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ScoobyDooSurfsUpcoverGrade: B+
Entire family: Yes
1969-2015, 272 min. (13 cartoons), Color
Not rated (would be G, easily)
Warner Bros.
Aspect ratio: Varies (see below)
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: N/A
Trailer/Amazon link

“Scooby-Doo! and the Beach Beastie” is a brand-new 22-minute cartoon and the sixth direct-to-DVD offering of its kind. But when you compare this latest effort with the “filler” added to flesh out the two-disc Scooby-Doo! 13 Spooky Tales: Surf’s Up, Scooby-Doo!, you almost wish that Warner Bros. had substituted a few more older episodes instead. “Beach Beastie” is by far the weakest, a going-through-the-motions affair that relies too much on Fred’s paranoia over nets and Scooby’s new love interest. It also offers too little in the way of mystery and phony monster moments—the two driving forces behind the popular franchise. What we get this time is a water monster that we’ve seen too many times before in other films.

Though a few voiceover actors and the style of drawing and animation changed over the years, the formula remains mostly the same: the Mystery, Inc. gang (timid Great Dane Scooby-Doo, always hungry Shaggy, bookish Velma, stylish Daphne, and All-American guy Fred) rambled onto the scene where a monster or ghost was terrifying people. Sometimes they were hired to get to the bottom of things, while other times they helped out a friend or simply “fell into” a mystery while trying to take a vacation—often to some exotic location. And always the unmasking revealed a phony monster with someone inside or with a remote control manipulating it for revenge or personal gain.

I don’t know if Warner Bros. deliberately chose “filler” episodes from a full range of Saturday-morning Scooby-Doo! cartoon shows, but to me that variety is the chief bonus. You really get a sense of the whole arc of this franchise. If only Warner Bros. had arranged the episodes in order, so viewers could better see how the characters and the series developed over 40 years. As is, the episodes are arranged either thematically (if you’re a glass half-full person) or randomly (if half-empty).  More

New on Blu-ray and DVD (May 5, 2015)

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SelmaThe top release this week will have limited family appeal because of its frank depiction of violence. Selma, a 2014 historical drama starring David Oyelowo as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., tells the story of the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery over voting rights. In Alabama, blacks were being prevented from registering to vote by any means possible, including threats and bombings. This mass march, which ended at the steps of the Alabama State Capitol—where Gov. Wallace had ordered his troopers to shoot anyone who so much as touched the Capitol steps—led to President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. As happens with most films based on real events, there are omissions and inaccuracies, but this PG-13 film still manages to deliver a powerful history lesson for families with mid-teens. Look for it on Blu-ray or DVD this week.

SinatraFans of musicals can latch onto the Frank Sinatra 5-Film Collection on Blu-ray this week. It features two sailor-leave musicals from the ‘40s, the 1955 film version of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls, the wonderful prohibition-era Rat Pack musical Robin and the 7 Hoods, and the heist/caper flick Ocean’s 11—all rated PG. I gave it a collective B in my review, and if your family likes old movies this is a good collection to get.

LadyhawkeFantasy fans, meanwhile, might like to check out the Blu-ray release of Richard Donner’s (Superman II) 1985 film Ladyhawke, starring the unlikely cast of Matthew Broderick, Michelle Pfeiffer, Rutger Hauer, and Alfred Molina. It’s about two lovers who are cursed to be, respectively, a wolf by night and a hawk by day. To break the spell they have to join forces with a thief (Broderick) to overthrow the corrupt bishop (Molina). It can seem a little slow and difficult to follow at times, which is more of a reason for the PG-13 rating than the violence and brief surprising nudity (a woman’s breast, wounded by an arrow).

Spare PartsIf you want to take a chance on a film that will win over some viewers and reduce others to shrugs, there’s Spare Parts, a brand-new movie starring George Lopez and Jamie Lee Curtis about four illegal immigrants in high school who form a robotics club and enter an underwater robot competition that draws some of the country’s most heralded schools, among them perennial robotics champ MIT. Call it a different kind of underdog story, out on DVD only.

FugitiveAfter that, it’s all about television. Fans of the old-time serial The Fugitive: Complete Series, starring David Janssen, can get this black-and-white (three seasons) and color (one season) drama in a complete series DVD release this week. Rated #36 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time, it featured Janssen as a doctor who returned home one night to find his wife dead and glimpse a one-armed man escaping. The rest of the series focused on his escape from a train en route to death row and his subsequent flight across the U.S., working here and there and always doing his part to patch up people’s lives—as one would expect a doctor like Richard Kimble to do. Tracking him is Police Lieutenant Philip Gerard (Barry Morse), but Kimble manages to stay one jump ahead of him and one step behind the one-armed man he’s trying to find to clear his name. It’s a milestone TV series that will be popular with families who are into older crime dramas.

