- The Washington Times - Friday, June 13, 2008

Funny Games (Warner Home Video, $27.95) - “Funny Games” is brilliant. Judging from its domestic box office, though, not too many people realized that. Perhaps the problem is that American audiences don’t want to think too much about their love of violent cinema. At the time of its theatrical release earlier this year, I wrote that the people who most need to see the film are also the people least likely to view it - and it seems I was right.

“Funny Games” is a thriller, albeit a cerebral one, a condemnation of the way violence is treated in Hollywood and a perfect example of what it condemns. It’s Michael Haneke’s first English-language film, but the Austrian auteur has spent much of his career trying to provoke American audiences. “Funny Games,” in fact, is a nearly shot-for-shot remake of his 1997 German-language film of the same name. Using actors well-known to Americans - Naomi Watts and Tim Roth play a married couple with child who are taken hostage by a pair of young psychopaths at their Long Island vacation home - Mr. Haneke hoped to reach a wider audience. Still, it seemed most of the critics didn’t quite get what the writer-director was trying to do. Unfortunately, there is not a single extra on this DVD release, so Mr. Haneke doesn’t get a chance to explain himself here.

John Adams (HBO, $59.99) - Many people I know were glued to their screens Sunday nights when HBO’s “John Adams” miniseries aired earlier this year. Not everyone gets the premium cable channel, though, so expect this three-disc set of the eight-hour-plus miniseries to be a hot seller. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by historian David McCullough, “John Adams” gives the title character almost full credit for the founding of the nation. This version of history is rather simplified - what else would you expect from Hollywood? But in making 200-year-old debates exciting, director Tom Hooper and screenwriter Kirk Ellis have done a public service. Paul Giamatti gives us a more human second president, while Laura Linney is moving as his devoted but outspoken wife, Abigail.

The extras include the obligatory behind-the-scenes featurette and a new documentary on the working methods of Mr. McCullough, one of this country’s best-loved historians. Most interesting is the feature “Facts Are Stubborn Things.” This on-screen historical guide pops up during every episode with facts about the real-life events behind the drama.

Jericho: The Second Season (Paramount, $29.99) - Fans saved “Jericho” once, but they couldn’t do it twice. After giving this post-apocalyptic series a second season when a fan-led campaign decried its cancellation, CBS went ahead and canceled it again, this time for good. When the network ordered the seven-episode second season, it wasn’t sure how well the series would do, so producers filmed two endings. The one that provided closure was the one that aired. This two-disc set includes that and the never-before-seen cliffhanger ending that would have provided an opening to a third season.

Skeet Ulrich stars as the son of the mayor of Jericho, Kan., whose residents are struggling to survive after a nuclear attack levels 23 American cities. The hints of a conspiracy in season one became full-blown in season two, with a dash of reality added - that bald guy in Wyoming who seems to be running things behind the scenes can only be a reference to Vice President Dick Cheney. The set includes deleted scenes and audio commentaries. Among the other extras: “Nut Job,” a look at how fans resurrected the series, and “Rebuilding Jericho,” which examines how filmmakers then resurrected it.

The Boondocks: The Complete Second Season (Sony, $49.95) - Watching “The Boondocks,” the controversial animated series based on the controversial comic strip, each week on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, it’s hard to believe there were any episodes too hot to air on the late-night programming block. Aaron McGruder, its Columbia, Md.-raised creator, takes on race relations in America with a hilariously biting tongue in every episode about two young boys - one a wannabe revolutionary and the other a wannabe gangsta rapper - who move from Southside Chicago to live with their grandfather in the ‘burbs. This set includes not just the 13 episodes that were broadcast, but also two that weren’t. Rumor had it that BET threatened to sue if “The Hunger Strike” and “The Uncle Ruckus Reality Show” aired in the U.S. However, Teletoon Canada did show these episodes, which skewer the network and its executives. “Scrubs” star Donald Faison is a guest voice on both segments, and former BET talk-show host Tavis Smiley guests on the first.

Waiting for God: Season Three (BBC, $34.98) - Only in Britain would an amusingly cynical series about a cranky old woman and her devoted but put-upon male friend not only air for five seasons, but win awards along the way. Stephanie Cole (“Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”) won the British Comedy Award for best TV comedy actress in 1992, the year this season aired. Foul-mouthed former photojournalist Diana (Miss Cole) and whimsical retired accountant Tom (Graham Crowden, “Calendar Girls”) live in the Bayview Retirement Village near Bournemouth, but they and their fellow denizens have no intention of sitting around waiting for God, as there’s plenty of life left in these oldsters. This third season, in fact, is the one in which Diana and Tom finally become a couple, much to the surprise and chagrin of Diana herself.

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