DVD Reviews for 8/17: The Most Sensational, Inspirational, Celebrational, Muppetational Column Ever!

By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 08/17/07 14:18:59

In which your friendly critic pays tribute to a number of American originals, celebrates the return of a few classics and contemplates who might prevail in a battle between a deadly disease and a "Saved By the Bell" starlet

Last week, this column celebrated the life and work of a true American original, Elvis Presley, by looking at a number of his films that were being re-released on DVD in order to commemorate the 30th anniversary of his passing. This week, we shall be doing the same with another artist who was, in his own way, arguably just as talented, unique and influential–the late, great Jim Henson. At a time when children’s entertainment was devolving into cheaply-made and utterly soulless pap designed to placate kids instead of entertaining and inspiring them, he bucked the trend by producing shows that were smart and funny enough for children and adults to enjoy in equal measures. As a result, he became an enormously wealthy man but instead of simply resting on his laurels, he continued to try new things and while they may not have been completely appreciated at the time, they have aged quite well and actually play much better today than they did back then. Although clearly not part of any marketing strategy that I know of, this week sees the DVD release of three key entries in Henson’s filmography, “The Muppet Show: The Complete Second Season,” “The Dark Crystal: 25th Anniversary Edition” and “Labyrinth: Anniversary Edition,” and as anyone who gives them a spin will soon discover, they will equally enthrall those who are old enough to remember seeing them when they first appeared and those who are experiencing them for the first time.

After first shooting to national prominence via his contributions to the landmark show “Sesame Street,” Henson wanted to prove that he could do more than entertainment aimed squarely at young children. His first efforts along these lines were his ill-fated contributions to the earliest episodes of “Saturday Night Live” (which can be seen on the Season One DVD that is currently available), a show whose hard-edged humor clashed with his gentler tone. Eventually, he would take matters into his own hands with “The Muppet Show,” a variety program that would allow him to delve into more sophisticated humor with a show aimed for parents and children alike. The first season (currently available on DVD) was a wobbly sort of triumph–it was clear that Henson and Co. were onto something but the difficulty in getting decent celebrities to appear on a program opposite felt constructions led to a number of decidedly uneven episodes. After that debut season, however, everything finally fell into place and from the beginning of the second season, the show quickly became one of the most popular programs in television history. Judging from the 24 Season Two episodes collected on this 4-disc set, it isn’t hard to see why–nearly three decades after their original broadcast, they remain as fresh and funny as ever–the jokes are better, the array of guest stars are much better and seem far more comfortable than those from the previous season and the regular characters get to show the kind of character detail that one doesn’t often see in puppet-based entertainment.

Although there isn’t really a bad episode in the bunch, three of them are particular standouts–the ones featuring Milton Berle (in which the legendary comedian finds himself being heckled mercilessly by resident grumps Statler & Waldorf), Steve Martin (a wonderfully bizarre mold-breaker in which the regular format is eschewed for a series of “auditions” that include dancing rats, an “all-food glee club” and Martin making balloon animals) and Peter Sellers (which contains the kind of outrageous material, including Sellers leading a singalong of “Cigarettes, Whisky and Wild, Wild Women” that will have those of a certain age wistfully remembering what one could get away with in children’s programming long ago). If that weren’t enough entertainment for your buck, the set also includes “The Muppets Valentine Special,” a rare variety special that has been virtually unavailable since it aired on ABC back in 1974, a series of “interviews” with several of the Muppets filmed during the show’s mid-1990's revival and the hilarious music video for Weezer’s “Keep Fishin” in which the band and the Muppets perform the song while the group’s drummer tries to escape the romantic clutches of Miss Piggy.

After “The Muppet Show,” which went on to spawn a series of hit feature films beginning with 1979's “The Muppet Movie,” Henson decided to go off in a wholly unexpected direction with his next major work, the 1982 film “The Dark Crystal” (which he would co-direct with longtime collaborator Frank Oz). This was a dark fantasy (in the mold of “Lord of the Rings”) set in a world far, far away that has been plunged into darkness and chaos for nearly 1000 years after the breaking of the all-important Dark Crystal.
An innocent young Gelfling named Jen finds himself in possession of the crystal’s missing shard and, along with friend Kira, sets off to restore it in order to prevent the vile Skekses, the monsters who broke the crystal in the first place and who destroyed all the other Gelflings in their rise to power, from gaining the power to rule forever. Granted, the story is pretty much an amalgamation of any number of fantasy epics that you could name but the plot is hardly the reason to watch in the first place. The real draw is the astounding world that Henson and his associates were able to create from scratch–this is a world as fully developed and completely convincing as the ones that Peter Jackson created for the “Lord of the Rings” films.

