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Easter Alternatives: Better home video choices for the Easter holiday

On the shelves, come Universal's "Happy Faces" line of DVDs...I do question some of the choices...greatly

On the shelves, come Universal’s “Happy Faces” line of DVDs…I do question some of the choices…greatly

As I was looking through the usual rack of DVDs, what did my eye catch but another home video cash cow that is on par with DVD reissues. Universal Studios has released a selection of family films dubbed the “Happy Faces” version. No doubt a means to break in on the Easter holiday. Some of the choices I can see being fine with like The Little Rascals and Beethoven (not seen in the pic above) but then you have some that deserve questioning. Why Barney’s Great Adventure for its pandering to the younger demographic making it a headache to the older generation? Why Casper and Coaraline when both are more suited for a Halloween release? And of all the titles in the batch, who would be so cruel to let The Cat in the Hat be given this treatment?

Is this how low we have gotten for home video entertainment around the Easter holiday? Well this serves as not only a list of recommendations but also a letter to the studios out there in Hollywood trying to think of a way to “get in” on the holiday. From reissuing classics or making a film for the season, there are better movies to view around a time when kids hunt for Easter eggs while older folks respect the religious origins. So for those who are looking to entertain their children and those looking for something to watch in celebration of the bright and colorful season, look no further. And I can guarantee you, these are far better substitutes than something dull and uninspired as Hop.

1202379979_1Here Comes Peter Cottontail – This 1971 Rankin Bass classic deals with the Easter Bunny mythos in a more clever way than the 90 minute CGI-hybrid romp. Casey Kasem of Scooby Doo fame voices Peter as he picked to be the next Easter Bunny but soon all that changes when he’s challenged by a nasty rabbit named Irontail to an egg delivering contest. As you might guess, Peter looses but then a strange man helps him travel back in time to make amends for his actions. Not strange enough? How about having Irontail sabotage the machine so he can go to any holiday but Easter leaving Peter in a quest to find a suitable holiday for his eggs?

The main problem is that for a Rankin Bass special, its the weirdest one when you read it on paper. But what matters is the execution. Despite being dated and a tad psychedelic in spots, there are a lot of elements that do hold up. The message of perseverance and trying to deal with your failures is not easy to come across for a kid audience but somehow it holds everything together. On top of that, hearing the voice of Shaggy from Peter Cottontail gives some nostalgic vibes for older audiences but I feel it will be seen more for the voice performance of Vincent Price as Irontail. Anything Vincent is in will always shine no matter how bad or weird it will be. I remember watching this fondly as a kid and looking back on it, its probably my favorite Rankin Bass special next to The Stingiest Man in Town. But if this stop-motion affair isn’t your cup of tea, then look to the next choice…

Parting-the-Red-Sea-e1323927556524The Ten Commandments (1956) – Its funny how Cecil B. DeMille’s biblical epic has held up over the years. Ever since 1973, this grand telling of the Moses story has become a huge staple for ABC and rarely has been retired from the airwaves. Some might consider this corny by today’s standards but the performance of Charlton Heston and its visual look make up for it. This was made in a time before digital effects were known so elements like tons of slaves pulling a block of stone look more effective than it would today.

Even strange is how there was never an attempt to cut down its massive near 4 hour running time for a general release. This is up there with Gone with the Wind and Ben-Hur as movies that don’t need a massive trimming to make it better. Older viewers will enjoy it for the sheer nostalgia and its subtle performances (despite some melodrama from time to time) and I feel younger viewers will be amazed by the scope and scale it brings. They will marvel at the building of Egypt while gaze in wonder when the Red Sea is parted.

600full-the-prince-of-egypt-screenshotThe Prince of Egypt – If you feel kids can’t handle a long epic, there’s also this alternative which is effective too. To think an animated musical of a Biblical tale can bring the same depth as the 1956 film while still be compelling and dynamic in new ways. Val Kilmer dons the voice of Moses as he goes for a more human approach in comparison to Heston’s theatrical take but I’m sure Ralph Fiennes shouldn’t go ignored as the brother Ramesses II. Ralph’s chilling performance matches such lush animation as we see not a cold being but someone who wants to keep a connection with his adopted sibling while still follow in his father’s footsteps.

