DVD Video Reviews Part 2 Features

by | Apr 1, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments


Pt. 2 of 3 – April 2005  [Part 1] [Part 3]

The  Shawshank Redemption DVD Sideways DVD Being Julia Star Trek: First Contact
Finding Neverland Frasier: 4th season Taxi: 2nd season I Love Lucy

The IncrediblesThe Incredibles (2004)

Vocal Talent: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Lee
Studio: Disney
Video: 2.39:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: English, Spanish, or French DD 5.1 EX
Extras: THX Optimizer, Previews (Cars, Chicken Little, Cinderella Special Edition, Lilo and Stitch 2, Miyazaki, The Incredibles Video Game, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror Disney Attraction), Audio Commentaries (2), Deleted Scenes (6—30min), Making of the Film (28 min) and More Making of the Film (40 min), Blunders (2 min), Vowellet-Essay by Sarah Vowell (9.5 min), “Jack-Jack Attack” animaed short, Art Gallery (6 sections), Publicity (Character Interviews, Teaser, Trailer 1, Trailer 2), Top Secret (including files on 21 different Incredibles), “Boundin’” (5 minute animated short), Who Is Bud Luckey?
Length: 115 minutes
Rating: ****

Brad Bird, writer and director of the film, has put together something special with The Incredibles. Pixar Animation Studios seems to be on a roll with films like Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, and now, a movie about a group of superheroes that have outlived their usefulness—or so we thought. Bob Parr is a strongman who spends his days saving lives, and is used to all sorts of positive publicity and hero worship. But when he stops a jumper from committing suicide, who would have thought the consequences include a lawsuit! Once they get started, there’s no stopping them and all the Incredibles find themselves in bad shape. In order to calm the storm, the government changes their identities and relocates them to prevent further public backlash. His flexible wife, Elastigirl, is a perfect companion, but it’s hard adapting to private life and Bob yearns for something more. An opportunity becomes available and Bob pursues 110%. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize he is working for the forces of evil, and when he discovers his mistake, he and his family might not make it out alive.

The music in this disc is a throwback to old 50s and 60s crime dramas and it really works well. The animation in this film is about as good as it gets—from the water to the expressions on the characters, to the motion and other natural environments. Like many good animated films, the characters work on two levels, one for the kids (who will enjoy this feature tremendously), and one for the adults who will find humor in the characters’ daily predicaments including traffic congestion, handling the excitable kids, unsightly weight gain, people who are caricatures of themselves, and dead-end jobs from which many of us suffer. The story is full of action and adventure and unlike some films that fail to hold your attention; the best sequences take place in the last 30 minutes of the movie. The film reinforces the family support system and focuses on forgiving and understanding those who have normal, human failings. Nurturing happens both directions: from parent to child, and from child to parent. The film is meant to be light and funny, and on this front it succeeds wholeheartedly. It does have some violence and scary parts, but nothing that even a younger child can’t handle.

In addition to the two audio commentary tracks (one by writer/director and producer and the other by animators), this disc is chock full of extras. The essay by Sarah Vowell is a bit offbeat, but adults will find it humorous. The deleted scenes play differently than those from a live-action film. Brad Bird spends the time talking about the scenes and makes extensive use of storyboards to detail the intending action. The More Making of the Film section is divided up into story, characters, evolution, set design, sound, music, lighting, tools, and has interviews with key personnel on the project. Like the Making of the Film section it is full of interesting information about the project as a whole. The interviewees and especially Brad Bird very effectively communicate to the audience what was involved in the entire production. The “Jack-Jack Attack” is hilarious and fills in what happened during the babysitter sequence in the film. Fun, light, quality entertainment is hard to find these days, and if it just happens to come in the form of an animated picture, then it becomes worthy of a recommendation as in this case.

-Brian Bloom


Shawshank RedemptionThe Shawshank Redemption, Tenth Anniversary Edition (2004)

Starring: Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins
Studio: Castle Rock Entertainment/Warner Brothers Home Video
Video: Enhanced for widescreen 16:9, presented “Matted”
Audio: Dolby Surround 5.1. , French 2.0 Dolby Surround
Languages: English, French
Subtititles: English, French, Spanish
Extras: Commentary by Writer/Director Frank Darabont; 2 Documentaries:
(The Making-of) “Hope Springs Eternal: A Look Back at the Shawshank
Redemption” and “Shawshank: The Redeeming Feature,” which examines the film’s enormous impact and following; The Charlie Rose Show Segment featuring Darabont, Robbins, and Freeman; Comic Spoof: “The Sharktank Redemption;” Stills Gallery; Storyboards; DVD-ROM Weblink; Theatrical Trailer.
Length: 142 minutes
Rating: *****

Every few decades, a filmmaker undertakes a project so rich in subject matter, so different than the standard Hollywood fare designated for leading actors or actresses today, that movie fans take notice and the film becomes a classic. In short, the director develops and brings to the screen material with a significant message, and the audience responds (eventually) in droves.

