It’s not a huge week this week, with no major blockbusters or box office hits out, but there are some good smaller films and a lot of TV-on-DVD. Check out the full release slate:
Sons of Liberty – Dean Norris, Ben Barnes, Ryan Eggold, Michael Raymond-James, and Rafe Spall play the founding fathers of America in this five-hour miniseries from The History Channel. I’ve heard a lot of complaints about it because it presents dramatic recreations of some of the pivotal moments in American history rather than being a documentary, but that’s why I liked it. There’s no shortage of documentaries on John Hancock, John & Sam Adams, Paul Revere, Joseph Warren, Ben Franklin, and George Washington. So presenting the events that led to America’s independence as portrayed by a fine cast of actors, well, thats something I’m interested in. It may not be 100% historically accurate, but I’m totally okay with that.
The Nanny: The Complete Series – How Fran Drescher ever got a show of her own is a mystery of unending proportions to me. The fact that said show was actually a hit is pretty impressive. Sure, she’s not terribly hard on the eyes, but that voice… it truly is like fingernails on a chalkboard. As for The Nanny itself, well, it’s actually not the worst show in the world. It’s a pretty typical sitcom; not terrible, not great. I will say that after watching enough episodes, it does become sort of like comfort food. It’s not overly exciting, but it goes down easy. If you liked the show when it was on the air, then this set is for you. If you weren’t a fan of the show, I can’t see you needing to indulge in this nine-season box set that includes every single episode of the show.
The Saint: The Complete Series – A pre-Bond Roger Moore stars in this excellent adventures series about debonair modern-day Robin Hood Simon Templar. Over the course of 118 episodes and seven seasons (collected in their entirety in this terrific box set), Roger Moore’s Templar would help anyone he saw fit, in any way he saw fit, and wasn’t above helping himself to some treasures along the way. The show was a terrific precursor to Moore’s role as Bond, as he’s all charm, dashing, and derring-do in this show. The series switches from black & white to color halfway through, so the show takes on a vibrant new feel around 60 episodes in. I love this show, and while it has been on DVD before, this is the first truly definitive box set. It’s well worth owning.
Empire Of The Ants/Jaws Of Satan and Frogs/Food of the Gods – Shout Factory’s Scream Factory imprint is well known and well loved for bringing the best (and sometimes the worst) in cult classic horror, and this week they have two new releases out that bring us four movies making their Blu-ray debuts. Now, I’m a huge fan of creature features; I love seeing man against killer animals. These four films see mankind up against, yes, Frogs (Frogs), snakes (Jaws of Satan), Ants (Empire of the Ants), and giant rats (Food of the Gods). These are all low-budget horror B-movies from the ’70s and ’80s, and while none of them is particularly great, they are a certain amount of fun. Scream Factory has wisely made each release a double feature, as I doubt most of these movies would have warranted a full-priced release on their own.
Major Crimes: Season 3 – I was never a huge fan of The Closer, which this show is a spin-off of, but I can see the appeal of this show. While the always-excellent Mary McDonnell takes the lead role, Major Crimes has a true ensemble feel to it as we follow a team of investigators and lawyers as they try to get convictions for, well, major crimes. At times, the characters seem a bit cookie-cutter (or the opposite, quirky just for the sake of being quirky), but overall, you get an enjoyable crime drama out of it all. If you like this genre, you’ll enjoy the show. If you don’t, well, it might be enough to win you over, it might not.
Ray Donovan: Season 2 – I really wanted to like Ray Donovan. I’m a big fan of Liev Schreiber, and the concept of a Hollywood-based “fixer” seemed interesting enough. And it’s not like I dislike the show, I just wish it was better. Schreiber is intense and charismatic in the lead role, but the show as a whole just has a “feel” that isn’t for me. And I’ve never really liked John Voight, so even with him playing Donovan’s evil-ish dad here (making him someone you love to hate), I don’t really enjoy watching him. This is one of those shows that people will definitely like, but it’s not quite my cup of tea.
Also available on Blu-ray and DVD this week:
- Even though I really like Stephen Merchant and I can sometimes appreciate uncomfortable humor (which he and his regular cohort Ricky Gervais are the masters of), I didn’t love Hello Ladies: The Complete Series and Movie as much as I wanted to. The idea of the gawky and awkward (awkward?) Merchant playing a would-be ladies’ man seems like gold on paper, but it never quite materializes. The show has some chuckles, but no real out-and-out laughs. Unfortunately, I can see why it didn’t last longer than six episodes.
- Cut Bank is a crime drama with a terrific cast that includes Liam Hemsworth, Theresa Palmer, Bruce Dern, and John Malkovich. You’d think with a cast like that, this film might have something good to offer. It really doesn’t. While the cast are all fine in their performances, the film is so dull and slowly-paced that you get bored long before the anticlimactic ending. I really wanted to like this film, but it just falls flat.
