LennoNYC (A&E) – Call it Some Time in New York City. Emmy Award-winning director Michael Epstein’s documentary surveys the life of John Lennon from 1971, when Lennon and Yoko Ono moved to Manhattan after the break-up of the Beatles, to his death. Lennon loved New York—it was a city where he could walk down the street like anyone else, recognized but not mobbed—and he fought to stay while Nixon tried to have him deported for his political activities. In many ways this is a portrait of his love affair with New York even as it surveys his “exile” in Los Angeles (his lost years), and it covers his political engagement and creative career (from “Imagine” to “Double Fantasy”) and his retirement to raise his son Sean. But more than any other documentary on Lennon (and there are many), this modest but rich portrait digs beneath the legend to find the man, and it succeeds.
Yoko Ono helps guide the film with her remembrances of their life together (her discussion of their separation is particularly poignant), generous interviews with friends, colleagues and musicians fills in the personal portrait, and a wealth of archival clips and outtakes from recording sessions offers a rare glimpse of Lennon at ease. There isn’t a more revealing or (affectionate) portrait of the Lennon the husband, the father and the man. The two-hour documentary was originally presented on the PBS arts documentary showcase “American Masters.” No supplements on the DVD.
The Special Relationship (HBO) – Michael Sheen plays British Prime Minister Tony Blair once again in the third film about Blair’s political career written by Peter Morgan, this one tackling his relationship—personal, professional and political—with President Bill Clinton, played with crafty cool by Dennis Quaid. Clinton treats Blair as both partner and protégé and Blair happily takes his advice in state visits and personal phone calls where friendship and statecraft share a tangled relationship. Sheen practically made a second career playing Sheen and he effectively shows Blair’s growing confidence and skill as a statesman but Quaid (who previously and perfectly played a George Bush caricature in American Dreamz) steals the spotlight as Clinton, a hardball politician with a homespun manner who keeps the upper hand even while enduring scandal, and in quick strokes suggests a complicated yet strong relationship between Bill and Hillary. Hope Davis is Hillary Clinton and Helen McCrory reprises her role as Cherie Blair. Richard Loncraine directs this HBO original film. The only supplement is a short promotional featurette.
Dragnet 1969: Season 3 (Shout! Factory) – “This is the city: Los Angeles, California.” Jack Webb is Sgt. Joe Friday and Harry Morgan is his partner, Officer Bill Gannon, in the sixties TV revival of the iconic cop show that began on radio and spun off into a fifties TV show and movie. This incarnation is in color and in the new world of Los Angeles of teen runaways, drug dealers and racial prejudice (one episode takes place in the aftermath of the Martin Luther King assassination), but they’re still the same pair of old school cops protecting the innocent in crisp half-hour episodes, still tersely narrated in Webb’s gravel voice. 27 episodes of the third season on four discs in a box set of two thinpak cases, plus a vintage episode from the fifties incarnation of the show.
Bonanza: The Official Second Season, Volume One (Paramount) – Head back to the ranch with the boisterous Cartright clan. Lorne Greene is Ben Cartwright and Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon are his sons Adam, Hoss, and Little Joe, three half-brothers and a flinty patriarch working the enormous spread of the Ponderosa Ranch in the long running western drama. This collection features the first 18 episodes of the second season, including “Silent Thunder,” a mix of The Miracle Worker and Johnny Belinda with Stella Stevens as a deaf-mute mountain girl and Little Joe as her teacher, introducing her to sign language and bringing her together with the father who sees her only as a burden. It’s also the first of eight episodes that Robert Altman directed for the series. Five discs in a standard case with hinged trays, plus commentary on four episodes by guest stars Ben Cooper, Stella Stevens, David Macklin and Julie Adams, archival interviews with Dan Blocker and producer David Dortot, original network promos and stills.
Apparitions (BFS) – Martin Shaw wrestles with demons—literally—in this British mini-series about a priest (Shaw) who investigates evidence of miracles and becomes involved in a plague of demon possessions and fighting his superiors at the Catholic church as he performs exorcisms on the afflicted. It plays like a supernatural conspiracy show falling in the gap between classy and trashy. The six-hour, six-part drama is on two discs in a (needlessly) double-wide case.
Also new: the HBO original A Dog Year (HBO) with Jeff Bridges, Vega$: The Second Season, Volume 1 (Paramount) and Boy Meets World: The Complete Fourth Season (Lionsgate).