Screenwriter/director Frank Darabont accomplished this a little over ten years ago with The Shawshank Redemption, an adaptation of a little known novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption written by mega-selling author Stephen King in the early 80’s. Shawshank, the tenth anniversary edition, is now available on DVD and for admirers of both King’s writing and Darabont’s direction and adaptation, there are ample reasons to pick up a copy of this re-release of the film–almost too many to describe in this review.

First, the film itself. Many critics have categorized (and subsequently denounced) Stephen King as a one-note horror fiction writer, bent on continually feeding his formulaic shock plots to a massive fan base. Mr. King’s talents reach further than his frightening and ever popular stories, however. He is quite skilled at developing fascinating story lines and creating rich characters in his fiction. Two examples of such characters are Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) and Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding (Morgan Freeman) in the Shawshank novella, both dynamic, intriguing characters–and Darabont accentuates this in his film.

Robbins, with his signature understatement, plays Andy Dufresne, an enigmatic and secretive man who arrives at the fictional Shawshank prison in 1947 after being found guilty, it appears, of the double murder of his wife and lover. Essentially, the film’s plot revolves around Dufresne’s response to his incarceration in the corrupt and (not surprisingly) violent environment of Shawshank prison. Because Dufresne’s thinking and actions are so fascinating, so is the plot of the story. In a career building performance, Robbins uses both keen intelligence and subtlety in his portrayal of Dufresne, who the other inmates eventually come to admire for his benevolence and hopeful attitude.

While Dufresne (Robbins) inspires his fellow convicts, the center of the film is Freeman’s character, Red, and rightfully so. In the role of an institutionalized inmate, Freeman is at all times calm, self-assured, and humble. The genuine friendship he and Dufresne cultivate is the core of the film’s theme. Dufresne, the framed man still full of hope, and Red, clever enough to “know how to get things” slowly gain each other’s trust. That the focus of a film can be two men longing to be united and share their friendship outside of prison walls is refreshing.

Narration of the film is driven by the voice over of Morgan Freeman, his cadence steady and sure. In addition, production designer Terence Marsh’s intricate construction of an entire cell block adds a chilling level of realism. A superb musical score by Thomas Newman supports an already emotional and uplifting drama.

The Shawshank Redemption transcends the traditional prison film in large part because of its hopeful theme, though also for the richness of its characters. In addition to the lead parts, James Whitmore and Bob Gunton offer convincing performances as an aging despondent inmate and a corrupt warden.

While the Shawshank Redemption itself is first rate with an excellent image transfer to DVD, the bonus features in this package will delight the serious film buff. Darabont supplies a meticulous running commentary, and two additional documentaries provide insight into Shawshank’s growing popularity as a recent cult classic – namely that the film’s positive and hopeful message appealed to a vast cross section of people. While the film had limited success in theaters it became the number one rental of 1995, and is consistently ranked among the top five films of all time in the Internet Movie Data Base’s poll. Also included are a roundtable discussion with Robbins, Freeman, and Darabont from the Charley Rose Show last year, as well as a comic spoof on the movie, stills from the film, the choice of subtitles and French soundtrack. No part of this wonderful film is left uncovered!

– Jim A. Fasulo

Sideways DVDSideways (2004)

Starring: Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, Virginia Madsen, Sandra Oh
Director: Alexander Payne
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Video: 1.85:1 enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French
Extras: Full Length Audio Commentary by Paul Giamatti & Thomas Haden Church, 7 Deleted Scenes, Behind The Scenes Featurette
Length: 127 minutes
Rating: ****

If you are looking for an entertaining, satisfying romp, Alexander Payne’s (Election and About Schmidt), Sideways is the movie of the season for you. Based on the novel by Rex Pickett, Sideways is a clever tale with an unpredictable plot and engaging dialogue. The primary ensemble cast is such a winning combination I cannot imagine anyone else in any of the four roles of two men with two very different agendas on a road trip and the two women with whom they connect. These are four quite distinctive and unusual characters. It was not a surprise that Thomas Hayden Church was nominated for the Academy Award’s Best Supporting Actor as well as Virginia Madsen for Best Supporting Actress and that the film won for Best Writing.

