerald's less-than-positive experiences with legendary MGM executive Irving Thalberg. The always awesome Harold Pinter provides the screenplay.

Film historians report that Thalberg strived to strike a proper balance between art and commerce in the film industry. He is also considered responsible for shifting the power in that business from directors to studio executives. His conflicts with creative types extended beyond his relationship with Fitzgerald to include battles with other greats, such as Erich von Stroheim.

Robert De Niro does a great job portraying both Thalberg's ruthless style and less-than-pleasing personality, as well as Thalberg's genuine love for stars and starlets of the day. It additionally is incredibly nice to see De Niro in the type of dramatic role that he plays so well in this era in which he has made the focked up decision to play light comedic roles the last several years.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, is of one of "Tycoon's" best scenes. De Niro delivers an overall good performance and demonstrates why Stahr is king of the studio.
Other great cast members include Robert Mitchum as studio head Pat Brady and John Carradine in a part that truly proves that there are no small roles, only small actors. It additionally is nice seeing Jack Nicholson well cast as union organizer Brimmer.

Nicholson and De Niro play particularly well off each other. Their great moments include Stahr telling Brimmer that he will give the writers more money but not more power and playing arguably the most competitive and high-stakes ping-pong game ever.

Considering its subject matter and conclusion, it is also very fitting that "Tycoon" is the last film of well-respected director Elia Kazan. His classic film credits extend well beyond "On the Waterfront" and "Splendor in the Grass." Kazan has an obvious love of this era before movie screens and the actors on them shrank.

Kazan does a great job recreating the cars, fashions, and wonder art deco style of the '30s. This success greatly helps draw the audience into the film.

Like Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby, Stahr has seemingly thrived despite past tragedy still greatly occupying his thoughts. Kazan uses an interesting narrative technique to tell the audience about Stahr's deceased wife.

This loss seems to propel "Wonder Boy" Stahr's fast-paced and tough-as-nails style at the beginning of "Tycoon." He issues his word quickly and decisively, and it clearly is law at the studio.

An event early on that reminds Stahr on a few levels that there are forces in the universe that are more powerful than him leads to an "it's complicated" relationship with the equal parts independent and dependent Kathleen Moore, who closely resembles Stahr's deceased wife. The scenes that occur on the evening of Moore's and Stahr's actual meeting are highlights of the film and realistic.

Additionally, Stahr's strong advocacy for making a film that likely would lose money is reminiscent of the practice of recruiting stars to make a commercial success by promising that they can also make a more artistic film. A prime example is Bill Murray doing "Ghostbusters" as a means to making "The Razor's Edge," which incidentally co-stars "Tycoon" star Theresa Russell in her first film role.

Channeling Stahr, the final word regarding "Tycoon" is that it is well-produced and provides viewers a chance to not only forget their own problems for a while but get a close look at exactly how dirty the film industry is and the (sometimes literally) blood, sweat, and tears that go into making a film.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Tycoon" is welcome to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

'Stella Dallas' DVD: Stanwyck Does 'Dallas'

Stella Dallas (DVD) DVD
Warner's December 10, 2013 DVD release of the 1937 Barbara Stanwyck drama "Stella Dallas" easily is one of the most exciting home video events of the holiday season. The special feature is the 1925 silent film version of "Dallas," starring Ronald Colman as Stephen Dallas. Quick glances at that well-restored version indicates interesting variations from the 1937 film.

Getting into the spirit of the '30s by eating take-out sweet-and-sour chicken from the neighborhood Chinese restaurant added to the fun of watching "Dallas." Only enjoying other nostalgia by preceding this Saturday night viewing with an episode of "The Golden Girls" prevented a double feature with the equally great and similarly themed 1945 Joan Crawford classic "Mildred Pierce."

Stanwyck being nominated for a Best Actress Oscar but losing out to Luise Rainer should be the basis for the expression "she was robbed." The same can be said regarding Anne Shirley, who plays Stella's daughter Laurel, losing the award for best supporting actress to Alice Brady. The fact  that "Dallas" is far from the feel-good film of 1937 may be why Stanwyck and Shirley did not win.

Having "Ma" Kettle herself Marjorie Main play Stella's mother is another good bit of casting.

"Dallas" begins in 1919 in fictional Mill Town Massachusetts, which could be any number of communities in that commonwealth at that time. Stella is then late-teens working-class Stella Martin. She has her eye on the fallen-from-grace Stephen Dallas, who is using an office job at the town's mill as the first step toward regaining the prominence that his father's actions cost the Dallas family.

Stella's campaign to get her man can only be described as charming, and seeing the portrayal of truly old-fashioned values in these opening scenes are so well conveyed that they lack any hokiness.

Stella and Stephen discovering once their honeymoon period ends both that she has not changed as much as he anticipated and that blue collars can clash with blue bloods contributes to a long-term separation. An aspect of this change is that Stephen moves to New York City for a promotion, and Stella and Laurel remain in Massachusetts.

