Ernie Kovacs’ ‘Take a Good Look’ DVD Review: Early Edginess

October 13, 2017


You don’t expect to find old TV game shows on DVD, but the wacky work of early tube comedy master Ernie Kovacs is an exception. Rife with historic value, his series and specials already are widespread on DVD. And now his 1959-61 ABC series, Take a Good Look, joins them in a nearly complete box set.

The weekly show lasted 53 episodes, and a whopping 49 come to light via Shout! Factory’s Oct. 17 release of a seven-disc Ernie Kovacs: Take a Good Look: The Definitive Collection.

The show is — well, what? A parody, a mocking, a send-up, an homage, a rip-off?  You decide. But it clearly follows the essence of other popular game shows in which a panel of celebs tries to guess someone’s identity. (Think What’s My Line, To Tell the Truth and I’ve Got a Secret.) Kovacs’ spin was to add brief film clips, sketches and sight gags as vague clues.

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‘Green Acres: The Complete Series’ DVD Review: The Place To Be

September 29, 2017


If you’re pondering buying the first-ever release of Green Acres‘ six seasons in a DVD boxed set, you probably don’t need to be sold on the show.

You don’t need to be told that the 1965-71 series starring Eddie Albert as a big-city lawyer turned farmer and Eva Gabor as his flamboyant, ditzy wife was a huge hit among producer Paul Henning’s rural rube sitcoms, which also included The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction.

Instead, you need knowledge of the many extras on Green Acres: The Complete Series, the 24-disc, 170-episode set coming to DVD Oct. 17 from Shout! Factory.

First, simply having the last three seasons on DVD is an extra in itself. Only the first three seasons had been issued previously — individually, back in 2004 and 2005.

But as far as this set’s formal bonus features go, you’re also in luck. They’re almost all on the final disc (which merited a guiding notation on the box that they didn’t get), so let’s take a look:

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‘Sleeping Beauties’ Book Review: Like Father, Like Son

September 24, 2017

Sleeping Beauties

Sleeping Beauties (Scribner, 700 pages, due Tuesday), Stephen King’s first novel with son Owen, is a sprawling, horrific page-turner with scads of interlaced, potent characters and gut-punch stabs at the dark sides of human nature.

In other words, it reads like a Stephen King novel, and son Owen is clearly on board with that.

I’m unfamiliar with Owen King’s work, so I can’t say what he brings to the fear feast at this table. But I do know Sleeping Beauties will make his papa’s legions of fans pop up — and the father-son collaboration should make papa pop with pride.

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Pink Panther Box Set Claws to Blu-ray

June 23, 2017

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Reissues of vintage films rarely can be considered “new,” but Shout! Factory’s June 27 release of The Pink Panther Film Collection Starring Peter Sellers (how’s that for a meandering monicker?) does have firsts.

Among them: This is a complete box set of all six films featuring Sellers as inept police Inspector Jacques Clouseau — unlike a 2004 set missing 1975’s Return of the Pink Panther due to rights issues. Also, it’s the first time the six films all have been issued on Blu-ray. And, there are ample new extras scattered across the discs, from interviews to commentaries.

As for the films, if you’ve seen them, you still haven’t seen them as handsomely as in these crisp versions. But then, the bigger question is, are they worth it?

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‘Apollo 8’ Book Review: Historic Epic

April 24, 2017

Apollo 8

With a Neil Armstrong movie in the works — sure to focus on Apollo 11’s first manned lunar landing — and with Apollo 13’s dramatic space rescue already an honored film of the same name, it’s about time a book was written about a space mission just as meaningful and historic as those: Apollo 8.

Thankfully, Jeffrey Kluger has done it with Apollo 8, new at retail on May 16 from Henry Holt and Co. (in hardcover and audio CD).

The same author who co-wrote Lost Moon (later retitled Apollo 13) with former astronaut James Lovell has interviewed Apollo 8’s Lovell, Frank Borman and Bill Anders — along with many others — to tell the tale of the first humans to leave Earth’s gravitational pull by voyaging to another celestial body. They also became become the first humans to orbit the moon, the first to see its far side directly and the first to see Earth in its entirety in a single view, from a quarter-million-mile distance.

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‘The Vampire Bat’: ‘Horror’ Oldie is Back

April 17, 2017

Vampire Bat

Whatever happened to Fay Wray? Just before making a monkey out of the big ape of 1933’s original King Kong (“It was beauty killed the beast”) she made goo-goo eyes with a young Melvyn Douglas in a more appropriate same-species romance for the same year’s The Vampire Bat, getting a new Blu-ray and DVD Special Edition Tuesday, April 25.

