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WITHOUT A CLUE (Blu-ray)

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WithoutaCluecoverGrade: B
Entire family: Yes . . . but
1988, 107 min., Color
Rated PG for some violence, smoking, and drinking
Olive Films
Aspect ratio: 1.66:1 (says the box, but it looks more like 1.85:1)
Featured audio: English DTS-HD MA 2.0
Bonus features: D (trailer only)
Trailer/Amazon link

From 1982-1987 Stephanie Zimbalist starred as the assistant to private detective Remington Steele, whom she had invented because no client would trust a female detective. He got the credit, but she was the sleuth. TV writers Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther took that concept and applied it to the world’s most famous detective, Sherlock Holmes. And TV veteran Thom Eberhardt made the leap with them to direct the 1988 PG-rated crime comedy-mystery Without a Clue.

It’s a PG-rated light comedy that tries for slapstick at times and satire other times and often gets caught in-between. The result is a kind of tongue in cheek (or maybe bubble-pipe in mouth) parody that has a warm, tea cozy feel to it.

Ben Kingsley and Michael Caine make a good pair as Dr. Watson and the third-rate actor he hired to play the part of Sherlock Holmes so that he could be free to practice medicine and deduce all he wanted, without criticism or scrutiny. Of course, when you hire a bad actor it should come as no surprise that he turns out to be a ham who hogs the spotlight and has any number of habits that annoy the real detective—including drinking too much and clumsy attempts at womanizing.

By film’s end, of course, they’ll end up becoming a real team, but the fun comes from watching them get there. Without a Clue is a light mystery that features famed Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarty (Paul Freeman, who played Indiana Jones’ nemesis René Belloq) masterminding a plot to flood the market with counterfeit British money and cause the collapse of the British economy. The £5 printing plates have disappeared, and so has the printing supervisor. Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Jones, who was the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) is jealous of Holmes and competes with him to solve the case, standing in the wings every time adoring reporters surround Holmes.

WithoutaCluescreenThere’s a kidnapping and several skirmishes, all of which are handled with the same light touch as elsewhere in the film. Any potential trauma from the kidnapping, for example, is muted by a comic sequence that has Holmes pinned behind the door so that all we can see is his scrunched face as he threatens to pounce on the ruffians and urges a woman to keep a stiff upper lip. A few gunfights and an explosion are the only exceptions. Otherwise, moments of tension are defused by similar humorous devices, so that there’s never much in the way of serious peril—only comic danger. There’s no language, and the only sexuality comes from the unmasking of a transvestite and a little keyhole peeping in which a woman is seen taking off stockings. Overall, it’s a relatively wholesome film that relies on some familiar, but softened elements from private detective mysteries—including a woman in distress (Lysette Anthony) and a housekeeper (Pat Keen) who sees more than anyone thinks.   More

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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).

ERNEST & CELESTINE (Blu-ray combo)

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ErnestandCelestinecoverGrade: B-
Entire family: Yes
2012, 80 min., Color
Rated PG for some scary moments
GKIDS/Cinedigm
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1
Featured audio: English (dub) DTS-HD MA 5.1
Included: Blu-ray, DVD
Bonus features: C+
Trailer

I’m sure you’ve heard people say, as I have, that they were “ruined” somehow by the relentlessly chipper, happily-ever-after romanticism they absorbed during a steady childhood diet of Disney cartoons and animated features.

Well, there’s a cure for that. Start with a dose of irreverent Warner Bros. classic cartoons, and then be sure to watch occasional animated features from different countries, where you’ll discover a world that’s not so black and white, morally speaking.

That’s certainly the case with Ernest & Celestine, which received a 2014 Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film of the Year. Ninety-eight out of 100 critics at Rotten Tomatoes pronounced it “fresh,” and Ernest & Celestine won a number of prizes, including Best Picture at Amsterdam Cinekid Festival, Prix SACD Special Mention at the Cannes Film Festival, Best Animated Film at the César Awards, People’s Choice Award at the Dubai International Film Festival, and Best Film (the first animated feature to win) at the Magritte Awards. In other words, people loved this film.

My family, on the other hand, was not as enamored. Maybe we’re just too Disneyfied. A reviewer for People Magazine called Ernest & Celestine “Fantastic! Delightful! Adorable!” and we’d concede that there were fantastic, delightful, and adorable moments, and that this film had the kind of sweetness and charm that you find in watercolor-illustrated children’s books. But there were also kind of creepy parts, and the wholesome theme of friendship that critics have seized upon is balanced by the not-so-wholesome thieving ways of the two main characters.   More