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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK

“THE JOHN FRANKENHEIMER COLLECTION” (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): This DVD boxed set consists of four feature films by the award-winning director (1930-2002), who remains one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.

The collection includes include 1961’s urban drama The Young Savages (**1/2), which marked Frankenheimer’s first collaboration with star Burt Lancaster; the 1962 adaptation of The Manchurian Candidate (***1/2), which remains Frankenheimer’s best-known film and which earned Academy Award nominations for best supporting actress (Angela Lansbury) and best editing; the awesome 1964 World War II adventure The Train (****) – my personal favorite of the bunch – which reunites Frankenheimer with Burt Lancaster, and earned an Oscar nomination for best original story & screenplay; and the fast-paced 1998 espionage thriller Ronin (***), which stars Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Jonathan Pryce. (Ronin is rated R.)

Frankenheimer was a god. He is truly missed. The boxed set retails for $39.98.

ALSO ON DVD

ALL SOULS DAY (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Unwary travelers discover that the annual Day of the Dead ceremony in a sleepy Mexican village is taken literally, as the living dead systematically stalk and kill them. There are a lot of familiar faces in the cast – Danny Trejo, Jeffrey Combs, David Keith, Ellie Cornell, Laura Harring and Marisa Ramirez – and a few gory bursts, but this silly low-budget shocker stacks up as the same-old, same-old. *1/2

“AMERICAN BIOGRAPHY” (MPI Home Video): A collection of three feature-length documentaries, each one focusing on a prominent American from the 20th century: Howard Hughes, J. Edgar Hoover and Ronald Reagan. This three-DVD set retails for $29.98.

AMERICAN PIE PRESENTS BETA HOUSE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): The fifth film to brandish the “American Pie” moniker – and the second to be released straight to DVD – forgoes any of the first film’s sweetness for the usual stew of raunchy gags, gratuitous nudity, projectile vomiting and hoary college cliches. Even Eugene Levy, picking up another easy check as Mr. Levinstein, can’t save it – even wearing a toga. The “Pie” has gone stale. Rated R (also available in an unrated edition). *

AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE MOVIE FILM FOR THEATERS (Warner Home Video): This animated feature based on the Adult Swim cartoon series (see below) explores the origins of Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad – and how they restore the balance of galactic harmony by stealing a piece of exercise equipment. This special-edition DVD, which retails for $29.98, also includes a second, 80-minute alternative feature film and plenty of special features.

“AQUA TEEN HUNGER FORCE” – VOLUME 5 (Warner Home Video): All 14 episodes from the 2005-’06 season of the popular Adult Swim animated series detailing the irreverent adventures of Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad in the scariest place on Earth – New Jersey. This DVD boxed set, which retails for $29.98, includes a variety of bonus features including music videos, deleted scenes and the interactive game “The Worst Game Ever.”

THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (Warner Home Video): Screenwriter/director Andrew Dominik’s adaptation of Ron Hansen’s historical novel stars Brad Pitt (also a producer) as the legendary outlaw, whose fate will intersect with the worshipful Bob Ford (Casey Affleck, who earned an Academy Award nomination as best supporting actor). Evocatively shot by Roger Deakins (who also earned an Oscar nomination), this slow-moving period piece doesn’t really get going until after Jesse has been killed. A mostly wasted supporting cast includes Sam Rockwell, Sam Shepard, Zooey Deschanel, Paul Schneider and NCSA School of Drama alum Mary-Louise Parker as Jesse’s wife, who seems to spend most of her time onscreen serving food. The film has its following, but was still a box-office flop. It’s not dull but comes awfully close at times, yet still worthy of interest. Rated R. **1/2

“THE BEST OF COMEDY CENTRAL PRESENTS: UNCENSORED” (Paramount Home Entertainment): The title tells all in this compilation of uncensored stand-up comedy by the likes of Lewis Black, Carlos Mencia, Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Jeff Dunham, Dane Cook (whose appeal continues to elude me), and the late Mitch Hedberg. This DVD retails for $19.99

THE BRAVE ONE (Warner Home Video): Jodie Foster (also an executive producer) goes ballistic in Neil Jordan’s urban melodrama, playing a radio host whose fiancée (Naveen Andrews) is killed by muggers in Central Park, prompting her to become a vigilante. Terrence Howard, who seemed to be in every other movie released last year, plays the cop on her trail. The film is well made, and Foster and Howard are worth watching, but it’s also predictable and sometimes pretentious. Note to filmmakers: CGI bullet hits aren’t nearly as effective as good, old-fashioned squibs. Rated R. **

THE COMEBACKS (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A myriad of cliches from sports movies (Remember the Titans, Invincible, Radio et al) are spoofed in this scattershot comedy starring perennial second banana David Koechner as inept, ever-unlucky football coach Lambeau Fields (get it?). The (mostly lowbrow) gags come fast and furious, and most are hit-and-miss – but there are some laughs. Directed by Tom Brady – not to be confused with the quarterback of the New England Patriots. Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated version). **

