Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK THEM(Dark Sky Films): Not to be confused with the 1954 sci-fi classic aboutgiant ants, this critically acclaimed shocker from directors DavidMoreau and Xavier Palud has already caused an international sensationbefore arriving on these shores. In fact, the directors have alreadysold out to Hollywood with the recent remake of The Eye, and this filmis the reason why. Lucas (Michael Cohen) and Clementine (OliviaBonamy) are an average young couple who have recently purchased a big,rustic country house away from the crowds and the noise of the city.And, one fateful night, they wish they hadn’t…. In rapidsuccession, Clementine and Lucas receive strange phone calls, hearstrange noises and begin to experience strange happenings. What firstseemed a minor annoyance becomes a full-blown home invasion, with thecouple forced to fight for their lives against an enemy that proves farmore frightening than one might have anticipated. That the film isinspired by true events (!) makes its denouement all the more shocking.This is one of those films you might try watching with the lightsturned out – although you may well want to turn them back on before toolong. True to fashion, Hollywood took note of this film’ssuccess, and judging by the trailer for the upcoming chiller TheStrangers, starring Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman, an “Americanized”version awaits us this summer. Rated R (French with English subtitles). *** ALSO ON DVD BONEDRY (Allumination FilmWorks): Writer/producer/editor/director Brett A.Hart’s encouraging feature debut stars Luke Goss as a man stranded inthe middle of the Mojave Desert by an ever-present mystery man(reliable Lance Henriksen) who torments him to the edge of humanendurance – and beyond. This grueling melodrama is overlong at times,but stick with it. Fine score by Scott Glasgow. Rated R. **’ BOTTOMFEEDERS (Allumination FilmWorks): Light-hearted, low-budget crime caperhas a group of bumbling low-lives bungling a robbery and hitting theroad, pursued by cops and killers alike. Originally released in 1998,and also known as Criminal Minds, this marked the feature debut ofwriter/director Thomas Baumann, who hasn’t been heard from since.Enthusiastic performances include veteran John Saxon as a mob kingpin,Kelvin Webb (in his only screen role to date) as the laconic hit-manVirgil and Morganna the Kissing Bandit (remember her?) as a randy motelclerk. Rated R. ** “COLLEGE HILL – INTERNS” (BET HomeEntertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): All nine episodes fromBET’s “College Hill” reality-series spin-off, focusing on a 10 collegestudents on a summer internship vying for their big career break. Thisboxed set, which includes an audition reel and a rejection reel,retails for $19.99. THE ESCAPE ARTIST (Paramount HomeEntertainment): Noted cinematographer Caleb Deschanel made his featuredirectorial debut with this convoluted 1982 comedy/fantasy, based onDavid Wagoner’s novel, starring Griffin O’Neal as an orphaned teenagerwho aspires to be a great illusionist like his late father (played inflashback by Harry Anderson, in his screen debut). Produced by FrancisFord Coppola’s Zoetrope Studios, this attempt at fashioning acontemporary fable was a box-office flop. Great supporting cast,though: Raul Julia, Joan Hackett, Teri Garr, John P. Ryan, RichardBradford, M. Emmet Walsh, David Clennon, Jackie Coogan, Carlin Glynn,EG Daily, Tom Signorelli, former “East Side Kids” Gabriel Dell andHuntz Hall, Hal Williams and, in his final screen role, Desi Arnaz(billed as Desiderio Arnaz). Rated PG. ** “ESPN INSIDE ACCESS:DEREK JETER” (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): Just in timefor baseball season, this made-for-cable documentary traces theillustrious career of the superstar shortstop of the New York Yankees.This is the first in a planned series of similar profiles. Thisspecial-edition DVD retails for $19.95. EYE OF THE BEAST (GeniusProducts): A giant squid menaces a Canadian fishing village in thismade-for-cable monster mash that kills time amusingly enough. James VanDer Beek evinces good humor as the resident hero. ** FOG CITYMAVERICKS (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Peter Coyote narrates Gary Leva’senjoyable documentary, which traces the history of filmmakers whoworked in the San Francisco Bay Area and were able to establishsuccessful – in some cases ground-breaking – careers, including FrancisFord Coppola, George Lucas, Clint Eastwood, Philip Kaufman, ChrisColumbus, Pixar’s John Lasseter, producer Saul Zaentz and even CharlieChaplin during the 1920s. Good fun for film buffs. *** GRAYMATTER (Docurama): Filmmaker Joe Berlinger’s chilling and hauntingdocumentary feature has him traveling to Vienna, Austria to investigatethe burial of children’s brains left over from the Nazis’ eugenicsprogram during World War II – and the whereabouts of the doctor (stillalive at the time) said to have supervised these appalling experiments.By taking a different approach to the atrocities of the Holocaust, thisfilm succeeds where others sometimes don’t. The visuals are frequentlyhard to take but also impossible to shake. ***’ ISLAND OF LOSTSOULS (VCI Entertainment): Not to be confused with the 1932 HG Wellsclassic, this is Rene Cardona Sr.’s 1974 melodrama based on the book byJose Leon Sanchez, detailing his years as a prisoner in an islandhellhole. The film’s actual title is La Isla de Los Hombres Solos,which translates into The Island of Lonely Men. A more appropriatetitle for this dull, tacky potboiler might be The Island of Lost Sleep.