by Mark Burger



Those who know Harry Belafonte only as a multi-talented, versatile entertainer — which he unquestionably is — may not be aware of a lifetime’s worth of social and political activism, which continues to this day.

Susanne Rostock’s award-winning documentary offers a complete portrait of the man whose passion, drive and sheer obstinacy help effect change both in the United States and throughout the world, but sometimes at great cost to his personal and professional life.

Now 85 but as impassioned as ever, Belafonte reflects on his life in wonderfully honest, open fashion, freely admitting that his dedication to social justice came with a price (including two failed marriages and longtime surveillance by the FBI as a subversive), yet without bitterness or rancor. The film is also graced with a wealth of archival footage from his life and career, as well as interviews with friends (including Sidney Poitier, Nelson Mandela and Tony Bennett) and family (daughter Gina was one of the film’s producers).

The world is a much different place than when Belafonte first made his entrance in 1927, and a persuasive argument could be made that it’s a better place because of him.

AGENDA (VCI Entertainment): Filmed in 2007, writer/producer/director Jonathan de la Luz’s feature debit is a convoluted, contemporary film noir with Robert Rusler as a down-at-his-heel hustler mixed up with tycoon John Bennett Perry and restless wife Eliana Alexander (in an award-winning performance). Derails midway through and never recovers. You can also watch the film in black-and-white “Noir Scope” but there’s no indication it improves the script.

“AMERICA’S BOOK OF SECRETS” (A&E Networks Home Entertainment): A three-DVD collection ($29.95 retail) of all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2012 season of the H2 documentary series that goes behind the scenes of such notable American institutions as the White House, Fort Knox, the Pentagon, Area 51, the FBI, the Freemasons and, yes, even the Playboy Mansion.

THE ARSENAL STADIUM MYSTERY (VCI Entertainment): Leslie Banks is a hoot as Scotland Yard’s fussiest inspector, trying to ascertain who murdered a soccer star during a big exhibition match, in this quaint, light-hearted 1938 whodunit.

BIG TIME MOVIE AND RAGS: DOUBLE MOVIE (Nickelodeon/Paramount Home Entertainment): A DVD double-feature ($14.99 retail) of family-friendly films originally broadcast on Nickelodeon: Savage Steve Holland directs Big Time Movie (2012), the latest musical comedy spun off from the “Big Time Rush” TV series; and Rags (also ‘12) offers a gender switch on the classic tale of Cinderella, with Drake Bell playing the young orphan hero.

THE BLING RING (A&E Networks Home Entertainment): Michael Lembeck direct ed this fast-based (and matter-of-fact) drama with Austin Butler as a high-school student who falls in with the wrong crowd when his family moves to Los Angeles and partakes in a string of celebrity break-ins. Yin Chang plays the teen temptress entices Butler, while Jennifer Grey worries a lot as his mom. Sofia Coppola is working on a feature film about the same subject.

“DANNY PHANTOM”: SEASON 2, PART 2 (Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory): A DVD collection ($19.93 retail) of the last 10 episodes from the 2005-’06 season of the award-winning, animated Nickelodeon children’s series about the ghostly adventures of a teenager (voice by David Kaufman) with paranormal powers.

“DISCOVER THE ANCIENT ART…” (True Mind): A pair of DVD documentaries exploring the history and health benefits of traditional Chinese medicine: “Tai Chi” retails for $14.98 and “Qi Gong” for $19.98.

“LANCELOT LINK”: SECRET CHIMP (Film Chest): At long last – a DVD boxed set ($24.98 retail) of all 17 episodes from the live-action ABC children’s series that aired Saturday mornings (1970-’72) that starred chimpanzees and spoofed the spy genre. I watched reruns of this as a kid and howled. Remember, monkeys are always funny… or so I thought at the time.

“THE MENTALIST”: THE COMPLETE SEASON FOUR (Warner Home Video): Simon Baker goes “mental” as he takes on the toughest criminal cases, in all 24 episodes from the 2011-’12 season of the award-winning CBS crime drama, co-starring Robin Tunney and Amanda Righetti and now available in a DVD boxed set ($59.98 retail) replete with special features.

MY REINCARNATION (Docurama Films/New Video): Filmmaker Jennifer Fox spent more than 20 years on this awardwinning documentary ($29.95 retail) following the life of a Tibetan Buddhist master who attempts to convince his Western-born son to continue in the family tradition of spiritual teaching. In Spanish, Italian and Tibetan with English subtitles.

NORMANDY (MTI Home Video): Tino Struckmann wrote, directed and stars in an unexciting, uninvolving World War II melodrama as a German soldier whose romance with a young nurse (Claudia Crawford) is — understandably — complicated when the D-Day invasion begins on June 6, 1994. Originally titled Red Rose of Normandy, but a rose by any other name.


THE SERIES (The Hub/Shout! Factory): The first 10 episodes from the inaugural 2011-’12 season of the anthology series based on stories by bestselling author RL Stine, which is broadcast on the Hub TV Network. Seven Daytime Emmy nominations including Outstanding Performer in a Children’s Series (Dakota Goyo) and Outstanding Directing in a Children’s Series. Volume One contains the first five episodes, Volume Two the last five. Each volume retails for $14.97.

THE SMURFS AND THE MAGIC FLUTE (Shout! Factory): Original Smurfs creator Peyo directed this animated feature based on his popular characters, with a score by Michel Legrand. Originally released in Europe in 1976 (as La flute a six schtroumpfs), then released in the US in 1983 after the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series hit big. The DVD retails for $14.93. Rated G.

SODA SPRINGS (Monarch Home Entertainment): Sincere but overlong (although award-winning) faith-based soap opera with Jay Pickett as an ex-con trying to rebuild his life with the help of his mother (Patty McCormack) and a new lady in his life (Victoria Pratt) in the title town. A few twists too many but not the worst of its kind, with Henry Darrow, Michael Bowen and Tom Skerritt also on hand. Pickett also co-wrote and co-produced with director Michael Feifer.

“SUBURGATORY”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): It’s all-out culture shock for all-American teen Jane Levy when she moves from New York City city to the suburbs upstate, in all 22 episodes from the inaugural 2011-’12 season of the ABC sitcom, with Jeremy Sisto, Ana Gasteyer, Alan Tudyk and Cheryl Hines. The DVD boxed set retails for $44.98.

WOMAN THOU ART LOOSED: ON THE 7TH DAY (Code Black Entertainment/ Vivendi Entertainment): The follow-up to the 2004 film, based on a story by executive producer Bishop TD Jakes, stars Blair Underwood and Sharon Leal as a couple whose marriage and faith are tested when their young daughter (newcomer Zoe Carter) is kidnapped. Pam Grier and Jakes (as himself) also appear. The DVD retails for $19.97. Rated PG-13.

MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2012, Mark Burger.