Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


EASTERN PROMISES (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Following their initial collaboration on A History of Violence, director David Cronenberg and leading man Viggo Mortensen reunite for this coolly methodical crime drama, set in the grayest London in recent screen memory.

Naomi Watts plays Anna, a lonely midwife who crosses paths with Nikolai (Mortensen), the stoic hatchet man for a Russian mob boss (an excellent Armin Mueller-Stahl) who along with his troubled son (Vincent Cassel), is implicated in a diary that Anna now has in her possession. That Anna is herself half-Russian puts her – and her family – in considerable jeopardy.

Such timeless themes as loyalty vs. compassion are explored in suspenseful fashion, as both Anna and Nikolai find themselves torn between survival and sacrifice – and ultimately driven to desperate measures by circumstances beyond their control.

Excellent performances and sustained tension hold interest throughout, but the film never quite pays off in the end, particularly given the strong buildup. But it’s still a fine showcase for Cronenberg (among the greatest filmmakers working today) and company – and well worth seeing. Rated R. ***


BAH, HUMDUCK! – A LOONEY TUNES CHRISTMAS (Warner Home Video): It’s not quite Charles Dickens, but this animated rendition of A Christmas Carol has Daffy Duck doing the honors as the Scrooge-like owner of the Lucky Duck superstore, who learns a thing or do about the true meaning of Christmas. The original cartoon shorts will never be bettered, but this fast-paced version has its fair share of solid slapstick moments. **1/2

BLADE RUNNER: THE FINAL CUT (Warner Home Video): A 25th-anniversary re-release of Ridley Scott’s 1982 adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, with Harrison Ford as a 21st-century cop on the trail of renegade replicants (including Rutger Hauer and Daryl Hannah). A great cast also includes M. Emmet Walsh, Joanna Cassidy, Sean Young, Edward James Olmos, William Sanderson, Brion James (as Leon) and James Hong. Oscar nominations for art direction/set decoration and visual effects. There are various special editions of this “final cut”: A two-disc edition ($20.97), a four-disc edition ($34.99), and a five-disc “ultimate” edition ($78.92). The visuals tend to outweigh the story, but this is still terrifically entertaining. Rated R. ***1/2

DIRT – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): All 13 episodes from the 2007 season of the prime-time FX comedy series starring Courteney Cox (Arquette) as a Hollywood gossip columnist. This boxed set retails for $59.99.

DISNEYLAND: SECRETS, STORIES AND MAGIC (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A limited-edition collection of documentaries and featurettes, hosted by film critic Leonard Maltin, celebrating the 50-year history of Uncle Walt’s “Happiest Place on Earth” – the Disney theme park in Anaheim, Cailf. This boxed set retails for $32.99.

EPIC ADVENTURES BOX SET (VCI Entertainment): A trio of feature films is included in this collection, which retails for $19.99: Luis Bunuel’s 1954 adaptation of the Defoe classic Robinson Crusoe earned Dan O’Herlihy an Oscar nomination as best actor; Robert Newton reprises one of his most famous performances in the title role of Long John Silver (1954); and Victor Mature plays the title role in 1959’s Hannibal, which features early appearances by Terence Hill (Mario Girotti) and Bud Spencer (Carlo Pedersoli), who later teamed up in a series of popular spaghetti-Western spoofs.

HALLOWEEN (Genius Products): Christmas – what better time to release another holiday-themed film: Rob Zombie’s well-made but off-putting remake of the 1978 horror classic. Forsaking simple suspense for visceral violence distinguishes it from the Carpenter original in more ways than one, few of them good. Some of the deleted scenes are better than the ones that ended up in the finished film. Rated R (also available in an unrated director’s cut). *1/2

IN THE LAKE OF THE WOODS (Genius Products): Absorbing adaptation of Tim O’Brien’s best-seller, with Peter Strauss as a politician whose candidacy for Senate is ruined by allegations from his past, which is further complicated when his wife (Kathleen Quinlan) disappears. ***

IRON KING – THE COMPLETE SERIES (BCI Eclipse): All 26 episodes from the rarely-seen 1972-’73 Japanese TV series (similar to “Ultraman”) in which a member of the Special Security Defense Force has the power to transform himself into a giant, super-powered cyborg – which comes in handy given how many giant monsters threaten Japan. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

THE KINGDOM (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Flashy, well-made melodrama in which a maverick FBI team (including Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner and Chris Cooper) investigates a terrorism and murder in Saudi Arabia. Not nearly as incendiary as one might think, given the setting and plot, as director Peter Berg forgoes political commentary for slick action. Rated R. **1/2

“LOST” – THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, THE UNEXPLORED EXPERIENCE (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): All 22 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the popular ABC prime-time series about a group of people marooned on a mysterious island, and their efforts to both survive and escape. Terry O’Quinn won the Emmy Award as outstanding supporting actor in a drama series, and an additional five nominations included one (in the same category) for co-star Michael Emerson. This boxed set, which includes deleted scenes, audio commentaries and other bonus features, retails for $59.99.

