Monday, June 23, 2008

Coffee, Tea, or DirecTV - The Campaign to Save Moonlight Continues

Fandom. It's one of those things that very few can understand unless they're actively a part of it. Look at those Star Trek people. There are Trekkies and Trekkers (and depending on who you are, never the 'twain shall meet), and two movies about the fans and the phenomenon.

Talking about fans and fandom can be difficult for those not a part of the scene. I could watch a television show and find it rather dull and uninteresting, but there might be a group of people out there for whom it strikes a chord. In the end, the upshot is that there are people out there who become very dedicated to a show, a character, a book, a musician, a series of films, or some similar thing, and when that thing disappears it causes a great deal of upset.

Star Trek disappeared after a few short seasons on television only to be reborn on the big screen and spun off into multiple new series. The X-Files will be returning to theaters this summer several years after the series ended its run and even more years after its first foray onto the big screen. Jericho was abandoned by CBS only to have fans organize a campaign and get their series resurrected for a brief second, and final, season.

And now, there's Moonlight.

It's a vampire show that, to many fans, is far more than just a show about vampires. It's a show about love and loss, it's got mysteries and excitement, and, who knows, maybe some greater truths about the world stuffed in there as well. It's also been canceled.

CBS blames the numbers, but the fans state that they're just fine. It kind of depends on how you see it. Moonlight was, by a significant percentage, the lowest rated show CBS had on Friday nights. Ghost Whisperer, Moonlight's lead-in, averaged 8.7 million viewers, Numbers, its lead-out, averaged 9.1 million viewers. Moonlight put up just under 7.5 million. Devoted fanbase or not, 7.5 million is less than both 8.7 million and 9.1 million.

But the fanbase truly is devoted.

They want their show back on the air and they're willing to do anything to make it happen. They're actually going out on their own and trying to shop the show around to other outlets, including the SciFi Channel and DirecTV.

Now, there's more news. DirecTV has, I'm told, asked the head of the "Operation: Save Moonlight" campaign, who appeared on Blogcritics Magazine's "Screen Time" radio show, to post a poll on her website asking fans whether they'd switch over to DirecTV if the satellite company produced new episodes.

As one could expect, the overwhelming answer is yes, they would (as of this writing 72% said they'd switch and 21% of respondents stated they already had DirecTV). While that sounds great, one has to remember both that this is a fan-based message board that the poll is appearing on and that it's wholly non-binding. Fourteen hundred people saying that they'd buy a DirecTV subscription if new episodes of Moonlight could be found there is all well and good, but can't possibly cover the cost to DirecTV of making the show, even if all those people did sign up.

Whether or not DirecTV has any intention of picking up the series, the very fact that they asked to have the poll placed on the site is interesting. It says a lot about fan campaigns in general and this one in particular.

The odds are heavily stacked against "Operation: Save Moonlight"; their chance of success is slim, but they're still out there making their voices heard and their opinion known. Members of the group have even threatened to stop watching CBS entirely based upon this one show's cancellation.

As fan campaigns to save shows ramp up (there seems to be a new one every time a series is canceled) they become more and more sophisticated. One wonders if networks have to become more clever in the way they cancel shows so as to avoid more public relations issues.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nova scienceNOW Returns for Season Three

Science can be fun. At least, that's the message delivered by Nova scienceNOW, the spin-off of Nova that is about to enter its third season this week on PBS. Hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, the series focuses on four short pieces over the course of its hour-long runtime as opposed to a single story as its sibling series does. The series sports engaging graphics and the topics explored are made very accessible.

Though Nova scienceNOW delves into serious topics (a story on Alzheimer's appears in the third season premiere), the show tends to opt for a lighter, more easygoing feel. The show walks the very fine line between minimizing the scientific areas it explores and getting too deeply into the stories. It might be a difficult tightrope to walk, but one the series does exceedingly well.

This third season opens with a story on "Dark Matter," a substance which, apparently, is terribly difficult to define and even harder to understand. The basic idea of it is that if the law of gravity as we define it is accurate, there has to be about five times more "stuff" in the universe than we can see. Scientists can't see it (though they're trying desperately to do so), but they can see where it is due to the way it bends light. So despite not being visible, maps of where it is exist. It may not be the easiest of things to understand (and the story goes into far more depth than I do), but between the graphics, voice-over, and interviews with scientists, everything is brought down to a level where the average person can understand the basic concepts behind dark matter.

One of the more impressive aspects of this story is the fact that Nova scienceNOW managed to go out and find scientists to discuss the topic who are truly engaging. It is possible that they're just creatively edited, but I tend to believe the former, not the latter. Essentially, for this story, scienceNOW went out and found rock star-like scientists to discuss the topic, and their charisma and intelligibility carries the day.

For the "profile" story in the second episode this season (there is one in every episode), the series went beyond simply finding a "rock star-like" scientist, they went out and actually did a story on a scientist who just also happens to be a rock star (okay, semi-star). Though this profile story was less engaging than the one in the premiere (which deals with a man who tries to discern real from doctored photos), it clearly shows the aesthetic the series is trying to achieve. Nova scienceNOW is wholly interested in making science engaging, accessible, and fun for everyone.

The first two episodes this season are exceedingly enjoyable to watch. While the series moves at a brisk pace, it never feels overly rushed or hurried. The one story in the first two episodes on which more time could have been spent is the final one in the premiere, which is on Sir Francis Galton. It discusses Galton trying to prove that the masses were ignorant and therefore shouldn't be allowed to make important decisions for society as a whole (i.e., vote). The story is done in truly brilliant fashion; it is a combination of live-action and animation and sung by one of the correspondents with other present-day people helping him out from time to time. As it is a song, and assuredly a difficult story to produce, it is, relatively speaking, brief. It isn't rushed, but watching it was such a great experience that I wanted it to last longer.

Though all the stories are fun, one other one to look out for is the one on faking Van Gogh's paintings. Though in a similar vein to the one on doctoring photos, it presents a great look at how past meets present and art meets science.

Heading into its third season, PBS has placed Nova scienceNOW in its own time slot on Wednesday evenings, rather than simply slotting it into Nova Tuesday night from time to time. It is certainly a show of faith and confidence in scienceNOW that the series richly deserves. Neil deGrasse Tyson is a perfect host for the series; he is the exact right mix between incredibly intelligent and completely engaging (which is to say that he is both).

Nova scienceNOW's third season premieres Wednesday June 25 at 9pm on PBS stations, though I highly encourage you to check your local listings.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Sorry, I Forgot My Watch, is it Time For Murder?

Filming a television show is not the same thing as putting several cameras in front of a play, usually.  Television shows, even though they're sometimes referred to as "teleplays" tend to have a different feel than a play.  However, that's not always the case, as the recently released to DVD 1980s British series Time For Murder shows.

