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Mark Burger’´s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

THE LAST WINTER (Genius Products): Taking its cue from the ongoing concerns about global warming, this ambitious effort from producer/director/co-screenwriter/editor Larry Fessenden is a solid psychological chiller that crackles with intensity and impact. Were it not for a puzzling denouement, this might have been a straight knockout. (Give it a TKO, in any event.) The story follows an oil-company survey crew preparing to establish yet another drilling site in the Arctic region of Northern Alaska. Ron Perlman plays Ed Pollack, the corporate exec who’s overseeing the operation and is miffed that ex-girlfriend and fellow team member Abby (Connie Britton) has been dallying with resident scientist Jim Hoffman (James Le Gros) in his absence. What instead concerns Hoffman, however, is the mounting evidence of an ecological imbalance in the region which appears to be having a collective effect on the crew members, some of whom are starting to behave very strangely indeed. From there, Fessenden (who also appears in a small role) expertly tightens the screws and builds suspense nicely, as the survey team is soon cut off from the outside world and at the mercy of a malevolent presence of indeterminate origin. Is the threat of a supernatural or alien nature? Is it simply a collective psychosis or, perhaps, a dramatic example of Mother Nature striking back? Despite the finale, this well-acted and intelligent shocker is well worth a look, especially for horror fans. On a hot summer’s night, it just may give you the chills. ***

ALSO ON DVD

THE ART OF WAR II: BETRAYAL (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The downward spiral of Wesley Snipes’ career continues in this unnecessary and uneventful political thriller, a pale sequel to the 2000 film, which itself was no great shakes. Rated R. *

“COMEDY CENTRAL’S KENNY VS. SPENNY” — VOLUME ONE: UNCENSORED (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/ Paramount Home Entertainment): A selection of 10 uncut episodes from the ongoing reality series, broadcast on Comedy Central, showcasing the efforts of best buds Kenny Hotz and Spencer (“Spenny”) Rice to humiliate themselves and each other, all in the name of comedy. This boxed set retails for $26.98.

DEAD BROKE (Polychrome Pictures/Warner Home Video): The small screen is ideally suited for writer/director Edward Vilga’s contemporary, flashback-filled film noir, with John Glover as a police detective investigating a possible murder. The ensemble cast of suspects includes Paul Sorvino, Tony Roberts, Justin Theroux, Patricia Scanlon, Nela Wagman (also a co-producer) and Jill Hennessy, whose name is misspelled in the opening credits. Rated R. **’½

DIE, MOMMIE, DIE! (Sundance Channel Home Entertainment): An intentionally campy, award-winning adaptation of Charles Busch’s play, with Busch (in drag) playing a faded songbird accused of murdering her producer husband (Philip Baker Hall). This spoof of glossy big-screen soap operas from the ’50s and ’60s benefits from an enthusiastic cast that also includes Natasha Lyonne, Frances Conroy and Jason Priestley, but doesn’t quite translate to the big screen with any sustained success. Director Mark Rucker’s feature debut. Rated R. **

“ESPN’S AND 1 MIXTAPE VOLUME X” (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): A celebration of the 10-year history of nationwide “United Streets of America” street basketball tournaments, with game highlights accentuated by a rock ‘n’ roll soundtrack that includes Havoc, Pete Rock, Juelz Santana, Beanie Man and more. This DVD retails for $19.95.

“GOSSIP GIRL” — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 18 episodes from the 2007 (debut) season of the CW series in which a former prep-school party girl (Blake Lively) dishes the dirt on her fellow students in an anonymous website. Based on the best-seller by Cecily von Ziegesar, the series earned a whole slew of Teen Choice Awards — the hallmark of artistic appreciation. This boxed set retails for $59.98.

HEALING CANCER: FROM THE INSIDE OUT (Cinema Libre Studio): Mike Anderson, author of The Rave Diet & Lifestyle, hosts this interesting documentary feature that takes a critical look of conventional cancer treatments while also exploring alternative treatments and therapy. The incessant score, however, is weirdly reminiscent of Halloween! ***

INSANITARIUM (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): In order to rescue his suicidal sister (Kiele Sanchez) from incarceration, a man (Jesse Metcalfe) poses as a psychopath to gain entry in the same sanitarium… only to discover that the doctor in charge (Peter Stormare) is conducting experiments that turn people into voracious cannibals. This high-strung horror shocker, which marks the feature debut of writer/director Jeff Buhler, is nasty and gruesome, with a wicked streak of black comedy. In any event, the squeamish are forewarned. Rated R. **’½

