- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Few, if any, fiction films have captured the realities of independent filmmaking more vividly than Mario Van Peebles’ brilliant Baadasssss!, new from Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment ($26.99). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Writer/director/actor Van Peebles’ labor of love resonates on several levels. For starters, in dramatizing his guerrilla filmmaker father Melvin Van Peebles’ struggle to create his groundbreaking 1971 indie “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,” he took on the daunting task of portraying his dad while casting a young actor (Khleo Thomas) as his own then-13-year-old self. Secondly, he undertook the project with many of the same restrictions Van Peebles Sr. experienced: a tight budget and even tighter shooting schedule.

In addition to unerringly reproducing a specific time and place — Hollywood’s fringes circa 1970 — Mario Van Peebles lends considerable intensity to his true-life tale, guiding the viewer through every phase of the troubled genesis of “Sweet Sweetback,” from story conception to fund-raising (Bill Cosby served as a late-arriving major backer), to filming with an integrated non-union crew (many culled from the under-the-radar porn-movie ranks), to trying to distribute the finished product when all the traditional channels were closed.

Much more than a simple filmmaking primer, “Baadasssss!” brims with drama, humor and genuine suspense. Beyond Mario’s dead-on interpretation of his determined dad, a talented ensemble cast — including Saul Rubinek as Melvin’s bemused agent, comic Paul Rodriguez as Latino cameraman Jose Garcia, and T.K. Carter as Bill Cosby — brings the diverse characters to flesh-and-blood life. Adam (“Batman”) West and Sally (“All in the Family”) Struthers also surface in amusing cameos.

Extras include a terrific audio commentary by Van Peebles pere et fils that occasionally generates authentic lingering father-son tension, along with a “making-of” featurette, movie premiere footage, and a live Q&A; session with Melvin Van Peebles. An important story vibrantly retold, “Baadasssss!” represents a wild ride through changing times.

Moore for your money

In fresh documentary developments, Michael Moore’s incendiary, record-breaking Fahrenheit 9/11 (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, $28.95) burns into area vidstores this week in a special edition that incorporates featurettes, bonus interviews, extended scenes and much more.

Those looking for still more Moore can also check out MGM Home Entertainment’s three-disc Michael Moore DVD Collector’s Set ($29.98), assembling the in-your-face filmmaker’s features The Big One and Bowling For Columbine, plus a bonus disc chronicling Mr. Moore’s recent Dude, Where’s My Country? book tour.

And with the 2004 election looming, newcomer Go Kart Films contributes the George W. Bush-focused documentary Horns and Halos ($24.98), based on the controversial book of the same name, while The Disinformation Company counters with Greg Palast’s Bush Family Fortunes ($14.95), and Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents The War Room ($14.98), a look at the inner workings of the 1992 Bill Clinton presidential campaign.

Likewise in a verite vein, Hart Sharp Video serves up Morgan Spurlock’s festival-favorite fast food expose Super Size Me ($26.99).

Collectors’ corner

Walt Disney Home Entertainment rolls out the red magic carpet for its digital debut of the 1994 animated hit Aladdin ($29.99); the audiovisually upgraded double-disc edition comes complete with all-new music videos, behind-the-scenes featurettes and a wealth of interactive games.

VCI Entertainment goes the classics route with Luis Bunuel’s 1954 change-of-pace adaptation of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe ($19.99), starring Dan O’Herlihy as the eponymous castaway, with a raft of bonus features.

Synapse Films presents John Gallagher’s 1997 comedy The Deli ($19.95), a lively ensemble piece featuring Mike Starr, Ice-T, Gretchen Mol, Jerry Stiller and “The Sopranos”’ Anthony Imperioli. Extras include filmmakers’ commentary, deleted scenes and liner notes.

The ‘A’ list

Indies dominate the week’s theatrical-to-DVD releases, with Koch Entertainment issuing Lars von Trier’s playful documentary The Five Obstructions ($24.98) and MGM Home Entertainment introducing the wryly effective high-school satire Saved! ($26.98), starring Mandy Moore, Jena Malone and Macauley Culkin.

Docurama debuts the feature-length Eric Bogosian performance piece Wake Up and Smell the Coffee ($26.95), lensed live at New York City’s Jane Street Theater.

Tele-video

In the ever-burgeoning TV-on-DVD arena, Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment offers a brace of series: The four-disc youth drama Dawson’s Creek: The Complete Fourth Season ($49.95) arrives with select audio commentary by executive producer Paul Stupin, while the triple-disc 1970s sitcom What’s Happening!! surfaces in a frills-free edition ($29.95).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any word when Sam Peckinpah’s Western Ride the High Country, with Randolph Scott, will be on DVD?

— Ken Weiner, via e-mail

None that we’ve heard. At present, “Ride” rates as a VHS rarity as well, though it is available on a mail-order rental basis via Video Library (vlibrary.com).

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]aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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