Pete Seeger: The Power of Song (PG, 2007, Miriam Collection/Weinstein Company)
There exist plenty of serviceable biographical documentaries, which chronicle the life, times and contributions of the subject at hand and illustrate history through archival footage, photos and interviews with those who know him or her best and famous faces for whom he or she served as a primary influence. “Pete Seeger: The Power of Song” does all of these things, does them perfectly well, and, at least in the early going, seems content to do no more. Fortunately, Seeger’s multiple existences — folk singer, activist, suspected Commie traitor, Wall Street Journal subscriber, revolutionary musician — compel the story of his life to reach past convention, and “Song” sharply rises to the occasion after the table is set and acquaintances are made. What follows is a magnificent story about an exercise in free expression, the ironic wrath it brought forth, and how a seemingly simple folk singer inadvertently hoodwinked some very powerful detractors into accidentally reigniting the movement they foolishly tried so hard to suppress. “Song” is primarily a movie for people who love music, but it is just as much a film for those fascinated by American history — and the people who, even today, haven’t learned the lessons it tries to teach us.
Extras: Five short films from the Seeger family, deleted scenes.
Terminal City: The Complete Series (NR, 2005, Koch Vision)
Talk about your busy days. Within minutes of receiving confirmation that she has breast cancer, Katie Sampson (Maria del Mar) stumbles uninvited into the lens of a reality show that happens to be filming at the same hospital. As it happens, the camera loves her, and almost overnight, Katie has to simultaneously reconcile the effects of an unprecedented scare and a similarly unprecedented opportunity. The narrow, high-concept premise of “Terminal City” seems better suited for a film than a television series. As always, though, a good cast of characters sustains even the most acute of gimmicks, and between Katie’s family, Katie’s partners in television and most certainly Katie herself, this one isn’t hurting at all in that department. “City” cannot quite decide whether it wants most to be a quirky slice of life, a straight-faced family drama, a serious look at the realities of living with cancer, something in between or something else completely. Fortunately, the show balances its multiple desires with enough care so as to give each of its personalities plenty of ground to cover. What was that again about “City” not having enough material to sustain itself as a series? Never mind. If anything, with only 10 episodes to its name, “City” leaves long before it could ever overstay its welcome. Contents: 10 episodes, plus cast/crew interviews.
Code Monkeys: Season One (NR, 2007, Shout Factory)
“Code Monkeys” is a show about a video game about a group of people who make video games. Confused? Don’t be. It’s pretty easy to understand once you see it in action, and you can ignore the game-within-a-show gimmick and just focus on the characters if you’re still confused and so wish to do so. Problem is, with the gimmickry stripped away, “Monkeys” is just an animated sitcom about an upstart video game company in the early 1980s, and it’s a rather stupid one at that. The characters, though likeable, are pretty one-dimensional, and the jokes rarely reach beyond bathroom humor and sight gags. “Monkeys'” real genius lives and dies with that gimmick, which gifts the show with a dense trove of obscure references and nods aimed at anyone who played the games of that era. For every lame joke “Monkeys” trots out, there sit at least two or three winks ready to compensate. That, along with the nifty pixelated visual style straight out of the Atari 2600/Nintendo Entertainment System era, transforms what should be a completely forgettable show into a strange treat gaming fans would do right to check out.
Contents: 13 episodes, plus behind-the-scenes feature, gaming tips, daily pranks feature, DVD-ROM content (“Monkeys”-inspired games, wallpaper and downloadable posters).
Nim’s Island (PG, 2008, Fox)
For as long as she’s been alive, Nim (Abigail Breslin) and her scientist dad (Gerard Butler) have held court almost exclusively on their own private island. That is, until a series of strange but disconnected events finds Dad lost at sea and Nim unexpectedly charged with protecting the land from an invading force while simultaneously enlisting the help of an adventure writer (Jodie Foster) who isn’t nearly the person she (or, for all Nim assumes, he) seems to be in print. Huh? Don’t worry: It makes more sense on film than on paper, and the result isn’t half bad, either. Say this for “Nim’s Island:” It’s an adventure film aimed at kids and families that relies on actual human characters with personalities instead of the mind-mushing computer-generated visual excess that seems presently to be the unfortunate norm. The busy story is flawed from top to bottom — mainly thanks to the strange pacing and stacking of major plot events, but in no small part due to repeated misguided attempts to entrust Foster with comic relief duties. But even when she utterly fails at comedy, Foster’s character is likeable. Same goes for Nim, even when in full brat mode, and Dad, who keeps the film glued together despite never being the main attraction. When your three main characters are worth rooting for, something must be working, right?
Extras: Breslin/Foster commentary, writer/director commentary, deleted scenes, three behind-the-scenes features, PSAs.
Queen Sized (NR, 2008, Lifetime/Anchor Bay)
When fat girl Maggie Baker (Nikki Blonsky) finds herself nominated for Homecoming Queen as a prank by some girls from the popular crowd, she sees it as just another cruel prank to ignore. Her friends and supporters, however, see it differently — specifically, as an opportunity to rouse up the disenchanted, win the election and shame the pretty crowd. This should be fun … right? No? Too bad. “Queen Sized” purports to be based on a true story, so some loyalty to source material is to be expected. But no amount of loyalty can justify “Sized’s” need to constantly lead the viewer around by the nose, telegraphing every plot turn and transparently laying bare every character’s simplistic motivation in case you can spell it out yourself. Given the storyline, which is both singular in dimension but ripe for irony, “Sized” had every opportunity in the world to develop a subversive or wicked streak that wouldn’t have interfered with its desire to be likeable. Sadly, it never comes close to doing so, instead resorting to painful levels of overacting, excess mugging, repetitive storytelling devices and pages of “This is how I’m feeling in case you can’t tell” dialogue. Ultimately, what should have been a riotously fun message movie feels instead like something carefully prepared for stupid people or folks who have never seen a movie before. If you’ve managed to read this far, that isn’t you, so keep reading. No extras.
Worth a Mention
— “I Got the Feelin’: James Brown in the ’60s” (NR, 2008, Shout Factory): The latest thing of beauty from Shout Factory compiles three James Brown concerts, including the legendary Boston Garden show that took place one day after the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Also included in this three-disc set: The VH1 documentary “The Night James Brown Saved Boston.” Extras include bonus documentary interview footage, a panel discussion from the film’s premiere, and bonus Brown performances and audio.
— “Biography: John McCain” and “Biography: Barack Obama” (NR, 2008, A&E): Each DVD, sold separately, contains the respective candidate’s 47-minute “Biography” episode, but nothing else. It’s a shame the two episodes weren’t bundled together on a single, bipartisan and far more compelling disc.
— “Star Trek: The Original Series: Season Two: Remastered Edition” (NR, 1967, Paramount): In space, no one can hear you complain that you bought inferior versions of these “Star Trek” seasons just a few years ago. Contains 26 remastered episodes, plus home movies, episodes from both “Star Trek: The Animated Series” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and four collectable data cards.
— “I Love the 80s” collection (PG/PG-13, 1984-87, Paramount): Don’t get too excited: Beyond the cheesy new packaging, there’s little compelling about the latest DVD go-rounds for “Footloose,” “Pretty in Pink,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Top Gun” and “Some Kind of Wonderful.” Each is sold separately rather than in box set form, and only the last two on that list sport anything in the way of special features. Considering each of these films is available in more feature-rich iterations, it’s hard to understand who is supposed to want these versions.