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.


New on Blu-ray and DVD (April 28, 2015)

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PaddingtonThe Teddie Bear may have been named after President Theodore Roosevelt, but the two most famous teddies in children’s literature come from England, not America: Winnie the Pooh and Paddington Bear. This week, Paddington comes to home theaters on Blu-ray and DVD, featuring perhaps the most sophisticated blend of live action and animation yet. Ben Whishaw gives voice to Michael Bond’s beloved character, a Peruvian bear that was found at Paddington Station in London by a family who decided to care for him. Hugh Bonneville and Sally Hawkins headline the live-action cast, while Imelda Staunton and Michael Gambon lend their voices to Paddington’s animated aunt and uncle. It’s rated PG for mild action and rude humor.

50to1For families with older kids there’s 50 to 1, the PG-13 story of a group of New Mexico cowboys who raise blueblood eyebrows when they bring their horse, Mine That Bird, to compete in the Kentucky Derby. There’s alcohol use, mild swearing, and a bar brawl, but no sex or sexual situations except one instance of a man “getting fresh.” But the story of a group of underdogs who race an underdog horse is a compelling one. As I said in my review, this low-budget film may not be as flashy or talent-rich as Seabiscuit (2003), or Secretariat (2010), but I liked it every bit as much. In fact, I’m surprised that Sony Pictures is releasing it on DVD only, and not high definition Blu-ray.

LittleManTateThen there’s the loosely plotted story of a single mother who, upon realizing that her six-year-old son is a genius, tries to raise him in a way that will help him to grow and develop. Starring Jodie Foster as the mom, Adam Hann-Byrd as the boy, and Harry Connick Jr. as an adult student who teaches the lad a few non-genius things, Little Man Tate explores the relationships and world of a gifted child and his average-intellect parent. This week Olive Films is releasing the PG-rated film—Foster’s directorial debut—on Blu-ray for the first time.

MyLittlePonyTalesThat’s it, really, unless you have little ones who are fans of My Little Pony and Franklin and Friends. This week My Little Pony Tales: The Complete TV Series comes to DVD, which sounds like an impressive package, but this isn’t the original 1986 series. Rather, it’s the 1992 follow-up that lasted only 22 episodes, which is confusing, since the press information on this DVD release lists 13 episodes for a total of 285 minutes. Still, if you have a fan of My Little Pony, they’ll want to watch these episodes.

FranklinFranklin and Friends: Deep Sea Voyage takes the popular children’s book characters on a Magic Schoolbus-style adventure. But you can wait until Sunday, May 3, to decide if you want to buy the DVD, because it will be telecast that afternoon on ABC Kids network. Consult your local listings for the time.

New on Blu-ray and DVD (April 21, 2015)

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TheRiverThis week, the best of the family-friendly movies probably isn’t the best movie for families. Jean Renoir’s The River would merit a PG rating, but the French film about three adolescent girls growing up in India who fall for an older American soldier is slow moving and has no real drama beyond emotional ones. The most dramatic incident, in fact, occurs offscreen. But as legendary film critic Roger Ebert noted, The River is the first movie filmed in India in technicolor and one of the two best color movies ever filmed. It’s the visuals and the life-as-it’s lived drama that makes this movie worth watching. Will today’s young people have the patience to grapple with a plot that, to them, might seem plodding and relatively formless? Good question. But The River comes to Blu-ray and DVD in a Criterion special edition this Tuesday, if you want to find out.

Taken3The other big title this week is also a French film. The force was with Liam Neeson big-time in Taken, a 2008 action-thriller penned by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen. Distributed by 20th Century Fox, it featured Neeson as a retired CIA operative who leaps back into action after his daughter is kidnapped in France by sex-slave traffickers. That movie didn’t wow critics, but it was a huge box-office success. Taken 2 made even more money at the box office. This week, if your family is “taken” with the franchise you can add Taken 3 to your home movie library or move it to the top of your rental or on-demand list. Critics thought it the worst of the three, but it was another box-office success. This time, Neeson’s character visits his pregnant daughter in L.A. and reconnects with his ex-wife, who tells him she’s having marital problems and asks him to meet her. He does, but finds only her dead body just as L.A. police arrive and try to arrest him. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and brief strong language, it’s a classic run-from-the-law-while-trying-to-solve-the-case thriller that also features Forest Whitaker. Look for it on Blu-ray or DVD.

CooleyHighIn 1973, American Graffiti focused on high school students looking to have one last fling before going to college. Two years later, the seriocomic Cooley High was released, distinguished by the fact that it’s based on a real Chicago high school, set in 1964 Chicago, and a milestone of black cinema with a Motown soundtrack. If you’re a fan of Welcome Back, Kotter you’ll recognize Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, who co-stars with Glynn Turman as best friends whose lives are complicated by relationships, drugs, poor school performance, and “hood” friends. Entertainment Weekly ranked it #23 on its list of 50 Best High School Movies, and Olive Films is bringing Cooley High to Blu-ray this week (Amazon link).

