Media Armchair cinephile

TV and other kid stuff

Not many DVDs get reviewed on the editorial page of The New York Times, so the folks at Shout Company must be jumping for joy over the glowing nostalgia piece about The Best of the Electric Company. Not everyone shares the view expressed there, that this was the high point of children’s television, but it’s still pretty cool visiting Easy Reader, Spidey, and the gang again. Shout’s other new ‘70s TV box set, The Dick Cavett Show: Comic Legends, has a broader appeal, with guest stars from Woody Allen to Groucho Marx.

The lineup of new TV releases includes plenty of familiar faces: the fifth King of the Hill (Fox), the third Moonlighting (Lionsgate), and (just in time for the remake) the second season of Miami Vice (Universal). I’m still taken aback that Fox is only up to Season Three of a show as popular as NYPD Blue; more mystifying is that they only now got around to the first set of Hill Street Blues. Isn’t the granddad of gritty cop shows guaranteed pretty good sales?

Not so sluggish in the milk-the-fans department is A&E, which continues its Monty Python Personal Best series with single discs from Gilliam, Chapman, Jones, and Cleese. Also on the Britcom front, they offer something new if not completely different: Not the 9 O’Clock News, a sketch comedy program that launched the career of Rowan Atkinson.

HBO has a slew of standalone TV docs out now, everything from the hot-topic Death in Gaza and the festival hit Twist of Faith to the somewhat lighter Naked World — about artist Spencer Tunick, whose schtick is taking pictures of hundreds of naked people lying around in public places. In the Japanese import Peep “TV” Show (Facets), a video voyeur and a goth girl join forces for a nasty take on reality TV.

From small to big screen and back: The Oscar-nominated Good Night, and Good Luck (Warner) is on disc now, sporting a commentary by George Clooney and co-screenwriter Grant Heslov. Meanwhile, fans hoping that the new “extended edition” of Dune (Universal) is a re-edit supervised by director David Lynch will be disappointed: This is basically what has been known as the “TV version,” officially credited to the pseudonymous Alan Smithee.

If a trilogy of ‘70s films and a Rock-starring remake isn’t enough Walking Tall for you, Sony would like to point out that there was also a TV series, and now it’s in stores. Also in the spinoff department is Harry Shearer: Now You See It (Courgette), in which the Simpsons voice actor collects work he did for HBO and Saturday Night Live.

Spun off from nothing and weird as hell, MTV’s Wonder Showzen is now available so everyone can see what the fuss is about. For what it’s worth: I recently heard Kevin Smith give a shout out to this twisted take on children’s television.

Speaking of kids’ stuff, some excellent new titles have just come down the pike. Everyone knows about Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Warner), which is dark enough to be reserved for the older kids, and the restored 50th-anniversary edition of that beloved Disney chestnut, Lady and the Tramp. But hopefully DVD will attract some attention to the under-viewed sci-fi adventure Zathura (Columbia/TriStar), in which Elf director Jon Favreau shows a lot of respect for his young stars and audience. Killer robots, gnarly aliens, and a magic game that makes your big sister turn to ice — what more could a pair of antsy brothers want?

Pleasing adventurous youngsters and anime devotees alike, Disney just put out another three titles from Studio Ghibli, the production house of Spirited Away genius Hayao Miyazaki. All three are widescreen, and all contain the original Japanese-language tracks in addition to the redubbed English ones. Readers of this column may remember that My Neighbor Totoro came out a while back (from a studio I’ll not shame by naming) in an English-only, pan-and-scan version. Disney has fixed that with their own edition, which joins the recent theatrical release Howl’s Moving Castle and Whisper of the Heart, directed by Yoshifumi Kondo instead of Miyazaki.

Finally, everyone who cheered when Limey goofballs Nick Park and Steve Box won the Oscar for Best Animated Feature can double their pleasure at video stores: Dreamworks naturally has Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit out with some cute bonus features, but they’ve also reissued Three Amazing Adventures on a disc containing Cracking Contraptions, a series of 10 mini-movies starring everyone’s favorite claymation heroes. Don’t be surprised if, 30 years from now, some old geezer is rhapsodizing about these little miracles in a testimonial for The New York Times.

By John DeFore


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