- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Like fine wine, some films improve over time, and that’s definitely the case with Barry Levinson’s surprise 1988 hit Rain Man, new this week in a DVD “special edition” ($19.98) from MGM Home Entertainment. It’s our…

Video pick of the week

With the possible exception of his indelible Ratso Rizzo role in the late John Schlesinger’s gritty 1969 drama “Midnight Cowboy,” Dustin Hoffman lands his greatest showcase as autistic savant Raymond Babbitt, who’s sprung from an institution by long-absent younger brother Charlie (Tom Cruise, in what may be his most nuanced work to date). Their subsequent cross-country road trip succeeds in eschewing cheap sentiment in favor of believable, often heart-wrenching character development, without stinting on the fun, most notably the pair’s profitable Las Vegas layover.

While “Rain Man” is essentially a two-man show, the since-underutilized Valeria Golino is also ideally cast as foreign-car dealer Charlie’s Italian girlfriend-cum-conscience, even if her screen time is limited. An ideal blend of a writer’s and actor’s movie, “Rain Man” comes equipped with more honest unforgettable “moments” — from Raymond’s mantra-like recitation of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine to his belated first kiss (“wet” is his succinct review) — than many an entire year’s celluloid output.

MGM’s edition includes a deleted scene, original featurette, trailer and three audio commentaries. If we have one minor quibble, it’s that last-mentioned decision; a single commentary shared by director Levinson and screenwriters Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass would likely have yielded more interactive anecdotes and backstories than their solo monologues manage. Still, “Rain Man” rates as essential viewing for anyone who loves great movies.

The ‘A’ list

Several critically acclaimed theatrical films hit homevid shelves this week. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson turn in winning performances in Lost in Translation. The entertaining character study, set in Tokyo, is from writer-director Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola. It arrives in a widescreen DVD edition (Universal Home Entertainment, $26.98) complete with interviews with the two leads, a behind-the-scenes documentary, extended and deleted scenes, a music video and more.

Directors Shari Springer Bergman and Robert Pulcini bring Harvey Pekar’s autobiographical American Splendor underground comic books to screen life in the acclaimed indie of the same name (HBO Video, $27.95), with Paul Giamatti as the perennially put-upon Pekar and Hope Davis as his loyal squeeze. Bonus material includes a Sundance Channel featurette, audio commentary, DVD-ROM features and more.

Elsewhere, Cuba Gooding Jr. follows last week’s “Radio” release with the gospel-themed comedy The Fighting Temptations (Paramount Home Entertainment, $29.99), co-starring singer Beyonce Knowles. The ubiquitous Ashton Kutcher pursues love object Tara Reid in My Boss’s Daughter (Miramax Home Entertainment, $29.99). Haley Joel Osment encounters eccentric great-uncles Michael Caine and Robert Duvall in the scenery-chewing drama Secondhand Lions (New Line Home Entertainment, $27.99). All of the above are also available on VHS.

Collectors’ corner

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment goes the deluxe DVD route this week with a brace of very different film classics. The label’s double-disc Planet of the Apes: 35th Anniversary Widescreen Edition ($26.98) supplies a pristine restoration of Franklin J. Schaffner’s 1968 simian sci-fi triumph, starring Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter and Roddy McDowall. The copious extras include multiple audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes featurettes both new and vintage, and more.

George Stevens’ fact-based 1959 drama, The Diary of Anne Frank ($19.98), surfaces in a newly restored edition accompanied by lead Millie Perkins’ audio commentary, original press conference footage, Miss Perkins’ screen test and other backdate bonuses.

Tele-video

On the tube-to-disc front, this week Warner Home Video debuts the 1983 miniseries The Thorn Birds ($29.98), set in the Australian outback and starring Richard Chamberlain, Barbara Stanwyck and Christopher Plummer. The two-DVD set contains the commemorative documentary “The Thorn Birds: Old Friends, New Stories.”

Already available, from HBO Video, is Curb Your Enthusiasm: The Complete First Season ($39.98), offering 10 episodes plus a one-hour special, showcasing creator and lead Larry David as TV’s most beloved misanthrope.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any idea why “The Winds of War,” one of the best miniseries ever made, is not yet out on DVD, when its sequel, War and Remembrance, is? (I consider “War and Remembrance” just as good).

Robert Glaub, Laurel, Md.

MPI Home Video (mpihomevideo.com) didn’t stint with its gala “War and Remembrance” sets, so the original “Winds” would certainly be ripe for similar treatment. You can cast your vote for a proposed “Winds” set on Amazon.com by typing in “winds of war.”

Send your video comments and queries to Phantom of the Movies, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 or e-mail us at: phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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