42ndStreetThat’s it, really, for family-friendly noteworthy films, unless your brood is willing to time-travel back to 1933 for an old-style Warner Bros. musical. 42nd Street comes out on Blu-ray this week, and the unrated (would be PG) comedy-musical-romance stars Warner Baxter, Bebe Daniels, Guy Kibbee, Una Merkel, Ginger Rogers, and Dick Powell. Baxter plays a famous Broadway producer who’s hired to mount a revue that’s to showcase the backer’s girlfriend. But when she breaks her ankle, a chorus girl (Ruby Keeler) gets her big break. It’s available from the Warner Archive Collection (Amazon link).

New on Blu-ray and DVD (April 14, 2015)

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It’s a light week for family-friendly releases.

LittleHouse5The familiest and friendliest is Little House on the Prairie: Season 5, which comes to Blu-ray this Tuesday. Even with eldest daughter Mary blind and a new family member added in the person of Albert, this series remains a terrific look at pioneer life and relationships. The 1974-83 TV series starred beloved actor Michael Landon as Pa, Karen Grassle as Ma, Melissa Sue Anderson as Mary, Melissa Gilbert as Laura, and Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush as Carrie—the Ingalls family, who head west to homestead. The first four seasons looked terrific on Blu-ray, so this one ought to (Amazon link).

AntarcticaStill plenty family-friendly is Antarctica: A Year on Ice, a 2013 documentary-adventure from director Anthony Powell, whose crew filmed what it was like to live in Antarctica for a full year—including winters isolated from the rest of the world, and months of darkness in the coldest place on Earth. The project was filmed over the course of 15 years, and you’ll see things you never thought you would. It’s available on both Blu-ray and DVD, but if you have a Blu-ray player go with HD. The cinematography is breathtaking (trailer/Amazon link).

BigEyesIf contemporary drama is more your thing, this week you can check out the indie bio-dramedy Big Eyes (2014), which earned Amy Adams a Golden Globe for her portrayal of painter Margaret Keane, who painted children with big eyes in the 1950s, but whose husband peddled her works and took credit for them. The legendary Tim Burton directed this PG-13 film, which also stars Christoph Waltz, Danny Huston, Krysten Ritter, and Jason Schwartzman. Look for it on both Blu-ray and DVD (trailer/Amazon link).

New on Blu-ray and DVD (April 7, 2015)

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New Release Tuesday is dominated by TV dramas, all things Brady, a few pelicans, and a lot of Doris Day.

ManhattanManhattan: Season 1 tops the list this week of TV dramas available on home video, but like the others it’s really only for families with older teens. As I wrote in my review, Manhattan is as good as any TV drama that’s out there—a richly imagined behind-the-scenes look at life inside the top-secret Los Alamos facility (and community) that was responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb. It features a terrific cast, memorable characters, a complicated web of conflicts and tensions, along with a based-on-history pedigree that drives it all home. Look for it on Blu-ray or DVD.
BookofNegroesAlso TV-14 is The Book of Negroes, a miniseries about slavery with a twist: instead of being set in pre-Civil War America, this Canadian drama takes place in the time leading up to the American Revolution. The title comes from an actual 1783 book that listed black loyalists who escaped being returned to slavery after the Revolutionary War because the British evacuated 3000 of them to work as freemen in their colony of Nova Scotia. Unlike Roots, The Book of Negroes traces the journey of a single proud and determined Aminata Diallo, who is abducted from her African home at age 11. We follow her from her initial enslavement at a South Carolina plantation, through a transitional period as a slave for a Jewish couple, her refuse-to-be-a-slave time in New York City, then Nova Scotia, Africa, and finally London. An extremely well done series that features a dynamic performance by Aunjanue Ellis as Aminata, The Book of Negroes is only available on DVD.

GrantchesterMystery lovers might turn to Grantchester for entertainment. The Masterpiece series features James Norton as Sidney Chambers, a vicar of Grantchester (near Cambridge) who becomes involved in murder mysteries because people tend to confide in him. It too is a period drama, set in the ‘50s, available on both DVD and Blu-ray (trailer).

Brady BunchThen it’s oldies time, with America’s first and favorite blended family, The Brady Bunch, available once again in a Complete Series package on DVD. A previous release featured shag carpeting on the packaging, but fans were put off. Not only were there glue-down problems, but the box also took up way too much space. The new collection corrects that, so fans and families who crave retro-wholesomeness can once again turn to the Bradys: father Mike and his boys Greg, Peter, and Bobby; mother Carol and her three daughters Marcia, Jan, and Cindy; and maid-housekeeper Alice.

DorisDayIn the ‘50s, Doris Day was the icon of wholesomeness, and this week Doris Day: The Essential Collection is being rereleased on DVD. The six-film collection is priced at $22.86 at Amazon, which, breaks down to $3.81 per movie. That’s quite a deal, since what’s included here are four terrific comedies, a Hitchcock classic, and another lesser thriller. Day is featured with Rock Hudson in the lightweight romantic comedies Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, Send Me No Flowers, and, with James Garner, The Thrill of It All. Things take a suspenseful turn in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much, in which Day stars with James Stewart, and Midnight Lace, co-starring Rex Harrison. It’s a solid B+ collection (Pillow Talk trailer).

