- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 4, 2005

You don’t have to be a hard-core Scrabble fan to get hooked by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo’s documentary Word Wars — Trials and Tribulations on the Scrabble Game Circuit, new from Anchor Bay Entertainment ($19.98). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

A thoroughly absorbing descent into Scrabble Babylon, loosely inspired by Stephen Fatsis’ excellent book “Word Freaks,” “Word Wars” focuses on four word warriors hell-bent on world domination at the 2003 San Diego National Finals.

Matt Graham, a vitamin-popping, part-time stand-up comic, forms an odd couple with Marlon Hill, a feisty black American who has devoted his entire life to the board and tiles.

The camera likewise trails literally dyspeptic but vastly likable acid-reflux sufferer “G.I. Joel” (as in “gastrointestinal”) Sherman and former three-time champ Joe Edley, who relies on tai chi and meditation to enhance his game prowess.

Directors Chaikin and Petrillo follow the foursome’s oft-intersecting paths through a variety of tournaments leading to the final big battle, where more than 700 of the world’s Scrabble elite compete for the ultimate prize: $25,000 in cash plus planetary bragging rights.

A running sidebar shows us a second group of talented amateurs who have been flocking to New York City’s Washington Square Park for decades to score their collective Scrabble fix but who shy away from formal contests. A particularly funny segment captures Scrabble god Joe Edley’s unexpected comeuppance at the humble hands of a veteran park player.

For a fuller back story on the game’s genesis, Mr. Fatsis’ tome is still the place to go, but for a surprisingly suspenseful real-life dramedy on the subject of obsession, “Word Wars” scores a rousing “bingo.”

Anchor Bay’s full-frame disc comes equipped with bonus footage of our four protagonists wisely snipped from the feature film but well worth checking out for further insights into the Scrabble addict’s mind-set.

Tele-video

The march of the TV-on-DVD sets proceeds apace. This week, Paramount Home Entertainment releases the inspirational Touched by an Angel: The Second Season (six-disc, $54.99), containing all 22 Season No. 2 episodes. 20th Century Fox adopts a more secular approach with Mike Judge’s irreverent animated series King of the Hill: The Complete Fourth Season (22 episodes, three-disc, $39.98).

HBO Video likewise exhibits a light touch with Everybody Loves Raymond: The Complete Third Season ($44.98). The five-disc set includes 26 episodes along with two audio commentaries with star Ray Romano and series creator Phil Rosenthal, bloopers and deleted scenes, and a cast panel discussion.

In a decorative touch, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment issues two volumes of Trading Spaces: “Creative Home Decor With Designer Doug Wilson” and “Great Kitchen Designs and More!” ($14.94 each).

Collectors’ corner

Warner Home Video fulfills many a film buff’s fantasy with The Big Red One: The Reconstruction ($26.99). The twin-disc edition restores more than 40 minutes of writer-director Sam Fuller’s previously truncated 1980 World War II epic, starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill, and marches in armed with several documentaries, alternate scenes and an audio commentary by film critic and “Reconstruction” producer Richard Schickel.

MGM Home Entertainment goes appropriately over the top with Spaceballs: Collectors’ Edition ($29.98). Mel Brooks’ oft-hilarious “Star Wars” spoof re-launches with an audio commentary by Mr. Brooks, a making-of documentary, a salute to the late John Candy (brilliant here as half-man-half-dog Barf the Mawg), interviews, galleries and much more.

In a more earnest, if equally extreme, genre vein, Anchor Bay Entertainment resurrects the underrated 1983 chiller The Entity ($19.98), showcasing an intense Barbara Hershey as a woman sexually harassed by an unseen demon. The disc includes an all-new documentary.

The ‘A’ list

Among recent theatrical releases stocking vidstore shelves, Walt Disney Home Entertainment grants deluxe digital treatment to the Nicolas Cage adventure blockbuster National Treasure ($29.99), rewarding fans with featurettes, deleted scenes, select audio commentaries and more.

Warner Home Video introduces Joel Schumacher’s lavish, stirring screen adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, starring Gerald Butler and Emily Rossum, in separate widescreen and full-screen versions ($27.95 each) and a deluxe, bonus-driven double-disc special edition ($29.95).

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment’s family-oriented baseball sequel The Sandlot 2 ($19.98) slides in with a field full of extras, from director’s commentary to featurettes and more.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I have been trying to find a copy of “Jungle Moon Men” for years. Also “Killer Ape.”

Sam, via e-mail

—Those 1950s Johnny Weissmuller “Jungle Jim” films have yet to appear on home video. Goodtimes Home Entertainment released several other “Jungle Jim” titles on VHS in the early ‘90s, but all have since become reel rarities.

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.videoscope mag.com.

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