DVD Picks & Passes 07.12.2009

For All Mankind (1989)

Peanuts 1960’s Collection (1965-1969)

Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves (1944)

Marking this month’s 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing, a number of Apollo-related documentaries have gotten new DVD releases lately.

Among the best such documentaries is For All Mankind, originally released in 1989 for Apollo 11’s 20th anniversary, which is now celebrating its own 20th anniversary with a new edition from Criterion (both DVD and Blu-ray).

Much like the more recent, similarly excellent From the Earth to the Moon, For All Mankind is composed of historical footage carefully culled from NASA archives as well as other sources, and it’s narrated by the astronauts themselves — though unlike the later film For All Mankind never cuts away from its historical footage to put the astronauts onscreen. (Two sets of optional subtitles identify astronauts onscreen and in voiceover.)

Besides all bonus materials from previous editions, including commentary by director Al Reinert and last-man-on-the-moon Gene Cernan, the new edition includes a half-hour high-definition making-of and — most unusually — a feature on the artwork of astronaut-cum-painter Al Bean. Highly recommended.

Peanuts fans rejoice! After any number of DVD one-offs and a couple of incomplete one-disc “holiday” collections, at last Charles Schulz’s TV specials are coming to DVD in chronological order, starting with the Peanuts 1960’s Collection, featuring all six “Peanuts” specials from the 1960s.

Along with the two most beloved holiday episodes, “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” the 1960s’ collection features a pair of episodes never before released on DVD: “He’s Your Dog, Charlie Brown” and “It was a Short Summer, Charlie Brown.” Rounding out the collection are “Charlie Brown’s All-Stars” (also known on DVD as “Lucy Must Be Traded, Charlie Brown”) and “You’re in Love, Charlie Brown” (or “Be My Valentine, Charlie Brown”).

All six episodes have been digitally remastered. The set features one extra, a 30-minute featurette on jazz maestro Vince Guaraldi who wrote that timeless theme song.

Also new on DVD, Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves borrows a few elements from its Arabian Nights namesake — the treasure-filled cavern with its magical “Open/Close Sesame” password and the conceit of smuggling thieves in giant oil jars — but its real inspirations are Korda’s The Thief of Bagdad and The Adventures of Robin Hood.

Thus Ali (John Hall) is (like Thief of Bagdad’s hero) the deposed rightful king, here cast as leading the gang of 40 as righteous resistance fighters against the cruel Mongol conqueror Hulagu Khan, while romancing a Maid Marian-esque Amara (Maria Montez). They even sing about robbing the rich to give to the poor!

Though it lacks the magical spectacle of Thief of Bagdad and the swashbuckling flair of Robin Hood and strings out the nonrecognition of the hero and heroine too long, Ali Baba is agreeable family entertainment.

Content Advisory: For All Mankind, Peanuts 1960’s Collection: Nothing problematic. Ali Baba: Stylized violence; mild innuendo and a couple of discreet bathing scenes; fictionalized Islamic milieu. All fine family viewing.

From Writing Jokes to Sacred Songs

In his job-hopping, soul-searching pre-seminary days, Father Bill Quinlivan was something of a funny man, penning a movie script, pitching a sitcom and schlepping jokes at $10 a pop to Joan Rivers (one of them delivered on “The Tonight Show”). Now he’s focusing on sacred music; his latest CD, which celebrates the priesthood, is apropos for the Year for Priests.

Place of Light

English St. Odilia was martyred in Germany in the fourth century. But she is remembered on her feast day, July 18, and at the Shrine of St. Odilia in Minnesota.

Horace Vernet, “The Angel of Death,” 1851

Don’t Wait to Cram for Your ‘Final Exam’

“Each man receives his eternal retribution in his immortal soul at the very moment of his death, in a particular judgment that refers his life to Christ: either entrance into the blessedness of heaven — through a purification or immediately — or immediate and everlasting damnation.” (CCC 1022)

Francisco de Zurbarán, “The Family of the Virgin,” ca. 1650

Why Do We Ask Mary to Pray for Us?

“After her Son’s Ascension, Mary ‘aided the beginnings of the Church by her prayers.’ In her association with the apostles and several women, ‘we also see Mary by her prayers imploring the gift of the Spirit, who had already overshadowed her in the Annunciation.’” (CCC 965)