PelicanDreamsFinally, if your family likes quirky documentaries or quasi-nature films, there’s Pelican Dreams, a documentary that’s out on DVD this week. From Judy Irving, the same filmmaker who gave us The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill, Pelican Dreams tells the expansive story of an injured California pelican who is taken into custody on the Golden Gate Bridge and transported to a rehab facility. Irving follows Gigi’s story, but also contemplates the challenges that pelicans face in today’s world. More outsider documentary than nature film, Pelican Dreams explores the ways in which humans and creatures can and must co-exist (trailer).

New on Blu-ray and DVD (March 31, 2015)

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InterstellarGeorge Clooney and Sandra Bullock had their time in the space spotlight, and last year Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway grabbed theirs. Like Gravity, Interstellar is a space adventure. But it’s also situated more squarely in the sci-fi tradition, with the adventure set in the future and involving travel through a wormhole in order to save humanity. Just a typical low-stakes drama from director Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises, Inception), right? The terrific cast includes Ellen Burstyn, John Lithgow, and Michael Caine. Interstellar is rated PG-13 for “some intense perilous action and brief strong language” (two f-bombs and a handful of others). My sense is that it would be for families with junior high age kids or older. Look for it on Blu-ray combo or DVD this week (trailer).

ImitationGameA little headier is the biodrama-thriller The Imitation Game, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightley, and Matthew Goode. Rated PG-13 for “some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking,” it’s the real-life story of cryptanalyst Alan Turing, whose team of code-breakers at England’s top-secret Bletchley Park facility race against time to save lives during the darkest days of WWII. The subject matter is such that it will appeal only to young viewers with patience and an appreciation of dialogue-heavy films, but it’s well done, winning the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay. The Imitation Game is available on Blu-ray or DVD (trailer).

IslandofLemursFor the entire family there’s the nature film Island of Lemurs: Madagascar (2014), made for IMAX theaters to showcase the cute creatures who can only be found on a single island off the African coast and the scientist who is working to save them. Unlike most nature films, this one isn’t focused on life cycles, so that means there’s also no death: no predators, no poachers, just cute lemurs of all different kinds and a lesson or two in environmentalism. I gave it a B in my review. It’s available on a Blu-ray combo pack that includes a DVD and 3D version of the film (trailer).

RewriteThe Rewrite (2014) is cleaner than most PG-13 movies, with adult drinking, sexual situations and some language rewritten into the script. The ever-boyish Hugh Grant stars as a has-been Hollywood hack who struck gold with one screenplay but hasn’t been able to write anything since. The only gig he’s able to get is teaching at a New York college, where he’s pursued by a coed and meets his match in an exuberant single mom (Marisa Tomei). Every bit for 13 and older, The Rewrite earned a B- in my review. Look for it on Blu-ray or DVD (trailer).

WithoutaClueWithout a Clue (1988), a PG-rated mystery-crime comedy that flies under most people’s radar (probably because only 56 percent of the Rotten Tomatoes critics liked the film), is coming to Blu-ray for the first time this week courtesy of Olive Films. It stars Ben Kingsley as the famed Dr. Watson, who, in this take-off, hires an often drunk third-rate actor (Michael Caine) to play Sherlock Holmes to cover up the fact that Watson is the real detective. Also available on DVD, it’s rated PG mostly for that comic drunkenness and adult smoking (trailer).

New Frank Sinatra titles to debut on Blu-ray

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FS5FilmCollectionWarner Bros. Home Entertainment will release the Frank Sinatra: 5 Film Collection on Blu-ray May 5, 2015. The set, which has an an SRP of $69.96 and is selling at Amazon for $59.99, includes Ocean’s 11, Guys and Dolls, and three films new to Blu-ray:  Anchors Aweigh, On the Town, and Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). The three new-to-Blu titles will also be released separately on May 5.

The most family-friendly title is without a doubt Robin and the 7 Hoods, a fun riff on the Robin Hood legend set in 1920s Chicago and Robinandthe7Hoodsfeaturing Sinatra and his Rat Pack as gangsters who become beloved for their donations, until a femme fatale complicates things. Sinatra plays Robbo, while Dean Martin is John Little, Sammy Davis Jr. is Will, and Bing Crosby is Allen A. Dale. Peter Falk is fun as the villain, Guy Gisborne, while veteran character actor Victor Buono plays a crooked Sheriff. There’s singing, dancing, and, of course, shooting . . . it is, after all, the Roaring ’20s. But despite some adult situations it’s a pretty tame movie. Killings are off-stage, only a few mild swearwords appear, and though the action revolves around speakeasies, Crosby sings a temperance song about the evils of “Mr. Booze.” Waitresses and flappers are dressed a little skimpily, but that’s the extent of it. It would be rated PG by today’s standards.

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