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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

Pick of the Week:

EXECUTIVE ACTION (Warner Home Video): This week will mark the 44th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and by coincidence this 1973 melodrama – the first major American film to depict an alternate scenario to the findings of the Warren Commission – makes its DVD debut.

Dalton Trumbo’s speculative script is a fascinating yet gimmicky combination of historical fact and Hollywood fiction that attempts to present, at the very least, a credible case that the murder of JFK was not the work of a lone assassin. The intent of the film was to make audiences consider that possibility – not unlike Oliver Stone’s (admittedly stronger) JFK nearly 20 years later.

To that end, Executive Action succeeds. It’s a dry, often chilly film told from the perspective of the conspirators, a group of right-wing businessmen and corporate heads who believe that the only option to change the course of American history – for their benefit, of course – is to take “executive action” and eliminate their primary obstacle: the President of the United States.

Knowing the actual outcome lends the film an undercurrent of cynicism that’s tough to shake, as the conspirators methodically and matter-of-factly map out their plot while also postulating the direction the nation needs to take – provided that they dictate it. Burt Lancaster and Robert Ryan (in his last film) give polished performances as the principal engineers of the plot. Rated PG. ***

This film is included in Warner Home Video’s five-film Burt Lancaster: The Signature Collection, which also includes Jacques Tourneur’s swashbuckling adventure The Flame and the Arrow (1950), which earned Academy Award nominations for Best Cinematography (color) and Max Steiner’s score; Michael Curtiz’ 1951 biographical drama Jim Thorpe – All-American, the 1953 comedy South Sea Woman, and the 1954 adventure His Majesty O’Keefe. The boxed set retails for $49.92 and individual titles for $19.97.

ALSO ON DVD

“AMERICA’S GAME” – COLLECTOR’S SET (Warner Home Video): A mammoth boxed set profiling each and every NFL team to have ever won the Super Bowl. Each episode is an hour long and features interviews with the participants in the game. Among the celebrities who narrate the episodes are Bruce Willis, Ed Harris, Martin Sheen and, best of all, the God of Cinema himself – Gene Hackman. This (very heavy) boxed set retails for $199.98.

“THE BRONX IS BURNING” (Genius Products): Based on Jonathan Mahler’s novel, this ESPN miniseries recounts the summer of 1977, when New York City was rocked by the Son of Sam killings, a city-wide blackout, and the on- and off-field turmoil dogging the New York Yankees, who would ultimately win the World Series. John Turturro plays fiery manager Billy Martin and Oliver Platt plays Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, inarguably one of the most beloved men in baseball. I’m kidding. This boxed set retails for $39.92.

CAPTIVITY (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Glamorous model Elisha Cuthbert is drugged, kidnapped and held prisoner in a subterranean torture chamber in (gulp!) New Jersey. This marks a career low for director Roland Joffe (an Oscar nominee for The Killing Fields and The Mission), as well as being one of the year’s worst films. Rated R (also available in an unrated version). 1/2*

“CHRISTMAS IN SOUTH PARK” (Paramount Home Entertainment): With so many holiday-themed DVDs being released this time of year (see below), here is a collection of the seven Christmas-themed episodes from the long-running, award-winning Comedy Central animated series created by Matt Stone and Trey Parker. Therefore, it’s safe to assume it’s not for small children, just overgrown ones with a warped sense of humor. The DVD retails for $19.99.

“CHRISTMAS TELEVISION FAVORITES” (Warner Home Video): A four-DVD boxed set, retailing for $39.72, showcasing eight of the best (and best-known) animated holiday specials from Christmases Past: The deluxe edition of How the Grinch Stole Christmas (narrated by the great Boris Karloff), “Horton Hears a Who,” Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, “Nestor the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey,” Frosty’s Winter Wonderland, “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July and, one of my personal favorites, the Rankin/Bass classic The Year Without a Santa Claus, featuring the voices of George S. Irving as Snow Miser and the incomparable Dick Shawn as Heat Miser… they’re “too much!”

“CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION – THE SEVENTH SEASON” (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the top-rated CBS prime-time drama, which has thus far spawned two spin-offs (set in Miami and New York City). William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger keep plugging – and solving – away, but Jorja Fox called it a day after this season. The seventh season earned five Emmy nominations with a single win for Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Drama or Comedy Series (for the episode “Living Doll”). This boxed set retails for $99.99.