Miles (Paul Giamatti who played Harvey Pekar in American Splendor) and Jack, two Southern California early middle aged friends since college, join together for a week off to the wine country on a road trip intended to be a final vacation before Jack’s marriage the following Saturday. En route they stop to see Miles’ mother, an example of many character revealing scenes. Their banter throughout the film ranges from intensely amusing to touching as they attempt to come to terms with where they are in their lives. They continually take turns lecturing and antagonizing each other but their longstanding underlying fondness is clear.

Miles, a reluctant eighth grade Englsih teacher, is also a novelist, as yet unpublished, and hoping to hear this very week if his agent has found his final hope for a publisher. He is also a wine expert with a passion for Pinot Noir. All he wants is to enjoy a week with his buddy visiting as many wineries as possible, drinking away his sorrows and worries, and playing a bit of golf. Miles has been divorced two years and still suffers from a broken heart.

Jack is an actor whose claim to fame was a years ago soap opera role and who now does commercials. His is mostly the voice at the end of commercials listing the possible side effects from medicinal remedies. Jack, the quintessential jerk when it comes to his relationships with women, is consumed with finding one or more females to have sex with before his upcoming wedding about which he has some ambivalence. Miles expresses disgust and amazement since Jack has a devoted and beautiful fiance waiting for him. Jack is not intentionally mean. He’s just thoroughly clueless and selfish. He appears to be sex driven to an absurd degree. His behavior is unforgivable. This is the best humorous portrayal of a “bastard” I can imagine.

Dishonesty is rampant with consequences ranging from sad to hilarious. I loved both the characters of Jack and Miles in all their very flawed humanness. Stephanie (Sandra Oh) is the exuberant, spirited lady the guys meet at a winery where she is a wine pourer. Soon Jack discovers Stephanie is acquainted with Maya (Virginia Madsen) who is a divorced student working on her horticulture degree and a waitress near where the men are staying. Jack arranges a double date for them. Jack becomes taken with Stephanie in addition to sex but his attitude is ultimately so disregarding of her feelings as a fellow human being that the word misogynist seems apt.

Thankfully, Jack gets his comeuppance most dramatically not once but twice in the course of things and that is a joy to behold. To me the film is more about Miles than any of the other characters and the way he develops. Paul Giamatti is ultimately effecting and touching in this role. Unlike Jack, he evolves somewhat and we have hope for him.

A memorable scene is Miles and Maya’s long conversation about wine and themselves. In relating to Maya, Miles is a total contrast to Jack. Virginia Madsen is exquisite in her role as Miles’ love interest. She’s centered and eloquent, infinitely more so than Miles. Another memorable scene occurs when the four of them meet for dinner. The conversation is totally real and believable.

As other Oregonians were, I was dismayed that the wine country in Southern California chosen for the film is not even suitable for Miles’ beloved Pinot Noir. One of the premier places is the world for Pinot is the cooler Williamette Valley here in Oregon! The tourism that ensued in California as a result of the movie would have certainly been welcome here.

Regarding the Academy Awards, in addition to being nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Actress and winning for Best Writing, Sideways was also nominated for Best Picture and Best Director. In addition the movie won Golden Globes for Best Picture and Best Screenplay.

The special features include an audio commentary with Giamatti and Church who joke and laugh a lot as they discuss the filming which is in keeping with their buddy film roles. There are seven deleted scenes with notes from the director. None cried out for inclusion in the film. The Behind the Scenes Featurette consists of a brief series of comments from the cast and crew.

-Donna Dorsett

Being JuliaBeing Julia (2004)

Starring: Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons
Director: Istvan Szabo
Studio: Sony Pictures Classics
Video:1.85:1 Enhanced for 16:9 Widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Extras: “The Making of Being Julia,” Full Length Audio Commentary by Annette Bening, Jeremy Irons & Istvan Szabo; Behind the Scenes of Being Julia; 4 Deleted Scenes
Length: Approx. 104 minutes
Rating: ****

Being Julia is based on a novel by W. Somerset Maugham. Annette Bening, nominated for Best Actress Oscar for this role, stars as the theatrical diva Julia Lambert in 1938 London. Hitler has not yet invaded Poland. It’s a time of great fun–dancing and lawn parties abound. Julia at 45 has been hugely successful as a stage actress for many years but as the film begins she’s seriously bored with both her life on the stage and otherwise. Julia’s married to Michael Gosselyn (Jeremy Irons), her producer and manager. They share a mutual respect and affection but their marital passion has long ago cooled. Julia and Michael are a “modern couple” whose strong bond is the theater and who look the other way when one of them engages in a dalliance.

Tom, a young American fan, enters the picture. Their affair returns the sparkle she’s been missing. Julia thrives on being adored by a man young enough to be her son. After a few months, Tom proves to be a bit of a cad. The two of them scheme and manipulate. Avis Crichton, a beautiful young actress, catches the eye of Tom who promises to use his influence with Julia to help her win a role in Julia’s new play. Then the fun and intrigue really escalate.The conclusion is brilliant and deeply satisfying.

