Guardians of the Galaxy: 3D/2D Blu-ray
Although technically not a season-specific package or special compilation, the highly anticipated release of Guardians of the Galaxy should prove to be a welcome discovery under the Christmas tree of any multiplex habitué. By expanding Marvel’s Cinematic Universe to Deep Space, James Gunn’s surprise summer blockbuster captivated superhero junkies in what typically is the slowest month of summer. It also caught the fancy of critics and international audiences, thus assuring a sequel and animated series for television. Unless one already is conversant in Marvel mythology, it would take a doctorate in advanced comic-book studies to fully grasp what happens in Guardians of the Galaxy. Indeed, the film’s trivia page on IMDB.com is among its longest and most complex on the site. But, what sold audiences on the $177-million film in the first place? Could it simply come down to the presence of rootin’-tootin’ Rocket Raccoon and his kinship to the Beatles’ Rocky Raccoon? (Bradley Cooper based his CGI-enhanced characterization on Joe Pesci, in Goodfellas.) What Guardians of the Galaxy does very well is tell a smart and amusing sci-fi story, while pushing the limits of existing technology. Gun, who cut his teeth as a writer in the toxin-spewing factories of Tromaville, further displayed his talent for creating wacky characters in Super, The Specials and Scooby-Doo. Even so, handing him the keys to such an expensive ship couldn’t have been an easy decision. Among other things, Guardians of the Galaxy begs the question as to what J.J. Abrams and James Cameron might have up their sleeves in Star Wars VII and Avatar 2 to advance the state of the art.
Peter Quill (Chris Pratt) is a half-human/half-alien bad boy, who after being orphaned and kidnaped as a youth by space outlaws, gets his revenge as an adult by stealing a widely coveted orb from his captors. It sets off a high-risk game of hot potato, with the fate of the cosmos left in the hands of the winner. Quill loses the orb to a green-skinned assassin, Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Rocket Raccoon, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista) and the tree-like humanoid, Groot (Vin Diesel), who will pool their talents as the Guardians. The rest of the story plays out in helter-skelter fashion against a cosmic backdrop that should remind viewers of the Space Mountain ride at Disneyland. Curiously, the action is frequently interrupted, none too elegantly, by pop songs that were popular in the 1970-80s, such as “Escape (The Pina Colada Song),” “Hooked on a Feeling,” “Go All the Way” and “Spirit in the Sky.” These are the songs that would have remained fresh in Quill’s memory, even after growing up in a distant galaxy. Inexplicably, the soundtrack albums spun off Guardians of the Galaxy quickly soared to No. 1. Also adding to the picture’s heart, humor and humanity are performances by Glenn Close, Michael Rooker, Djimon Hounsou, John C. Reilly and Benicio Del Toro. I haven’t seen the 3D edition of “GOTG,” but others have vouched for its excellence. The overall color scheme is dark and ominous, with occasional flashes of brilliant colors in the battle scenes. The larger the viewing monitor, I suspect, the better the visual experience. Cheesy pop tunes aside, the audio presentation demands to be cranked up to the max. The bonus package adds a pretty good commentary, with Gunn; “Guide to the Galaxy With James Gunn,” in which the director and his 8-bit avatar break down key scenes; four minutes’ worth of deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel of equal length; a brief special-effects explainer; and a sneak preview of Marvel’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.