The two-disc box set includes all six hour-long episodes of the series, each by a different writer and each featuring a different cast.  It is, in the truest sense of the term, an anthology television series.  And, much like an anthology series, despite the different characters and plots that exist from one episode to the next, they definitely fit together as a single, cohesive, whole.

The six episodes, "Bright Smiler" (Fay Weldon), "The Murders at Lynch Cross" (Frances Galleymore), "Mr. Clay, Mr. Clay" (Antonia Fraser), "This Lightning Always Strikes Twice" (Michael Robson), "The Thirteenth Day of Christmas" (Gordon Honeycombe), and "Dust to Dust" (Charles Wood), all not only focus on the same theme, but were all quite clearly filmed on the same stage and in the same style.  There are embellishments and slight variations here and there, but by and large the similarities are greater than the differences.

Thus, after watching "Bright Smiler," in which a mentally unstable masseuse contemplates murder, one is not surprised when "The Thirteenth Day of Christmas" features a mentally young man actually committing murder.  In fact, insanity  is a key factor in "This Lightning Always Strikes Twice" and "Dust to Dust" as well. 

Do not be mistaken, each episode stands by itself, and having seen one in no way diminishes the audiences enjoyment at watching the next.  However, being written and acted by different people, each episode's ability to entertain varies wildly as well.  It is great fun to watch the hapless writer struggle with right and wrong in "Bright Smiler" and to watch the guests at the isolated hotel figure out whodunit in "The Murders at Lynch Cross."  It is however less enjoyable watching the decent to insanity and murder in "The Thirteenth Day of Christmas" and watching people figure out who the murderer really is in "Mr. Clay, Mr. Clay."  The answer to this last one is obvious from the minute the villain firsts sets foot on screen and the audience will question why none of the other characters can figure it out.

Though each episode does feature some similarities, they are all constructed in a different fashion.  There are times when it truly is a whodunit, there are times when it is about whether a murder will occur, and there are other moments when the question is not whether nor who, but what will be done about the murder. 

As for the more theater-based (as opposed to television-based) aspects of the series, they tend to be Time For Murder's major letdown.  The performances in the series, particularly those of the mentally unstable and the murderers are incredibly over the top.  There is no subtly to the acting whatsoever, the performances are all broad enough that the person in the back row of the mezzanine will be able to clearly delineate sane from insane.  It's something that's not necessary when the camera is placed 6, and not 60, feet from the actor. 

Additionally, the same set is used for the series over and over and over again.  In each episode there is a main room with a staircase that winds around it's back.  The hallways that extend from the room differ slightly (sometimes, anyway), and the paint, wallpaper, and furnishings change, but it is always the same room and quite clearly so.  By the end of the second or third episode one can't help but wonder if all the authors, when being commissioned to write their story, were told that said room had to be one of the main sets used.   

The last play-like element to the series is the audio.  One gets the feeling all too often when the characters speak that they are in a terribly large room, like a theater, as opposed to whatever moderately sized den or living room or entryway they are supposed to be in. 

While all of these elements conspire to diminish one's affection for the series, mystery fans (and fans of British TV) will find that they have done well to watch the series.  There are, as with all anthology series, greater and lesser episodes present in Time For Murder, but the good outweigh the bad, even if the evil outweighs the good within most of the tales. 

Time For Murder also has the good sense to begin and end with two best episodes of the six, "Bright Smiler" and "Dust to Dust," which certainly helps one feel as though their time has been well spent.  The only extra included are some cast filmographies, but those are usually just for killing time anyway.

One Corey Plus One More Corey Makes The Two Coreys

There's reality TV and then there's "reality" TV. The latter category is more forced, less real. Situations are far more manipulated, the people in front of the cameras are actors, and outcomes are (or feel) far more predetermined. 

The Two Coreys, is about to begin its second season on A&E, and most definitely falls into the latter category. Following the present-day exploits of momentary '80s teen heartthrobs Corey Haim and Corey Feldman, the show jumps from one contrived moment to the next, and appears to have nary a care for what is "real." 

The show begins six months after the first season finished, with Haim and Feldman not having spoken to each other during the whole time (we're told). The two are due to have their first meeting, really a confrontation, at a deli, and things appear to not be headed in the right direction. From there, the first episode backtracks to explain how it is that Haim and Feldman find themselves sitting down in the diner, what happened over the course of the past two days (despite their not speaking to each other for six months) to bring them to that point.

There's no particular reason for the story to be told in that fashion, but it's interesting enough. The bigger problem is that the show never really gets into what happened to bring the two men to this point. The audience sees that they're not speaking, but the near fisticuffs of the first season's finale are missing. 

Even that, however, is forgivable. It's clear enough that the two had a serious falling out. What makes the episode so odd is that the multiple times we see the scene in the diner, or the bits and pieces of it, it unfolds somewhat differently. The conversation doesn't actually happen the same way each time we see snippets of it. Clearly the conversation is highly edited, and highly edited in different ways each time it is shown.  Most assuredly reality shows involve a large amount of editing, but if a single conversation is to be shown repeatedly throughout an episode, it is hugely disconcerting when it doesn't occur in the same way. 

But, let's shove that aside for a minute as, let's admit it, no one is watching The Two Coreys for cinematic brilliance nor, in all likelihood, for any great truth. The point of the show is to watch the lives, whether they be real or "real," of Corey Haim and Corey Feldman and how they intersect. The basic problem then with the way that the season opens is that the lives do not intersect terribly much. The two characters are not speaking, do not wish to speak, and, only grudgingly, agree to go to "couples' counseling" in the second episode of the season.

While it may be interesting to watch the loves of some stars unfold before our eyes, watching Corey Haim and Corey Feldman twenty years past their heyday is somewhat distressing. Both of their lives, at least as they pertain to the show, are arrested and despite both Coreys' insistence they want to move past that time and possibly each other, the fact that they are doing the show together remains. 

The two men are locked in a game of one-upmanship, even to the point of both of their arguing about who is to blame for not stopping the other one's being molested. It is a sad, distressing thing to watch. One certainly wishes the best for both Haim and Feldman, that they manage to overcome their demons, that success and happiness is around the corner, and that there are better projects than this one in the future for each man.

The second season of The Two Coreys premieres on A&E Sunday, June 22 at 10pm.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gordon Ramsay, Hell's Kitchen, and Some Donald Trump Thrown in for Good Measure

What is it about Gordon Ramsay that I so enjoy watching?  This has, almost without a doubt, been the worst season yet on Hell's Kitchen, but with Gordon being there I still enjoy it.  He is, unquestionably, pompous, and something of a blowhard, but still great fun to watch.

