By G. Michael Dobbs
Three collections of television shows on DVD are featured in this week's review column.
David Blaine: Decade of Magic
I'm a sucker for magic and have been since I was a kid and for the most part I've been astonished by David Blaine. This two-disc set will probably amuse you as well if you give it a chance.
Perhaps no modern magician has so consciously taken up the mantle of Harry Houdini as Blaine. Blaine has become well known, almost infamous, for his public death defying stunts. He has been buried alive, encased in a block of ice and stood on a 22-inch wide 10-story pillar for 35 hours. He has done each of these stunts with great flair and showmanship just as Houdini would have done.
There is another side of Blaine, though, that is equally fascinating. He will walk up to a person or group of people and perform a sleight of hand trick in a very intimate setting. For instance, he sees a couple in a city park. He speaks with them, picks up a semi-crushed beer can they had discarded and manages to re-fill the can with beer before our eyes and the camera.
This set features three of his television special, "Vertigo," "Drowned Alive" and "What is Magic?" as well as presenting a group of additional stunts and tricks in the extra section. Of particular interest is the TED talk Blaine did in 2009 explaining his motivation behind the stunts.
This is a great set and my only criticism is that sometimes the tricks and stunts are framed in a self-consciously precious manner. That is a minor complaint.
If you enjoy magic, illusion and amazing stunts, check this set out.
Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War
There is something quite unsettling about the release of this four-disc set of the epic television documentary series. Until the current conflict in the Middle East, Vietnam was the longest war in our nation's history. It has now been supplanted and I can only hope that someone can assemble a documentary series that will explain it as well as this one presented Vietnam.
The first episode is a Cliff Notes version of the history of the war starting with the French colonization of Vietnam, their defeat and withdrawal and then how this nation became involved. It serves as a refresher course.
Each subsequent hour-long episode (there are 25 more) looks at the war chronologically starting with the French.
Written by the late newsman Peter Arnett and using American and North Vietnamese archival footage as well as interviews conducted for the series, this series is a no holds barred look at the war. There is footage that will definitely upset many viewers that is not exploitative, but rather accurately reflects the horror of this war.
One of the values of this series are the number of interviews Arnett and the producers secured with key players on both sides of the war many of them have since passed away.
First seen in 1981, Vietnam was not a historical exercise, as it seems to many people today. Instead it was still a raw open wound that affected the American psyche as well as foreign policy.
For any history buff, this is essential viewing.
Todd and the Book of Pure Evil: Season Two
I have a soft spot in my heart for this completely politically incorrect TV series in which a band of high school misfits are trying to save their town from a group of Satanists determined to harness the power of the Book of Pure Evil for their own plans.
Played for both gore and laughs, the episodes revolve around the fact the book has a mind of its own. It will pick a high school student or other member of the town as its victim. The book will give the chosen one fulfillment of its dreams, which always winds up killing them.
Todd and his friends are trying to secure the book before it can create any more deaths and before the Satanists can get it as well. The book, by the way, seems to have its own agenda.
Not something for anyone but fairly hardcore horror fans, "Todd and the Book of Pure Evil" is a guilty pleasure.