CheersFamilies with older children are the audience for Cheers: Complete Series, a beloved ‘80s sitcom about the regulars in a Boston bar run by an ex-Red Sox pitcher (Ted Danson), a ladies man who has epic pursuits of a college-educated waitress (Shelley Long) and the manager (Kirstie Alley) designated by the corporation that took over his bar Cheers to run things. An all-star ensemble cast includes perennial Pixar voice talent John Ratzenberger as mailman and know-it-all Cliff Clavin, Second City alum George Wendt as barfly Norm Peterson, Kelsey Grammer as egghead psychologist Dr. Frasier Crane, Rhea Perlman as an obnoxious waitress, and Woody Harrelson as a naive bartender. It’s out on DVD this week.

DuelFinally, for TV thrills there’s the movie version of the Stephen King short story Duel, starring Dennis Weaver (TV’s McCloud) as a businessman on a drive that encounters a driver of a semi-truck whose actions go much beyond road rage. He must have been watching the news. It’s out on Blu-ray for the first time.



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EdSullivancoverGrade: C+
Entire family: Yes, but….
1948-71, 444 min., B&W and Color
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0
Bonus features: C+/B-
Amazon link

Baby Boomers grew up with The Ed Sullivan Show, the last great variety series that TV produced. From 1948 to 1971, families tuned in every Sunday night to watch Sullivan’s TV version of the old vaudeville shows: an odd and often surprising mixture of novelty acts, animal acts, musical acts, and comedy acts. But he also introduced cutting-edge rock ‘n’ roll, soul, and pop bands, and it was such an American tradition that The Ed Sullivan Show was immortalized in the Broadway play Bye Bye Birdie and ranked #15 on TV Guide’s list of 50 Greatest TV Shows of All Time.

Most people who buy this set will do so because of nostalgia. Like me, they grew up watching Sullivan and, like so many comedians, probably even tried their hand at imitating him. Many Americans first saw Elvis Presley and The Beatles on Sullivan’s show, and this 6-DVD Collector’s Set celebrates those milestones and others.

But there are two things that you should know about this set. First, five of the discs have been previously available as single DVDs. The Very Best of The Ed Sullivan Show, Vol. 1: Unforgettable Performances is the same disc we get here—a clip show hosted by Carol Burnett. Same with The Ed Sullivan Show: 50th Anniversary Special (a clip show hosted by The Smothers Brothers), The Ed Sullivan Show: The All-Star Comedy Special (another clip show hosted by Mary Tyler Moore), The Ed Sullivan Show: World’s Greatest Novelty Acts, and The Ed Sullivan Show: Amazing Animal Acts. The sixth disc of bonus interviews included in this set seems culled from the two main clip shows.

The other thing you should know is that there isn’t a single complete show included in this collection, and the clips are REALLY clipped. My family isn’t a fan of clip shows, because you don’t get the full context or, in this case, even the full performance most of the time. Everything is just a snippet here and a snippet there, and with so many different clip DVDs there’s a lot of repetition, too.

The only disc where you are really okay with the length of the clips is the Amazing Animal Acts disc. That’s because the idea of animals performing tricks is enough of a unifying theme that you don’t mind seeing only snippets . . . plus, the clips vary in length, with some of the performances longer than others, and some close to complete appearances. There are trained birds that count, a dog that counts, chimps that do acrobatic routines and walk on stilts, trained sea lions, elephants, a bear that grabs an ice cream cone right out of Sullivan’s mouth, and a historic moment when lion tamer Clyde Beatty assembled his act on a smaller-than-usual stage against his better judgment and lost control of a lion. Rather than focus on the problem on center stage, Sullivan walks into the audience to introduce celebrities. You can hear Beatty firing blanks in the background as he tries to scare the big cat back into submission. There are a number of moments like that on this five-disc clip compilation, but few that run as long or feel as complete. If you remove nostalgia from the equation, the “Amazing Animal Acts” disc is probably the only disc that my family enjoyed, and you can pick up the Amazing Animal Acts DVD separately for $14.95.

Don’t get me wrong. We liked seeing Bill Haley and the Comets, Elvis Presley, Sonny & Cher, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, and The Beatles, but with each of those acts we wanted more. The clips felt like a tease, and I frankly would have preferred a set that offered the two main clip shows plus discs that featured complete installments of The Ed Sullivan Show so that today’s families could really get a taste of what their counterparts 50 years ago watched. And it’s surprising how much of the comedy in that clip show seems dated or is no longer funny. Were they really the best of the show’s long run? It didn’t seem so to us.

Bottom line: The Ed Sullivan Show is an American classic, but chopping it into itty bitty pieces isn’t the best way to experience it.

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