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From summer blockbusters to Academy Award winners to classic television, there’s plenty for everyone in the latest batch of Blu-ray and DVD reviews.

Even cartoons!

After the jump check out my latest recommendations and get either your shopping cart or queue ready to indulge in the magic!

War Horse (Four Disc Combo: Blu-ray/DVD + Digital Copy)
Touchstone•Disney / Released April 3rd, 2012

A fairly un-Spielbergian Spielberg film, War Horse definitely feels like a film of another era.  And like some of it’s earlier animal-centric predecessors (The Black Stallion, Rin Tin Tin, Lassie, etc.), humans play second fiddle to the lead.  This story focuses on a horse, Joey, who is separated from his young trainer Albert, and despite being separated over the course of World War I, how their lives continue to be intertwined with one another.

Spielberg continues to impress, crafting a realistic friendship (and it’s portrayal) between Albert (Jeremy Irvine) and Joey.  The supporting cast includes Peter Mullan, David Thewlis, Emily Watson, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch and the entire ensemble delivers strong and memorable performances.

I believe that there are two kinds of people: horse people and not horse people.  Personally, as a not horse person, I didn’t really connect with the horse (who is the protagonist) and didn’t quite connect with his “character.”  The combo pack is certainly comprehensive, including a Blu-ray, a DVD, a digital download and a number of extras including A Filmmaking Journey,  Editing & Scoring, The Sounds of War Horse, Through The Producer’s Lens, War Horse: The Look and An Extra’s Point of View.  

War Horse
is hardly iconic Spielberg , but it is a solid and entertaining film, that’s a perfect for the entire family.  Recommended.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (Best Buy Exclusive Combo Pack)
Paramount Home Video / Released April 17th, 2012

Tremendously entertaining, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is one of the year’s best popcorn movies, as long as you don’t think about it too closely.  Once again, Tom Cruise’s Ethan Hunt finds himself on the run from his own agency.  This time, it’s for blowing up the Kremlin, which obviously sets up nuclear Armageddon.  This time his disavowed team includes Jeremy Renner, Paula Patton and Simon Pegg.  Director Brad Bird pushes the story forward with so much force and action , that it becomes easier to ignore some of the film’s sillier bits including fisticuffs on a multi-platform parking garage and the film’s nemesis disguising himself as one of his underlings for no apparent reason.

Extras are slight (and only available on the Best Buy exclusive edition), with only several brief featurettes and deleted scenes, but stunning picture and audio quality.  Also included in the combo set is a DVD copy and digital download.  Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is a big, fun blockbuster that delivers with some great performances and some truly amazing moments.  Highly recommended.

The Darkest Hour (Blu-ray)
Summit Entertainment / Released April 10th, 2012

If we got anything from the ending of the Cold War is that we can now go to Russia and make big, dumb movies there.  The Darkest Hour focuses on two entrepreneurs (Emile Hirsch, Max Minghella) who happen to be in Russia when an extra-terrestrial attack occurs, forcing them to band with other survivors to save humanity.

Oh, and the aliens are invisible (made out of energy, close enough).

The Darkest Hour is far from a good film, but it is charming and a well made genre exercise that’s an entertaining distraction for a few hours.  Extras include a featurette, deleted scenes, and commentary.  In addition, Survivors, a short film is included which is actually better than the feature.  If you like explosions, science-fiction and mass destruction, then you probably will enjoy The Darkest Hour as much as I did.  Recommended.

Tarzan: Season One Part One
Tarzan: Season One Part Two
Warner Archive / Released April 11th, 2012

Nostalgia rears it’s ugly head again, and thanks to the Warner Archive, I was able to revisit Ron Ely’s Tarzan series, which I haven’t seen in at least thirty years.  And although it’s not really faithful to the original Edgar Rice Burroughs material, I was more than pleasantly surprised how entertaining it was.  The series takes a few episodes to find it’s footing, but once it does, it’s pretty terrific.

The series takes place in the modern (Sixties) world and Ely plays an American educated King of the Jungle with both charm and believable athleticism.  Stock footage of animals fighting might not fly today, but it certainly added to the verisimilitude of the show.  The first season is filled with some memorable character actors including former Tarzan Jock Mahoney, Nichelle Nichols, Julie Harris, Russ Tamblyn, William Marshall, Sally Kellerman, Ralph Meeker, Henry Silva and Woody Strode.  Each volume features four discs containing sixteen episodes and the picture quality is pretty solid throughout.

