Home

FRIENDS: SEASON 2 (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

friends2coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No
1995-96, 544 min. (24 episodes), Color
Unrated (would be PG-13 for sexual talk/situations)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  D

You know a TV series is going to be a classic when its second season is just as well written as the first. That was the case with Friends, which kept the laughs coming as audiences got to know the characters better. In fact, a Huffpost TV countdown of the Top 10 Friends Episodes of all time included three from Season 2: “The One with Ross’s New Girlfriend” (when Joey finds out that his family’s tailor isn’t supposed to be using “cuppage” to measure the inseam on men), “The One Where Ross and Rachel . . . You Know” (where feelings finally surface), and “The One with the Prom Video” (where Rachel learns from an old prom video how much Ross has always loved her).  More

Advertisements

SHANGHAI NOON / SHANGHAI KNIGHTS (Blu-ray)

Leave a comment

shanghaicoverGrade:  B+,  C+
Shanghai Noon / Shanghai Knights
Entire family: Yes . . . and no
2000 / 2003, 110 min. / 114 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for action violence, some drug humor, language and sensuality / sexual content
Touchstone / Disney
Aspect ratio:  2.35:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  C+
Trailer 1 / Trailer 2

Shanghai Noon isn’t just a fun pun on the Gary Cooper classic Western, High Noon. It’s a clever variation on the buddy cop picture, with Jackie Chan showing both his comic chops and his martial arts skills, and Owen Wilson doing what he does best—playing a laid-back, chick-magnet California surfer dude (this time, in the body of an Old West train robber) whose tongue-in-cheek verbal riffs are as funny as any stand-up routine. The two have great chemistry together, and the original concept plus a first-time feature director give them plenty of room to ad lib.

Although Shanghai Noon is rated PG-13, you rarely feel that young eyes should be shielded. There’s alcohol and drug use, but it’s played for laughs. There’s a brothel, but it just looks like Wilson’s character is popular with the ladies. There’s plenty of martial arts violence, but it’s imaginatively choreographed and, for the most part, also played for big laughs. There’s a little language, but the most blatant example occurs in subtitles. Yes, it’s a little weird when the boys have their Viagra moment in side-by-side bathtubs—eventually ending up in the same one—but this film is more comedy than action film, and more action film than it is a Western.

Even family members who don’t care much for Westerns might enjoy this one. Chon Wang (Chan) is a member of the Royal Guard who leaves the Forbidden City of China with his uncle and three other guards to ransom Princess Pei Pei (Lucy Liu), who is being held in Carson City, Nevada. In America he has an Indian encounter and runs afoul of a gang whose leader (Wilson) has lost all control of his minions. A series of unfortunate events brings them together as partners faster than you can say Lemony Snicket. There’s a formula at work, and a few montages feel a bit long and obligatory, but Shanghai Noon is a still a fun film that our whole family could enjoy. The trailer will give you a sense of whether it’s right for your family.

That’s not the case with Shanghai Knights, the throw-in movie on this double feature that tosses more language and blatantly sexual situations at you. Even I was slightly uncomfortable when a young woman licks Wilson’s face from chin to brow. The joke was that he was fantasizing, and it was really a goat licking him, but still, it’s graphic sexuality. The language stands out more in the sequel, as well. Frankly, so does everything else. Whatever elements made Shanghai Noon a success were duplicated times five. Subtlety is not this movie’s middle name. The fun banter over cultural differences and Chinese names and Chan’s comic fight sequences are more over-the-top in Shanghai Knights—in one scene, a fight with Chan using umbrellas turns into a Singin’ in the Rain homage—and the violence is a little more graphic.  More

FRIENDS: SEASON 1 (Blu-ray)

1 Comment

Friends1coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No

1994-95, 542 min. (24 episodes), Color
Unrated (would be PG-13 for sexual talk/situations)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  C

There’s no getting around it. Today’s kids are more sophisticated and worldly than they were even in the ‘90s, when this primetime sitcom first aired. It’s an odd place for kids to be, caught between childhood innocence and adulthood. But it’s the same place that the characters in Friends find themselves:  legally adult, yet still not feeling all grown up, still bantering and hanging out like high school or college students. They’re too old to be spending all their time with family, and too young, unlucky (or immature) to have found a permanent relationship and start a family of their own.

That “limbo” factor is one reason why Friends appeals to teens and ‘tweens as well as their parents. Plus, the writing is razor sharp and there are laugh-out-loud moments every five minutes or so.

Friends has extended life because the humor isn’t topical, it’s based on comedy of character. You get Monica (Courtney Cox), the obsessive compulsive who needs everything and everyone to be clean and in its place; Ross (David Schwimmer), her science-geek brother who’s more comfortable talking about dinosaur bones than he is the opposite sex; Chandler (Matthew Perry), who uses sarcasm to mask his own insecurities; Joey, the not-too-bright, wannabe actor ladies man (Matt LeBlanc); Rachel, a spoiled, not-so-bright rich girl who needs to prove she can make it on her own, like everyone else; and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow), the New Age faux-folk singer who’s as ditzy as a screwball comedy character.