Simon Wells directed this flick and its probably the only movie aside from Balto I can easily recommend for a family audience.  There’s a decent balance between dark and light that almost challenges the films of Don Bluth in perfecting a good movie for kids without going too dark or too light. The only drawback is that the comedic moments can feel really tacky and obviously set for the younger crowd but the more dramatic second half makes up for it. And you can’t complain when your movie is being scored by Hans Zimmer with delightful tunes by Stephen Schwartz.

LTC-DisciplesThe Last Temptation of Christ – This is easily a hard movie to recommend because it depends on the kind of person you are towards religion. Are you one that believes in the faith or accepts some ideas? Can you be open to different interpretations or is there a fine line between artistic expression and blasphemy? Well, Martin Scorsese really pushed the limits and brought us a movie that was not only breathtaking but really questioned the faith.

William Dafoe takes the role of Jesus but in a more humanitarian view as opposed to a benevolent take we all know. Instead, it makes us wonder what it would be like if he had a thought process like our own. Even more ambitious is the final moments where we see what it would be like he was human. Would he regret not having the ability to sacrifice his life for others or appreciate life? These elements really caused a stir and its probably why Hollywood tries to please the masses with religious films that play it safe as opposed to really question the what if factor. If you have an open mind and understand its just fiction and nothing more, you’ll be safe and enjoy a movie that artistically powerful as is its script. Everyone else……Ten Commandments?

critters-2-the-main-course-featuredCritters 2: The Main Course – While I do prefer the first movie, its obvious from the start its not meant to be taken seriously. I remember watching this on first viewing and while I didn’t hate it, still feel it doesn’t hold a candle to the first one. But looking back on its zany and out of control tone, I will say it did expand on a lot and didn’t fail to deliver. There’s higher risks as the little alien porcupines munch about the town in many ways that are clever and too good not to spoil. Its obviously going for a “tongue in cheek” approach but sadly lacks the horror angle from the first movie. A lot of the Critters were obscure in the night time where else in the sequel, they look like daylight Muppets that keep munching and munching. They had distinctive personalities in the first film while the sequel has them multiply into havoc raking monsters.

With that said, it does expand on a few things like the alien bounty hunters and uses their changing abilities to clever moments like one looking like a Playboy centerfold to another moment when one of the hunters becomes so broken he literally erases his human identity thus forming into his normal form. Critters 2 was never meant to be a good movie and it obviously shows. Its a mindless affair that lets your leave your brain at the door and enjoy the crazy on the screen. And if your wonder what it has to do with Easter, I’ll leave it like this. You won’t think of Easter egg hunts the same way again after this one. Until I do a proper revisit and go in-depth, I still say its worth watching at least for “that” kind of crowd.

hero_EB20040618REVIEWS406180301ARMonty Python’s The Life of Brain – It can’t be Easter without this movie! While Holy Grail is my favorite of the Python gang’s filmography, I do admire the ambition and wit behind this one. Instead of poking fun at a religious figure, they more or less ask what would happen if someone else wound up in the same situation but wasn’t benevolent like Jesus. Mistaken as the Messiah when he’s just a regular person. Well, somehow the Python’s succeeded with this one. Just when you think a gut busting moment is done, you get another one right around the corner. The jokes and sketches they incorporate into the narrative are all hit making at fun at not just the topical theme of religion but even going as far to really bash Roman lifestyle. Its funny how this movie was considered blasphemous upon its release but during a reissue when The Passion of the Christ came about, viewers started to get the message better that it wasn’t about mocking Jesus but more on the New Testament era itself. I can’t recommend this comedy enough but if you offended…well…

Rental Corner: The turth behind “The Invention of Lying”

How one lie can lead to funny possibilities as Ricky Gervais reads his "Ten Commandments."

