DVD Pick of the week: THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN IN AMERICA: DANIEL ELLSBERG AND THE PENTAGON PAPERS (First Run Features)
The title tells all in this riveting, award-winning documentary feature from producer/directors Judith Ehrlich and Rick Goldsmith, which recounts the real-life story of the Pentagon official who in 1971, realizing the futility of the ongoing Vietnam War, leaked confidential documents to the press that told the truth about the war.
The result, as might be expected (and for those who remember), was an international firestorm of controversy that rocked both the Constitution and the presidency of the United States, and certainly had an impact on the war Ellsberg was trying to halt.
To some, Ellsberg was a hero. To others, a traitor. And to Richard Nixon’s White House, he was the catalyst for the Watergate breakin, thereby linking Ellsberg to both the end of the Vietnam War and the downfall of an American presidency. All because of one man. It’s an almost unbelievable story, and it happens to be true.
This film brings the controversies of yesteryear back into sharp, unblinking focus. It is a trenchant reminder of an era not so far removed from our own, told in concise, compelling and sometimes chilling fashion. Not just a great film, but an important one as well.
BING CROSBY: THE COLLECTION(Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Aself-explanatory six-film selection ($49.98retail) showcasing the talents of Bing Crosby(1903-’77): College Humor (1933) co-starsGeorge Burns and Gracie Allen; Here is My Heart(1934) co-stars Kitty Carlisle and Roland Young;Mississippi (1935) co-stars WC Fields, Gail Patrickand Joan Bennett; Sing, You Sinners (1938) costarsFred MacMurray and Donald O’Connor;Dixie (1943) teams Der Bingle with DorothyLamour; and Welcome Stranger (1947) co-starsJoan Caulfield and Crosby’s Going My Way costarand fellow Oscar winner, Barry Fitzgerald.“THE BIONIC WOMAN”: SEASON ONE(Universal Studios Home Entertainment):Lindsay Wagner, who won the Emmy asOutstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series,plays the title role of Jaime Summers, in all 13episodes from the 1976 season of the primetimesci-fi ABC-TV series spun off from “The SixMillion Dollar Man,” and also featuring RichardAnderson and Martin E Brooks from that series.This four-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.CHINA 9, LIBERTY 37 (Alpha HomeEntertainment): Monte Hellman directed thisbelated 1978 spaghetti Western, with FabioTesti as a gunman hired by the railroad to killrancher Warren Oates, only to fall in love withhis wife (gorgeous Jenny Agutter). FilmmakerSam Peckinpah turns up in a cameo role as adime-store novelist, and Ronee Blakley singsthe theme song. This was the last film releasedby Allied Artists, and suffered from spotty distributionas a result, with various cuts and runningtimes. Although this 91-minute version islonger than some previous releases, it’s not thefull R-rated version and appears to have beenedited for TV.CRASHING THRU (Alpha HomeEntertainment): This 1938 installment of thelow-budget “Renfrew of the Royal Mounted”film series features James Newill as the singingMountie and Warren Hull as his sidekick, thistime pursuing hijackers. Other familiar faces onhand include Robert Frazer, Milburn Stone andDave O’Brien (later to assume the Renfrew role).Clocking in at under an hour, there’s a steadysuccession of thrills and spills (and a couple ofsongs), capped off by a riotous biplane climaxthat the title alludes to.GROUP SEX (Monarch Home Video):Scattershot comedy with Josh Cooke as a womanizerwho encounters his dream girl (OdetteYustman) in a sex-addict therapy group. GregGrunberg (also a producer and screenwriter),Henry Winkler, Lisa Lampanelli, Tom Arnold,Kurt Fuller, Rob Benedict and an unbilled JamesDenton also drop by, to little effect. Rated R.THE HANGOVER (Warner Home Video):An “Extreme Edition” ($33.92 DVD retail, $35.99Blu-ray retail) of Todd Phillips’ side-splitting,award-winning 2009 comedy about four friends(Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helmsand Justin Bartha) whose bachelor-party excursionto Las Vegas turns into a comedic cataclysm.One of the highest-grossing comedies inHollywood history, with the inevitable sequelon its way. Rated R.