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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

SUNSHINE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Director Danny Boyle’s science-fiction head trip got lost amid the barrage of higher-profile summer blockbusters last year, but is bound to find its audience the second time around.

Set approximately 50 years in the future, the story focuses on a last-ditch effort to save humanity by the eight men and women aboard the Icarus II. Cillian Murphy heads an ensemble cast as the scientist in charge of delivering the ship’s payload – an immense nuclear device that, if successful, will re-ignite the sun and preserve life on Earth. The previous mission (Icarus I, of course) vanished mysteriously some seven years before.

Needless to say, the mission does not go as planned and that several crew members meet untimely fates thanks to a series of mishaps, some caused by human error and others, possibly, by intentional sabotage. Unless a way can be figured to deliver the payload, the Earth as we (and they) know it will cease to exist.

There’s often a palpable exuberance and an enthusiasm to Boyle’s work, which has occasionally backfired (A Life Less Ordinary, anyone?), and here he revels in the elements of a genre new to him. Sunshine is bursting with ideas – scientific, philosophical, political, spiritual, existential. Not all of these ideas pay off, but this is a film that continually re-invents itself within its own framework. It’s a bit out of the ordinary, but it’s a neat piece of work.

Rated R. ***

ALSO ON DVD

3:10 TO YUMA (LionsGate Home Entertainment): James Mangold’s gritty, gutsy adaptation of an early Elmore Leonard novel (previously made into a movie with Glenn Ford and Van Heflin) stars Russell Crowe as a ruthless outlaw being escorted to a prison train by a poor farmer (Christian Bale) and a grizzled bounty hunter (Peter Fonda)… but Crowe’s gang (led by a menacing Ben Foster) isn’t far behind. A bit overlong, but a solid Western down the line. Crowe and Bale look right at home in the saddle, which is half the battle. Rated R. ***

“AN AMERICAN ICON – JOHN WAYNE 5 MOVIE COLLECTION” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A boxed set containing five feature films starring the one and only John Wayne, who would have been 100 years old last May. The collection includes Seven Sinners (1940) co-starring Marlene Dietrich and Broderick Crawford; Henry Hathaway’s The Shepherd of the Hills (1941); opposite Dietrich and Randolph Scott in Pittsburgh (1942); playing Genghis Khan in the infamous 1956 “historical” epic The Conqueror, the last film bankrolled by Howard Hughes, directed by Dick Powell, and filmed in Utah near sites where atomic weapons were tested… which may explain why so many of the principals (including Powell, co-stars Susan Hayward and Pedro Armendariz, and Wayne himself) contracted various forms of cancer; and opposite Janet Leigh in Josef von Sternberg’s melodrama Jet Pilot, also bankrolled by Hughes and completed in 1950, but not released until 1957 – by which time most of the “state-of-the-art” aircraft on display were obsolete. For all of the talk about Wayne’s right-wing politics (were they ever!), everyone who ever worked with him that I’ve interviewed had nice things to say about him. This boxed set retails for $26.98.

THE ASTRONAUT FARMER (Warner Home Video): Billy Bob Thornton plays a middle-aged former and retired NASA astronaut who defies the odds – and the government – when he plans to launch himself into space. Written and produced by Michael and Mark Polish, with Michael also directing and Mark also playing a supporting role. Michael’s kids play Thornton’s children in the movie. This uplifting fable is acted with sincerity by all concerned: Virginia Madsen, JK Simmons (as the FAA commissioner), Tim Blake Nelson, Jonathan Gries, Marshall Bell, Richard Edson, the always-welcome Bruce Dern, and an unbilled Bruce Willis – but what’s with all the golden hues? Rated PG. **1/2

BEYOND THE RING (MTI Home Video): Martial artist Andre Lima, who also wrote the story, plays a martial artist (named Andre Lima), who must fight in an underground match in order to raise money for his ailing daughter’s surgery. Alternately corny, predictable and dull. Gary Busey hams it up, as he so often does, as a villainous publishing tycoon who doubles as an underground fight promoter(!), and Martin Kove co-stars along with some real-life kickboxing champs. This is one of the very few chop-socky flicks in which the hero cries repeatedly. Rated PG-13. 1/2*

CAPTAIN VIDEO – MASTER OF THE STATOSPHERE (VCI Entertainment): The popular TV series “Captain Video and His Video Rangers” makes the jump to the big screen in this low-budget, 15-chapter 1951 serial starring Judd Holdren in the title role, battling a potential alien invasion of our beloved Earth. This boxed set retails for $29.99.

