Mark Burger`s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger


(Severin Films): Perhaps best described as a “spaghetti war film,” director Enzo G Castellari’s memorably-titled, rip-snorting 1978 World War II yarn finally makes it way to DVD. Set in war-torn France, circa 1944, the story focuses on a group of American military prisoners (Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson among them) whose transport convoy is attacked. Deciding to high-tail it to neutral Switzerland and wait out the war, these fugitive soldiers are instead waylaid by the French Resistance and forced to undertake a suicide mission (aboard a moving train, no less) to sabotage the Nazis’ experimental V-2 rocket program. With Svenson and Williamson leading the charge, this is a fast-paced, irresistible combination of mayhem and machismo. But as appealing as this ragtag bunch of “bastards” is, not many of them are alive at the end… but, to be fair, they take down a lot of German soldiers along the way. The international cast also includes Orca veteran Peter Hooten, Jackie Basehart (Richard’s son), Michael Pergolani (in his screen debut), Michel Constantin, Raimund Harmstorf, Debra Berger and Ian Bannen, an Englishman cast (and dubbed) as an American officer. Also known as Counterfeit Commandos, Deadly Mission (on VHS) and GI Bro (on DVD, for Williamson, obviously), it’s by this memorable title that the film is best-known. This is the sort of movie for which drive ins were made. It’s long been reported that Quentin Tarantino is on track to remake this film, he being a long-time Castellari cultist, and among the special features is an extensive interview with the two men. This film is available in a single-disc edition ($19.95) and a three-disc collector’s edition ($29.95). ***’½


“BALDWIN HILLS” — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (BET Home Entertainment/ Paramount Home Entertainment): All 10 episodes from the 2007 season of the popular BET reality-TV series focusing on a group of young people who live (and play) in one of LA’s most affluent black communities. This boxed set, which includes such bonus features as cast auditions and interviews, retails for $26.99.

BLACK MOON RISING (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A no-frills re-release of director Harley Cokliss’ sleek 1986 B-movie action/thriller, with Tommy Lee Jones as an auto thief hot on the trail of an experimental super-car, the evidence he hid aboard it and the sultry thief (Linda Hamilton) who stole it. Lots of familiar faces on hand: Robert Vaughn (typecast as an urbane villain), Richard Jaeckel, Keenan Wynn, William Sanderson, Dan Shor, Nick Cassavetes, Lee Ving and even Bubba Smith, the latter as a government hatchet man. When this was released, the studio touted heavily the fact that John Carpenter had written the original story. Rated R. **’½

“BOBBY G: ADVENTURE CAPITALIST” SEASON 1 (MOJO HD/Infinity Entertainment Group): All eight episodes from the 2008 season of MOJO HD reality-TV series detailing the globetrotting adventures of Canadian-born entrepreneur Bobby “Bobby G” Genovese as he mixes business with pleasure. This DVD retails for $19.98.

“THE DIRECTOR’S SERIES: ANDRE TECHINE 4-FILM COLLECTION” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A selection of films from the award-winning French filmmaker: Catherine Deneuve and Patrick Dewaere star in 1981’s Hotel America (Hotel des Ameriques); Phillipe Noiret and Emmanuelle Beart star in 1991’s award winning I Don’t Kiss (J’Embrasse Pas); Daniel Auteuil is joined by Deneuve and her real-life daughter, Chiara Mastroianni (in her screen debut) in 1992’s My Favorite Season (Ma Saison Preferee); and 1994’s Wild Reeds (Les Roseaux Sauvages), widely considered to be one of Techine’s best films, for which he won the Cesar Award (France’s equivalent of the Oscar) as best director, and the film won best picture. This boxed set retails for $34.98.

DOOM ASYLUM (Code Red DVD/BCI): An unrated “special edition” of director Richard Friedman’s low-rent 1987 shocker, with Penthouse Pet Patty Mullen and future “Sex in the City” star Kristin Davis (both in their big-screen debuts) as typically bubble headed teenagers who trespass at rundown asylum and fall prey to a disfigured maniac who dishes out bad puns when he strikes and spends a lot of time watching old Tod Slaughter movies on television. Cheap and cheesy, but at least it has a sense of humor.

