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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK

O LUCKY MAN! (Warner Home Video): Lindsay Anderson’s splendid 1973 satire makes its DVD debut in a smashing special edition that pays as much homage to leading man Malcolm McDowell as to the film itself.

McDowell, who worked with Anderson three times, plays the eponymous Mick Travis, an ambitious young coffee salesman trying to make his way in a world that has little compassion – and no room – for the average man, especially one with ideals and aspirations. With a savage wit, Anderson continually knocks Mick down, but he’s never out.

Alan Price’s songs, mostly performed on-camera, provide a perfect, ironic seasoning to the anarchic proceedings, and a peerless cast includes Ralph Richardson, Helen Mirren, Rachel Roberts, Mona Washbourne, Graham Crowden, Peter Jeffrey, Edward Judd and the uproarious Arthur Lowe – many of them playing multiple roles.

This special-edition DVD includes a commentary track with McDowell (who wrote the original idea), Price, and screenwriter David Sherwin – and there’s a feature-length retrospective on McDowell’s career. Rated R. ***1/2

CALIGULA (Image Entertainment): What may be the most infamous cult film in history receives what may be the year’s most thorough DVD treatment: a three-disc “imperial edition” of the highly controversial and hugely uneven epic bankrolled by Penthouse mogul Bob Guccione and scripted by no less a talent than Gore Vidal (who sued to have his name taken off the credits).

Malcolm McDowell (the “Lucky Man” himself) plays the twisted Roman emperor who wallows in debauchery and decadence, before he is ultimately betrayed and slain. That’s the whole story. No kidding.

Directed by Tinto Brass – who also sued the producers – the film is a hodgepodge of surrealism, sexuality and excess. In the midst of this trashy lunacy you’ll find such stellar talents as Peter O’Toole, Helen Mirren, John Gielgud and McDowell acting (and in some cases overacting) up a storm, sometimes to laughable effect.

This spectacular DVD package includes multiple commentaries and documentaries, leading the viewer to believe that what took place behind the scenes was even wilder, wackier – and probably more entertaining – than what was captured onscreen.

Amidst the chaos, confusion, continuity lapses, gargantuan sets, sadistic violence and, yes, the porn scenes (which bear no further discussion), it’s clear that this was a genuine attempt to take a leap forward in screen permissiveness… and it’s just as clear that the attempt was a colossal failure, albeit a fascinating one. In its own wacky way, Caligula is truly a one of a kind – and one was enough! **

ALSO ON DVD

“2007 WORLD SERIES FILM” (MLB Productions/Shout! Factory): It only took four games for the Boston Red Sox to win their second World Series in four years. This DVD, which retails for $19.99 and is narrated by Matt Damon, recaptures all the highlights of the four-game sweep.

ASK THE DUST (Paramount Home Entertainment): Screenwriter/director Robert Towne adapts John Fante’s 1939 novel for this moody, melancholy period piece set in 1930s Los Angeles. Colin Farrell plays an impoverished writer who drifts into an affair with an equally displaced barmaid (Salma Hayek). Towne spent more than a decade trying to get this made, and the result is flawed but well worth a look – with particularly rewarding performances by the two leads. Rated R. ***

BASKET CASE 2 (Severin Films): Writer/director Frank Henenlotter’s bigger-budgeted 1989 sequel sees Duane (Kevin Van Hentenryck) and his misshapen brother Belial surviving the first film’s climactic fall and finding a home with Granny Ruth (Annie Ross) and her household of freaks. This doesn’t have the same gut-level impact as the first film but has a more defined sense of satire – and sets the stage for the next installment. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Belial’s sex scene. Rated R. **1/2

“BLACK EMANUELLE’S BOX – VOLUME 2” (Severin Films): A limited-edition boxed set of soft-core ’70s favorites about a globe-trotting, sexually voracious photojournalist and libertine. This collection, which retails for $69.95, includes Black Emmanuelle/White Emmanuelle (1976), which stars Laura Gemser and Annie Belle and was directed by Brunello Rondi (who’d earned Oscar nominations for the screenplays of Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and 8 1/2); Black Emanuelle 2 (1976), in which Sharon Lesley assumed the title role; and Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade (1977), which starred Gemser and her real-life husband, Gabriele Tinti. There’s also a bonus CD of Nico Fidenco’s scores for the three movies.

BLOOD MONKEY (Genius Products): F. Murray Abraham, who once won an Academy Award, leads a group of grad students into deepest, darkest Africa – where they encounter a tribe of bloodthirsty chimpanzees. Pretty well-made for this sort of thing, but predictable from start to finish. *1/2

CAT CHASER (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Abel Ferrara’s 1989 adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel (co-scripted by the author himself) stars Peter Weller as a Miami motel owner mixed up in murder, mystery and the likes of Kelly McGillis, Frederic Forrest, Tomas Milian and the always-welcome Charles Durning – but it just doesn’t click. That it was heavily edited before its release might be the reason. An unbilled Reni Santoni narrates. Rated R. **

COAL MINER’S DAUGHTER (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A special edition of Michael Apted’s enormously satisfying 1980 adaptation of the best-selling autobiography of country-music superstar Loretta Lynn, played to perfection by Sissy Spacek – who took home the Academy Award as best actress and did her own singing. This may be Sissy’s finest hour, but don’t overlook the strong work by Tommy Lee Jones (as husband Doolittle Lynn), Beverly D’Angelo (as Patsy Cline) and the priceless Levon Helm (as Loretta’s daddy). Additional Oscar nominations include Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay, Art Direction/Set Decoration, Editing, Sound and Cinematography. Rated PG. ***1/2

“GILMORE GIRLS” – THE COMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 22 episodes from the 2006-07 (and last) season of the award-winning, prime-time drama starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel as mother and daughter, confronting the realities of life on their own. This boxed set retails for $59.98. Warner Home Video is also issuing the boxed set “Gilmore Girls” – The Complete Series, which includes every episode from all seven seasons and retails for $258.82.