CLEAN, SHAVEN (The Criterion Collection): Writer/director Lodge Kerrigan’s award-winning 1993 feature debut stars Peter Greene as a schizophrenic who is discharged from an institution – although clearly not cured – and embarks on a journey to find his daughter (Jennifer MacDonald), who was given up for adoption during his incarceration. By putting the viewer in the mindset of the lead character is a daunting maneuver, but Kerrigan deftly pulls it off, making this an unsettling, sometimes nerve-wracking, exercise. The scene where Greene cleans his fingernails with a pocket knife is enough to make anyone sweat. Not for all tastes, for sure. ***

THE EROTICIST (Severin Films): Long before becoming an international horror icon, Lucio Fulci directed and co-wrote this ribald 1972 satire of politics and religion, with Lando Buzzanca as an Italian politician whose presidential aspirations are seriously compromised by his sudden, inexplicable womanizing. Not only does this weirdly watchable farce (in the Blake Edwards mold) feature perverted politicians, naked nuns and corrupt cardinals, but also Laura Antonelli, Agostina Belli, Anita Strindberg and Hollywood veteran Lionel Stander as one of the most corrupt clergymen in screen history. Understandably, this was hugely controversial in its native Italy – as well as a box-office hit. A truncated version was released three years later in the US as The Senator Likes Women, but Severin’s new DVD release is the uncut original. **1/2

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Director Gregory Wilson’s grimly compelling adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s 1989 book, is the dark side of Stand by Me, with William Atherton as an adult who remembers a childhood incident when he befriended two orphaned sisters (Blythe Auffarth and Madeline Taylor) living next door with their aunt (Blanche Baker), who began tormenting and torturing them. Well-acted, well-made, and highly effective… but extremely harrowing and difficult to watch at times. That it’s inspired by actual events only makes it more tragic. Not to be confused with the 2004 film starring Elisha Cuthbert – although it undoubtedly will be. Rough stuff indeed. ***

MAMMOTH (Union Station Media/Starz Home Entertainment): A 40,000-year-old woolly mammoth goes on a rampage after being brought back to life by an alien intelligence. More jokey than most monster movies but still rather routine. The visual effects earned an Emmy nomination. **.

“THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): Julia Louis-Dreyfus picked up an Emmy Award as outstanding lead actress in a comedy series for this prime-time CBS sitcom about a divorced mother dealing with the trials and tribulations on daily life. This boxed set, which retails for $29.98, includes all 13 episodes from the 2006 season.

PITTSBURGH (Starz Home Entertainment): Jeff Goldblum (playing himself) returns to his birthplace of Pittsburgh, Pa. in order to play the lead in a two-week, Fourth of July stage run of The Music Man in order to secure his fiancée (Catherine Wreford, playing herself) a working visa in this playful pseudo-“mockumentary” that also features Illeana Douglas (awesome) and Ed Begley Jr., as well as Moby, Alanis Morrisette, Ashley Judd, Conan O’Brien, Goldblum’s real-life manager Keith Addis and Goldblum’s real-life mother and stepfather. Goldblum (also a producer) and Wreford are no longer engaged, by the way. ***

“THE ROYAL RUMBLE ANTHOLOGY” (Genius Products): For fans of pro wrestling, here is a pair of five-DVD boxed sets highlighting the all-star “Royal Rumble” events. Volume III includes the matches from 1998-2002 featuring the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Mick Foley. Volume IV includes the matches from 2003-2007, featuring the likes of Rey Mysterio, Batista and the late Chris Benoit. Each volume retails for $59.95.

“STARLITE DRIVE-IN THEATRE” (BCI Eclipse): A series of four low-budget double features released during the ’60s and ’70s – yes, often to drive-ins – by Crown International Pictures. The double features include: The Pom Pom Girls (1976) with Robert Carradine and The Van (1977) with Danny DeVito; Little Laura and Big John (1973) starring Fabian Forte and Karen Black and Van Nuys Blvd. (1979); Wild Riders (1971) with Alex Rocco and Hustler Squad (1976) with John Ericson; and The Devil’s Hand (1962) with Linda Christian and Robert Alda and Madmen of Mandoras, otherwise (and better) known as They Saved Hitler’s Brain! (1963). Each volume retails individually for $12.98, or as a boxed set for $24.98.

TEENAPE GOES TO CAMP (Splatter Rampage/Tempe Video): The latest in a series of low-rent, lowbrow comedies focusing on the misadventures of “TeenApe” (Casey Bowker) – a guy in an ape mask – as he tries to score with girls, this time at a summer camp populated by miscreants and misfits. Written and directed by Chris Seaver and billed as “a Chris Seaver Disease.” Too raunchy for its own good (or bad), but there are a few laughs. *1/2

WAR (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Hard to believe that a shoot-’em-up pitting Jet Li against Jason Statham would be so boring, but that’s the case here. Even the plot twists don’t help, nor does a supporting cast that includes (and wastes) the likes of John Lone, Luis Guzman and Saul Rubinek. One of 2007’s worst films. Rated R. 1/2*

WHITE NOISE 2 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): In-name-only sequel to the 2005 hit stars Nathan Fillion as a widower who experiences a near-death experience and develops heightened psychic abilities as a result. A few interesting ideas, but the visuals overpower a jumbled storyline. An earnest Fillion and an adorable Katie Sackhoff (as a potential love interest) do the best they can under the circumstances. Rated PG-13 – and it’s a very strong PG-13. *1/2

WHO CAN KILL A CHILD? (Dark Sky Films): Director Narciso Ibanez Serrador’s genuinely uneasy 1976 shocker, based on a Juan Jose Plans novel, in which a young English couple (Lewis Fiander and Prunella Ransome) travel to an island off the Spanish coast where the children have slaughtered the adults – a mass reaction to the various injustices inflicted upon the world’s children throughout history. Predates Children of the Corn, either Stephen King’s short story or the subsequent film franchise, by several years. This slow-moving but effectively claustrophobic thriller was released in the US in 1978 as both Island of the Damned and Trapped – but this is the uncut version. **1/2

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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