DVD Review: Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set

Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set
First Blood, Rambo – First Blood Part II, Rambo III, Rambo
Starring Sylvester Stallone
Lionsgate Home Entertainment
Release Date: May 27, 2008

When I was a young jazz-musician-in-training, there was (and, by the way, still is) a company called Mosaic Records, whose catalog consisted entirely of limited-edition box sets, that were each like the most scholarly and exhaustive treatment of a particular jazz musician’s career, or phase of his career. The typical title format that Mosaic would follow with these sets was/is something like The Complete Blue Note Recordings of Thelonious Monk — in essence, each box set would include every single recording that a particular jazz musician did for a given record label, plus dozens of never-before-heard alternate takes, lengthy liner notes, complete discographical information, ultra-rare photographs, etc., etc.

Anyway, if Mosaic were suddenly to change the focus of its content from classic jazz to action movies, they would be eminently proud of a release like Rambo: The Complete Collector’s Set. Seriously, for all you Rambo lovers out there, this is the one product that you need. It is definitive and — until further Rambo sequels are produced (a possibility to which Sylvester Stallone alludes in one of the set’s innumerable extras) — genuinely complete.

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DVD Review: ‘Family Ties’ S3

Family Ties
The Third Season
Starring Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman, Michael Gross, Meredith Baxter Birney, Tina Yothers
Paramount Home Video
Release date: February 12, 2008

OK, first things first: The third season of Family Ties is the one with the kangaroo.

Along with pretty much everyone else in the United States at the time, I totally dug this series when it originally aired back in the 1980s, but truth be told, the main question I found myself asking when I initially agreed to review its Third Season DVD set was, “Is this the season with the kangaroo?” Not to beat a dead horse (or live kangaroo, as it were), but I’m very glad to reiterate that it is.

Because Family Ties was to the Eighties roughly what Leave It to Beaver was to the Fifties and The Brady Bunch was to the Seventies, I find it a little odd to have to explain the basics of the show to any readers out there who might not know what it was all about. To put things in pop music terms, such a requirement strikes me as not altogether unlike needing to explain what Wham! was. OK, so perhaps you did have to be there, but come on. I mean, I was born in the 1960s, but look, I still know who the f*cking Little Rascals were, right? My point being, I can only assume that you’ve been living under a rock somewhere if you’ve never heard of Family Ties.

Scathing indictment of pop-cultural illiteracy aside, Family Ties was an immensely popular 1980s sitcom about a Midwestern family named The Keatons — father, Steven (Michael Gross); his wife, Elyse (Meredith Baxter Birney); their eldest son, Alex P. (Michael J. Fox); their eldest daughter, Mallory (Justine Bateman); their younger daughter, Jennifer (Tina Yothers); and — making his debut in the Third Season — their newborn son, Andrew (Garrett Merriman). Another frequent cast member is Alex’s friend, Erwin “Skippy” Handleman (Marc Price).

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DVD Review: ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ S4

Walker, Texas Ranger
The Fourth Season
Starring Chuck Norris, Clarence Gilyard, Jr., Sheree J. Wilson, Noble Willingham
Paramount Home Video
Available Feb. 19, 2008

I’m sure that some out there might disagree, but I find it difficult to not like Chuck Norris. Or maybe I mean Cordell Walker. At any rate, certainly Chuck Norris as Cordell Walker.

Cordell Walker is a fictional Texas Ranger. The very one that the title of the 1993–2001 CBS television series Walker, Texas Ranger refers to. Walker does not belong to the baseball-playing variety of Texas Ranger. Rather, he belongs to a like-named law enforcement agency that is a division of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Film legend Chuck Norris plays Walker. Rounding out the show’s cast are Clarence Gilyard, Jr. (as ranger James “Jimmy” Trivett, Walker’s crime-fighting colleague and, essentially, right-hand man), Dallas alumna Sheree J. Wilson (as Assistant District Attorney Alex Cahill), and Noble Willingham (as bar owner C.D. Parker).

I remember various action movies in which Chuck Norris starred back in the late 1970s and 1980s. I don’t think I actually saw any of them in theaters, I mainly rented them after they came out on VHS. In those times, there were a whole lot of Golan and Globus–style action stars to choose from when you arrived at the video store. And each of them had one or more “main” movies that had a long list of sequels, the plots of which seemed to get progressively worse and more ridiculous, but for some strange reason, you’d always rent the next one anyway. There was Sylvester Stallone as Rambo, Charles Bronson in an endless series of Death Wish (and Death Wish-type) flicks, Clint Eastwood in a bunch of Dirty Harry (and Dirty Harry–type) movies, and a little later, guys like Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis, and Steven Seagal. Hardly missing in action, however, Chuck Norris was right at the forefront of the genre from the very beginning. I seem to recall specific scenes from his movies more than I do their titles. Like there was one scene that a junior high school friend of mine used to always recall, in which Chuck is tortured in a Vietnamese prison camp. The technique used is that the sadistic camp leader ties a heavy cloth bag over Chuck’s head, but not before annoying the shit out of a large rat and throwing it into the bag to keep Chuck’s head company. Chuck is then hanged upside down and his body convulses for a few minutes, presumably from the hijinks going on with the rat. Then he suddenly goes motionless. When the evil-doers remove the bag from his head, we horrified audience members discover that Chuck has eaten the rat. Or, at least, we see that a motionless half of the rat (the half with the tail) is sticking out of Chuck’s mouth. Now, that’s a badass.