Screenwriter Ronald Harwood created wonderfully witty dialogue and provides many laughs. Istran Szabo directed some excellent British actors in this film. Julia and Evie (the maid by day and dresser by night) transcend the mistress/servant relationship they’ve known for 25 years in some delightfully funny scenes.

Jimmy Langton (Michael Gambon) creates an excellent device in the movie as Julia’s long dead mentor who appears whenever his memory comes to her mind. He’s always available to Julia whenever she is in need of guidance and support which she often is. In the many closeups of Julia, sometimes she’s beautiful and sometimes she’s haggard depending on her state of mind. Bening does a terrific job of conveying both extreme vulnerability and extreme toughness.

Particularly poignant are two scenes with the couple’s son Roger who is about the age of Tom. In the same conversation during which Roger confides to his mother about his first time being intimate with a woman that same evening, Julia learns that her lover has been with someone else. Later on when Roger returns from travel to Italy, another intimate conversation ensues in which Roger says with depth of feeling “You have a performance for everyone.”

The atmosphere of the period is beautifully conveyed. Exterior shots were made in London. Interior ones were shot in Budapest. Variations on an original orchestral theme are featured throughout the film as well as songs of the time by Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Noel Coward and others.

A few words about the extras. All four deleted scenes could have been used in the film. These scenes were the best part of the extras. They are shown one after the other with no explanation or notes. The behind the scenes featurette shows scenes from making the film in London and Hungary. “The Making of Julia” features all the principles of the cast and crew with their observations about the movie. Particularly startling was hearing a strong Scottish accent from the young actor who played the part of the young American.

On the whole, the audio commentary was disappointing and a little too low key. I anticipated more interesting conversation from Bening, Irons and Szalo. There was a fair amount of amusing trivia. Bening spoke of her mentor who gave classes in laughing. (“It’s assumed crying is difficult but laughter is tricky.”) They comment on creating their characters, how the film differs from the novel, and the difference in acting on stage and acting in front of a camera, all of which could have been much more substantial. Bening’s favorite day of shooting was the day “I was massaged all day long.” The woman who was the dialogue coach also acted the part of the masseuse in one scene. She had received instruction from her massage therapist son so the massage appeared (and was) proficient. How’s that for a bit of film making trivia?

-Donna Dorsett

Star Trek: First ContactStar Trek: First Contact (Special Collector’s Edition) (1996)

Starring: Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Marina Sirtis, James Cromwell, Alice Krige
Directed by: Jonathan Frakes
Studio: Paramount Home Entertainment
Video: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Audio: English DTS, DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, French DD 2.0 Surround
Subtitles: English, Spanish, and English Closed Captions
Extras: Audio Commentary by Director/Actor Jonathan Frakes, audio commentary by screenwriters Brannon Braga and Ron Moore, Text Commentary by Michael and Denise Okuda, four featurettes (“The Star Trek Universe”, “The Borg Collective”, “Production” and “Scene Deconstruction”), photo gallery, storyboards, teaser and theatrical trailer, Borg Invasion trailer, scene selection
Length: 111 minutes
Rating: ****

Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-E receive word from Starfleet command that the Borg have invaded Federation space. Defying orders, Picard and his ship engage the Borg in battle. Although the Enterprise helps destroy the Borg ship, a Borg sphere escapes and thereafter opens a temporal vortex back to the year 2063 in an effort to change history and assimilate the human population on Earth. The Enterprise follows the sphere back in time where they meet Zefram Cochrane, the man who history provides invented and flew the first human warp drive ship. The Enterprise crew must ensure that history remains unaltered by having Cochrane go forward and make his first warp drive flight. Meanwhile, the Borg have secretly boarded the Enterprise with aims of taking command of it and preventing Cochrane’s historic flight. Star Trek: First Contact is one of the best entries in the Star Trek movie voyages. Successfully incorporating dazzling special effects, a charismatic villain in the Borg Queen, and a well-conceived time travel storyline, this is a great science fiction film that holds up to repeat viewings. Highly recommended.

The video quality of this DVD is excellent. Images are crisp with fine detail. Black levels are uniformly dark throughout. Colors are deep and rich with nicely saturated hues. Picture defect mastering is perfect with no major flaws or digital artifacts. The overall audio quality is also excellent with the English DTS 5.1 track serving as the basis for this review. The soundtrack mix aggressively utilizes all of the discrete channels. Dialogue is natural sounding and properly anchored in the center channel. The surround channels are actively employed for both music and ambient sounds. The LFE channel is powerful and tight.

