Thursday, October 20, 2005

TV Guide--Ooh, ooh, ooh, It's Got a New Attitude!

I’ve been looking over the New Size, New Attitude, New Magazine TV Guide. Apparently the heralded New Attitude consists of a) more and bigger pictures, b) People Weekly-esque bite sized puff blurbs, and c) cluelessly horrible puns and painfully lame japery.

The cover promises “39 Pages of Listings You’ll Love,” which seems a dubious assertion, even taking into account the fact that I’m not sure whether we’re meant to love the pages or the listings.

They also blurb their new “Hot List: 21 Gotta-See Shows”. Presumably NBC has trademarked the phrase “Must See,” so TV Guide came up with their own clever alternative. Moreover, that fresh-from-the-streets slangy ‘gotta’ dishes out the promised New Attitude…in spades!!

More to come on this important cultural event!!

Happy Birthday, Bela.

123 years ago today (!), Be'la Ferenc Dezso Blasko was born in what was then Austria-Hungary. Following political strife of a sort unknown in this country, he fled his homeland and ended up in America, where he produced a body of work that has brought continuing pleasure to millions, before going broke, becoming addicted to drugs and dying in sad circumstances.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Lugosi. And thank you.

2006 cult movie DVD news...

Dark Sky Films, a new company dedicated to releasing cult titles, has announced an exciting slate of discs to be released through 2006.

The company's already availabe product has come under minor fire from purists. Apparently some visual image was clipped from the top and bottom of the presentation on their Terror Beneath the Sea disc, and their Flesh Eaters DVD will not include the Tom Weaver commentary track that had been prepared for Retromedia before their own release was scuttled (in favor of Dark Sky's). Moreover, although apparently using a handsomer print than Retromedia's source, the Dark Sky version reportedly lacks the 'shock' use of color for the climax of the otherwise black & white film.

Still, hopefully Dark Sky will attend some criticism and pledge to turn out even better product than they are now.

Here's their uncoming release list, which is ambitious and impressive:

-WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS
-THE LOSERS
-FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE SPACE MONSTER
-HORROR OF PARTY BEACH
-CURSE OF THE LIVING CORPSE
-PSYCHOMANIA (aka VIOLENT MIDNIGHT)
-TRILOGY OF TERROR
-THE BEAST MUST DIE
-ASYLUM
-AND NOW THE SCREAMING STARTS
-MAGIC
-PRINCE OF SPACE
-INVASION OF THE NEPTUNE MEN
-THE DEVIL’S RAIN
-BLOOD OF THE VAMPIRE
-JACK THE RIPPER (1959)
-EATEN ALIVE (1976)
-PLANET ON THE PROWL
-PLANETS AGAINST US

Some of these films have been afforded lame releases in the past (Devil's Rain, Asylum), leaving room for presumably beefier treatments. The inclusion of such hilarious Japanese fare as Prince of Space and Invasion of the Neptune Men (which ran constantly on TV when I was a tyke) is certainly welcome. Meanwhile, schlock fans can only cheer the release of such major pieces of crap as Horror of Party Beach and Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster.

A lot of good stuff there. Looks like Dark Sky will be eating up a goodly portion of my disposable income next year.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The impact of DVD on TV...

R. Dittmer on the Jabootu message board started a thread on a subject I’ve been meaning to address here. He begins: “I may be a totally unrepresentative consumer, but the only DVD's I find myself buying or renting recently have been full season releases of TV shows.”

R. will be glad to know this is not the case. To the panic of the industry, DVD sales are stagnating, in fact. People seem to have gotten over the initial rush of buying everything on disc (“Look, my new Van Helsing DVD set features four audio commentaries!”), and are moving more towards rental, as home video did.

However, the one share of the market that’s still burgeoning is TV series on DVD. Every week on the blog here I put up a list of what looks interesting to me amongst that week’s new DVD releases, and there’s generally a good dozen or more TV season sets being offered. Obviously one advantage, is that the bang for your buck is tremendous. For under $30 dollars the other week I got a set containing the thirty-five episodes that made up the first season of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series. That’s nearly 17 hours of material.

Another advantage is pure nostalgia. Certainly many folks of my generation ran out immediately to buy the Kolchak: The Night Stalker set, even while studiously ignoring the new ‘reimagining.’

