Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


THE PASSENGER (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): After nearly 30 years out of circulation, Michelangelo Antonioni’s “lost” 1975 drama has been “found” – and, in retrospect, is an ideal tribute to the acclaimed filmmaker, who died in July at age 94.

A subdued but effective Jack Nicholson portrays David Locke, a burned-out TV journalist who decides to switch identities with Robertson, the dead man in the hotel room next to his. As it turns out, Robertson was an international arms dealer, and David is soon encountering various, mysterious types, among them a sensual beauty played by Maria Schneider (fresh from Last Tango in Paris), whose indifferent performance at least suggests some semblance of mystery.

David’s past keeps catching up with him, as both his wife (Jenny Runacre) and boss (Ian Hendry) turn up, forcing him to intensify his efforts to disappear. But what future is there in trying to fulfill a dead man’s destiny? The existential implications – an Antonioni specialty – are on full display here.

This approach is sometimes at odds with the thriller element of the story, and it takes some time to acclimate to the stately yet eerily suggestive pace of the film. It doesn’t provide all the answers – either for its main character or its audience – but raises some interesting questions along the way. That too was an Antonioni trademark.

This special-edition DVD includes a commentary track with screenwriter Mark Peploe, as well as the first feature-length commentary track contributed by Nicholson. Rated PG-13. ***


“AMERICAN GANGSTER” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All six episodes from the BET reality series profiling such infamous African-American criminals as Stanley “Tookie” Williams, Leroy “Nicky” Barnes and the Chambers Brothers. Narrated by Ving Rhames, this boxed set retails for $26.99.

BEST FRIENDS (Warner Home Video): Burt Reynolds and Goldie Hawn are well-matched in Norman Jewison’s 1982 romantic comedy about a screenwriting couple who decide to get married – which complicates their personal and professional relationship. Written by Barry Levinson and Valerie Curtin and based on their own relationship. Great supporting cast includes Jessica Tandy and Barnard Hughes as Goldie’s parents, and Keenan Wynn and Audra Lindley as Burt’s folks, with Ron Silver a howl as a hotshot studio executive. Oscar nomination for Best Song (“How Do You Keep the Music Playing?”). Rated PG. ***

“CSI: MIAMI” – THE FIFTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): David Caruso and Emily Procter are on the case in all 24 episodes from the 2006-’07 of the top-rated, award-winning CBS prime-time series, which even picked up an Emmy Award for Outstanding Stunt Coordination. The boxed set retails for $72.99.

DOCTOR FAUSTUS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): This brooding, atmospheric 1967 adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s classic stars Richard Burton as a brilliant scientist who sells his soul to the devil. A labor of love for Burton, who also co-produced, co-directed and cast then-wife Elizabeth Taylor (who says nary a word) as Helen of Troy, the object of his affections. The supporting roles are played by members of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. Anglophiles, theater buffs and Burton enthusiasts have a head start, but stick with it. ***

THE EDUCATION OF SONNY CARSON (VCI Entertainment): In its day, this 1974 adaptation of the best-selling autobiography was a revelation, depicting the early years of a young Brooklyn gang member (played by Rony Clanton). Often ragged and episodic, this is still an effective portrait of life in the ghetto. The DVD includes a commentary with director Michael Campus and the real Sonny Carson (since deceased). Rated R. **1/2

LICENSE TO WED (Warner Home Video): Mandy Moore and John Krasinski play a couple whose engagement is monitored – and complicated – by an ostensibly helpful clergyman, Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) in this frenetic, desperate comedy. Every so often, Robin Williams turns out a real clinker. This is one of them. There are more laughs during the end-credit outtakes than during the preceding film. Rated PG-13. *

“THE L WORD” – THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All dozen episodes from the 2007 season of the award-winning Showtime series exploring the lives and loves of a group of lesbian friends in California. A very attractive cast includes Leisha Hailey, Laurel Holloman, Mia Kirshner, Jennifer Beals, Kat Moennig and Pam Grier. This boxed set retails for $69.99.

