PAWTUCKET, RI - While various media sources mourned the death of Saturday morning cartoons, few seemed to notice the end of The Hub.
What was The Hub? After decades of hearing parents whine about toy companies turning Saturday mornings into their catalogs, Hasbro took over its own cable channel to highlight all their wonderful toys in action for 24 hours 7 days a week. For three years, Hub was the source for My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Littlest Pet Shop, G.I. Joe and Transformers. All the toys that I’ve stepped on since my daughter doesn’t get the concept of toys wanting to sleep in their toy house. The channel finally gave The Aquabats a TV series. And The Aquabats TV show was truly the lovechild of The Monkees and Ultraman. They even revived The Animaniacs so new generation could try to takeover the world. Hasbro launched Family Game Night which turned their line of Parker Brothers board games into a new Price Is Right. And now The Hub is gone.
What went wrong? Supposedly there’s just way too many channels aimed at kids. There seems to be at least a dozen variations of Disney and Nickelodeon on the cable box. In my area, the Hub was on an upper tier. But that didn’t prevent kids from going crazy over the new version of My Little Pony. It does sting that they had a channel that didn’t merely run the same repeats as every other channel with one or two original shows to give it identity. Can anyone really tell FXX and Esquire apart with the bug in the corner?
The channel hasn’t entirely vanished. Hasbro sold back the controlling share to their partner Discovery. It’s now known as Discovery Family which sounds about as fun and entertaining as “Your Great Aunt Wants To See You!” And not the fun great aunt who blows your mind with tales of doing too much acid in San Francisco and hooking up with the roadies from the Jefferson Airplane. This is the great aunt who gives you slacks with Bible verses along the zipper to shame you into peeing while sitting down. Discovery Family is still running most of the same shows as The Hub. But as my daughter screamed, “That’s not The Hub!” It’s not as painful as the orbital decay and death of Trio, but it still stings.
BEST COUNTRY RECORD OF THE YEAR
In an odd twist, while Taylor Swift dumps country to embrace an ’80s pop sound, Sturgill Simpson turned an ’80s hit into a country classic. He gets underneath the slick veneer of When In Rome’s “The Promise.” Give it a listen and you’ll swear this was the original that was modernized all those decades ago.
Sturgill’s Metamodern Sounds in Country Music is a masterpiece of country music especially for people who don’t like the micro-oxygenated Nashville sound. A blissful mix of heartbreak, determination, nostalgia and now. He’s on tour this fall and early spring so get out there and soak in Metamoderness of Sturgill.
Maleficent is Disney’s reworking of Sleeping Beauty that gives quite a bit of sympathy to the evil Maleficent. She wasn’t born bad. Once upon a time she was a winged fairy who flew around the Moors. She had fallen madly in love with a boy named Stephan who ultimately betrays her. He severely stabs her in the back in order to get his name on the list of future King. When Stephan becomes King, he has a fancy party to celebrate the arrival of his daughter named Aurora. So now people understand why Maleficent had a serious issue with the King. But this isn’t merely a fairytale revenge flick with a real motivation. And there are liberties taken with the original Disney movie. Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast as Maleficent. She’s able to alter the mythology of the evil fairy who originally was seen as just ticked off that she didn’t get invited to a party. Elle Fanning holds down her part of the screen when faced with Angelina. Her Princess Aurora is doesn’t come off as snoozy. It’s good to see Sam Riley in a role that doesn’t make him a cult rock star out of Manchester. Far as reworked fairytales go, this one works for me and my daughter.
The Blu-ray comes with a DVD and a Digital HD access to the film. You can take this fairytale everywhere which is good news for a parent. The bonus features include plenty of deleted scenes. There’s short pieces about the special effects and reworking the story to give a little motivation for certain deeds. There’s a whole segment on the various head wraps that Maleficent wears. Here’s Elle Fanning talking about getting to be Aurora.