Just as impressive as the settings are the characters created to inhabit them. Although the heroes are kind of bland, you will hardly notice because of the strange and creepy characters that they encounter along the way, especially the old-fashioned nightmare fuel that are the Skekses (which bear an intriguing resemblance to the characters that Henson created for “Saturday Night Live”). When the film came out, it was regarded as somewhat of a disappointment–mostly because people were assuming it would be a light and frothy goof along the lines of the Muppet movies instead the dark saga they got–but its reputation has grown over the years to the point where I would rank it among the great fantasy films of the last few decades. (A sequel is currently said to be in the works.) This two-disc set includes documentaries on the making of the film, a commentary from designer Brian Froud and, most intriguing of all, scenes from the original work print that maintained Henson’s original conceit of having all the creatures speaking their own individual languages that would have eventually been subtitled.

After the relative commercial failure of “The Dark Crystal,” Henson returned to television for the next few years to concentrate on such projects as the long-running cable series “Fraggle Rock” and various Muppet-related specials. In 1986, he would return to the big-screen for his last feature film, the elaborate live-action/puppet hybrid “Labyrinth.” Based on a screenplay by Monty Python alumn Terry Jones, the film featured Jennifer Connelly (then known only from her appearances in Sergio Leone’s “Once Upon a Time In America” and Dario Argento’s “Phenomena”) as Sarah, a teenage girl with an overactive imagination and an irritating infant half-brother as the result of her father’s remarriage. Stuck babysitting one stormy night, she retreats into her favorite fantasy story and wishes aloud that goblins would come and take the little brat away for good. Unfortunately for her, Jareth (David Bowie), the king of the Goblins, hears her wish and obliges her by taken the baby away to his kingdom. When Sarah demands his return, Jareth offers a deal–if she can negotiate the ever-changing labyrinth that is his kingdom and reach his castle in the center in 13 hours, she can have him back and if not, he will be turned into a goblin himself. Needless to say, she agrees and sets off on a journey in which she encounters a number of strange creatures (including Hoggle, a dwarf torn between his allegiance to Jareth and his desire to help Sarah) and stranger locations (ranging from a crystal ballroom to the self-explanatory Bog of External Stench) before a final confrontation with Jareth that involves gravity-defying stunts and, since Bowie was still riding high from the popularity of “Let’s Dance” a few years earlier, even a song or two.

“Labyrinth” was pretty much a bust when it was released in the summer of 1986 (possibly because it came out a few weeks after another expensive fantasy flop, the Ridley Scott-Tom Cruise venture “Legend”) and of all of Henson’s feature films, it is by far the most problematic–the fantasy world isn’t as impressively conceived as the one in “The Dark Crystal,” the blending of live-action and puppetry is as awe-inspiring as it was in “The Muppet Show” and the heroine is, quite frankly, a bit of a pill for most of the running time. And yet, when I saw the film again earlier this summer during a brief theatrical revival, I found myself enjoying the film far more than I had when it first came out. For starters, it stands as a testament to an era of fantasy filmmaking that has all but disappeared–a time when craftsmen actually designed and built elaborate worlds from scratch instead of simply whipping them up on a bank of computers. It was also a lot funnier than I originally remembered, an approach that comes as a blessed relief in a genre that is often too self-serious for its own good. Finally, I have to give it up to David Bowie for his performance as Jareth–while the musical numbers may now come across as a little odd (although they seemed pretty strange back in 1986 as well), he tears into the role with a lot of gusto and the result is one the very few screen performances that he has given that has come close to capturing the oddball spirit that he regularly brought to his musical career.(If you like “Labyrinth,” you are urged to check out “Mirrormask,”the overlooked 2005 fantasy effort from Henson’s production company that utilizes many of the same thematic materials as “Labyrinth” while updating the visuals for the CGI generation.)