MACUMBA SEXUAL (Severin Films): Candy Coster (AKA Lina Romay) plays a frequently nude young woman who is bewitched by a mysterious temptress (Ajita Wilson) in this softcore 1983 Spanish feature directed by the inimitable Jess Franco. With Franco at the helm, this is expectedly kinky, surreal and just plain weird. Some people think it’s his last great film. If so, what’s his first? *1/2

MELVIN GOES TO DINNER (Sundance Channel Home Entertainment): Bob Odenkirk’s award-winning feature directorial debut stars screenwriter Michael Blieden as an average guy whose dinner talk with acquaintances touches upon a wide variety of topics. Adapted from Blieden’s play Phyro-Giants! Lots of familiar faces on hand: Jack Black, Maura Tierney, Fred Armisen, James Gunn, Jenna Fischer and Kathleen Role, who’s hilarious as the waitress. Love that ending! Rated R. **1/2

“MIND OF MENCIA” – SEASON 3 UNCENSORED (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 14 episodes from the 2007 season of the popular Comedy Central series showcasing the talents of stand-up comic Carlos Mencia. This boxed set retails for $26.99.

NOVEL ROMANCE (Monarch Home Video): Traci Lords plays a high-powered editor who decides to have a baby, and Paul Johansson plays a struggling writer who enters her life at just the right time. Mariette Harley and Sherilyn Fenn also appear in this romantic comedy that tries for a light Neil Simon touch but plays its hand too early. Likable performances help a lot. Rated R. **

“OCTOBER ROAD” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All six episodes from the 2007 season of the prime-time ABC-TV drama featuring Bryan Greenberg as a writer who returns to the Massachusetts town he grew up in. This boxed set, which includes a preview of the show’s second season, retails for $29.99.

POPULATION 436 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Disillusioned census taker Jeremy Sisto is stranded in one of those bucolic little towns where everybody knows everybody else, and everybody is hiding a dark secret. Cheap CGI effects are a major drawback in this otherwise effective chiller that echoes The Wicker Man and the works of Stephen King. Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst is surprisingly good as the town’s deputy, and Sisto has rarely been better. Rated R. **_

“RICK & STEVE” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All six episodes from Q. Allan Brocka’s irreverent, animated series “Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple in All the World,” which is broadcast on the Logo Television Network. This special-edition DVD, which includes cast interviews, retails for $19.99.

“SCRUBS” – THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 22 episodes from the 2006-’07 of the popular, award-winning NBC-TV sitcom about the surgical shenanigans at Sacred Heart Hospital. Five Emmy nominations yielded a single win for Outstanding Sound Mixing. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

“THE SOPRANOS” – SEASON 6, PART II (HBO Video): The end of the road for New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) in the final nine episodes of the wildly popular, wildly acclaimed HBO series, which ended its run earlier this year but won three Emmy Awards including Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Alan Taylor for the episode “Kennedy and Heidi”) and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series (David Chase for the episode “Made in America”). Nominated for an additional 12 Emmy Awards. This boxed set retails for $99.98.

THE TESSERACT (Sundance Channel Home Entertainment): Oxide Pang’s solo directorial debut is a visually arresting adaptation of Alex Garland’s novel, following four people at a Bangkok hotel whose lives intersect in fateful ways. Steeped in irony and filled with directorial razzle-dazzle, but a mixed bag overall. Rated R. **1/2

“TWIN PEAKS” – THE DEFINITIVE GOLD BOX EDITION (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 29 episodes from David Lynch’s prime-time ABC-TV series that ran from 1990-’91 and garnered considerable praise and several Emmy nominations (winning none, incidentally) – but ultimately crashed and burned. Nevertheless, it has retained a fervent cult following and is still a lot of fun. “Twin Peaks” was “must-see TV” during my college daze. Personally, my favorite characters were the wacky psychiatrist Dr. Lawrence Jacoby (Russ Tamblyn) and the obnoxious FBI forensics expert Albert Rosenfield (Miguel Ferrer). The girls (Sherilyn Fenn, Madchen Amick, Lara Flynn Boyle, Sheryl Lee, Joan Chen, et al) were awfully cute, too. This boxed set, which includes a slew of special features, retails for $108.99.

“UNFORGIVEN” (Genius Products): No, it’s not Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Western, but a recap of the World Wrestling Entertainment’s 2007 “Summerslam” event, which featured a championship bout between John Cena and Randy Orton. This retails for $24.95.

VALIANT (Walt Disney Home Entertainment): This animated feature about carrier pigeons in World War II took a number of years to make and was a surprise box-office disappointment for the studio. Hardly in a league with Disney’s classics, but some laughs are courtesy of an all-star voiceover cast including Ewan McGregor, Tim Curry, Jim Broadbent, John Cleese, Hugh Laurie and Ricky Gervais. Rated G. **

“WINGS” – THE FIFTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 1993-’94 season of the long-running NBC sitcom detailing the goings-on at a small airport on Nantucket Island. Following “Cheers” ensured this show’s longevity, and it was created by the same people. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

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