LUCKY YOU (Warner Home Video): Director/co-screenwriter Curtis Hanson’s long-delayed box-office flop stars Eric Bana as a hotshot Vegas cardsharp who aspires to the World Series of Poker – and to beat his legendary father (the great Robert Duvall) at the tables. Drew Barrymore is miscast in the stock role of a lounge singer who falls for Bana, and a (mostly wasted) supporting cast includes Debra Messing, Jean Smart, Charles Martin Smith, Horatio Sanz, NCSA alumnus Danny Hoch, Robert Downey Jr., Michael Shannon and several real-life poker champs. Flaws and all, it’s well made and still holds interest. Rated PG-13. **

NATIONAL TREASURE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A two-disc “collector’s edition” of Jon Turteltaub’s flashy but empty-headed 2004 action-adventure thriller, with Nicolas Cage as a globe-trotting treasure hunter hot on the trail of the legendary Knights Templar treasure. This release dovetails (intentionally) with the release of the sequel. Rated PG. **

“NFL GREATEST GAMES” (Warner Home Video): A DVD series showcasing the original broadcasts of the greatest games played by selected NFL franchises: “1999 St. Louis Rams,” “2000 Baltimore Ravens,” “2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers” and “Cleveland Browns Greatest Games” each retail for $39.98. My personal favorite, “1980 Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys,” retails for $19.98. Needless to say, more titles will be forthcoming in due time.

RATATOUILLE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): The talented people at Pixar Animation strike again with this bright, cheerful animated comedy about a Parisian rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) whose culinary expertise comes in handy when he teams up with a bumbling young chef (voiced by Lou Romano) trying to make his mark. Other voices include Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole, Janeane Garofalo, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, James Remar, Will Arnett and Pixar regular John Ratzenberger. Producer Brad Bird took over direction from Jan Pinkava but this still became one of 2007’s biggest box-office hits. Don’t be surprised if it receives an Oscar nomination for animated feature… and don’t be surprised if it wins, too. Rated G. ***

RESCUE DAWN (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Christian Bale stars as Dieter Dengler, a real-life US fighter pilot shot down over Laos during the Vietnam War, in Werner Herzog’s grueling but heroic dramatization of human resilience as Dengler makes an incredible escape from captivity. Parallels to current events are subtle but unmistakable in this solid film that deserved to do better. Rated PG-13. ***

SANTA’S SLAY (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Pro wrestler Bill Goldberg plays Santa Claus as the former son of Satan, cursed for 1,000 years to be nice to children. Well, guess what? Those 1,000 years are up. This off-color slasher spoof has a few laughs but rarely goes beyond its one-note concept. Produced by Brett Ratner, which explains the presence of such guest stars as Fran Drescher, Chris Kattan, Dave Thomas, Rebecca Gayheart, “Tiny” Lister and an unbilled James Caan. Rated R. *1/2

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (Anchor Bay Entertainment): What would the holidays be without a re-release of the infamous 1984 slasher film in which Robert Brian Wilson plays a troubled orphan who goes on a murder spree while wearing a Santa Claus suit. This film – which is pretty awful, by the way – sparked nationwide controversy and protests, spawned several sequels, and “inspired” (if that’s the word) a remake currently in development. Now that’s Hollywood! Rated R. *

SPLINTER (Image Entertainment): Director/co-writer Michael D. Olmos’ feature debut is an appropriately gritty examination of crime and punishment on the mean streets of East LA, with Tom Sizemore registering strongly as a cop who’s gone over the edge (not unlike Sizemore himself). A little too convoluted for its own good, but Olmos is a talent to watch. Rated R. **1/2

WAITRESS (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A career-best performance from Keri Russell as an unhappily married (but pregnant) Southern waitress is one of many charms in writer/director Adrienne Shelly’s offbeat but warmly appealing romantic comedy. Also on hand: Cheryl Hines, Nathan Fillion, Jeremy Sisto and Shelly herself. Tragically, Shelly was murdered shortly before the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival. Rated PG-13. ***

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