THE MUPPET SHOW: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON: (Buena Vista Home Entertainment. $39.99)

THE DARK CRYSTAL: Written by David Odell. Directed by Jim Henson & Frank Oz Starring the voices of Jim Henson, Kathryn Mullen, Frank Oz and Dave Goetz. 1982. 93 minutes. Rated PG. A Sony Home Entertainment release. $24.95

LABYRINTH: Written by Terry Jones. Directed by Jim Henson. Starring David Bowie, Jennifer Connelly, Toby Froud, Shelly Thompson and Christopher Malcolm. 1986. 101 minutes. Rated PG. A Sony Home Entertainment release. $24.95


51 BIRCH STREET (Image Entertainment. $19.99): If you enjoyed, for lack of a better term, such dark and deeply personal documentaries as “Capturing The Friedmans” and “Tarnation,” you will probably be equally interested in this film in which documentarian Doug Block discovers that there was more to his parents’ seemingly perfect 54-year marriage when his mom dies and his dad immediately marries one of his former secretaries.

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE COLON MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS FOR DVD (Turner Home Entertainment. $29.98):Although funny in ten-minute chunks on television, this feature-length film version of the surrealistic Adult Swim cartoon series, in which a trio of superheroic anthropomorphic fast-food items sit around their living room and bitch at each other instead of saving the day, starts off brilliantly (the faux-concession stand advertisement is especially hilarious) and then quickly turns into a shrill, noisy and tiresome exercise in failed hipster humor.

BACK TO SCHOOL: EXTRA-CURRICULAR EDITION (MGM Home Entertainment. $19.98): In this smash hit comedy from the summer of 1986, the late, great Rodney Dangerfield stars as a self-made millionaire who enrolls in college in order to get closer to his son (future director Keith Gordon) and crosses paths with a sexy English professor (Sally Kellerman), a psychotic history professor (Sam Kinison) and Kurt Vonnegut (Kurt Vonnegut). Yes, this is a one-joke film that is as haphazardly constructed as anything you could possibly imagine but the combination of Dangerfield’s winning performance (arguably the best of his too-brief screen career), a standout supporting cast (including amusing bits from Burt Young and Robert Downey Jr.) and one hilarious scene after another (the big Dangerfield-Kinison showdown is one that deserves a place in the Comedy Hall Of Fame) makes it one of the few youth-oriented comedies of the era that is still pretty damn funny two decades down the line.

THE CHARLIE CHAN COLLECTION: VOLUME 3 (Fox Home Entertainment. $49.98): Fox digs into their vaults and comes up with five more mysteries, including a couple of rarities, featuring the venerable sleuth. “Behind the Curtain” (1929) marked the first screen appearance of the character in a minor role in this drama in which Warner Baxter tries to prove that the bounder who married heiress Lois Moran has murder on his mind. (Boris Karloff also makes an early appearance as Baxter’s manservant). “The Black Camel” (1931), which marked Warner Oland’s second appearance as Chan, finds our hero trying to discover the murderer of a much-hated actress from a suspect pool that includes “Dracula” co-stars Bela Lugosi and Dwight Frye. “Charlie Chan’s Secret” (1936) finds Chan trying to solve the mystery surrounding an heir to a fortune who seemingly returns from the dead just in time to get a knife in the back. “Charlie Chan On Broadway” (1937) finds the sleuth hitting the Great White Way to uncover the murderer of a nightclub singer whose missing diary reportedly contained information on illicit gangster activities. Finally, “Charlie Chan At Monte Carlo” (1937), the last of the series to star Oland, has Chan called away from his vacation in Monaco to solve the murders of a casino messenger and a former Chicago gangster.

DAVID LYNCH’S INLAND EMPIRE (Rhino Home Entertainment. $29.98):If you didn’t catch Lynch’s latest effort, a beautifully bizarre and utterly inexplicable work that plays like the last 20 minutes of “Mulholland Drive” stretched out to three increasingly eccentric hours (and I mean that as a compliment and a recommendation), when it had its limited theatrical release (handled by Lynch himself) earlier this year, now is your chance to catch up with it and Laura Dern’s extraordinary central performance. Those of you who did catch will certainly want to pick it up to watch it again and again and further explore its mysteries via a second disc contains an extended interview with Lynch, a cooking lesson, behind-the-scenes production and over 75 minutes of deleted scenes. If those features weren’t enough, Lynch has even gone the extra mile and allowed chapter stops to be utilized for the main feature.

DYNASTY–THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment. $38.99): Although a popular enough show during its premiere season, Aaron Spelling’s glitzy Reagan-era soap opera became a cultural phenomenon in its second go-around with the addition of Joan Collins in the role of Alexis Carrington, the former wife of John Forsythe and frequent catfight opponent of Linda Evans. Although never a particularly great actress by any stretch of the imagination, Collins turned out to be the perfect choice to play the ever-scheming Alexis and it helped to supercharge a career that, just a few years earlier, had been reduced to appearing in the likes of sex comedies like “Homework” and monster movies like “Empire of the Ants.” (This season also saw the introduction of soap perennial Heather Locklear as gold-digging tramp Sammy Jo, a role that she took on even while she was simultaneously busting heads and breaking hearts on “T.J. Hooker.”