Much of the post-separation strife relates to Stephen's concern about the regular presence of Stella's alcoholic, crude, and very loud friend (and possibly more) Ed Munn. Having Alan Hale, who is the father of Alan Hale Jr., play Munn in a manner that evokes very strong thoughts of his son's Skipper from "Gilligan's Island" adds a fun element to the elder Hale's performance.

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of Hale doing his schtick provides an excellent sense of the conflict that Munn creates.

Many of Stanwyck's best moments relate to displaying the outrageous behavior that first costs her her marriage and later jeopardizes her relationship with Laurel; a scene when she goes looking for a teen-aged Laurel, who has become well integrated into Stephen's world, at a luxury resort is equally as "must-see" as the classic closing scene that makes this film so memorable.

Stanwyck does an equally awesome job portraying her angst when either her own acts or the lure of a happier life with her father draw Laurel closer to Stephen. These scenes make us feel for Stella despite her making us laugh at her or cringe  several times.

It is abundantly clear that Stella loves her daughter and deeply cares about her well-being. These scenes in which Stanwyck portrays this should have been the national experience that led to coining the phrase "I feel your pain."

The bottom line regarding this one is that classic film buffs already know about it and likely have ordered the DVD on learning of its release. Folks who have not had the pleasure of seeing it will enjoy discovering it.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Dallas" is highly encouraged to email me; you can also connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

'Young Catherine' DVD: Russian to Judgment Regarding a Royal Dynasty

Young Catherine
Warner Archive's DVD release of the 1991 two-part TNT mini-series "Young Catherine" provides those of us whose knowledge of Russian Empress Catherine the Great is primarily limited to her unusual degree of fondness for equines a chance to learn more about this truly historic 18th century figure.

Having my highly significant other, who is an expert on Russian history, state that the production is largely accurate (with the exception of having much more attractive people portray several key players) is a nice bonus.

The other shared observation is that the actors who portray the Russian and German characters all speak English and use a variety of accents that include German, British, vaguely Russian, and American. 

"Catherine" additionally is another case in which someone else doing a very good job describing a film allows for justified laziness. The IMDb description of this film states "a German princess is chosen to marry the heir to the Russian Throne, but faces plots and intrigues against her." These aspects of the story, and other elements that include a romantic relationship (and possible child) with a military officer, evoke thoughts of the Diana and Charles story.

The following collection of clips, courtesy of YouTube, provides a good sense of the events that lay the foundation for the ensuing intriguing drama in "Catherine."

British actress Julia Ormond does a decent job portraying the titular character but is a bit low-key for the role of a woman who is essentially sold, finds herself married to a small pox scarred man who would rather dress up and drink with his real-life soldiers than spend time with her, has a stable adulterous affair with a stallion of a military officer who is exiled for it, and ultimately successfully wages a civil war without having to engage in the horse trading that such battles often require.

Ormond's arguably best scene has her using an amusing gender-bending method to curry the favor of her husband. Peter's response is wonderfully entertaining.

Fellow British actress (and well-known one-time PLO supporter) Vanessa Redgrave does a better job playing the Auntie Dearest/Monster-in-Law/Empress of a ginormous nation Elizabeth. This performance conveys Redgrave's understanding that it is good to be queen. She also shows her human side when the story calls for doing so.

The also British Reece Dinsdale completes the odder of the two triangles in the film as Grand Duke Peter. His role is fairly minor compared to Catherine and Elizabeth and mainly requires prancing about like the weak-willed petulant man-child that he was. One can also say that Peter suffered the consequences of not backing the right horse.

Much of the drama in the first half relates to Catherine accepting the importance of her role in Russia's future, attempting to win the approval of Elizabeth and the acceptance of Peter while contending with supporters of the Polish princess who is her rival. The degree of that opposition is not especially surprising but still provides great drama.

The second half of the film depicts the early years of Catherine's marriage of not particularly great convenience and events that the death of Elizabeth triggers. This period is when Catherine earns her name and the reputation that supports it.

The footnote to this historic drama is that it achieves the trifecta of being an entertaining and reasonably accurate depiction of a wonderfully strong-willed historical figure who defeats her "neigh" sayers.

Anyone with questions regarding "Catherine" is welcome to email me; you further can find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Monday, December 9, 2013

'BoyBand' DVD: '80s-Style Finn Hudson Story

Product Details
The wonderfully cheesy 2010 theatrical movie "BoyBand," has enough elements of a direct-to-DVD film to achieve the same cult status as "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." This tale of high school quarterback Brad Roberts, played by former Power Ranger Michael Copon, sacrificing his BMOC status to front a boy band called "New Condition" is an obvious parody of the story of Finn Hudson, played by the late Cory Monteith, in the Fox show "Glee."

The following clip, courtesy of YouTube, of "Band's" provides a sense of this so bad its good quality.

This film being released on DVD a few weeks after former tween star Aaron Carter, who is the younger brother of Nick Carter of the boy band "The Backstreet Boys, declared bankruptcy is an interesting coincidence.

