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Review of SAVED BY THE BELL: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (DVD)

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Grade: B+
Entire family: No (3rd grade and up)
1988-94, 46.5 hours (118 episodes, 2 movies), Color
TV comedy
Shout! Factory
Not Rated (Would be PG because of some mature themes)
Aspect ratio: 1.33:1
Featured audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Episode guide booklet
Clip: Opening Credits
Amazon link

Saved by the Bell was only on the air for four seasons—five, counting Good Morning, Miss Bliss, an aborted Disney Channel series that NBC retooled to shift the focus from a popular teacher to a popular student and his friends. And six seasons, actually, if you count a short-lived sequel about the gang’s college years. But the show quickly became iconic. If you were a kid growing up in the late ‘80s and first half of the ‘90s and caught the show on Saturday mornings, these were your people.

Even before the cancellation, several Saved by the Bell novels were published featuring the TV cast in familiar plots, and over a four-year period fans devoured 21 of those books. Then in 2006 Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim started advertising that Saved by the Bell would begin re-airing on their network and spread the rumor that the series was back in production again. It was a hoax, but the public’s reaction was so spirited that three years later Jimmy Fallon decided to launch a petition campaign to coax the powers that be into creating a Saved by the Bell reunion show. There were parodies and various cast appearances, but a reunion show never materialized—unless you count The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon sketch that starred six of the eight actors from the series.

The point is, there’s an audience out there that fondly remembers the exploits of blond-haired mischief-maker Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), his nerdy friend “Screech” (Dustin Diamond), material girl Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies), heartthrob A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez), brainy feminist Jessie Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), and cheerleader Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) as they navigated the corridors of Bayside High School in Palisades, California.

That audience won’t be disappointed by this handsomely produced Saved by the Bell: The Complete Collection from Shout! Factory. Included here is the original Good Morning, Miss Bliss, plus four seasons of Saved by the Bell, along with Saved by the Bell: The College Years and two movies: Saved by the Bell: Hawaiian Style (1992) and Saved by the Bell: Wedding in Las Vegas (1994), when Zack and Kelly finally tie the knot. The movies are presented complete as originally broadcast, not chopped up into installments as happened later in syndication.

This 16-disc collection is housed in four standard-size DVD keep cases that slide into a sturdy slipcase, with a 12-page booklet that gives the titles and air dates of every episode, along with a brief description and some fun facts. Example? It turns out that the actress who played the “older” ninth grader Zack bragged about being with all summer in the opener is none other than Carla Gugino (Spy Kids, Watchmen).

The first season was set in John F. Kennedy Junior High in Indianapolis, Ind., with the focus on Miss Bliss (Hayley Mills)—a popular 6th grade teacher whose students always seemed to be dropping by her house (or in one episode, incredulously, moving in with her). She was like the cool mom substitute, and the kids were secondary to plots about her. Mills didn’t make the transition, but Dennis Haskins was retained as the principal Mr. Belding.

It’s when the series focus shifted to cooler California and Zack and his friends that it really took off—so much so that young people are still watching the show. My 16-year-old daughter had seen a bunch of episodes and acted like “why wouldn’t I have?” when I asked her. The plots involve dances, dance contests, dating, high school sports and clubs, class projects, pranks, crushes, good and bad teachers, pressure-filled tests, and summer jobs. But there are also episodes about malls, anti-drug campaigns, gender limitations, stepparents, environmental issues, drunk driving, teen pregnancy, and maxing out Dad’s credit card. And there are the occasionally goofy ones like someone getting hit by lightning and becoming suddenly clairvoyant, or Zack dressing up like a girl for a “date” to help Screech save face.

Saved by the Bell was a hit with the 6th through 12th grade crowd, but when the stars got older and progressed to college, maybe the fans just weren’t ready to grow up that quickly themselves, because new spinoff never caught on. Now, though, in retrospect and with the power of nostalgia, those college years and a nice package of bonus features (alas, no Tonight Show sketch) probably make this a must-add to Millennials’ Christmas lists.

