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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

GUYANA TRAGEDY: THE JIM JONES STORY (VCI Entertainment): Powers Boothe’s unforgettable, Emmy-winning portrayal of Rev. Jim Jones dominates this exceptional 1980 mini-series adapted from Charles A. Krause’s best-seller by producer Ernest Tidyman.

Broadcast a mere two years after the mass suicides in Guyana, this sweeping drama chronicles Jones’ idealistic passion as a young minister, followed by a long, slow, dramatic descent into paranoia and madness – culminating in his establishing a commune in Guyana with 1,000 of his faithful in the People’s Temple. It is there that he, and they, will meet their fate.

A superb all-star cast includes Ned Beatty as Congressman Leo Ryan, whose investigation into Jonestown eventually costs him his life; Veronica Cartwright as Jones’ wife, Marcy; James Earl Jones as Father Divine, Randy Quaid, Meg Foster, LeVar Burton, Diana Scarwid, Brad Dourif, Madge Sinclair, Rosalind Cash, Colleen Dewhurst, Ed Lauter, Clifton James, Irene Cara, Ron O’Neal, Michael C. Gwynne, Linda Haynes, Diane Ladd and Brenda Vaccaro.

The only drawback of this long-awaited DVD release – and it’s a major one – is a shoddy video transfer. But even that can’t diminish the impact of this fascinating and powerful film, which earned four Emmy nominations in all, including Outstanding Drama or Comedy Special and Outstanding Direction in a Limited Series or Special for William A. Graham. ***1/2

ALSO ON DVD

BILLY MARTIN: THE MAN, THE MYTH, THE MANAGER (Genius Products): The first-ever DVD release for a fine 1989 ESPN documentary profiling the life and career of the mercurial baseball player and manager, best known for managing the Yankees five times – and getting fired every time. Included here is a lengthy interview with Martin conducted shortly before his untimely death on Christmas Day, 1989. ***

BLACK ROSES (Synapse Films): A special edition of John Fasano’s low-budget 1988 horror film about a Satanic heavy-metal group that possesses a small town’s teenagers. Some of the familiar faces on hand include Julie Adams, Ken Swofford and a pre-“Sopranos” Vincent Pastore (in his screen debut). Sal Viviano plays the preening lead singer, Damian. The ’80s hairstyles and rock songs are fun in a nostalgic kind of way. Rated R. **

“BLISS” – THE THIRD SEASON (MTI Home Video): All eight episodes from the 2003 season of the dramatic anthology series created, produced, written and directed by women. All the episodes are completely uncut. This DVD retails for $24.95.

BUG (LionsGate Home Entertainment): William Friedkin’s stark, unsettling screen adaptation of Tracy Letts’ play stars Ashley Judd and Michael Shannon as a couple who become obsessed with the idea that their motel room is infested with insects. Rated R. ***

THE BUTCHER (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A bunch of dumb college kids whose car breaks down… a spooky old house… a family of feral freaks… you get the idea. And, yes, a chainsaw does figure in the proceedings. Rated R. 1/2*

CUJO (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Director Lewis Teague’s emotionally involving adaptation of Stephen King’s best-seller, with Dee Wallace and Danny Pintauro as a mother and son trapped in their Ford Pinto by a rabid, ravenous St. Bernard. Appropriately intense and claustrophobic, and you even feel sorry for the dog. Although this special edition is being touted as the 25th-anniversary edition, the film was released in 1983 – making this the 24th anniversary. Rated R. ***

DIRTY DAMES FILM NOIR COLLECTOR’S SET (VCI Entertainment): A triple-feature of film noir classics focusing on the fairer sex: Claire Cummins plays the tempestuous title role in Jack Bernhard’s Blonde Ice (1948), Rhonda Fleming and Arlene Dahl topline Allan Dean’s adaptation of James M. Cain’s Slightly Scarlet (1956) and Constance Towers stars in the special edition of Samuel Fuller’s The Naked Kiss (1964). This boxed set retails for $29.99.