In fact, romance and a steady dose of humor gets this creaky “horror” show off the hook for being a creature of its time, with horror simply subtly suggested, while gruesome gore is still decades away for the big screen.

That’s not to say The Vampire Bat lacks creepiness and atmospheric dread, which are its main genre strengths. It’s also reliably familiar, serving a tale of a bubbly mad-scientist lab, a fragile damsel in distress, a stalwart hero and panicky villagers, all in 1930s Germany.

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‘2016 World Series’ Video: Unforgettable

December 5, 2016


As a journalist and wordsmith, I use words carefully, resisting the common urge to label things the best or the greatest, or to call anything unstoppable or unforgettable.

But with the 2016 World Series, “unforgettable” is fitting, since it had to be among the most dramatic, emotional and meaningful Fall Classics ever, given its two teams’ and their generations of fans’ 176 years of combined frustration, and the remarkable storybook seven-game Series, which no Hollywood script could have topped.

Major League Baseball’s official film The 2016 World Series captures all that with its release from Shout! Factory Tuesday as a DVD and as a Blu-ray/DVD combo, both also with digital copies.

Each also includes these bonus features on the winning Chicago Cubs: Regular Season Highlights (5 minutes); Clinching Moments (3 minutes); World Series Highlights (9 minutes); Parade (2 minutes); and Cubs on David Ross (90 seconds).

Also due Dec. 13 on DVD and Blu-ray is an eight-disc 2016 World Series Collector’s Edition featuring every play of every game.

As for Tuesday’s release, its centerpiece is a feature-length 97-minute chronicle of the Series, which deservedly can be called stirring, enthralling and — yes — unforgettable.

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‘Horror Hunters’ Debuts Wednesday

October 24, 2016


So cool! Netflix and Amazon have company in the realm of original TV programming for non-cable outlets. Shout! Factory TV’s unscripted series Horror Hunters debuts Wednesday, Oct. 26 in a live stream at 8 p.m. CST, 6 p.m. PST, then encores at 11 p.m. CST, 9 p.m. PST. Video on demand viewing starts Friday, Oct. 28 on Shout! Factory TV.

The show is from and for fans of horror entertainment, as hosts Adam Rockoff and Aaron Christensen explore notable collections of horror memorabilia. They’ll also try swapping items from their own collections for unique items they find.

The pilot show has them meeting Phil Meenan, a major Frankenstein collector, then horror blogger Jon Kitley.

After episodes, watchers can offer feedback and enter to win a Blu-ray prize package from Scream Factory. During screenings, conversations can be entered with the hashtag #HorrorHunters. Also note the purveyors’ Twitter handles of : @Scream_Factory and @ShoutFactoryTV.

I happen to know a mega-collector of horror memorabilia myself, and his house is my favorite place to visit — like walking into a horror museum lined with classic one-sheets, lobby cards and so much more. Thus, I know how frightfully fun this show can be. Count me in!

— Bruce Westbrook

Review: ‘Carrie’ 40th Anniversary Edition

October 4, 2016


If you, like me, are a fan of Stephen King, you should have a special place in your heart for Carrie, his first published novel (in 1974), which became the first film based on his now voluminous work (in 1976) and even a musical and a movie remake.

But Carrie is special beyond its firsts. The tale of a sweet girl whose religious zealot mother and cruel classmates push her to use her destructive telekinetic powers to the max, it’s simply a great King yarn, and it’s fascinating to explore how it changed, while keeping the same central characters and spirit, in director Brian De Palma’s film version.

You can do this by picking up Scream Factory’s new two-disc Blu-ray “Collector’s Edition” for the film’s 40th anniversary year, due Oct. 11. Along with a new 4K scan of the film’s original negative, it’s got loads of extras for dissecting and probing the production, some of which are repeats (trailers, TV spots, radio spots, still gallery, etc.) and some of which are new.

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Book Review: ‘Get What’s Yours For Medicare’

September 27, 2016


Philip Moeller’s Get What’s Yours For Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs, due Oct. 4 from Simon & Schuster, is a companion of sorts to the excellent Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security, a book he co-wrote which returned last spring in updated form.

Baby Boomers nearing retirement age (please note I didn’t say simply “retirement,” since many will continue to work), these books are for you.

Yes, Medicare and Social Security are valuable programs into which you’ve paid federal taxes for years, and you should take advantage of what’s available to you. But no, neither program is simple to comprehend and navigate, and crucial mistakes in enrollment and options are easy to make.

Moeller makes this clear in the early going, with the terse line “This stuff is complicated.” That certainly goes for initial entry into Medicare, a hard lesson that I learned months before reading this book when I struggled to get straight answers from the Social Security Administration and elsewhere about how Medicare works.

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