Home

H2O: JUST ADD WATER – SEASON 2 (DVD)

Leave a comment

coverGrade:  B+
Entire family:  Yes
2007, 26 episodes (650 min.), Color
Unrated (would be PG for mild thematic elements)
New Video
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  F

Trailer

When Lost was on television, my wife and I stayed up to watch episodes with our son—much to the dismay of our young daughter, who was excluded because it wasn’t appropriate for her age level.

H2O: Just Add Water has the same addictive quality, only every member of the family can watch. Lost was pitched at adults, but teens also got caught up in it; this show about three teen girls who become mermaids targets teens and ‘tweens, but it hooks pre-‘tweens and parents as well. We’ve watched in marathon sessions of six or so episodes in a row, and the kids will still say, “One more.”  They’re not alone. Only two seasons with a 52-episode arc were planned, but fan demand forced the producers to come up with a third series.

In this show, as in Lost there’s a mysterious island that holds a secret, and like Bewitched those with powers use them secretly and try to conceal them from others. That leads to both comic situations and also tension over whether they’ll be discovered.

And of course there’s a bit of The Little Mermaid and Splash in this series, which was first broadcast on Australian television, then went the TV equivalent of “viral” after being syndicated worldwide.

H2O: Just Add Water is about three teens who end up transformed by an event at Mako Island so that every time water touches any part of their skin they change into mermaids. It sounds gimmicky, but the mermaid angle really adds a fun level to an otherwise typical teen and family comedy-drama. More

CURIOUS GEORGE SWINGS INTO SPRING (DVD)

Leave a comment

coverGrade:  B
Entire family:  No
2012, 57 min., Color
Not rated (pre-school)
Universal
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  F
Trailer

This direct-to-video offering is strictly for preschoolers, but parents and siblings who’ve read aloud their share of Curious George books will judge that Curious George Swings into Spring is well done. Executive producers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and company get back to basics with this one, following the overly long Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey and its Man with the Yellow Hat-less plot.

The screenplay comes from Joe Fallon, whose writing credits include Arthur and the Curious George TV series, As with the TV show, it’s based on the popular picture books by Margret & H.A. Rey, who took the first Curious George manuscript with them when they fled Paris in 1940.

Featured here are the same cartoon voices, animation and background styles as in the TV series. Cartoon voice legend Frank Welker (Scooby-Doo!) returns to provide the monkey noises that George makes, along with other minor characters, while Jeff Bennett gives voice to The Man with the Yellow Hat and others. Grey Delisle (Scooby-Doo!) and Winnie the Pooh voice talents Jim Cummings and Kath Soucie also turn up on the end credits. More

HITCHCOCK (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

hitchcoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  No

2012, 98 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, and thematic material
Fox
Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UV
Trailer

Given the notorious content of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller best known for its shower-scene murder, you’d think that a film about the making of Psycho wouldn’t make for family viewing. But there are two Hitchcocks, really.

First, there’s the one who’s taught in film classes. Hitchcock directed 67 films, most of them suspenseful dramas like Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, or The Man Who Knew Too Much—all of which, by the way, are still suitable for older children.

A different Hitchcock greeted TV audiences from 1955 to 1962 with “Good Evening” and deliberately played a slightly caricatured or campy version of himself as the host of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The anthology series contained almost as much tongue-in-cheek humor or black comedy as suspense or scares, and the portly Master of Suspense appeared to be having a great time. This Hitchcock was a ham who delighted in posturing and who made horror and the supernatural campy fun.

It’s the second, more playful and caricatured Hitchcock that we get from screenwriter John J. McLaughlin (Black Swan) and director Sacha Gervasi (Anvil: The Story of Anvil) in Hitchcock, a film that caused more than a few critics to snub their noses at Anthony Hopkins’ performance for being “scenery chewing.” More

LIFE OF PI (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No
2012, 127 min., Color
Rated PG for emotional thematic content, peril
Fox
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 7.1
Bonus features:  B
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Copy, UV
Trailer

After my family saw the trailer for “Life of Pi,” none of them were terribly excited to see the movie. My daughter thought it would be too sad to watch animals killing each other. My son said it looked boring. And my wife thought it would be “Cast Away” with a tiger for company instead of a volleyball.

Had they known it would be 39 minutes into the film before a storm even kicks up and that Pi’s entertaining backstory begins when he’s much smaller, they might have been less resistant. “Life of Pi” isn’t just a visual effects movie stuck at sea. There’s a compelling story here as well. Being shipwrecked with a volleyball is one thing, but with a Bengal tiger that can rip you to shreds and eat you unless you gradually train it to peacefully coexist? That’s another story—though it really can be too intense for younger children who love animals.