The Wonder Years: Complete Series Collection: Metal Locker Box Set
Midnight Special: The Complete Collector’s Edition
Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever
The folks at StarVista/Time Life tend not to wait for the holidays to fire their big guns. If the direct-marketing approach to sales isn’t conducive to haggling or deep discounting, several packaging options are available to buyers at various price points. Needless to say, some homework is necessary to determine what already may be readily available, uncollected, and which box gives you the best bang for your bucks. For collectors of such specialty collections as “The Wonder Years: Complete Series Collection: Metal Locker Box Set,” for example, there’s a huge difference what’s first and what’s best. Several video iterations of the show have been made available over the years since it left the air in 1993, even on VHS. Fans quickly would discover, however, that packages were incomplete in key ways. Instead of paying expensive license fees for songs on the original musical soundtracks, distributors replaced them with generic selections or copy-cat versions. Casual fans and those too young to have watched the show in the 1980s wouldn’t have noticed the substitutions, but viewers who grew up on the show recognized the missing ingredient immediately. The good news here comes in knowing that StarVista/Time Life was able to secure the rights to roughly 95 percent of the more than 300 songs featured in the original broadcasts. A couple of no-frills versions of the complete DVD set were released in October and duly noted in this space. We waited to discuss the “Metal Locker Box Set,” because, at $249.95, it seemed more appropriate as a gift idea. Besides containing the115 episodes on 26 DVDs, the miniature locker is crammed with a pair of “notebooks” with detailed episode information, production photos and 15 hours of bonus features on the discs. For $299.95, however, fans not only get the miniature locker and its contents, but also “The Wonder Years’ Experience,” with a Kennedy Junior High gym bag, Wildcats T-shirt and tube socks, pennant and patch, buttons and soundtrack CD. Add another $150, or so, and you’ll get the limited “Signature Edition,” for which Fred Savage, Danica McKellar, Olivia d’Abo and Alley Mills autographed a yearbook
The elaborate television special, “Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever,” debuted on NBC on May 16, 1983, providing music lovers an opportunity to relive the Detroit label’s glory years and get a preview of things to come, including 24-year-old Michael Jackson’s world premiere of the moonwalk. Beyond that, the show featured reunions by the Miracles, the Supremes and the Jackson 5; the first battle of the bands between the Temptations and Four Tops; and an appearance by Richard Pryor. The six-disc set features a version of the “Motown 25” concert that adds 20 minutes of material not seen in the original broadcast. In addition, a bonus package adds never-before-seen rehearsal footage with Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder; roundtable discussions with Smokey Robinson, Otis Williams (Temptations) and Duke Fakir (Four Tops); more than 25 exclusive interviews with key production members and performers; newly-produced featurettes; a “Motown 25” program; and an exclusive booklet about the show and artists. But, wait, there’s more! For another $80, you can purchase the same package, plus eight CDs from the “Motown Collection.”
There’s been no scarcity of DVDs dedicated to “The Midnight Special,” one of the shows that revolutionized the way music was presented on television in the early 1970s. While “American Bandstand” and “Soul Train” catered to teenage audiences, Burt Sugarman’s “Midnight Special” and “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” played to the late-night, early-adult demographic that was turned off by lip-synching to pre-recorded songs and dance contests. Neither were these shows limited to the rock or pop acts favored by white, suburban listeners. They represented a cross-section of the music industry, which had yet to be completely coopted by greedy label executives and cocaine cowboys. This purity of vision wouldn’t, couldn’t last, of course, but, for a few years, at least, it was worth the effort to come home early from the bars. One of the things that distinguished “Midnight Special” from “Rock Concert” was the considerable presence of Wolfman Jack, the legendary border-radio DJ who had recently been immortalized in American Graffiti. After a few years, even his act would be diluted by the mainstream instincts of the producers. Watch these DVDs chronologically and it’s easy to see how the marketing strategy evolved from one in which the labels had no interest in showcasing their acts for free, to one that allowed them to dictate terms and access. When the producers decided to give up on their edict forbidding singers to lip-synch their songs, it was a clear sign that the show had lost its edge. Still, there are plenty of things here worth watching. “The Midnight Special Collector’s Edition” comes in two different editions. For $119.96, you get 16 hours of music on 11 DVDs, including a collector’s box, 32-page booklet and bonus comedy disc. For another $100, the package grows to 36 hours of music and interviews, on 20 DVDs. You can do the math as well as I can. Here’s a pretty representative selection of artists who appeared between 1973 and 1981: AC/DC, Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, The Bee Gees, The Kinks, Earth, Wind & Fire, Electric Light Orchestra, The Cars, Fleetwood Mac, Gordon Lightfoot, Heart, Sammy Hagar, Helen Reddy, Jim Croce, John Denver, Golden Earring, KC and the Sunshine Band, Ted Nugent, Linda Ronstadt, Marvin Gaye, Robert Palmer, Captain & Tennille, Peter Frampton, REO Speedwagon, Steely Dan, The Doobie Brothers, The Hollies, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, The Village People and Eddie Money.