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Review of INCREDIBLES 2 (Blu-ray combo)

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Grade: A-/B+
Entire family: Yes
2018, 118 min., Color
Animation
Disney-Pixar
Rated PG for action sequences and some brief mild language
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+/A-
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

Our family was split over Incredibles 2—but it was more like splitting hairs. My wife and children thought it was every bit as good as the The Incredibles (2004), if not better; I thought it was almost as good. Curiously, that split matched the numbers at Rotten Tomatoes, where critics rated the original 97 percent “fresh” and the sequel 94 percent “fresh”; audiences, meanwhile, gave the original a 75 percent “fresh” rating and the sequel an 87 percent “fresh” rating.

As I said, curious, isn’t it? Could it be because critics place more weight on originality?

Whatever the reason, the big takeaway here is that if you liked The Incredibles you won’t be disappointed by the sequel.

In the original film, “Supers” had been sued so much for collateral damage caused by their heroics that the government developed a Superhero Relocation Program to set them up with mundane new lives and identities. But Bob (aka Mr. Incredible) gets an anonymous tip about an invasive robot, and he secretly breaks the rules by battling it on a remote island. That exhilarates him, but when he goes to a superhero costumer to get his suit, the costumer makes suits for the whole family. As the plot unfolds, his wife Helen (Elastigirl) gets in on the action and they eventually battle the villain Syndrome—a former fan Mr. Incredible had refused to make his sidekick. More

Review of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE (2015) (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B+/A-
Entire family: Yes
2015, 119 min., Color
Musical comedy-drama
Shout! Factory
Not rated (would be G)
Aspect ratio: 1.78:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA Stereo
Bonus features: B+
Sizzle reel
Amazon link

The Sound of Music opened on Broadway in 1959, starring Mary Martin as a nun-in-training who falls in love with a widower after taking a job as his children’s governess. The musical won five Tony Awards. Then in 1965, when Julie Andrews took over the role of Maria for the lavish 172-minute film adaptation, the film earned five Oscars. That film is one of our family’s favorites, so a remake seems almost sacrilegious. Why even attempt it?

Though I was surprised to learn that there’ve been nearly a dozen film and television versions of The Sound of Music, all I knew about was the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic and The Sound of Music Live, a 2013 mistake featuring singer Carrie Underwood. So it’s probably an understatement to say that my wife and I began watching this 2015 live British television production expecting to be disappointed—especially since we’ve seen our share of lackluster filmed stage performances. While you may get a better view than if you were sitting in Row 20, it’s still a filmed version of a live performance with cameras positioned unobtrusively off-stage, creating an odd distance and dislocation. There may be three or four cameras to give you different angles, but gone is the excitement of sitting in Row 20.

As it turns out, we liked The Sound of Music Live nearly as much as the 1965 movie, partly because it’s a quality production and partly because of the very nature of the production. As one of the actors says, it’s a script-to-stage theatrical production that’s filmed on three soundstages for television, but shot in cinematic style using 17 different cameras. It feels like a movie, but it also has the look of a live performance. Instead of the bright three-point lighting that’s a film-industry standard, what’s here comes closer to stage lighting. In this version, cameras are everywhere and they follow the actors with medium shots and close-ups, but because characters go behind pillars and such and we see angles that would be denied a theatrical audience, it feels as if we’re right there on the set with the characters. It’s a strangely exhilarating feeling. More

Review of ANT-MAN AND THE WASP (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B+
Entire family: Almost (parental discretion advised)
2018, 118 min., Color
Action sci-fi-comedy
Marvel Studios
Rated PG-13 for some sci-fi action violence
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B-
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

We’ve gotten to the point where we know a Marvel superhero movie is going to be good, just as surely as we know that legendary Stan Lee is going to turn up in a cameo. Ant-Man and the Wasp is another solid entry in what’s becoming a long line of solid Marvel productions. A little less dark and violent than some of the Marvel movies, it’s also one that’s close to being appropriate for the whole family. It’s just a question of where parents draw the line with sci-fi violence.

Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly click pretty well together as the title characters, and if you don’t happen to have seen (or remember) Captain America: Civil War, not to worry. There’s enough exposition included for you to have an idea of why Scott Lang (Ant-Man) is currently wearing an anklet and serving a two-year sentence under house arrest. In fact, the plot of Ant-Man and the Wasp is much easier to follow than any of the Avengers films, which is another reason why children younger than 13 can also enjoy this one. It’s not just miniaturization they’ll see, but mega-enlargement as well, and that’s fun for any age. More

Review of DRAGNET (1987) (Blu-ray)

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Grade: C+
Entire family: No
1987, 106 min., Color
Crime comedy
Shout! Factory
Rated PG-13 for some nudity, language, and violence
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0 Stereo
Bonus features: B
Trailer
Amazon link

Two years after Tom Hanks was paired with John Candy in Volunteers, Universal matched him up with another SNL regular: Dan Aykroyd. The premise? Spoof the old black-and-white Dragnet police drama starring Jack Webb as detective Sgt. Joe Friday, who always narrated with a stiff, humorless voiceover, walked without swinging his arms, and questioned witnesses and suspects with the same no-nonsense manner as he spoke. If someone started talking just a little off-topic, he’d interrupt them with a line that became his catchphrase: “Just the facts, ma’am.”

In other words, Joe Friday and Dragnet were both ripe for a parody, and while you don’t have to be familiar the old 30-minute detective show “get” this comedy, seeing Webb as Friday would certainly set you up for a steady smile as you watch Aykroyd nail the character playing Joe Friday’s nephew pursuing the same occupation. Being just a little familiar with the TV series also enables you to also appreciate the casting of Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H) as Friday’s superior officer, because Morgan played Sgt. Friday’s partner in the original series, which ran from 1951-59 and briefly again from 1967-70.

Although Roger Ebert gave it three out of four stars because of how clever the parody played out, the trouble is, once you get past those delightful recognitions, this “flatfoot” crime comedy falls a little flat after a promising start. It’s entertaining enough, but you just don’t find yourself laughing as much once you get past the first 15 minutes or so. The humor is more tongue-in-cheek, with satire, not slapstick or clever writing, defining the comedy. More

Review of GET SHORTY (Shout Select Blu-ray)

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Grade: B
Entire family: No (older teens only)
1995, 105 min., Color
Crime comedy-drama
Shout! Factory
Rated R for language and some violence
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Bonus features: B+
Trailer
Amazon link

Get Shorty is rated R and strictly for families with older teenagers. The third word we hear is an f-bomb, and it’s dropped dozens of times throughout the film (how many dozen make a gross?). But for families that may have watched John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino in the old TV comedy Welcome Back Kotter, or caught his “cool” acts in Grease and Saturday Night Fever, his performance as small-time hood Chili Palmer will seem like a revelation. It’s Travolta at his absolute coolest. For his portrayal of Chili he won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy.

Chili is a Miami-based loan shark who works for a crime boss, and a crazy series of unfortunate events is set in motion when he’s at a restaurant and a mobster from a rival crime family “borrows” his leather jacket from the coat room. Chili promptly goes to the man’s apartment and breaks his nose when he answers the door, then reclaims his coat. When the man, Ray “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), comes to Chili’s office to get revenge, Chili parts his hair with a bullet. And all of this is done to the kind of jazzy, up-tempo soundtrack that viewers have come to expect from crime comedy-dramas.

Director Barry Sonnenfeld (Men in Black) has fun with this one, showcasing Elmore Leonard’s colorful characters and dialogue in scenes that are packed sky-high with props that add to the crime-comedy flavor. More

Review of SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (Blu-ray)

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Grade: B/B-
Entire family: No (parental discretion advised)
2018, 135 min., Color
Sci-fi/fantasy Adventure
LucasFilm/Disney
Rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action/violence
Aspect ratio: 2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: B+
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital Code
Trailer
Amazon link

Whoever came up with the high concept Solo: A Star Wars Story hit upon a guaranteed way to put people in the theaters. According to one audience poll, Han Solo is the fourth most popular character in the franchise—behind Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that heavy-breathing übervillain, Darth Vader. The problem is that the beloved character was originally played by a beloved actor, and that had to have posed a casting nightmare. How do you replace a charismatic actor like Harrison Ford while also creating a believable backstory involving a younger version of Han Solo?

With great difficulty, it turns out. If Alden Ehrenreich were playing a brand new character, everything would be two thumbs up in the Star Wars universe. He’s engaging enough and, with a little time to get to know him better, would probably evolve into an even more likeable character. The problem is that fans can’t help but compare his portrayal of Solo to Ford’s, and any gaps will be perceived as flaws, not differences of interpretation. This Han isn’t as consistently boyishly and roguishly charming in the self-deprecating, sarcastic manner that made Ford’s character so popular. More

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