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The Shelf: “Help!,” “Fat Albert,” “Burt Wonderstone”


This week, it’s musicians, apparitions, magicians, and loads of animations. Boy I’m happy all those words worked out that way. What a coup. I’ve already won. Let’s do the column anyway, though.


A year after they made their raucous, hilarious rock film, A Hard Day’s Night, the Beatles and director Richard Lester returned with an even weirder, even wackier, even more-in-colorer film, Help!. Pretty much ditching the idea of the boys attempting to play a show, this film features a witch doctor (Leo McKern) attempting time and again to retrieve a mystical ring which is stuck on the finger of beloved drummer Ringo. Naturally, it’s up to the others to think of a way to remove the piece of jewelry before a finger, or life, is lost. Upping the band’s sense of humor and employing the director’s signature absurdist humor, Help! may not be as iconic as its predecessor, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and features 7 songs performed by the band from arguably their final album from their early period.

On Blu-ray for the very first time, the Help! release contains a 30-minute making-of featuring director, cast, and crew interviews as well as rare behind-the-scenes footage of the band on set (a fun game is to see if you can tell when Paul is high as a kite. Hint: he’s always high as a kite), a missing scene, a featurette about the extensive restoration of the film for HD, reminiscence from the cast and crew, trailers, and radio spots. A really excellent release for Beatles fans, or just fans of British cinema in the swinging ’60s.

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids Complete Series Box Set

Created by and starring the legendary Bill Cosby, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids was a children’s cartoon series that ran from 1972 to 1985, comprising 110 episodes, and featured a band of characters, known as the Junkyard Gang, based on people with whom Cosby grew up in inner city North Philadelphia. Cosby himself voiced several characters on the show, including Bill, Mushmouth, and of course Fat Albert. The show was full of really funny bits that still hold up today, as well as the prerequisite lessons to learn. This was a show for children, after all. This was a bit before my time (I was born during its final season), but watching it now, it’s pretty clear why it was a hit.

Shout Factory has released the entire series in a big ol’ 15 disc set. Its lone special feature is a terrific documentary about the making and history of the series. Fans of animation, give this a look.

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone

The saga of competitive magic in Vegas arrives on DVD and Blu-ray today. It follows veteran magician Burt Wonderstone (Steve Carell) as he attempts to retain his edge over new illusionist phenom Steve Gray (Jim Carrey). Hilarity ensues. The Blu-ray includes 26 minutes of deleted scenes and alternate takes, an 8-minute “Making Movie Magic with David Copperfield” featurette, Jim Carrey in character as Steve Gray in another 9 minute clip, and 4 minutes of outtakes. And it has a strong cast — Carell, Carrey, Steve Buscemi, Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, and the late James Gandolfini — so there’s that.

When the film was released in theaters, we interviewed the screenwriters, John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein, about Vegas magicians and stage personas. Give it a read!


Best of Warner Bros. 50 Cartoon Collection: Looney Tunes – Just what it sounds like: a two disc set featuring 50 of the best Looney Tunes shorts.

Green Lantern: The Animated Series – Manhunter Menace – 13 episodes from Cartoon Network’s now-defunct CG animated Green Lantern series.

MADtv Season 3 – All 25 episodes of Fox’s highly-irreverent sketch comedy series’ third season, which introduced cast members Will Sasso and Alex Borstein.

Dead Souls – An 18-year old boy learns that he’s adopted and goes to reclaim his birth family’s farm in Maine. They all died, you see, and he soon learns it was under some pretty harrowing circumstances. Also they’re not resting peacefully. An original film produced by the Chiller network.

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