The Complete Jacques Tati: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Steven Spielberg: Director’s Collection
La dolce vita: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Extended Edition: Blu-ray
As difficult as it might be to imagine gifting a fan of mainstream films with a collection of comedies by a French filmmaker and actor, I have no qualms about suggesting you stock up on Criterion Collection’s The Complete Jacques Tati for stocking stuffing. Funny is funny and one needn’t be fluent in French – or a film scholar — to dig Tati’s many talents. He can be fairly compared to Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and other great Hollywood actors of the silent era, as well as Marcel Marceau and, yes, Jerry Lewis. His alter ego, Monsieur Hulot, with his trademark raincoat, umbrella and pipe, is simply one of the most recognizable comic characters in the world. As nimble as a dancer and blessed with an ability to communicate through the most subtle gestures and sound effects, Tati used Hulot to comment on such broad topics as Western society’s obsession with material goods and gadgets, the dehumanization of French workers by big business and modern architecture, conformist trends, France’s caste system and the tyranny of space-age technology and design. And, viewers didn’t need a billboard or subtitles to guess what was on Hulot’s mind. Tati’s influence on such terrific physical actors as Rowan Atkinson (Mr. Bean), Steve Martin, Robin Williams and, perhaps, Lucille Ball and Carol Burnett, can’t be denied. The generous “Complete Jacques Tati” includes digitally restored editions of all six of Tati’s feature films: Jour de fête, Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday, Mon oncle, Trafic, his masterpiece, PlayTime and Parade, and all seven of his short films. Among the other delicious treats are two alternate versions of Jour de fête (“The School for Postmen”); original 1953 theatrical-release version of Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday; the version of Mon oncle that Tati created for English-language audiences; comedian Terry Jones’ introductions to three of the films; archival interviews with Tati; a booklet featuring essays by critics David Cairns, James Quandt, Jonathan Rosenbaum, and Kristin Rossand; and “In the Footsteps of Monsieur Hulot,” a 1989 documentary about the universally loved character. There are several more featurettes, but you get the picture.
Because Universal released Steven Spielberg Director’s Collection in October and most collectors already own half of the titles included therein on Blu-ray, great discounts are available on the set. Needless to say, newcomers to Blu-ray will benefit most from upgrading to Jaws, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, while more ardent fans will appreciate the opportunity to finally get hi-def versions of the made-for-TV Duel, Spielberg’s first theatrical release The Sugarland Express, his nostalgic Always and much-maligned 1941, which, at its best, compares favorably to It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Any glaring omissions are the result of distribution and production deals with studios other than Universal. I suspect that Schindler’s List’s absence can be explained by the set’s tone, which emphasizes entertainment over heart-wrenching drama. The still-exciting Duel is represented here by the 89-minute, 1.85:1 aspect ratio version intended for theatrical release and it includes several must-watch background featurettes. Sugarland Express established Spielberg as an up-and-coming master of action and Goldie Hawn as a versatile lead actress. (Ben Johnson’s presence helped lend an air of Lone Star authenticity to the 27-year-old director’s feature debut.) The outrageous based-on-actual-paranoia comedy, 1941, is included on Blu-ray in both its 119-minute theatrical version and the 146-minute extended cut, which first appeared on Universal’s 1996 Signature Laserdisc. The essential featurette, “The Making of 1941,” is only five minutes shorter than the extended cut and is nearly as entertaining. Always is Spielberg’s remake of Victor Fleming’s 1943 wartime rom/com/dram, A Guy Named Joe, updated with a group of contemporary daredevil pilots called “Fire Eaters.” It stars Richard Dreyfuss, John Goodman and Holly Hunter.
