- The Washington Times - Friday, April 18, 2008

Charlie Wilson’s War (Universal, $29.98) — Released in theaters last December, “Charlie Wilson’s War” seemed to have gotten lost in the holiday movie shuffle. (It didn’t make back its $75 million budget domestically.) Or perhaps people didn’t realize that a film about defeating communism in Afghanistan could be so much fun.

Tom Hanks stars as the title character, a real-life Texas congressman who led the fight to aid the mujahedeen and defeat the Soviets in the 1980s. Julia Roberts is Joanne Herring, the anti-communist Houston socialite who encourages him, and Philip Seymour Hoffman, in an Oscar-nominated performance, is unconventional CIA operative Gust Avrakotos. Aaron “The West Wing” Sorkin’s very funny script plays up the paradox of a good-time guy doing good in the world.

There are two extras on this disc: a making-of feature and a look at the real Charlie Wilson, including interviews with Mr. Wilson and Mrs. Herring.

The BBC Natural History Collection (BBC Home Video, $199.98) — “Planet Earth” is a phenomenon. The natural history series that aired on the Discovery Channel last year was, the channel says, the most-watched cable event of all time. The DVD set is still a top-seller on Amazon.com nearly a year after its release. If you still don’t have a copy, and you love high-quality nature programming, you may want to splurge on this.

Just in time for next week’s Earth Day, BBC has put together this megaset with four documentaries all produced by its Natural History unit and hosted by Sir David Attenborough. The 17-disc set has over 33 hours of gorgeous views of life from around the globe. Besides “Planet Earth,” the set includes “The Blue Planet: Seas of Life,” “The Life of Mammals” and “The Life of Birds.”

“Planet Earth” was filmed in high-definition, part of what made its stunning looks at life so singularly spectacular. So let’s hope the BBC eventually releases this collection on Blu-ray.

TheAdams Chronicles (Acorn Media, $59.99) — Wondering how you’ll get your weekly fix of the Adams family after the HBO miniseries “John Adams” concludes on Sunday night? Have no fear: Silver Spring-based Acorn Media has released “The Adams Chronicles” just in time.

Critics raved over the miniseries when it aired in 1976; one called it “the best and highest-rated series in the history of American public television.” Its look is a bit dated, and it obviously didn’t have the big budget of its pay-cable counterpart. Yet it’s still an engrossing examination of one of America’s most notable families and a real contrast to HBO’s sometimes idiosyncratic take.

The 13 one-hour episodes follow the lives not just of the second president, but also those of his son, John Quincy Adams, the nation’s sixth president; JQA’s son and ambassador Charles Francis Adams; and Charles Francis’ sons, historian Henry Adams and railroad magnate Charles Francis Adams Jr.

George Grizzard, who died this past October, is a more dashing and confident John Adams than Paul Giamatti in his HBO portrayal. The six episodes focusing on him also offer a more personal look at the man — surprising, since occasional narration might indicate a more didactic tone. “Am I seeking my own prestige or the welfare of my country?” is Adams’ constant refrain. Since this series begins earlier in Adams’ life than HBO’s, we also get a deeper look at his important relationship with his wife, Abigail (Kathryn Walker). We see their playful courtship and an early tragedy — their third child died as an infant.

Sense & Sensibility(BBC Video, $34.98) — “Sense & Sensibility” is a new, three-hour British production of the Jane Austen novel that was broadcast this year as part of PBS’ Masterpiece “The Complete Jane Austen.” The best part of this two-disc DVD package, though, is not the feature but an extra. “Miss Austen Regrets,” which was also broadcast on PBS, is a new 90-minute film about the author herself.

Last year’s feature, “Becoming Jane,” also focused on the love life of the famously unmarried Regency author. It was rather a flight of fancy, though, while “Miss Austen Regrets” is based on Austen’s surviving letters. Olivia Williams (“The Sixth Sense”) plays the author nearing 40, as she reflects on her past chances of marriage while her niece asks for advice on hers. Although “Becoming Jane” was frothy fun, “Miss Austen Regrets” is almost unbearably moving at times. This Jane Austen is also a playful flirt — her genius has given her many admirers — but she’s already made her decision to forgo a family for the books that she calls her children. Although Austen was a singular genius, her questioning look back on her life is universal. As one woman tells her in a moving scene, “All women, married and spinster, have regrets.” We read Jane Austen for a delicious sense of possibility.


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