Thursday, March 16, 2017

Review: Amy Schumer's Leather Special

It's funny, a lot of oral sex jokes. But her blackout stories are a little worrisome. "There was this time I blacked out and when I came to I found out I had...."

She tells several stories like that, and instead of finding it hilarious, I'm thinking, if she's blacking out this many times, she might need some intervention.

Are we going to be reading an interview with her in People magazine five years from now when she says, "No one realized my jokes were really a cry for help."

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review of 10-year-old comic book I've finally gotten around to reading, part1

Having kids didn't stop me from buying comics, it just kept me from reading them! So I've stumbled upon a couple books I finally got around to reading.

Action Comics Annual #10

This one's a head scratcher. The cover has the go-go checks, layout  and the '48pg giant' logo all from the 60s, which is supposed to evoke some feeling of nostalgia from old-timers like myself. I bit, I bought it, expecting a bunch of standalone Superman stories like the good old days, but no.

Instead it's a collection of unfinished stories, and Superman is hardly in it. My first clue should have been Superman not even being on the cover (he is featured prominently on the alternate cover, so those readers must have been really disappointed.)

OK, no Superman and unfinished stories. Oh, I get it, there had just been another reboot, and these were the introductory stories to upcoming interminable story arcs for the next issues of Action.

At least that's my theory, I hadn't bought too many Actions after this.

That, and I hate DC story arcs. They never finish. They spend more thought on setting up the arc than actually seeing it through.

The first story no, not actually a story. Lex Luthor goes through a jungle imagining different ways to kills Superman. He finds some Kryptonite, and that's it. Four pages. Great Art Adams art though.

Second story is a retelling of the introduction of Mon-El. Why didn't they just reprint the original story from the 50s? The only difference is instead of stressing the cover tease of a brother from Krypton (not really), it stresses Clark Kent's loneliness. It does have a beginning, middle and end though, unlike everything else in the book. Eric Wight provides some indie-comic style art.

The "Mystery of the Blue Sun" story is the real head scratcher. Thanagarian space police cruisers investigating destroyed cruisers come upon some Bizarro Supermen. Once again, that's it. Two pages! At first I thought it was a production error because the "story" ends abruptly and it goes to a two-page spread of the "Secrets of the Fortress of Solitude," ... then a two-page comic about the Wii, you keep flipping pages looking for the Bizarro story to continue, and it never does! It's always great to see Joe Kubert, especially in the 2000's when he was nearing retirement, but still. There's no there there.

"The Criminals of Krypton" is the closest we get to a story with some interesting concepts. It's based on the deleted scenes from the first Superman movie where the Kryptonian council sends its storm troopers to take out Jor-El. OK, great idea, tell me more. We get some background on the Phantom Zone villains (they weren't evil, just misunderstood -- or lobotomized) -- and more background on Jor-El. OK, a good story, with beautiful art by Rags Morales.

By then though it's too little, too late, because it closes with the continuation of Lex Luthor unveiling the new and improved Metallo

It's all a big tease and big cheat, DC is essentially saying: Here's a bunch of unfinished ideas we may or may not get back to, thanks for your $3.99 though.

I used to think I stopped buying comics books because I had kids and no time to read them, now I'm thinking it's because I kept feeling like I'm getting cheated.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Book review: Truth is a Total Defense by Steven Bochco

A TV fan will find a lot of good stories here. Bochco recounts his career and it's fascinating to read about the degrees of separation between "MacMillan and Wife" and "NYPD Blue," and all the backstage fighting to get there.
And, he names names. Who showed up drunk everyday, who was an hour late for shooting everyday because he couldn't poop anywhere but home, and who had her hair cut and permed in the middle of filming an episode (spoiler, Sharon Stone), and who was a total dick (David Caruso).

There's also some great stories about network executives, some good, some bad, and some elderly and confused (William Paley in a very funny cameo.)

The other star of the book is the tons of money a TV creator/producer can make.

Brandon Tartikoff plays prominently, and I saw some overlap with his book "The Last Great Ride."

Both books discuss TV in the 80s, and the authors' cancer battles.

Well worth reading if you're a fan of anything Bochco has done, and who isn't?

On the negative side, this is a vanity press product. You can tell because there's no publisher listed, and the book is rife with typos, grammatical errors and factual errors.

It's hard to believe one of TV's greatest writers doesn't know the difference between there, they're and their. Or its and it's, or Dianne Warwick and Dionne Warwick. He calls ABC president Bob Iger 'Bog' twice on the same page! And there's lots of repetition. He lists the actors he lined up for "Hill Street Blues," then three paragraphs later he lists them again. He constantly refers to Barbara Bosson as his ex-wife, yes we know. And he makes fun of Rock Hudson for not reading his scripts, but he mistakenly describes Hudson's character as a police detective where in "MacMillan and Wife" he was the police commissioner.

Crazy errors spell checker probably pointed out to him are all over the place.

I'm guessing he just dictated his memoir and an assistant with not a lot of background in TV history, or grammar just typed it in.

He keeps talking about the millions he's made. Steven, we love you, give an intern $500 to proofread your book.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

The Rural Purge mystery

In 1969 or 1970 or so, CBS instituted what was later described as the Rural Purge. Highly rated shows like "Green Acres," "Petticoat Junction," "Beverly Hillbillies," and "Mayberry RFD" were all cancelled. They had high numbers, but they had the wrong numbers. The Nielsen people started studying the demographics of their audiences. Advertisers no longer wanted big numbers, they wanted urban viewers, urban viewers with disposable income.

