- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Although dismissed by many critics during its theatrical run, Edward Zwick’s The Last Samurai gallops into vid-stores as a satisfying old-school action epic — sort of a “Dances With Wolves” meets “Braveheart” set in late 19th-century Japan — in a deluxe double-disc edition via Warner Home Video ($29.95). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

A solemn Tom Cruise stars as Capt. Nathan Algren, a burned-out, guilt-plagued Indian fighter who agrees to train Japanese troops in modern weaponry for their upcoming battle against fading rebellious samurai forces.

After being captured by his foes, Algren quickly switches sides and swears allegiance to code-bound samurai leader Katsumoto (Oscar-nominated Ken Watanabe), setting the stage for cross-cultural bonding, budding romance and, the film’s root raison d’etre, sweeping combat scenes galore.

Though the basic story line may be tried and true, Mr. Zwick and his co-writers, John Logan and Marshall Herskovitz, succeed in conveying cogent parallels between the separate but equally relentless drives that effectively destroyed long-standing native cultures in two corners of the world without overly glorifying the vanquished. Both Algren and Katsumoto play out as believably flawed men (although Mr. Watanabe’s Katsumoto corners the on-screen charisma market here), while considerable care is lavished upon the historical details and production design.

The two-DVD set supplies a plethora of bonus materials, from director Zwick’s audio commentary to deleted scenes to featurettes covering virtually every phase of the filmmaking process, plus the History Channel documentary “History vs. Hollywood: ‘The Last Samurai’ ” (which rates the film fairly high in the accuracy department).

The ‘A’ list

Two other recent theatrical releases surfacing on DVD this week boast a foreign flavor. From England comes Nigel Cole’s Calendar Girls (Touchstone Home Entertainment, $29.99), a fact-based comedy-drama starring Helen Mirren and Julie Walters, arriving with bonus documentaries and deleted scenes.

France contributes Sylvain Chomet’s Oscar-nominated animated feature The Triplets of Belleville (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, $24.96), with select audio commentaries and featurettes.

Closer to home, Mandy Moore plays a president’s daughter on the run in a romantic comedy, Chasing Liberty, in a bonus-laden edition ($27.95) from Warner Home Video.

High Marx

Warner Home Video delivers a box of major yocks this week with its five-DVD The Marx Brothers Collection ($59.92).

A Night at the Opera, A Day at the Races and A Night in Casablanca occupy individual discs, with extras ranging from critics’ commentary (including Leonard Maltin on “Opera”) to a rare Groucho interview, vintage short subjects, cartoons and other golden goodies. The titles also are available separately ($19.97 each).

Exclusive to the set are two additional frills-free but laughs-enriched double-feature discs: Room Service paired with At the Circus, and Go West plus The Big Store.


A&E Home Video keeps the comedy coming with its four-disc The Kids in the Hall: Complete Season 1 ($59.95). The set contains all 20 premiere-season (1989-1990) episodes along with audio commentary by the Kids, interviews, two “best-of” sketch compilations and previously unseen performances.

Universal Studios Home Entertainment takes a more earnest tack with Law & Order: The Second Year ($59.98), a three-disc set that includes all 22 second-season episodes plus bonus cast interviews.

Video verite

In documentary developments, Wellspring Media introduces the PBS series American Masters: The Artists ($119.98), a six-disc set encompassing biographies of Richard Avedon, Alexander Calder, Robert Rauschenberg, Man Ray, Norman Rockwell and Alfred Stieglitz

New Video presents the double-disc History Channel presentation D-Day: The Total Story ($29.95).

Rock of ages

Kultur Video unearths a quintet of solid oldies in Casey Kasem’s Rock & Roll Goldmine ($59.95). The five-disc set collects the documentary Elvis … The Echo Will Never Die and four performance DVDs — The British Invasion, The San Francisco Sound, The Sixties and The Soul Years. The titles also are available individually ($14.95 each).

Jack’s back

Speaking of samurai, as we were at the top, Warner Home Video introduces the hit Cartoon Network animated series Samurai Jack: Season 1 ($29.98), complete with a “making-of” featurette, audio commentary by creator Genndy Tartakovsky (of “Dexter’s Laboratory” fame), original animation test and artwork.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: How many Monogram Pictures Charlie Chan films are available on video? What about the 1950s television series with J. Carrol Naish?

— Darrell Coach, via e-mail

Movies Unlimited (movies unlimited.com) carries the complete run of the 1950s TV series The New Adventures of Charlie Chan (VHS only), starring J. Carrol Naish. MGM Home Entertainment, meanwhile, plans a July release for the six-DVD The Charlie Chan Chanthology, collecting half a dozen of the 1940s Monogram titles.

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: phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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