rock 'n' roll high school: special edition (1979, Lions Gate) D: Allan Arkush, w/ P.J. Soles, Dey Young, the Ramones. $25.99. Rating: NNNNN
In our post-Columbine, post 9/11 timidity, here's an anarchic comedy classic that would never get made today -- and almost certainly would not be shot in 20 days, with complete musical numbers. Emerging from a concept that Roger Corman had for Disco High, it's one of the all-time best spirit-of-rock movies, featuring live footage of the Ramones (shot for the movie), a wired star turn by P.J. Soles as the Ramones' biggest fan (plus a legendary one by Mary Woronov as Principal Togar) and an endless series of weird, try-anything gags.
On the Luminavision laser disc, there's a very funny commentary track by Arkush, screenwriter Richard Whitley and producer Mike Finnell. When Arkush announces, "The three biggest influences on this movie were If, Zero For Conduct, and Shake, Rattle And Rock," you think he's nuts, but then you realize you can see all three at work here. A couple of financially unstable companies issued DVD incarnations of Rock 'N' Roll High School in the past; at last it's found a home that doesn't seem on the verge of collapse.
EXTRAS Filmmaker commentary, Roger Corman interview, theatrical trailer, radio spots, audio outtakes from the Ramones Roxy performances.
the sopranos: the complete third season (2001, HBO/Warner Home Video) D: various, w/ James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Michael Imperioli. Four discs, $120. Rating: NNN
In Season Three, Sopranos creator David Chase is betrayed by his fondness for perpetually proliferating plot lines. It simply doesn't have the focused narrative drive of the early seasons, though there are outstanding episodes, incidents and performances: the arrival of Joe Pantoliano as the erratic Ralph Sifaretto, the rape of Lorraine Bracco's Dr. Melfi, the slow shifting of the show's moral centre from Edie Falco's Carmela to Jamie-Lynn Sigler, who plays the Soprano daughter, Meadow.
Of course, The Sopranos operating a step below its best is still awfully good, and having the season in a box makes it a lot easier to follow than when it's spread across three months on TV. Of the three commentary tracks, the best is actor/writer Michael Imperioli's, while guest director Steve Buscemi and series creator Chase are perfunctory. "Tony doesn't like to hear about other people's problems." Gee, Dave, ya think?
EXTRAS Three commentaries, episode recaps, cast interviews, behind-the-scenes material.
lawrence of arabia (1962, Columbia Tri-Star Home Entertainment) D: David Lean, w/ Peter O'Toole, Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness. $30. Rating: NNNN
Recently voted the fourth-greatest film of all time in Sight And Sound's directors poll, Lawrence Of Arabia is evidence that they really don't make 'em like this any more. In an era when filmmakers can do anything with computers, we should remember that when 500 horsemen come charging across the desert into a town in this movie, it's 500 real horsemen, an actual desert, an actual town. My feelings about Lawrence have wavered over the years (it's too damned long at 217 minutes), but you have to admire Lean's obsessiveness, and the superb performances by O'Toole, Sharif, Guinness and the rest.
This is a bare-bones version of Columbia's pricey two-disc special edition -- no extras, only one soundtrack -- but they've managed to get the same superb master onto a single disc, complete with the overture and intermission music. If you've been balking at Lawrence -- really an essential DVD -- because of the price, here it is on the (relative) cheap.
EXTRAS English, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Thai sub-titles.
hopscotch (1980, Criterion/ Morningstar) D: Ronald Neame, w/ Walter Matthau, Glenda Jackson. $49. Rating: NNN
The Criterion Collection is known for its devotion to high-art cinema -- Dreyer, Eisenstein, that sort of thing -- which makes Hopscotch one of its odder choices. The 22-year-old spy-chase comedy holds up well, though.
Walter Matthau is a CIA agent forced into retirement who decides to get back at his superior (Ned Beatty) by writing his memoirs. Aided by Glenda Jackson, he leads his erstwhile colleagues on a chase across two continents and half a dozen countries. The role was tailored to Matthau's personality and talent, and the result has inordinate charm. It's light on extras -- just the theatrical trailer and a 25-minute interview with director Ronald Neame (The Horse's Mouth) and screenwriter/novelist Brian Garfield -- and pricey. I like Hopscotch; I'm just not sure I'd pay Criterion prices for it.
EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, filmmakers interview.
Also this week
PULP FICTION/JACKIE BROWN Long- awaited two-disc special editions of Quentin Tarantino's classics. Oddly, the motormouth director has elected not to do commentary tracks.
BLADE II Director Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, The Devil's Backbone) takes on Wesley Snipes's vampire/vampire hunter in the sewers of eastern Europe.
DON'T LOOK NOW Nicolas Roeg's classic horror thriller finally arrives on DVD, with Donald Sutherland, Julie Christie and, as the backdrop, the perpetually sinking Venice.
= Critics' Pick
NNNNN = excellent, maintains big screen impact
NNNN = very good
NNN = worth a peek
NN = Mediocre
N = Bomb
No rating indicates no screening copy