The rural shows were replaced with "Mary Tyler Moore," "Bob Newhart," "Arnie," "All in the Family," all shows that took place in big cities.

The experiment was a big success, it seemed counter-intuitive to cancel high-rated shows. But the advertisers were happy.

(Tragically, if they had gone by demographics only a couple years sooner, they would have never cancelled "Star Trek." On the plus side, demographics were the only thing that kept "Hill Street Blues" on the air.)

Here's what I don't understand, why would CBS pick up "The Dukes of Hazzard," the very definition of a rural show, only 7 years later?

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Film review: Ghostbusters

I went in with a lot of apprehension. The commercials really weren't funny, and I thought Paul Feig's "Bridesmaids" was terrible. (In fairness to me, I loved his Yahoo original series "Other Space."

Yet, this was a funny movie. I giggled through the whole film. Even during the (rare) slow parts I was still giggling from the previous jokes.

The plot: Estranged friends who wrote a book about the paranormal get called to ghostbusting action by a museum director whose museum is haunted. Meanwhile, a hotel janitor is working on a plan to unleash all of the city's ghosts. It parallels the original story while giving us enough new stuff.

Kristen Wiig acts as straight man for Melissa McCarthy and Kate McKinnon. She also pulls off some backstory exposition which is a serious as the movie gets, and gets away with it.

Chris Hemsworth is hilarious as the dim receptionist.

And even though pretty much the whole cast of the original makes cameo appearances, it's a reboot, not a sequel.

And not only do the cameos serve as an acknowledgement of the original, the film also points out the internet hate the film got before shooting even started. All while taking the high road and never losing the comedy.

Some casting notes: The only living cast members missing were Rick Moranis and William Atherton. I was pleasantly surprised to see "Other Space" stars Karan Soni and Neil Casey. By all means, let me recommend this show again. There were only 8 episodes, each hilarious.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Old-timey movie review: The Benson Murder Case

The more William Powell/Philo Vance movies I see, the more I appreciate  Michael Curtiz's The Kennel Murder Case. The rest are fairly amateur productions.

Once again William Powell is the detective, but he is not allowed to use any of the charm we'd see in the Thin Man. It's another unlikely whodunnit with another unlikely solution.  The first act is people arguing with the ultimate murder victim to the point of threatening him with murder. He of course is murdered and Philo Vance figures it out.

The film gets points for the murder taking place in a lodge on a dark and stormy night. This never gets old.

The characters and scenes are pretty standard. It's the cinematography that baffles me though. In some of the office scenes the camera is so far back we can barely make out the characters, yet we can see how high the walls are on the set.

In other shots of the same office, the camera is overhead. What?! Once again, baffling! Maybe for an establishing, outdoor shot, but indoors! In an room with people? Just goofy.

Compare this camerawork, to the daring, dizzying cinematography in Kennel Murder Case. Curtiz knew what he was doing.

Conversely, there isn't a single close-up in the entire film. All these great 30s character actors and we don't get to see any of them up close. I'm sure the close up had been invented then. Especially William Powell's expressive, handsome mug.

Check it out on YouTube, or if it ever turns up on TCM, but keep in mind, it's just a warm-up for Nick Charles.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Old-timey film review: The Bishop Misbehaves

Before Ted Turner bought up the MGM library, and before the networks bought up all the local TV stations, local stations would show films from the '30s on their late late movie.

In the early '80s, I was working the overnight shift at a self-service gas station and had a little TV to entertain myself in the long hours of the shift. After the local news, after Johnny Carson, after the Hawaii Five-O rerun, after Letterman (the Philadelphia NBC affiliate had no faith in this new show from the quirky standup so instead of showing it after Johnny, they showed it an hour later after Hawaii Five-O … before this they didn't carry it at all, until Letterman fans complained), the station had a late movie which featured these classic films.

Some 30 years later I vaguely remember watching this film, but when it showed up on TCM I had to watch it. I must have only watched the first 15 minutes because that's all I remembered.

This is as cozy as they come, there's crime, there's men with guns, but at no point does the viewer feel anyone's in danger. And it's as British as they come (even though it was probably filmed at MGM), there's a vicarage, old-fashioned pubs full of Brits with thick accents, and foggy backstreets.

The first third is the young couple plotting a heist. See, the young woman (Maureen O'Sullivan) says her dad was cheated out of a patent and wants to rob the villain who stole the McGuffin. Her new, American boyfriend (a concession to American audiences?) readily agrees and they recruit some British felons to assist.

This is Colombo-esque, the first half hour is the crime, then the detective shows up to start picking apart the perfect crime. The detective here is a great Edmund Gwenn, a mystery loving bishop delighted to stumble upon a crime. He finds little clues at the crime scene, but for the rest of the film his attention to detail is kind of forgotten.

There are a few laughs but it's not so much a mystery as a caper unfolding and derailing. It was based on a play and it's all very stagey as the Bishop talks to the characters in a couple of settings (the pub, the vicarage). But instead of a  real cat and mouse game it's more like, "I have a gun… wait, who turned off the lights?" "Now, I have the gun…" or "I have the incriminating papers … " (punch!)  "Now, I have the incriminating papers."

Some good jokes seem to fall flat due to the unevenness, it should have been all screwball instead of the occasional screwy moment.

The real disappointment comes at the end when the villain is shamed into doing the right thing.

That's it? No actual mystery-solving, or last-minute twist?

Just when I thought, well maybe a sequel could make things better, the last minutes of the film show Gwen throwing his collection of mystery books in a fireplace swearing to never solve a mystery again.

So, not all old timey movies are classics, but they'll do in a pinch on a late, lonely overnight gas station shift.