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Chris Hicks: Documentary DVDs cover array of topics

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President Ronald Reagan concludes his farewell address to the nation from the Oval Office on Jan. 12, 1989.

President Ronald Reagan concludes his farewell address to the nation from the Oval Office on Jan. 12, 1989.

Ron Edmonds, Associated Press

At the head of this new-to-DVD batch of documentaries is a collection of Ronald Reagan speeches, given an earlier release date than originally scheduled, for obvious reasons.

"Ronald Reagan: The Great Communicator" (MPI, 1999, not rated, $39.98, two discs). This collection of speeches is fairly unadorned. There are four categories of talks related to specific topics: "The Reagan Presidency (1981-1989)," "The Military and the Soviet Union," "Reagan on Government and the American Dream" and "The Man." They are generally spliced together without narration or set-ups, and in the case of "The Man," composed of one-liners and quips.

Then there are 28 individual excerpts labeled "bonus material," which are chronological snippets of speeches and events, everything from a "General Electric Theater" TV promo film to Reagan's addresses to White House Correspondents Dinners to the Challenger tragedy to his farewell address.

Extras: Full frame, memorable speeches, chapters.

"Liberty! The American Revolution" (PBS/Paramount, 1997, not rated, $69.98, three discs). This PBS documentary, which won a Peabody Award, is a six-hour exploration of events surrounding the American Revolution. Included are re-enactments and dramatic performances (Roger Rees, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Victor Garber, Donna Murphy), readings from letters and diaries, etc. Very well done, and, of course, timely as we approach the Fourth of July.

Extras: Full frame, trivia quiz, music video, chapters.

"Tupac: Resurrection" (Paramount, 2004; R for language, drugs, violence, sex; $29.99). This biographical documentary about Tupac Shakur is as much a look at the hip-hop culture as it is the life of the rapper, who was shot to death eight years ago in Las Vegas. Through audio interviews, Shakur comes off as quite intelligent and thoughtful, albeit with a foul mouth. The DVD includes an audio commentary by director Lauren Lazin and Shakur's mother, among other bonus features.

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary, deleted scenes, interviews, optional subtitles (English), chapters.

"The Times of Harvey Milk" (New Yorker, 1984, not rated, PG, $29.95, two discs). This fascinating, Oscar-winning film relates the events surrounding the assassination of San Francisco supervisor and gay-rights activist Harvey Milk, who, along with Mayor George Moscone, was gunned down in 1978 by fellow supervisor Dan White — including White's notorious "Twinkie defense." Very well-directed by Rob Epstein.

Extras: Full frame, audio commentary, making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate ending, update featurettes, 25th anniversary events, photo gallery, trailer, chapters.

"Common Threads: Stories from the Quilt" (New Yorker, 1989, not rated, color and b/w, $29.95). Epstein and his partner Jeffrey Friedman also directed this Oscar-winner about five AIDS victims — ranging from a retired Navy commander to an 11-year-old hemophiliac — who are commemorated on the NAMES Project AIDS Quilt. A powerful exploration of the health crisis. Narrated by Dustin Hoffman.

Extras: Widescreen, audio commentary (with Epstein and Friedman), short film, photo gallery, chapters.

"Where Are We?" (New Yorker, 1991, not rated, $19.95). This is a lighter film (most of the way) for Epstein and Friedman as they travel throughout the South (although part of the film takes place in Las Vegas). They interview a wide array of oddballs, representing a cross-section of America, with a certain concentration on the gay community. Perhaps the wildest is a man who built a miniature — but very elaborate — replication of Graceland for his wife in their yard. Interesting, although the repeated use of Saint-Saens' "Aquarium" piece from "Carnival of the Animals" as transition music gets rather tiresome.

Extras: Full frame, photo gallery, deleted scenes (with audio commentary), chapters.

"Connquest: The Official 2004 NCAA Championship" (Paramount/CBS, 2004, not rated, $19.99). CBS sportscaster Jim Nantz narrates this look at the title championship, with a recap of the year, early round highlights, more comprehensive coverage of the Huskies' comeback win over Duke in the semifinals, interviews and footage different from the original TV coverage. College-basketball fans should be in heaven.

Extras: Full frame,

"Hunt for the Supertwister" (WGBH, 2004, not rated, $19.95). Real-life tornadoes, such as those captured on video for this hourlong NOVA special that aired on PBS, are much more frightening than the 1996 hit movie "Twister." And this look at real-life storm chasers is quite thrilling as they travel from Texas to the Dakotas.

Extras: Widescreen, DVD-Rom applications, chapters.


E-mail: hicks@desnews.com