My Little Pony: Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks is a more musical sequel to last year’s Equestria Girls. The movie takes us back to the alternate universe where the Ponies look more like real girls even though they still have their various pony characteristics. Turns out there’s trouble in Canterlot high with a trio of musical gals who seem to feed off the anger of others. They’re called the Dazzlings. The Equestria Girls need help from Princess Twilight since they fear something is up with the Dazzlings. The normal school music night has been turned into a Battle of the Bands. If Princess Twilight, Rainbow Dash, Rarity and the other Equestria girls don’t win the musical competition, something evil might happen. This one features a lot of songs that are bound to get fans humming along. There’s demonic battle in the third act that frightened my daughter. The Blu-ray includes the DVD and a way to get a digital copy. There’s an audio commentary and six prequel shorts to set up the action. There’s even a sing-a-long for “Better Than Ever,” “Battle” and “Rainbooms Battle.” Here’s Josie’s reaction after seeing the film in the movie theater.
Raw Force is a brilliant piece of out of control exploitation cinema. The film dares to unit the twin titans of grindhouse superstars Cameron Mitchell (Without Warning) and Vic Diaz (The Big Bird Cage). The Burbank Kung Fu Club is ready to go on a big adventure. They’re heading to Warrior Island in the Pacific. Why? Because according to legend, this is the burial ground of martial arts fighters who screwed up royally. What’s worse for these fatal fighters is that they’ve been brought back to life by cannibal monks. But even before the Club gets to their destination, there’s a lot of action on the high seas. First it’s a throwdown in the Philippines. Cameron Mitchell doesn’t perform his usual three day stint on the shoot. He’s here for the long haul. While on the sea, they get attacked by pirates in all out affair. There’s naked kung fu moments. Jillian Kessner of Firecracker fame plays a cop who uses more than her nightstick to subdue. The voyagers make it to Warrior Island. Little do they know what’s in store when they encounter a group of monks led by Vic Diaz. They are cannibals who only like young ladies. This is turning into the worst package cruise ever, but the most exciting exploitation film of 1982. The bonus features include a phone interview with Not of This Earth’s Jim Wynorski about re-editing the film before release. Director Ed Murphy explains how he ended up at the helm of this masterpiece. Along with the Blu-ray is a DVD in case you want to watch this while on your own Kung Fu cruise.
Dracula Sucks is an all star version of the X-rated vampire film. This was what people watched before True Blood. Renfield has issues sleeping after the death of his father. So he’s checked into a clinic run by John Leslie and Kay Parker. While recovering, he’s lured to a nearby place to bring back Country Dracula Jamie Gillis) from the grave. Will the vampire suck the county dry? Along for the fun is Annetta Haven, John Holmes and Seka. That’s like an adult version of The Love Boat without pants. Strangely enough, Jaimi Gillis is more seductive with a full beard. The big bonus feature is the recut version that was shipped out as Lust at First Bite. This was put out to take advantage of the release of the more family friendly Love at First Bite mainstream vampire flick. It has a lot of alternate footage so you’re not merely watching a snipped R-rated version of the original. It’s more like a second and shorter pass at making the movie in post-production. An interesting note is that cinematographer Hanania Baer would be behind the camera for Elvira: Mistress of the Dark. Bill Mangold gives an audio commentary that sheds light on this vampire production.
Hot & Saucy Pizza Girls puts John Holmes in charge of the greatest pizza joint ever opened in 1978. He has an all girl staff that delivers hot pies using skateboards to speed up the process. What makes his operation the best in the area isn’t the crust, but the extras that the ladies deliver. Among Holmes staff is the innocent eyed Desiree Cousteau and Candida Royalle. The pizza place has its issues including staff stalkers. But that doesn’t stop Holmes and the ladies from serving up the best deep dish in the region. Along with the trailer is a revealing interview with producer Damon Christian. He tells an amazing story about how John Holmes burned down the pizza joint at the end of the shoot. There’s also tales from doing business with people that might be mobsters. Filmmaking students can learn a lot from Damon’s life experience making this Pizza Girls epic. They also have the trailer on the DVD.