EATEN ALIVE (Dark Sky Films): A two-DVD special edition of Tobe Hooper’s clunky but watchable 1976 shocker (also known as Death Trap, with an over-the-top Neville Brand as a psychopathic, backwoods motel owner who kills his guests and feeds them to his pet crocodile. A surprisingly high-profile cast includes Mel Ferrer, Stuart Whitman, Carolyn Jones, William Finley and Marilyn Burns. Robert Englund’s in there, too. Based on a true story! Rated R. **1/2

EAT MY DUST (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): A “supercharged” edition of Charles B. Griffith’s amusingly bubble-headed 1976 drive-in favorite starring Ron Howard as a hot-rodding small-town teenager. Rated PG. **

EVERYTHING’S GONE GREEN (Vivendi Visual Entertainment/First Independent Pictures): An amiable if inconsequential comedy with Paulo Costanzo as a slacker who’s trying to get his head – and his life – together. Rated R (also available in an unrated edition). **

“GHOST ENCOUNTERS: THE QUEEN MARY” (Anthem Pictures): A TV documentary exploring the various supernatural phenomena purported to exist aboard one of the world’s most famous ships, hosted by TV psychic Peter James (who died earlier this year). Okay if you’re into this sort of thing. **

THE HOUSE OF USHER (THINKFilm): An updated but uninspired rendition of the classic Edgar Allan Poe story. The mood is less dreamy than dreary, although leading lady Izabella Miko is easy on the eyes. Rated R. *

THE INSATIABLE (THINKFilm): A decent horror thriller with Sean Patrick Flanery as a geek who captures a female vampire (Charlotte Ayanna), whom he eventually falls for. Michael Biehn has a flashy supporting role as a paraplegic Vietnam vet-turned-vampire hunter. Definitely not to be confused with the Marilyn Chambers film of the 1980s! **1/2

THE INTRUDER (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): Roger Corman’s 1962 drama stars William Shatner (in his first lead) as a coolly methodical racist who raises a rabble in a small Southern town where the schools have recently been desegregated. Somewhat dated but also sincerely acted and believable. Charles Beaumont, who adapted his own novel, also appears in the film. A retrospective documentary features Corman and Shatner. ***

THE JAYNE MANSFIELD COLLECTION (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): To some, this buxom blonde (from Bryn Mawr, Pa.) was a second-string Marilyn Monroe, but she does boast a cult following. This boxed set which retails for $49.98, contains three of her best-known (and best) films: Frank Tashlin’s aptly-titled The Girl Can’t Help It (1956) co-stars Tom Ewell and Edmond O’Brien; Tashlin’s 1957 adaptation of the Broadway hit Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? co-stars Tony Randall; and Raoul Walsh’s 1958 Western spoof The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw co-stars Kenneth More.

JUNIOR (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Originally titled Engine Trouble, this junky horror film concerns a deformed freak who likes to decapitate and dismember his victims – especially pretty young women whose cars break down near his lair. Filmed in Belgium, of all places. Rated R. *

PROUD (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Screenwriter/director Mary Pat Kelly adapted her own book, Proudly We Served: The Men of the USS Mason, for this well-meaning but sedate drama about one of the first US battleships to be crewed by black sailors during World War II. Financed by Tommy Hilfiger and produced by his 16-year-old daughter, Ally. The final film of the legendary Ossie Davis, playing a veteran who narrates the story. Aidan Quinn appears unbilled. Rated PG. **

REMEDY (MTI Home Video): A low-budget combination of urban whodunit and cautionary tale of drug abuse, with producer/director Christian Maelen as a struggling artist who can’t remember how his best friend was murdered. A nice try that doesn’t quite make it. Rated R. **

TIME WARP/WARP SPEED DOUBLE FEATURE (VCI Entertainment): A pair of low-budget, made-for-TV science-fiction films, both with Adam West. In 1980’s Warp Speed (*), a psychic (Camille Mitchell) tries to ascertain why a spaceship returned to Earth with no crew aboard. Time Warp (*1/2) features Chip Johnson as an astronaut who passes through a time warp and returns to Earth a year later. An incongruous score and an almost childish approach doom a potentially intriguing premise. Neither of these films is particularly worthwhile except for a couple of cheap laughs.

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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