* THE LOST (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A grim but engrossingadaptation of Jack Ketchum’s novel, with Marc Senter as Ray Pye, asmall-town sociopath whose penchant for sadism simmers just beneath thesurface. Inspired by actual events, this low-budget psychologicalthriller put screenwriter/producer/director Chris Sivertson on themap… but then he went Hollywood and directed the Lindsay Lohanclunker I Know Who Killed Me. Excellent cinematography by ZoranPopovic, and good performances by Michael Bowen, Ed Lauter, RobinSydney, Dee Wallace-Stone, Shay Astar and Megan Henning. Senter, Bowenand Ketchum (who also has a cameo) were associate producers. Great useof Crispian St. Peters’ ’60s tune “The Pied Piper.” **’ “MR.WONG, DETECTIVE” – THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (VCI Entertainment): Inresponse to the success of 20th Century Fox’s series of “Charlie Chan”and “Mr. Moto” films, low-budget Monogram Pictures released a series ofB-movies starring Boris Karloff as super-sleuth James Lee Wong, basedon Hugh Wiley’s stories in Collier’s Magazine. This boxed set, whichretails for $19.99, includes all five of the Karloff outings: Mr. Wong,Detective (1938), The Mystery of Mr. Wong and Mr. Wong in Chinatown(both 1939), The Fatal Hour and Doomed to Die (both 1940), as well asthe subsequent 1940 “prequel” Phantom of Chinatown, with Keye Luke as ayounger Mr. Wong. Grant Withers played hard-boiled Capt. Street in allsix films. NIAGARA MOTEL (Allumination FilmWorks): Off-kilterblack comedy, based on George F. Walker’s series of “Surbuban Motel”plays, about the denizens and hangers-on at a low-rent motel nearNiagara Falls. Good cast (Wendy Crewson, Anna Friel, Kevin Pollak,Craig Ferguson, Caroline Dhavernas) and some good moments, but it neverquite holds together. Nice remake of the ’70s hit “Right Back Where WeStarted From” over the end credits. Rated R. ** THE PHANTOMEMPIRE (VCI Entertainment): Yes, it’s Gene Autry – the “Singing Cowboy”and radio yodeler himself – to the rescue when the angry denizens ofthe underground kingdom of Murania decide to conquer the surface worldin this 12-chapter 1935 serial featuring Autry’s regular sidekick,Smiley Burnette. This special-edition DVD, which also includes thefull-length 1937 Autry Western Boots and Saddles (also with Burnette),retails for $19.99. “PIONEERS OF TELEVISION” (PBS HomeVideo/Paramount Home Entertainment): Steven J. Boettcher and Michael J.Trinklein’s entertaining and informative four-part documentary tracesthe origins of genres unmistakably tied to the television format:Situation comedies, talk shows, game shows and variety shows. Thenarration’s a little effusive at times, but the interviews and oldclips are absolutely priceless, and hats off to spotlighting suchreliable game-show hosting stalwarts as Bill Cullen and Allen Ludden(two of my favorites). Besides, anything that includes an interviewwith Jonathan Winters is worth watching. *** “ROCK OF LOVE” -THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Anchor Bay Entertainment): All 13 episodesfrom the 2007 season of the VH-1 reality series in which young womencompete – with varying degrees of success and humiliation – for theattention (and affections) of ’80s heavy-metal rocker Bret Michaels.This is what television has come to. This boxed set, which includesbonus footage “too hot for TV,” retails for $34.97. Christmas is onlyeight months off. Place your orders now. During the 1980s, YES! Weeklyeditor Brian Clarey lived for Poison. Don’t let him tell you otherwise. “ASHOT AT LOVE WITH TILA TEQUILA” – THE COMPLETE UNCENSORED FIRST SEASON(MTV Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 11 episodesfrom the 2007 season of MTV’s reality series focusing on the romanticmisadventures of internet superstar Tila “Tequila” Nguyen. Maybe sheand Bret Michaels ought to get together…. This three-disc boxed setretails for $39.99. THERE WILL BE BLOOD (Paramount HomeEntertainment): Daniel Day-Lewis’ amazing, Oscar-winning performance asa self-made oil tycoon dominates screenwriter/director Paul ThomasAnderson’s adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil, exploring theinexorable combination of religion, family, money, greed and corruptionin the formation of the American Dream. Robert Elswit’s cinematographyalso won an Academy Award, and the film received six additionalnominations: Best picture, director, adapted screenplay, editing, artdirection/set decoration and sound editing. Mesmerizing score byRadiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, too. One of 2007’s best films, but beprepared for its methodical pacing. Rated R. ***’ Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.