DVD Review: Make ‘Em Laugh – The Funny Business of America

make-em-laugh-dvdThe excellent PBS documentary Make ‘Em Laugh – The Funny Business of America has been released on DVD and it’s among the best things I’ve watched in a good long while.

Each of the series’ six episodes covers a different type of comedy styling. With episodes that cover “The Wiseguys” and “The Groundbreakers” and other categories of comedy each one features an encyclopedic overview of the history of comedy in America. From Laurel and Hardy to the Marx Brothers to Steve Martin to Buster Keaton to Saturday Night Live and everything in-between, the series not only contains interviews with comedians and historians but a huge amount of archival footage as well.

Make ‘Em Laugh is a must-see if you have any sense of historical knowledge of American comedy or are looking to educate yourself in this field. If you know all these acts you’ll have a blast reliving some classic skits and film footage. If you don’t this is a fantastic primer on some of the all-time greatest comedic moments in the world of film, television, Vaudeville, radio and everything else.

This is the kind of series I can see watching again and again simply to enjoy the footage that is strewn throughout it. Own it, rent it, borrow it – do whatever you have to do to check it out again and again.

DVD Review: Zack and Miri Make a Porno

jsbstash_2037_469943Zack and Miri Make a Porno might be director Kevin Smith’s most accessible movie to date, even while it also seems like the one that least carries many of Smith’s defining characteristics.

The story takes two childhood friends, Zack and Miri, who have known each other since grade school and who currently live with each other – though in a non-sexual manner – as they find themselves in the middle of a financial problem. With little income and a lot of bills the two find inspiration to their difficulties at a horrendously uncomfortable high school reunion.

That solution? They’ll make a low-budget porno. Hence the movie’s title.

They recruit a hodge-podge of friends to help them make their movie. A co-worker of Zack’s becomes the producer because he’s the only one with money. A high school friend with a video camera becomes the cameraman. And a couple of ladies – portrayed by actual porn stars – become the stars in the movie.

In-between the problems with production that provide much of the movie’s comedy Zack and Miri provide the movie with it’s heart and emotional resonance. These two have known each other for 20+ years and never had a romantic relationship but decide, of course, that it’s going to be the least weird if they have sex on-screen. They just need to convince themselves that it’s not going to impact their friendship. But of course it does and it’s not hard to predict where the story will lead them to.

Zack and Miri doesn’t play like a Kevin Smith movie. By that I mean many of Smith’s verbal ticks are downplayed in the writing, or at least they’re less prevalent in the hands of the actors he’s cast here. While there’s an abundance of jokes about people’s private parts and a huge-honking Star Wars reference, it’s handled a little bit more deftly than is usually the case in his movies. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks, portraying the titular couple, bring their own style to the characters and makes Smith’s dialogue flow in a way that it hasn’t really been able to in prior films. That’s not a knock against them – I’m a huge Smith fan – but it just works on a different level in Zack and Miri than it has previously.

The movie is now available as a two-disc DVD set. On disc one you’ll find just the movie. On disc two you’ll find a wealth of extras, including the “Money Shots” webisodes that were released on line during the film’s production and a collection of bloopers, ad libs and other fun outtakes.

The best part of the extra features, though, is “Popcorn Porn,” an hour-and-a-half documentary that chronicles the film from inception through the much-documented battle over ratings with the MPAA. This is absolutely the best thing (other than the movie) included in the set and I definitely recommend watching it after you watch the feature.

Marketing Madness in 60 Seconds: 2/13/09

static5Retail: Research from Webvisible and Nielsen shows that far too many small retail businesses are not fully utilizing online marketing tools, including search, despite that being the primary way consumers are looking for information on local businesses.

You’d think that Microsoft’s plans to open retail stores would be hampered by the fact that Microsoft doesn’t have many products that are going to be strong enough draws for consumers. It’s not a horrible idea, but it only really works if Microsoft takes some level of product offering out of mass retailers like Best Buy and Target.

Really, Starbucks? Instant coffee?

Advertising: Fox continues to get press for their “fewer commercial breaks” strategy as the network expands it from “Fringe” to now include tonight’s premiere of Joss Whedon’s “Dollhouse.”

A month after shutting down Print Ads, Google is now shuttering their Radio Ads division, saying it was a risk that simply didn’t pan out.

I think I completely missed the news that out-of-home advertising company Reactrix had shut down in December. That’s too bad since I liked them a lot and thought they were doing some cool stuff.

Search: Interesting numbers on how video has become more prominent on the first page of Google results. Some good tips – as well as cautionary notes – for marketers looking to get their vidoes there and what they can realistically expect in terms of results and conversions.

Social Networking: Facebook continues its solid growth, now competing for the title of top social media site.