A spooky television show, a great documentary and the newest collection of classic Popeye cartoons are in this week's DVD column.
At least the producers of this A&E series manage to hold back the temptation of saying "they see dead people." But, like the fictional "The Sixth Sense," the children profiled on the series have psychic abilities and see or communicate with spirits.
Although the producers use editing techniques and special effects borrowed from horror movies to heighten the drama, there's little need. Essentially the series wrestles with the problem of whether or not these young people actually are seeing ghosts or are they just angling for some attention.
The other issue is whether or not these kids enjoy or appreciate this gift or if they find it frightening or painful. Most of the time, they don't and it's gratifying to see them receive some help.
The show uses Columbia University Associate Professor and Clinical Psychologist Dr. Lisa Miller as the host with psychic Chip Coffey as her sidekick. Although the show amps up the spooky element whenever it can, the two hosts clearly take their role seriously they try to help the children and their families.
If you're interested in such subjects, this is pretty compelling viewing. However, if not, you'll probably find it hokey and boring.
Operation Valkyrie: The Stauffenberg Plot to Kill Hitler
Tom Cruise's movie based on the attempt by high ranking German army officers to murder Adolf Hitler and bring World War II to an early end will open this Christmas, but if you're interested in this fascinating chapter of 20th century history then I recommend finding this new two-disc DVD.
This documentary uses archival film footage, still photos and audio recordings, interviews with historians and live action and computer animated recreations to tell the story of how Claus von Stauffenberg, an aristocratic German officer, came to realize that he must aid the attempt to overthrow Hitler.
What I liked about the DVD was that it took its time to set up why Hitler rose to power and how Germans viewed his leadership. Providing this context gave the story its deserved dramatic weight.
Another aspect of the production that added more authenticity was an interview with the last surviving member of the conspiracy, filmed shortly before his death.
I wonder how Cruise and director Byron Singer will treat this material for their film, but I doubt it will be as impressive as this documentary.
The second disc has a lot of interesting features, including the home movies shot by Hitler's mistress Eva Braun and one of the other assassination attempts.
Popeye the Sailor: 1941-1943
The third installment of the on-going releases of classic Popeye cartoons features the final shorts made by the Fleischer Studios and shows how World War II affected the highly popular animated character. Popeye not only entered the Navy, but he actively fought the Axis.
The problem with some of these wartime cartoons is the vicious stereotypes used to portray enemies, making them problematic viewing today. While I've found that contemporary audiences love Popeye, these propaganda shorts require much discussion.
The set features 32 cartoon shorts and several solid documentaries including one on the last surviving animation director from the Fleischer Studio, the late Myron Waldman. I was privileged to call Waldman my friend and mentor for over 25 years and I'm heartened that his career received this kind of attention.
The two-disc set also has a good documentary on early animation from 1921 to 1930, which I recommend.
Even if this set didn't have all of these goodies, I would be endorsing it, as the Popeye shorts remain so entertaining. Although some people think the series was simply Popeye and Bluto -- later Brutus -- fighting over Olive Oyl, many of the shorts have nothing to do with such a fight and don't even feature Popeye having to take spinach.
This new DVD should be part of every serious animation library.
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