- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Snake Plissken’s back, with bad attitude and eye-patch intact, in MGM Home Entertainment’s double-disc widescreen special edition of John Carpenter’s enduring 1981 cult fave, Escape From New York, breaking into vidstores next week ($29.98). It’s our…

Video pick of the week

Kurt Russell breathes quiet intensity into the rebel warrior who is dispatched, under life-or-death duress, to rescue a kidnapped U.S. president played by Donald Pleasence from The Duke (Isaac Hayes), ruler of a 1997 New York City that’s been recast as a sprawling penal colony. With his ready fists and Clint Eastwood inflection, Snake takes on street punks, sewer-dwelling cannibals and even 7-foot-tall pro wrestler Ox Baker in his bid to snatch back the president while saving his own bruised skin.

Mr. Carpenter’s influential, relatively low-budget action odyssey benefits greatly from Joe Alves’ urban wasteland production design (most of the movie was shot in a burnt-out section of St. Louis), Dean Cundey’s atmospheric cinematography, and a top roster of supporting actors, including Ernest Borgnine as the cheerfully crazed Cabbie, Harry Dean Stanton as the technician Brain, Adrienne Barbeau as his nails-tough squeeze Maggie, and spaghetti-Western vet Lee Van Cleef as chief government operative Bob Hauk.

Among the new edition’s copious extras are a deleted opening bank-heist scene, “Return to Escape From New York” featurette, audio commentary by producer Debra Hill and production designer Alves, and a second fun and informative track with director Carpenter and star Russell. The latter has been lifted from the film’s 1994 laser-disc incarnation; it sounds especially eerie when the two discuss the World Trade Center, which plays a pivotal role in the film, with, naturally, no mention of the skyscrapers’ subsequent tragic fate. That drawback aside, “Escape” rates as a must for longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Asian update

In the Asian import arena, Lions Gate Home Entertainment focuses on the supernatural with the Pang Brothers’ acclaimed Korean chiller The Eye ($24.99), while Home Vision Entertainment issues three additional 1960s blind-swordsman films — Adventures of Zatoichi, Zatoichi and the Doomed Man and Zatoichi’s Revenge ($19.95 each), all starring Shintaro Katsu, plus the excellent 1963 Yakuza noir Pale Flower ($29.95).

Action specialist Mamoru Oshii is represented by no fewer than three new releases: Avalon (Buena Vista Home Entertainment, $29.99), The Red Spectacles and Stray Dogs: Kerberos Panzer Cops (both from Bandai Entertainment, $19.98 each).

The ever-outrageous Takashi Miike (late of “Audition”) strikes again with Ichi the Killer (Media Blasters, $24.95) and Dead or Alive Trilogy (Kino Video, $79.95 two-DVD set).

The ‘A’ list

This week, MGM Home Entertainment goes the special-edition route with Assassination Tango ($25.98), written and directed by Robert Duvall, who also stars as a hit man killing time at a dance club in exotic Argentina. The disc includes audio commentary by Mr. Duvall and co-star Luciana Pedraza, deleted scenes, an alternate ending and a behind-the-scenes photo gallery.

In a somewhat lighter vein, Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment debuts a pair of recent big-screen action comedies. The Martin Lawrence/Will Smith sequel Bad Boys II ($27.95) comes locked and loaded with extras galore, while the much-mocked Ben Affleck and J. Lo caper Gigli ($26.95) makes a quieter entrance via a no-frills disc.

All three titles will also be available on VHS.

Tele-video

In the latest TV-to-DVD developments, Joss Whedon’s tongue-in-cheek sci-fi series Firefly: The Complete Series (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $49.98) beams down in a four-disc set containing all 14 series episodes, three never-aired bonus episodes, select audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, a gag reel and more.

Fox also introduces the TV movie 44 Minutes ($29.98), a harrowing, verite-styled account of a real-life 1997 North Hollywood shootout, when two bank robbers swathed in body armor and wielding automatic weapons held police and citizens at bay for the titular time period. Michael Madsen, Ron Livingston and Mario Van Peebles topline as three cops who hasten to the bloody crime scene.

Meanwhile, back on the high seas, Ioan Gruffudd returns as the eponymous Horatio Hornblower: The New Adventures, sailing into area vidstores this week via A&E Home Video. The double-disc set ($39.95) includes a pair of feature-length films, “Loyalty” and “Duty,” along with commentary with director Andrew Grieve and other personnel, a photo gallery, and more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Looking for a spooky 1950s TV show, “One Step Beyond.” Is it on DVD?

Frank Byrne, via e-mail

VCI Entertainment (vcientertainment.com) released “One Step Beyond: Collection 1” ($29.99 for the two-DVD set), containing 12 half-hour episodes of the John Newland-hosted series.

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: [email protected] Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.


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