Uplifting family fare is rare on movie screens these days, but when it does come around, it’s often in the form of a true sports story, such as “McFarland, USA,” which was in theaters a few months ago and is now on Blu-ray and DVD.
“McFarland, USA” (Disney/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2015, PG, deleted/extended scenes, featurettes, music video). Kevin Costner plays real-life former football coach Jim White. As the film opens, he loses his job and takes a subordinate position in a small California high school. There, he slowly builds an unlikely team of cross-country runners and then leads them to the state championship.
Familiar underdog stuff, right? But that summary is just the surface. What makes this film better than most is its investment in the Hispanic community in which White, his wife (Maria Bello) and his children find themselves. He has to come to terms with the reality of his students’ poverty-stricken lives as field workers before he can understand how to reach out to candidates for his proposed track team. It’s a wonderfully developed journey, and Costner and cast are terrific.
“The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water” (Paramount/Nickelodeon/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2015, PG, deleted/extended/alternate scenes, featurettes, sing-alongs, music video). This second theatrical animated/live-action “SpongeBob SquarePants” feature was a huge hit, pulling in twice the box-office take of its predecessor (2015’s sixth biggest hit so far). Here, animated SpongeBob and friends take on super powers to combat a live-action evil pirate (Antonio Banderas). Funny stuff.
“1776” (Columbia/Blu-ray/Digital, 1972, PG/unrated, 165-minute director’s cut, 167-minute extended cut, two audio commentaries, deleted/alternate scenes, screen tests, trailers). This adaptation of the stage musical is faithful to the play and to the history of the Continental Congress as we understand it, and includes most of the original Broadway cast, led by William Daniels as John Adams, Howard da Silva as Benjamin Franklin and Ken Howard as Thomas Jefferson. Gorgeous hi-def upgrade with bountiful bonus features should more than please fans.
“Tom and Jerry: The Gene Deitch Collection” (Warner/DVD, 1961-62, 13 cartoons, featurettes). After shuttering its animation studio in 1957, thus ending the Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoons, MGM decided three years later to revive the theatrical series and hired Prague-based animator Gene Deitch to create 13 new shorts. Those shorts, which some fans love and others hate, are collected here, and while they aren’t up to the quality of Hanna-Barbera, they are enjoyable cartoons for fans and youngsters.
“Wish You Well” (eOne/DVD/Digital, 2015, featurettes). In the 1940s, after their writer-father is killed and their mother is disabled in a car accident, a 12-year-old girl and her younger brother move from New York to Virginia to live with their grandmother (Ellen Burstyn) on a small farm. There, the girl learns family secrets that informed her father’s novels. (David Baldacci wrote the script, adapting his own novel from which his literacy charity also takes its name.)
“The Dog Who Saved Summer” (Anchor Bay/DVD, 2015, PG). Live-action talking-dog comedy about the family that owns former police K-9 Zeus (voiced by Mario Lopez) sending him to obedience school. Hint: It doesn’t take. This is the fifth in the series, after the dog who saved Christmas, Halloween, Easter and “the holidays.” Dean Cain and Gary Valentine co-star.
“With This Ring” (Sony/DVD, 2015, not rated). Lifetime cable TV comedy about three unhappily single friends — talent agent Trista (Regina Hall), gossip columnist Viviane (Jill Scott) and struggling actress Amaya (Eve Cooper) — who attend another friend’s wedding on New Year’s Eve and vow to be married within the next year.
“The Taking of Tiger Mountain” (Well Go/Blu-ray/DVD, 2015, not rated, in Mandarin with English subtitles, featurette, trailers). Veteran Chinese action filmmaker Tsui Hark (“Once Upon a Time in China,” “Detective Dee”) directed and co-wrote this lavish yarn set in the 1940s that has a Liberation Army captain forming an uneasy alliance to take down a vicious bandit.
“The Pope of Greenwich Village”/“Desperate Hours” (MGM/Shout!/Blu-ray, 1984/1990), R for violence, language, sex, nudity; two discs, two movies, featurettes, trailers). Mickey Rourke double feature with a good film and a terrible remake. “Pope” has Rourke and Eric Roberts as small-time hustlers in Little Italy looking for a big score, a gritty character study not unlike Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets.” “Desperate Hours” is a remake of the Humphrey Bogart 1955 classic about bad guys (led by sadistic Rourke) invading a home (occupied by Anthony Hopkins and Mimi Rogers), but it’s a mess thanks to director Michael Cimino’s penchant for excess. (The latter was filmed largely in Salt Lake City.)
“Focus” (Warner/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2015; R for language, sex, violence; deleted scenes/alternate opening, featurettes). Unfortunately, this is another Will Smith misfire. He’s a super-cool veteran con artist who takes on an apprentice (Margot Robbie), lets her get too close and discovers he’s being played. Or is he? Glamour to spare and likable stars, but the script is overly familiar and too twisty.
“Jupiter Ascending” (Warner/Blu-ray/DVD/Digital/On Demand, 2015, PG-13, featurettes). Latest fantasy from the Wachowskis (the “Matrix” trilogy) is an extremely convoluted story driven by complicated special effects with Mila Kunis as a young earthling unaware she is actually descended from alien royalty. An emperor (Eddie Redmayne) sees her as a threat, so he sends assassins to knock her off, but she’s rescued by a genetically engineered soldier (Channing Tatum). (Also available in 3-D.)
“Monsters: Dark Continent” (Anchor Bay/Blu-ray/DVD, 2015; R for violence, language, sex, nudity, drugs; featurette, trailer). Sequel to 2010’s “Monsters” is set 10 years later as more alien monsters threaten humanity and a larger military presence tries to hold them off. The focus is on four Army recruits whose mission takes them through the heart of monster country.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.