At first glance, Criterion Collection’s 4K digital restoration of La dolce vita may seem to be too obvious a gift for the film buff in your family. Fact is, though, every repeat viewing of Federico Fellini’s masterpiece reveals something new and wonderful about the film and its influence on every subsequent generation of directors. By introducing the as-yet-unnamed phenomenon, paparazzo, to the popular culture – the word, Fellini said, “suggests to me a buzzing insect, hovering, darting, stinging” – while also decrying the vacuity of celebrity worship, La dolce vita many be more relevant today than it was in 1960. Fellini favorite Marcello Mastroianni is our guide to this world, as well as the wonders of the Eternal City as a whole. His dispassionate portrayal of a reporter who chronicled the empty pursuits of the international haute bourgeoisie – a.k.a., jet set – made him an international star and sex symbol. (The same thing happened to Jean-Paul Belmondo, whose breakthrough role in Breathless also came in 1960.) The Blu-ray upgrade wouldn’t be nearly as valuable if it weren’t for Criterion’s typically excellent package of supplemental features. Among them are “The Eye & the Beholder,” a visual essay that focuses on the framing and camera movement in La Dolce Vita, with visual comparisons between different sequences from it and similarly framed sequences from such classics as The 400 Blows and Breathless; a 1965 interview, conducted by Irving R. Levine for NBC News, in which Fellini explains what inspired him to become a director and discusses his experience as a journalist; a video interview with film scholar David Forgacs, who discusses the socio-political climate in Italy in 1960; an interview with Lina Wertmuller (All Screwed Up, Swept Away), who began her career as an assistant director on 8½, talks about Fellini’s relationship with actors Mastroianni, Giulietta Masina and Anita Ekberg; and an archival audio interview with Mastroianni.
With The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies about to complete Peter Jackson’s association/obsession with J.R.R. Tolkien, there’s still time to catch up with The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Extended Edition. As is typically the case with modern epics, it extends the action and story that was so judiciously edited by Jackson and Jabez Olssen to fit the confines of the theatrical release. In addition to 25 minutes of new footage, the extended package adds more than 13 hours of extensive special features, without sacrificing any of the original’s audio/visual clarity. It’s worth debating the legitimacy of such extended editions when looking at a film’s place in history. Would there be any value in having a director’s cut of Gone With the Wind or Casablanca extant … or an extended “Mona Lisa,” on a larger canvas? What does it say about the editing process that a director now knows that he’s not necessarily constrained by the usual deadlines and can save some of the best stuff for later? Moreover, have directors begun to look at their pictures through the same lens as those double-dipping executives responsible for marketing a picture … not once, but twice? These considerations shouldn’t dissuade anyone from enjoying these “extended editions.” Right now, consumers are the only ones who seem to care about such questions.
Secret Agent a.k.a. Danger Man: The Complete Series
The Red Skeleton Show: The Early Years: 1951-1955
Sgt. Bilko: The Phil Silvers Show: The Complete Series
The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series
The Jeffersons: The Complete Series
Mister Ed: The Complete Series
Reno 911!: The Complete Series
Danny Phantom: The Complete Series
PBS: Secrets of Iconic British Estates
BBC: Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Season: Blu-ray
Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection
In the prologue to each episode of the Cold War espionage series, “Secret Agent”/“Danger Man,” Patrick McGoohan explains: “Every government has its secret service branch. America, CIA; France, Deuxième Bureau; England, MI5; NATO also has its own. A messy job? Well, that’s when they usually call on me or someone like me. Oh, yes, my name is Drake … John Drake.” If it makes you think immediately of James Bond, it’s no accident or rip-off. Ian Fleming’s greatest literary creation was on everyone’s lips in the early 1960s and the author was involved in the early discussions about the storylines and character. Like Bond, Drake seemed more comfortable in a tuxedo than trench coat and frequently could be found in the most exotic locations on the planet. Because the original batch of 39 episodes were limited to a half-hour, little time is wasted on anything except action and resolution. Drake displays only a passing interest in the women he rescues from danger or is assigned to eliminate, and gadgets are introduced more or less organically during the course of the narrative. If the shows look primitive today, or even by the standards established, six years later, by “Mission: Impossible,” they’re still fun to watch, especially while binging. The series began on British television, before being picked up here in 1961 by CBS. The first two seasons would be followed by a two-year hiatus, after which an hour-long iteration was introduced. The extra time allowed for more of everything, including plot and character development and endings that weren’t tailored to accommodate time constraints. The series still had some gas in the tank when it ended abruptly in 1967, with two color episodes, but McGoohan decided to redirect his focus on “The Prisoner.” The box includes all 86 episodes, which have held up pretty well in the interim, and an interview with the star’s daughter.