Actually, that little description brings to mind another reality TV host, but one who is far, far less amusing (at least intentionally) - Donald Trump.  Stop and think about it.  Pompous?  Check.  Blowhard?  Check.  Why then should Ramsay be fun to watch and Trump less so?  Is it that Trump takes these things to extremes more than Ramsay?  Is it that Ramsay has some other hugely redeeming quality?  Could it be the hair? 

I'll be honest, I just don't know.  If pressured to make a guess I'd say that Trump is far more extreme than Ramsay and that said extremeness is what makes him less fun.  Additionally, Ramsay seems to revel in the silliness and scenery chewing, whereas Trump appears to remain steadfastly unaware of the humor inherent in everything he does.

Wow, look at that, I answered the question.  Now, I'm going to answer an even more difficult one - who will win this year's Hell's Kitchen?  It's close, but I'm going to say that Christina edges out Petrozza for the victory with Corey getting eliminated this coming week.  Yup, that seems about right.

Christina seems to have the requisite knowledge and ability to cook.  Petrozza has the experience and maybe an ability to cook.  Corey insists that she will try and use her body to do anything and everything in her power to win.  She therefore deserves to be unceremoniously booted from the show.  We'll not discuss her anymore this week.

There are definitely negatives for Petrozza and Christina too, but there just not as negative as She Who Will Remain Nameless's negatives.  Petrozza is a slob and Christina is young.  I think the competition, in the end, is going to boil down to which of those qualities Ramsay likes least.

The man strikes me as terribly tidy, but also someone who values hard work and dedication to improvement over an extended period of time. People lacking which of those two criteria would cause him greater distress? 

I'm betting tidiness.  I could be wrong, but I think that Ramsay would rather mold Christina than teach Petrozza to clean up after himself.  It is true that Ramsay complemented Petrozza last night and suggested that if Petrozza kept cooking so well cleanliness wouldn't matter, but I think that was just Ramsay blowing smoke.

Either way, Christina or Petrozza, I have to believe that the producers need to go out and get better contestants for next season, no one this year seemed truly fantastic. 

Wait, that's not true. Gordon Ramsay was present, and I enjoy watching him blow his top, no matter how often he does it.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Deal? No Deal? I Don't Understand Why I Should Bother Either Way

Today I am in a foul mood, and so we're going to dispense with all (or most of the) pleasantries.  Before I begin though, let me say that I completely respect the series I am about to question.  I don't understand it, which is what we're going to talk about, but I respect it because whatever they're doing, it's working.

Can someone explain the appeal of Deal or No Deal to me (outside of Howie, who, I'll be honest with you, I really do enjoy seeing on my TV)?  You probably watch it, you're probably excited by it, and I just don't get it.  I can't for the life of me figure it out.  I've sat there, I've watched the program, and I have no idea what it's appeal is, I don't get it.

It requires no skill.  It requires no thought.  It requires nothing but luck.  It's like a game of three card monte, but you don't have to pay to enter it (except, you know, for exposing your life and loved ones on national television).  Jeopardy, I get.  Wheel of Fortune, I get.  I even get The Moment of Truth (it's not for me, but I understand it).  Deal or No Deal I simply cannot figure out. 

Pick a case, get cash. 

Maybe you get what's in your case, maybe you get more, maybe you get less.  You're going to get money for simply eliminating, randomly, other cases.  You don't have to do anything special to eliminate the cases, you don't have to guess the retail price of a bottle of Windex, you don't have to know which state was the 14th to enter the Union, you don't have to know the last paragraph of Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address (hint, it begins "With malice for none…").  No, in Deal or No Deal you get money for showing up.

What is the appeal in that?  It's not you getting the money.  Someone else, someone the producers have decided to be worthy to have money handed to them is given cash for showing up.  I don't see the "trick" to it, it's not like there's a discernible pattern for where the million dollar case is going to be, it's just 100 percent random luck whether or not you're going to leave the place a millionaire.

And, can I be honest with you for a minute?  You're not going to leave the place a millionaire.  Even if you get the million dollar case, Uncle Sam is going to reach in and pluck around 50 percent of the cash right out of it before you ever leave the studio.  Now, if it were a two million dollar case that you just by pure luck happened to select, then you could actually leave the building a millionaire.  You'll also have your long lost 5th cousin's step-daughter's niece's roommate calling you as soon as the show airs though with her (or his, but I'm going with "her" because I'm assuming same-sex roommates) hand out. 

Also, let's face it, you can't retire just because you have a million dollars in the bank.  You can pay off debts, you can buy some stuff, you can go on a few rockingly good vacations, but you can't retire. 

Say that you leave the show with a million in your pocket after Uncle Sam takes his cut (it can't happen, but let's say it could).  Let's further assume you have no debt and, as are so many of the people on the show, you're in your early 30s.  you have another 50 years of life ahead of you and 30 years until you can collect Social Security (if that even exists in 30 years).  Let's further state that you don't live in an urban area, you live somewhere hugely inexpensive.  What would it take for you to live really comfortably, nice vacations, health insurance, decent cars every five or six years?  I don't think 50,000 is an unreasonable sum (and way, way more if you leave anywhere near a major metropolitan area, closer to 100,000 or 150,000 then).  Well, at 50,000 a year, your money will last 20 years.  20 years.  That's it.  That's a full 10 years short of your being able to collect Social Security.

It's true that you'll put the money in a bank or some sort of interest bearing account, so you'll end up being able to go longer than just 20 years.  But, you probably also either have some debts or family with debts that would want you to help them out (and you should help them out, that's what family is for).  Or, you'll probably blow a lot of the money early on with a nice trip somewhere (seriously, I could spend 10,000 on a single week in DisneyWorld without batting an eyelash), so let's call the interest and the extra cash you'll spend a wash.

Plus, may I remind you, you're not getting that money anyway.  You're not on the show, you're just watching it from home.  I have to figure that I'm missing something, because people really, really enjoy it.

It's an old line, but here it has to be the truth - it's not you, it's me.  It has to be me because the show is popular.  God bless the people that made it because they have a worldwide sensation on their hands.  I just want someone to explain it to me.

(you see, this is what happens on Tuesday when I've seen all four episodes of Top Gear that BBC America aired Monday night, let's all hope that never happens again).

Monday, June 16, 2008

Long Live Top Gear (Even if it's the U.S. Version)!

I woke up this morning with a plan.  I was all ready to tell you how I was very distressed with last night's episode of In Plain Sight.  I was going to explain to you that not only did the episode lack some of the basic common sense that I expect from shows, but that Marshall, Mary's partner, learning how to mambo is straight out of My Blue Heaven.  If a Steve Martin-type witness had been teaching him to mambo, it would have been enough to make me turn it off, but thank goodness that didn't happen.

