Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK: DARKON(PorchLight Home Entertainment): A documentary of heroicallyentertaining proportions, this marvelous, award-winning debut featurefrom writer/directors Luke Meyer and Andrew Neel is a total treat frombeginning to end. The film follows a group of everyday peoplewho, rather than play golf or softball on weekends, act out arole-playing game not unlike a live version of Dungeons & Dragons.There are battles to be fought, territories to be seized and foes to bevanquished – all within the mythical kingdom of Darkon, locatedsomewhere in the immediate vicinity of Baltimore. The playerstake it seriously, and so do the filmmakers – to an extent. Byapproaching the proceedings with an affectionate, mock gravitas, thefilm is all the more amusing, and it’s also oddly touching as itfocuses on the participants’ personalities. The excellentcinematography (by Karl Schroder and Hillary Spera) and rousing score(by Jonah Rapino) add the perfect seasoning to a highly enjoyableendeavor. This is that rare documentary that could well end up a cultclassic. Hail, Darkon! ***’ ALSO ON DVD “THE ADVENTURESOF YOUNG INDIANA JONES: VOLUME THREE – THE YEARS OF CHANGE” (ParamountHome Entertainment): The third and final volume of executive producerGeorge Lucas’ Emmy-winning, prime-time ABC-TV series (which ran from1992 to 1993), consists of seven feature-length episodes starring SeanPatrick Flanery as the young adventurer Indiana Jones as he encountersvarious historical figures and participates in various historicalevents – often saving the day, of course. This 10-disc collector’s set,which includes such special features as documentaries and interactivegames, is being released to coincide with the latest feature film,Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and retails for$129.99. COVER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment):Aunjanue Ellis plays a woman suspected of murder in this leadenmorality play about sexual secrets and personal redemption,unaccountably and wrong-headedly structured as a whodunit. Also onhand: Louis Gossett Jr., Patti LaBelle, Raz Adoti, Mya, Leon, CliftonDavis, Richard Gant, Obba Babatunde and Paula Jai Parker – but no onecan save it. Easily director Bill Duke’s worst film to date. RatedPG-13. ‘* CRASH AND BURN (Genius Products): Generic title,generic movie. Erik Palladino plays an undercover FBI agent whoinfiltrates a stolen-car ring lorded over by a typecast Michael Madsen.This obvious clone of The Fast and the Furious also features PeterJason, David Moscow, Tony Denison, Heather Marie Marsden (very cute),and David Groh (who died in February) in one of his last roles. *’ DESERTBAYOU (Cinema Libre Studio): Art Hoyle’s sonorous narration anchorsAlex LeMay’s documentary feature, which follows a group of 600(predominantly black) displaced citizens of New Orleans airlifted toUtah following the catastrophe of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The filmpoints out the bureaucratic screw-ups that followed the disaster – nothard to do – but works best when it focuses on evacuees CliffordAnderson and Curtis Pleasant and their efforts to adjust to their newhome. Rap star Master P produced the film, and even gives a laudatoryquote on the DVD sleeve! **’ THE DIVING BELL AND THEBUTTERFLY (Miramax Home Entertainment): Director Julian Schnabel’suplifting, award-winning drama focuses on real-life magazine editorJean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Almaric) who suffered a catastrophicstroke at age 43 but managed to write a best-selling memoir about theexperience. A warm supporting cast includes Max Von Sydow (as Bauby’sailing father), Emmanuelle Seigner, Marie-Josee Croze and Jean-PierreCassel. Winner of the 2007 Golden Globe Awards for best director andbest foreign-language film, with subsequent Academy Award nominationsfor best director, adapted screenplay (Ronald Harwood), editing andJanusz Kaminski’s exquisite cinematography. Rated PG-13. *** “THEFIRST KINGS OF COMEDY COLLECTION” (Genius