However, I must disagree with my good friend Henry Brennan, who writes on the subject: “Theater experiences are not nearly as ubiquitous and lack the sit-at-home easy comfort and familiarity of the tube. For myself, I enjoy a good (or bad) film every so often. But a series like "Night Stalker" or "Night Gallery" actually means something to me in terms of my past.”

That’s true, but I’d argue that DVD will kill part of what makes that so. One reason TV shows stay with us is that they ‘grow’ with us. Take something like Star Trek: The Next Generation. If you got hooked on that show when it was initially broadcast, it became (for part of the year) a weekly companion for seven years of your life. That’s a completely different emotional investment than would be the case if you instead spent seven weeks (for example) burning through all the shows on DVD.

Also, I would argue that for my generation and up, TV held a fix on our imaginations because, like seeing a film in the theater, TV ‘controlled’ the experience. By this I mean that before video tape machines and home video, you basically got one shot at seeing a show, unless it got syndicated. This is especially true back in the ‘60s and before, when shows ran nine months without reruns, but instead were replaced by summer shows between seasons. You had to have your ass on the couch when the show was broadcast, or you missed it. For all of the convenience of home video, Tivo, DVD, etc., you’ll never replicate the power of media that was so potentially ephemeral.

Watching Lost (for example) on DVD is more convenient, and definitely advantages the material in terms of presentation (improved picture quality, often widescreen formatting) and by the lack of commercial breaks and those annoying promo bugs that you can’t escape now, etc. However, I don’t think those who catch up on shows one weekend a year—as I do with many series—will have the same investment in the show as those who watch it unfold over the span of an entire five or six months.

Max Torque: “My prediction for the future: TV studios will start to produce a few series with an eye toward a DVD-only future. That is, if the series does well in season one, they will pull it from the airwaves, freeing up space for a new series to have a go, and release future episodes directly to DVD without airing them first. Doing so will free up the schedule, and production costs can be lowered. Some nut will think that it's at least worth a try.”

I think that’s true—the makers of Futurama supposedly will be putting out three movie-length episodes on home video some time soon—but also there will be another element involved. I’ve been lamenting to people that Arrested Development probably came out a few years too earlier. I believe that aside from strong DVD sales helping to keep shows with a narrow but fervid following around, you will at some point in the next five or ten years start seeing shows soliciting ‘subscriptions’ to keep the shows in production.

For instance, if I am laying out money to buy Arrested Development on DVD even after following the show in broadcast, and I am, wouldn’t I be willing to pay another $30 towards a new season of the show, if otherwise it would cease production? You bet. Perhaps, like PBS, there will undoubtedly be packages. Subscribe in the amount of a $100, and you’ll receive ‘free’ the DVD set when it’s released.

So if a half million fans are willing to subsidize a production budget that would otherwise need to be solely be covered by the network buying the show…

Admittedly, that model won’t always work. Fervid fanbases tend to be, well, nerds, and for instance at the current time there are several sci-fi and genre series on the air. Nerds spend their money freely, but even so, most would want to only subscribe to a limited amount of shows. Thus a certain level of broadbase support would still be required, unless one or two insane and wealthly fans were willing to kick in several millions themselves.

Still, I suspect we’ll see this at least attempted sooner rather than later. The Internet makes it almost inevitable.

The TV Guide of Yesterday...Today!

The library I work at got a sample issue of the new, full-sized TV Guide shrinkwrapped to our copy of Advertising Age. The flier that came with it boasts, “New Size. New attitude. New magazine.”

I realize this is Old Fart talk, but…does TV Guide really need an “attitude”? I mean, c'mon, it’s just listings of the TV schedule (which frankly I now pull off the Internet when I need them) and a crossword puzzle that is to its ilk what Murder She Wrote was to the whodunit. And how will this presumably totally phat attitude manifest itself? ‘Yo, dawg, tonight’s special episode of Hope & Grace totally represents! Da-ammmmn!’

According to their flier, they did a lot of market research, and found that people wanted “the inside scoop and behind-the-scenes stories about the shows, characters and television moments that become watercooler buzz the next day.”* ‘Watercooler buzz’? Apparently their ‘new attitude’ is from the ‘80s. Perhaps they’ll also reveal which shows are so bad that they gag one with a spoon. Or maybe they could righteously declare how this isn’t “Your father’s TV Guide!”

