- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Fans of Quentin Tarantino’s and Guy Ritchie’s darkly comic crime capers, like “Pulp Fiction” and “Snatch,” will want to scope out the wild Russian import Dead Man’s Bluff, new from Kino Video ($29.95). It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Directed by Aleksei Balabanov, who had earlier impressed critics with the straighter-faced 1997 gangster profile “Brother,” 2005’s “Dead Man’s Bluff” focuses on the exploits of a pair of ambitious siblings, comparatively brainy Sergei (Aleksei Panin) and his hulking, trigger-happy brother Simon (Dmitri Dyuzhev), who are out to take the money and run in the chaotic free-market streets of a 1990s Russia awash in American rock music and fast-food chains.

The boys’ latest errand for flamboyant boss Mikhailovich (Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov in an amusingly twisted turn) leads them into a vortex of spiraling violence, much of it of their own making. Absurdities and corpses pile up in roughly equal measure as the brothers look to land a hands-changing suitcase packed with heroin, blasting their way through their mostly clueless competition in a bid to complete their criminal mission.

In an elaborate in-joke that’s unfortunately lost on most stateside viewers (yours truly included), director Balabanov casts famous Russian actors, filmmakers and music celebs in many of the colorful secondary roles. While that move may not translate, the rest of “Dead Man’s Bluff” speaks a universal language of unbridled greed and its oft-ironic consequences, capped by a brilliant epilogue updating the surviving characters’ progress.

Kino’s subtitled disc arrives sans extras, beyond a theatrical trailer and stills gallery, but represents a wise investment for satirical action buffs.

Kino also unleashes a pair of energetic vintage gems from Japanese crime-movie specialist Kinji Fukasaku, 1975’s Cops vs. Thugs and the following year’s Yakuza Graveyard ($24.95 each), along with Raoul Ruiz’s homicidal French farce That Day ($29.95).


Speaking of misdeeds, formidable ‘70s crime-fighting femmes Kate Jackson, Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd return to thwart evildoers in the 24-episode Charlie’s Angels: The Complete Third Season (six-disc, $49.95).

In other fresh TV-on-DVD developments, Walt Disney Home Entertainment introduces the Disney Channel Original Movie comedy Cow Belles ($26.99), starring singing sisters Aly & AJ Michalka, complete with bonus music videos, while the related Buena Vista Home Entertainment label issues the double-disc “Inaugural Edition” of Commander in Chief: Part I ($29.99), containing the opening 10 episodes of the acclaimed dramatic series starring Geena Davis as the first female U.S. president.

The ‘A’ list

Genius Products Inc. leads a slim theatrical-to-DVD week with a pair of star-driven releases: Johnny Depp as The Libertine, a period drama costarring Samantha Morton; and Pierce Brosnan as a weary hit man known as The Matador ($28.95 each), featuring Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis. Both discs include filmmaker commentaries, featurettes, deleted scenes and more.

Two limited-release titles also surface this week: Marilyn Hotchkiss’ Ballroom Dancing & Charm School (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, $26.95), with Robert Carlyle and Marisa Tomei; and Stephen Woolley’s Stoned ($19.98), a loosely fact-based chronicle of doomed Rolling Stone Brian Jones’ final days.

Video verite

The specialists at Docurama provide a treasure trove of new documentaries ranging across the verite spectrum: the foster care expose Aging Out, the Navajo-themed Broken Rainbow, Patrice O’Neill’s The Fire Next Time, Tod Lending’s urban investigations Legacy and Omar & Pete, the Emmy-winning crime film The Police Tapes, the inspirational portrait Sister Rose’s Passion, the union history The Wobblies, plus the compilation Full Frame Documentary Shorts Vol. 4. The discs are tagged at $26.95 each.

Collectors’ corner

Universal Studios Home Entertainment presents digitally remastered editions of a quintet of Alfred Hitchcock hits: Robert Cummings in 1942’s Saboteur, James Stewart in 1948’s Rope (the suspense maestro’s first color film), John Forsythe and Shirley MacLaine in the 1956 comedy mystery The Trouble With Harry, Mr. Forsythe again in the 1969 espionage caper Topaz, and Jon Finch in the 1972 serial-killer thriller Frenzy. The discs, priced at $19.98 each, include new featurettes, production notes, trailers and more.

Animated antics

Walt Disney Home Entertainment offers a brace of family-friendly animated sequels, Lady and the Tramp II: Scamp’s Adventure ($29.99) and Leroy & Stitch ($26.99), both equipped with bonus featurettes, games and activities.

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: One of my favorite TV series was “Banacek,” starring the late George Peppard. Banacek rode around in a chauffeur-driven Rolls Royce while solving some very baffling crimes. Is there any chance the series will find its way to DVD any time soon?

Carl Thomas, Alexandria

Looks like DVD-friendly Universal Studios retains the rights to the series, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see it surface on disc in the near future.

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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