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New on Blu-ray and DVD (June 16, 2015)

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The best family movie this week is (wait for it) . . . a family movie.

spiritridersSpirit Riders (2015) stars Allie DeBerry (Disney’s A.N.T. Farm) as a troubled teen who is sentenced to attend an equine therapy camp. There she forms a bond with a feisty thoroughbred and helps him settle down and accept his post-racing life, even as the ranch owner (Lance Henriksen, Aliens) helps her to lose her anger and find a way to get her life back on track. C. Thomas Howell (The Outsiders) also stars in this feel-good drama. Look for it on DVD. It has the Dove seal of approval

TimeLapseThen there’s Time Lapse (2014), a sci-fi thriller about three friends who discover a strange machine that takes photos 24 hours into the future. Naturally, they decide to have some fun and maybe profit somehow, but nothing is that simple, is it? Time Lapse is out on Blu-ray for the first time. It’s not rated, but there is a lot of swearing, including the dreaded “f-word.”

Laverne&ShirleyFor more wholesome fare you have to go back in time. Like the ‘50s and ‘70s. This week Laverne & Shirley: The Complete Series comes out on DVD, along with The Odd Couple: The Complete Series, also on DVD. L&S is sillier and more slapstick, with the appeal of ‘50s nostalgia as we get to know two blue-collar Milwaukee brewery workers as they date and dream. It stars Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams, with a memorable (and yes, funny) cast of supporting characters. The series still holds up for families today.

OddCoupleThe Odd Couple (1970-75) was higher rated, but the TV adaptation of the Neil Simon play is also a little more dependent on character conflict: Felix (Tony Randall) is the neat freak divorcee, while Oscar (Jack Klugman) is the divorced slob. Can two divorced men live together? The Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning show also stars Al Marinaro (Happy Days), Penny Marshall (Laverne & Shirley), and Elinor Donahue (The Andy Griffith Show). Though the DVD notes say it’s edited (no doubt because of music rights), the show is still fun to watch.

RobinHoodAnd if you go REALLY far back in time you can get catch the ‘50s version of the Middle Ages in The Adventures of Robin Hood, a TV series aimed at children starring Richard Greene. A 39-episode release comes out this week from TV Guide and it’s dripping with nostalgia. Unless, that is, you’re seeing it for the first time—in which case you’ll find it surprisingly entertaining. It too is only available on DVD.

NewsroomFinally, for more sophisticated viewers with older children there’s The Newsroom: Season 3, available on Blu-ray and DVD. Aaron Sorkin does for the newsroom what he did for The West Wing, and Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer star in this smartly written commentary on today’s media.

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New on Blu-ray and DVD (June 9, 2015)

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Once again there’s not much in the way of family-friendly new releases: just a ‘60s TV series about a veterinarian in Africa, an off-brand animated dinosaur adventure, and, for families with older children that have a more sophisticated range, and a 1939 classic Ernst Lubitsch comedy.

Daktari3Daktari means “doctor” in Swahili, and for four seasons this TV drama-adventure aimed at children entertained the target audience on CBS. Marshall Thompson played Dr. Tracy, a vet working in East Africa to study animals and also protect them from poachers and politicians. Cheryl Miller played his daughter, Paula, but the real stars were compound “pets” like Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion and Judy the Chimpanzee. Season 4 comes out on DVD this week, and it was this season that introduced Erin Moran (who struck sitcom gold as Joannie in Happy Days five years later) as a young orphan. The series was created by Ivan Tors, who gave TV audiences Sea Hunt a decade earlier and Gentle Ben a decade later. Tors was also the man behind the Flipper movies. If you have children who are wildlife experts, they might cringe to see tigers and Indian elephants and possibly suspect that real footage of Africa was intercut with footage shot in California—which was the case. But these 15 episodes (755 min. runtime) are still entertaining.