[*The sentence following the one quoted above is “Not surprisingly, [readers] want a larger canvas that is visually more robust and compelling.” Wow! If the new format is as robust and compelling as that copy, mission accomplished!]

Perhaps the most hilarious assertion, however, is that the new TV Guide is “A lighter, faster read.” Thank goodness! Apparently those forty page Stanley Fish articles deconstructing the semantics of Yes, Dear! will be a thing of the past.

Let me clue these guys in. With daily newspapers increasingly printing what is already old news by the time they hit the street, the idea of a print weekly having it’s pulse on ‘what’s now’ is…problematic. They mention that they will have a 48 hour close. Well, that would have been amazingly impressive even ten years ago. Now, however, it’s literally what snail mail is to e-mail.

Good luck with that.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

New on DVD (10/18/05)

Two great Jabootu classics are out today.

The Jazz Singer is the long-awaited release (the old disc came out in small numbers years ago and immediately sold out and become impossible to get, don’t ask me why). It’s the Neil Diamond version, and it’s hilarious, featuring perhaps Laurence Olivier’s worst performance ever, which is saying something.

Meanwhile, the Spaghetti Western fan will drool over the Sabata Trilogy Collection. The second film in the set, Return of Sabata, stars Lee Van Cleef in the title role and is insane, and was featured in the Medved Brothers’ original 50 Worst Films of All Time. It also sports one of the funniest bad theme songs ever. Hilariously, although only two Sabata movies were made, they did well enough that American distributors took an unconnected Yul Brynner movie and changed his character’s name to Sabata when they dubbed it. You’ve got to love that sort of con.


The TV set of the week is the Twilight Zone The Definitive Season 4 set. This series have been a knock-out, and there’s no reason to believe that this fourth volume won’t live up to the same high standards as the earlier collections. However, the fourth season was the one where the series went to an hour-long format, and is generally not considered the program at its best. Caveat Emptor.

Other TV shows out this week CSI: New York S1, Dark Shadows: Revival Series (the one with Ben Cross as Barnabas), He-Man and the Masters of the Universe S1, and a disc featuring four episodes of The Hilarious House of Frightenstein, a goofy but beloved monster-themed kids show that ran in Canada for 25 years (!), and featured intros and extros starring Vincent Price reciting macabre verse. I remember watching this as a kid. If you want good Halloween programming for youngsters, you could definitely do worse.


This is a huge week for fans of superhero movies and TV shows.


The first, black & white and best season of George Reeves' television show The Adventures of Superman hit shelves today. The preceding theatrical flick Superman vs. the Mole Men is included as an extra. $30

All four of the Burton and Schumacher Batman movies; Batman, Batman Returns, Batman & Robin and Batman Forever, are being released today in spiffy two-disc special editions. For what it’s worth, I still think Batman Returns is the second best superhero movie ever, after Spider-Man 2. Entertainment Weekly, meanwhile, reports that Schumacher does a surprisingly candid commentary for Batman & Robin, in which he apologizes for how awful the film is (!), and details what went wrong. Each separate film is available for under $20, while a box set of all four sets is available for around $50.

Tying in, Batman Begins also comes out today, available in its own double disc set for under $20.

Meanwhile, the first Batman serial is available in Batman: 1943 Serial Collection, which retails for around $15. It features all 15 chapters, and was followed six years later by a very campy sequel serial, Batman and Robin, which was released a couple of years ago. I reviewed that one here. This first serial was probably held up because it was shot during WWII, and features a very politically incorrect Japanese villain. So if that’s the sort of thing that gets your undies in a bunch, you may want to give it a miss.

The oddest selection of the week is The Batman vs. Dracula Animated Movie (!), available for under $20. I believe it follows the version of the Batman found in the present (and underwhelming) WB series The Batman, rather than the brilliant Batman: The Animated Series.

Meanwhile, what comic book fan hasn’t spent the last year pining for the Elektra Director’s Cut Unrated DVD? Well, OK, all of them. That ‘unrated’ designation is a dodge, by the way, and if you want to see Jennifer Garner’s boobies or displays of ultra-violence, look elsewhere. Under $20


This week also see another batch of horror flicks for you Halloween perusal.

