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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

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PICK OF THE WEEK:

THE HOAX (Miramax Home Entertainment): It was the story everybody wanted to believe and the book everybody wanted to read _ the authorized Howard Hughes autobiography written by Clifford Irving _ and the whole thing turned out to be a farce, one of the greatest literary cons of the 20th century.

Anchored by one of Richard Gere’s best performances (as Clifford Irving), Lasse Hallstrom’s film version of The Hoax didn’t find much favor at the box-office, but certainly deserves a second chance on DVD _ especially entering an awards season that’s more sparse than usual in term of selection. This was one that got away.

Taking the viewer into confidence and revealing the scheme from the outset, the film follows the escalating comedy of errors as Irving and his cohort, Dick Suskind (Alfred Molina), convince the powers that be at McGraw-Hill Publishers that the reclusive Hughes is telling his life story to Irving. They buy the story _ first to the tune of $100,000, and then to a cool $1 million (a record amount at that time).

All the while, Irving and Suskind scramble to maintain the charade, convincing themselves (to an extent) that their ruse will have positive consequences. Of course, it won’t, and Hallstrom expertly balances satire with suspense as Irving’s house of cards starts to topple _ although not without causing some major ripples in high places … like the White House.

Fine supporting work is turned in by Marcia Gay Harden (as Irving’s suspicious wife), Julie Delpy, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Zeljko Ivanek and the always-welcome Eli Wallach, in a bright cameo appearance as Hughes’ one-time right-hand man, Noah Dietrich. Rated R. ***½

ALSO ON DVD

ARCTIC TALE (Paramount Home Entertainment): Well-filmed, ecology-minded documentary feature focusing on the creatures indigenous to the North Arctic region _ and how global warming is a serious threat to the natural order of life. A clear attempt to replicate the success of March of the Penguins, and its charms are similar. Narrated by Queen Latifah. Rated G. **½

AVENGING ANGEL (Genius Products): OK horse opera with Kevin Sorbo as a Civil War veteran-turned-preacher seeking vengeance against the land baron (Wings Hauser) responsible for killing his family. Sorbo’s real-life wife, Sam, plays his ill-fated wife here. **

“THE BATMAN” _ THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 14 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the popular animated series based on the DC Comics hero, with Rino Romano voicing the title character. Winner of a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Sound Editing (Live Action and Animation) with an additional nomination for Outstanding Special Class Animated Program. This boxed set retails for $19.98.

THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Millie Perkins made a stunning screen debut in the title role of director George Stevens’ triumphant and heartbreaking 1959 adaptation of the international best-seller, detailing the years spent hidden in an attic by a Jewish teenager and her family in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam. A timeless realization of the book and the play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett (who wrote the screenplay), with a superb cast including Shelley Winters (Academy Award winner as best supporting actress), Diane Baker (in her screen debut), Joseph Schildkraut, Richard Beymer, Lou Jacobi and Ed Wynn (Academy Award nominee as best supporting actor). Additional Oscar wins for Best Cinematography and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (black and white), and additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Score and Best Costume Design. ****

“DISNEY DUCKTALES: VOLUME 3” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A boxed set, retailing for $34.99, featuring a collection of favorite episodes from the popular animated series that follows the misadventures of Scrooge McDuck and nephews Huey, Louie and Dewey. The series originally ran on ABC and remains popular in reruns on Toon Disney.

“DISNEY RARITIES, CELEBRATED SHORTS 1920s_1960s” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): A collector’s edition of classic animated shorts, some rarely seen since their original release, created by the Disney Studios over a 40-year period. This limited-edition boxed set, which retails for $32.99, includes the Oscar-winning Ferdinand the Bull (1938 best short subject _ cartoon) and Toot, Whistle, Plunk & Boom (1953 best short subject _ cartoon, the latter of which was the first cartoon produced in CinemaScope.

“DISNEY TALESPIN: VOLUME 2” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A collection of episodes from the popular animated series which ran from 1990 to 1994, depicting the high-flying misadventures of Baloo the Bear (immortalized in Disney’s The Jungle Book). This three-disc boxed set retails for $34.99.