“HUMAN TARGET”: THE COMPLETEFIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): Thepopular DC Comics series comes to the smallscreen, in all 12 episodes from the premier2010 season of the prime-time Fox Networkseries starring Mark Valley as a bodyguard-forhirewith a penchant for danger and risk. ChiMcBride and Jackie Earle Haley round out theregular cast. Three Emmy nominations includingOutstanding Stunt Coordination (for theepisode “Run”). The DVD boxed set retails for$39.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $49.99.“MAGIC & BIRD: A COURTSHIP OFRIVALS” (HBO Home Entertainment) LievSchreiber narrates this sports documentary($19.98 retail) tracing the on-court rivalry betweenNBA superstars Earvin “Magic” Johnson of the LALakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics.“THE MENTALIST”: THE COMPLETESECOND SEASON (Warner Home Video):Simon Baker (Emmy nominee as OutstandingLead Actor in a Drama Series) is back in action,in all 23 episodes from the 2009-’10 season ofthe award-winning, prime-time CBS-TV seriesabout a one-time “psychic” who aids and abetsthe authorities tackle the toughest cases.The regular cast also includes Robin Tunney,Amanda Righetti, Owain Yeoman and Tim Kang.This five-DVD boxed set retails for $59.98.“NHL STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS2010: CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS SPECIALEDITION” (Warner Home Video): The WindyCity’s NHL franchise celebrated its first championshipsince 1961. Unfortunately, they beat myPhiladelphia Flyers to do it. This DVD boxed setfeatures all the highlights, such as they are, andretails for $39.92.NOT OF THIS EARTH (Shout! Factory): Aspecial-edition re-release of Jim Wynorski’s lowbudget1988 remake of producer Roger Corman’s1957 sci-fi shocker (low-budget in its own day),starring Traci Lords in her first mainstream role asa sexy young nurse to a mysterious businessman(Arthur Roberts), who is actually a bloodthirstyalien from outer space. Silly and lowbrow, butcamp humor carries it. Rated R.PHILLY HOOPS: THE SPHAS AND THEWARRIORS (Alpha Home Entertainment):Writer/producer/director James Rosin’s 2003documentary traces the history of professionalbasketball and its direct relationship to the cityof Philadelphia, in particular the earliest years, anera in which the SPHAs (a team sponsored by theSouth Philadelphia Hebrew Association) and thePhiladelphia Warriors were prominent. An enjoyableand informative romp through sports nostalgia,narrated by broadcaster Bill Campbell.SEX AND THE CITY 2 (Warner HomeVideo): The second big-screen spin-off from theaward-winning HBO series, based on CandaceBushnell’s best-selling novels, proves a case ofthe terrible twos — an overlong, irritating comedythat does its best and worst to squanderany goodwill toward its principal characters,again played by Sarah Jessica Parker (alsoan executive producer), Kim Cattrall, KristinDavis and Cynthia Nixon. Chris Noth and JohnCorbett also reprise their series roles, with LizaMinnelli as herself. One the year’s worst films.Rated R.THE TERROR WITHIN/DEAD SPACEDOUBLE FEATURE (Shout! Factory): A DVDtwin-bill ($19.93 retail) of low-budget sciencefictionthrillers from producer Roger Corman:George Kennedy and Andrew Stevens headline1988’s underground monster mash The TerrorWithin (**); and Marc Singer stars in 1990’s interstellarmonster mash Dead Space (*), the latter ofwhich borrows considerable footage and storyideas from previous Corman films. Love thatRoger! Both films are rated R.TOO HOT TO HANDLE (Alpha HomeEntertainment): Also released as Fig Leaf Frolics(!), this delirious bit of nostalgia (released in 1950)showcases comedy and burlesque as presentedby “Lillian Hunt’s Blond Beauties” (although notall of the girls are blondes). Some 60 years later,this seems almost quaint in retrospect, but at thetime was (gasp!) scandalous. The stand-up comedyroutines are cringingly bad — and all themore funny as a result.