Saturday, April 30, 2011

April '11 DVD Roundup


Moguls and Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood (Warners), a completely absorbing seven-part series about nearly a century of movie-making from the early peepshows to the formidable silent era of Griffith and Chaplin to the late 60s, when independent films such as Easy Rider heralded the beginning of a new era in Tinsel Town. Narrated by none other than Christopher Plummer, the series (which originally was shown on Turner Classic Movies) recounts the epochal events, from world wars to the advent of television, that shaped the movie industry into what it is today. Thanks to wisely chosen vintage footage and clips from dozens of classic and forgotten films, Moguls and Movie Stars is one of the best histories of Hollywood ever on television—or on DVD.


American Dad—Volume 6 (Fox), which includes all 18 episodes of the cartoon sitcom's fifth season, as an added bonus allows us to hear the often hilariously profane dialogue without the censoring in the original telecasts on Fox and in syndication (best extra: audio commentaries); American Experience: Lee & Grant—Generals of the Civil War (PBS) brings together two programs detailing the exploits both on and off the battlefield of two of the greatest military minds in American history (best extra: additional interviews on Grant); Leslie Zemeckis, wife of director Robert Zemeckis, made Behind the Burly Q (First Run), an enjoyable documentary account of burlesque's golden age that includes interviews with several dancers who made it one of America's most popular forms of entertainment for decades (best extra: behind the scenes featurette); in a series of 16 episodes, Bill Moyers—The Language of Life (Acorn Media) features one of the best television interviewers discussing the art and craft of writing with E.L. Doctorow, Toni Morrison, Tom Wolfe and August Wilson, among others, all with intelligence and insight (best extras: bonus interviews with authors Barbara Kingsolver, Alice Walker and others); The Cosmos: A Beginner’s Guide (Athena), first shown on BBC, is a straightforward but immensely informative six-part documentary series that lucidly presents many of the most abstruse concepts about our universe; The Dallas Movie Collection (Warners) collects the TV movies that came on the coattails of the prime-time soap opera's popularity, from the prequel The Early Years to JR Returns and The War of the Ewings (lone extra: Dallas Reunion—Return to Southfork); the two-disc sets Dinosaurs Collection and Earth Collection (Discovery) include five hours' worth of cutting-edge scientific programming complete with state-of-the-art computerized special effects and up-to-date discoveries; The Fresh Prince of Bel Air—The Complete 6th Season (Warners) has everyone's favorite rapper-turned-actor, Will Smith, charming his way through the sitcom's final season, with help of special guests running the gamut from B.B. King to Chris Rock; The Genius of Design (Athena) is an illuminating exploration of the art and science of design, from Volkswagen Beetles to roadway signage, with a few infamous designing flops thrown in for good measure; Growing Pains—The Complete 2nd Season (Warners) features all 22 episodes from the 1986-7 season, as the family (father Alan Thicke, mother Joanna Kerns and kids Kirk Cameron and Tracey Gold) has more comic travails; in a mere 52 minutes, the documentary portrait Guy Martin—Portrait of a Grand Chef (First Run) succinctly introduces one of the world's greatest chefs—and how he got to where he is today; the bizarre but entertaining early 70s kids' series, H.R. Pufnstuf Complete Series—The Collectors’ Edition (Vivendi), returns to DVD complete with a Pufnstuf bobblehead doll as a collectors' bonus (best extra: never-before-released episode of Horror Hotel); the three-disc set Our Planet—The Past, Present and Future of Earth (History) comprises a trio of History Channel's most popular programs: How the Earth Was Made, A Global Warning? and Life After People (best extra: additional scenes); PBS Explorer Collections: Oceans, Volume 1 and The Wild West, Volume 1 (PBS) comprise several related programs under each title, with four Oceans episodes and six Wild West ones (including bios of Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill and Jesse James); there's admittedly much stunning scenery throughout Sarah Palin’s Alaska (TLC), but whether or not you can stomach it depends on how you feel about the ex-VP candidate, ex-governor and current Fox News talking head; the diverting documentary Square Grouper (Magnolia) presents the fascinating true story of the Miami, Florida, pot culture of the 70s and 80s (best extra: deleted scenes); Transgression and Sex and Black Magic (One 7 Movies), a pair of schlocky '80s Italian sex romps, are best seen as vehicles for two stunning-looking if less than competent actresses: Milly D'Abbraccio (Trangression) and Lucia Ramirez (Black Magic) (best extras: deleted scenes/unused footage); Margarethe von Trotta's Vision (Zeitgeist), an accomplished biopic of the life of 12th century mystic Hildegard von Bingen, features a superlative portrayal by Barbara Sukowa in the lead role (best extras: von Trotta interviews); Whitney Cummings: Money Shot (Image), unleashing the frequently funny and off-color comedienne in a Comedy Central special from her hometown of Washington D.C., includes certain words bleeped out during the original broadcast.

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