LAST REQUEST (MTI Home Video): Writer/ director John DeBellis makes his feature debut with this broad, wildly uneven, ultimately unsuccessful black comedy starring Danny Aiello as a dying nightclub comic who wants his son (TR Knight, in his big-screen debut) to forsake the priesthood and get married. The cast also includes Vincent Pastore and Frank Vincent as unlikely priests, Tony Lo Bianco, Joe Piscopo, Sabrina Lloyd, Gilbert Gottfried, Mario Cantone and Barbara Feldon, who’s funny as Aiello’s blithely self-absorbed wife. Rated R. *’½

LONDON (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Chris Evans and then-girlfriend Jessica Biel play a couple whose relationship comes unraveled in this druggy, draggy gab-fest that marks the feature debut of writer/director Hunter Richards. There’s a good supporting cast (Jason Statham, Isla Fisher, Kelli Garner, Paula Patton, Dane Cook and Louis CK) and some good moments, but all told this is a self indulgent wallow. Rated R. **

LONESOME DOVE (RHI Entertainment/ Genius Products): A two-disc “collector’s edition” of the epic 1989 CBS mini-series based on Larry McMurtry’s sprawling best-seller, with Robert Duvall and Tommy Lee Jones as former Texas Rangers who face considerable emotional and physical hardships when they embark on an eventful 2,500-mile cattle drive. This beautifully acted and rendered Western earned seven Emmy awards, including one for Simon Wincer’s outstanding directing in a mini-series or special (for parts 1 and 4), and an additional 10 nominations including outstanding lead actor in a mini-series or special (for both Duvall and Jones), outstanding lead actress in a mini-series or special (for both Anjelica Huston and Diane Lane), outstanding supporting actor in a mini-series or special (Danny Glover), outstanding supporting actress in a mini-series or special (Glenne Headly) and outstanding mini-series. This special-edition DVD retails for $19.95 – and it’s worth it. ***’½

“MANEASTER SERIES COLLECTION” — VOLUME 1 (RHI Entertainment/Genius Products): Animals run amuck in this triple feature of DVD shockers, consisting of Gary Busey in Maneater, F. Murray Abraham in Blood Monkey and Lance Henriksen in In the Spider’s Web. This boxed set retails for $26.95.

“MARTIN LAWRENCE PRESENTS ‘FIRST AMENDMENT STAND-UP: SEASON 2’” (Anchor Bay Entertainment): All 12 episodes from the 2008 season of the comedy series, hosted by Doug Williams and originally broadcast as part of the “Starz Comedy Hour,” showcasing such young stand-up comedians as Donnell Rawlings, Joey Diaz, Finesse Mitchell, Alonzo Bodden and others. This two-disc set retails for $29.97.

“MASTERS OF SCIENCE FICTION” (Anchor Bay Entertainment): All six episodes from the ABC-TV prime-time anthology series hosted by Stephen Hawking and featuring short stories by classic sci-fi writers, including Howard Fast (“The Awakening”), John Kessel (“A Clean Escape”), Harlan Ellison (“The Discarded”), Robert A Heinlein (“Jerry Was a Man”), Walter Mosley (“Little Brother”) and Robert Sheckley (“Watchbird”). The latter two episodes never aired during the network’s 2007 broadcast. This two-disc special-edition DVD retails for $29.97.

SHARK SWARM (RHI Entertainment/Genius Products): Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water… guess what’s raising hell in the once-sleepy fishing village of Full Moon Bay? Originally broadcast as a TV mini series, this well-shot (by Dane Peterson) and good-humored shark soiree may be silly, but it’s rarely dull. A fun cast includes John Schneider, Daryl Hannah, F. Murray Abraham and Armand Assante, all of whom play it perfectly straight. **’½

SIN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Ex-cop Ving Rhames embarks on a one-man (and one-armed) campaign of vengeance against crime lord Gary Oldman in Reno, Nev. It’s fun to see Rhames and Oldman square off, but this is standard stuff — and climaxed by one of the most drawn-out car chases in recent memory. Rated R. **

SOHO SQUARE (Sundance Channel Home Entertainment): Anthony Biggs makes his big-screen bow as a disillusioned detective on the trail of a serial arsonist in this moody, self-indulgent, award-winning British thriller that reportedly cost 5,000 pounds to make and marks the feature debut of writer/director/ producer/editor Jamie Rafn. Interesting visuals, but this really doesn’t hold together. Still, not without some promise. Rated R. **

TRIPPING THE RIFT: THE MOVIE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A fitfully funny, feature-length comedy based on the raunchy, computer-animated Sci-Fi Channel series depicting the irreverent inter-stellar misadventures of the mostly-mutant crew of the Jupiter 42. The voiceover talent includes Jenny McCarthy, Stephen Root, Maurice LaMarche and John Melendez. **

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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