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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.

SONS OF LIBERTY miniseries comes to home video May 26

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SonsofLiberty160Lionsgate Home Entertainment announced that the HISTORY channel blockbuster miniseries Sons of Liberty will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on May 26, 2015. Scripted by the writer of the acclaimed HBO miniseries John Adams, Sons of Liberty tells the story of the American Revolution as it begins to take shape.

As riots consume the streets of Boston, a dangerous game plays out between a British governor and ringleader Sam Adams, which escalates to extreme measures-street brawls, black market dealings, espionage and murder. A sizzling, romantic affair percolates against a backdrop of rising civil unrest, the infamous Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s legendary ride. From the Battle of Lexington, a clash between the dedicated colonists and the superior British Army ensues, and the colonies join forces as a single, united country in the most epic revolution of our time.

SonsofLibertyscreensmallSons of Liberty stars Dean Norris (Breaking Bad), Ben Barnes (The Chronicles of Narnia), Ryan Eggold (The Blacklist), Michael Raymond-James (Once Upon a Time), Rafe Spall (Prometheus), Henry Thomas (Gangs of New York), Marton Csokas (The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King), Jason O’Mara (Terra Nova), and Emily Berrington (24: Live Another Day). SRP is $29.99 for the Blu-ray and $26.98 for the DVD, and both include three featurettes (subject to change): “Lensing Liberty: The Making of Sons of Liberty,” “Men of Independence: The Historic Figures of Sons of Liberty,” and “The Choreography of War: Creating the Battles and SPFX of Sons of Liberty.”

Runtime is 270 minutes, format is 1.78:1 widescreen, and the Blu-ray features an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack with subtitles in English SDH and Spanish.

New on Blu-ray and DVD (March 24, 2015)

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HobbitTwo titles jump out this week. New to Blu-ray combo and DVD is the final installment of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, a single book that Peter Jackson stretched out to make a companion trilogy to The Lord of the Rings. As I wrote in my review, The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is really more third act than stand-alone film, dominated by final-battle conflict. You have to have seen The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey and The Hobbit: The Desloation of Smaug to appreciate the climax, and even then it’s a series for families with older children, as the PG-13 film has plenty of fantasy violence. But for Tolkien-lovers, it’s a must-buy. Martin Freeman stars as the hobbit Bilbo Baggins, while Ian McKellen is the wizard Gandalf and Richard Armitage is dwarf leader Thorin.

IntotheWoodsIf your family is into musicals, the must-have this week is Disney’s PG-rated Into the Woods, a review of which I’ve just posted. It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine Tony Award-winning Broadway play that really has a theatrical feel to it. Into the Woods is also pretty faithful to the original, and I thought Disney’s cast and their performances were every bit as good as the Broadway version. Meryl Streep stars as the witch, Anna Kendrick as Cinderella, James Corden and Emily Blunt as the Baker and his wife, Daniel Huttlestone as Jack, Lilla Crawford as Little Red Riding Hood, Mackenzie Mauzy as Rapunzel, Chris Pine as Prince Charming, and Billy Magnussen as Rapunzel’s Prince in this fairytale mash-up, which subverts the clichéd happily-ever-after ending. Look for it on Blu-ray or DVD.

SureThingFamilies with teens might check out Rob Reiner’s The Sure Thing, an opposites-attract romantic dramedy starring John Cusack (Say Anything) and Daphne Zuniga (Spaceballs). The 1985 film comes out in a 30th Anniversary Blu-ray this week, rated PG-13 for sexual content, including references and language. But the only skin we glimpse is a man “mooning” other cars in this story of a college freshman (Cusack) who decides to travel across country to visit his friend and bed what his friend claims is a “sure thing.” To share on costs he teams with Allison (Zuniga), a coed who is going to California during the same spring break to visit her boyfriend. Opposites clash, opposites drive each other crazy, and opposites kind of like each other and try to help each other figure out life, which seems more complicated for teens than for anyone else. Though sex is the driving force, it’s actually a sweet film from Reiner, who also gave us The Princess Bride and Stand by Me.

UnbrokenNot so sweet and downright difficult to watch in parts is Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, a war and prisoner-of-war movie about a U.S. Olympian named Louis Zamperini (Jack O’Connell) who survives 47 days on a raft after his bomber is shot down during WWII, only to be taken prisoner and subjected to all manner of abuse at the hands of his Japanese captors. Unbroken is rated PG-13 for brief language and near-constant war violence, including intense sequences of brutality. It’s a movie about survival, and that means catching and slitting open a seagull to eat raw, then vomiting. There’s even violence in flashbacks, where we see a boy beaten by others and called a “dago.” But for families who are into historical-based films, this one offers a glimpse into man’s inhumanity to man . . . and man’s ability to resiliently survive. It’s available on both Blu-ray combo and DVD.

