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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (Anchor Bay Entertainment): With the remake of Halloween carving up the nation’s box-offices, the timing is just right for this smart send-up that marks an auspicious feature debut for writer/producer/director Scott Glosserman, who has clearly done his homework and his hackwork.

Newcomer Nathan Baesel plays the title role, an up-and-coming serial killer who aspires to follows in the bloody footsteps of such illustrious predecessors as Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. This inspires a documentary film crew, headed by the aggressive Taylor Gentry (Angela Goethals), to chronicle his every move leading up to his proposed massacre.

Glosserman’s got the moves down pat, as the film smoothly shifts gears from mockumentary to straightforward shocker when the film crew gets more involved than they ever anticipated… but we knew that was coming, didn’t we?

There’s an especially sharp supporting turn from Robert Englund – Freddy Krueger himself – as a gun-toting psychiatrist in the Donald Pleasence vein. Look fast for Zelda (Poltergeist) Rubinstein and Kane (“Jason”) Hodder, too. Rated R. ***

ALSO ON DVD

AMAZON JAIL (Blue Underground): A heart-rending, eye-rolling saga of nubile (and frequently nude) young women held captive in the title stronghold. This 1982 schlock-fest has it all: gratuitous violence, gratuitous nudity, gratuitous lesbianism, gratuitous escapes… and yet, these films seem to have a huge cult following all over the world. Go figure. *

BLADES OF GLORY (Paramount Home Entertainment): Will Ferrell and Jon Heder are a delightful duo in this knockabout farce about rival figure-skaters who team up as the first male skating pair. The laughs are consistent, and any film that spotlights Queen’s title song from Flash Gordon is okay in my book. Rated PG-13. ***

THE BLITZ: LONDON’S LONGEST NIGHT (Paramount Home Entertainment): Originally titled Blitz: London’s Firestorm, producer/director Louise Osmond’s PBS documentary explores the fateful date of Dec. 29, 1940, when the Nazis fire-bombed the city of London to the point of devastation. Re-enactments can be iffy, but the interviews with the actual survivors of the blitz are affecting. ***

“COMEDY ZEN” (ImaginAsian Home Entertainment/Genius Products): All six episodes from the first season of the ImaginAsian TV series showcasing stand-up comics from around the country, with an emphasis on the Asian-American stand-up community, such as Joey Guila, Bobby Lee, Dat Phan and Dr. Ken. This retails for $14.95.

THE CONFORMIST (Paramount Home Entertainment): Bernardo Bertolucci’s penetrating 1970 adaptation of Alberto Moravia’s novel stars Jean-Louis Trintignant as a political anarchist in fascist Italy tapped to carry out a daring assassination in France. Great cinematography by Vittorio Storaro and score by Georges Delerue, as well as excellent supporting work by Stefania Sandrelli, Dominique Sanda and Gastone Moschin. Bertolucci’s adapted screenplay earned an Oscar nomination. Rated R. ***1/2

THE COUNTRY GIRL (Paramount Home Entertainment): Grace Kelly won the 1954 Academy Award as Best Actress for her role in George Seaton’s adaptation of Clifford Odets’ play, depicting the relationship between a booze-soaked, show-biz has-been (Bing Crosby) and his stalwart young wife (Kelly) which becomes strained when a hotshot director (William Holden) taps him to make a comeback. There are some stagy moments, but all told this holds up beautifully, with the three leads in excellent form. Seaton’s screenplay also won an Oscar, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor (Crosby), Best Director, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Cinematography (black and white). ***1/2

“DEXTER” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 12 episodes from the 2006 season of the award-winning, critically acclaimed Showtime series starring Michael C. Hall as a police forensics specialist who moonlights as a serial-killing vigilante. This instant cult favorite is based on Jeff Lindsay’s novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter. The boxed set retails for $42.99.

THE FIEND (Redemption/Image Entertainment): Tony Beckley plays a religious paranoid who murders girls in London in this British-made 1972 exploitation item with an upscale cast: Ann Todd, Patrick Magee, Suzanna Leigh and Percy Herbert. Also known as Beware My Brethren, which is the title that appears onscreen. **

GALLIPOLI (Paramount Home Entertainment): Peter Weir’s absorbing and well-made 1981 drama stars Mel Gibson and Mark Lee as two young soldiers swept up in World War I. This swept the Australian Film Institute awards and went a long way toward expanding the careers of both Gibson and Weir. Rated PG. ***

GHOST WATCHER 2 (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Jillian Byrnes returns in writer/director David A.Cross’ sequel to his 2002 chiller, playing a “ghost watcher” who tries to help a young girl (Julia Pickens) being targeted by a malevolent spirit. Low-budget and grim, but not bad. Neither was the first film. Rated R. **

KILLER BARBYS VS. DRACULA (Image Entertainment): The one and only Jess Franco wrote and directed this campy, goofy horror comedy in which the Count (Kike Sarasota), who can also walk around freely during the daylight, encounters a punk-rock group on tour in Spain. The actual name of the band in the film is “Killer Barbies” and Dracula turns into a stuffed bunny after being staked, so Franco must be joking… isn’t he? *1/2

“LEGION OF SUPER HEROES” – VOLUME ONE (Warner Home Video): Four episodes of the current, top-rated Saturday morning animated series focusing on the teenaged years of Superman and his ongoing battle with the nefarious “Fatal Five.” This retails for $14.97.

“MARTIN LAWRENCE PRESENTS 1ST AMENDMENT STAND-UP” – SEASON ONE (Starz Home Entertainment): All 10 episodes from the 2006 season of the StarzInBlack series hosted by Doug Williams. This two-disc set retails for $29.97.

PRIVATE RESORT (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): This 1985 teen sex comedy would be forgotten were it not for the early starring roles of Johnny Depp and Rob Morrow as horny pals on the prowl. Hector Elizondo (in a bad toupee) plays a jewel thief, Andrew (Dice) Clay plays an obnoxious boor, and both stars actually drop their drawers. Hey, you’ve gotta start somewhere. Rated R. *

ROADSIDE PROPHETS (Image Entertainment): John Doe and Adam Horovitz hit the road in writer/director Abbe Wool’s lightweight 1992 comedy. Lots of cameos: John Cusack, David Carradine, Arlo Guthrie, Timothy Leary, Bill Cobbs, Stephen Tobolowsky and Lin Shaye – and look fast for Don Cheadle. Rated R. **

SACCO AND VANZETTI (First Run Features): Peter Miller’s strong yet thoughtful documentary feature examines the lives of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists who were tried and executed for a murder in Boston… but that’s only the beginning of the story. John Turturro and Tony Shalhoub read the actual writings of Sacco and Vanzetti throughout. ***

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

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