BacktotheJurassicFor young children there’s Back to the Jurassic, a 2015 follow-up to the off-brand Dino Time (2012) featuring the voices of Rob Schneider, Melanie Griffith, William Baldwin, and Jane Lynch. The animated adventure follows three young friends who accidentally start a time machine and end up in the Jurassic Period, “adopted” by a dinosaur mom who has a rough-and-playful son of her own. Will they survive before their parents can work in present time to save them? This one comes with the Dove seal of approval. Look for it on 3D Blu-ray (+ Blu-ray + DVD) combo pack or DVD.

NinotchkaIt’s the American Film Institute that approves of Ninotchka, rating it #40 on their list of 100 Top Romances and #52 on their list of 100 Top Comedies. Ernst Lubitsch’s 1939 film concerns a Stalin-era Soviet official who is sent to Paris to bring back three Russians who were supposed to sell jewelry that the State confiscated during the Russian Revolution . . . but never returned. The government suspects they’ve been corrupted by Western decedance, and they trust a harsh special envoy named Nina Ivanova “Ninotchka” Yakushova (Greta Garbo) to set things right. But the Count (Melvyn Douglas) who wooed the three Russians into staying in the West can be quite persuasive. Ninotchka is a different kind of romantic comedy, and the first film to portray Stalin’s Russia as the all-gray, severe country that would become a cliché in later Hollywood films. It’s out on Blu-ray this week for the very first time.

Family adventure-comedy INNERSPACE to debut on Blu-ray

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InnerspacecoverIt’s tough to find PG-rated movies that deliver adventure AND laughs, but that’s what audiences got from Innerspace, an underrated 1987 adventure-comedy starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan. It was a take-off on the mega-popular Fantastic Voyage (1966), in which Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch were among a group of that was miniaturized and injected into the bloodstream of an important diplomat who had been shot, in an attempt to save his life.

On August 4, Innerspace comes to Blu-ray for the first time, and all those great special effects should look even better in HD.

In Innerspace, Short plays a store clerk who is accidentally injected with a miniaturized man and submarine in a top-secret experiment gone wrong—hardly the ideal situation for a hypochondriac to know there’s something and someone cruising around inside him.  Quaid plays the cocky test pilot who is dependent upon Short to save his life, while Ryan is Quaid’s onscreen girlfriend, with whom Short also becomes slightly enamored. Naturally thieves want to get their hands on the material, the government decides that the test pilot is expendable, and the race is on. It’s directed by Joe Dante, who also gave us Gremlins. 

You can pre-order the film now at Amazon for $9.99 instead of the $14.98 list price.

 

New on Blu-ray and DVD (June 2, 2015)

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Opinions will vary, but from where I’m sitting there are three new releases worth talking about this week. To watch the best one, your family has to be willing to give an old-time Western a chance.

RioBravoThe legendary John Wayne teams up with the equally legendary director Howard Hawks in Rio Bravo, a 1959 Western starring Wayne as a sheriff who enlists the help of a drunk (Dean Martin), a hot-tempered youth (Ricky Nelson), and a crippled old man (Walter Brennan) to hold off attempts to break a murderer out of jail. Angie Dickinson and Ward Bond also star in this American classic, which has as many interesting characters and exchanges of dialogue as fist or gunfights. Along with Red River, it’s one of the best movies Hawks and Wayne made together, and Rio Bravo comes to Blu-ray for the first time this week.

FallingSkies4If Westerns aren’t your thing and you’ve been caught up in the human struggle to survive invading aliens in the hit TV series Falling Skies, Season 4 comes to Blu-ray and DVD this week, and it’s a good one. Noah Wyle (of E.R. fame) heads a likable cast that includes Moon Bloodgood, Will Patton, Connor Jessup, Maxim Knight, and Drew Roy in a scenario that resembles underground resistance fighters in Nazi-held Europe—the difference being that these invaders aren’t jackboots. They’re aliens who have kidnapped and enslaved human children and who use robotic creatures to help seek out survivors to eradicate. It’s rated TV-14 mostly for sci-fi violence, but there’s also occasional drinking and swearing. Still, it’s a pretty addictive show. Can you jump in with Season 4 if you haven’t seen the other three seasons? Probably not. You’ll wonder who each faction is, who the Espheni are, and what other characters are getting into a snit over.