VincentTheoIt seems as if every fifth arts question on Trivia Crack is about Vincent van Gogh, and the curious can learn his tragic story this week when Robert Altman’s 1990 biopic Vincent & Theo comes to Blu-ray for the first time. Tim Roth stars as the artist and Paul Rhys as his art-dealer brother in this beautifully filmed PG-13 rated offering, which can be dark at times, since it deals with a tortured artist who went through long bouts of depression and was unstable enough to cut off his ear to give it to a woman.

AtwarwithArmyFinally, if your family loves old black-and-white classics, the comedy team of Dean Martin and Jerry Louis stars in At War with the Army, a 1950 musical-comedy directed by Hal Walker, who also helmed three of the Crosby-Hope-Lamour “road pictures.” Sgt. Puccinelli (Martin) wants to be transferred overseas, while PFC Korwin (Lewis) wants a pass to see his wife and new baby. But forget about it, because this is WWII and the boys are in training . . . to perform at a talent show. Though it isn’t highly regarded now, this was the film that solidified Martin & Lewis as box-office talents and introduced actress Polly Bergen. Film Chest restored the film and is bringing it to Blu-ray for the first time this week.

Don Rickles sitcom C.P.O. SHARKEY debuts on DVD May 19

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CPO SharkeyThe ’70s sitcom C.P.O. Sharkey, starring acerbic comedian Don Rickles, comes to DVD for the first time on May 19 when Time Life releases The Complete First Season.

Rickles, a stand-up comic nicknamed “Mr. Warmth” because of his politically incorrect insult humor, plays U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Otto Sharkey, a sharp-tongued veteran in charge of a company of new seaman recruits on a San Diego naval base. C.P.O.  Sharkey was a satirical look at Navy life and the perfect vehicle for the abrasive Rickles, who served in the Navy during WWII. The cast of “recruits” includes an African American (Jeff Hollis), a Jew (David Landsberg), an Italian American (Barry Pearl), a Puerto Rican (Richard Beauchamp), and a Pole (Tom Ruben). Though the men of Company 144 were bunglers and blockheads, they were his bunglers and blockheads, and if you looked past the insults Sharkey was a softie who’d do anything for his men.

SharkeyscreenFifteen Season 1 episodes are included, and this season Sharkey quells a boot camp mutiny, serves as marriage counselor for a disruptive new recruit, and goes to Tijuana to bail out his guys (who were thrown in jail for cheering the bull at a bullfight). Total runtime is 374 minutes and the DVD has an SRP of $29.99—though it’s currently selling at Amazon for $26.98.

Will Rickles humor work for a new generation? That’s hard to say. The series only ran for two seasons, but it was written and produced by Aaron Ruben, who had previously worked on The Andy Griffith Show, Sanford and Son, and Gomer Pyle: U.S.M.C.  Could it have been a case of bad timing? Possibly. America’s involvement in the Vietnam War had ended just three years before Season 1 of C.P.O. Sharkey debuted on NBC. Maybe the public had had enough of all things military.

Aside from the uncut episodes, the DVD will include a special bonus feature:  a legendary ’70s clip from The Tonight Show featuring Johnny Carson storming the C.P.O. Sharkey set during filming, in retaliation for Rickles accidentally breaking Carson’s cigarette box while a guest on the show several days earlier.

ANTARCTICA: A YEAR ON ICE comes to VOD, Blu-ray, DVD

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AntarcticaMusic Box Films announced that Antarctica: A Year on Ice will be available on VOD beginning March 24, 2015, with the Blu-ray and DVD releases following on April 4.

Award-winning filmmaker Anthony Powell spent more than a decade filming Antarctica: A Year on Ice to show what it’s like to live in Antarctica for a full year alongside a close-knit international population of research scientists, technicians and craftsmen that call the southernmost continent home.

Antarcticascreen1Isolated from the rest of the world, coping with temperatures that drop to -75 degrees Fahrenheit, and enduring months of unending darkness followed by periods when the sun never sets, Antarctic residents live and work under extraordinary circumstances. And Antarctica: A Year on Ice offers a look at a culture few people have ever experienced.

Antarcticascreen2Powell used specially modified cameras and time-lapse photography to capture the splendor of the region like no film before it—one reason why it won awards at the 2013 Calgary International Film Festival, the 2013 Eugene International Film Festival, and the New Zealand Film and TV Awards. Bonus features on the Blu-ray include behind-the-scenes footage, director’s commentary, and outtakes. Feature runtime is 92 minutes, and it’s presented in 1.85:1 widescreen with a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Antarctica: A Year on Ice is rated PG.

New on Blu-ray and DVD (March 17, 2015)

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This week I’m reminded of an old joke: What’s black-and-white and black-and-white and black-and-white and black-and-white? A penguin rolling down a hill. Well, a nun, actually, but that’s not much of a lead-in to this week’s big title, is it?

