- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A scathingly brilliant, prematurely terminated cult TV show, ‘Action: The Complete Series Uncut & Unbleeped,’ joins the digital ranks this week via Sony Pictures Home Entertainment (two-disc, $24.96). It’s our…

DVD pick of the week

In the tradition of Robert Altman’s “The Player” and Garry Shandling’s “The Larry Sanders Show,” the series takes viewers deep behind the cutthroat Hollywood battle lines for an inspired descent into show-biz depravity and mayhem.

The titular action centers around the efforts of ultra-venal producer Peter Dragon (a toxically charming Jay Mohr) and his crew to develop an execrable action blockbuster titled “Beverly Hills Gun Club” while encountering such typical Tinseltown obstacles as over-the-hill directors, druggy superstars, backstabbing industry rivals and meddling studio heads.

Breathless pacing, pitch-perfect dialogue and raw, edgy characterizations — including Illeana Douglas as Peter’s sharp right-hand woman Wendy Ward and Buddy Hackett as his off-the-wall chauffeur Uncle Lonnie — make “Action” a true cathode comedy classic. Amusing cameos by Keanu Reeves, Sandra Bullock and Salma Hayek add to the fun.

Originally designed for cable, “Action,” with its outre themes and insider humor, had little hope for survival on network TV, where it was yanked in 1999 after only eight episodes. Fortunately, Sony’s double disc contains all 13 installments (sans the irritating network laugh track), forming a complete, cohesive story arc.

Extras include a fascinating “making-of” featurette wherein creator Chris Thompson and his writing team offer an insightful, candid postmortem re the show’s lengthy genesis and rapid demise, along with select episode audio commentaries.

For sheer chainsaw wit and invention, few current series can match this “Action.”

The ‘A’ list

Among recent theatrical releases making their digital debuts this week, Keira Knightley stars in Domino (New Line Home Entertainment, $27.98), Tony Scott’s hyperkinetic account of real-life bounty hunter Domino Harvey.

Charlize Theron headlines in another fact-based film, North Country (Warner Home Video, $28.98), as a woman who fights back against gender bias in Minnesota’s iron mines. And Nicolas Cage plays the title role in the drama The Weather Man (Paramount Home Entertainment, $29.95).

Sony Pictures Home Entertainment pulls out all the stops for Chris Columbus’ screen adaptation of the Broadway hit Rent ($28.95), featuring Rosario Dawson and Taye Diggs, arriving in a double-disc set with director and cast commentary, the feature-length documentary “No Day But Today,” deleted scenes and more.

Elsewhere, Johnny Knoxville and Juliette Lewis headline in the quirky comedy Daltry Calhoun (Miramax Home Entertainment, $29.99), while Universal Studios Home Entertainment issues the snowboarding documentary First Descent ($22.98).

Magnolia Home Entertainment introduces Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Japanese chiller Pulse ($26.98), and 20th Century Fox debuts the drama Separate Lies ($27.98), with Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson.

Collectors’ corner

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment conjures golden musical memories with a trio of toe-tapping Technicolor titles: Fred Astaire and Leslie Caron in 1955’s Daddy Long Legs; Betty Grable, Martha Raye and Joe E. Brown in 1944’s Pin Up Girl; and Alice Faye and the irrepressible Carmen Miranda in 1941’s Weekend in Havana. The discs, complete with film historian commentaries and other extras, are tagged at $19.98 each.

Kino Video focuses on vintage comedy with two Paramount Comedy Shorts collections ($29.95 each): Cavalcade of Comedy (1929-1933) assembles 16 comic gems showcasing Burns and Allen, Eddie Cantor, Jack Benny and many more, while Robert Benchley and the Knights of the Algonquin (1928-1942) offers 14 films starring the acerbic satirist (father of writer Nathaniel Benchley and grandfather of the late “Jaws” creator Peter Benchley) and his irreverent friends.

In a more sober vein, New Yorker Video extends its Cinema of Peter Watkins line with that distinctive British auteur’s 1976 biopic Edvard Munch ($29.95).


20th Century Fox Home Entertainment leads the way in a relatively light TV-on-DVD week with a pair of long-running series. NYPD Blue: Season 03 (four-disc, $39.98) proffers all 22 Season Three episodes, plus select commentaries and three featurettes. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Season One, Volume One (three-disc, $39.98) complements its 15-episode collection with a previously unseen pilot episode, producer Irwin Allen’s home movie footage, and more.

Comedy reigns in two new sets: Shout! Factory’s 12-episode improvisational show Significant Others: The Complete Series (two-disc, $29.98) and Anchor Bay Entertainment’s 3rd Rock From the Sun: The Complete Third Season (four-disc, $39.98).

Goldhil Entertainment puts the accent on standup with two releases, ANT: America’s Ready and Alonzo Bodden: Tall, Dark and Funny ($14.98 each).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I recently saw part of an old ‘60s thriller “The Satan Bug,” about biochemical weapons, on cable TV. Is it available on DVD?

Ken Weinstein, via e-mailThough briefly out on VHS, 1965’s “The Satan Bug” is currently unavailable on home video.

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