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McHale's Navy is still a questionable series

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

A television series, a great Chinese epic and some out of the box comedy are featured in this week's DVD column.

Zach Galifianakis: Live at the Purple Onion

Whenever the releasing comedy places a sticker on the shrink-wrap packaging that declares the DVD inside is "quirky" comedy, I have to admit a bit of trepidation. Such marketing efforts can be interpreted as last-ditch efforts to attract consumers to something they might normally pass by.

I had never heard of Galifianakis despite the fact he has been one of the stars of the Comedy Central series "Dog Bites Man" and had his own show on VH1, "Late World With Zach."

This disc is part performance, part fake reality shtick with Galifianakis appearing as his "twin" and part actual reality as Galifianakis drives a vintage VW van to the gig in San Francisco.

If Richard Lewis with his sputtering ego-driven self-observational comedy had a child with Steven Wright, king of the intellectual one-liners, the resulting spawn would be Galifianakis. As a comic, he is pretty singular in his on-stage persona. He mixes in jokes with remarks about whether or not he is bombing.

I liked the disc. It is offbeat, but unlike so many "alternative" comics, Galifianakis is pretty amusing.

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McHale's Navy: Season One

When the package arrived in the office with this three-disc set, Matt "Mad Dog" Mahaney, one of our ace sale representatives, could hardly restrain his enthusiasm for what he called one of the best television series of all time.

Matt's and my tastes on television are pretty far apart. To me, "McHale's Navy" is merely a soggy, slapstick re-packaging of what "The Phil Silvers Show" did so well: military comedy.

A small Army base in Kansas with a bunch of bored service men seemed to be a lot more realistic setting for con games than wartime.

The kooky adventures of Lt. Commander McHale in the middle of the Pacific Theater during the Second World War just never seemed too funny to me. But then again many of the 1960s and '70s comedy series that are being hailed as "classics," including all of the various "Lucy" shows, "I Dream of Jeannie," "Bewitched" and "Hogan's Heroes" I don't see as funny.

Humor, like beauty, is definitely in the eye of the beholder and obviously, since "McHale's Navy" was a hit, there are plenty of people who would disagree with me. This set is for them.

The set includes a reunion of cast members and a set of temporary tattoos. "Mad Dog" was getting ready to wear them even as I wrote this review.

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Seven Swords

This 2005 Chinese epic is finally coming to American home video, and although the American version is missing about 12 minutes, I don't think most Americans will notice.

The version I have was released in this country for Asian audiences and apparently that 153-minute version was cut down from a four-hour version that was director Tsui Hark's original vision of the film.

The story takes place in the early 1600s when the Manchurian emperor of China forbade the practice of martial arts in order to quell rebellion. There is even a reward placed literally on the heads of those who know martial arts and a greedy former general used his private army as bounty hunters.

They run into considerable resistance when they come to an entire village of people trained in the fighting arts. Led by seven swordsmen, the village fights against the bounty hunters.

At first, one might think this film is a little like "The Magnificent Seven," (which was an American adaptation of "The Seven Samurai"), but Hark's films blends the real with the metaphysical and history with fantasy to create something new.

There is plenty of action in the film, but also room for characterization. Donnie Yen, undoubtedly the best-known cast member for American audiences, stands out as the Korean swordsman who yearns for his native land.

At a time when "epic" motion pictures usually means bloated storylines and cast members used as props for action set pieces, this film satisfies.