ELVIS–THE MINISERIES (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $26.98): Sorry–this isn’t the famous 1978 miniseries that marked the first collaboration between director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell. Instead, this is the okay 2006 version, authorized by Presley’s estate, in which Johnny Lee Miller plays the King and Rose McGowan shows off both of her legs as Ann-Margret.

FATHER BROWN–SET 2 (Acorn Media. $39.99): For those of you who just cannot get enough of quirky mysteries made for British television, the good folks at Acorn Media are back with your latest fix–the final six episodes of the 1974 television series that brought G.K. Chesterton’s books to life with Kenneth More taking the role of the soft-spoken, crime-solving priest.

THE FIRST FILMS OF SAM FULLER–ECLIPSE SERIES 5 (The Criterion Collection. $44.95): This latest installment of the Criterion Collection series highlighting lesser-known films by well-known filmmakers turns the spotlight on the early works of the cult filmmaker who would live on in B-movie immortality thanks to such hard-hitting classics as “The Naked Kiss,” “Shock Corridor” and “The Big Red One.” Kicking things off is his directorial debut, 1949's “I Shot Jesse James,” a solid take on the story of the coward Robert Ford. 1950's “The Baron of Arizona” is a wild tale (based on a true story, believe it or not) in which Vincent Price plays a con man who uses the U.S. government’s willingness to recognize land grants made in the west when it was under Spanish rule as the basis for a hoax that he hopes will give him control of the entire Arizona territory. Finally, 1951's “The Steel Helmet” is a tough and unsparing look at the Korean conflict that would not only be the first cinematic take on the subject, it would be made and release while the war was still raging.

FRACTURE (New Line Home Entertainment. $29.98): Although this courtroom thriller–a confrontation between a brilliant man convinced that he has committed the perfect crime and the hotshot D.A. aching to put him away–is as predictable as such a film can possibly be (and completely falls apart during the nonsensical final moments), it remains a perfectly watchable and entertaining bit of B-movie fun thanks to the better-than-necessary lead performances from Anthony Hopkins as the defendant and Ryan Gosling as the prosecutor.

THE FUGITIVE: SEASON ONE–VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Video. $38.99): The good news is that this classic 1963-67 TV series, in which David Janssen played an ordinary man wrongly accused of his wife’s murder who escapes from custody and obsessively pursues the one-armed man that he knows his responsible while being obsessively pursued by a dedicated U.S. Marshall (Barry Morse) who wants to bring him back in, is finally available on DVD after years of waiting. The bad news is that Paramount is only offering up the first half of Season One (15 episodes) in this set–a real drag since the show, as I recall, didn’t really start firing on all cylinders until the latter half. Nevertheless, it remains a great show and while some younger viewers may be disappointed that it isn’t as action-packed as the amazing 1993 movie version, the basic story is so strong that it still makes for a pretty gripping watch

GOD GREW TIRED OF US (Sony Home Entertainment. $29.95): This powerful documentary, narrated by Nicole Kidman, chronicles the extraordinary and heartbreaking journey of three young boys from the Sudan who were among 3800 relocated to the United States after their home was ravaged by civil war.

HALLOWEEN II/HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (Universal Home Entertainment. $14.98): Just in time to coincide with the release of the Rob Zombie-directed remake of the original “Halloween” (a film whose existence I might be willing to justify if Zombie has the wit to include a cover of “If I Were A Carpenter” on the soundtrack), Universal has thoughtfully put out this double-feature disc of the two sequels to the 1978 classic that they hold the rights to. I mention this only because whenever I get a chance to plug the exceedingly strange “Halloween III”–a brilliantly bizarro film that had nothing to do with Michael Myers and instead told a twisted story involving Stonehenge, a demented toymaker and his plan to fry the brains of America’s youth via deadly Halloween masks–I make sure to take it. Of course, those of you have seen the film before now presumably have that infernal “Silver Shamrock” jingle ringing in your ears and to that, all I can say is “You’re welcome.”