GOLDEN BOY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A boyish William Holden made his screen debut in director Rouben Mamoulian’s 1939 adaptation of Clifford Odets’ play, focusing on a young New York violinist who moonlights as a prize fighter. Often corny but also acted with gusto by a cast that also includes Barbara Stanwyck, Sam Levene, Edward Brophy, Joseph Calleia and Adolphe Menjou. The climactic boxing match is extremely well-done, even by today’s standards. As Holden’s quintessentially Italian papa (replete with florid accent), Lee J. Cobb was less than 10 years older than his on-screen son. Oscar nomination for Best Score. ***

ICE SPIDERS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A secret (read: dubious) government experiment unleashes gigantic, genetically mutated spiders upon the population of a remote ski-resort town. Pretty itsy-bitsy, any way you look at it. Rated R. *

THE JAZZ SINGER (Warner Home Video): A three-disc collector’s edition commemorating the 80th anniversary of the first feature-length “talkie” in Hollywood history, an adaptation of Samson Raphaelson’s chestnut about a young cantor (played by Al Jolson) who dreams of show-biz. When Jolson said “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet,” he wasn’t kidding, and the film received a special Academy Award for revolutionizing cinema. The film, a gamble for the studio, was a huge box-office hit and also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay (adaptation). Scenes of Jolson performing in blackface continue to rankle the politically correct, but 80 years ago it was a common form of entertainment. This boxed set, which retails for $39.92, also includes the documentary feature The Dawn of Sound and several early sound shorts featuring the likes of George Burns and Gracie Allen, as well as a lot of long-forgotten comedy and musical acts.

“LIGHTS! CAMERA! ELVIS! COLLECTION” (Paramount Home Entertainment): A collector’s edition of eight big-screen Elvis Presley favorites: King Creole (1958), adapted from a Harold Robbins novel; GI Blues (1960); Blue Hawaii (1961); Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962); Fun in Acapulco (1963) with Ursula Andress; Roustabout (1964) with Barbara Stanwyck; Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966); and Easy Come, Easy Go (1967). The critics usually laughed, but most of these films were box-office hits. The boxed set retails for $76.99, individual titles for $12.99.

LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Bruce Willis returns in his signature role as New York detective John McClane, once again called upon to save the world (more or less), this time from a diabolical hi-tech computer hacker (Timothy Olyphant). We’ve certainly been down this road before – three times before, actually – but there’s still life in the franchise yet. Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated edition). **1/2

“LOONEY TUNES GOLDEN COLLECTION VOLUME FIVE” (Warner Home Video): Just what it says – 60 classic animated shorts featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and Porky Pig, as well as five hours of bonus material, retailing for $64.92. Warner Home Video is also releasing the more family-friendly “Looney Tunes Spotlight Collection Volume Five,” which includes 30 (less violent) cartoon shorts and retails for $26.99. Personally, I have always enjoyed the slapstick violence in Looney Tunes… and look how I turned out.

“MELROSE PLACE – THE THIRD SEASON” (Paramount Home Enertainment): Even loonier than Looney Tunes is this boxed set consisting of all 31 episodes from the 1994-’95 season of the popular prime-time soap opera that aired on Fox. The boxed set retails for $61.99.

OCEAN’S THIRTEEN (Warner Home Video): The gang (George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Andy Garcia, et al) is all here and their new mark is casino owner Al Pacino, but Steven Soderbergh’s glossy sequel can’t do it all on star power – but that’s all there is. It’s time to drop anchor on this franchise. Rated PG-13. *1/2

SHREDDERMAN RULES! (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): “Savage” Steve Holland’s teen comedy stars Devon Werkheiser as a high-school geek who exacts revenge upon the resident bully (Andrew Caldwell) by filming his every move. This light-hearted but slow-moving comedy, which premiered on Nickelodeon, is based on Wendelin Van Draanen’s series of children’s novels. Marisa Guterman is a scene-stealer as the acerbic but attentive Miriam. **

SPIDER-MAN 3 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Most people said they didn’t like the third installment of director Sam Raimi’s third go ’round with Marvel Comics’ friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, but it still made potfuls of money at the box-office. It also cost a lot to make (over $200 million!). The luster’s a little tarnished, especially when compared to the second (and best) film, and there are too many supervillains – but there’s enough visual panache to keep the eye engaged. Rated PG-13. **1/2

THREE WISE GUYS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Damon Runyon is credited with “special recognition” for the original story of this cute holiday comedy about a trio of mobsters (Eddie McClintock, Nicholas Turturro and Judd Nelson) who find themselves saddled with a pregnant woman named Mary (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) during Christmastime in Las Vegas. Also on hand: Tom Arnold (less irritating than usual), Katey Sagal and Roddy Piper (as a minister!). **

“THE ULTIMATE BASEBALL COLLECTOR’S EDITION” (Genius Products): The World Series may be over, but baseball fans can enjoy this double-feature of 50-minute documentaries (from 1989) which focus on the collecting aspect of the American Pastime. “Ultimate Baseball Memorabilia” (***) is an affectionate profile of “ultimate sports collector” Barry Halper, and features appearances by such legends as Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle and Nolan Ryan. “Collecting America” (***1/2) is a more clear-eyed (and unfettered) look at the business of baseball collection. The sequence where the Honus Wagner baseball card (“the Holy Grail”) fetches over $400,000 at a Sotheby’s auction is unforgettable. This “twin-bill” retails for $14.95 – which, after all, is far less than the Honus Wagner card.

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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