A FLINTSTONES CHRISTMAS CAROL (Warner Home Video): This 1994 Hanna-Barbera production has Fred Flintstone playing Scrooge in a neighborhood production _ and acting like one in real life. This actually incorporates some lines directly from Dickens’ original story, but is routine at best. At least no one sings. *½

HEARTS OF DARKNESS: A FILMMAKER’S APOCALYPSE (Paramount Home Entertainment): George Hickenlooper and Fax Bahr’s absorbing 1991 documentary feature recounting the events surrounding the tumultuous production of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 classic Apocalypse Now, with extensive footage shot during the production by Coppola’s wife, Eleanor. Unforgettable scenes of Marlon Brando blowing his dialogue and uttering the immortal line “I swallowed a bug.” Winner of two Emmy Awards: Outstanding Individual Achievement in Directing and Outstanding Individual Achievement in Editing (Informational Programming), with additional nominations for Outstanding Informational Program and Outstanding Achievement in Writing (Informational Programming). The DVD includes commentary by the Coppolas (whose marriage was seriously strained during the making of Apocalypse Now) and Eleanor’s new documentary, CODA: Thirty Years Later, about husband Francis’ first film in a decade _ the upcoming Youth Without Youth. Rated R. ***

“PIXAR SHORT FILMS COLLECTION VOL. 1” (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): A collection of 13 animated shorts created by Pixar Animation Studios, which has become one of the premier animation facilities in the world. This boxed set, which retails for $29.99, includes such Oscar-winning animated shorts as Tin Toy (1988), Geri’s Game (1997) and For the Birds (2001), as well as such Oscar-nominated shorts as Mike’s New Car (2002), Boundin’ (2003), One Man Band (2005) and Lifted (2006).

POOH’S SUPER SLEUTH CHRISTMAS MOVIE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): That’s “Winnie the …,” and he’s joined by such pals as Tigger and Piglet to find one of Santa’s reindeer in this so-so animated feature based on the Playhouse Disney TV series. The songs are negligible, but the “Pooh” characters never really lose their appeal. Rated G. **

THE SANTA CLAUSE 3: THE ESCAPE CLAUSE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): The third go-round for Tim Allen as Scott Calvin (and Santa Claus) matching wits with mischievous Jack Frost (a jolly Martin Short). No better or worse than the previous films, but enough’s enough. Rated G. **

“THE SHIRLEY TEMPLE COLLECTION VOLUME 3” (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A trilogy of feature films showcasing the talents of the curly-haired tyke who remains the world’s most popular child star: The Little Colonel (1935), based on Anne Fellows Johnstone’s novel, co-stars Lionel Barrymore, Hattie McDaniel and the incomparable Bill “Bojangles” Robinson; The Littlest Rebel (also ’35) reunites Temple with Robinson; and Dimples (1936) co-stars Frank Morgan and John Carradine. The boxed set retails for $29.98, individual titles for $14.98.

STALKING SANTA (Excel Entertainment): William Shatner (also an executive producer) narrates this inspired mockumentary about a researcher (Chris Clark) bent on proving the existence of Santa Claus. A good-natured Christmas comedy with a bit of an edge. Rated PG. ***

SURF’S UP (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Shia LaBeouf, Jeff Bridges and James Woods are among those who lend their voices to this animated feature about surfing penguins. The script’s on the corny side, but the animation is fabulous. Other voices: Jon Heder, Zooey Deschanel, Mario Cantone and real-life surfers Kelly Slater and Rob Machado. Rated PG. **½

“TEEN TITANS” _ THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 13 episodes from the 2005 season of the ongoing, animated Cartoon Network series focusing on the early adventures of such DC Comics superheroes as Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Beast Boy and Raven. The boxed set retails for $19.98.

“TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL” _ THE FOURTH SEASON, VOLUME 2 (Paramount Home Entertainment): Fifteen episodes from the 1997-’98 season of the popular CBS prime-time drama focusing on the Earthbound adventures of three angels (Roma Downey, John Dye and Della Reese). This boxed set retails for $42.99. This season earned the series three Emmy nominations including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Downey) and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Reese).

“THE UGLY DUCKLING AND ME: YARD PARTY” (Allumination FilmWorks): A collection of three episodes from the acclaimed, animated, Danish-produced CGI series that puts an updated, irreverent spin on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic character. This DVD retails for $14.98.

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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