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PICK OF THE WEEK

IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Winner of the 1967 Academy Award for best picture, Norman Jewison’s adaptation of John Ball’s novel remains both a first-rate whodunit and a penetrating study of racial intolerance.

Sidney Poitier, in one of his most famous roles, portrays Virgil Tibbs, a Philadelphia detective visiting the South when he stops overnight in the Mississippi town of Sparta, waiting for a train. Because the murder of a prominent businessman has just occurred and because he is black, Tibbs is taken into custody by over-eager deputy Sam Wood (Warren Oates).

When Tibbs points out this heinous error of “mistaken identity,” it proves something of an embarrassment for the police chief, Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger, Oscar winner for best actor).

Despite serious misgivings and the enmity of many of the townspeople, including the bigoted Gillespie, Tibbs is goaded into assisting the investigation of the murder, which he does with such cool precision that it infuriates the chief even further – until he realizes that by helping Tibbs he can crack the case that much quicker. A grudging (but fragile) respect grows between the two men, played to absolute perfection by Poitier and Steiger.

A superior supporting cast includes Lee Grant as the victim’s grief-stricken widow, Scott Wilson in his screen debut, Anthony James, William Schallert, Beah Richards and Larry Gates.

The film also won Academy Awards for Stirling Silliphant’s adapted screenplay, Hal Ashby’s editing, and best sound – with additional nominations for best director and best sound effects. The film was followed by two sequels with Poitier and a successful NBC series, but none of them can really compare to the absolute and irresistible power of the original. They don’t make ’em like this anymore, and they really ought to. “Yeah! Oh, yeah!” ****

ALSO ON DVD

“THE ADVENTURES OF OSWALD THE LUCKY RABBIT” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Before Mickey Mouse became the unmistakable worldwide image of Walt Disney Studios, there was Oswald the Lucky Rabbit – a cartoon character that appeared in several animated shorts supervised by Uncle Walt himself (dating from 1926-’28), and evidently poised to make a comeback 80 years later. This limited edition “Walt Disney Treasures” DVD, which features quite a bit of material never before released on video in any format, retails for $32.99.

ALEXANDER’S RAGTIME BAND (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Tyrone Power, Alice Faye and Don Ameche comprise an attractive romantic triangle in this cheerful, old-school, 1938 Fox musical conceived by Irving Berlin (who earned an Oscar nomination for original story). Ameche carries a tune quite nicely with “Easter Parade,” and no one (before or since) carries a tune quite like co-star Ethel Merman. A winning cast also includes Jack Haley, Jean Hersholt and John Carradine, who utters the line “Alexander’s Ragtime Band… sure can swing it, can’t he?” as only he could. Look fast for Lon Chaney Jr., too. Alfred Newman’s original score won an Oscar, with additional nominations for best art direction/set decoration, best editing, best song (“Now It Can Be Told”) and, the big one, best picture. ***

ALEX HALEY’S QUEEN (Warner Home Video): A 1993 mini-series depicting the life of the mother of author Alex Haley (played by Halle Berry), as she encounters hardship and racism in the years following the Civil War. An all-star cast includes Ann-Margret, Danny Glover, Ossie Davis, Patricia Clarkson, Tim Daly, Martin Sheen, Madge Sinclair, George Grizzard, Paul Winfield and NC School of the Arts alumnus Tim Guinee. This earned eight Emmy nominations, including ones for outstanding mini-series and Ann-Margret as outstanding supporting actress in a mini-series or special, but won only for outstanding achievement in hairstyling for a mini-series or special. This DVD retails for $24.98.

“AMERICA!” – THE COMPLETE SERIES (Genius Products): A four-DVD collector’s edition of all 13 hours of writer/director Louis Schwartzberg’s 2000-01 documentary series celebrating the lives of Americans from various walks of life. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

BALLS OF FURY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Dan Fogler plays an oversized, one-time table-tennis prodigy who returns to action in order to defeat a super-villain (the perennially effervescent Christopher Walken) in a cutthroat tournament right out of Enter the Dragon. The slapstick gags run hot and cold, but it’s tough to truly dislike a farce that features such favorites as Maggie Q, James Hong, George Lopez, Robert Patrick, Jason Scott Lee, Cary Hiroyuki-Tagawa, Patton Oswalt, Davids Proval and Koechner, Thomas Lennon (also a producer and screenwriter) and NC School of the Arts alumnus Diedrich Bader. It’s worth it just to see Walken sing Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” over the end credits. And remember: “It’s better to die like a tiger than live like a pussy.” Rated PG-13. **

CAPTAIN JACK (KOCH Vision): The great Bob Hoskins is perfectly cast in the title role of this enjoyable 1999 fable, that of a crusty sea captain who decides to retrace the 1791 voyage of Capt. Scoresby from England to the Arctic. Cutesy and cheeky at times, but lent ballast by an enjoyable cast that also includes Anna Massey, Gemma Jones, Patrick Malahide, Maureen Lipman, Michelle Dotrice and a scrumptious Sadie Frost. ***

CRIME SPREE (Paramount Home Entertainment): A bumbling group of French burglars (including Gerard Depardieu and Johnny Hallyday) make the mistake of trying to rob the house of a Chicago under-boss (Harvey Keitel), setting into a motion a series of complicated, sometimes comical, double- and triple-crosses. Not unlike Smokin’ Aces, which this predates by some years. Exuberant performances keep this afloat. Rated R. **1/2

FIFA: THE BEAUTIFUL CENTURY (Mackinac Media): A feature-length documentary celebrating the 2004 centennial of World Cup soccer and such players as Pele, Ronaldo, Zinedine “Zizou” Zidane and David Beckham. This two-disc special edition retails for $24.95.