Peekarama: Red Heat, The Mad Love Life of a Hot Vampire & Peeping Tom is a trio of adult action from director Ray Dennis Steckler. Most people would almost recognize the name since also made The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies which ended up on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. None of this films will be aired on basic cable. Red Heat is an adult murder mystery. While a crew is making an adult feature film, someone is snuffing the cast and Best Boys. It’s a naked Whodunit. Mad Love of a Hot Vampire is Dracula’s brides going out for a drink. But they don’t merely want to suck a few necks. Peeping Tom is about a peeping Tom. The big plus for this film is a lot of footage of early ’70s Las Vegas when the town was losing it’s sixties sheen and gaining that ’70s smut feel. These films carry Steckler’s normal production quality. They’re rather rough affairs. You won’t be seeing Tom Servo cracking wise in the bottom of the screen.
Peekarama: Carnal Haven & Her Lust Fling is another double feature from Carlos Tobalina. He was very prolific in an industry where you didn’t spend Kubrick time making a feature film. Carnal Haven is the classic approach to an adult filmmaking with the theme of education and therapy in order to save a marriage. Sharon Thorpe and Ken Scudder are the Masters and Johnson characters that run their specialized clinic. Their techniques have an amazing success rate. They even cure a couple where he’s a dog and she’s a drunk. How come Dr. Drew doesn’t teach the 69th Step on Couples Therapy? There’s quite a few stars including Joey Silvera, John Leslie and Desiree West. They all learn the secret of the Inca Knot. Her Last Fling is like a really dirty version of Love Story. Sandy Pinney gets the news that she’s got a terminal disease and there’s no hope. So what does she do? She blows her life savings and lives large in Las Vegas. She blows it all and a little more in a debaucherous time. But she also falls in love with a guy in the midst of her carnal cravings. How can she find love when there’s so little time left? Paul Thomas, Desiree West and Candida Royalle are part of this warped Make A Wish moment.
UHF: 25th Anniversary Edition captures Weird Al Yankovic at his matinee best. He’s a loser with big dreams that won’t be fulfilled in the fast food industry. Through a twist of fate and a family connection, he gets hired to run a UHF station that’s considered the ratings loser in the market. They get constantly slaughtered by the huge network station run by Kevin McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Al revolutionizes the channel by refusing to compete with the big boys. Instead he comes up with the bizarre and freakish to lure views to channel 62. The first major change is by allowed the station’s janitor (Seinfeld’s Michael Richards) to host a kiddie cartoon show. The janitor’s warped way of doing things immediately connects with kids and grown ups that are rather childish. This is just the launching point for other creative shows like Wheel of Fish that allows Gedde Watanabe to not merely be a dick joke in Sixteen Candles. How good is this film? You’ll ignore the fact that no man in his right mind would want to hook up with Victoria Jackson. Plus Fran Drescher’s voice isn’t so grating. The movie is a Weird Al overdose of spoofs and satires involving music, movies and TV. Al even does his best Sly. The Blu-ray is loaded with goodies. There’s the recent Weird Al panel at the San Diego Comic-con. It’s like being there without waiting six hours in line. There’s a bunch of deleted scenes although Al spares the ones that were extremely lame. They have the music video for the theme song. There’s lots of promotional materials including pictures of the VHS of UHF.
The Compleat Al was a great way for Weird Al to show off his beloved videos in 1985 under the guise of a bogus biography. This originally aired on Showtime as a special. It came out on VHS to the approval of geeks. But after being out of print since the 20th century, the DVD has arrived with all the nonsense, weirdness, tall tales and an occasional fact. This is more fun than Al’s Behind the Music special. The movie mixes real moments with things like Al’s performance at Monterey Pop that ended with his accordion on fire. We get the inside scoop from Doctor Demento. There’s even quite a few clips from his Al TV takeover of MTV. Al discusses his secret meeting with Michael Jackson that led to “Eat It” getting approval. Amongst the fun are Al’s early music videos including “Eat It,” “I Lost on Jeopardy,” “Like a Surgeon” and “Dare to Be Stupid.”
