Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

Pick of the Week

CRUISING (Warner Home Video): William Friedkin’s 1980 urban thriller remains one of the most controversial films of its time – if not all time. The film was both misunderstood and castigated, much to the filmmakers’ apparent surprise.

A series of gruesome murders has rocked New York City’s homosexual community, and young detective Steve Burns (Al Pacino) goes undercover to track the culprit down. Posing as a gay man, Burns investigates a seamy world of sexual promiscuity and sado-masochism. But as Steve draws closer to his quarry, he finds himself in danger of losing his identity – both sexual and psychological – which also makes him vulnerable to the killer.

Karen Allen portrays Steve’s concerned, uninformed girlfriend, while reliable Paul Sorvino plays the weary Capt. Edelson, who gives Steve the assignment and goads him, against his better judgment, into finishing it.

Some gay-rights’ groups perceived the film as a statement about – and against – their lifestyle, whereas Friedkin always insisted that the backdrop was simply a unique (and sensational) one against which to mount a psychological whodunit.

Had the film been released a few years later, it likely would have been perceived, whether intentionally or not, as a cautionary tale about AIDS. In its time, however, it was a potent statement about the dangers of casual sex, not unlike Looking for Mr. Goodbar. It’s not a perfect film, but it is an uncompromising and compelling one. Rated R – for good reason. ***

Also on DVD

ASPHALT WARS (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): Roger Corman was the executive producer of this Latin-themed, low-budget variation on The Fast and the Furious. Leading man Gilbert Chavarria spends much of the movie either driving fast or getting beaten up. Rated R. *

BABEL (Paramount Home Entertainment): A special collector’s edition of Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s ensemble drama about actions by different people on different continents that have unexpected consequences for all. Well-acted, but Inarritu has taken us down this kind of road before… and so have some other filmmakers in the interim. Oscar winner for Original Score, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress (both Adriana Barraza and Rinko Kikuchi) and Best Editing. Rated R. **1/2

THE BLUE IGUANA (Paramount Home Entertainment): Writer/director John Lafia’s 1988 feature debut is a smug film-noir take-off that wastes an eclectic cast: Dylan McDermott, James Russo, Dean Stockwell, Tovah Feldshuh, Pamela Gidley and Jessica Harper. Off-kilter, off-center and off-target. Rated R. *1/2

“BROTHERS AND SISTERS” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): All 23 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the ABC prime-time drama featuring a star-studded ensemble including Calista Flockhart, Rob Lowe, Rachel Griffiths and Sally Field (Emmy winner as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series). Additional nominations for Griffiths (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series) and Outstanding Casting. This boxed set, which includes an unaired pilot episode, retails for $59.99.

THE CAMDEN 28 (First Run Features): Director Anthony Giacchino’s award-winning documentary recalls a group of Vietnam War demonstrators in New Jersey who were captured by the FBI during a draft-board break-in, and the subsequent trial that made national headlines – and legal history. Intense and informative; a winner. ***1/2

CRY_WOLF (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): An on-line college prank turns deadly when a serial killer rumored to be at large materializes on campus. The feature debut of writer/co-director Jeff Wadlow, who was given this opportunity (and a $1 million budget) after winning the Chrysler Million Dollar Film Festival with his short film. A few imaginative flashes and quite a few twists keep it watchable, if not altogether inspired. Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated version). **

EAVESDROPPER (Freestyle Home Entertainment/Visual Entertainment): A science-fiction conspiracy thriller, purportedly “based on shocking true events,” with Lucy Jenner as a woman who undergoes an experimental, government-sanctioned surgical procedure to restore her hearing – but works too well, allowing her to read people’s thoughts. Okay fare that plays like a pilot. Rated R. **

THE FOOD OF THE GODS (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Screenwriter/producer/director Bert I. Gordon’s lovably cheesy (and very loose) 1976 adaptation of the HG Wells classic, in which a remote island is beset by giant rats, wasps, worms and chickens(!). A once-in-a-lifetime cast includes Marjoe Gortner, Ida Lupino, Ralph Meeker, Pamela Franklin and Jon Cypher. Not particularly well-directed, and the special effects are unintentionally funny, but great use of locations and it does build in intensity. A drive-in classic. Rated PG. **1/2

“GREY’S ANATOMY” – THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): All 25 episodes of the popular ABC prime-time drama focusing on the lives of lives of a group of surgeons, with a cast that includes Patrick Dempsey, Kate Walsh, Ellen Pompeo, Isaiah Washington (in his final season) and Katherine Heigl (Emmy winner as Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series). Additional nominations include Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series (Kate Burton and Elizabeth Reaser), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson) and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (TR Knight). This boxed set retails for $59.99.

“HEROES” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Ordinary people with extraordinary abilities are brought together to combat evil in all 23 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the hit NBC prime-time series, which earned three Emmy Award nominations including Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series (Masi Oka). This boxed set, which retails for $59.98, includes the original, unaired pilot episode.

“THE HISTORY OF THE MACHINE GUN” (Focusfilm Entertainment): A thorough and pointed three-part documentary about the development of automatic weapons and their impact on warfare – and civilization as a whole – during the 20th century. Originally broadcast on the Discovery Channel. ***

THE LOST WORLD (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Producer/director Irwin Allen’s entertaining but juvenile 1960 adventure based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic, in which explorers discover a tropical plateau inhabited by prehistoric creatures. A fun cast of stalwarts includes Claude Rains (as Prof. Challenger), Michael Rennie, Jill St. Johnson, David Hedison, Fernando Lamas, Jay Novello and Frosty the poodle. This special edition also includes a DVD of the 1925 silent version of The Lost World, in which Wallace Beery played Prof. Challenger. **1/2

‘METALAPOCALYPSE” – SEASON ONE (Warner Home Video): All 20 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the animated Adult Swim series about a wacky Norwegian heavy-metal band called Dethklok, which wreaks havoc wherever its members go. This boxed set retails for $29.98.

“NUMB3RS” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the CBS prime-time series about a unique division of the FBI that uses mathematics to solve puzzling cases. This boxed set retails for $61.99.

SLASHER (Docurama): Director John Landis’ irresistible documentary follows Michael Bennett, a real-life auto salesman who travels around the country, helping dealerships dispose of their inventory. An eye-opening examination of hype, hucksterism and the art of the deal. ***1/2

“SUMMERSLAM” (World Wrestling Entertainment/Genius Products): Triple H, Rey Mysterio, John Cena and Randy Orton are among the wrestlers whose recent matches are compiled on this DVD, which includes behind-the-scenes footage and retails for $24.95.

UP IN SMOKE (Paramount Home Entertainment): A “high-larious” edition of Cheech and Chong’s 1978 big-screen debut, in which they play a pair of knockabouts who spend an inordinate amount of time getting high and getting into mischief. Stacy Keach plays the narcotics cop on their tail. It’s not highbrow, but it is quite funny – although it sags at the end. Rated R. ***

THE “UP SERIES” BOX SET (First Run Features): A six-DVD collector’s edition of the award-winning, ongoing series of “Up” films, which has followed the lives of 14 English people since they were seven years old. The series began with 7 Up (1964), directed by Paul Almond, and Michael Apted has directed the subsequent installments: 7 Plus Seven (1970), 21 (1977), 28 Up (1985), 35 Up (1991), 42 – Forty-Two Up (1999) and 49 Up (2005). This boxed set retails for $99.95.

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