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The Little Rascals: The Complete Collection

Movies Vary, but mostly A
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

Now this is something I've been wanting in my collection for a long time. When it came to funny stuff when I was a kid, I loved George Carlin, Bill Cosby, Monty Python and the Little Rascals, not necessarily in that order. The Little Rascals (formerly Our Gang) is one of the shows I got to watch when I feigned illness to stay home from school.

This collection gathers all of the "talkies" from Hal Roach's series of shorts about kids being kids, and they are still killer-funny. Some of the shorts had been heavily edited or even banned for broadcast due to racial stereotyping--but they are all uncut in this collection. There's a minstrel-show scene in the "Spanky" short that I don't recall seeing on any of my sick days.

It's remarkable how fast the "talkies" came together as solid productions. The set contains eight discs, and the first shorts on the first disc are a bit sloppy and rough. But by the time Disc 1 comes to an end with the 10th short, "Bear Shooters," the series was already humming. Spanky (when he was really young), Jackie Cooper and Buckwheat were always my favorites. Alfalfa, with his skyscraping cowlick and discordant singing voice, kind of got on my nerves.

Recently, there's been more talk about the curse of the Little Rascals than the joy of these films. Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) got involved with bad elements and was shot at the age of 31; Pete the dog (well, one of them) got poisoned; Darla died after surgery; Robert Blake went on trial for murder; and Wheezer died in a plane crash. Still, Spanky lived a good life, and Jackie Cooper (who kicked ass in his shorts) still breathes, so some of the gang avoided tragedy.

Special Features: Some surviving Rascals, including Jean Darling, Dickie Moore, Annie Ross and Jerry Tucker, provide disc intros and sit down for interviews. A featurette entitled Rascals and Racial Issues addresses some of the stereotyping that went on in the shorts. The opinion of some of the historians and cast, as expressed in interviews, is that Roach broke through a lot of cinema stereotypes by showing black and white kids playing with each other, going to school together, etc. Moore recounts a conversation he had with Stymie when they were adults, and Stymie downplayed the racism in the films, saying that those were the times, and we were "having fun." I can tell you: Watching these shorts offers a mixture of surprise at the racial harmony and shock at the blatant racism. It was definitely a mixed bag. You'll also find some commentaries, silent shorts and a documentary on the history of Our Gang and The Little Rascals.

The Mosquito Coast

Movie A-
Special Features F
DVD Geek Factor 6 (out of 10)

I always thought Harrison Ford got robbed when he didn't receive an Oscar nomination for his fiery, eccentric performance in this 1986 film. He plays Allie Fox, an obsessed inventor who tires of American life and society. He takes his family (including Helen Mirren as his wife and River Phoenix as his son) to Central America and builds a village in the middle of the jungle.

This was the second teaming of Ford and director Peter Weir. They worked together on Witness, another film where Ford was robbed. (He did get nominated, but he should've won the Oscar.) There's a shot of him screaming in this movie that stands as one of the quintessential Ford moments.

Special Features: I gave this disc an F, because there are no special features, and there is no reason for not including any. I have to think Ford, Mirren and others would be up for chatting about this one. A Weir commentary would be nice. I wish Warner had thrown a little dough at the DVD and given us some stuff.

Sold Out: A Threevening With Kevin Smith

Show A-
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

This is a concert film of Kevin Smith returning to Jersey on his 37th birthday, clad in his Silent Bob coat and cursing like mad (with his beloved mom in the audience). He stands in front of a big baby picture of himself and shares stories about his life, his films and his butt. As with his previous concert films, this DVD is an endeavor fit only for Kevin Smith fans. If you were pissed after seeing stuff like Mallrats and Chasing Amy, watch Baby Mama instead.

Smith has gotten damn good at this over the years. He's gone from giving Q&A-type lectures to grabbing a mic, walking around and riffing. I especially liked his stories about getting his daughter a dog, and his dad feeding an army of cats. The cat story goes to amazing lengths, ending with dead felines after a huge flood. Smith somehow makes this funny.

Special Features: Smith answers some extra questions, and it is worth watching.

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