13 Curses is a Spanish horror flick, and thus possibly a bit more atmospheric than many of ours. Under $15.

Blood of Beasts sounds like the pitch was “It’s Lord of the Rings meets Beowulf!” Stars former sexpot Jane March. Under $20

Dark Harvest 2: The Maize. Sounds corny, although I’m sure there are many ear-y scenes of people being stalked. Horror purists will be relieved to know the film is being released in the widescreen format. Hilariously, it doesn’t really have any connection with the obscure slasher film from which it purports to be a sequel. Under $20

Day Of The Dead 2: Contagium A non-Romero approved sequel/prequel to Day of the Dead. $10

Fergully: The Last Rainforest. A two-disc special edition of a film for parents who have can no longer convince their children to watch Captain Planet and are desperate for more facile environmental agitprop to brainwash their kids with. $15.

The Hollow features the present day descendant of I. Crane and his traditional family nemesis. Apparently this has played on TV as a family film, but this version features enough (although apparently still light) sex and violence to garner a ‘R’ rating. (!) Costars Stacy Keach, Judge Reinhold and a former Backstreet Boy—so I guess it is a horror movie. (!!) $17

House of Voices is a foreign (South American? Spanish?) horror flick that I think is set in a haunted asylum. $20

Jacqueline Hyde. (Ha! Get it? You do? Then you better take something for you headache you just got.) $14

Land of the Dead. Romero’s latest and sadly most hamfisted zombie movie, out in various editions including the inevitable unrated one. $16-22

Season of the Witch is an early Romero flick about suburban housewives involved in witchcraft and other dark things. I can see the awesome social subtext from here! About $10

Slaughter of the Vampires Typical ‘60s Italian horror with the usual hilarious dubbing. $10


Classics

The American Movie Musicals set collects Guys & Dolls, Fiddler on the Roof and West Side Story, all for around $21.

Classic Cops & Robbers features five nifty noir crime flicks, including some Anthony Mann, for under $20. Such a deal.

Alfred Hitchcock went through a period where he made films as experiments. Lifeboat: Special Edition features a WWII-era film shot almost entirely in the confines of the titular craft, as survivors of a ship torpedoed by the Nazis come to suspect that one of their number is a Hun spy. $15

Man with the Golden Arm features Frank Sinatra playing a heroin addict, in one of the first films about drug addiction. The Chairman was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for this one, and the Saul Bass credit sequence is a revered classic. $15


Cult movies


The Big Lebowski in various versions, $13-35. The Achiever’s Edition Gift Set includes The Big Lebowski Bowling Shammy Towel, Coasters that include photos and quotable lines from the movie and Photo Cards from Jeff Bridges’ personal collection.

Chained Heat 2 is a Women in Prison flick starring Brigitte Nielsen—which is probably enough to get some interested—although naturally it has no real connection with the original cult classic Chained Heat.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Movie Massacre Marathon report...

I’ve been going to the Music Box Theater in Chicago for quite a while, ever since they refurbished it (the venue was originally built back in the ‘20s) as a revival house back in the ‘80s, when it replaced the lamented Parkway and Varsity revival theaters. Home video sadly killed the revival theaters in this town, and the Music Box quickly morphed more into a general art theater. So call it twenty five years, more or less.

This last weekend, for the first time (as far as I know) they attempted a 24 film fest, this one naturally being horror movies for the Halloween period. I went for the first part of it, but wasn’t able to get anyone else to go, and frankly pooped out after about nine hours, not including travel time into the city.

As was typical with the Music Box, the crowd was a mix of not only the nerds, dweebs, geeks and spazzes you’d expect at a horror movie marathon, but a good number of Goths and punks. There were even the occasional normal older persons. Many came in costume, and at least one guy came in pajamas for the overnight stay. Interestingly, women probably represented a good quarter of the attendees, a marked change from the horror and sci-fi events of my youth.

The first show was a very nice, extended print of Nosferatu, featuring live organ accompaniment. The organist guy was a cherub-like middle aged fellow, and came out in a little cape and Phantom of the Opera mask. (I was seated right by the organ, and had a good look.) He was having a lot of fun, and regularly exhorted the audience to give a villainous laugh. Amazingly, he played the entire near two-hours without referring to any sheet music, playing an instrument that requires you to pump with your feet as much as play the various levels of keyboards. I can’t even play a kazoo.

The movie is a classic, although some of acting, overplayed even for a silent movie, drew laughs from the audience. Unfortunately, there was some of that obnoxiously snarky and superior “It’s old, so it’s funny” response from the more clueless and callow members of audience too, which annoyingly continued on through Creature of the Black Lagoon. However, eventually the audience started mostly taking Nosferatu for what it is, and just watched it.