Even so, I was prepared to tell you all about how I immediately lost interest in the episode once Sarah's witness was photographed and her cover had clearly been broken.  You see, at that point, I don't understand why our hero didn't pull her witness into the office and then get her on a plane out of town as soon as possible.  Surely that's what Mary should have done.  Surely, that's what any sane person would have done.  That, however, is not what Mary did.  Mary allowed the witness to continue with her wedding preparations. 

Are you kidding?  Is that some sort of joke?  The witness has been discovered.  The witness's life is in danger.  The U.S. Marshall opts to not pull the witness in, and instead leaves the witness in harm's way.  Yeah, what they were selling I wasn't buying. 

I was all ready to tell you all about those problems and my distress.  I was completely prepared to write something like six or seven hundred words on it.  Then, something amazing happened.  Something wonderful, something miraculous, and it appears that the U.S. version of Top Gear may still be on course.

That's right, there may still be a U.S. version of Top Gear.  I got a swell press release this morning from the folks at BBC American informing me as much.  They also told me that the hosts for the show have been announced.

Because you're dying to know, I'm going to tell you who they are.  First up, there's Adam Carolla.  We all know Adam Carolla; he's been everywhere and done everything.  I had no idea the guy knew about cars, but the press releases states, "Carolla is an avid car collector and owns several classic collectible Lamborghinis, Maseratis, two Ferraris and an Audi S4," so I guess he does.  He worries me a little because I think he may be too over-the-top funny and I want dry British funny with the show.

Then, there's Tanner Foust, who is, it seems, a professional stunt driver and has done stuff like ice racing.  Sounds like he could be a Stig-type, but apparently no, because he's listed as one of the hosts.  One of the films he did some of the stunt work for was The Bourne Ultimatum.  As you recall, there was a pretty solid car chase there, but I don't know how well that sort of thing translates to talking about testing cars.

Lastly, there's Eric Stromer, who is the host of the HGTV's Over Your Head.  He is also, it seems, a regular on Carolla's radio show.  I guess that means the two guys should have a rapport. 

All I ask is this of the hosts and producers (now that I've not been selected as a co-host and assume that a call for me to be the Stig is not forthcoming): don't mess it up.  The show is absolutely and completely brilliant the way it is, don't mess it up.  Don't "Americanize" it, don't "tweak" it, don't "jiggle" with the format.  You're talking about a hugely successful show the way it is, and if you change it, even if you think you're doing the right thing, you stand such a huge chance of destroying it.  Don't do that.  Don't be the folks that destroy Top Gear, even if it is just the U.S. version and not the original.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The Sword in the Stone in the DVD Player

As this reviewer recently noted:  "The Arthurian legend, the story of Camelot, is one of the tales that has remained in our culture over the course of centuries. It has been adapted to virtually every medium and with varying degrees of success."  While I said that to introduce a review of the new DVD release of First Knight, I could just as easily have said it to introduce this review for Disney's The Sword in the Stone - 45th Anniversary Edition.  Though the two movies focus on the extremes of Arthur's reign, with First Knight depicting the end and The Sword in the Stone depicting the begin, they certainly both belong to the same canon. 

Originally released in 1963, the Disney feature is an animated take on how Arthur (or "Wart" as he is styled in the movie and the T.H. White book upon which the film is based) became King.  Disappointingly for some viewers, it is only in prologue and the waning moments of the film that said sword in the stone actually make an appearance.  The majority of the film is focused on Arthur's meeting Merlin and learning from Merlin important life lessons, lessons that the boy would eventually use as King. 

Much of the film finds Merlin transforming Arthur and often himself into various animals - fish, squirrels, and birds.  Merlin may not realize that Arthur is destined to be King, but does recognize that Wart is somehow significant and needs to be taught about life.  Through the transformations, Wart learns to use his brain instead of solely relying on strength, and that there are certain forces in nature that one is powerless to stop. 

While these various segments in the film are vaguely, and momentarily, amusing, the true star of the show is Merlin himself.  There are moments when he is addle-brained and goofy, but underlying that veneer is the sense of an incredible intelligence at work (one that would, perhaps, rather be at play). 

On the opposite side of it all is Sir Ector and his son Kay.  Wart lives with Ector and is being groomed to become Kay's squire when Kay becomes a knight.  One senses that Ector likes the boy more than Lady Tremaine liked Cinderella, but there is still the feel of wicked-stepmother about the relationship.  Ector wants the best for Wart, but certainly places a premium on his own flesh and blood. 

Despite having the feel of classic, old school, Disney animation and a wonderful pedigree, The Sword in the Stone, disappointingly, in bits and pieces than as a single whole.  There are moments in it that are as much fun as anything the Mouse House has put on film, particularly Merlin's first meeting with Arthur and his battle with the evil sorceress Madam Mim at the end of the movie, but there is simply too much lag in the middle.  The changing into various creatures, fun at first, is eventually less enjoyable.

One of the other saving graces of the film are the musical sequences.  Some are understated and somber whereas others are over the top and laugh inducing, but they all help make the film.  Included on the new DVD release is a short featurette on the Sherman Brothers who wrote the songs for the film and a menu from which the song sequences can be accessed directly.

Other special features included Walt Disney talking about (and performing) magic tricks, a scrapbook of photos and drawings from the film, facts about the film, and the shorts "A Knight for a Day" and "The Brave Little Tailor," both of which are true classics.  There is also an interactive game, "Merlin's Magical Academy" which has the player answer questions and perform various tasks as assigned by Merlin in order to complete one's education.

Though more amusing to younger viewers than to adults, The Sword in the Stone - 45th Anniversary Edition has enough nostalgic moments to keep adults semi-amused.  It is not the best film Disney ever put forward, but there's still enough magic in the story and music to make for an enjoyable 79 minutes.

Friday, June 13, 2008

It May be True Love, But I'd Give it All up for Some Sno-Caps

Wish fulfillment.

So many movies are entirely about wish fulfillment.  It makes a lot sense, if people leave a movie having gotten everything they wanted they'll have a better feeling about what they've just seen and how they've spent their money.

Last night was one of those rare occasions these days when I actually get to go to the movies, and it was all about wish fulfillment.  Not quite purposely, but it was.

You see, I did make it to Indiana Jones, and for the wife it was a toss up between seeing Henry Jones Jr. and Carrie Bradshaw, so we saw Carrie (don't worry, I don't have to hand in my card, I went out and bought Rocky - The Complete Saga Collection yesterday too).  And the film?  Yup, all about wish fulfillment (at this point we're going to be talking about where things wind up at the end of the film, so there may be some "spoilers," but as the end was obvious at the start I'm just not sure how spoilery they are). 