How one lie can lead to funny possibilities as Ricky Gervais reads his “Ten Commandments.”

It seems Ricky Gervias had a hard career and a lot of hate. I recall seeing a Toyota commercial reflecting this on how his son is going down the list of hate mail and ticking it off. After seeing the recent new Muppet movie and “The Invention of Lying,” it brings me to wonder if its his persona on screen or off. And seeing how I don’t see much of his shtick off-screen, its probably for the best as his on-screen persona is actually likeable. Unlike Adam Sandler where he’s a goof in his recent flicks and kind during interviews, Ricky is funny in movies but from what I heard, not so in public. Probably should do more research on that. But in any case, what “The Invention of Lying” does show is that at least Ricky does have a sense of humor.

The premise for this feature is very clever. Mark Bellison (Ricky) is a struggling movie writer who lives within an entire world where no one can tell a single lie. Everyone says the exact truth as it is without over-exaggerating or fibbing. Now of course, they do over-exaggerate with the truth but only when its talking about someone’s looks or how they cook. This is a concept that sounds like it could be done in the wrong hands, but here it actually works for some really ingenious jokes. Advertisers pitch Coca-Cola as it is and not by the enjoyment factor. Movies are created like lectures by old scholars and Mark’s “lectures” on the Black Plague don’t seem to interest people compared to events like Napoleon that are more exciting.

Then one day, he somehow manages to create the world’s first lie and starts using it for personal gain. It is what you expect but its handled well. Does he use this for getting famous? Yes. Does he use this for obtaining riches? Of course. But does he use this ability to help others? Well, that is where this movie gets interesting but a bit uneven. Without giving too much away, he uses the lying ability to soften the death of someone close to him by saying there is a world waiting for them when they die. Unfortunately,  this catches wind of many as they start to ask them is there truly a place that exists beyond death. So as you can guess, he tells them about a world that is full of riches and the world is controlled by an unseen man in the sky.

This is where things got uneven for me. The idea of satirizing real life and how we can’t escape the truth suddenly becomes a bizarre religious parody. Not to say its bad but this tone feels way different from what was established earlier and almost feels a little too Monty Python familiar. And don’t get me wrong, I love Monty Python and their shtick but it doesn’t fit here. To be fair, there are some creative visual gags like a take on the Ten Commandments with 10 facts written down on two pizza boxes but this material is written in a fair different style that feels way too weird when it comes in. There’s even a moment when he gets depressed about his  love interest and grows enough facial hair to look like a certain religious figure who you already might know. Again, these are great gags and concepts but it just feels a little out of place for me.

When the movie was on the world and how it couldn’t resist lying, it works. But when it stared becoming a comedic commentary on religion, it felt strange to me. I think this was handled better in movies like Monty Python’s Life of Brian and Bruce Almighty because the universe they set up their shtick in fits. Both are comedic take on religion without feeling like its a bash on it. But on the other hand, the Invention of Lying does show the consequences of his lying but not to full greater extent that I hoped for. Its there but it doesn’t feel like a bigger payoff. It does show that you can’t save people with a simple fib and you can’t change others with a fake truth. Life doesn’t work like that and you just have to live with choice you prefer. A world without lying or a world with one.

So, I can’t say this was a bad comedy as I did laugh at the jokes that were funny and I can’t remember a single time I didn’t. At least, till the religious stuff and the predicable love story tossed in. But does that make it bad? No. Most comedies you come across will have problems and some elements will not stick that much with some viewers. I loved the idea of a world with no truth and I was engaged with it. The religious stuff I could do without but its part of the plot so I can let it pass by. It does offer some creative jokes (verbally and visually) but I feel it was done better in other movies. Still, I fun laughing at it and I enjoyed seeing Ricky Gervias trying to twist a world that has no idea what falsehood is to the point of history being rewritten. Its also a rare comedy that shows you don’t need a big budget and heavy special effects to make a good joke work.  If you want a good laugh on a boring Saturday night, this one is for you. 100% honest.