The Doctor and the Devils brings together the unlikely talents of Mel Brooks, Dylan Thomas, Freddie Fisher and Timothy Dalton. The story is based on the morbid tale of Burke and Hare. These two gentlemen discovered amazing paydays in Edinburgh, Scotland. Future James Bond Timothy Dalton plays a doctor at a medical school that’s having a major crisis. There’s an overflow of anatomy students and a lack of corpses. He’s getting sick of cutting up farm animals during classes. Jonathan Pryce (Brazil) and Stephen Rea (The Crying Game) are two low lifes who hatch a plan to get rich by finding corpses to unload at the school. Trouble is that it’s hard to find people who are dead and want to donate their bodies to science. The duo decide to be self-starters and murder their future product. This leads to plenty of gruesome and comic moments. Dalton is torn with his new suppliers. His pal (Room With a View’s Julian Sands) doesn’t trust him. But he can’t lose students to the rival med school run by Patrick Stewart (X-Men & ST:TNG). Things get extra touchy since Sands is hanging out with a hooker (Twiggy from The Muppet Show) so he gets to know way too much about how the bodies are being located. Where does Mel Brooks come into this? Turns out Mel produced it for his company. That wasn’t too outlandish a project since Mel had made David Lynch’s The Elephant Man. The Doctor’s director Freddie Francis was the cinematographer for The Elephant Man. Freddie had also directed a few films for Hammer and Amicus so he understood completely how to make this movie appear a touch horrific yet classy. Sadly the film didn’t do amazingly well at the box office since none of these brilliant actors were major stars in 1985 except Twiggy. The bonus features include a 15 minute documentary where Mel Brooks explains how he put it together with the other producers. There’s an audio commentary with Steve Haberman discusses the historical facts of Burke and Hare along with all the movie factoids.
Monkey Shines was George Romero’s attempt to scare moviegoers with a living ape and not a bunch of zombies. Jason Beghe (Californication) is a fit type of guy who gets hit while jogging. This leaves him a quadriplegic. While he can operate his mechanical wheelchair, he needs help for simple things. Along with a nurse, he gets a trained monkey. The two bond fast. However their connection comes with a major price. Turns out the monkey is willing to do Jason’s worst desires. This includes going after his girlfriend (Northern Exposure’s Janine Turner) among others. Can he stop the monkey? Can anyone believe this is happening? How can such a cute monkey be a rabid killer? Can the monkey take over Jason’s mind? It’s a film that remind you to be careful around service animals. The movie was met with a lot of resistance when it came out from people who dealt with monkey. In the interest of full disclosure, I used to work with executive producer Gerald S. Paonessa at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He brought George to the school where we talked about his films. George was quite shocked at the protests against the film. The bonus features cover this issue along with Romero’s battles with Orion executives. There’s a fine documentary that covers the entire film and its legacy. Romero gives an audio commentary that lets him say more about his movie. Along with deleted scenes, there’s the alternate ending that Orion used on a reissue to make up for them screwing up the original ending. While this isn’t a collector’s edition, it really is. You might not want to watch this with a monkey. You don’t want to give them any ideas.
The Dark Half brought together George Romero with Stephen King. The duo created a movie about a man with dual identities. Timothy Hutton seems to be a likable kinda guy. He has a family. He teaches at a college and he writes a book or two. Turns out Hutton wrote a few more books under the name George Stark. He decides to stop writing as Stark and even hosts a fake burial for the fake writer. Except out from the grave comes the real Stark. He’s not happy that he’s been killed. He’s ready to get his revenge on Hutton. Hutton is great as both the sincere nice guy and the extra slimey Stark. Romero told a group of us that when they made the movie, Hutton had two different trailers to use depending on which character he was playing that day. He really got into the Stark mode. Stark’s trailer was constantly trashed. He even had his girlfriend (one of those 3 named actresses from the ’90s) show up dressed in hooker garb when he was in Stark mode. It helped Hutton’s performance so this method weirdness was worth it. The bonus features include a commentary track from Romero. There’s a documentary that covers the troubled productions. Romero talks about having to alter the ending because the birds weren’t being cooperative. There’s deleted scenes, the original electronic press kit and the storyboards. Once more a collector’s edition from Scream Factory in all, but package art.
Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings is the unexpected sequel to Stan Winston’s original horror film. The original didn’t do too well in theatrical release, but was a good renter in the age of video. Thus is made sense for a producer to crank out a straight to VHS sequel. Back when there were videostores in the mid-90s, people would pick up the sequels when they were having movie nights. Whether it be Jaws, Godfather or Where the Boys Aren’t, renting a pile of the same films was not unusual. So Stan Winston’s monster was brought back to life with Jeff Burr directing. The new cast does not resemble the old one. They went extra young on this one with Amy Dolenz (The Monkees’s daughter) and Soleil Moon Frye (Punky Brewster) in the leads. They’re running with some bad boys of the ’90s. The kids get in trouble and stupidly use the magic to revive a woman not knowing about Pumpkinhead. The creatures arises and has a field day with the new breed. The film was released straight to VHS and even the DVD was full frame. But now you can see it properly framed for 1.85:1. Director Burr’s commentary explains how the production was in full motion by the time he was hired. “Recreating the Monster” as the effects crew discuss working with Pumpkinhead. There’s behind the scenes footage that’s mostly interviews. This is a fun addition to have next to Scream Factory’s Pumpkinhead Blu-ray.
Nightbreed:The Director’s Cut allowed Clive Barker the chance to finally release the version of his 1990 horror film that was butchered by the studio. This isn’t merely extra footage, but entire scenes were recut with alternate takes. It’s not the film you saw on VHS back in 1992. Enjoy.
Sgt. Bilko, The Phil Silvers Show: The Complete Series finally delivers all the greatness that was the ultimate hustler show. All four seasons are finally in one boxset so I no longer have to set the DVR to record the show in the wee hours on Me-TV. The glory of Phil Silvers is here for all to worship. His Sgt. Bilko character remains the greatest hustler in the history of the world. Even stuck on a remote base in Kansas, Bilko schemed to control the world and take every penny from his privates. Why? Because if he didn’t, someone worse would rip them off. The show set the tone for military comedies to come. If your only exposure to Bilko is that crappy Steve Martin movie, you have been ripped off. Sit back and enjoy the blissful greatness of Bilko. There are a lot of bonus features including vintage interviews with Phil Silvers. His daughters talk about growing up with a man considered a comic genius who wasn’t a comedian. There’s various specials including an episode of the short lived The New Phil Silvers Show.
The Unauthorized Saved By The Bell Story is tawdry TV biopic madness at its prime. What happens when you give a bunch of hormonally amped up teens their own show, money and attention? A parents nightmare and a viewers dream is what you get. The best part of the film is that you get all the tales of Dustin Diamond without actually having to experience the real Dustin Diamond. The production goes into overdrive with the late ’80s fashions. It’s like an MTV Music Awards exploded on this cast. I’m now awaiting The Untold Hangtime since rumors about that show had most of the cast driving hard on each other.
M Squad: The Complete TV Series - Special Edition is what made Lee Marvin a TV badass before he made the leap to cinema. He plays Lt. Frank Ballinger of the Chicago police’s murder investigation unit. Thus the “M.” He’s completely no nonsense during his investigations. But unlike Dragnet, when Frank meets with resistance, he’ll rough up a suspect. The series ran on NBC from 1957 to 1960. Count Basie ended up doing a swingin’ theme song. There’s a great jazz vibe to the soundtrack to give Frank a sophisticated edge. The boxset has all 117 episodes of gunshots, corpses and intrigue. The Besides Lee Marvin there were guest appearances from cinema tough guys James Coburn, Charles Bronson and Burt Reynolds. The black and white action and Pall Mall cigarettes give it a fine film noir atmosphere. This is a perfect boxset to have with Peter Gunn, The Naked City and Mike Hammer. What’s interesting is that M Squad is what got spoofed into Police Squad! The theme music, the opening credits, the monologue and Marvin’s character being named Frank all played into the short-lived comedy. The bonus DVD features Marvin’s guest spots on Wagon Train, Checkmate, The Virginian and Lee Marvin Presents Lawbreaker.