- If you’re looking for a Greatest Hits DVD of classic cartoons, you can’t do much better than Looney Tunes Musical Masterpieces. This terrific DVD collects 18 wonderful WB cartoons starring everyone’s favorites: Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, and the gang. Each of these shorts has a musical theme, and you get classics like The Barber of Seville. There are even a couple of short extra features. The only caveat here is that all but (I believe) two of these shorts have been released in previous collections, so if you’re already a completist, you have most of what’s offered here.
- Modern Family‘s Sarah Hyland stars in See You in Valhalla, a dramedy about a girl who returns to the home she left behind when her brother dies. It’s not a plot heavy movie but instead revolves around character moments, and it has some genuine laughs mixed with some genuine drama. I’ve seen this type of film done better before, but in a genre (family dramedies) that is actually becoming overcrowded, this one is pretty solid.
- The Murdoch Mysteries: The Movies collections is comprised of the three Murdoch Mysteries TV movies that preceded the hit series. Murdoch Mysteries is a forensic procedural (think CSI or Bones), but it’s set in 1890’s Toronto, right on the cusp of the age of scientific discovery. Detective Murdoch is basically the Fox Mulder/Gus Grissom of the show, and he’s a charming, intelligent fellow. Of course, he has a semi-romantic counterpart in Dr. Ogden, and as is so popular with these shows, there’s unrequited sexual/romantic tension between them. It’s a bit cliched, but it works so well, it’s a welcome cliche. The show is fun and endearing, filled with good mysteries, excellent acting, great guest stars, and amazing period-era production values.
- Once in a great while a television show will come along that defines a genre, and Hill Street Blues was one of them. Although it wasn’t the first police drama, it certainly was one of the first of its kind to add the element of gritty realism to the genre. Following Hill Street Blues there were a variety of imitations; many of them were good in their own right, but you can thank Hill Street Blues for later police dramas like Miami Vice, Cagney and Lacey, T.J. Hooker, NYPD Blue, The Shield and even to some extent, the CSI shows. Hill Street Blues: Season Five is the latest single season collection and fans will be thrilled to see it. While it may not be as cutting edge or racy as many of today’s television shows, Hill Street Blues is as sharp as they come.
- To many, Welcome Back, Kotter: Season 3 may mean nothing more than the springboard for John Travolta’s career in the same way that 21 Jump Street launched Johnny Depp. Yet, while Travolta is clearly the star of the show, especially judging by audience reaction to his on-screen entrances, Gabe Kaplan steals every scene he is in with his expert comic timing, impressions, or even when he “gets serious.” Fans of the 70’s, high school sitcoms, or just good television in general should all either revisit or discover this excellent show.
- One of the most beloved shows of the 80s/90s, The Wonder Years continues its run on DVD, with the The Wonder Years: Season Three on DVD. There is also a limited edition set of the entire series available through StarVista online, but this set includes just the entire second season. One of the best things about this release is that the distributor went through and secured the rights to ALL of the music in the set, so the show’s indelible soundtrack is intact. What better time to welcome Kevin Arnold and Winnie Cooper back into your home?
- Nightlight is a new found footage horror film about a groups of teenaged playing what is basically flashlight hide-and-seek in the woods in the middle of the night. See if you can guess what happens next? Yep, they anger some kind of demon/creature thingie and everyone starts running and screaming and getting possessed. It’s like The Blair Witch Project meets Cabin in the Woods, but in the worst possible way.
- Yes, Ballet 422 is a documentary about ballet. And truthfully, if you don’t appreciate ballet, it might have limited appeal for you. But I liked this documentary because it’s not just about ballet in general. It follows 25-year old Josh Peck as he creates and crafts an entire ballet in just two months. This is about what it’s like to bring a show to life, not just a movie about ballet dancers. In fact there are no talking heads interviews, just cinema verite fly-on-the-wall filmmaking.
- Available in 2D or 3D, Pandas: The Journey Home is a fascinating if too-short (only 40 minutes long) documentary film about the release of captivity-bred pandas back into the wild. When the Wolong Panda Center in China reached its goal of breeding 300 panda bears, they released many of them into the wild. This film introduces us to several of the creatures and follows their journey back into the wild. It’s pretty cool stuff.
- Let Us Prey is a pretty neat new thriller about a rookie cop in a police precinct who finds the entire police force thrown into turmoil when a mysterious stranger (played by Game of Thrones‘ Liam Cunnigham) is brought into the station. As cops start to turn on each other, Rookie Officer Rachel must survive the night. It’s a tense, stripped down thriller, made all the more so by its limited location and strong lead performances. Worth a watch for sure.
- Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood features seven episodes of the popular PBS kids’ show, with a spring/summer theme taking the forefront, of course. This DVD makes for a great treat for the kiddies, and at a nice, low price.
- When Calls The Heart: Trials Of The Heart is the latest Hallmark movie based on a book by popular author Janette Oke (The Love Comes Softly series). In this one, we follow a woman and her Mountie boyfriend as they return to her hometown to visit her ailing mother. Jack Wagner and Lori Loughlin co-star, making this a perfect fit for Hallmark movie fans.