Among the many remarkable things about the great comic actor Red Skelton was a resume that read like a history of American entertainment in the 20th Century. Even before breaking into burlesque and vaudeville, the son of a onetime circus clown had performed in a medicine show and on a riverboat. He would remain active long enough to make several HBO specials in the early 1980s, including “Freddie the Freeloader’s Christmas Dinner.” In between, the Vincennes, Indiana, native became one of the consummate stars of stage, screen, nightclubs, radio and television, all at times when those mediums were becoming dominant platforms for entertainment. He also painted well enough to sell his portraits of clowns at prices into the six figures. His unequaled skill at creating memorable characters – often with the mere flick of his hat — are on full display in the 11-disc, 2,400-minute Shout! Factory/Timeless Media package, The Red Skelton Show: The Early Years: 1951-1955. Also evident in each show is a talent for mime that put him in the same company of his friend Marcel Marceau and Jacques Tati. He would work regularly on television until 1971, when the geniuses at CBS deemed him to be too square for their target demographic, and a series of half-hour shows for NBC proved short-lived. (CBS mainstays Jackie Gleason and Ed Sullivan were also axed, along with “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Hee Haw,” “Green Acres” and “Mayberry RFD.”) Technically, the shows included in the boxed set reflect the period of their creation in a medium still in its infancy. The dancing and singing are super corny, and the star’s tendency to crack up at his own jokes are as much a part of the fun as anything else. His weekly pledges to maintain a wholesome product, at a time when other nightclub comics were making their livings working “blue,” seem especially quaint. The material, while not exactly fresh, remains delightful. The 90-episode collection is a perfect showcase for such classic characters as Clem Kadiddlehopper, Cauliflower McPugg, Willie Lump Lump and Freddie the Freeloader. Due to the fact that Skelton refused to have any of his shows put into syndication – even threatening to have them burned after his death — most of the episodes have gone unseen since their original air date. Among the bonus features are “America’s Clown: An Intimate Biography of Red Skelton,” a dress rehearsal and special bonus episode of “Deadeye From Mars” and “The Look Magazine Movie Awards.”
No matter how many times I watch the episodes contained in “Sgt. Bilko/The Phil Silvers Show: The Complete Series,” I can’t help but break out in laughter, frequently at gags I’ve enjoyed previously. Even though it ran from 1955-1959, these reruns could be shown in prime-time today and still draw more laughs than 90 percent of all network sitcoms. Running the motor pool at Fort Baxter, the cagey Bilko always had an ace up his sleeve and a scheme in his head. Silvers’ oversize personality dominated each episode, of course, but plenty of good material was left for the wonderful supporting cast. The Shout! package adds the “lost” audition show, original network opening and cast commercials, a photo gallery, commentaries with Allan Melvin, George Kennedy, Mickey Freeman, Larry Storch and Dick Van Dyke, “Lucy and the Efficiency Expert” (from “The Lucy Show”), episode introductions by Allan Melvin (Cpl. Henshaw), a promo for “The New Phil Silvers Show,” “Harry, the Good Neighbor” from “The New Phil Silvers Show,” interviews with Silvers, footage from the 1959 TV special “Keep in Step,” the cast of the show on Broadway, Phil Silvers and Jack Benny on “The Dick Cavett Show” and new interviews with Cathy, Tracey and Nancey Silvers
As is amply demonstrated in Shout! Factory’s “The Bob Newhart Show: The Complete Series,” CBS wasn’t entirely misguided in its decision to jettison its top-rated variety shows. In a couple of years, the network would dominate Saturday nights, with such game-changing sitcoms as “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Maude” and, later, spinoffs of those shows. “The Bob Newhart Show,” which ran from 1972-78, centers around Chicago psychologist Robert Hartley, both in his office and high-rise apartment building. Each week, Hartley traded deadpan jabs with one of the most superb supporting casts in the history of the medium: sexy Suzanne Pleshette played his often sarcastic wife, Emily; Bill Daily’s inept neighbor, airline navigator Howard Borden, dropped in on the couple like Kramer did, in “Seinfeld”; wise-cracking orthodontist Jerry Robinson (Peter Bonerz), shared the office suite with Hartley, as well as a joke-loving receptionist, Carol Kester (Marcia Wallace); and, as his regular patients, there were mean-spirited and neurotic Elliot Carlin (Jack Riley), the milquetoast Marine veteran Emil Peterson (John Fiedler) and shy, reserved Lillian Bakerman (Florida Friebus), an elderly lady who spends most of her sessions knitting. Through great writing, each of these characters gave Hartley/Newhart a run for his money as protagonist of his own show. The casting and writing process is described in one of the 19-disc set’s excellent bonus featurettes, “Group Therapy,” with Bonerz, Jack Riley, Bill Daily and director/producer Michael Zinberg. Also included are “P.I.L.O.T. #1,” the unaired version of show’s very different pilot episode; “The Bob Newhart Show 19th Anniversary” special; audio commentaries with Peter Bonerz, Fred Willard, Jim Burrows, Suzanne Pleshette, Tom Poston and Jack Riley; a gag reel; and a 40-page collectible booklet.