Reference equipment used for this review: Video projector- Studio Experience Cinema 17SF; Projection screen- Vutec 103” Silverstar; DVD player- V, Inc. Bravo D1; A/V Receiver- Sherwood Newcastle R-963T; Speakers- BIC America Venturis; Tactile Transducers- Clark Synthesis Gold; Video Switcher- Key Digital SW4x1; Cables/Wires- Bettercables.com

— Calvin Harding Jr.

Finding NeverlandFinding Neverland (2004)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Kate Winslet, Julie Christie, Dustin Hoffman
Studio: Miramax
Video: 2.35:1 Widescreen Enhanced
Audio: French, Spanish, English 5.1
Extras: Previews (Dear Frankie, National Treasure), Audio Commentary, The Magic of Finding Neverland (15 min), Creating Neverland (3 min), On The Red Carpet (2 min), Deleted Scenes w/ or w/o Commentary (3), Outtakes (5 min)
Length: 101 minutes
Rating: ***1/2

This film is based upon the story by Alan Knee, “The Man who was Peter Pan.” The time is 1903, the place is London, and James M. Barrie anxiously awaits the opening of a new play he has just written. It isn’t all that good and it seems that a little inspiration is in order. Barrie has quite an active fantasy life, and his efforts to get away from the stuffy, aristocratic life he spends with his wife takes him into the park where his imagination runs rampant. He comes upon a group of children, the Davies kids, who have lost their father due to illness, and their mother Sylvia does her best, but they are almost too much for her to handle. One of the younger children, Peter, has been taking the loss hard, and his ability to play and look at things with humor and see the levity in situations is gone. James develops a special relationship with the children. He becomes their companion, plays with them, and shows them it is okay to take risks, be creative, and journey into the imagination. Sylvia’s illness puts a strain on the situation, especially when those around question the morality of the bonds between James and the kids and their mother. Luckily, this doesn’t stop Barrie, who is about to write one of the most memorable plays of the 20th century—one that will be seen by children for many years to come—“Peter Pan.”

There are some interesting casting choices throughout the film. Two of the high power star actors are barely seen: Julie Christie and Dustin Hoffman. I was looking forward to a big role for Christie, but alas not. Depp is good as always, although Hoffman seems to be miscast, or maybe it’s because I can’t separate the idea of him playing Captain Hook in Hook. Winslet puts on a stellar performance—it’s as if you don’t even know she’s there. Normally, that might not be considered a compliment, but in this case it’s as if she is perfect for the role—sick or well—a solidifying force that builds the strengths of all the child actors (whom she plays mother to). The point of this film lies beneath the surface, and if you don’t delve deeper, you’ll miss the point. Sure, there is a story about an interesting, struggling playwright who befriends a family and offers them companionship and financial support, eventually taking on the role of father figure.

But the true highlight of this film is its ability to engage the viewer in the fantasy it’s concocted. This happens not only in the scenes where the viewer is led into the rich world of Neverland created in Barrie’s head, but wraps the viewer up in an emotional tapestry binding the main characters in a healthy rebirth of their souls. From the children to the mother to James and even those characters surrounding, love and hope is passed to one another. The young and old characters are caught between the difficulties of growing up and being a grownup. Although much of the film was predictable and moved quite slow (compared to films these days), the ending is where the movie shined and it became a sentimental snowball. Sylvia has taken seriously ill and can’t make the debut performance of Barrie’s new play. In a heart-warming move, Barrie has reserved 25 seats in the playhouse for orphans. The visual sequences during the play, the light in the children’s eyes, and the way it melts the demeanor of the somewhat stuffy adult attendants is magical. It brought me back to 1981, seeing a production of Peter Pan at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles. There too, Peter Pan (Sandy Duncan) urgently implored the audience to “clap if they believe in fairies.” On the surface it may sound silly, but in the moment it is hard not to lose yourself in the fantasy and for a brief moment truly believe. If the viewer feels this way, then this film will be a success, if not, then it will be no more than mildly entertaining.

-Brian Bloom

Frasier: 4th SeasonFrasier: The Complete Fourth Season (1997)

Starring: Kelsey Grammer, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Jane Leeves
Studio: Paramount
Video: 4:3 Full Screen
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Length: 9 hrs. 13 min.
Rating: ****

Frasier ran for 11 years on NBC and ended in 2004. Kelsey Grammer has played Dr. Frasier Crane for over 20 years, debuting on the third season of Cheers. Frasier won many awards for great writing and performances and has long held the distinction of being one of the very best sitcoms on TV. The story is about the daily life of Dr. Frasier Crane, a psychiatrist and host of a Seattle radio advice show and regularly features Dr. Niles Crane (David Hyde Pierce), his younger psychiatrist brother. Both are high brow, eloquent and frequently ridiculous. A long standing joke is how much the pompous, pretentious brothers clash with their father Martin ( John Mahoney), a regular sort of guy and retired police detective. Rounding out the cast is Daphne Moon (Jane Leeves), Martin’s live in health care worker and Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin), Frasier’s producer and friend. The keys to the success of Frasier are the excellent ensemble cast, the consistently witty dialogue, sophisticated character development and trust in the audience to catch the subtle jokes.

