sports night (Buena Vista Home Video, 1998-2000) P: Aaron Sorkin, w/ Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman. 6 discs, $85. Rating: NNNN
Before The West Wing there was Sports Night, also created by Aaron Sorkin. And except for the fact that it was a half-hour comedy set in a cable sports network rather than an hour-long drama set in the White House, it was the same show: hyper-intelligent, extremely verbal characters twisting themselves into emotional-logical pretzels while walking through glass-walled office mazes.
Frankly, I preferred Sports Night, because while Sorkin has always been a "wonder of the human spirit" guy and inclined to have his characters suddenly speechify, at least on that show there was no pretense that the fate of the free world was at stake.
Sports Night lasted two seasons despite indifferent ratings, unpredictable hiatuses and schedule shifts and the fact that it was apparently a tough show to market.
Buena Vista loads all 45 episodes onto six discs, no extras, which lets you revel in that trademark Sorkin echo-chamber dialogue, like David Mamet on helium, and the light-footed cast. Robert Guillaume does his best TV work here, and there's a rare chance to see Felicity Huffman work with husband William H. Macy in the second season.
A good show to own, since its mere 45 episodes means the show's seldom syndicated.
fear in the night (Anchor Bay, 1972) D: Jimmy Sangster, w/ Judy Geeson, Peter Cushing, Joan Collins. $25. Rating: NNN
Jimmy Sangster was a workhorse writer, producer and occasional director for Hammer Films, with script credit on both The Curse Of Frankenstein and The Horror Of Dracula. But he preferred the psychological thriller. "I must have rewritten Diabolique five times," he once said. This is one of those scripts. Judy Geeson plays a young bride whose husband (Ralph Bates) takes a job at an oddly empty country school, and then strange things happen.
This is pure genre exercise, and the pleasures are to be found less in the story than in watching how the predictable "shocks" get spun out. The other prize is Joan Collins, who's in prime vicious form here. She's invariably fun to watch, but has worse taste in scripts than Mira Sorvino. This is one of her better films.
EXTRAS The excellent interview of Sangster by Hammer Films historian Marcus Hearn covers the film and a great deal of Hammer history; theatrical trailer, English and French versions.
the bitter tears of petra von kant (Wellspring, 1972) D: Rainer Werner Fassbinder, w/ Margit Carstensen, Hanna Schygulla, Irm Hermann. $35. Rating: NNNN
A central film in Fassbinder's development as a director, The Bitter Tears Of Petra Von Kant brings the three key female actors of his early career together in a Brechtian lesbian slumber party, or perhaps a Sirkian adaptation of Genet's The Maids. It's also the first of his female-centred films.
Very elegantly shot by Michael Ballhaus (The Age Of Innocence) -- one of the first Fassbinder films that can be so described -- Petra Von Kant is a slow, emotionally brutal story about class and power, shot entirely on one set. No surprise that; it's based on a play.
Wellspring's ongoing Fassbinder series is turning into an excellent model of how to reissue the works of a legendary and difficult director. It's an excellent transfer, and Petra Von Kant comes with superb extras.
EXTRAS A thorough but unpedantic commentary by Fassbinder scholar Jane Shattuc, a half-hour Fassbinder interview from 1977, and a real rarity -- Fassbinder's first two films, a pair of 10-minute shorts, Der Stadtstreicher and Das Kleine Chaos (both from 1966). English subtitles.
to catch a thief (Paramount, 1955) D: Alfred Hitchcock, w/ Cary Grant, Grace Kelly. $30. Rating: NNN
To Catch A Thief is minor Hitchock from his major period, a charming trifle. Cary Grant plays a retired jewel thief on the French Riviera who's being framed for a series of thefts and must clear his name, with the help of Grace Kelly's heiress.
Unusual for Hitchcock, much of To Catch A Thief was filmed on location, so the setting has almost as much charisma as the stars, and John Michael Hayes's screenplay sparkles, as do Edith Head's costumes. A good transfer does justice to the blues of the Côte d'Azur, but there's some digital fuzz early on, notably in those narrow-striped T-shirts worn by Grant. To Catch A Thief has exactly the tone Jonathan Demme aims for and misses in The Truth About Charlie.
EXTRAS Theatrical trailer, photo and poster gallery, three new documentary featurettes and another called Edith Head -- The Paramount Years. English subtitles.
consumer alert consumer alert
In the stores you'll see an inexpensive box labelled The Ultimate Godzilla DVD Collection (SMV), which includes Godzilla, Godzilla's Revenge, Godzilla Vs. Mothra, The Terror Of Mechagodzilla and, as a bonus, Rodan. Do not go near this box. These are not the Japanese Godzillas, but American versions recut, rescored and dubbed into English. They're not the 'Scope Godzillas, but the horrible pan-and-scan versions. And they look as if they were mastered from a poor VHS copy. No extras of any description. Ultimate Godzilla Collection? Rip-off.
On the level of more trivial offences, Anchor Bay has acquired and boxed the Mad Mission series from the Studio Canal catalogue. These are a series of four terrific Hong Kong action comedies known in the East as Aces Go Places. Studio Canal's are the European versions -- dubbed in English with no option for the original language and rescored with music that was bought by the yard at a 70s porn producer's yard sale. At least the prints are good and the presentation is wide-screen.
Also this weekAlso this week
The Lord of the Rings -- The Fellowship of the Ring: Special Extended Version (New Line/Alliance-Atlantis) A 210-minute cut of the film and two hours of new extras on four discs.
Star Wars: Episode One -- Attack of the Clones (20th Century Fox)
Two-disc edition, full disc of extras.
= 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