HELD UP (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A re-release of a dreadful 1999 comedy starring Jamie Foxx and Nia Long as a couple whose cross-country road trip gets derailed when they get “held up” (get it?) and taken hostage in a hick Arizona town. Rated PG-13. ‘½*

“THE HILLS” — THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (MTV Home Entertainment/ Paramount Home Entertainment): All 28 episodes from the 2007-08 season of the popular, award-winning MTV reality series following Lauren Conrad (having graduated from “Laguna Beach”) as she navigates her way through a career as an intern at Teen Vogue. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

HOUSE OF BLOOD (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Originally titled Chain Reaction, this gore-soaked shocker sees a group of escaped convicts picking the wrong hideout to hole up in, where they are summarily stalked and killed by cannibalistic fiends. Then it happens a second time. One character makes reference to “an exercise in repetition,” which this certainly is. Although set in Seattle, this was shot in Germany and Austria — and the accents are a dead (or undead) giveaway. A slumming Jurgen Prochnow appears briefly as a cop. Rated R. *

“I GOT THE FEELIN’ — JAMES BROWN IN THE ’60s” (Shout! Factory): This special edition boxed set pays homage to the one and only “Godfather of Soul” (1993-2006) with a trio of specials showcasing the performer at his pinnacle: The Night James Brown Saved Boston, in which he performed a live outdoor concert following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., James Brown Live at the Boston Garden and James Brown Live in the ’60s, which includes his performances on “The TAMI Show” and his 1968 performance at the Apollo Theatre, which was broadcast on TV as “Man to Man.” This collection retails for $39.98.

I’M STILL HERE (MTV Home Entertainment/SISU Home Entertainment): Lauren Lazin’s award-winning documentary feature, subtitled “Real Diaries of Young People Who Lived During the Holocaust,” features diaries and journals as read by the likes of Ryan Gosling, Kate and Oliver Hudson, Amber Tamblyn, Brittany Murphy and others, with MTV’s John Norris narrating. It’s hard not to be affected by the resonant words of those who have gone before. ***

“MASTERS OF HORROR” — SEASON TWO (Anchor Bay Entertainment): All 13 (how appropriate) episodes from the 2006- ’07 (and final) season of the award-winning Showtime horror anthology series. That season’s star-studded directorial lineup included Brad Anderson (“Sounds Like”), John Carpenter (“Pro-Life”), Joe Dante (“The Screwfly Solution”), Ernest Dickerson (“The V Word”), Mick Garris (“Valerie on the Stairs”), Stuart Gordon (“The Black Cat”), Tobe Hooper (“The Damned Thing”), Tom Holland (“We All Scream for Ice Cream”), John Landis (“Family”), Rob Schmidt (“Right to Die”), Norio Tsuruta (“Dream Cruise”), Peter Medak (“The Washingtonians”) and Dario Argento (“Pelts”). This limited-edition collection, housed in a specially designed (and rather attractive) “skull” package, retails for $86.97.

NEVER BACK DOWN (Summit Entertainment): Spoiled high-school kids in Orlando, Fla. get their kicks by beating each other up in mixed martial-arts tournaments. Sean Faris plays the new kid in town (replete with chip on his shoulder) who clashes with smug, swaggering classmate Cam Gigandet. The fists and feet fly and so does credibility — right out the window. Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated special edition). ‘½*

THE PLEDGE (RHI Entertainment/Genius Products): Standard-issue horse opera with Luke Perry as a vengeful ex-lawman trailing the outlaws who killed his family. As a villainous land baron, C. Thomas Howell does everything but twirl his moustache. This was broadcast on cable as A Gunfighter’s Pledge. *’½

SECRETARY (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A re-release of writer/ director Steven Shainberg’s romantic comedy (of sorts), with Maggie Gyllenhaal as a troubled, timid young woman who enters into a sado-masochistic relationship with her new boss (James Spader). Well-acted, outrageous and oddly endearing, this is the film that really boosted Gyllenhaal’s career — but Spader has rarely been better, too. Rated R. ***

“SUNSET TAN” — SEASON ONE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): All 12 episodes from the 2007 season of the E! Entertainment Television reality series that focuses on the comings and goings at a popular Los Angeles tanning salon, where the celebrity clientele includes Britney Spears, Kim Kardashian, Pauly Shore, Kato Kaelin and other giants. This DVD retails for $19.98.

“SWAMP THING” — THE SERIES, VOL. 2 (Shout! Factory): The first 25 episodes from the third and final season (1992-’93) of the USA Network series based on the popular DC Comics character, played by Dick Durock (reprising his role from the feature films), with Mark Lindsay Chapman as the villainous Dr. Anton Arcane. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

TELL ME A RIDDLE (Warner Home Video): Actress Lee Grant made her feature directorial debut with this 1980 adaptation of Tillie Olsen’s award-winning, novella, with Melvyn Douglas and Lila Kedrova as an aging couple forced to confront her impending death. Beautifully acted but depressing. This certainly doesn’t shy away from the (often-harsh) realities of growing old. Brooke Adams plays their granddaughter, and future filmmaker Zalman King plays one of their sons. Look also for Peter Coyote playing Douglas’ character as a young man. Rated PG. **’½

TWIN DAGGERS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A mindless but amusing martial-arts melodrama in which a group of assassins are hired to kill a young woman (CoCo Su, in her screen debut) by her twin sister — but wind up killing each other instead. The 1930s’ period detail is okay and the action scenes are lively. For fans, that should be enough. Rated R. **

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger