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Mark Burger’´s VIDEO VAULT

by Mark Burger

THE JOHN GRISHAM COURTROOM COLLECTION (Warner Home Video): Much like Stephen King in the 1980s, the 1990s saw adaptations of John Grisham’s novels become a cottage industry in Hollywood. Although made by different filmmakers — though producer Arnon Milchan has long been a Grisham mainstay — the films tend to be slick, polished, populated by big-name actors, and generally entertaining. The 1993 adaptation of The Pelican Brief (***) paired Julia Roberts and Denzel Washington under the direction of Alan J. Pakula; Susan Sarandon (who earned an Academy

Award nomination as best actress) teams up with Tommy Lee Jones and Brad Renfro (in his screen debut) in Joel Schumacher’s 1994 adaptation of The Client (**’½); Schumacher also directed the 1996 adaptation of A Time to Kill (***), which stars Matthew McConaughey, Sandra Bullock and Samuel L. Jackson. A late entry in the Grisham sweepstakes, Gary Fleder’s 2003 adaptation of Runaway Jury (***), stars John Cusack, Rachel Weisz, Dustin Hoffman and the God of Cinema himself, Gene Hackman. By default, and thanks to Hackman — who also appeared in such Grisham adaptations as The Firm (1993) and The Chamber (1996) — I’ll pick The Jury as my personal preference. Except for A Time to Kill, which is rated R, the other three films are rated PG-13. This boxed set, whose release is timed to coincide with the release of Grisham’s new novel, The Associate, retails for $39.92. ALSO ON DVD

10,000 BC (Warner Home Video): Director Roland Emmerich’s typically bombastic saga pits a tribe of human against mammoths, monsters and sometimes each other. Frequently hokey and sometimes stupid, but there are some impressive sequences. Rated PG-13. **

BETWEEN (PorchLight Home Entertainment): Poppy Motgomery headlines this fragmented and protracted psychological thriller as a woman desperately seeking her missing sister in Tijuana. Takes forever to go nowhere, but Montgomery tries. Paging Rod Serling… Rated R. *’½

“DALLAS” — THE COMPLETE TENTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 29 episodes from the 1986-’87 season (the year that wasn’t a dream!) of the popular CBS-TV prime-time soap opera following the lives and loves of the oil-rich Ewing clan in the title town. Heading the cast, of course, is Larry Hagman as the lovably lascivious JR, with Patrick Ewing, Victoria Principal, Barbara Bel Geddes, Steve Kanaly, Howard Keel and Ken Kercheval. That season, the series scored an Emmy nomination for outstanding achievement in music composition for a series, dramatic underscore (for the episode “A Death in the Family”). This boxed set retails for $39.98.

DON’T LOOK DOWN (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): This documentary follows award-winning snowboarder Ryan White as he travels the world, competing in such events as the Winter X Games 11, the World Superpipe Championship and, of course, the 2006 Olympics, where he took the gold medal. This special-edition DVD retails for $24.95.

FEAST II: SLOPPY SECONDS (Dimension Extreme/Genius Products): Director John Gulager’s follow-up to his 2005 shocker is (much) more of the same, as marauding monsters lay waste to a small town and its rapidly-dwindling populace. Flashy, trashy and extremely gory. This goes over the top and stays there. Generally well-acted (the standouts being Martin Klebba and Juan Longoria Garcia as brother dwarf wrestlers), with great special effects, but too often this is too much. Gulager’s real-life father (Clu), brother (Tom), wife (Diane Goldner) and nephew (also named Clu) are also on hand, thereby making this a Gulager family affair. **

I-SEE-YOU.COM (Warner Home Video): With his family teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, an industrious teenager (Mathew Botuchis) begins broadcasting their life on the internet via hidden cameras. This outdated media satire is made worse by being crass, shrill and a waste of its cast, which also includes Rosanna Arquette, Beau Bridges, Shiri Appleby, Dan Castellaneta, Doris Roberts, Hector Elizondo (also a producer), and the late announcer Don LaFontaine. *

THE LEGEND OF THE CRYSTAL SKULLS (Infinity Entertainment Group): If you’ve seen the latest Indiana Jones movie, this documentary ($14.98 retail) traces the history and legends of the actual crystal skulls, specifically the one mailed anonymously to the Smithsonian Museum in 1992, inspiring curator Jane MacLaren Walsh to determine its origins… which, as it turns out, was easier said than done.

“LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE: THE COMPLETE TELEVISION SERIES” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A mammoth boxed set ($279.98 retail) including all 204 episodes from the long-running (1974-’83) prime-time NBC-TV series based on the best-selling series of books by Laura Ingalls Wilder (played here by Melissa Gilbert). During the series’ run, it earned 17 Emmy nominations (winning four). The cast also included Michael Landon (also the series’ executive producer and writer and director of many episodes), Karen Grassle, Melissa Sue Anderson and twins Lindsay and Sidney Greenbush. LionsGate is also releasing two compilations: Country School and Prairie Friends, each of which includes three episodes and each one retailing for $14.98. It wasn’t always cool to admit you watched this show when you were a kid, but I’ll admit (now) that I watched it pretty regularly.

MOTHER GHOST (Anthem Pictures): Mark Thompson wrote and stars in this awardwinning drama about a man dealing with a mid-life crisis worsened by the death of his mother and estrangement from his father (Charles Durning). Overly sentimental but given heft by a polished cast that also includes Dana Delany, Kevin Pollak, David Keith, Joe Mantegna, James Franco, Jere Burns and Garry Marshall. **

“MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: 20 TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION” (Shout! Factory): The ever-popular series, which ran from 1988- ’99, first on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel, is celebrated in this special-edition boxed set ($59.99 retail), which includes four mocked movies (First Spaceship on Venus, Werewolf, Future War and Laserblast) and a lengthy retrospective on the history of the series, which remains perpetually popular in syndication.

NFL RAIDERS 3 GREATEST GAMES: THE SUPER BOWL VICTORIES (NFL Films/ Warner Home Video): With the Super Bowl fast approaching, this DVD boxed set ($26.95 retail) commemorates one of California’s football franchises, which has won three Super Bowls in its history: as the Oakland Raiders, defeating Minnesota 32-14 in Super Bowl XI and defeating my beloved Philadelphia Eagles 27-10 in Super Bowl XV (not a happy day in my life), and then, as the Los Angeles Raiders, defeating Washington 38-9 in Super Bowl XVIII. Since then, the Raiders have returned to Oakland… but they’re not going to the Super Bowl this year.

ON TRIAL: LEE HARVEY OSWALD (MPI Home Video): The title tells all in this speculative mock trial intended to determine the guilt or innocence of Lee Harvey Oswald, long believed to be the (sole?) assassin of President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963, as argued by noted real-life attorneys Vincent Bugliosi (for the prosecution) and Gerry Spence (for the defense) and featuring testimony from many of the surviving witnesses of the assassination. Originally broadcast on Showtime in 1986 to mark the 23 rd anniversary of Kennedy’s death. This special-edition DVD, about a controversy that simply won’t go away (and probably never will) retails for $24.98.

AN ORDINARY KILLER (Anthem Pictures): A low-budget true-crime procedural depicting the search for a killer who remained at large for nearly 30 years. Filmed on some of the actual locations in Michigan where the crime occurred and earnestly acted by a cast including DJ Perry (who also produced), Terence Knox, Terry Jernigan, Dan Haggerty, Charles Matthau and Alanna Thompson (as the victim). Overly talky but sincere. **

PLAN B (Warner Home Video): Diane Keaton plays a mob widow-turned-hit-man (or is that “hit-woman”?) in this comedy that is alternately flaky, flimsy and flat — with Keaton (who deserves better) flailing throughout. Paul Sorvino, Maury Chaykin, Bob Balaban, Burt Young and Natasha Lyonne also show up, to no apparent benefit — either for their careers or for the film, which was made in 2001 but barely released to theaters. Don’t wonder why. Rated R. *

THE PLOT TO KILL HITLER (Warner Home Video): Nearly two decades before Tom Cruise, Brad Davis portrays Col. Claus von Stauffernberg, the real-life Nazi officer who spearheaded an inside plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler (played here by Mike Gwilym) in 1944. Madolyn Smith Osborne plays Stauffenberg’s worried but compassionate wife, and a sturdy supporting cast Ian Richardson, Michael Byrne, Rupert Graves, John McEnery, Kenneth Colley and Helmut Griem (as Rommel). Originally broadcast on cable. **’½

SURFER, DUDE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): An ever-likable and very buff Matthew McConaughey (who also produced) plays a fun-loving, pot-smoking surfing champ trying to resist being coerced into a reality-TV series, as he’d much rather be chasing babes and waves — not necessarily in that order. This sun-kissed but brainless comedy, which also features such McConaughey buds (no pun intended) as Woody Harrelson and Willie Nelson, is laid-back to the point of laziness, and was barely released to theaters. So much for McConaughey’s bankability… Rated R. *

TRAILER PARK OF TERROR (Summit Home Entertainment): The obligatory group of dumb kids is trapped in the title locale, where a “redneck reaper” (Nichole Hiltz) and her undead cronies wreak havoc. Trace Adkins, who contributes a song to the soundtrack, appears briefly as a mysterious stranger who just might be the devil. With a title like this, you know you’re not getting intellectual stimulation… but this campy, extremely grisly adaptation of a comic-book series may well find favor with gorehounds. Rated R (also available in an unrated version). **

WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS — PART TWO (VCI Entertainment): Producer/director Jim McCullough’s corny, low-budget 1992 follow-up to Wilson Rawls’ best-selling novel (adapted into a 1974 film) is set in rural Louisiana in the years immediately following World War II. A sincere cast includes Wilford Brimley, Doug McKeon, Lisa Whelchel, Karen Carlson and Chad McQueen (Steve’s son) — but this is weak family fare. Rated G. *

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2009, Mark Burger

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