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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, July 25, 2003

Missed the TV series? Here's a solution

By Terry Lawson
Knight Ridder News Service

Six episodes of the TV series "Kingpin," starring Yancey Arias, have become available on DVD.

Advertiser library photo

Nobody has been more surprised — or heartened — by the success of TV series on DVD than the folks in the DVD industry itself. Sure, a handful of obsessives might want to own every season of "Stargate," but collections of failed series like "My So Called Life" and "Felicity" have become steady catalog sellers, and the first season of "The Simpsons" has sold more than 2 million copies.

And, while most buyers might indeed be hard-core fans who just can't have enough "Friends," the collections are also attractive to those of us who didn't see the shows when they were televised but have become increasingly curious about them as their reputations have grown.

I saw one episode, for example, of "Kingpin," NBC's much-ballyhooed attempt to compete with cable fare like "The Sopranos" with a drama about a Mexican drug cartel. But I failed to set the VCR for Episode 2 and figured catching up would be a lost cause. Now all six episodes are available this week in a budget-priced three-DVD package (NBC Home Video), proving that the smartly written and even better acted show was, while no "Sopranos," pretty bold stuff for a network to attempt.

And those of us who could never get away with sneaking a peek at "The Man Show" without getting busted will be relieved to know "Season One, Volume One" (Stone Stanley/Comedy Central) collects 10 of the best episodes, in which many trampolines are tested by women in bathing suits, a number of monkeys try their paws at joke-telling, Karl Malone imparts his wisdom on taxes and recycling and much beer is consumed by co-hosts Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla. If you were allowed to have the guys over, this is what it might be like.

The yo-ho-ho thing

If "Pirates of the Caribbean" has left you eager to see a few more swashes buckled, you may be interested to know that Warner Home Video, without much saber-rattling, released a shipload of catalog titles a couple of weeks ago. They include 1952's action-packed "The Crimson Pirate," directed with gusto by Robert Siodmak and starring Burt Lancaster, with tongue firmly in cheek, as one of the most fun-loving and athletically gifted high-seas thieves in movie history.

Even better is the same year's "Scaramouche," which would almost certainly get a new title if remade today, based on a novel by Rafael Sabatini, who also wrote "Captain Blood" and "The Sea Hawk." It stars Stewart Granger as an unambitious but exceedingly clever fellow whose life is changed when he joins the French Revolution, bent on avenging the murder of his best friend at the hand of a nobleman played by Mel Ferrer. The story is full of surprises and twists, the cast includes Janet Leigh and Eleanor Parker, the vivid Technicolor threatens to burn a hole in the screen and it all culminates in a sword fight that's as elaborately choreographed as the final production number in an MGM musical.

There's more sharpened steel in 1953's "The Master of Ballantrae," starring the acknowledged master of this genre, Errol Flynn, in a very loose adaptation of the Robert Louis Stevenson novel about a Scottish highlander who takes up the sword in the campaign to make Bonnie Prince Charles England's king. William Keighley, who directed Flynn in "The Adventures of Robin Hood," keeps the film flying for the entire 89 minutes.

The 1953 "Knights of the Round Table," with Robert Taylor as Lancelot, Ferrer as King Arthur and Ava Gardner as a va-va-voom Guinevere, is no "Excalibur" — it's not even a "First Knight" — but it's an entertaining spectacle, and the wide-screen cinematography — it was the first MGM film to go CinemaScope — is terrific.

Seabiscuit bonanza

With anticipation high for the film version of Laura Hillenbrand's best seller, "Seabiscuit," Warner has also released 1949's "The Story of Seabiscuit," inspired by the legend of the unlikely thoroughbred champion.

It incorporates actual footage of Seabiscuit victories and an occasional fact into an otherwise fanciful story, which has Shirley Temple using a less-than-credible brogue to play the Irish-born niece of Seabiscuit's trainer (Barry Fitzgerald). Despite the fact that she's hated racing since her brother was killed in a mishap, she falls in love with Biscuit's jockey (Lon McCallister) and Biscuit himself.

If all this leaves you looking for stories of real heroism, the two-DVD set "Heroes of World War II" (Koch), collecting all four hours of the cable documentary series, should put things in perspective. Narrated by Walter Cronkite, it tells the story of the United States' role in the Pacific and European theaters through interviews with men and women who served there, personalizing history in the same way as the books by the late Stephen Ambrose.

Fans of Christopher Guest's mockumentaries will get more than a few laughs out of Arthur Borman's 1994 comedy "... And God Spoke" (Artisan), about a low-budget director and producer attempting to mount a biblical epic. Among the problems they face are an Eve who has somehow acquired a full-body tattoo, an ark that can't be maneuvered through the prop room door and the fact that nobody seems to remember exactly how many disciples Jesus invited to dinner. The cast includes Lou Ferrigno (as a nearsighted Cain) and Eve Plumb of "The Brady Bunch" as Mrs. Noah.

'Nicholas Nickleby'

The best of the week's theatrical releases is Doug McGrath's entertaining, if much condensed, adaptation of Charles Dickens' "Nicholas Nickleby." Charlie Hunnam plays the endearing young chap attempting to keep his family out of the poorhouse after the death of his father and to make his way in a cruel world.

"The Life of David Gale" (Universal) is an anti-death-penalty thriller that's somehow sanctimonious and stupid and yet still attracted a cast that included Kevin Spacey, Kate Winslet and Laura Linney.