Television was extremely incestuous in the 1970s. Like the characters on “Maude,” those on “The Jeffersons” began life on “All in the Family” … or, at least, in the fertile mind of developer/writer Norman Lear. (“Maude,” in turn, introduced characters that would populate “Good Times.”) As evidenced in the 33-disc, 4,400 minute set from Shout!, “The Jeffersons,” was one of the most successful series of all time, not just of the spinoff variety. Until they moved on up to the East Side, George and “Weezy” Jefferson were the mirror image of Archie and Edith Bunker, in nearly every way possible. If Archie had struck gold as a dry-cleaning magnate, instead of his Queens neighbor, he’d probably have remained the same irascible bigot as George. Even so, the primary difference between the two sitcoms is the reduction in emphasis on politics and other topical issues in “The Jeffersons.” The boxed set includes “Movin’ On Up: The Jeffersons Featurette”; the “All in the Family” episode in which the Jeffersons depart for Manhattan; “Whose Side Are You On?,” a never-before-released episode of Marla Gibbs’ spinoff series, “Checking In”; the first episode of the 1984 TV series, “E/R,” starring Elliott Gould and featuring Sherman Hemsley; and a 48-page booklet, with an essay from Tom Shales.
Here’s something that’s only taken me a half-century to learn. The famously ridiculous CBS comedy, “Mr. Ed,” was inspired by children’s author Walter R. Brooks and his short story, “The Talking Horse,” in the September 18, 1937, issue of Liberty magazine. Like almost everyone else on the planet, I assumed it was an adaptation of “Francis the Talking Mule,” which, itself, may have been influenced as much by the talking animals in Brooks’ “Freddy the Pig,” as David Stern III’s experiences in the army. In fact, “Mr. Ed” producer/director Arthur Lubin had helmed a half-dozen “Francis” movies, before being introduced to Brooks’ books by his secretary. Or, so the story goes. “Mister Ed: The Complete Series” presents all 6 seasons and 143 episodes of the beloved show, which, the jacket blurb argues, “remains as hilarious and socially relevant today as it did in its original airing.” OK. Kids should like it, though.
For my money, Comedy Central’s “Reno 911!” was one of the most hilarious, irreverent and politically incorrect television shows of the last 20 years. Blessed with a stellar cast of improvisational actors from MTV’s sketch-comedy show, “The State,” “Reno 911!” lampooned the long-running Fox series, “Cops,” and any number of self-righteous shows, like “Dragnet” and “CHiPs.” It overflows with jokes about race, sexual orientation, substance abuse, rape, pedophilia and mental disorders. Moreover, the deputies were singularly unable to prevent crimes from happening or arrest perpetrators at any point in the process. Although it may not seem so funny, now that the schism between police and minorities has broken wide open, binge-viewing “Reno 911!” may actually serve as a tension reliever.
“Danny Phantom: The Complete Series” contains all 52 episodes from the hit Nickelodeon series, which ran from April 3, 2004, to August 24, 2007. Creator Butch Hartman also developed “The Fairly OddParents” and “T.U.F.F. Puppy” for the cable network. In the tradition of other deceptively cool animated series targeted at kids but embraced by hipsters, “Danny Phantom” starred an otherwise ordinary 14-year-old with extraordinary powers inherited from his eccentric ghost-hunting parents. After an accident with an unpredictable portal between the human world and the supernatural “Ghost Zone,” he becomes half-ghost and half-mortal … not that he wants anyone to know what happened.