Though the plots revolve around their various relationships, it’s the way that they relate to each other on a daily basis that anchors the series. And it’s not only the characters. This ensemble is as good as any ever assembled for a television comedy. Their delivery, their timing, their body language, their expressions, and the way they play off of each other are near-perfect.  More

SOFIA THE FIRST: ONCE UPON A PRINCESS (DVD)

Leave a comment

SofiatheFirstcoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  No
2012, 48 min. TV pilot, Color
Rated G
Disney Junior
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1 “enhanced” widescreen
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  Just a sing-along option
Trailer

What do you get when you mix the Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty fairy tales with a wand-wave of Disney’s live-action Princess Diaries?

Well, if you use Playhouse Disney-style CGI animation and gear it toward preschoolers, you get Sofia the First: Once Upon a Princess, the 48-minute pilot for a Disney Junior TV series that drew 5.2 million viewers when it first aired.

Disney took some heat over a character who may or may not be Latina enough, and of course there came the usual outcry that it’s yet another attempt to indoctrinate little girls into the princess mindset, training them to be lifetime believers in the dream and consumers of the product tie-ins. But let’s not forget that fairy tales have been around since the 1600s, and at least Disney has refined the lessons to be learned so that they include such positive values as independence, determination, hard work, kindness, generosity, poise, and being true to oneself.  More

THE LITTLE MERMAID Blu-ray will be released October 1

Leave a comment

LittleMermaidcoverDisney announced that The Little Mermaid will be released in HD for the first time on October 1 in a Diamond Edition that includes a Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD, Digital Copy, and “Music.” We can guess that since “CD” wasn’t used that the songs will be downloadable.

The 1989 classic started a Broadway-style revival in Disney animation, with show-stopping songs in a story loosely based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen.

DELHI SAFARI (DVD)

Leave a comment

DelhiSafaricoverGrade:  C-
Entire family:  No
2012, 97 min., Color
Rated PG for violence, menacing action, rude humor, suggestive content, and thematic elements
Arc Entertainment
Aspect ratio:  Letterboxed 1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features:  None
Trailer

Here’s another one that bears the “Family Approved” Dove symbol, and PETA is reportedly behind it as well. But I can’t recommend Delhi Safari, and my children were even harder on it.

I was excited to watch this film because it’s the first animated feature from India that I’ve run across. Curiously, though, writer-director Nikhil Advani hardly showcases India. A single parrot sings a Bollywood song, the countryside is either generic or it resembles the backdrop of The Lion King, and few details ring true.

At what train station in India, for example, would we find only a handful of passengers waiting for a train? And is there a train in India that doesn’t have people riding on the roofs of cars or hanging out the windows? Even shots of Delhi are remarkably open and airy, with only enough cars and people to populate the frame. To me, it felt like a wasted opportunity. My wife, who’s half Indian, felt the same. We would have preferred Indian actors to the usual American voice actor suspects: Christopher Lloyd, Cary Elwes, Jane Lynch, Brad Garrett, Vanessa Williams, and Jason Alexander.  More

DISNEYNATURE: WINGS OF LIFE (Blu-ray combo)

Leave a comment

wingscoverGrade:  C+
Entire family:  No
2011, 80 min., Color
Rated G
Disney
Aspect ratio:  1.85:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  D
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD
Trailer

In our house, any film that doesn’t hold the kids’ interest after 20 minutes can be turned off, because life is too short to spend it watching unsatisfying movies or TV shows.

Disneynature: Wings of Life is far from a bad film, but it struck me as one with a core premise that also posed an impossible challenge. How do you focus primarily on time-lapse photography and dramatically slowed-down video, yet avoid slowing down the narrative in the process? And how do you make a subject like flowers and pollination seem interesting?

To my mind, you don’t do it with the kind of hushed-voice narration we heard in the early days of nature filmmaking. My kids were already rolling their eyes as the sedate narrator talked in the kind of soothing voice that hypnotists use. It’s a wonder narrator Meryl Streep didn’t put herself to sleep, the lines are so pedestrian and the delivery so very, very somnolent.

And when that voice announced five minutes into the film, “I am a flower,” I thought my kids were going to toss their bowls of popcorn.  That’s the somewhat hokey narrative angle writer-director Louie Schwartzberg chose for Wings of Life, which, I told the kids, ought to be called “Pollen” because it’s what the film is really about. As it turns out, Pollen is the title it’s known by in France. When it was originally shown in the U.K., though, this 80-minute documentary was called Hidden Beauty: A Love Story That Feeds the Earth. Now in the U.S., it’s Wings of Life. I’m no marketing whiz, but isn’t it a sign of trouble when a film has to be renamed over and over again to try to attract an audience?  More

Older Entries