The fourth season finds Miles separated from the ever invisible Maris. So he has ample opportunity to indulge his attraction to Daphne who curiously seems clueless about Niles’ three year crush. Martin develops his most serious relationship yet with the outgoing, flashy Sherry, brilliantly played by Marsha Mason in an Emmy nominated role. Sherry is the opposite of everything the snobbish Crane brothers regard as classy. She’s a banjo playing bartender and very down to earth. Frasier is still unlucky in love. Eddie, Martin’s beloved Jack Russell terrier is treated for doggie depression. Niles and Frasier are as deliciously fussy as ever.

it’s a pleasure to see visiting characters return, like Frasier’s ruthless agent and Frasier’s frosty ex-wife, the infamous Lilith. Linda Hamilton guest stars in the final episode when Frasier decides to be more spontaneous in his quest for romance. Two of the season’s greatest assets are the romantic tension between Niles and Daphne and the introduction of Martin’s Sherry who manages to be a thorn in the side of Frasier and Niles at every turn with hilarious consequences.

Some favorite episodes (and it is hard to settle on these few):

Mixed Doubles – Daphne has been dumped by her latest boyfriend and Niles is ready to declare his feelings for her. Frasier convinces him to wait one more day with hilarious results. Daphne meets and begins to date someone who looks and acts exactly like Niles.

The Impossible Dream – Frasier examines and agonizes over the meaning of a recurring erotic dream involving co-worker Gil Chesterton.

Ham Radio – Frasier directs a live radio mystery play which is a complete catastrophe. A tour de force in comedy.

Three Dates and a Breakup – Frasier attempts to reunite Martin and Sherry after their unexpected breakup, which had initially brought great relief to the Crane brothers.

To Kill a Talking Bird – Niles has moved into his lavish bachelor apartment, tries to impress his dinner guests, and ends up with his exotic new pet bird firmly attached to his head.

Especially if you are a Frasier fan, I highly recommend this DVD (even though this one is sadly without any extras) because most of the 23 episodes on this 4 disc set are ones you’ll want to watch again and again. The image transfer is sharp and clear and the Dolby stereo sound is first rate.

– Donna Dorsett

Taxi: 2nd seasonTaxi: The Complete Second Season Box Set (1979-1980)

Starring: Judd Hirsch, Jeff Conaway, Danny DeVito, Andy Kaufman, Christopher Lloyd, w/ guest stars
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Video: 1.33:1 Full Frame
Audio: DD 2.0 mono
Extras: Previews of other shows
Length: 9 hours, 51 minutes
Rating: ****

The comic cabbies of the Sunshine Cab Company are back for season two, in this set of 24 episodes, from September 11, 1979 through May 13, 1980. Taxi won an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series and this season features the addition of Christoper Lloyd as “Reverend Jim” Ignatowski who plays in several episodes and is always a huge source of humor. Other guest stars of note are: Rhea Perlman (who plays in a couple of episodes as Louie’s girlfriend), and Carol Kane (as Latka’s girlfriend) who won’t come back in full force until season four and five.

On the back of each disc (there are four), is a listing of air date, episode title, and a brief description of each of six episodes. In the menu on each disc there is an option to play back a single episode, or play the disc all the way through. Each episode starts with one of my all-time favorite show themes, “Angela,” by Bob James. It literally gave me goose bumps at each episode start to hear that tune again and feel a wash of memories coming back from the 1970s. Rather than summarize each episode, there is an extensive list with descriptions over at www.tvtome.com. Here is the link for Season Two.