Now that all of the hullaballoo over the 50th anniversary of “Doctor Who” has dissipated into the ozone and the baton has been handed off to Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, fans can get back to the business of enjoying one of the most inventive shows on the air. They can do so by picking up all 602 minutes of BBC Home Entertainment’s “Doctor Who: The Complete Eighth Season.” Capaldi didn’t waste any time establishing his presence as the protagonist, while, simultaneously, imbuing the character with qualities and frailties handed down from all of his predecessors. Special features include exclusive footage from London post-premiere Q&A with Capaldi, Jenna Coleman and Steven Moffat; commentaries on “Into the Dalek,” “Robot of Sherwood,” “The Caretaker” and “Kill the Moon”; 12 behind-the-scenes featurettes; specials “The Ultimate Time Lord” and “The Ultimate Companion” (with Fifth Doctor Peter Davison) and Doctor Who: Earth Conquest,” chronicling the worldwide tour; a tour of the TARDIS; “Doctor Who: Deep Breath Live Pre-Show” and “After Who Live,” hosted by comedian/superfan Chris Hardwick; and the music video, “Don’t Stop Me Now.”
With the fifth season of “Downton Abbey” looming on the horizon and reruns from previous stanzas in heavy rotation on PBS affiliates, what could be a better time to gift a DVD that provides “an intimate guide to several of Britain’s most stunning historic houses.” “Secrets of Iconic British Estates” is a compilation of four separate PBS specials. Highclere Castle is not only is the setting for “Downton Abbey,” but a direct link to the curse of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Hampton Court Palace is famous as a King Henry VIII’s party palace. Althorp is both the childhood home and final resting place of Diana, Princess of Wales, and Chatsworth recalls the scandalous behavior of 18th Century duchess, Georgiana Cavendish. “Secrets of the Manor House” explores the realities of “upstairs-downstairs” life and what it was like behind the “green baize door” in Britain’s grandest estates. The package adds a fully illustrated hardcover book.
The 53 animated shorts that comprise “Mr. Magoo: The Theatrical Collection” were produced for theaters, from 1949-1959, but most ended up on television, anyway. By the mid-1970s, exhibitors had stopped showing cartoons ahead of features and they were relegated to endless reruns on television or matinee marathons. Made-for-television cartoons would lack the same production values as those created for the big screen. A fourth disc here is devoted to the feature-length “1001 Arabian Nights.” Not included, thank goodness, is the 1997 live-action feature starring Leslie Nielsen as McGoo. It probably would have flopped, even if it hadn’t been the target of protests by the National Federation of the Blind and other humorless support groups. Quincy Magoo’s gift was being able to avoid disaster while resolutely refusing to admit his profound nearsightedness. The bonus materials add an interview with Leonard Maltin; a Magoo documentary, featuring historians Gerry Beck and Darrel Van Citters; “A Princess for Magoo,” an early black-and-white TV teaser for the upcoming film with Jim Backus, voice of Mr. Magoo, as host.
James Brown: Live at the Boston Garden: April 5, 1968: Extended Edition
Footage from this amazing concert, staged at the height of discontent over the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., hasn’t been difficult to find on the Internet, on a previous Shout Factory disc or as part of the WGBH documentary, “The Politics of Soul.” The event has deservedly earned a place in the history of the civil-rights movement and biography of a quintessentially American entertainer. Even within the R&B Pantheon of the post-WWII era, Brown stands out as a uniquely talented performer. On the night after MLK’s death, Brown was scheduled to perform a concert at the Boston Garden. After much debate, city officials decided that more damage could result in canceling the sold-out event than in letting it continue as planned and arranging for concert footage to be repeatedly shown during the night on WGBH. Despite being one of the nation’s most racially divided cities, the arrangement was partially responsible, at least, for preventing Boston from being torn in half by violence. Knowing precisely what was at stake, Brown gave the performance of anyone’s lifetime, while also serving as a disciple of the kind of non-violent activism as the slain civil-rights leader. Don’t believe me? Watch what happens in the extended edition of James Brown: Live at the Boston Garden: April 5, 1968 when a large group of concertgoers storms the stage and is quickly confronted by Brown’s bodyguards and Boston police.