The entire point of the two and a quarter hour endeavor was to make these women happy, to get them what they've always wanted, and what much of the audience has wanted for them.  I sat there for two and a quarter hours, watching these women do their fumbling with life and love (it's not always their fault that the ball gets dropped), knowing the entire time where they were all going to end up.

The series itself wrapped up happily, so upsets had to be manufactured for the women.  And, they were manufactured, but never with any sort of doubt that happiness would be achieved by the end of the time.  There was never any sense of true danger that anyone would break down into tears of upset just as the final credits were about to roll. Can you imagine the yelling and screaming in the theaters if the four women hadn't been happy at the end of it all?

Oh, don't get me wrong; it was fun enough, and I laughed a couple of times, but the wish fulfillment bothered me.  It well and truly bothered me. 

You see, there I am at the theater, a place I hardly ever get to, and there was one thing I really wanted from the outing - Sno-Caps. That's right, Sno-Caps. 

You know what I'm talking about, those delicious semi-sweet chocolate pieces covered with white nonpareils.  Oh, they're fantastic, and it's not like I'm going to go out and buy Sno-Caps to eat at home.  No, those are a movie theater treat, and not even every time you go to the theater, those are special occasion treats (babysitting last night was free, hence the special occasion).    

And, it was with the Sno-Caps that my wish fulfillment came to an end.  The movie hadn't even started, and my wish fulfillment came to an end.  I went to an AMC theatre, and they don't have Sno-Caps. 

That's right, no Sno-Caps.

I would have taken Goobers.  No Goobers.  I would have even suffered through with Raisinets.  No Raisinets.

What in the world sort of weird, unacceptable deal has AMC worked out where they don't have Goobers, Raisinets, or Sno-Caps?  Apparently, they have some sort of exclusivity deal with Hershey.  They sold all manner of Hershey chocolate, but nothing from Nestle, and it's Nestle that makes Sno-Caps, Goobers, and Raisinets. 

I can't be more emphatic about this people - that's not acceptable; that's not okay.  There's no equivalent to a Sno-Cap on the Hershey side; there's no equivalent to a Goober or a Raisinet, and so there's no way that I'm going to plunk down four of my hard-earned dollars on some other chocolate.  Sure, I like Reese's Pieces, but if I want a Sno-Cap, Reese's Pieces aren't going to fulfill my craving, and it's ludicrous to think that they would, simply ludicrous.

I want to see numbers.  I want to see how much AMC gets from there Hershey exclusivity deal and I want that weighed against the lost profit from people not buying candy because there are no Sno-Caps.  Probably AMC still comes out ahead monetarily, but there's a certain amount of patron upset and anger that needs to be factored into the occasion too.  From now on, if I want Sno-Caps, I'm not going to go to an AMC theatre. 

If so many movie experiences are about wish fulfillment, I want someone to consider my wishes.  I want a world where Junior Mints and Raisinets can live side-by-side (and I can't fathom why AMC sells Junior Mints which are made by Tootsie Roll Industries, but they do).  I want a world where Goobers can be eaten with reckless abandon immediately after downing a box of Whoppers.  I want a world where I can eat a handful of Sno-Caps and wash it down with a half-dozen Reese's Pieces.  Oh sure, it would make me terribly, terribly ill to eat all that stuff in a single sitting, but if the movies are about wish fulfillment, I want to know that my wishes can at least be fulfilled even if they're not. 

Yes, I'm happy for Big and Carrie, but I really want to know what happened to my Bit-O-Honey.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Putting My TV Viewing to Use in Hell's Kitchen

I watch a lot of TV.  I know it, you know it, we all know it. 

I watch a lot of TV.  Sometimes I actually wonder to myself if it's all worth it, but I tend to quickly answer in the affirmative.  Oh sure, there are nights like last night, where I stared at the screen as the silliness of Hawaiian Tropic models eating in Hell's Kitchen.  After all, everything I personally know about staying thin deals with sensible portion sizes, skipping dessert, and trying to avoid too many rich meals out.  Risotto, one of the things regularly ordered on the show, seems awfully rich.  Probably though I'm not giving the models enough credit, they probably exercised wonderful restraint in what they ordered and how much they actually consumed.  Plus, let's face it, they probably have certain genetic characteristics that help them.

I watch a lot of TV.  So, I have to wonder, just a little bit, about how all these reality shows find people who want to be on them.  Are we, as a society, so starved to each get our 15 minutes of fame that we'll go on television and do anything that is required to not get eliminated.  By this point with reality television, I think the vast majority of contestants out there are incredibly savvy - they know what they have to do to get more airtime, and they do it.  There's a constant one-ups-man-ship that takes place, it has to, otherwise the next reality show will be a letdown.  Consequently, when someone like Jen takes to the fore of Hell's Kitchen and insists over and over again that she's doing everything perfectly, that Ramsay is insane, and that she is the best cook on the face of the planet (okay, that last one is a slight exaggeration of what she says, but only slight), I wonder if she's delusional or just smart.  Almost everything about it seems to point towards delusional, but it's possible that she's smart.  It's possible that she knows exactly what to do to get more screen time and that said screen time is more important to her than winning the contest.  You have to take into account the fact that it's almost certainly easier to get screen time (if you don't get eliminated) than to be chosen by Ramsay as the winner. 

I watch a lot of TV.  But, that doesn't mean I approve of everything that I watch.  Jen's ranting and raving, whether or delusional or savvy, is just plain sad.  Out of all the chefs present on the show, it is Jen that needs to be sent home.  She may be a decent cook, and she certainly has the mouth required to boss people around, but she doesn't earn the respect of those she's working with, and that, in my mind, is an unforgivable sin.  One should lead by example, one should bring people along with them rather than solely whip them from behind (such whippings might be necessary from time to time, but not as a the only method of encouragement). 

I watch a lot of TV, and I'm here to tell you about it on a regular basis.  Plus, you can listen to my radio show too. 

Listen to Screen Time on internet talk radio

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Something Burrows into American Gladiators, but it's not The Mole

I am, as happens on a fairly regular basis, distressed this morning. Did you watch American Gladiators last night? I know you didn't, the ratings will show that you didn't, but I did. And I am, as aforementioned, distressed.

The whole thing was one big advertisement for The Incredible Hulk. I know that NBC and Universal are now one big happy family, and I'm pleased for them, well and truly pleased, but why should American Gladiators be a pure commercial for The Incredible Hulk? When did content become solely advertising?