PenguinsThe 2014 DreamWorks animated feature Penguins of Madagascar comes to 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD this week, featuring a Cheeto-loving bird and his tuxedoed friends. If you haven’t been following, Madagascar and Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa spawned an animated 2008 TV show called The Penguins of Madagascar—and that was so successful that Skipper, Kowalski, Rico and Private returned to the big screen as the stars of their own big-concept animated movie. The four penguins live at the Central Park zoo by day, but, like the platypus in Disney’s Phineas & Ferb, have a secret life as secret agents. In Penguins of Madagascar they join forces with a rival undercover organization to stop the evil Dr. Brine from destroying the world. It’s rated PG, which means, of course, that Dr. Brine isn’t as scary as he thinks he is.

SongoftheSeaFor a more obscure film that has a totally different style of animation there’s Song of the Sea, a 2014 Irish fantasy from the same people that gave us The Secret of Kells. Based on a Celtic myth, Song of the Sea tells the story of two children who live in a lighthouse with their father, and the daughter, Saoirse, who finds a shell flute that’s somehow tied to the mother who disappeared years ago. She finds out that she’s a Selkie, a mythical creature that lives on land as a human but transforms into a seal underwater. After the siblings are sent to live with a granny in the city, it takes teamwork and Saoirse’s powers to help them bring the tales their mother told them to life and help them find their way home. Song of the Sea is being released on Blu-ray combo or DVD, and the PG-rated film features the voice talents of Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, and David Rawle.

ExodusCecil B. De Mille’s The Ten Commandments was such a monumental film that director Ridley Scott really gave himself a challenge to retell the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt using today’s high-tech special effects. In Exodus: Gods and Kings, Christian Bale plays the character we all associate with Charlton Heston, while Joel Edgerton is Ramses, the Pharaoh who refuses to let his slaves leave. This version, which also stars John Turturro, Aaron Paul, Sigourney Weaver, and Ben Kingsley, comes to a deluxe edition 3D Blu-ray/Blu-ray combo or DVD on Tuesday. It’s not as compelling a story as the original, but Scott works special effects miracles with the plagues that the Israelite God sent to smite Egypt. It’s more violent and truncated than The Ten Commandments, but also less idealized and corny.

annieI’m not sure the world needed another version of Annie, but we get one anyway this week. The 2014 PG remake starring Oscar nominee Quvenzhané Wallis, Cameron Diaz, and Jamie Foxx tells the familiar story of a little orphan girl who this time is living with a foster mom. And this time the plot thickens when a New York City mayoral candidate takes her in and tries to make political capital out of her. As with the 1982 version, songs add a little life to a comedy-drama that disappointed critics and audiences.

WKRPFinally, if your family likes older sitcoms and you don’t want to spend money on complete series until you sample a taste, this week you can try Season 2 of the ‘70s TV sitcom WKRP in Cincinnati, which featured one of the great ensemble casts of the decade and plenty of ‘70s music for the soundtrack. Andy Travis (Gary Sandy) was hired as the new program manager by the seldom-seen mother of station manager Arthur “Big Guy” Carlson. His job: turn the station into a Top-40 rock success, and that meant bringing in DJs Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid) and Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman). Other cast members included a secretary (Loni Anderson) who refused to do anything but answer the telephone, along with a sorta-sleazy ad salesman (Frank Bonner), and a newsman (Richard Sanders) who taped “walls” on the floor around his desk and insisted that people “knock.” Quirky? You bet. Still funny? Yep.

CBS Home Entertainment announces four new complete series sets

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BradyshagTime to replace that old shag carpeting? For Brady Bunch fans, it might be tempting. On April 7, CBS Home Entertainment will unveil a new (and, some would say, improved) release of The Brady Bunch: The Complete Series.  Back in 2007, CBS rolled out the complete series in shag carpet packaging. Even if there weren’t glue issues, it looked more like SpongeBob than a ’70s carpet from the household of this blended family.  A lot of fans held off buying the set, but if you did, do you replace that old shag? On the one hand, the new collection is easier to store, but on the other hand, some bonus features from the old complete set aren’t included—like A Very Brady Christmas, a couple episodes from The Brady Kids animated 1972 series, and a pilot for “The Brady 500.” I mean, what would Marcia do?

BradynewShe’d probably go for the new purple box and something groovy, like MacGyver: The Complete Collection, which is also being repackaged in a slimmer, space-saving box. This guy could take the contents of a woman’s purse and make a weapon or an escape tool out of them. Fun and funky! It wouldn’t surprise me if actor Richard Dean Anderson was doing children’s birthday parties now.

macgyverAlso releasing on April 7:  the sophisticated sitcom Frasier: The Complete Series and Andy Griffith in Matlock: The Complete Series, both with slimmer packaging. Suggested retail price is $129.99 for Matlock and Frasier, $89.99 for MacGyver, and $72.99 for The Brady Bunch. Right now at Amazon.com, the Brady Bunch set is selling for $65.66—which averages out to $13 per season!

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