“Life of Pi” is rated PG, but this is no Peaceable Kingdom. Things do get eaten. A boy watches a ship sink with his entire family aboard. Sharks get their fill and food chains operate according to the laws of nature, even in the middle of the ocean. More

MULAN (2 Movie Collection Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

MulancoverGrade:  A-, B+
Entire family:  Yes
1998, 88 min., Color; 2004, 79 min., Color
Rated G
Disney
Aspect ratio:  1.66:1, 1.78:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD-MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVDs

Trailer (I)  Trailer (II)

Mulan is a wonderful piece of Disney animation and storytelling that doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Mulan II may be less inspired, but it’s still one of the best direct-to-video sequels from Disney. Put the movies together in a single package and it makes for a solid double feature that holds appeal for the whole family. And while the sequel lacks a villain and is lighter in tone and palette, the two films still flow surprisingly well from one to the next.

Based on a Chinese poem (but Westernized as only Disney can get away with), Mulan tells the story of a girl who takes her frail father’s place in the army when the Huns threaten to overrun China. Will she be discovered as a woman? Will they save the kingdom?  Li Shang (B.D. Wong), the soldier responsible for training new recruits and leading them into battle, is both taskmaster and potential love interest.

Mulan (Ming-Na Wen) is one of Disney’s strongest female characters. She’s confident, yet she has doubts. She’s a born feminist, but she also falls in love and has to negotiate a developing relationship. She trusts her instincts, but it’s not all hunches. Like Shang, Mulan has a good head on her shoulders. Best of all, in a world dominated by Disney princesses and happily-ever-after marketing, the romantic angle is downplayed, yielding to the heroic and the issues of civic duty, family honor, and loyalty to friends (or family or country) that play themselves out. More

WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

rogercoverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No

1988, 104 min., Color
Rated PG for cartoon violence, some sexuality
Disney/Touchstone
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  B-
Includes:  Blu-ray, DVD
Trailer

When Shrek took a playful slap at the sun-is-shining, birds-are-chirping world of Disney animation, audiences were absolutely delighted. What audacity, we read from all the reviewers. But let’s not forget that Disney took the first shot years ago with Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a 1988 live-action and animation combo that won Academy Awards for Best Sound Effects, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing. Richard Williams, the man who gave birth to the clownish Rabbit and directed the animation, was also given a Special Achievement Award.

In Roger Rabbit, the Buena Vista bunch paid tongue-in-cheek homage to the wise-guy humor, the physical comedy, and the hyperactive Daffyness of rival Warner Brothers animation studios—and spoofed their own characters for good measure. The result is a film that’s light years away from the ultra-wholesome Mary Poppins. Many parents won’t want their little ones watching until they reach the cusp of puberty.  There’s cursing, shouting, violence, hard drinking, big bosoms, sexual innuendo . . . and that’s just the first 15 minutes.

Released by Touchstone Pictures, Disney’s adult division, this one isn’t really aimed at small children. It’s an affectionate parody of 1940s hard-boiled detective flicks (especially trenchcoat Bogie affairs like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep) that also draws inspiration from Chinatown. Somehow it manages to combine a moody, shadowy noir atmosphere with the Acme gag-a-minute Tex Avery style of exaggerated animation that kept knocking characters like Wile E. Coyote for a loop.   More

WESTWORLD (Blu-ray)

1 Comment

westworldGrade:  B
Entire family:  No

1973, 89 min., Color
Rated PG for violence, adult situations
Warner Bros.

Aspect ratio:  2.40:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C+

Trailer

Twenty years before Jurassic Park, Michael Crighton created another film about a high-tech fantasy theme park brought to its knees by science and technology run amok. Westworld was the writer-director’s first feature, and while it’s not as engrossing as the dino experience, older children and sci-fi lovers will still like this one.

As an overlong “commercial” tells us, Westworld is really one world in a three-world fantasy theme park that also includes Roman World and Medieval World. Here, bored vacationers of the future can pay $1000 per day to live out their fantasies as gunslingers, sheriffs, lords and ladies, or Roman nobles and slaves in worlds that are authentic in every detail. At the core of every theme park are a cadre of robots that look and behave exactly like people—even bleed like humans—except for one thing. “They haven’t perfected the hands yet,” re-visitor John (James Brolin) tells his first-timer friend Peter (Richard Benjamin).

Only hours into their fantasy experience, the two of them are having a drink at the saloon when a mean-looking hombre (Yul Brynner) knocks into Peter and ridicules him until, goaded by his friend, Peter engages him in a gunfight. He wins, of course, because at Westworld, as John reminds, the guests’ fantasies are always fulfilled. More

Older Entries Newer Entries