Movies Till Dawn: TV Archaeology/Kids’ Stuff

American Vandal: Season One” (2017, CBS Home Video/Paramount Home Video) Twenty-seven penises spray-painted on teachers’ cars earns school knucklehead Jimmy Tatro an expulsion, which prompts pals Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck to launch a true-crime-styled documentary investigation. Your mileage may vary in regard to this Peabody Award-winning Netflix comedy – the psychological and emotional motivation for and artistic merits of graffiti dicks are discussed at length and with great (faux) seriousness – but the adult and younger players give uniformly funny and honest turns, and the major targets – sensationalist TV, social media, rigid school politics – are lampooned without mercy. CBS/Paramount’s two-disc set includes an hour of extended interviews with the primary suspect and witnesses.

Sarah T: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic” (1975, Shout! Factory) A confluence of problems – absentee dad (Larry Hagman), emotionally distant mom (Verna Bloom), an unrequited crush (Mark Hamill) and new town/new school anxieties – open a wound that shy Linda Blair fills with alcohol. Though rife with ’70s culture detritus and a few moments that lean towards camp histrionics (i.e., the fate of Daisy the horse), this TV-movie by Richard Donner (“Superman,” “Goonies”) is a straightforward and well-crafted character study, largely free of the lectures that mark many teens-in-trouble productions, and well anchored by Blair’s vulnerable lead. Shout Factory’s Blu-ray includes lengthy interviews with Blair, Donner and producer David Levinson, who express their admiration for their cast and crewmates.

Astro Boy: The Complete Series” (2003-2004, Mill Creek) Third television adaptation of Osamu Tezuka‘s iconic manga creation follows the basics of the source material (1959-1962) and first animated version (1963) – a scientist creates a super-powered robot in the likeness of his deceased son – and adds a fairly compelling storyline from the manga about a robot revolution that leads to war with humanity. The 2003 update appears to have split Astro Boy’s fan base: those that loved the first animated series didn’t care for the more serious tone, while viewers who enjoyed the more complicated story arc were disinterested in episodes that focused elsewhere (read: Astro Boy dealing with school hijinks). Those seeking simple anime enjoyment will most likely appreciate the charming character design and plentiful action; Mill Creek’s four-DVD set includes all 50 English-dubbed episodes.

Lu Over the Wall” (2017, Shout! Factory/GKids) Mopey teen Kai meets cute with impossibly upbeat mermaid Lu, who not only helps him regain his confidence, but also brokers a connection with the superstitious residents of his small fishing town. Lighter-weight anime from Maasaki Yuasa (“The Night is Short, Walk on Girl“), who employs his bright, buoyant color scheme and psychedelic aesthetic for younger audiences, who will most likely find Lu adorable (she’s a teenage take on Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo). Parents and older viewers may appreciate the lesson in tolerance  and Kai’s raggedy-but-right garage band; Shout/GKids Blu-ray offers English and Japanese language tracks (with subtitles) and an interview with Yuasa.

Benji Movie Collection” (1974/1977/2004, Mill Creek Entertainment) If the Netflix reboot of the Benji franchise piqued your interest (or twanged your nostalgia nerve), Mill Creek has repackaged two of the charismatic mutt’s OG titles with a 2004 “comeback” vehicle in this Blu-ray/DVD set. “Benji” (1974) and its 1977 sequel, “For the Love of Benji” – both directed by Joe Camp, who oversaw nearly all of Benji’s film and TV efforts (and whose son, Josh, helmed the reboot) – are almost plot-free: there’s business involving bumbling criminals in both films, but their running times are largely devoted to showcasing Benji’s ability to perform tasks and tricks (which, admittedly, are impressive). That formula proved exceptionally successful at the box office in the 1970s, and in fact, subsequent efforts to add more story – like the woeful “Oh Heavenly Dog!” with Chevy Chase – didn’t match its predecessors’ success. Camp appears to have worked out those kinks for “Benji: Off the Leash,” which folds a meta-approach (the search for a new Benji) into a deliberately maudlin (and effective) origin story. Though the action is decidedly low-wattage, the drawing power of a cute pooch for younger audiences (and those that remember him from back in the day) can never be underestimated; Mill Creek’s set offers commentary by Camp and trailers for all three films.

Prehysteria! (Special Edition)” (1993, Full Moon Features) Archaeologist Brett Cullen obtains dinosaur eggs stolen from a South American tribe, which promptly yield a gaggle of miniature saurians. Budget sci-fi from Moonbeam, a ’90s-era family entertainment imprint from producer/directors Charles and Albert Band (“Puppet Master”) and notable for stop-motion effects by David Allen and Clinton-era pre-teen favorite Austin O’Brien as the lead. 21st century kids will probably find the dino-shenanigans tolerable but yawn at the effects (though impressive), so the most appreciative audience for “Prehysteria” is most likely adults who saw it during the VHS heyday. Full Moon’s Blu-ray/DVD combo includes friendly commentary by O’Brien and Charles Band and a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, as well as trailers for more grown-up Full Moon titles (“Trancers”).

The Odyssey” (1997, Mill Creek Entertainment) Emmy-winning miniseries take on Homer’s epic, produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Andrei Konchalovsky (“Runaway Train”) with an emphasis on spectacle. Armand Assante is a determined Odysseus, navigating his way back from the Trojan War to wife Greta Scacchi on a path beset by various monsters (created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop) and temptations (Bernadette Peters as Circe, Vanessa Williams as Calypso). Scripting by Konchalovsky and Chris Solimine streamlines the source material in favor of action and dramatic pronouncements, and the visual effects are dated, but the Malta locations and a wildly diverse international cast, which includes everyone from Isabella Rossellini, Christopher Lee, Geraldine Chaplin and Irene Papas to Eric Roberts and Michael J. Pollard, lend polish and production value. Mill Creek’s DVD is full-frame.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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