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ROGER DAY: MARSH MUD MADNESS (DVD)

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MarshmudcoverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  No
2013, 52 min., Color
Unrated (would be G)
Aspect ratio:  16×9
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  none
Rogerday.com

This DVD is for the little ones in the family—though the music is catchy enough and the performance so accomplished that others may enjoy Roger Day: Marsh Mud Madness.

If you haven’t heard of Roger Day, he’s a Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning singer-songwriter who performs with a very young audience (ages 5-7) in mind. Day is the children’s Jimmy Buffett, a laid-back but enthusiastic fellow whose catchy, clever songs have the same goofy wordplay that made Buffett a hit with adults. His voice and stage mannerisms are even somewhat like Buffett’s, though that could be a regional thing. Both Day and Buffett were born in Alabama, and their music has that same unique sound that Buffett described as “Gulf and Western.”

In his most recent DVD, Day runs onto the stage at the Savannah (Georgia) Music Festival and with his very first song has the kids in the audience joining in with hand and arm gestures. Some of them are clearly older—up to second grade, I would say—but en masse they all still get involved. Day easily hooks them with assignments he gives for each song, and at mid-point in the concert he gets them to stand up and jump like a dolphin as he sings a song about it. So he knows how to handle fidgety little ones, and knows that if his unique back-up band (a violin, upright bass, and two percussionists) gets a groove going, he can talk to the children before he sings a song and teach them a thing or two.

Marsh Mud Madness is a unified set that offers lessons about the ecosystem of the marshes and beaches of the barrier islands on America’s eastern seaboard. What’s lost by having to watch a DVD of the performance rather than being part of that live experience is gained by the intercutting of nature footage that illustrates just what Day is singing about. Like one of the Kratt brothers, he seems just as at ease talking about nature as he does singing onstage. In fact, I would say that if you have a child who’s age seven and under who likes Kratt’s Creatures and music, Marsh Mud Madness will probably be a hit.   More

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CLEOPATRA (50th Anniversary Blu-ray)

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CleopatracoverGrade:  B
Entire family:  Yes (and no)
1963, 251 min., Color
Unrated (would be PG for some violence and sensuality)
Aspect ratio:  2.20:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  A-
Trailer

Until 1993, Cleopatra was the most expensive film Hollywood produced, and it’s also the last of the BIG Hollywood spectacles—which makes it a film every movie-lover ought to see at least once.

Cleopatra would probably merit a PG stamp because of some violence and sensuality—though it all seems tame by today’s standards. There’s more drama than action, with the most violence occurring when Julius Caesar is stabbed on the Ides of March. Other killings are offstage, and while there’s talk of a rival general’s head, only the top is shown pulled from a jar, not the features. As for sensuality, star Elizabeth Taylor is shown in a bath and it’s clear she’s nude, though you can’t see anything. She also appears in several scenes nude but artfully covered with drapery. The most revealing shot shows the full-length contour of her body from the side, with her buttocks covered. African dancers later wear what could be called oversized “pasties,” but many families will find nothing here to prevent younger family members from watching. It’s all pretty tastefully handled.

Of more concern for family movie night is the film’s length—more than four hours—and the talky nature of many scenes. Though Cleopatra is an epic, the emphasis is the politics and relationships among three historical figures: Cleopatra, Caesar (Rex Harrison), and Marc Antony (Richard Burton). Children under 13 may need an explanation of what’s going on, as director and co-writer Joseph Mankiewicz stayed pretty close to Plutarch’s published account of Julius Caesar’s life. Most of what you see really happened, but Caesar’s interests in Egypt and senatorial politics in Rome can seem confusing.

In the first half (there’s an intermission) Caesar is charmed by Cleopatra, and their relationship runs parallel to each of their political ambitions. The second half of the film picks up after Caesar’s death, with Cleopatra leaving Rome for Egypt again. She’s pursued romantically by Caesar’s trusted lieutenant, Marc Antony, who wants to build a political base for himself and his army in Egypt, because of the threat to his own dreams of empire posed by Caesar’s nephew, Octavian (Roddy McDowall).