Taxi played in a 30-minute slot meaning the episodes lasted about 23 minutes a piece. Just about all the members of Taxi went on to become fairly major players in television and movies. Andy Kaufman had a shorter life than expected, but he will always be remembered for his portrayal of Latka Gravas, the mechanic with the funny foreign language that can give the viewer an instant chuckle. Jeff Conaway is really the only person of the bunch who doesn’t ring any bells when thinking about future acting jobs. Each character on the show has there own “shtick” and oddities—more so than other comedies–and the viewer would come to expect these personalities to be exaggerated in every show. Tony (Tony Danza) is the dumb boxer who is constant fodder for Louie’s jokes. Louie (Danny DeVito) plays the cruel and heartless boss who spends most of the time in the “cage”—although he has his awkward moments when he acts like a human being. Alex (Judd Hirsch) is the character who is there to lend a shoulder and listen to others’ problems. He is also the character that all the characters admire. Bobby (Jeff Conaway) is a struggling actor who just can’t seem to get his leg up on his career, and boy, does Louie have fun reminding him what a failure he is. Elaine (Marilu Henner) is the only female lead. She’s a mother of two, and works two jobs—one driving a cab, the other pursuing her dream working with artists in an art gallery. Louie is constantly trying to romance her (in a way that is hardly romantic). Jim (Christopher Lloyd) is considered by many to be their favorite character. Just about every line out of his mouth is a silly/witty one-liner. The way he carries himself, his looks, and the story lines make him a constant source of amusement.

Even at times when an episode gets serious, there are injections of humor that soften the blow, so at the end of the show you aren’t left on a low note. Take “Honor Thy Father,” when Alex discovers his father is dying, but hasn’t spoken to him in years. He finally goes to the hospital at the urging of his sister, confesses his feelings with difficulty to the poor aged and sickly man in the bed, only to have his father walk in the door. Oops. When he leaves, it is this other man that wants a hug. Other episodes deal with serious subjects like Angela’s weight and self-esteem issues in “The Lighter Side of Angela Matusa” and adoption in “Tony and Brian.” Prejudice is confronted in “Guess Who’s Coming for Brefnish” and greed in a few episodes as well. In “Art Work,” after losing the chance at acquiring a sure thing investment, the crew is turned on to the joy of art itself and grow a little. In almost every episode, the viewer is confronted with comic skits that mirror daily moral decisions that we all make. This down-to-earth quality that allows us to laugh at ourselves and still learn from our mistakes makes Taxi most appealing.

Two of my favorite episodes involve Christopher Lloyd’s character: “Elaine’s Secret Admirer” and “Jim Gets a Pet.” In the first, Elaine receives some poetry from a secret admirer that buoys her spirits. She eagerly tries to discover who in the garage has given them to her. She suspects a few people and Louie claims to be the one, but they are not. Could it be that cute guy, Don? He breaks down and admits it’s been him all along and Elaine starts to date him. Meanwhile, Jim confesses to Alex that he’s been writing the poems. The comedy in that part of the scene alone is enough to fill an entire episode of a typical comedy these days. Alex does his best to convince Jim to confront Elaine, but he rightly states that she would really not want to know that it was him. When Elaine and Don are planning to go away for the weekend Alex decides to put his foot down. The situation that results is reminiscent of the final scene in Chaplin’s City Lights. Elaine is embarrassed and admits that she has learned something: “There aren’t going to be any castles in [her] life.” Jim does his best to prove her wrong and succeeds. Even in the midst of the sentiment, the laughs are still good, but the seriousness is what you remember from this one. Jim to Elaine: “I’m not…every woman’s dreamboat.” Elaine: “You are…the dearest, sweetest, most wonderful person.” Jim: “I think you’re right. Funny thing, there used to be a time when that was enough.” Jim exits apartment.

In “Jim Gets a Pet” the group goes to the horse races to gamble. When Elaine finds out she is furious. (Her ex-husband had a gambling problem.) Jim gets hooked and the cabbies are concerned, but then Jim tells them that he has won $10,000. Just as they are about to congratulate him, he explains: He bought the long shot race horse that he bet on. He felt an association with the horse and saw it as a sign to give him his freedom. He names the horse Gary and keeps him in his apartment. But a few days later when Alex, Tony, and Bobby go over to visit, they find the horse has died. To help Jim get over the loss, Alex suggests Jim deliver a eulogy to help commemorate the horse’s life. Here is the text: “I’ll make this as brief and simple as possible because I think that is the way he would have wanted it. Now, I don’t know what faith Gary was raised in, but I know that he was bred and raised to run. When he was young he was fast, and I bet it felt it good. He put everything he had into going as fast as he was able. But as he got older something began to happen–he was running just as hard, but all the other horses were passing him by. I don’t know how much animals understand, but Gary must have wondered what the hell was happening to him. Right up to the last…he could see, he thought, that maybe if he could get up there on a fast track, on a warm day, it would all come back to him. Because, in his heart, he was still a two year old! I think…uh…when your legs give out, it’s nice to have people around who understand what’s in your heart.”