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DVD Review: ‘Emergency!’ S4

Season Four
Starring Randolph Mantooth, Kevin Tighe, Robert Fuller, Julie London
Paramount Home Video
Available: Jan. 29, 2008

In the early 1970s, if you wanted to get a glimpse of what paramedics do in the course of a typical day, your options were kind of limited. Basically, you could either: (1) become a paramedic; or (2) wait for a car accident to occur on your block. Obviously, both of these involved an investment of time somewhat disproportionate to the goal at hand.

Enter Emergency!, a one-hour television drama chronicling the goings-on of a Los Angeles fire station and the nearby emergency hospital served by it. Premiering in 1972 and co-created by Jack Webb, the show was not altogether unlike Dragnet — only with emergency medical personnel instead of hard-boiled detectives. The series mostly follows the work of John Gage (Randolph Mantooth) and Roy DeSoto (Kevin Tighe), two paramedics from Engine 51. A second component of the show’s focus is the emergency room staff at Rampart General Hospital, to which the victims attended to by Engine 51 are typically transported. This staff includes Dr. Kelly Brackett (Robert Fuller), Dr. Joe Early (Bobby Troup), Dr. Mike Morton (Ron Pinkard), and head nurse Dixie McCall (Julie Lond on). The series’ remaining regular cast consists of the other members of the Engine 51 crew, some of whom are played by real-life firefighters who go by their real names in the show.

Putting aside for a moment whether it’s a worthwhile endeavor, if one were to divide early-1970s TV shows into a Brady Bunch school of thought and an All in the Family school, Emergency! would, I think, be considerably more aligned with the Brady Bunch mentality. Sure, things go wrong on the show — sometimes disastrously (after all, the plot action is essentially a succession of life-threatening emergencies of varying scope) — but the overall vibe is incongruously chipper. (Or perhaps “CHiPper,” as Emergency! frequently projects a feel very much like its later-1970s California Highway Patrol counterpart.) To more fully impart the strange juxtaposition of medical emergency and lightheartedness that permeates the series, I refer to a description Gilbert Gottfried once gave of a possible Disney TV series, in which one of the main characters was a rotting, maggot-infested corpse. “But they were cute little Disney maggots,” reassured Gilbert, if I recall correctly. So it goes with Emergency! — even though the victims on the show often present with grave injuries (and sometimes even die), just about everyone seems to live happily ever after by the time each episode ends.

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DVD Review: ‘The Rockford Files’ S5

The Rockford Files
Season Five
Starring James Garner
Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Available Jan. 15, 2008

To me, a television show like The Rockford Files functions as a form of kryptonite in relation to contemporary network programming. In short, even a single minute of the quality, imaginativeness, humor, and soul of this series brings the crap inhabiting today’s TV airwaves to its collective knees and renders it useless.

Perhaps more importantly, the show serves as a glorious document of an infinitely cooler time and place in American history and pop culture. In The Rockford Files, men still behave like men, grown women dress like grown women, and — for some largely incomprehensible reason — characters in their twenties and thirties (who, unlike their counterparts on recent television, are balanced out by an equal, if not greater, number of forty-somethings, fifty-somethings, and beyond) actually conduct themselves like adults instead of overgrown, size-zero teen idol–wannabes with lower-back tattoos. Concerning these latter folks, their complete absence is one of the more deeply refreshing things about this show. As for other notable absences, pop in any Season Five episode, and for fifty extremely entertaining, commercial-free minutes, you also won’t see a single cell phone, BlackBerry, ATM, laptop, Williamsburg hipster, frat-guy-turned-hedge-fund-manager, or fascist elected official telling you he’s a defender of freedom. Remarkable what a difference thirty years can make!

The Rockford Files originally aired from 1974 through 1980 and centers on the life of fictional private investigator Jim Rockford (played by James Garner), whose background includes status as a former convict who receives a full pardon before the series even begins. Rockford lives in a trailer only a few dozen yards from the Pacific Ocean in Malibu. His father, Rocky (played by Noah Beery), lives in a house not too far away. The investigations for which Rockford is hired invariably place him in harm’s way, which is a problem for him, because he rarely carries or uses a gun (a circumstance which held throughout the show’s entire run). Likewise, they frequently leave him at odds with the local police precinct, where Sergeant (and later Lieutenant) Dennis Becker (played by Joe Santos) chides Rockford early on for having some “interesting ideas” about the precinct’s function within Rockford’s investigations. To add insult to injury, said investigations never seem to pay well either, despite Rockford’s high (for the time, at least) fee, which he’s never able to collect in full at the end of each episode, due to some miscellaneous swindle perpetrated unto him. Nonetheless, Rockford perseveres and consistently stands for what’s right, even though his lot in life never really improves.

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