“HAWAII FIVE-0” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 1970-71 season of the long-running CBS police drama starring Jack Lord (he of the remarkable hair) as the ever-fearless and ever-vigilant Steve McGarrett and James MacArthur as his right-hand man, Dan Williams, to whom McGarrett always advises: “Book ’em, Danno.” Guest stars include Harry Guardino, Martin Sheen, Ed Flanders, John Vernon, Don Stroud, Hume Cronyn, Anne Archer, Lloyd Bochner, Gary Collins, Vera Miles and Pernell Roberts. The location was undoubtedly an inducement for guest stars. The show even picked up an Emmy nomination that season for Bob Sweeney’s direction of the episode “Over Fifty? Steal!” This boxed set retails for $54.99.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL 2 – EXTENDED EDITION (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): For those who can’t get enough of the latest Disney franchise, here’s the sequel – with heartthrobs Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron, Ashley Tisdale, Corbin Bleu, Lucas Grabeel and Monique Coleman all reprising their original roles. This DVD, which has all sorts of extras (including singalongs and karaoke!), retails for $29.99.

“MASTERS OF HORROR” (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Every installment of the award-winning Showtime horror anthology series’ second (2006-07) season is now available on DVD: John Carpenter’s “Pro-Life,” John Landis’ “Family,” Joe Dante’s “The Screwfly Solution,” Stuart Gordon’s re-imagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” Rob Schmidt’s “Right to Die,” Mick Garris’ “Valerie on the Stairs,” Tom Holland’s “We All Scream for Ice Cream,” Dario Argento’s “Pelts,” Brad Anderson’s “Sounds Like,” Peter Medak’s “The Washingtonians,” Ernest Dickerson’s “The V Word,” Tobe Hooper’s “The Damned Thing” and Norio Tsuruta’s “Dream Cruise.” Each volume retails for $14.98.

“THE ODD COUPLE” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): Jack Klugman and Tony Randall return in all 23 episodes from the 1972-73 season of the classic prime-time sitcom based on Neil Simon’s hit play. Both actors received Emmy nominations as outstanding continued performance by an actor in a leading role in a comedy series – and Klugman won. Their teamwork remains as delightful as ever. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

PAYDAY (Warner Home Video): Rip Torn gives one of his best performances in Daryl Duke’s little-seen 1973 gem about a reckless country singer on a fateful, binge-fueled tour across the South. One of the “lost” films of the 1970s, this DVD features a commentary by producer Saul Zaentz and director Duke (who died in 2006). Rated R. ***

“SABRINA THE TEENAGE WITCH” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 25 episodes from the 1998-99 season of the long-running ABC sitcom starring Melissa Joan Hart as an all-American teenager who also happens to possess supernatural powers. (Cute, too!) This boxed set retails for $42.99.

SHOOT ‘EM UP (New Line Home Entertainment): Clive Owen plays a rugged loner who tries to protect a newborn baby – with the help of a good-hearted hooker (Monica Bellucci) – from a hired killer (Paul Giamatti) and his minions. Over the top and occasionally inspired, this ultra-violent trash is not without its particular and peculiar charms, but it’s also tasteless and absurd, even by its own (low) standards. Nevertheless, it lives up to its title – and then some. Rated R. **

SYDNEY WHITE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): This dreadful vehicle for a preternaturally tanned Amanda Bynes was originally titled Sydney White and the Seven Dorks, and depicts Our Heroine’s college misadventures living in a fraternity house full of misfits. Worse than it sounds – and one of last year’s worst films – but Bynes rebounded with Hairspray. Rated PG-13. 1/2*

“THIRD AND A MILE” (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): This ESPN documentary focuses on the struggles – and successes – of black quarterbacks in the NFL, culminating in the victory of Doug Williams and the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl XXII, marking the first (and only) time that a black quarterback won the Super Bowl, and Williams was the MVP, to boot. Other quarterbacks profiled include Warren Moon, Vince Young, Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, and a pair of my personal favorites: Randall Cunningham and Donovan McNabb. (What – no Michael Vick?) This DVD retails for $24.95.

UNDERDOG (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): This big-screen version of the popular ’60s animated series is plenty silly at times, but it’s also got some dynamite visual effects and enough laughs to keep the kids (and some grown-ups) entertained. Jason Lee provides the voice of the title character. Rated PG. **1/2

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2007, Mark Burger.

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