SpongeBobMovieYou needn’t have seen the SpongeBob SquarePants TV series to “get” The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water. In fact, it might help, because, like the Scooby-Doo! and Casper movies, this 3D CGI offering has totally different animation from the original TV show. But fans may want to see what the characters look like in this new animated style, and in a slow release week it’s worth mentioning. But be warned: it’s not as good as the first full-length feature. Though the voice actors for SpongeBob and his goofy pals are the same as in the TV series and The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie (2004), the writing isn’t as sharp, and the plot seems more clichéd and non-specific to the quirky world of Bikini Bottom. But hey, it’s a slow week, and maybe your family will want more than cowboys and aliens. Look for it on Blu-ray/3D Blu-ray combo or DVD.

New on Blu-ray and DVD (May 26, 2015)

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SonsofLibertyTopping the list of this week’s releases is the HISTORY Channel drama Sons of Liberty, which is available on both Blu-ray and DVD. The highly-rated series, based on true stories, follows the destinies of a group of different men who come together to fight for freedom in the American Revolution. Not rated, it would merit a TV-14 rating because of several no-nudity sex scenes, heavy realistic violence, and drinking and smoking. That’s no surprise, because in reality the Minutemen were having a few at Buckman’s Tavern prior to that shot that was heard round the world. It stars Ben Barnes as Sam Adams, Henry Thomas as John Adams, Jason O’Mara as George Washington, Dean Norris as Ben Franklin, Michael Raymond-James as Paul Revere, Ryan Eggold as Joseph Warren, and Marton Csokas as Gen. Thomas Gage.

YellowbeardHistory gets a little more distorted—make that a LOT more—in Yellowbeard, a takeoff on pirate movies starring Monty Python’s Graham Chapman as the title character and featuring a high-powered cast of comic actors, among them Cheech & Chong, Peter Boyle, Madeline Kahn, John Cleese, Kenneth Mars, and Marty Feldman. It’s eccentric and erratic and you walk away from it thinking that it probably could have been funnier, but Monty Python fans ought to get a kick out of it. In this one, Capt. Yellowbeard is allowed to escape from prison in the hopes that he’ll lead authorities to his treasure. But he’s in for a shock. His wife never mentioned that he has a 20-year-old son who’s (of all things) an intellectual, which complicates a Great Race to get to the treasure before his old crewmates or the British navy. Yellowbeard comes to Blu-ray for the first time this week and is rated PG, though you’d have to say that the censors were being overly generous. There’s some brief frontal nudity and comic references to rape, plus comic gore and violence—at least enough to merit a PG-13 rating nowadays.

WonderYears3For safer, more wholesome family fare that doesn’t list so far to starboard, there’s The Wonder Years: Season 3, starring Fred Savage as the narrator Kevin Arnold, who talks about growing up during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s in a family with an uncommunicative father, a doting mother, a hippie sister, and an older brother who takes delight in picking on him. Add a brainy best friend and a first (and second, and third) love, and it all adds up to one of television’s best coming-of-age family comedy-dramas. This season Kevin meets an older girl during summer vacation, butts heads with an unreasonable teacher, tries to help Winnie get over her stage fright when they’re all in a play together, takes a break from best-pal Paul, gets his first pimple, learns a lesson about cheating, joins a band, gets a dog, struggles in glee club, builds a treehouse with his dad, and has to deal with an awkward moment when he and Winnie are invited to a make-out party. Meanwhile, the Apollo 13 astronauts are in trouble and the series cranks out its trademark classic music from the times. The Wonder Years: Season 3 is only available on DVD.