On the off chance that someone actually wants to sit down and watch regular, non-gamma ray-type people beat the living hell out of each other, why should we have to see everyone in the audience jump up and down with their hulk fists on? Worse than that, why should I have to watch Titan, whom I don't like anyway, dress in green paint in order to play Joust?

I don't mind products being promoted within shows. I dutifully notice every time someone whips out a Blackberry, turns on a Sony TV, or wears a beautiful Prada something or other (what does Prada make?), but product placement is different than what we saw last night on Gladiators. It was Hulk this, and Hulk that, and "Oh, there's Lou Ferrigno, say, he played the Hulk back in the day, didn't he?" It was just a little much… no, check that, it was a lot much. It was way, way, way, too much.

Now, while The Mole almost certainly has some product placement in it, like the mole himself, it's cleverly hidden. Okay, The Mole isn't great television, but it's just so weird that I can't help but watch it.

The show is full of horrific puns, odd tasks, and incredibly paranoid contestants. Last night, for one of the missions there was a "goal oriented" team and a team that preferred "uphill battles." The latter had to bike up a huge hill, whereas the former had to play a little soccer in order to get gondola tickets to go up the same hill. Get it? One had to battle up the hill and the other had to score goals? Yeah, the show is full of doozies like that.

As for the suspicions of everyone involved, my goodness. The whole point is that one of the people present is lying to everyone else, they're trying to sabotage the whole group and prevent the group as a whole from getting money. Naturally, this makes everyone hugely suspect of everyone else. It's great. Is Bobby really unable to walk, run, and do anything athletic, or is he the mole? Is Paul really that loud, obnoxious, and divisive, or is he the mole? Is Nicole really that much of a mean-spirited, ill-tempered, poorly-mannered wretch, or is she the mole?

The Mole is one of those reality shows that really appeals to the audience's baser instincts. It is interesting because of the pseudo-psychological games the producers and contestants are playing on one another. I feel a little bad staring at these people week after week, but it's one of those things you just can't look away from.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Dirty Harry Series Makes My Day

Throughout his long career, Clint Eastwood has had a number of iconic roles. He's been a boxing coach, a man with no name, a secret service agent, and an outlaw. He is perhaps best known however for playing a cop, Inspector 'Dirty' Harry Callahan.

Harry Callahan, a San Francisco police detective, was featured in five separate films from 1971 until 1988. He battled street thugs, organized crime, and more than one less-than-sane individual, and through it all he carried with him his trusty .44 Magnum, or, as he called it, "the most powerful handgun in the world." Harry Callahan was the prototypical "cop on the edge." He battled lieutenants and mayors as hard as bad guys, and his partners had a terrible way of winding up injured or worse.

The first film in the series, Dirty Harry, is unquestionably the best in the franchise. Directed by Don Siegel (Two Mules for Sister Sara), the film is a hard-nosed, straight, tough, cop movie. It, more than any of the sequels, seems to truly inhabit San Francisco, making the city almost a bystander to the murder and mayhem that takes place within it. As Callahan, Eastwood grits his teeth and snarls his way to a brutal, harsh ending that was inevitable from the moment Harry's prey, a sniper, executed his first victim.

From the next film, Magnum Force, to The Enforcer, Sudden Impact, and finally The Dead Pool, the films become progressively weaker. Partners, the best of whom was Tyne Daly in The Enforcer, come and ago, but Harry is unchanging. Harry faces down new bosses and loses partners with the same regularity that most of us change our socks.

That would be okay -- there's some humor in seeing Harry argue with every Mayor of San Francisco that the citizens choose to elect -- but the problem is that the argument is unchanging. From the first movie to the last, the warning Harry receives is something akin to "the city of San Francisco is changing. Your brutal methods, which worked at one time, will no longer be tolerated. I, your lieutenant, won't accept them, the mayor won't accept them, and the good people of San Francisco won't accept them." Harry then goes out and kills people, but still manages to find himself on the force at the start of the next film. It all becomes a bit clichéd by the third movie.

Of course, anything beyond bloodlust in his character is hugely variable from film to film. The system doesn't work for Harry in the first film, so he takes matters into his own hands. By the second film he shows that he still believes in the system and is against police becoming judge, jury, and executioner. However, down the line, in the fourth film, he seems more accepting of vigilantism in general.

Each of the films in the series features a decent amount of shoot 'em up excitement, with people being dispatched in new and sometimes interesting ways. It's just that by the fifth film, the series has become a caricature of itself. It's more about scenery chewing with bits of humor thrown in than a possible looking-glass reflection of our society. Jim Carrey, even with little on screen time, doesn't work as a drug-addled hardcore rocker, especially when lip-syncing "Welcome to the Jungle." And, when the scariest thing Harry faces in the whole movie is a remote control toy car with a bomb, it seems as though a good decision was made in not resurrecting the franchise for a sixth go-around.

The biggest letdown in the films is not the fact that they become silly or derivative at any point, but rather their incredibly poor representation of women. In Harry Callahan's world women are purely sexual, psychotic, or just plain weak. Even Tyne Daly's appearance as Harry's partner in The Enforcer does little to bolster the franchise's depiction of women. Even if it did, the depiction instantly goes back to nil with Sondra Locke's rape victim turned killer in Sudden Impact.

The recently released, remastered DVDs make a well put together set. The original film is a two-disc edition and all the films contain commentary tracks (but only The Enforcer has the director, James Fargo in that film's case, providing the track). There are also more featurettes than one can shake a stick at, with examinations of Harry's place in society and film history, looks at violence in movies, and examinations of Eastwood's career. True Dirty Harry fans can purchase a single boxed-set "ultimate collector's edition" which features an extra DVD that has a feature length documentary on Clint Eastwood, a brief hardcover book, a replica Dirty Harry wallet (complete with police badge), a reproduction (miniaturized) of a one-sheet, production correspondence, and a poster-sized map of San Francisco that shows Harry's hunt for Scorpio, the killer in the first film.

The truly amazing thing about Dirty Harry, is just how iconic a figure he really is. There are actually bits and pieces of all five movies that are memorable in their own right; heck, it isn't until Sudden Impact, the fourth film (and only one in the series directed by Eastwood) that Harry says the classic line, "Go ahead, make my day." Watching the films, listening to the commentary tracks, and viewing the featurettes in the DVD collection one can see reflections of Harry and the films Harry inspired through the present day.

As a reflection on our world and our times, one could do better than watching the Dirty Harry movies. At least early on, the films do have a strong point of view about where our society is headed. It's not a pleasant view, and hopefully one that has been proven wrong, but it is there.

Dirty Harry is, without a doubt, a product of his times. The filmmaking, not the plots, do still stand up today, but Clint Eastwood is really the reason to watch these movies. He appears in each film with as much seriousness and grit as he can possibly muster. Even in a bad movie, he is good to watch.

