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Film examines private contractors in Iraq

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Two intriguing documentaries and a cult classic that finally makes it to DVD are featured in this week's DVD column.

Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers

Director Robert Greenwald has been working in films and television for a long time and may be best known as the director for the infamous Olivia Newton John flop, "Xanadu," but in the past few years Greenwald has acquired a new reputation.

He is now one of the leaders of a new genre of film: the politically charged documentary. His past films include "Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price," "Out-Foxed," and "Uncovered."

His latest film looks at the impact that privatizing the war in Iraq has had on our military serving there and on the cost of the war.

Many people might be surprised that in this combat many of the support services that traditionally were part of the military effort have been replaced by high-priced corporate efforts. There is no kitchen duty in Iraq, for instance. Feeding the troops has been out-sourced.

According to those interviewed on camera, a bag of laundry costs the American taxpayer $99 to wash in Iraq. One soldier said he was told he couldn't wash his clothes himself, but had to use the private laundry service on the base.

How the private employees are treated in Iraq is another part of the story. Greenwald and his crew interview truck drivers who had been employed by companies to work in Iraq. They describe working conditions that resulted in the deaths of some drivers who were caught in firefights.

Supporters of the Bush Administration's handling of the war might dismiss Greenwald's film as another partisan criticism, but those who want to examine the war and how it is being conducted should watch this film with an open mind.

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Henri Langlois: Phantom of the Cinematheque

This French documentary examines the and work of Henri Langlois, the founder of the Cin math que Fran aise, one of the world's first film archives.

Langlois died in 1977 and in this era of director's cut DVDs, this film reminds people of what it was like being a serious film fans before the advent of home video, much less television. Seeing older films was, at best, a difficult proposition.

Starting in 1936, the movie mad Langlois began collecting and showing films at his combination museum and theater in Paris. Although Langlois admitted on camera that he was snobbish about films at first he passed up buying a print of Theda Bara's silent "Cleopatra" and regretted it he later became obsessive about acquiring every film that was offered him.

Despite the fact the Nazis wanted to seize much of his collection during World War II, Langlois managed to keep the Nazis at bay and keep his films.

He was also able to maintain his independence, despite accepting funding from the French government, up until the end of his life.

The film includes interview footage featuring Langlois, his associates and directors such as Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, and Jean Luc Godard.

At times the pace of the film is a little slow and too reverential, but Langlois was a huge figure in film preservation who certainly deserves recognition.

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Shogun Assassin

A cult hit from 1980, "Shogun Assassin" has finally found its way onto DVD, and fans of the film won't be disappointed by the letter-boxed restored print.

American director Robert Houston and producer David Weisman bought the rights to two 1972 Japanese action films based on the "Lone Wolf and Cub" manga (comic book).

The comic book and the subsequent Japanese films and television series tell the story of Orgami Itto (played by Tomisaburo Wakayama), who was the Shogun's executioner in 17th century Japan. The shogun feared master swordsman Itto and had his wife murdered in an effort to control him, which backfired. Itto escaped with his young son and started a lengthy campaign of revenge against the shogun and his family.

The two American filmmakers took about 11 minutes of "Lone Wolf and Cub: Sword of Vengeance" and 70 minutes of "Lone Wolf and Cub: Baby Cart at the River Styx" to fashion a fast-moving simplified version of the Lone Wolf and Cub story.

Its original director, Keni Mismi, beautifully realized the films. Few action movies have the pictorial beauty as this one. Don't let the fine photography fool you, though. The action is fact and furious and the blood flows. Actually it gushes. And sprays. And spurts.

The DVD features some nifty features about the "Lone Wolf" series and the film itself is presented in its original wide-screen format.

The brooding performance by Wakayama and the dead pan narration delivered by his son make "Shogun Assassin" a cut above your average action film. Yes, the pun was intended.

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