Tarzan might not find a receptive audience among today’s viewers, but personally, I couldn’t be happier revisiting the show.  Highly recommended.

Eight is Enough: The Complete First Season
Warner Bros. / Released April 17th, 2012

Another trip down memory lane, although this time, I was more surprised that the first season of Eight is Enough is played more for drama than laughs.  Dick Van Patten and Diana Hyland play Tom and Joan Bradford, who are raising eight children: David, Tommy, Nicholas, Nancy, Susan, Mary, Elizabeth and Joanie.

The first season tackles some fairly basic family issues, but there’s not an awful lot of hugging and warmth.  In the pilot, oldest son David (Mark Hamill, who was released from his contract and replaced by Grant Goodeve after a science fiction movie was released) moves out of the house in response to tension between him and his father, which is also evident in another episode as the character dates an older woman (Adrianne Barbeau).  Hyland, also is missing from several of the episodes (she passed away from cancer during the first year), changing the tone of the show dramatically (Tom is now a single father and there seemed to be an attempt to mix in some humor with the drama).  The only extra is a brief reunion with several cast members on NBC’s Today Show.  Like it’s theme song (which doesn’t debut until the third season), “eight is enough to fill our lives with love.”  Highly recommended.

Astonishing X-Men Dangerous
Shout! Factory / Released April 10th, 2012

This is the second motion comic based upon Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men series and like it’s predecessor, Gifted, is a mixed bag.  Very limited animation and a full voice cast bring the comic book to life with somewhat mixed results.  This story involves the X-Men’s training facility, The Danger Room, becoming sentient attacking the students at Xavier’s School for  Gifted Youngsters.  Although the story is pretty solid and entertaining, the clunkiness of the animation is hindering.  It’s a shame that Marvel Knights won’t abandon this technique and revisit this with full animation.  Voice work is fairly solid, but the picture and sound are a bit lackluster.  Unfortunately, there aren’t any extras. Astonishing X-Men Dangerous is a pretty entertaining X-Men story, I just think it does a better job being read than watched.

IMAX Born To Be Wild
Warner Bros. / Available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and for download 4/17

It’s pretty hard not to be charmed by watching baby jungle animals.

Set in two separate geographic locations, Borneo and Kenya, the film focuses on the daily interactions of rescuers of orphaned animals, in this case baby elephants and baby orangutans.  Narrated by Morgan Freeman, IMAX Born To Be Wild both entertains and educates, capturing some truly intimate moments as we see not only these animals being cared for and loved, but also the necessary preparation to return them to the jungle.  The picture quality is stunning and the film, although brief at 40 minutes, is a wonder to watch.  Extras include several short webisodes as well as a DVD and digital copy.  IMAX Born To Be Wild isn’t an intense documentary, but it is touching and accessible for all ages.  Recommended.

The FBI: Season One, Part One
The FBI: Season One, Part Two
Warner Archive / Released July 8th and September 12th, 2011

I was curious how well this series would hold up without any nostalgia colored glasses tarnishing my viewing.  Having never seen an episode, I was pretty surprised how entertaining this procedural was.

Inspired, at least in part, by actual cases, this “Quinn Martin Production” stars Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. as  Agent Lewis Erskine and Stephen Brooks as Special Agent Jim Rhodes.  Handsomely produced and tightly written, The FBI is a gem worth discovering.  Over the first season, Erskine and Rhodes face off against bank robbers, embezzlers, amnesiacs, religious zealots, hijackers, assassins, smugglers and terrorists.  Even better, like many shows of that era, The FBI features a stellar guest cast with appearances by Jeffrey Hunter, Robert Blake, Robert Duvall, Beau Bridges, Dabney Coleman, James B. Sikking, Norman Fell, James Farentino, Ted Knight, Claude Akins, Bruce Dern, Leslie Nielsen, Jack Klugman and Burt Reynolds.  A must have for fans of the series, or for any lover of classic television.  Recommended.

History Of The World In Two Hours
A & E Home Video / Released March 13, 2012

Got two hours?

Or even better, 88 minutes?

Then why not skip three episodes of syndicated Seinfeld repeats and educate yourself a bit.  Covering a mere 14 billion years, this CGI-heavy feature doesn’t provide much more than a taut look at the history of our world, but with any real depth.  That being said, I’m a huge fan of trivia books and Dr. John’s Bathroom Reader series and it’s a pretty watchable and mildly informative way to spend an hour and a half.  Unfortunately, DVD would be the perfect format to expand on the feature, and the disc arrives with no extras.  History Of The World In Two Hours is worth viewing, but unlikely worth revisiting, so although I mildly recommend it, it’s definitely a rental rather than a purchase.

