- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 18, 2007

A superbly tricky caper sure to please existential thriller fans, the late Argentine auteur Fabian Bielinsky’s final film, 2005’s The Aura ($19.95), arrives this week via Genius Entertainment. It’s our …

DVD pick of the week

Actor Ricardo Darin dominates the movie as the enigmatic Espinoza, a professional taxidermist fond of fantasizing about planning the perfect heist. When a weekend excursion to a remote hunting lodge lands him an unlikely opportunity to put his theories to the test, the amateur mastermind insinuates himself into a dangerous scheme to rob an armored car crammed with casino cash.

Writer-director Bielinsky ingeniously concocts a credible series of circumstances that enable our passive-aggressive protagonist, who suffers from epilepsy (the title refers to the moment of calm that precedes an attack), to drift into the midst of hard-core criminals without tipping his hand. “The Aura” ultimately swerves into “Reservoir Dogs” territory, even while it plays like Quentin Tarantino in slo-mo.

Yet it’s that very deliberate pace — the film clocks in at 138 minutes — that lends “The Aura” its surreal, dream-like quality. We’re never completely sure whether the maneuvers are happening in real life or in Espinoza’s vivid imagination, though Mr. Bielinsky does provide a definitive answer at film’s end.

Genius’ disc is light on extras beyond a tantalizingly brief “making-of” featurette, but “The Aura” provides more than enough rewards in its own right.


Comedy titles highlight the week’s TV-on-DVD roster. Paramount Home Entertainment leads the way with a trio of sitcom hits: Happy Days: The Second Season, Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams in the spin-off Laverne & Shirley: The Second Season and Robin Williams and Pam Dawber as Mork & Mindy: The Second Season (four-disc, $42.99 each). The same label goes the contemporary route with Jeff Foxworthy’s Big Night Out: The Complete Series (two-disc, $26.99).

Warner Home Video counters with the domestic comedy George Lopez: The Complete 1st & 2nd Seasons (four-disc, $39.98), while Sony Pictures Home Entertainment offers not one but two Larry Sanders sets: The Larry Sanders Show: Complete First Season (three-disc, $39.95) and Not Just The Best of the Larry Sanders Show (four-disc, $49.95), which, in addition to 23 hand-picked episodes, contains series creator and star Garry Shandling’s personal cast and guest star interviews, audio commentaries, deleted scenes and a feature-length documentary.

And speaking of Larrys, Warner Home Video packages Larry King Live: The Greatest Interviews (three-disc, $34.98), featuring more than 300 guests, from Al Pacino to Oprah Winfrey. The same label appeals to animation fans with the offbeat Cartoon Network series The Venture Brothers: Season 2 (two-disc, $29.98).

Elsewhere, Adrian Paul swings a mean blade in Highlander: Ultimate Collection — Best of the Best (six-disc, $49. 98), extreme sportspersons compete in MXC: Most Extreme Elimination Challenge: Season 2 (Magnolia, two-disc, $34.98), and journalists Finbar Lynch and Orla Brady investigate a pharmaceutical conspiracy in the Irish miniseries Proof: Prescription for Murder (Koch Vision, two-disc, $27.98).

Collectors’ corner

Four vintage dramas make their DVD debuts this week via MGM Home Entertainment ($14.98 each): 1988’s The Chocolate War, with commentary by director Keith Gordon; Michael Caine in Mike Hodges’ 1972 private eye spoof Pulp; Keith Carradine in the 1974 period gangster film Thieves Like Us, with commentary by director Robert Altman; and Robert De Niro and Robert Duvall in True Confessions.

Anchor Bay salutes genre filmmaker Don Coscarelli with extras-enhanced editions of his 1979 breakthrough fright film Phantasm, sequel Phantasm III and the outdoor action adventure Survival Quest ($19.98 each).

Tobey Maguire returns as the titular superhero in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2.1 (Sony Pictures, two-disc, $19.94), an extended cut accompanied by fresh extras galore.

The ‘A’ list

20th Century Fox contributes two Oscar-winning art-house hits — Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland and Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench in the suspense exercise Notes on a Scandal ($29.98 each) — along with The History Boys ($27.98), all brimming with bonus material, from commentaries to featurettes.

Hilary Swank toplines as a dedicated inner-city schoolteacher in Freedom Writers (Paramount, $29.99), arriving in extras-enriched widescreen and full-frame editions, while action auteur Joe Carnahan directs the high-energy caper Smokin’ Aces (Universal Studios, $29.98), starring Ben Affleck.

Foreign fare

In the import arena, Koch Lorber Films introduces the French crime films Le Petit Lieutenant ($29.98) and Sombre ($24.98), First Run Features debuts the Chinese drama Balzac and The Little Chinese Seamstress ($26.98), and New Yorker Video revives Carlos Diegues’ 1980 comedy-drama Bye Bye Brazil ($29.95).

Phan mail

Dear Phantom: I know it’s on VHS but is Curse of the Demon available on DVD?

Raymond Allen, via e-mail

Sony Pictures has that 1958 chiller, complete with its longer U.K. cut, Night of the Demon ($24.95), on a single disc.

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

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