-Brian Bloom

I Love Lucy: Season 3I Love Lucy: The Complete Third Season (1953-54)

Starring: Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, Willliam Frawley
Studio: CBS TV/Paramount
Video: 4:3 Full Screen B&W
Audio: PCM Mono
Extras: Flubs, Lost Scenes, Restored Music, “Behind the Scenes” Audio Featurette, Original Series Openings, Original Animated Sequences, Script Excerpts, Production Notes, Song Selections, Guest Cast Information, Series Promotional Spot, Five Complete Episodes of Lucy’s Radio Show: My Favorite Husband
Languages: English; Spanish Audio available on most episodes
Subtitles: English, Spanish, English closed-captions
Length: 13 hrs. 39 min.
Rating: ****

I Love Lucy: The Complete Third Season is available as a 5 disc set and including 31 episodes, each about 26 minutes long. This translates to 45 minutes of extra footage, not available in syndication. The Special Features sections are invaluable, a big treat for Lucy fans, providing a wealth of background details. Even without the extras, I would find these original episodes worth owning because they are highly re-watchable. The stories are clever and inventive. The hilarity is timeless. When watching Lucy I feel I am being transported to a more innocent, less complicated time. With the ever present Ethel and Fred Mertz, the Riccardos create a terrific ensemble cast.

I Love Lucy was first seen in October, 1951 and has never been out of syndication since its original run. The fact that Lucille Ball pioneered in shooting her show as 33 mm film just like a feature film is obvious in the excellent B&W image quality of the transfer to DVD. Also good quality mono sound. Each disc carries bonus features–flubs (usually too subtle to be called bloopers), lost scenes, commentaries, featurettes, production notes and five complete episodes of Ball’s radio program “My Favorite Husband” on which many of the television stories were built. (Complete listing of extras in heading above.)

Viewing Lucy is like watching “live” television, as rarely were there second takes, hence the collection of flubs. It is strange nowadays to see several commercials that Ball and Arnaz did for Philip Morris, their cigarette sponsor. Also, to see Lucy and Ricky smoking periodically in several of the episodes looks as peculiar now as it must have looked normal then. One rather dear addition during the Christmas season was of the four principles as themselves right after a show all dressed as Santa Claus and singing Jingle Bells to the audience.

For anyone unfamiliar with the show here’s a summary: Lucy is a housewife with a small baby living in a New York apartment with her successful Cuban band leader husband, Ricky Riccardo. Lucy is constantly getting herself and her husband and friends and landlords, Ethel and Fred Mertz into bizarre and outrageous situations. Whatever Lucy does, she’s always lovable and we always root for her. She’s a bit of diva in her daily life and antics as she sometimes strives to manipulate herself into show business one way or another with hilarious results. She would love to share in Ricky’s growing fame and success and tries in a variety of ways to convince him of her talent. Lucy will go to any lengths to be noticed and affirmed and will go to any lengths to extricate herself (and her willing accomplice Ethel) from a variety of frequent embarassing or untenable situations. Ricky is presented as the long suffering (if somewhat chavinistic by today’s standards) with his unpredictable wife and though she becomes suspicious on occasion of Ricky, he’s always faithful and accepts and loves Lucy completely, as we all do.

Just to mention a few favorites episodes:

Too Many Crooks – There’s a female thief in the neighborhood ransacking apartments in the building. Lucy decides Ethel is the burglar and Ethel is convinced it’s Lucy.

The Black Wig – Lucy disguises herself in a black wig to test Ricky’s fidelity. When he responds positively to the “other woman” Lucy is livid. Lucy and Ethel arrange to meet Ricy and Fred at a restaurant in elaborate masquerade to try to catch the boys cheating.

The Charm School – After seeing Ricky and Fred being charmed by an alluring diinner guest’s date, Lucy and Ethel decide to enroll in charm school to become “charming” and capture the waning attention of their husbands. But the tables are turned when Ricky and Fred decide to be “charming” too.

Fan Magazine Interview – A reporter arrives to observe a “typical” day with the Riccardos. Lucy serves a gourmet breakfast and Ricky wears a smoking jacket. But events take an unexpected turn when Lucy discovers a note in Ricky’s jacket asking “Minnie Finch” to be his date at the club that night.

Lucy is Envious – Lucy cannot admit to a rich friend that she cannot contribute to her charity. Then the friend asks for “five” Lucy and Ethel both decide they can easily afford $5 not realizing the woman means $500. Desperate for the needed cash, they get a job as Martians who invade the top of the Empire State Building as a publicity stunt for a movie Women from Mars.

One of the highlights of the season is when Tennessee Ernie Ford makes a guest appearance in two of the episodes as a friend of a relative of Lucy’s mother visiting from Bent Fork, Tennessee. Innocent hillbilly “Cousin” Ernie seems never to want to leave and when Lucy disguises herself as a “wicked city woman” (the type about whom Ernie’s mother has warned him) in order to scare him away and “vamps” him, Ernie is thrilled.

-Donna Dorsett

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