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Mark Burger’s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

THE MUMMY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): To commemorate (and cash in on) the latest installment of Universal’s big-budget adventure franchise, the studio has reached back into its vaults to issue a special-edition re-release (yes, another one) of the original 1932 horror classic. Boris Karloff, in a legendary performance, portrays Im-Ho-Tep, the ancient Egyptian high priest who is accidentally revived by the British archaeologists who have unearthed his tomb. Zita Johann plays a 20th-century beauty who just so happens to be the reincarnation of his beloved Princess Ananka. This, understandably, causes considerable trouble for her friends — foolish mortals! — whose attempts to thwart Im-Ho-Tep’s plot put them in considerable jeopardy. Directed with assurance by noted cinematographer Karl Freund, the film features one of makeup artist Jack Pierce’s most memorable creations. The supporting cast plays it appropriately straight: David Manners and Edward Van Sloan (virtually reprising their roles from Dracula the year before), Arthur Byron and Bramwell Fletcher, whose small role is nonetheless unforgettable. Eerie, evocative and even a little erotic, this holds up remarkably well and still commands attention. There has never been a mummy movie quite like this one. Even the 1959 remake by Hammer Studios, which is very good (and very different) can’t compare. As you might expect, this “special edition” contains an entire tomb-full of DVD special features, including retrospective documentaries, multiple audio commentaries and more. ***’   ALSO ON DVD THE 11TH HOUR (Warner Home Video): Leonardo DiCaprio (also a producer) narrates this informative, persuasive (but never pushy) documentary about global warming that also offers possible solutions and remedies to the problem. *** “BOBBY JONES COMEDY ALL STARS VOLUME 2” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): TV evangelist Dr. Bobby Jones (of BET’s “Bobby Jones Gospel”) hosts this selection of live stand-up comedy performances that are cleaner in content than most stand-up shows — and that’s the point. Among the comedians who perform are Jonathan Slocumb, Ron G., Vyck Cooley, Trina “Sister Cantaloupe” Jeffrie and others. This DVD retails for $19.98. BORN TO DEFENSE (Dimension Home Video): Jet Li makes his directorial debut with this 1986 action drama set during the reunification of China following World War II, in which a young veteran (guess who?) does battle with occupying sailors. This means that, for the most part, the villains are American — an interesting change of pace. Plenty of action for Li’s fans, but he hasn’t directed since. (When I interviewed him a few years back, he didn’t seem particularly thrilled with the result — but it’s nothing to be ashamed of.) Rated R. ** CLASSIC BRITISH THRILLERS (MPI Home Video): A DVD triple bill of vintage British cinema: Leslie Banks stars in director Michael Powell’s 1934 drama Red Ensign (released in the US as Strike!); Powell’s 1935 mystery The Phantom Light is an adaptation of Joan Roy Bydford’s play The Haunted Light; and Lawrence Huntington’s 1947 thriller The Upturned Glass stars the great James Mason (who also co-produced) and was written by Mason’s then-wife, Pamela Kellino, who also co-stars. This boxed set retails for $24.98. “CODE MONKEYS”: SEASON ONE (Shout! Factory): All 13 episodes from the 2007 season of the animated TV sitcom, created by Adam de la Pena and broadcast on G4 Media, which spoofs the dawn of the video-game and computer industries in the early 1980s. This special-edition DVD, which includes gaming tips and additional gags, retails for $19.99. COLLEGE ROAD TRIP (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Overprotective dad Martin Lawrence accompanies teenaged daughter Raven-Symone (also an executive producer) on a cross-country tour of college campuses in this flimsy slapstick farce that’s pretty obnoxious for a G-rated film. Even a smattering of ’70s tunes and the presence of Donny Osmond (doing a Marlon Brando bit in one scene) can’t save it. * “DARK SHADOWS”: THE BEGINNING (MPI Home Video): A selection of 34 episodes, which aired from Jan. 12–March 1, 1967, from the popular daytime soap opera depicting the spooky goings-on in the seaside town of Collinsport. Regular cast members include Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds, Alexandra Isles and Kathryn Leigh Scott. These episodes precede the arrival of Jonathan Frid’s vampire Barnabas Collins, after which the show’s ratings went through the roof and cult status was assured. This boxed set retails for $59.98. INSIDE MAN (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Spike Lee’s sharp, savvy, award-winning heist thriller stars Clive Owen as the thief inside the bank and Denzel Washington as the cop outside… but that’s just the beginning of the story. Christopher Plummer, Willem Dafoe, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jodie Foster also figure prominently in the proceedings, which are structured in an unusual (but effective) way. Cool score by Terence Blanchard. Rated