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 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.

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