The second movie is a new Japanese ‘horror’ film called Pulse, which will be featured for an extended run at the Music Box later this year. Color me unimpressed. At first it was a knock-off of Ringu, which was fine. However, it soon turned all arty and abstract and metaphysical and such, and as I’ll be the first to admit, my brain don’t play that.

See, the dead are being squeezed out of the afterlife, which is full, and so they are keeping people from dying by making them disappear into a state of eternal loneliness, at which point they disappear and leave stains behind (presumably meant to be reminiscent of the charred ‘shadows’ of people incinerated by the atom bombs back in WWII), although sometimes the still extant characters can see them, and the limbo people (or is it the dead people) will occasionally call the living people and say “Help…help…help…” over and over, and….

After a while I couldn’t figure what the hell was going on, despite much exposition and a gruesomely torpid pace. At some point the film just seemed to start going in circles, and I began longing for it to end, which it wouldn’t. The film turns out to be two hours, and seemed to this viewer much longer. There’s a wraparound bookend to the main story featuring a handful of folks on a cruise ship, and the damn movie went on so long that when we finally returned to that setting, it took me a while to remember that that was how the movie started.

For all I know, this film is a work of genius and I just didn’t ‘get it,’ but boy…I didn’t get it.

The third movie was the aforementioned Creature of the Black Lagoon, which happily was shown in 3-D. This is always a pain for me, because I wear glasses and so need to balance the 3-D specs on the outer ridge of my not terribly big nose. Still, aside from the usual caviots about the format, the 3-D was spectacular, not so much for the things thrust into the camera, but for a simply incredible depth of field. Characters would come up and stand behind other characters, and the illusion of depth was stunning. As a bonus, the film is much better than most other 3-D movies, the Creature is perhaps the last classic monster the movies have created, and Whit Bissell is in the movie! A great choice.

The next show was a selection of short films by local Chicago filmmakers. The first and best was a perhaps half hour movie called Skunk Ape?!, about the titular creature (a guy in a really bad gorilla suit, unaltered and straight out of the bag from some local novelty store) chasing a loud punk band from the Florida Everglades and then tracking them back to Chicago and gorily dispatching them. It was a comedy, and actually funny, and featured a lot of great Chicago locations, including Wrigley Dogs (down from Wrigley Field) and the Miracle Mile. Really good stuff.

The next movie was Death Line, a Brit horror flick from the ’70s that was sort of a precursor to CHUD. I’d never seen it, and it starred Donald Pleasance, so I was excited. It was pretty great, if a tad gory for my schoolmarmish tastes. Happily, the director was from Chicago (and moved to England after being “significantly” involved in the 1968 Democratic Convention demonstrations, and thus having, according to him, incurred the emnity of The Man—as you can imagine, I was sort of rolling my eyes at this point. Let it freakin’ go, you damn boomers, that was like forty years ago, and you didn’t end up changing the world, so shut up already all youse guys).

In any case, said director, Gary Sherman, was actually on hand to introduce the film and go some Q&A on his various movies. Most cool was that he owned the actual original answer print, which they used. And although I found his continued emphasis on the film as a “political statement” a bit tiresome, luckily the politics was all subtext (which always works so much better anyway), and the film proved quite good.

Sherman, in his comments, was clearly still pissed that the American distributor reedited the film, pretty heavily according to him, when it was issued here in the States as Raw Meat. The movie was recently released under that title here on a supposedly nice DVD, which I checked after I got home to see if it featured the original cut of the film. Apparently it does, so feel safe in checking it out.

Anyway, it was now about 9:30, and I buggered out at this point. In other words, with nearly 2/3rds of the show left, including such cool flicks as Scanners, Return of the Living Dead, The Howling, Near Dark and quite a few others. Maybe next year I’ll stay longer.

It was overall a great show. A guy named Rusty Nails from a website called movieside.com was the host (and apparently a name in the cult movie world) and sponsor of the show, and came out in between the movies to keep the crowd roused and give out prizes etc. He was more than up to the job. There were also fun trailers running between all the movies.

So even so I totally wimped out, I got my $30 worth (ticket and parking), and look forward to doing it again next year. I’d write a better article but my lunch hour is up. Thanks to all the organizers of a really worthwhile event.