Annie Oakley: The Complete Series is a touch of classic cowboy action that ran from 1954 to 1957 in syndication. The series wasn’t completely based on the Wild West legend. This Annie Oakley played by Gail Davis isn’t on the road with adventure shows showing off her sharp shooting skills. She’s a good natured gal with pigtails and a few six-shooters. She lives with her brother Tagg (Jimmy Hawkins) and their uncle Deputy Sheriff Lofty Craig. Like all good western characters, Annie had a great horse named Target. Most of the action had her helping out her uncle when it comes to keeping the area safe for law-abiding citizens. Easy to imagine my nana getting into this show when she finally got a television in the house. There’s plenty of great guest stars on the 81 episodes. Alan Hale Jr (the Skipper on Gilligan’s Island) L.Q. Jones (The Wild Bunch), James Best (Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane on Dukes of Hazzard), Denver Pyle, Fess Parker, Slim Pickens and Keye Luke all got to ride around with Annie. What makes this collection great and worth grabbing for you TV western lovin’ loved ones is the bonus features that give the show a complete sense of context. The bonus features include the commercials from when the show was sponsored by Wonder Bread and Twinkies. “Pig-tails and Six-shooters” breaks down how the series brought a woman into the TV westerns. They have an audio interview with star Gail Davis. There’s a montage of all the Annie Oakley toys and coloring books that came out during the run. She was the Dora the Explorer of her time.
Quncy, M.E.: Season 7 is the penultimate release from the time when Jack Klugman made being a coroner a sexy job. Quincy lasted long enough on the air that he became the father of the elderly mysteries at this point. He’s Matlock’s daddy. The show’s big push was exposing little known medical conditions and dangers into the public forum. Remember this was before America was overloaded with cable channels. This season opens with “Memories of Allison” when he finds an unconscious woman at a job fair. “Slow Boat to Madness” features the recent issue of passengers getting sick on cruise ships. Keep your eyes out for a youthful Tim Stack (Son of the Beach), John Riley (Scrubs) and Mimi Rogers. “Dead Stop” has truckers dumping toxic loads in future superfund cleanup sites. “Bitter Pill” has high schoolers popping away. Simon Oakland (Kolchak: The Night Stalker) is part of it. “Guns Don’t Die” puts Quincy on the trail of a murder weapon being passed around by killers. “Smoke Screen” has Philip Baker Hall (Boogie Nights) as a fire chief looking for an arsonist. “For the Love of Joshua” was the big show of the season as it dealt with a kid with Downs Syndrome who might have been allowed to die by a doctor with an agenda. Among the stars are Tyne Daly, Allan Arbus, Clu Gallagher, Colleen Dewhurst and Ellen Travolta. “The Shadow of Death” features a Vietnam vet with PTSD. “The Face of Fear” features the seductively frightening Jonathan Frakes (Dark Shadows). “The Mourning After” focuses on a kid dying as part of a college hazing ritual. This is still an issue in America. This is just another batch of fine murdering mysteries centered around Quincy and Sam (Robert Ito).
Ancient Aliens: The Complete Seasons 1-6 gathers together 82 episodes that ponder if things on Earth were manipulated from above. The show is a bit of In Search Of…. mixed with a major conspiratorial straw. The show covers a wide range of subjects that somehow come back to various alien encounters. Did the Aliens really live on Mars? Did Aliens communicate with Einstein? Did Aliens abduct the real Paul McCartney? Did aliens get squeamish watching Alien Autopsy? It’s all here for those who love their little green men. The series turned Giorgio A. Tsoukalos of Legendary Times Magazine into a superstar with his frazzled haircut and constant feeling that it was aliens. This really does make me wonder if the folks at the History Channel are getting great ratings on alien planets when this is beamed beyond the moon. There’s 23 DVDs packed with more encounters than a church retreat. The best part of the show is that you’ll get a real appreciation for the architecture of the ancient world even if it was all done by aliens.
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