- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 22, 2004

On the heels of his blistering Sid Vicious portrayal in 1986’s “Sid and Nancy,” the ever-versatile Gary Oldman gives another utterly galvanizing performance in 1988’s The Firm, part of Blue Underground’s new five-disc The Alan Clarke Collection ($99.95, blue-underground.com). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

Mr. Oldman stars as Bex, a rage-choked, overage British football-hooligan honcho who heads a gang, or “firm,” of equally pathetic soccer psychos. What’s shocking about this portrait is that many of Bex’s violent crew are gainfully employed, lower-middle-class family men: By day, Bex is a real-estate agent, husband, and father of a young son; by night, he leads his lads on head-bashing raids on rival firms.

In many ways an English precursor to John Singleton’s powerful 2001 ‘hood-set drama “Baby Boy,” “The Firm” wrenchingly exposes a closed social system whose glass — make that cement — ceiling bars upward mobility for Bex and his boys.

Director Clarke and scenarist Al Hunter wisely set the vicious action far from any soccer field. These “fans” are in it for the blood and “buzz,” not for love of the game; their drunken brawls go down in pubs, back alleys and parking lots.

While the supporting cast is solid from top to bottom, Mr. Oldman dominates throughout, ultimately making Bex not just a symbol of a toxic society but a complex flesh-and-blood figure who can’t rise above his primal impulses. “The Firm” represents an unblinking look at the underside of contemporary British life.

Blue Underground’s collection also assembles Mr. Clarke’s 1979 juvenile-prison indictment, Scum, starring a young Ray Winstone (later of “Sexy Beast” fame); the 1982 skinhead-themed Made in Britain, featuring a teenage Tim Roth in his film debut; 1988’s “Elephant,” a film produced by Danny Boyle about a spate of separatist killings in Northern Ireland; and Director: Alan Clarke, a 1991 documentary devoted to the grassroots-oriented auteur, who died in 1990 at age 54. Extras include a wide range of audio commentaries, bonus interviews, poster and stills galleries, trailers and more.

By George!

Celluloid sci-fi giant George Lucas rules via two major new releases:

• 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment pulls out all the stops for the long-anticipated digital debut of the Star Wars Trilogy (4-DVD, $69.98). Beyond the remastered films themselves — Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (originally simply “Star Wars”), Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: Return of the Jedi — the set contains a bonus disc offering more extras than you could shake a lightsaber at: the all-new documentary “Empire of Dreams,” three featurettes, audio commentaries by Mr. Lucas and the cast and crew, DVD-ROM content, trailers, TV spots and more.

• If that weren’t enough of an audiovisual feast for Lucas lovers, Warner Home Video contributes a stunningly remastered double-disc edition of the director’s 1971 feature-film debut THX 1138 ($26.98), a bleak but visionary peek into a dystopian future featuring striking set and sound designs and a haunting performance by Robert Duvall. Bonus material includes two new documentaries, the original student film that launched the feature, a vintage production featurette and more.

The ‘A’ list

Among those recent theatrical films making their DVD bows this week are a pair of limited-release art-house titles: Hector Babenco’s hard-edged, fact-based Brazilian prison expose Carandiru (Columbia/TriStar Home Entertainment, $29.95) and Jim Jarmusch’s episodic indie comedy Coffee and Cigarettes (MGM Home Entertainment, $29.98), with Bill Murray, Steve Buscemi, Roberto Benigni, Cate Blanchett, Meg and Jack White, and many other pop-culture icons.

Fresh from multiplex runs are the canine sleuth sequel Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed (Warner Home Video, $27.95) and Lindsay Lohan and Tina Fey in the teen comedy Mean Girls (Paramount Home Entertainment, $29.95), both arriving in extras-enhanced editions.

Tele-video

Teen girls likewise take center stage in a duo of new TV box sets from Buena Vista Home Entertainment: Felicity: Season Three, in a bonus-packed five-disc set, and Popular: First Season, a six-disc collection that comes complete with cast and crew audio commentary. The titles are tagged at $59.99 each.

On the irreverent cathode comedy scene, Warner Home Video has the three-disc MADtv: The Complete First Season ($39.98), while HBO Video introduces the double-disc Mr. Show: The Complete Fourth Season ($34.98). Both are further fleshed out with hours of extras.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: Any suggestions on where to find The Emperor of the North, with Lee Marvin (about hobos and railroad “bulls”) or “Coming Out of the Ice,” with John Savage?

Bridgette Hubbard, via e-mail

No dice with “Ice,” but the VHS rarity “Emperor” is available on a mail-order rental basis from 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: phanmedia@aol.com. Check out our Web site at www.videoscopemag.com.

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