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Chris Hicks: Heartwarming 'Heart' is on DVD

Yule cartoon and 2 not-so-funny comedies out too

Here's an eclectic batch of newly released DVDs, led by a flag-waving documentary and yet another Christmas cartoon in October.

"America's Heart and Soul" (Disney, 2004, PG, $19.99). This Disney documentary, which went into mainstream theaters around the Fourth of July this year, is intended as an uplifting look at Americans and the spirit of freedom that invests their life choices.

And many of the people highlighted here are fascinating — from a newly sober Telluride rancher to a jazz musician who cares about his New Orleans neighborhood to an Appalachian weaver to a daredevil bicycle messenger in Manhattan, and many more. One who especially stands out is Mosie Burks, an aged but vivacious gospel singer with a singularly optimistic attitude that is quite infectious.

The problem is that too many of these people get short shrift, a natural byproduct of the film's 90-minute constraints. And there's perhaps a bit too much emphasis on show-biz aspirations — from rock musicians to salsa dancers.

Still, the film is generally quite joyous and there are plenty of eye-popping moments as it travels across the country.

Extras: Widescreen and full-frame options, audio commentary (director/producer Louis Schwartzberg), making-of featurette, four extended musical performances, chapters.

"Felix the Cat Saves Christmas" (Goodtimes, 2003, not rated, $14.95). Felix the Cat was an enormously popular cartoon character during the silent era, starring in more than 80 black-and-white cartoon shorts between 1920 and 1928. You can catch a glimpse of that incarnation of the character in a supplementary featurette included here, as well as the color 1960 TV version of Felix, including his famous magic bag of tricks (which is not a part of the early shorts).

The feature-length title cartoon on this disc, however, is a so-so holiday-themed yarn, with Felix (complete with his magic bag of tricks) and his pal Poindexter trying to stop an evil professor from causing a worldwide blizzard and canceling Christmas. Complete with mediocre songs.

Kids may enjoy the feature and parents (and grandparents) may get a kick out of the featurette. (So how about releasing some of the classic early Felix toons?)

Extras: Full frame, historical featurette, interactive games, art gallery, trailer, DVD-Rom applications, chapters.

"Brain Donors" (Paramount, 1992, PG, $14.99). This modern-day attempt to replicate the anarchic humor of the Marx Brothers has some very funny moments, though it often tries too hard and occasionally falls flat. John Turturro does a Groucho impersonation, and Mel Smith is sort of a slick (and British-accented) Chico-style character, and Bob Nelson is Harpoish, though he does speak occasionally. Some of the routines and one-liners are funny, but it never quite jells.

The film acknowledges "A Night at the Opera," which is the obvious inspiration for the story, about a wealthy matron (Nancy Marchand doing Margaret Dumont) who establishes a ballet company, and a hospital scene owes much to "A Day at the Races."

Extras: Widescreen, optional English subtitles, chapters.

"Jimmy Hollywood" (Paramount, 1994; R for language, violence; $14.99). This foul-mouthed comedy, directed by Barry Levinson, stars Joe Pesci as a movie buff and failed actor who, along with a dull-witted buddy (Christian Slater), videotapes thieves and drug dealers in an effort to clean up Hollywood. And to obtain any kind of stardom he can. Think "Death Wish" crossed with "The King of Comedy."

Some amusing ideas here and there, but mostly this comedy falls flat and Pesci's mile-a-minute monologues become as tiresome as his character.

Extras: Widescreen, optional English subtitles, chapters.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com