Working in my garden was a bittersweet experience on one of those rare days of Midwestern summer perfection. Let me first get the bitter part out of the way: The many weeds and dry spots were nagging reminders that I have not had much time to spend in my little patch of urban green. The sweet part was that I still have time to enjoy the yard and to sit on my porch swing.
This is the time of year when there is a steady parade of kids on my street clutching bags of treats from the corner store, skipping to the sound of the ice cream truck and the tinkling bells of paleta pushcarts. But I know that this sweet warmth only lasts so long. Soon there will be a new bell-the school bell-heralding the coming of autumn.
I have this change of season in mind with this month’s column. Two of my selections are reminders of summer 2004, a third is a great DVD to make the transition into the school year easier, and my final selection brings a quartet that seems to be popular no matter what the season. Use them to enjoy the fleeting days before fall.
JOHNSON FAMILY VACATION, rated PG-13, August 2004, $19.98 VHS, $27.98 DVD; ages 8 and up.
I decided to put this mainstream movie in my picks because it is a triumph for it even to be considered mainstream. In the tradition of “The Cosby Show,” we watch an African-American family go through universal experiences. Unfortunately, those experiences are carried by a story that is more like a standard sitcom than a strong plot. That disclaimer aside, this is a good summer 2004 release for your video collection.
My son Matthew is guest reviewer this month. He liked “Johnson Family Vacation” and loved the title family’s tricked-out SUV. Matt says the funniest part of the movie is when cousins Sedgwick and Earl trade places. The result is even more family dysfunction and a very clever running gag using Rube Goldberg gimmicks and found objects such as clothes hangers to fix up the family car.
The all-star cast includes Vanessa Williams, Steve Harvey and teen star Bow Wow. He was good in “Like Mike” and continues to develop as a young actor. Cedric the Entertainer is a movie-making machine; he has the “Barbershop” movies under his belt and “The Honeymooners” and a sequel to “Get Shorty” called “Be Cool” coming to a theater near you. As for downsides, Matthew thought that Cedric’s hundreds of family members and his obsession with the reunion was way over the top. Still, at a time when many families (mine included) are scattered around the country, getting together is a good thing. Sylvia says: B. This is a real family movie. The PG-13 rating in the United States (vs. the G rating in Canada) is a reminder of how conservative and erratic our movie rating system can be.
SPIDER-MAN vs. DOC OCK, not rated, June 2004, $14.99 VHS, $19.99 DVD; ages 8 and up.
One of the box office hits this summer has been “Spider-Man 2.” As a longtime fan of the comic book hero, I’m glad to tell you that “Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock” does not disappoint. Doc Ock is short for Dr. Octopus, the usual under-appreciated brilliant scientist who goes utterly mad and becomes a very memorable villain.
This is an opportunity to sit down with your teens and watch a show you can really understand. It’s also a chance to hear from legendary artist Stan Lee and learn the origins of Doc Ock. If you are a fan, I don’t have to say much beyond the fact that this addition to the Spider-Man collection is available. To the many friends and family members with whom I have debated who’s the coolest superhero, I say Spider-Man wins again . Sylvia says: A. Fans will enjoy a sneak peak at upcoming Spidey adventures due out on video later this year.
THE A TO Z SYMPHONY, not rated, August 2004, $14.95 VHS, $19.95 DVD; ages 0-5.
My college-bound daughter was lucky enough to learn to read music by playing the humble recorder back in fourth grade. That introduction to music was a tremendous boost to her education and life. Eve used to play cello, currently studies clarinet and can pick out tunes on the piano from sheet music. (She’s fortunate, because just two years after she started the recorder, the school’s funding for music was cut and students no longer had the same opportunities she enjoyed.)
Having seen the tremendous value of musical education firsthand, I really like seeing it on video. The “A to Z Symphony” is touted as Music Appreciation 101 for kids, but I think it’s a great early music tool even beyond the little ones. The younger set can learn the alphabet and enjoy the songs, early readers can learn vocabulary words and music history and information about composers’ works for any age-although the 26 letters of the alphabet might wear thin for older viewers. The mix of animation and live action is nicely done and the production values are high.
Sylvia says: A. Help your little one learn to love music and ease the transition back to school for older kids with this smart, entertaining offering.
THE WIGGLES WHOO-HOO! WIGGLY GREMLINS, not rated, July 2004, $14.95 VHS, $16.99 DVD; ages 2-5.
I was in no rush to review the Wiggles because so many families already know and love them. This quartet reminds me of the original “Star Trek” crew if they channeled the Beatles singing educational songs on one of those stages you find at Chuck E. Cheese. Theirs is definitely a world where adults and older viewers must suspend disbelief to enjoy the fun.
“Whoo Hoo! Wiggly Gremlins” is the latest adventure for this fab four, who are sidetracked as they head to their TV station. Gremlins-yes, gremlins in green outfits-stir up trouble for the boys. The Wiggles are big on songs, but there are nice interactive touches as well, and a pretty good demonstration of what goes on behind the scenes at a TV station.
Sylvia Says: B-. I’m not sure that I love the Wiggles, but I must admit this is good stuff for preschoolers to second-graders, give or take.
Sylvia M. Ewing is a mom and a writer. She also produces Eight Forty-Eight on WBEZ Chicago Public Radio.
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