Kotter3Another third season sitcom comes to DVD this week: Welcome Back, Kotter, with comedian Gabe Kaplan playing a teacher of group of low-achieving hard cases nicknamed the “Sweathogs.” Kotter was once a Sweathog himself, and feels the need to help students like the cocky womanizer Vinnie Barbarino (John Travolta), the goofy and goofy laughing Arnold Horshack (Ron Palillo), the supercool Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington (Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs), and the master of excuses Juan Epstein (Robert Hegyes). Marcia Strassman played Kotter’s wife, Julie, while John Sylvester White was Sweathog nemesis Principal Woodman. The season opener is a flashback clip show from the first two seasons, so it’s pretty easy to get up to speed. This season the Kotters become parents, the Sweathogs enter the lottery, the group tries to deprogram Horshack after a cult gets their hooks in him, Mr. Woodman writes a novel that’s based on the Sweathogs, and Barbarino’s new love threatens to come between him and the gang.

RockfordFilesCompleteThe ‘70s and ‘80s were a golden age for TV private detective series, and a good one comes to DVD this week: The Rockford Files: Complete Series, starring James Garner as an ex-con turned P.I. who’s about as easygoing as it gets. Noah Beery Jr. plays his father, Rocky, while Joe Santos is Rockford’s friend and contact at the local California police department and two-time Emmy winner Stuart Margolin is a fellow ex-con who was also a friend. Rockford preferred to use his wits and avoid a fight whenever possible, and with Magnum, P.I. it was one of the most popular TV detective shows of the era. But your family has to like lighthearted P.I. series and older TV shows. All 122 episodes are included from the series’ 1974-1980 run. The Stephen Cannell production won a Primetime Emmy in 1978 for Outstanding Drama Series, while Garner won for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series the previous year.

New on Blu-ray and DVD (May 19, 2015)

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Most of the new releases this week are R-rated, so it looks like a good week for outdoor play and indoor games.

The few exceptions:

Glee6The final season, Glee: Season 6, comes out on Tuesday, but many fans abandoned the series after cast changes and a split plot that went back and forth between Ohio and New York City. The musical comedy-drama about a high school glee club dropped 55 points in the Nielsen ratings the following year. At its second-season peak, Glee drew close to 12 million viewers; Season 6 attracted just 2.5 million. Still, if you haven’t seen all the previous episodes, Season 6 won’t seem so “been there done that,” because it’s still entertaining and the music remains the biggest attraction. Of course “Gleeks” will still want to round out their collections with this one, which is only available on DVD.

WelcometoSwedon1For tongue-in-cheek sophisticated comedy there’s Welcome to Sweden: Season 1, starring Amy Poehler’s brother Greg as a love-struck American accountant-to-celebrities who drops everything to move to Sweden to live with his Swedish girlfriend (Josephine Bornebusch). It’s all about culture clash, and the humor often pokes fun of both Swedish and American stereotypes. Aside from a few male backsides seen running off to a seaside frolic, it’s suitable for families with high school age children. Tonally it’s low-key, kind of like an indie film version of a sitcom, but the characters and basic situations are interesting enough—even if you get the sense that the series could have been funnier. Not rated, it would be TV-14 for adult situations, and it’s only available on DVD.

CPOSharkeyIf your family likes old sitcoms, CPO Sharkey comes to home video for the first time this week featuring comedian Don Rickles as a Chief Petty Officer at a Naval training facility. The premise makes for a perfect showcase for Rickles’ politically incorrect insult humor, but for that very reason this one is for teens and older. The 1976 TV series also starred Harrison Page as Sharkey’s African-American best friend and Peter Isacksen as his towering aide. And it’s still pretty funny. Look for it on DVD only.