Logan’s Run: The Complete Series
Warner Bros. / Released April 10th, 2012

For years this fondly remembered series only showed up as a bootleg at a comic convention.  I remember catching part of an episode on TNT or TBS over a decade ago, but other than that, I never expected to see the entire series.

Thankfully, Warner has released the entire fourteen episode run of Logan’s Run, spinning off from the film which starred Michael York living in the 23rd century where at the age of thirty, people are put down by “Sandmen”.  The series stars Gregory Harrison as Logan who decides to escape his world and try and escape to freedom in a fabled utopia called Sanctuary.  Logan and his companions, Jessica (Heather Menzies-Urich) and android Rem (Donald Moffat) are being pursued by Logan’s former friend, another Sandman, who attempts to terminate him.

The series is dated, but lots of fun with scripts by some of sci-fi’s top screenwriters including William F. Nolan (who wrote the original Logan novel trilogy), Harlan Ellison, David Gerrold, and D.C. Fontana.  The guest cast is also pretty fun with lots of familiar faces including Mariette Hartley, Gerald McRaney, Melody Anderson, Nicholas Hammond, Spencer Milligan, Kim Cattral, Michael Biehn, Lisa Eilbacher, Angela Cartwright and Mary Woronov.  Picture and sound quality are solid, although there is some dirt and noise on the prints.  Production design is top notch with some pretty amazing matte paintings and decent special effects.  Logan’s Run is another success for Warner, who really are doing a fantastic job issuing beloved catalog material.  Definitely worth a rental and if you grew up in the Seventies, it’s a must have.

Tom & Jerry In The Doghouse
Warner Bros. / Released March 6th, 2012

Take one cat, one mouse and in the case of this release, one dog and all bets are off.

Not satisfied by the cat vs. mouse dynamic, this release includes 22 shorts featuring Spike the Dog (and sometimes Tyke, the pup). This 162 minute release should be filled with pure awesomeness; no lessons learned, no morals explored and no educational value – just pure unadulterated cartoon fun.  Unfortunately, the selection of cartoons is from decades of various interpretations of the characters which makes them wildly uneven.  I’m a purist and as much as I love the characters, I’ve never really warmed up to any of the work that followed the original William Hanna and Joseph Barbera shorts.  Even the interpretation by animation legend Chuck Jones is a disappointment.  Perfect for kids, but not for me.

The Looney Tunes Show Season 1 Volume 3
Warner Bros. / Released March 13th, 2012

Again, too few episodes for a single release, this reinterpretation of the classic Looney Tunes characters might not be a replacement for the original, but as far as modern interpretations go, it’s pretty entertaining.  Contained within are four episodes, The Foghorn Leghorn Story,  Eligible Bachelors, Peel of Fortune and Double Date.  No extras are included.  Voice work is pretty impressive with such familiar names as Jeff Bergman, Bob Bergen, Maurice LaMarche, Billy West, Fred Armisen, June Foray, Kristen Wiig, Rene Auberjonois and John Cassir.  The Looney Tunes Show is lots of fun.  Recommended.

Shazzan The Complete Series
Warner Archive / Released April 13th, 2012

Inside a cave off the coast of Maine, Chuck and Nancy find a mysterious chest containing the halves of a strange ring. When joined, the ring forms the word ‘Shazzan!’ and with this magical command, they are transported back to the fabled land of the Arabian Nights.”

“Here they meet their Genie, Shazzan. Shazzan presents them with Kaboobie, a magical flying camel. Shazzan will serve them whenever they call, but he cannot return them home until they deliver the ring to its rightful owner. And thus begins their incredible journey.”

Created by comic legend Alex Toth, Shazzan might not be one of Hanna Barbera’s most beloved animated series, but it is one of it’s most unique.  Lasting for 18 episodes, most episodes revolved around the twins trying to escape one nefarious villain before they can call upon Shazzan to help them.  Character design is pretty awesome and the production value is on par with most Hanna Barbera shows from the same period.  Extras include a featurette, The Power of Shazzan!  Although the show has it’s charms, it really is intended for a younger audience who likely will find it’s repetitive plots more entertaining.  If you’re a fan of Toth, however (or classic Hanna Barbera), this one is a no-brainer.

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