- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Deliberately crude, diabolically shrewd and often laugh-out-loud funny, British comic Sacha Baron Cohen hits our shores in the double-disc Da Ali G Show: Da Compleet First Seazon, new from HBO Video ($29.95). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Though Mr. Cohen inhabits three distinct personas in the six first-season episodes assembled here, he’s best known for his Ali G character, a white hip-hopper whose curiosity is exceeded only by his limitless ignorance.

In his ongoing bid to “heducate” his “peeps,” Ali descends on actual politicians, officials and celebrities for one-on-one interviews that range from the sublimely ridiculous to the downright surreal. The comedic catch is that the interview subjects aren’t in on the joke.

Highlights include Ali G.’s close encounters of the absurd kind with a bemused Newt Gingrich, an increasingly hostile Marlon Fitzwater and an exceedingly patient and good-natured Buzz Aldrin. Another hilarious segment records Ali G’s attempts to conquer Wall Street’s corporate honchos with a series of bizarre business proposals and product ideas.

Mr. Cohen yields just as many laughs via his other characters — homosexual Austrian fashionista Bruno and desperately earnest, infinitely inappropriate Kazakhstan TV reporter Borat, who’s nothing less than a walking (more often pratfalling) one-man culture clash.

While segments naturally vary in quality — their success depend as much on Mr. Cohen’s real-life foils’ spontaneous “performances” as on his own — anyone who enjoys true guerrilla theater will appreciate the versatile satirist’s outrageous deadpan antics.

The set is fairly light on extras beyond select candid audio commentary by Mr. Cohen and producer-writer Dan Mazer, some unaired footage (could have used more of the latter) and a glossary of Ali G jargon. Still, the episodes alone, worthy of repeat viewing, qualify “Da Ali G Show” as a comedy keeper.

Tele-video

In other current TV-to-DVD events, the United Kingdom is further represented by two diverse series. A&E Home Video’s Benny Hill: The Naughty Early Years: Set One ($49.95, three-disc set) collects all 11 episodes from the irreverent British comic’s 1969-71 series. BFS Entertainment’s Doctor Finlay: A Delicate Balance ($39.98, three-disc set) continues the small-town Scotland-set “Masterpiece Theatre” series based on characters created by A.J. Cronin.

Elsewhere, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offers “The Simpsons” creator Matt Groening’s animated Futurama Volume 4 ($49.98) in a four-disc set containing 18 episodes, full-length audio commentary, deleted scenes, storyboards and more.

Also out this week from Fox, a sinister virtual-reality game spins the over-the-top action in “X-Files” mastermind Chris Carter’s nine-episode Harsh Realm ($39.98, three-disc set) — complete with six unaired bonus episodes, select audio commentary, a making-of featurette and more.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment takes a light approach to the sci-fi genre with the 1980s show ALF: Season One ($39.98, four-disc set), beaming down with the original unaired pilot episode, a gag/outtakes reel and “ALF” trivia facts.

Universal Studios counters with The Munsters: The Complete First Season ($59.98, three-disc set), offering 38 debut-season episodes.

The fright stuff

Warner Home Video gets an early start on the Halloween season with The Lost Boys: Two-Disc Special Edition ($26.99), a 1987 teen vampire fear fable featuring Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz, Corey Haim and Corey Feldman. Extras include commentary by director Joel Schumacher, a cache of featurettes and more.

New Line Home Entertainment revives “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” director Tobe Hooper’s 1995 Stephen King-based The Mangler, along with Steve Wang’s 1990s superhero-horror hybrids The Guyver: The Director’s Cut and The Guyver 2 ($19.97 each).

The ‘A’ list

Among recent theatrical releases arriving on disc, 20th Century Fox presents the racy farce The Girl Next Door ($27.98), while New Line Home Entertainment debuts the romantic comedy Laws of Attraction ($27.95), with Pierce Brosnan and Julianne Moore as dueling divorce lawyers.

Lions Gate Home Entertainment introduces Lars von Trier’s experimental drama Dogville ($26.98), starring Nicole Kidman. All three discs include bonus material ranging from commentary tracks to featurettes.

Foreign fare

Anchor Bay Entertainment’s Werner Herzog Collection ($89.98, six-disc set) lines up seven films from that idiosyncratic Teutonic auteur: “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser,” “Even Dwarfs Started Small,” “Fata Morgana,” “Heart of Glass,” “Lessons of Darkness,” “Little Dieter Needs to Fly” and “Stroszek.”

First Run Features contributes two films by Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui, the 1969 neorealist drama The Cow and the 1990 comedy-drama Hamoun ($24.95 each).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Looking for an old “Frankenstein” TV series, 1950s. Do you know the name and if it’s on DVD?

Greg, via e-mail

All Day Entertainment’s Tales of Frankenstein ($24.99, www.alldayentertainment.com) contains the 1959 British TV pilot of the same name, plus a wealth of “Frankenstein” extras.

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 phanmedia @aol.com. For more information, click on www.video scopemag.com.

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