THE HOUSE OF ELLIOT–THE COMPLETE SERIES (Acorn Media. $119.99): Part historical drama, part soap opera and completely, compulsively entertaining, this 1991-94 BBC series from Jean Marsh and Eileen Atkins, the creators of the landmark show “Upstairs, Downstairs,” features two socialite sisters (Louise Lombard and Stella Gonet) who are forced to fend for themselves when they discover that they are penniless after their father’s death. Since the two have a flair for fashion design, they wind up starting their own line of clothes and the show follows them as they establish their business and try to keep it going amidst personal and professional struggles. This 12-disc set contains every episode from its three seasons, an interview with Louise Lombard and a brief primer on the history of high fashion in the 1920's.

KISSOLOGY–VOLUME 2: 1978–1991 (VH-1 Classics. $38.99): This second volume of the DVD series chronicling the history of KISS follows the years in which the group went from being one of the biggest groups in the world to the status of has-beens (a journey hastened by ill-advised solo albums, an even-more-ill-advised concept album and the removal of their elaborate make-up as a last-ditch publicity gimmick) before their improbable career resurgence in the 1990's (which will presumably be charted in the next installment). Included in this set are several concert performances (including shows in Australia, Brazil and Detroit), numerous television appearances (including a 1978 Edwin Newman report on the hype, a strange 1979 interview with Tom Snyder and their performance from the failed “SNL” rip-off “Fridays”) and, best of all, the full-length European cut of their infamous 1979 TV movie “KISS Meets The Phantom of the Park.”[br]

THE LOOKOUT (Miramax Home Entertainment. $29.99): In this reasonably impressive neo-noir from debuting director Scott Frank (better known as the screenwriter of “Out Of Sight” and “Minority Report”), Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as a once-promising high-school athlete whose future was dashed after suffering a debilitating brain injury in an auto accident–now working as the night watchman in a bank, he unwittingly becomes lured into a robbery plot by no-goodnik Matthew Goode and femme fatale Isla Fisher. Although the story begins to peter out in the last half-hour (with at least one major character simply disappearing without any explanation), this is still an eminently watchable thriller, mostly because of the outstanding performances from Gordon-Levitt (whose work here, on the heels of his turns in “Mysterious Skin” and “Brick,” cements his reputation as one of the most interesting young actors at work today) as the hero and the hilarious Jeff Daniels as his roommate, who may be blind but can easily see that his friend is headed for trouble.

MASTERS OF HORROR–VALERIE ON THE STAIRS/WE ALL SCREAM FOR ICE CREAM (Starz/Anchor Bay Home Entertainment. $14.98 each):Two more entries from the second season of Showtime’s horror-themed anthology series. The former, directed by series creator Mick Garris, centers on a struggling young author who moves into an apartment complex and begins seeing visions of a beautiful and mysterious women on the stairs. The latter, helmed by Tom Holland (whose genre credits include “Fright Night” and “Child’s Play”), tells the gripping tale of a long-dead ice cream vendor who comes back from the grave to get revenge on the people who pulled the prank that led to his accidental death.

PANDEMIC (Rhi Entertainment. $19.95): An incredibly dangerous virus begins to spread throughout Los Angeles and only dedicated scientists Tiffani-Amber Thiessen and French Stewart can stop it before it goes completely out of control. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous but it can’t possibly be any sillier than “Outbreak,” can it?

PSYCHO II/PSYCHO III/PSYCHO IV (Universal Home Entertainment. $19.98): Although the various sequels to Alfred Hitchcock’s landmark 1960 classic, all thoughtfully combined here on one disc, have usually been written off as inferior cash-ins, they are actually better than their reputations might otherwise suggest. 1983's “Psycho II” (directed by the recently deceased Richard Franklin) was a better-than-average thriller with a couple of nifty twist, 1986's “Psycho III” found Anthony Perkins, who took up the directorial reins in addition to playing Norman Bates, taking a blackly comedic approach to the material that Hitchcock himself might have approved of (especially the bit when the dumb cop unwittingly sucks on a couple of bloodstained ice cubes). 1990's made-for-cable “Psycho IV: The Beginning” is the least of the bunch but as pointless prequels go, it is relatively well-made and worth checking out just to see Perkins’ last turn as the character who would define his entire career.

