- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Mining a vein first struck by novelist Nathaniel West in “The Day of the Locust,” director Jeff Burr’s newly rediscovered 1993 indie gem Eddie Presley, just out via Tempe DVD ($19.99, $29.99 2-DVD special edition), focuses on the struggles of a group of wannabes on the outermost fringes of the L.A. show-biz orbit. It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Duane Whitaker, on whose original play the film is based, excels as a paunchy, gravely underemployed Elvis impersonator who, after losing his dead-end security-guard job, lives in a van and nourishes the notion of a “comeback.”

Flashbacks inform us of Eddie’s ruptured past — divorce, humiliation, a harrowing stint in a mental hospital (where Bruce Campbell and Quentin Tarantino, in silent eye-blink cameos, serve as unhelpful attendants) — while supportive fellow fringies, such as burger slinger Stacie Bourgeois and pals Ted Raimi and Willard E. Pugh, offer encouragement. Eddie finally lands a gig at Roscoe Lee Browne’s seedy dive, leading to a surprisingly poignant, subtly powerful denouement.

While occasionally betraying its stage roots, “Eddie Presley” arrives as a genuinely perceptive, heart-rending exploration of Eddie and friends’ dead-end world that courageously avoids both cynicism and sentimentality. Eddie does have a smidgen of talent — though not much more — and his tattered drive to express it is as admirable as it is wrenching.

Among the secondary players, veteran thesp Clu Gulager stands out as a dungeon-level “agent” who sports one of screendom’s worst toupees, while Tim Thomerson and Daniel Roebuck are painfully hilarious as an aggressively unfunny comic and an inept magician, respectively.

Tempe DVD’s double-disc edition offers more extras than you can shake a pelvis at, with commentaries, interviews, deleted scenes and more. “Eddie Presley” makes for an ideal companion to MGM’s recent “Bubba Ho-Tep” for an Elvis-angled digital double bill.

Tele-video

Testosterone rules in a pair of macho tele-series new to the DVD ranks. The Man Show: Season Two (Eagle Rock Entertainment, $49.98) offers 26 episodes on six discs further beefed up by a quartet of comic featurettes. Buena Vista Home Entertainment keeps the adrenaline flowing with Playmakers ($49.99 3-DVD), the ESPN original series that chronicles the on- and off-field exploits of members of the fictional Cougars pro football team, complete with select producer commentary and behind-the-scenes segments.

In the equal-opportunity department, Anchor Bay Home Entertainment debuts Xena: Warrior Princess, Season Four ($79.95), starring Lucy Lawless as the mighty broadsword-slinging heroine of yore. The nine-disc set delivers the bonus goods with commentaries, interviews, extended episodes, featurettes, outtakes and a slew of CD-ROM features.

Collectors’ corner

The art-house specialists at the Criterion Collection (homevision.com) debut a trio of classic DVDs:

• Akira Kurosawa’s 1949 crime drama Stray Dog, starring Toshiro Mifune as a rookie cop on a gritty quest, surfaces in a special edition complete with a documentary, audio commentary by Kurosawa expert Stephen Prince and a 16-page booklet.

• The double-disc The Lower Depths includes both Mr. Kurosawa’s 1957 and Jean Renoir’s 1936 adaptations of Maxim Gorky’s populist play in a similarly extras-enhanced package. The discs are priced at $39.95 each.

• A bonus-packed restoration of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1961 A Woman Is a Woman, starring Jean-Claude Brialy, Anna Karina and Jean-Paul Belmondo, carries a $29.95 tag.

The ever-eclectic archivists at Kino International (www.kino.com) also keep busy with a fresh batch of quality discs, leading with the 1980s Krzysztof Kieslowski duo A Short Film About Killing and A Short Film About Love ($29.95 each).

The label also collects French writer Marcel Pagnol’s 1930s The Fanny Trilogy in a four-DVD set ($79.95) containing Marius, Fanny, Cesar and a bonus disc packed with special features, including a feature-length documentary devoted to that influential threesome.

The ‘A’ list

In new theatrical releases, Billy Bob Thornton plays the title role in Terry Zwigoff’s raucous romp Bad Santa (Miramax Home Entertainment, $29.99), supplemented by audio commentary, deleted scenes, outtakes, a featurette and a tribute to late co-star John Ritter. The title also is available in an unrated director’s version dubbed “Badder Santa.”

Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment goes the comic route with writer-director Larry Blamire’s affectionate low-budget, black-and-white ‘50s sci-fi spoof The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra ($24.96) in a special edition fleshed out with cast and commentary tracks, a featurette, a blooper reel and more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Is the Korean War movie The Steel Helmet out on DVD yet?

Donald Rogers, via e-mail

Not only has Sam Fuller’s 1951 combat classic mysteriously eluded digital capture, but it also remains a rarity on VHS. Though the tape is no longer available for sale, mail-order rental copies can be ordered from Video Library (www.vlibrary.com).

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


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