New on Blu-ray and DVD (June 2, 2015)

Leave a comment

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)

Leave a comment

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)

Leave a comment

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)

Leave a comment

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).

New on Blu-ray and DVD (May 5, 2015)

Leave a comment

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)

Leave a comment

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)

Leave a comment

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 7, 2015)

Leave a comment

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)

Leave a comment

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 on Blu-ray and DVD (March 24, 2015)

Leave a comment

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.