Friday, June 06, 2008

With TV Finales, "X" Doesn't Always Mark the Spot

Do you ever feel of two minds about something? You want pizza (New York style, not that garbage they pass off as pizza in the rest of the country, save Chicago which has their own thing going on and I respect that), but you could also go for a delicious double-double, animal-style, whole grilled onions, extra toast with crispy fries. It's hard. Pizza or burger? Ice cream or cake (you can't have ice cream cake, that's really just the worst of both worlds)?

I like it when TV shows get to do series finale episodes, I like it when they get the chance to wrap things up. After all, you've sat there and watched a show for years on end, it's only right that you should get an ending. Even if you hate the ending (that's right, Quantum Leap, I'm still looking at you), you deserve one (don't argue with me about Quantum Leap's finale only being intended as a season, not a series, finale, we're not going there today). Some shows just disappear, they're just gone, and despite the fact that you were the only person watching, you want to know what happened.

Then, there's the other hand (there always is). You get a series with an announced ending, you know it's coming. The show has one season left. That's "x" episodes. The season premiere airs, now there are only x - 1 episodes left. The week after? x - 2. Week after week, the episodes dwindle away like x - n (where "n" is the number of episodes that have aired this season). There comes a moment, a final moment, when n = x-1. That is to say, there's only the series finale left to go. The excitement is ratcheted up, you're ready, you're willing, you're able... you're disappointed.

The series ends, it's all over and done with, and it just didn't live up to expectations. In fact, truth be told, you were disappointed by the whole season. That's right, the whole season disappointed you. The questions you wanted answered weren't answered, the things you wanted to happened didn't. Actually, very little happened at all. You watched, you waited, and you left the final season of the show hugely disappointed because oh so very little happened.

Isn't that just always the way it is?

Shows announce in advance that they're done and you're disappointed with what happens; shows don't announce and yet are done, and you're disappointed. It is the rare show that ends with happiness all around (personally, I liked the Cheers finale, and "Goodbye, Farewell & Amen" is probably the greatest final episode any show has ever done).

Oh sure, some of it is probably the way we, the audience, see it. I have to imagine that the producers of Battlestar Galactica are having this final season unfold just the way they want, but it's all kind of uninspiring. It's all fun enough, but just not great, it's certainly not everything I wanted. I'm going to keep watching, let's not be silly about it, but I really would like to see a little bit more from it all. Even if they announced that they were going to keep going, I'd continue to watch (not that that's going to happen). It's just not, as of yet, the closure I want.

There's no way to please everyone. I know that, I'm not suggesting that everyone be made happy, just me. Shows should just make me happy. That would be enough.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

1800 Select Silver, or, Like the Song Says...TEQUILA!!

What I know about tequila wouldn't fill a shot glass.

Ask me about scotch, and I'll be able to talk reasonably well about peatiness, mossiness, oakiness, sherry casks, Speyside, Highland, and a multitude of other things. Scotch I know.

Tequila, that's another story. Oh, don't get me wrong, I've been known to have a margarita and throw back shots every now and then. In fact, I distinctly recall the first time I did a shot of tequila -- I was working on a TV show that had been canceled, and, before starting our final run, there was some tequila... And then there was the family reunion in Mexico, when…

But I'm getting a little far afield here. The point is not just tequila in general, but 1800 Select Silver Tequila, which was recently sent to me to review (who says no to a free bottle of tequila?). It was made quite clear to me that this particular tequila is 100% agave, which not all tequila is apparently (according to Wikipedia, following a 2006 agreement between Mexico and the U.S., some tequila can be as little as 51% agave). Select Silver is also 100 proof (so, 50% alcohol). That is to say, Select Silver can in fact get you pretty drunk with just a few stiff belts.

It is actually perfectly good to sip, too. As I can personally attest, one can put a few ice cubes in a glass, add four fingers of the tequila, and sit down to watch TV quite happily. Depending on how fast you drink it, it could also either enhance or detract from your TV viewing experience. Myself, I took a goodly long time to drink the four fingers, and didn't snort it out my nose even when something truly hysterical happened on Top Gear.

Sipping 1800 Select Silver one might notice slightly more burning than with a good scotch, but that may just be an artifact of it being tequila. The burning was slight enough that it did not detract from one's drinking, but it did make it quite clear that water was not what was being imbibed (that and the fact that it quite clearly tastes like tequila, but in a good way).

It should be noted that the press release for the tequila suggests that if James Bond put down his vodka martini for tequila he'd particularly like 1800 Select Silver. Now, Bond I know more about than tequila, so I'd have to say that this statement is far more wishful thinking than reality. James Bond is not giving up his vodka martinis for tequila any time soon, even the newly reinvigorated Daniel Craig Bond.

Sure, James Bond might find himself having had a hard day at the office, kind of like when Paris Carver gets it in Tomorrow Never Dies, but he drinks straight vodka at that moment. Even if you're not going to accept the Brosnan interpretation, Fleming's original character threw back vodka, gin, champagne, and even the occasional beer (go Red Stripe!), but, tequila did not seem to be his drink of choice when the chips were down.

Would 1800 Select Silver Tequila change that? I seriously doubt it. However, as much as I wish I was James Bond, I am not. Consequently, I can say that I'm very happy to drink 1800 Select Silver, and feel as though I could, quite confidently, order it at a bar and be happy with what I was getting.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Mickey Mouse and Monday Nights this Fall

As I was sitting there this morning watching The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (oh, come on, you know you watch, don't pretend like you don't), I thought to myself -- gee, you sure do watch a lot of television, more than anyone else I know. And, quite frankly, I'm a little worried about what's going to happen to me this fall, at least on Monday nights. I'll be going through my full viewing schedule at some point in the future, but it was my fear of Monday nights that stopped me from truly enjoying Mickey fishing for gummy fish for Goofy's cat this morning, so that's what's on my mind.

Bare minimum, bare minimum, I think I’m looking at four and a half hours of television on Monday nights this fall. That's right, no less than four and a half hours of TV on Monday nights. There's Chuck, there's Heroes, there's Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, How I Met Your Mother, and Boston Legal. Oh sure, if I didn't have to write about any of it, I could do that much; it's not always easy, but I could. But, I have to write about at least some of it. There are going to be things there that make me stop and think. There are going to be things there that beg to be written up. Plus, there are going to be the fools who don't realize that Chuck, Heroes, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, How I Met Your Mother, and Boston Legal are on and dare call me, which is not cool.

Then, there's the real problem -- there are three different shows on during the 8pm hour. Three! I'm going to have to put both TiVos to use and have to suffer through, probably, Chuck, in standard definition instead of HD. Oh sure, you think you have a hard life, now you understand what having a hard life is all about.