HEAVEN CAN WAIT (The Criterion Collection): A special edition of Ernst Lubitsch’s warm, witty, bittersweet 1943 comedy with Don Ameche as a playboy who recounts the events of his life to “His Excellency,” the Devil (the splendid Laird Cregar). The cast includes Gene Tierney (top-billed as Ameche’s wife), Charles Coburn, Louis Calhern, Signe Hasso, Eugene Pallette, Marjorie Main, Spring Byington and Allyn Joslyn – and they’re all terrific. Ameche was under contract to Fox, so Lubitsch was forced to use him. In the end, the two got along and Ameche reportedly considered this one of his best performances. He was right. Academy Award nominations for best picture, best director and best cinematography (color). ***1/2

I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK & LARRY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Adam Sandler (also a producer) and Kevin James play New York City firefighters who pose as a gay couple in order to secure the latter’s pension benefits. A potentially sharp satire is thwarted by the usual combination of juvenile comedy and maudlin sentiment that Sandler is renowned for. Great, if underused, supporting cast includes Ving Rhames, Steve Buscemi, Dan Aykroyd, Richard Chamberlain, David Spade, Rob Schneider (of course), Rachel Dratch and director Dennis Dugan. Sandler seems to be doing his impression of James Caan here, for those keeping score at home. Rated PG-13. *1/2

“LOVE, AMERICAN STYLE” – SEASON ONE, VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Entertainment): The first 12 episodes from the 1969-70 season of the prime-time ABC sitcom anthology exploring the ins and outs of (then-)modern romance. Guest stars include Broderick Crawford, Bob Crane, Flip Wilson, Stefanie Powers, Robert Cummings, Sid Caesar, Bill Bixby, Connie Stevens and many more. The series earned an Emmy nomination as outstanding comedy series and won for outstanding achievement in music, lyrics and special material… must’ve been for that memorable theme song! This boxed set retails for $36.99.

A MAN CALLED MAGNUM (NAPOLI SI RIBELLA) (NoShame Films): Director Michele Massimo Tarantini’s enjoyable 1977 melodrama pits hunky super-cop Luc Merenda and bumbling, wise-cracking partner Enzo Cannavale against the Neopolitan underworld. By the way, Merenda’s character is never once called “Magnum,” but it makes for a cool title, doesn’t it? **_1/2

“PERRY MASON” – SEASON 2, VOLUME 2 (Paramount Home Entertainment): The first 15 episodes from the 1958-59 season of the long-running CBS prime-time drama starring Raymond Burr as the indefatigable and unbeatable defense attorney, created by author Erle Stanley Gardner. Burr won the Emmy Award as best actor in a leading role in a drama series, Barbara Hale (as the ever-faithful Della Street) won the Emmy as best supporting actress in a drama series, while William Hopper (as Paul Street) earned his only Emmy nomination as best supporting actor in a drama series. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

“PLAYBOY 2008 VIDEO PLAYMATE CALENDAR” (Playboy Entertainment Group): It’s impossible for this red-blooded American boy to objectively review the latest installment of Playboy magazine’s annual video calendar. Suffice it to say that the camerawork is impressive – especially with the likes of Sarah Jean Underwood, Brittany Binger, Tiffany Selby and nine other beauties are in front of it… clothing optional, of course. This DVD retails for $19.99.

SHREK THE THIRD (DreamWorks Animation/Paramount Home Entertainment): This animated comedy – again featuring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and Antonio Banderas – was a box-office smash (no surprise), but the luster’s wearing thin. Lots of DVD special features to (perhaps) compensate for the film itself, which is occasionally inspired but otherwise average. Rated PG. **

STIR OF ECHOES 2: THE HOMECOMING (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Iraq war veteran Rob Lowe returns stateside and starts suffering psychic hallucinations that propel him into an unsolved murder that hits closer to home than he’d like. Some interesting twists, but it falls apart at the end. Rated R. *1/2

WEEK-END IN HAVANA (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A fluffy and colorful 1941 musical in which the title tells all. Carmen Miranda and Cesar Romero embody Latin stereotypes – the feisty spitfire and the smooth con man, respectively – but with affection and good humor. John Payne and Alice Faye are also on hand, as is future TV producer Sheldon Leonard as a Cuban loan shark named Boris (!). Pleasant fun for nostalgia buffs. **1/2

WOMEN BEHIND BARS (Blue Underground): Yet another bit of kooky kinkiness from director Jess Franco, the title tells all in this low-rent 1975 sleaze-fest. Gratuitous nudity galore but surprisingly dull – and get a load of that happy ending! Franco (who also co-stars) has made many women-in-prison flicks, and in the DVD interview, he claims this is his favorite. That makes one of us. *

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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