Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


HONOR AMONG THIEVES (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The intriguing team-up of Alain Delon and Charles Bronson lends kick to director Jean Herman’s 1968 caper, made when Bronson was a much bigger star in Europe than in the United States. Once mates in the French Foreign Legion, Barran (Delon) and Propp (Bronson) find themselves thrown together once more when they are locked in a hi-tech Parisian bank vault over Christmas weekend. As it turns out, each wants to break the bank for a different reason – one to rob the money, the other to return stolen money! This is only one of many unexpected twists in Herman and co-writer Sebastien Japrisot’s scenario – and there are more to come, including a couple of real whoppers. It’s all very European, very chic and very stylish. Olga Georges-Picot and Brigitte Fossey lend glamour to the proceedings, and Bernard Fresson does a nice turn as a hard-boiled cop. But it’s the prickly chemistry of Bronson and Delon that makes this number tick. Bronson’s police interrogation is a hoot. “Where were you born?” “In a tree,” he answers, as only Bronson could. The original title of the film is Adieu, l’Ami (which translates to “Farewell, Friend”), and under its present title is available on any number of public-domain DVD labels, but specifically seek the LionsGate release, as it is both the full 115-minute cut and in a widescreen (letterboxed) format. Rated PG. ***


“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” – THE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 22 episodes from the 1988-’89 season of the prime-time CBS series about the friendship between an assistant DA (Linda Hamilton) and a benevolent “lion-man” (Ron Perlman). Winner of two Emmys and nominated for six more, including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. The boxed set retails for $49.99.

BILL/BILL: ON HIS OWN (BCI): A DVD double-feature of the fact-based, made-for-TV movies starring the unforgettable Mickey Rooney as Bill Sackter, a mentally retarded man attempting to make his way in the world. Rooney won an Emmy for the first film, broadcast in 1981, and reprised the role for the 1983 sequel. Both films co-star Dennis Quaid as filmmaker Barry Morrow and Largo Woodruff as Barry’s wife. What’s nice about these two films is that neither ladles on the sentiment too heavily, which makes all the difference in the world. The first film also won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Limited Series or a Special and received a nomination for Outstanding Drama Special. The sequel earned Rooney another Emmy nomination. Bill: ***1/2, and Bill: On His Own: ***

BOUDU SAVED FROM DROWNING (The Criterion Collection): Jean Renoir’s zesty 1932 comedy of manners stars Michel Simon as a tramp rescued from a suicide by an affluent bookstore owner (Charles Granval) whose attempts to reform him result in household calamity. This was remade more than 50 years later as Down and Out in Beverly Hills. As is customary with Criterion’s special editions, this includes a variety of extras include Renoir’s original introduction to the film and an excerpt from an interview with Renoir and Simon from the mid-1960s. In French with English subtitles. ***

CULT CAMP CLASSICS COLLECTION (Warner Home Video): Warner Bros. has dug deep into its vaults to release four volumes of films billed as “camp classics.” Volume 1 is called “Sci-Fi Thrillers” and includes Attack of the 50-Foot Woman, The Giant Behemoth and Queen of Outer Space (with Zsa Zsa Gabor in the title role!) – all released in 1958. Volume 2, “Women in Peril,” includes John Cromwell’s Caged (1950), which earned Oscar nominations for Best Actress (Eleanor Parker), Best Supporting Actress (Hope Emerson) and Best Story & Screenplay; The Big Cube (1968) with George Chakiris and Lana Turner; and Joan Crawford’s last film, the lamentable Trog (1970), directed – unfortunately – by Freddie Francis. Volume 3, “Terrorized Travelers,” includes Zero Hour! (1957), based on a story by Arthur Hailey (of Airport fame), which was the basis for the 1980 spoof Airplane!; Dana Andrews and Jeanne Crain in Hot Rods to Hell (1966); and John Guillermin’s Skyjacked (1972), starring Charlton Heston. Volume 4, “Historical Epics,” includes The Prodigal (1955) starring Lana Turner and Edmund Purdom; Howard Hawks’ Land of the Pharoahs (also 1955) starring Jack Hawkins and Joan Collins; and Rory Calhoun in The Colossus of Rhodes (1961), the first credited film of director Sergio Leone. Each volume retails for $29.98, with individual titles retailing for $14.97 each.

