- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Elvis: The Ed Sullivan Show — The Classic Performances (Image, $14.98) — You can’t understand just what a phenomenon Elvis Presley was simply by listening to his recordings. Sure, his music might have taken from — and so united — black and white, but he was also rock ‘n’ roll’s first sex symbol. It’s clear from the very first sound he made on “The Ed Sullivan Show” — a sexually charged grunt, before declaring being on the show was “the greatest honor” he’d ever received and launching into “Don’t Be Cruel.”

Mr. Sullivan wasn’t actually the host for that first appearance, in September 1956. It was actor Charles Laughton, whose smooth English accent added extra irony to his comment after Mr. Presley performed his last number, “Hound Dog”: “Well, what did somebody say? Music hath charms to soothe the savage breast?”

Mr. Sullivan was back for the singer’s next two performances, though, in October 1956 and January 1957, both of which are also captured on this disc. The last was the infamous show in which Mr. Presley was filmed only from the waist up. Of course, his eyes and lips said as much as his hips — as evidenced by how a single facial gesture could have his female fans screaming.

Extras on this disc, which contains 15 well-preserved songs, include home movies of Mr. Presley and his wife Priscilla, the singer joking around on a film set, and performing in 1955; interviews with legendary Sun Records founder Sam Phillips on the singer’s Sullivan appearances; and contemporary promotional clips.

The Soloist (Paramount, $19.99 for DVD, $29.99 for Blu-ray) — “The Soloist” is one of those movies that seems made to win Oscars — which is exactly why it’s unlikely to. The calculating script is filled with Big Movie cliches, while the characters are little more than empty archetypes to advance those cliches. They’re ably played, though, with Robert Downey Jr. as the real-life Los Angeles Times journalist who befriends the talented, but mentally ill and homeless, musician played by Jamie Foxx.

Both the DVD and Blu-ray editions include a collection of extras — commentary by director Joe Wright, featurettes on the making of the film and the real-life people who inspired it, and deleted scenes. The Blu-ray edition has one additional featurette, “Juilliard: The Education of Nathaniel Ayers.”

My Cousin Vinny and Big Trouble in Little China (Fox, $34.98 and $29.99 for Blu-ray) — Two films that, in different ways, confounded expectations are now on Blu-ray. The field for best supporting actress at the 1993 Academy Awards was impressive — Judy Davis, Joan Plowright, Vanessa Redgrave and Miranda Richardson. An American, though, beat these British and Australian heavyweights in an upset — Marisa Tomei took home the gold for her brash performance in the legal comedy “My Cousin Vinny.”

“Big Trouble in Little China,” an action-comedy starring Kurt Russell, didn’t even make back its $25 million budget in its 1986 opening weekend. That poor reception led director John Carpenter to become an independent filmmaker, vowing never to work for a Hollywood studio again. His film has gone on to become a cult classic, and Mr. Carpenter, meanwhile, has worked with studios such as Paramount, which released another of his films starring Mr. Russell, “Escape from L.A.”

Stargate Atlantis: Fans’ Choice (MGM, $29.98 for Blu-ray) — Fans of the Sci Fi Channel series voted on their favorite episodes and designed the cover art for this high-def disc, which includes the feature-length pilot and an extended version of the series finale.

Kelly Jane Torrance

Sling Blade (Miramax, $23.99 for Blu-ray) — It’s a little jarring to go back and watch “Sling Blade” now, mostly because of its driving force, Billy Bob Thornton. The gaunt, lanky wiseacre audiences have come to know from his more recent work in “Bad Santa” and “The Ice Harvest” is nowhere to be seen. He simply disappears into the role of Karl — the mentally handicapped ex-con who befriends a young boy and his family — in a way totally unlike anything we’ve seen since.

Though Mr. Thornton had been making films for roughly a decade prior (and had one or two memorable smaller turns), this was his big break — he wrote, directed, and starred — and he parlayed that critical and commercial success into an A-list Hollywood career.

Those interested in following Mr. Thornton’s progress as a star will be intrigued by the featurette “Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood,” one of many extra features, which include: a commentary with Mr. Thornton; a discussion between him, co-stars Dwight Yoakam and Mickey Jones and producer David Bushell; a conversation between Mr. Thornton and Robert Duvall; and a trio of on-set shorts with behind-the-scenes footage.

Sonny Bunch

The Tigger Movie: 2-Disc 10th Anniversary Edition (Disney, $19.98) — Sometimes the family you choose is more present and loving than the family into which you’re born. And that is the gist of this otherwise sweet, silly and Tiggerific story.

You see, one day Tigger decides he needs to find his family of tiggers — a family, it appears, he’s never met. He searches high and low, through sun and snow with his devoted little sidekick Roo (the little baby kangaroo). But the world seems utterly tiggerless. So, Tigger, sitting next to Roo on a log in the woods, hangs his head in resignation as the narrater observes the obvious: “What had started out as an exciting idea turned into a rather discouraging one.” What hasn’t been obvious to Tigger, though, until now is that Roo is really the best little brother a Tigger could ever want. He’s been there through thick and thin — as have Piglet, Winnie and Owl, as well as the other residents of the Hundred Acre Wood. And in the last scene, at a party thrown to honor this loving family of choice, the honey-loving bear with a very small brain says what everyone’s thinking: “Tigger, we’re your family.”

The DVD set also includes bonus features — songs and game — and a digital copy disk for use on a Mac or PC.

Gabriella Boston

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