If the action is dwarfed by politics, the plot seems secondary to the spectacle itself. Cleopatra earned nine Oscar nominations and also won for cinematography, costume design, and special effects. Our teenage son, who enjoyed the film despite its length and overlong scenes, said he’d give it three-and-a-half stars, while our ‘tween daughter appreciated the glam but found it too slow-going.  More

DANCE ACADEMY: SEASON 2, VOL. 1 (DVD)

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DanceAcademy2.1coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  Yes
2011, 325 min. (13 episodes), Color
Unrated (would be PG for mature themes)
New Video
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  D+
Trailer 

I frankly don’t know why New Video is marketing the first two seasons of Dance Academy as four separate DVDs, because this teen/’tween series—intelligent enough for adults but still acceptable for younger family members—has a continuing storyline. If you get hooked, you’re going to buy all of the DVDs. And Season 2, like the first, has a definable arc.

The Australian-made half-hour TV drama gets a little soapier the second time around, with a serious injury, divorce, a life-threatening illness, a domineering stage mom, a false claim of sexual harassment, a search for a birth father, and a death all written into the script. In the first half of the season, the emphasis seems more on relationships and personal dramas than on dance, and that can turn off older boys in the family who aren’t into (or who don’t want to appear as if they’re interested in) that sort of thing. Season 2 has lying, backstabbing, and more of an OMG feel to it than the first. But it’s just as addictive. The characters are interesting, the writing is believable, and the direction nothing short of a marvel, if you consider that believable drama develops, unfolds, and plays itself out in effective 22-minute chunks.   More

Original MUPPET MOVIE to arrive in HD on August 13

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MuppetMoviecoverThree years after The Muppet Show debuted on TV in 1976 with puppets and routines that were clever enough for adults as well as children, Jim Henson and his magic-makers filmed The Muppet Movie to equally wide acclaim. And now it’s coming to Blu-ray on August 13, 2013, with bonus features that include Disney Intermission and new never-before-seen content. The film—rated G and  with a runtime of 95 minutes—will be presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio with Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Wacka Wacka!

Four more Disney animated features announced for Blu-ray release

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Four more Disney animated features will come to Blu-ray for the first time this summer. On August 6, look for Oliver & Company, Robin Hood, and The Sword in the Stone, and on August 20 you can pick up Peter Pan: Return to Never Land, one of Disney’s more successful sequels.

Each title will be released on a combo pack that includes a DVD and Digital Copy. The audio for each will be an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, while the video presentation varies. The aspect ratio for Robin Hood and Return to Never Land is 1.66:1; for The Sword in the Stone it’s 1.75:1; and for Oliver & Company it’s 1.85:1.

olivercoverrobinhoodcoverswordinthestonecoverReturntoneverlandcover

DANCE ACADEMY: SEASON 1, VOL. 1 (DVD)

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dance1.1coverGrade:  A-
Entire family:  Yes
2010, 325 min. (13 episodes), Color
Unrated (would be PG for mature themes)
New Video
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features:  D
Trailer

What a drought it’s been! For the past several weeks I’ve received no screeners appropriate for family viewing . . . until Dance Academy turned up on my doorstep. Like H20: Just Add Water, it’s an Australian-made half-hour TV drama aimed at ‘tweens and teens, but good enough to draw in the whole family. I haven’t seen Center Stage, but my dancing daughter tells me Dance Academy is like the TV version.

If you have younger children, though, be warned that while it would still be rated PG, Dance Academy is a darker, edgier drama than the campy fantasy we got in the mermaid show. One male dancer with a troubled past steals and fights. A female dancer comes unhinged because her breasts are getting bigger and she thinks it will topple her chances of becoming a prima ballerina. The edgier content is evident from the very first sequence, when one of the girls auditioning for the National Dance Academy in Sydney is directed to the men’s locker room instead of the women’s, and is standing there in her bra when a boy walks in. Of course, except for the color, what we see is no different from the bikini tops the mermaids wore in H20, but the context is totally different.

Though Dance Academy is an ensemble show, the focus is on Tara (Xenia Goodwin), a naive first-year student from isolated sheep country who lacks the training of her counterparts. She crushes on the cute guy, tries to find out which friends she can trust, and navigates the tricky regulations and unwritten rules of the Academy—a live-in high school for both sexes where dance takes top priority over other classes (as with Glee) never shown.   More