- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Among the many primo Asian films to reach our shores and vidstores over the past

few months, Yoji Yamada’s 2002 The Twilight Samurai, newly released by Empire Pictures ($26.98), earns a spot at the top of the list. It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Seibei Iguchi (Hiroyuki Sanada) is not your typical screen samurai. A low-ranking office worker in a late-19th-century Japanese village, the widowed Seibei spends his spare time caring for his beloved young daughters and elderly mother. Potential romance enters the picture when recently divorced former childhood friend Tomoe (Rie Miyazawa) seeks to reconnect with Seibei. The only problem is Tomoe’s abusive, hard-drinking ex, a high-ranking samurai who’s determined to challenge Seibei to a duel.

While his film concludes with an intense action sequence, director Yamada lavishes far greater attention on the rhythms of daily life during a period of dramatic sociopolitical upheaval. Star Sanada, who followed “The Twilight Samurai” with a prominent supporting role in the Tom Cruise epic “The Last Samurai,” gives a particularly wrenching, textured performance as the decent family man torn between his personal wishes and professional obligations. Interesting interviews with actor Sanada and director Yamada comprise the disc’s only extras, but the film supplies sufficient rewards in its own right to justify its purchase price.

Those in the market for more frenetic Asian action flicks should check out Ventura Distribution’s 1970s Sonny Chiba line (venturadistribution.com), especially 1975’s Killing Machine ($19.99), while fans of sheer celluloid weirdness can’t go wrong with movie maverick Takashi Miike’s wonderfully bizarre black comedy/Yakuza caper Gozu (Pathfinder Home Entertainment, $24.98).

The ‘A’ list

Comedies continue to dominate the recent theatrical-to-digital slate. Jena Malone and Brad Renfro star in the offbeat Confessions of an American Girl (MGM Home Entertainment, $25.98), while DreamWorks Home Entertainment sneaks in the Ben Affleck/James Gandolfini holiday dud Surviving Christmas ($29.99). Paramount Home Entertainment proffers a bonus-packed edition of the youth-targeted hit Without a Paddle ($29.95), with Matthew Lillard and Seth Green.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents a pair of literally colorful comic titles — John Sayles’ political satire Silver City, starring Chris Cooper and Richard Dreyfuss, and the gay-themed farce Touch of Pink ($24.95 each), featuring Kyle McLachlan as the Spirit of Cary Grant.

In a darker vein, Touchstone Home Entertainment debuts the M. Night Shyamalan chiller The Village ($29.99), toplining Joaquin Phoenix, Adrien Brody and Sigourney Weaver, while 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment introduces a bonus-laden edition of the celebrity vengeance thriller Paparazzi ($27.98), with Cole Hauser, Tom Sizemore and Dennis Farina.

Collectors’ corner

In the vintage arena, MGM Home Entertainment offers the powerful 1978 miniseries King ($19.98), starring the late Paul Winfield as Martin Luther King Jr., in a double-disc edition complete with a “making-of” featurette, two civil rights documentaries, bonus interviews with writer-director Abby Mann and actor Ossie Davis and more.

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issues Luc Besson’s bizarro 1997 Bruce Willis sci-fi vehicle The Fifth Element: Ultimate Edition, a double-disc set incorporating six featurettes, original camera tests and more, along with the same director’s Leon The Professional: Ultimate Edition ($24.95 each), starring Jean Reno and Natalie Portman.

For something completely different, don’t miss Facets Video’s Un Chien Andalou ($19.95); the disc includes Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s surreal 1929 silent shocker of the same name, plus insightful interviews with son Juan-Luis Bunuel and other extras.

And for collectors of the up-to-date, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment goes the bonus-enriched double-disc route with director Michel Gondry and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman’s critical fave from 2004, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind ($27.98), starring Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet as troubled lovers.

Tele-video

In fresh TV-to-DVD developments, cathode cop David Caruso and crew return to the scene of the crime in the seven-disc C.S.I. Miami: The Complete Second Season (Paramount Home Entertainment, $64.99), arriving with audio commentaries, featurettes and more.

In other ratiocinative news, Tony Shalhoub gets down to cases as the neurotic eponymous investigator in the four-disc Monk: The Complete Second Season (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, $59.98).

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment celebrates a brace of diverse heroes: Fred Dryer in Hunter: The Complete First Season (six-disc, $39.98), assembling all 19 debut-season (1984-85) episodes, along with new interviews, and a sword-slinging Kevin Sorbo in the extras-enriched nine-disc Hercules — The Legendary Journeys: Season 5 ($69.98).

A seemingly unsinkable sitcom floats again via Gilligan’s Island: The Complete Second Season (three-disc, $39.98), out this week via Warner Home Video.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Is “The Practice” available on DVD?

Bill Pascoe, via e-mail

David E. Kelley’s legal-themed teleseries has yet to join the homevideo ranks.

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

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