I can watch some stuff on Tuesday I guess (right now I'm thinking only House and Fringe will be on my Tuesday night schedule), but that would put me 24 hours behind everyone else. Twenty-four hours!

Speaking of, I should point out that nothing will get better when 24 starts in January, because Dollhouse starts up too, and I have to tune in for at least the first few weeks of that. Boston Legal will be finished as will Terminator, but, as you see, I've already added in other shows to fill that lack of time.

Plus, I don't want to see Boston Legal go. I like Boston Legal, and thinking that it's the show's final season and that they're only going to do 13 episodes anyway kind of bums me out. I like my Denny Crane. Alan Shore is good too, but I like Denny more.

Well, golly, at least Mickey doesn't have a primetime show on Monday nights, because then I'd really be in a bind. I love that little mouse. Plus, I know all the words to the "Mousekedoer Song," which I would sing for you now, except that this isn't so much a podcast as a written piece and there could be the risk of copyright infringement anyway if I sang it (and the inevitable butchering of the melody).

Oh, Mickey... I'll never forget that it all started with a mouse.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

My Top Gear Addiction Becomes More Serious

Okay, it's official, I'm addicted.  There's nothing else to say about it, I'm addicted to Top Gear.  There's really very little I can do about it.  I'm watching all the repeats I can, I'm googling the show, I'm googling Hammond, Clarkson, and May.  I've contemplated trying to stop watching, but have opted against it.

That's right, I've opted against it. 

I don't want to stop watching Top Gear.  I may be addicted, but I'm happily addicted.  I'm not ready to admit that I have a problem.  Check that, I don't have a problem.  Being addicted to Top Gear is not a problem. 

Being addicted to Top Gear is a recognition, at some base visceral and intellectual level of what makes for happiness.  I could have gone to bed at a decent hour last night, I could have gotten almost a full night's sleep, but I didn't.  I opted to watch Top Gear instead.  I had just finished watching a movie and the premiere of the new season of The Mole and it was most definitely bed time.  But, I couldn't go to bed.  There was an episode of Top Gear sitting there on the TiVo and it was calling out to me to be watched.

That's a lie.  I shouldn't lie, it will only cause you to believe that my addiction truly is compromising who I am.  There were two episodes of Top Gear on my TiVo, but I'm not yet at the point where watching all the episodes of Top Gear on my TiVo must be accomplished in one sitting.  I'm close, but I'm not there yet.

Watching the presenters wind their way through four states in the Southern U.S. is literally a non-stop laugh.  That's mostly because I find the sight of a dead cow on top of a Camaro funny.  It's also funny to see three British men in Alabama with slogans on their cars that were put there for the sole purpose of making Alabamans mad.  It's a mean-spirited sort of funny.

Well, it is and it isn't.  

And, that's just another reason it's great.  You see, they wrote slogans on one another's cars in order to provoke a reaction.  They were well aware of what might happen, but they did it anyway, and they did it to each other.  But, when the chips were down, when the folks from small town Alabama did in fact go after our heroes for the slogans written on their cars the guys got together and quickly wiped off all the cars. 

Then, to end the episode, the guys, rather than selling their cars in New Orleans, gave them away to people that had lost everything in the hurricane.  They almost got sued because the Camaro was a 1989, not a 1991 as had been promised by a researcher at the show, but they tried.

So, let me ask you, why would it be wrong to be addicted to Top Gear?  It's smart men acting foolish but, when given the opportunity, doing the right thing.  It's funny, it's intelligent, and if being addicted to it is wrong, I don't want to be right.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Those Daring Icons of Adventure and Their Sailing Machines

Tell someone that you're going to watch a "Hammer movie" you might instantly get back a series of "ooohhhs," "aahhhs," and possibly a knowing smile.  Hammer films seem to occupy a space all their own.  They seem to be thought of differently, accepted differently, and have an incredibly devoted fan base.

Hammer Film Productions made inexpensive (but sometimes very successful) films for a number of decades.  Though best known for their horror pictures, particularly their Christopher Lee-Peter Cushing pairings, they certainly produced more than just horror features.  They made crime films, mysteries, and adventure stories that took place in exotic locales.  Four of these last type of films have just been put together in a brand-new two-disc set entitled Icons of Adventure.

Included on the discs are The Pirates of Blood River, The Devil-Ship Pirates, The Stranglers of Bombay, and Terror of the Tongs.  Sticking with one of their most famous faces, three of the four films in the box star Christopher Lee, and several other actors appear in more than one feature as well.

Divided onto two-discs, the set has a very different feel depending on which disc is being viewed.  Disc one contains The Pirates of Blood River and The Devil-Ship Pirates, both, as their name indicates, pirate movies.  They each feature a band of bloodthirsty pirates, captained by Christopher Lee, who are trying to pillage, ransack, and control a small town.  A small band of townsfolk opposes the pirates, and the groups do battle.  The particulars of the stories differ slightly (the pirates are after hidden treasure in one and to convince an English town that England has lost a war to Spain in the other),  but the overarching idea is the same.

Disc two, while having a completely different feel than disc one, also contains two very similar films, The Stranglers of Bombay, and Terror of the Tongs.  Both pictures find a British man working in a colony (India in one and Hong Kong in the other), who uncovers a hidden society of corrupt locals who are murders/mobsters.  The hero is the only person with the will to stay the course, uncover the truth, prove everyone else wrong, and try to fix the world.

There is very little original, new, and different in any of the films, but there does seem to be a devotion to the silliness by everyone involved that makes these less-than-stellar films fun enough to watch.  All the characters are painted very broadly, and the horribly naïve or evil (depending on whether they are cult members or not) depiction of the locals in Terror of the Tongs and The Stranglers of Bombay is certainly something that could not be gotten away with today.

All the movies do in fact look as though they may be reusing sets (with minor alterations) from one to the next, and with the first movie being made in 1959 (The Stranglers of Bombay) the last in 1963 (The Devil-Ship Pirates), and all being produced at the same studio, that's not outside the realm of possibility.

The DVD release features commentary by those that worked on the films and historians.  Additionally, there is a cartoon short, "The Merry Mutineers," the first part in the 1953 serial The Great Adventures of Captain Kidd and a two-reel comedy, Hot Paprika, included in the release.  Icons of Adventure will be released June 10 and puts a lot of Hammer non-horror into a single package.

All the films in the release have been digitally remastered and look wonderful.  One won't find some new amazing truth about life or have a film experience unlike anything they've ever had before with the titles in Icons of Adventure.  In fact, there are moments in all the films that are dull, outlandish, or simply too ridiculous.  Yet, they're still an interesting look at an era of filmmaking that seems very distant.