MayaBeeMovieAfter that it’s two releases aimed at preschoolers. Maya the Bee Movie is an Australian-German animated adventure that seems geared especially toward little girls. Rated G, it’s about a warm-hearted bee who proves that hornets and bees CAN get along. It’s available on 3D/Blu-ray combo and DVD.

MinniesPetSalonThe second release is the better-known Mickey Mouse Clubhouse: Minnie’s Pet Salon, which features the title episode and four other pet-related episodes from the popular Disney Jr. show for preschoolers: “Daisy’s Pet Project,” “Pluto’s Puppy-Sitting Adventure,” “Donald’s Ducks,” and “Pluto Lends a Paw” (Amazon link).

AmericanSniperThey’re not exactly American Sniper, which tops this weeks R-rated Blu-ray and DVD releases, but you can always pick up Clint Eastwood’s celebrated-but-controversial film to watch after the kids are in bed (Amazon link).

New on Blu-ray and DVD (May 12, 2015)

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WildWildWestThe best bets for family viewing this week may well be new complete-series releases of old TV shows, starting with the wildly popular Western/spy/sci-fi/adventure series The Wild Wild West, which aired from 1965-69. Robert Conrad starred as suave U.S. Secret Service agent James T. West, who, with master-of-disguise sidekick Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin), worked for President Ulysses S. Grant from the comfort of a private train that they used as their moveable base. The two had as many gizmos and gadgets as James Bond, that other popular secret agent who debuted in the ‘60s, but their exploits seemed totally original, transplanted to the American West. As with the Bond films, the villains varied, but the most popular was a little person named Dr. Miguelito Loveless (Michael Dunn). It was great tongue-in-cheek fun, and the series still holds up, though later episodes went a little too far into the Twilight Zone. CBS TV/Paramount is releasing it in a space-saver complete series DVD set this week (Amazon link).

BattlestarGalacticaBattlestar Galactica debuted on TV more than a decade after the original Star Trek and just one year after George Lucas’ Star Wars came to the big screen. I still don’t know why it only lasted one season, because it had the campy qualities of Star Trek and the kind of special effects that made Star Wars so popular. And heck, it even starred beloved Lorne Greene, the patriarch of the popular TV Western Bonanza. But it turns out that those wonderful production values were the series’ downfall. It was just too expensive to produce, given that the show wasn’t in the Nielsen Top 30 and it seemed that the show appealed mostly to children. It’s still plenty entertaining, though you’ll have to decide whether the price tag for this Blu-ray release—Battlestar Galactica: The Definitive Collection (featuring the original full screen presentation with nothing cropped AND the widescreen version that was previously released)—is too high. The series also starred Dirk Benedict as Starbuck, Richard Hatch as Apollo, Maren Jensen as Athena, and Laurette Spang as Cassiopeia, and it’s pretty easy to get interested in these campy mythic characters (Amazon link).

XrayEyesThere’s more campy fun in X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, a 1963 B-movie from the legendary Roger Corman starring Ray Milland as a doctor who gives himself x-ray vision . . . but, in true sci-fi horror fashion, with less than desirable results. There’s period drinking and smoking, but otherwise this horror-thriller is pretty tame by contemporary standards, though still entertaining. It comes to Blu-ray for the first time this week (Amazon link).

PrematureBurialMilland also appears in the one Corman Edgar Allan Poe adaptation that didn’t star Vincent Price: The Premature Burial, which, again, is dark and moody and chilling mostly to young people who fear death. Buried alive? I saw this in the theaters when it first came out and despite a slow first act it made an impression. It too comes to Blu-ray for the first time this week (Amazon link).

CobblerThis week Adam Sandler turns up in the dramedy-fantasy The Cobbler, a PG-13 rated film about a shoe repairman who discovers a magic heirloom that allows him to literally walk a mile in another man’s shoes—to experience their lives through their eyes. It didn’t get very good reviews, but then again most Sandler movies are panned. But for families who like Sandler, it might be worth a try (Amazon link).

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