THE SHAKESPEARE COLLECTION (Warner Home Video. $59.92): This box set offers fans of the Bard (as well as English Literature students too lazy to actually read his plays for class) a quartet of films based on some of his best-known plays make their DVD debuts. 1935's “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” co-directed by stage legend Max Rheinhart and William Dieterle, is a bizarre and beautiful romp that is still worth watching because of the extraordinary visuals and the appealingly nutty casting of James Cagney as Bottom, Olivia De Havilland as Hermia and Mickey Rooney as Puck. 1936's “Romeo & Juliet” was a noble stab at the immortal tragedy that was thoroughly undone by casting the far-too-old Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer (the wife of MGM boss Irving Thalberg) in the title roles. 1965's “Othello” offers up the odd sight of a darkened-up Laurence Olivier as the titular Moor (opposite Maggie Smith’s Desdemona and Frank Finlay’s Iago) in an pretty fair adaptation of the play. Finally, there is Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film “William Shakespeare’s Hamlet,” a noble and generally successful attempt to bring every line of the epic play to the screen in the hands of an all-star cast including Branagh, Julie Christie, Kate Winslet, John Gielgud, Jack Lemmon, Judi Dench, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams and Charlton Heston (the latter being especially effective in his brief turn as the Player King).

SOLD SEPARATELY–CLASSIC KID COMMERCIALS (Passport Video. $9.98): Over 80 vintage TV commercials–everything from the Agent Zero M Blaster to the “Welcome Back Kotter” game–can be found on this DVD. Luckily for us, they aren’t being sold separately.

TAXI DRIVER: COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Sony Home Entertainment. $24.95):Martin Scorsese’s harrowing depiction of the violent disintegration of a lonely and deeply disturbed man amid the squalor and brutality of the urban jungle may have been made 31 years ago but there isn’t a single frame of it that doesn’t continue to ring true today. Previously released on DVD by Sony back in 1999, this new version ports over “God’s Lonely Man,” the excellent feature-length making-of documentary and a feature that allows viewers to toggle between the film and the text of Paul Schrader’s screenplay and includes new commentaries from Schrader and film professor Robert Kolker (alas, the excellent Scorsese-Schrader commentary recorded long ago for the Criterion Collection laserdisc is still missing), featurettes on the making of the film and its ongoing impact, a collection of storyboards introduced by Scorsese and a short piece that takes us to some of the film’s locations and shows just how much things have changed in New York over the past three decades.

U-CARMEN (Koch Lorber. $26.98): Barely released in America–although it did receive the honor of being the closing film of the 2006 edition of Roger Ebert’s Overlooked Film Festival–this impressive 2005 film features the theater group Dimpho Di Kopane performing a modern-day adaptation of the famous Bizet opera amid the backdrop of contemporary South Africa.

VACANCY (Sony Home Entertainment. $28.95): Luke Wilson and Kate Beckinsale check into a seedy out-of-the-way motel but may well not check out when they discover that they have just been cast in a snuff film that is about to start shooting in this trashy thriller that has an agreeably lurid premise but little else to distinguish it from the recent string of lackluster torture-based horror films.

WELCOME TO THE GRINDHOUSE (BCI Eclipse. $12.98 each): Another double helping of drive-in trash from the good people at BCI Eclipse, both featuring a martial-arts theme and the considerable star presence of the one and only Sonny Chiba. One set includes 1981's “Dragon Princess,” in which the daughter of a karate master takes revenge on the men who permanently crippled him, and 1976's “Karate Warriors,” in which Chiba finds himself in the middle of a war between two street gangs that is presumably a million miles removed from “Yojimbo.” The second set includes 1976's “The Bodyguard,” in which Chiba returns home to Japan to single-handedly wipe out the drug problem, and 1974's “Sister Streetfighter,” a spin-off of Chiba’s superviolent “Streetfighter” series in which he teams up with the sister (Etsuko Shihomi) of an imprisoned drug informant to free him and crush a heroin ring. Trivia note: At one point in “The Bodyguard,” Chiba delivers a familiar-sounding monologue that begins with “The path of the righteous man is best on all sides by the inequity of the selfish and tyranny of evil men. . .”

WILD HOGS (Touchstone Home Entertainment. $29.99): For reasons that I couldn’t possibly begin to understand of explain, this remarkably unfunny comedy–roughly two hours of pratfalls and gay jokes involving a quartet of middle-aged weekend motorcyclists (Tm Allen, Martin Lawrence, William H. Macy and John Travolta) who run afoul of an exceptionally surly real biker (Ray Liotta) and his gang while on a road trip–went on to become one of the most popular films of 2007 and I presume that this DVD will be a big seller as well. Included amongst the bonus features is a “freewheeling alternate ending” but unless it involves Liotta greasing the leads and riding off into the sunset with Marisa Tomei (whose fetching appearance as a local waitress is the best thing about the film), I don’t think it will help matters much.

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