R. *** THE LODGE (Monarch Home Video): A weekend getaway turns dire for a young couple (Elizabeth Kell and Owen Szabo) in this award-winning (!) low-budget shocker that is alternately claustrophobic and unpleasant, and replete with a ridiculous twist ending. Rated R. *’ LOVE ME TENDER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A special-edition re-release of a well-made but routine 1956 Western whose historical significance is that it marked the screen debut of Elvis Presley, playing the younger brother of Civil War veteran Richard Egan and the husband of Egan’s old flame, Debra Paget. Originally titled The Reno Brothers, you can guess why the title was changed. The result was one of the biggest hits of the year. This was the only time that Elvis didn’t receive top billing, and the supporting cast is laden with familiar faces: Neville Brand, Mildred Dunnock, William Campbell, James Drury, Robert Middleton, Bruce Bennett and an unbilled LQ Jones. **’   ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES (Monarch Home Video): Andres Heinz made his feature directorial debut with this award-winning adaptation of Robert Weston Ackerman’s play, centering around six high-school friends (Amanda Peet, Elon Gold, Jean Louisa Kelly, Michael Kelly, Jonathan LaPaglia and Sybil Temchen) as they reunite and try to figure things out. Some nice moments from the ensemble cast, but nothing special. Rated R. ** “PHINEAS AND FERB”: THE FAST AND THE PHINEAS (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A selection of episodes, as well as a never-before-seen two-part installment, from the popular animated series on the Disney Channel that depicts the merry, musical misadventures of two stepbrothers. This DVD retails for $19.99. RAW SPICE — THE UNOFFICIAL STORY OF THE MAKING OF THE SPICE GIRLS (Shout! Factory): Like the title says, this is an unauthorized chronicle of the inception and formation of one of the most popular (and annoying) girl groups of all time, which completed its first (and hopefully last) reunion tour earlier this year. This DVD retails for $19.98. STAR! (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The first time that Julie Andrews worked with director Robert Wise, the result was The Sound of Music, which became the studio’s biggest hit up to that time. The second time they worked together, on this grand-scale 1968 biography of actress Gertrude Lawrence, it nearly ruined the studio. Few can carry a tune like Andrews, but maintaining a light, buoyant touch for nearly three hours in telling the story of a flirtatious, financially irresponsible and self-absorbed diva is simply too heavy a burden, although it’s hardly for lack of trying — and the film does have its admirers. Daniel Massey earned an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor for his turn as Gertrude’s confidante, Noel Coward (who was Massey’s godfather in real life), and the cast also includes Richard Crenna, Michael Craig, Beryl Reid and Robert Reed. Six additional Oscar nominations: Best cinematography, art direction/set decoration, musical score, costume design, sound and song (the title tune), but ’68 was the year of Oliver!. This special-edition DVD includes the vintage laserdisc commentary that features Wise, Crenna, Massey and producer Saul Chaplin, all of whom are long gone. ** THORNTON WILDER’S OUR TOWN (Mastervision): A DVD double-feature of two acclaimed, made-for-television productions of what has often been described as the quintessential American classic. The 1977 production, directed by George Schaefer and broadcast on NBC-TV, stars Hal Holbrook as the Stage Manager, earned an Emmy Award for outstanding individual achievement in any area of creative technical crafts and seven additional nominations including outstanding special (drama or comedy), lead actor in a drama or comedy special (Holbrook) and lead actress in a drama or comedy special (Sada Thompson) and directing in a special program (drama or comedy). The 1989 production, inspired by the Tony Award-winning 1988 Broadway revival originally broadcast on PBS’ “Great Performances,” stars Spalding Gray (reprising his stage role) as the Stage Manager and earned a single Emmy nomination for outstanding technical direction/camera/video for a mini-series or special. This boxed set retails for $59.95.  “WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE: WIZARD SCHOOL” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A selection of four episodes from the popular, award-winning Disney Channel comedy series about three adolescent siblings (Selena Gomez, David Henrie and Jake T Austin) who discover that they possess magical powers. (Any resemblance to Harry Potter is undoubtedly a mere coincidence.) This DVD retails for $19.99. “YOU MAKE ME FEEL LIKE DANCING” (Warner Home Video): While Mom and (mostly) Dad watch the Spice Girls DVD, for the kids here’s a collection of songs and dances as interpreted and performed by “The Wiggles,” the popular children’s musical touring act and the stars of a series currently airing on the Disney Channel. This DVD retails for $14.98. Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger

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