DARK CORNERS (Union Station Media/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Poor Thora Birch. She’s been suffering nightmares – and she doesn’t even live on Elm Street. Writer/director Ray Gower’s debut feature is a bloody mess, with Birch (in a hard-working performance) playing two characters whose respective (and collective) realities keep shifting. A couple of jolts but little else. Toby Stephens is wasted as Birch’s psychologist. *_ (One and a half)

A DIFFERENT LOYALTY (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Loosely based on the actual case of Kim Philby, this choppy Cold War drama stars Sharon Stone as an American war correspondent who is wooed and won by a British colleague (Rupert Everett, also an executive producer) – who then turns out to be a Soviet spy. An interesting premise indifferently executed. Rated R. *1/2

DREAMLAND (Image Entertainment): A vacationing couple (Jackie Kreisler and Shane Elliot) find themselves in some sort of time warp in this low-budget sci-fi outing that goes around and around in circles, makes no sense, has unlikable protagonists, and plays like a rejected script from “The X Files.” *

DRIVING LESSONS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Julie Walters and Rupert Grint – who play mother and son in the Harry Potter films – re-team for this meandering but well-acted comedy/drama about the friendship that develops between an eccentric old actress and a restless teen who’s tired of living under the thumb of his monstrously pious mother (a wonderfully unlikable Laura Linney). Rated PG-13. **1/2

GHOST RIDER (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Nicolas Cage (also a producer) plays the Marvel Comics hero in this flashy and shallow blockbuster whose budget ($110 million) hardly justified its domestic gross (just over $110 million). It kills time easily enough, but we don’t need a franchise, do we? Rated PG-13 **1/2

GOODNIGHT, JOSEPH PARKER (Image Entertainment): The Iceman Cometh meets subUrbia in writer/director Dennis Brooks’ feature debut, an adaptation of his play depicting the desperate lives of a group of regulars at a run-down New Jersey bar. An interesting cast includes Paul Sorvino, Kim Dickens, Richard Edson, Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Debi Mazar (who’s terrific). **1/2

HANNIBAL RISING (Genius Products, Inc.): Producer Dino De Laurentiis just won’t leave Hannibal Lecter alone, as this prequel attempts – unsuccessfully – to explain the origins of the legendary serial killer, played here by Gaspard Ulliel. It’s a little hard to root for a character who’ll turn out so nasty, but this story only justifies his taste for revenge (and flesh, incidentally) – but not necessarily his madness. All told, this is the fifth Hannibal Lecter film… and enough’s enough. Adapted by Thomas Harris from his novel. Rated R (also available in an unrated version). **

THE HONEYMOON KILLERS (The Criterion Collection): Writer/director Leonard Kastle’s stark, darkly humorous 1969 thriller based on the lives of Ray Fernandez (Tony Lo Bianco) and Martha Beck (Shirley Stoler), the infamous “Lonely Hearts” killers who targeted wealthy women and were ultimately executed in Sing-Sing Prison. Definitely not for all tastes, but the two stars are superb. The DVD includes an interview with Kastle, who never directed another feature and who explains why he took over the direction after having to dismiss the first two directors, including a young fellow named Martin Scorsese. ***

NAVAJO BLUES (Allumination FilmWorks): Joey Travolta (John’s brother) directed and produced this routine 1996 cop thriller with Steven Bauer as a city detective reassigned to an Indian reservation. Also with Irene Bedard, Charlotte Lewis and Ed O’Ross (also a co-producer). Rated R. *

PRIDE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Terrence Howard (also an executive producer) plays swim coach Jim Ellis in this fact-based sports saga about Ellis’ efforts to start a swim team for Philadelphia’s inner-city youths. Yes, it’s corny and predictable – but it pushes all the right buttons, and the performances of Howard and Bernie Mac (as Ellis’ assistant coach and sounding board) are right on the money. Rated PG. ***

STRAIGHT INTO DARKNESS (Screen Media Films): Lord of the Flies meets A Midnight Clear in this impressive World War II thriller in which a pair of American soldiers (Ryan Francis and Scott MacDonald) encounter a group of special children who have turned warfare into a strange game – one which they have learned to play very well. Resourcefully made on a budget, and also graced with an impassioned anti-war spirit that can be found in all great war films – and this one comes close – this is the best film to date from writer/director Jeff Burr. A little slow out of the gate, but stick with it. Rated R. ***

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2007, Mark Burger