Products): An irresistibledouble feature of writer/producer/director Robert Youngson’scompilation of classic segments from screen comedies dating back to thesilent era. The Golden Age of Comedy (1957) includes scenes with Laurel& Hardy, Will Rogers, Carole Lombard, Charley Chase and theKeystone Kops. When Comedy Was King (1960) has Laurel & Hardy,Chase and the Keystone Kops again, as well as Charlie Chaplin, BusterKeaton and Gloria Swanson. These were surprise box-office hits andsubsequently played endlessly on television, helping to introduce a newgeneration (like mine) to these early classics. ***’ THE GREYZONE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The only armed revolt at theAuschwitz concentration camp during World War II is depicted in thisengrossing but grimly oppressive drama which producer/director TimBlake Nelson adapted from his own play (based on actual events). A finecast includes Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, David Arquette, MiraSorvino, Daniel Benzali, Natasha Lyonne, David Chandler and AllanCorduner (excellent as the camp’s physician). Filmed in Bulgaria. RatedR. **’ THE HEART OF ME (Sundance Channel Home Entertainment):Helena Bonham Carter, Paul Bettany and Olivia Williams form a complexlove triangle in this award-winning period piece based on RosamondLehmann’s 1953 best-seller, The Echoing Grove. This is the sort ofhigh-minded soap opera that the British do so well, with fineperformances all around. Rated R. *** I WANT SOMEONE TO EATCHEESE WITH (Genius Products): Jeff Garlin makes his featurewriting/producing/directorial debut with this bittersweet comedy abouta struggling actor trying to balance a floundering love life with afloundering career. A good cast includes Bonnie Hunt, Sarah Silverman,Dan Castellaneta, Elle Fanning, Roger Bart, Paul Mazursky, TimKazurinsky, cameos by Gina Gershon and Aaron Carter, and a number ofSecond City actors in support – but, in the end, this is rather slight.Rated R. ** JUNO (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment):In this suburban satire written by Diablo Cody and directed by JasonReitman, Ellen Page plays Juno MacGuff, an acerbic, all-Americanteenager who finds herself in a family way – leading to all sorts ofamusing interludes and complications. This witty (but somewhat smug)sleeper became one of the Hollywood success stories of 2007, earning anAcademy Award for Cody’s original screenplay and nominations for Page(best actress), Reitman (best director) and, yep, best picture. It alsooutgrossed every other best-picture nominee at the box-office whilecosting far less than any of them. The cast makes it: Allison Janney,JK Simmons, Jennifer Garner, Jason Bateman, Olivia Thirlby and MichaelCera (as the befuddled father-to-be). In the film, Juno’s a fan ofdirector Dario Argento – so, by and large, this one’s okay with me.Rated PG-13. *** LOVE IN THE TIME OF MONEY (Miramax HomeEntertainment): Inspired by Arthur Schnitzler’s Reigen, this talkyensemble drama focuses on the love lives of a disparate group of NewYorkers. An able cast includes Steve Buscemi, Jill Hennessy, AdrianGrenier, Rosario Dawson, Vera Farmiga, Michael Imperioli and Carol Kane(who’s terrific as a lonely telephone psychic), but this falls flat.Look fast for Oscar-nominated screenwriter Tamara Jenkins (The Savages)as a gallery owner. Robert Redford was one of the executive producers.Rated R. *’ THE POSSESSION OF JOEL DELANEY (Legend Films):Between Rosemary’s Baby (1968) and The Exorcist (1973) came thisoft-forgotten 1972 adaptation of Ramona Stewart’s novel, with ShirleyMacLaine as a Manhattan socialite and divorcee whose younger brother(Perry King, excellent in his screen debut) begins to adopt thevolatile personality of a mysterious friend named Tonio Perez, theprime suspect in a past series of grisly murders that suddenly beginrecurring around town. Well-directed by Waris Hussein, with a greatscore by Joe Raposo, this was a box-office flop. Some reports persistthat MacLaine was offered The Exorcist but did this instead. Althoughprominently billed, Michael Hordern has precious little screentime as atrendy psychiatrist. The ending, by now a clich’, still packs a punch.Rated R. *** SEEING OTHER PEOPLE (Sundance Channel HomeEntertainment): Julianne Nicholson and Jay Mohr topline thisaward-winning comedy as an engaged couple who decide to see otherpeople before tying the knot, which causes all sorts of complications.A snappy and sweet comedy reminiscent of Neil Simon, with a zippysupporting cast including Andy Richter, Helen Slater, Matthew Davis,Mimi Rogers, Bryan Cranston, Shanna Moakler, Liz Phair and JoshCharles, who delivers the film’s ultimate line: “God created us to wantto fuck around; I say, go with God.” Rated R. *** THE SKULL(Legend Films): Director Freddie Francis’ 1965 chiller, based on aRobert Bloch story, stars Peter Cushing (terrific, as always) as acollector of oddities who adds something quite unique to hiscollection: The actual skull of the Marquis de Sade. Now that’s odd!Legend has it that the skull can drive its owner to madness and murder.Guess what happens next? A great cast includes Nigel Green, JillBennett, Michael Gough, Patrick Magee, George Coulouris, theperennially underappreciated Patrick Wymark and “guest star”Christopher Lee, but despite the talent involved and some inventivecamerawork by cinematographer John Wilcox, the concept is stretched alittle thin over 85 minutes. Believe it or not, descendants of theactual Marquis de Sade (who always got a bad rap, as far as I wasconcerned) were ticked off about the film and threatened a lawsuit. Inany event, this DVD is eagerly awaited by many horror fans. **’ SOMEKIND OF HERO (Legend Films): Richard Pryor, starring in his first filmsince his drug-related, near-death free-basing experience in 1980,gives a fine performance in this otherwise uneven 1982 comedy/dramaadapted from James Kirkwood’s novel, about an ex-POW who finds itdifficult to re-adjust to civilian life after six years in Vietnam. Asolid cast includes Ray Sharkey, Ronny Cox, Lynne Moody, Olivia Coleand a scorchingly sexy Margot Kidder (as the proverbial hooker with aheart of gold), but director Michael Pressman struggles when combiningthe comedic aspects with the dramatic. This still did well at thebox-office, maintaining Pryor’s popularity. Rated R. ** STUDENTBODIES (Legend Films): Undoubtedly inspired by the success of Airplane!(1980), comedy writer Mickey Rose’s 1981 feature directorial debut (andhis last to date) is a bawdy, ramshackle spoof of slasher films -released at the height of the slasher era. Kristen Riter (in her onlyfilm to date) plays the high-school virgin stalked by a deranged killerknown as “The Breather” (voiced by Richard Belzer under the pseudonym”Richard Brando”). Everyone who has sex gets killed, naturally. MichaelRitchie, who reportedly had a hand in directing, produced under theubiquitous Hollywood pseudonym “Allen Smithee.” The once-in-a-lifetime(literally) cast includes Joe Talrowski (in his only film) as the dowdyprincipal, Joe Flood (in his screen debut) as the shop teacher Mr.Dumpkin (you’ll never think of horse-head bookends the same way again),and one-time stand-up comedian “The Stick” as Malvert the janitor(“Sometimes Malvert pee red.”). Paramount Pictures made a fortune onthe Friday the 13th series but botched the promotion of thisintermittently amusing comedy, releasing it on a double-bill with the(straightforward) slasher film Night School. This did find a cultfollowing on cable TV, and was clearly an inspiration for the ScaryMovie series. Rated R. ** YOUTH WITHOUT YOUTH (Sony PicturesHome Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Francis Ford Coppola’sfirst film in a decade stars Tim Roth as an everyman professor who isstruck by lightning and begins to age in reverse. Based on MirceaEliade’s novella, this ultimately stacks up as an interesting failure -they key word being “interesting.” The DVD includes a commentary byCoppola, which may explain things. Look fast for Matt Damon. Rated R. ** Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.