Instead of allowing the club-wielding cops to begin busting heads, the Godfather of Soul quietly motions for them to hold still as he successfully convinces the youths to return to their seats. What could have become an incredibly ugly incident, with ramifications beyond the walls of the Garden, was quelled without violence. When a similar disruption occurred at Altamont, a year later, no amount of pleading by Mick Jagger or Marty Balin could prevent Hell’s Angels thugs from beating up hippies and killing a young black man, who foolishly pulled a knife within a few feet of the stage. I’ve never seen Brown perform better on film and for as long a period a time. (His T.A.M.I. Show performance was far shorter, though no less electric.) The new DVD from Shout Factory is interesting, as well, for showing the entire concert, including supporting entertainers who performed as part of the revue, including Famous Flames co-founder Bobby Byrd. The acoustic quality isn’t up to par, but it’s compensated for by some spectacular black-and-white cinematography. This would make a great double-feature with “Talk to Me,” in which Washington, D.C., disc jockey Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) personally convinced thousands of rioting listeners to return home.
Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection: XXXI
As is often the case in this space, the distance separating the sublime and the ridiculous can be very small, indeed. I missed the holiday Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection was intended to commemorate, but, since almost all of the movies shown in these re-releases are turkeys, time was hardly of the essence. The connective tissue in XXXI is represented by the supplementary material that accompanied the annual MST3K Thanksgiving marathons served up on Comedy Central. Because the show debuted on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 1988, the extended programming effectively killed three Butterballs with one stone: celebrate an anniversary and holiday, while also eating up broadcast time on a day better known for its football games and parades. In addition to the vintage holiday material, the “limited-edition collector’s tin” includes lobby cards and newly shot Thanksgiving intros by Joel Hodgson. Not that it matters all that much, but the movies contained therein are Jungle Goddess, with George Reeves, Wanda McKay and Smoki Whitfield, as Oolonga the witch doctor; The Painted Hills, in which Lassie plays Shep; The Screaming Skull, in which a mentally retarded gardener is suspected of siccing demons from hell on the emotionally fragile second wife of his employer; and the killer-worm thriller Squirm, also recently given a facelift by Scream Factory.
Dolphin Tale 3D/Dolphin Tale 2: Blu-Ray
As an actor (Never Cry Wolf), writer (The Snow Walker) and director (Dolphin Tale), Charles Martin Smith has proven himself to be a filmmaker who understands how to make crowd-pleasing movies about survival in nature and man’s relationship to animals. Anyone who loves outdoor adventures and hasn’t seen Carroll Ballard’s 1983 adaptation of Farley Mowat’s book, in which Martin starred and wrote the narrative, really owes it to themselves to check out the chillingly beautiful Never Cry Wolf. You won’t have keep a sweater handy while watching the excellent Blu-ray editions of Dolphin Tale 3D or Dolphin Tale 2, as both are set at Clearwater Marine Aquarium, an animal-rescue facility in Clearwater, Florida. The sequel, which just as easily could be titled, “Dolphin Tale 2: Winter Sing the Blues,” describes what happens when the prosthetically enhanced dolphin seemingly loses the will to live after the death of his surrogate mother. No one, including youthful caretakers Sawyer (Nathan Gamble) and Hazel (Cozi Zuehlsdorff), are able to lift his spirits. Meanwhile, marine biologist/administrator Dr. Clay Haskett (Harry Connick Jr.) is being pressured to comply with regulations requiring dolphins to be paired or returned to the wild. Also returning for the sequel are Morgan Freeman, Kris Kristofferson and Ashley Judd. There are no bogeymen or bad guys in the Dolphin Tale duo. Haskett doesn’t dispute the regulations and none of the animals are mistreated. With the filmmakers’ emphasis on education and rehabilitation, both easily qualify as movies suitable for family viewing. Dolphin Tale 3D picks up the bonus package from the original Blu-ray release, while the sequel adds eight new featurettes.