The first cheesy element, which harkens back to the former Fox show "Beverly Hills 90210," of "Band" has the late 20s Copon and other actors of that age play high school students. The usually uber-awesome Ryan Hansen of "Veronica Mars" and "Party Down" co-stars as a bandmate. They are joined by the diminutive Ryan Pinkston of the Fox failedcom "Quintuplets."

These three respectively play the tough but sensitive guy, the dreamy pretty boy, and the cute young thing. They do this as well as Bart Simpson and his friends in the "The Simpsons" episode "New Kids on the Bleech," which features a cameo by boy band N'Sync, in which that group of pre-teens forms Party Posse. 

The next cheesy element is setting the film in 1982 and outfitting the main characters and most of the supporting cast in the hilariously absurd hairstyles and clothes of the era. The absence of Alan Thicke or any other '80s era TV or film star is one of the few disappointments in the film.

Watching Roberts' voluntarily downfall (which includes getting pelted by sloppy joes), seeing this group somehow form a musical family, and watching Roberts' rival from the football team all provide good humor; however, watching the boys perform truly steals the show and evokes thoughts of the hilarious off-Broadway show "Alter Boyz," which centers around a Christian boy band.

The "Band" group kicks off their career with a wonderfully silly song titled "Dream" accompanied by very funny choreography that includes pantomiming sleeping.

They move on to a wonderfully cheesy video, which includes a high-sprited shirtless pillow fight, of a song that has each boy introduce himself and discuss his astrological sign. Seeing Copon being ineptly sprayed by water while wearing only plastic briefs and an unbuttoned transparent rain coat is only one of many memorable moments from that scene.

The grande finale in every sense comes during a high school talent show at the end of that film; that number has the boys singing about things, which include talking and shopping, that girls like. Of course, these twinks with 'tude act out the lyrics.

The final review of "Band" is that everyone involved in it knows that it is far from a Merchant-Ivory production; they simply seem to be having a good time and want to provide a glimpse at the dark sides of "Glee" and "90210."

Anyone with questions regarding "Band" is welcome to email me; you can also find me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

'On The Double' DVD: Danny Kaye Version of 'Hogan's Heroes'

Olive Film's Blu-ray release of the 1961 Danny Kaye film "On the Double" is part of the year-long "Danny Kaye Centennial" event that celebrates the 100th anniversary of the birth of this unbelievably versatile performer. The previously reviewed DVD set "Danny Kaye: The Goldwyn Years" is part of this celebration.

Although the Blu-ray images of this film are less sharp than Blu-rays of modern films that are recorded in hi-def, the picture is very good. Further, the sound is far superior to that on DVDs.

"Double" provides Kaye a chance to show off his well-known talent for playing multiple roles, which he also displays in "Wonder Man" in the "Goldwyn" set, by having him play WWII American soldier PFC Ernie Williams and the high-ranking British officer whom Williams strongly resembles.

The film opens with Williams, who is stationed in England, entertaining his fellow soldiers with hilarious impressions of Adolph Hitler and Winston Churchill. Williams moving on to playing the aforementioned commanding officer MacKenzie-Smith ultimately leads to British Intelligence coercing him into impersonating MacKenzie-Smith in an effort to thwart the Nazis.

This premise is very reminiscent of the very funny '60s sitcom "Hogan's Heroes" that has a resourceful band of WWII American POWs operate an extensive sabotage, espionage, and escaped POW underground railroad under the nose of the commandant of the stalag where the group is imprisoned.

In typical Kaye fashion, MacKenzie-Smith's personality differs greatly from that of Williams. Williams is a timid soft-spoken nebbish who likely has not even looked at photos of a naked woman, much less seen one in person; MacKenzie-Smith is a bullying, hard-drinking, adulterous blowhard.

The hilarious obstacles that Kaye must face while impersonating MacKenzie-Smith include fending off his amorous mistress, dodging Nazi assassination attempts, and dealing with MacKenzie-Smith's wife returning early from a war bond selling trip to Canada. Kaye's remark that she must have sold all the bonds is one of the film's best lines.

One "must-see" scene features veteran British film legend Margaret Rutherford as "Lady Vivian," who is MacKenzie-Smith's domineering elderly aunt. The party scene in which Vivian verbally pummels the truly hapless Kaye is fall-on-the-floor funny. An aftermath scene between Kaye and Dana Wynter, who plays MacKenzie-Smith's wife, is a great wrap-up of the hi-jinks at the party.

Another great scene in which Nazis are trying to force Kaye to reveal allied plans initially provides a forum for Kaye's wonderfully fast-talking schtick and leads to a classic truly madcap chase in which Kaye changes into ridiculously obvious disguises even faster than than his fictional, but no less animated, Bugs Bunny or the similar Scooby-Doo and Shaggy. One can almost hear the bubble gum pop music in the background.

The final debriefing regarding "Double" is that it is a really fun film that shows that Kaye's schtick did not get old even after 15 years of largely playing the same type of role.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Double" or Kaye is encouraged to email me. You are also welcome to connect on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.