DADDY DAY CARE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Eddie Murphy evidently had better things to do (like Norbit?) than appear in this feeble sequel to the equally feeble 2003 box-office hit, so Cuba Gooding Jr. – who really should have known better – takes over. This marks the feature debut of director Fred Savage (the same), and is pretty painful throughout. Only Richard Gant, as Gooding’s hard-nosed pop, emerges unscathed. When the high point of the movie is a discourse on the nature of “cooties,” you know you’re in trouble. Even the mere concept of this movie is awful. I’ve seen Meatballs and this is no Meatballs. Rated PG. 1/2*

“HANNAH MONTANA – ONE IN A MILLION” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): For those who can’t get enough of Miley Cyrus and her top-rated Disney Channel series, here are four episodes featuring such guest stars as Dolly Parton, Heather Locklear, Vicky Lawrence, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez and Cyrus’ real-life pop, Billy Ray Cyrus (Mr. “Achy-Breaky Heart” himself). This DVD, which includes music videos, retails for $19.99.

JACKIE GLEASON – GENIUS AT WORK (MPI Home Video): Jeff Garlin hosts this documentary recounting the classic characters created by the “Great One,” Jackie Gleason, during his early years of television. There are some great moments, but there should have been more. It’s almost impossible to cover Gleason’s career in only an hour. **1/2

“LEGENDS OF THE WEST” (BCI): An eight-movie compilation consisting of Johnny Yuma (1967) starring Mark Damon; Fred Williamson in Joshua (1976); The Legend of Alfred Packer (1980); The Gatling Gun (1972) starring Guy Stockwell, Woody Strode and Patrick Wayne; Burt Kennedy’s Big Bad John (1990) starring Ned Beatty, Jack Elam and Bo Hopkins; Find a Place to Die (1968) with Jeffrey Hunter; The Grand Duel (1973) with Lee Van Cleef; and Monte Hellman’s 1978 oater China 9, Liberty 37, with Warren Oates, Fabio Testi and Jenny Agutter – although the latter film appears to be edited for TV. The picture quality on some of these isn’t great, but with a suggested retail of $9.99 for this two-DVD set, beggars can’t be choosers.

THE MASTER KEY (VCI Entertainment): In this 13-chapter serial from 1945, federal agents track Nazi spies who have kidnapped a scientist (Byron Foulger) who has developed a device that produces gold from seawater. Milburn Stone, Dennis Moore and Jan Wiley are the good guys, with Addison Richards as a duplicitous private eye in cahoots with the bad guys. Guess who wins? This DVD retails for $14.99.

THE MORNING AFTER (Warner Home Video): Sidney Lumet’s glossy 1986 potboiler stars Jane Fonda, with a great ’80s-style hairdo, as a faded actress who wakes up next to a murdered man (Geoffrey Scott) – but can’t remember much before that. Jeff Bridges, doing the best he can in a weird role as a bigoted ex-cop, helps her put the pieces together. The much-missed Raul Julia plays Fonda’s hairdresser husband, and look for Kathy Bates and Bruce Vilanch in small roles. Fonda picked up an Academy Award nomination as best actress (her seventh nomination overall and her last to date)… but 1986 wasn’t all that great a year for women’s roles. Rated R. **

ONCE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Writer/director John Carney’s wistful, lilting sleeper stars Glen Hansard as a lonely street guitarist in Dublin, Ireland who befriends an immigrant (Marketa Irglova), and together they make beautiful music. Geoff Minogue is a scene-stealer as Eamon, the recording engineer. Uplifting without being corny, and the songs are quite nice. One of them, “Falling Slowly,” earned nominations for both an Academy Award and a Grammy Award. Rated R. ***

“ROUTE 66” – SEASON ONE, VOLUME TWO (Infinity Entertainment Group): The remaining 15 episodes from the 1960-’61 season of the critically acclaimed prime-time CBS series, created by Stirling Silliphant, centering on two aimless young friends (George Maharis and Martin Milner) who travel up and down the title road, encountering various characters and adventures on a weekly basis. Guest stars included Darren McGavin, Dorothy Malone, Michael Rennie, Sylvia Sidney, Jack Weston, Walter Matthau, Beatrice Straight, Robert Duvall, Edward Asner and Lois Nettleton (who died last month). This boxed set retails for $29.98.

TWO HANDS (Miramax Home Entertainment): The late Heath Ledger plays Jimmy, a lovable urchin and aspiring wiseguy who makes the potentially fatal error of losing $10,000 belonging to local crime kingpin Bryan Brown – and then tries various ways to make up for it. Writer/director Gregor Jordan’s uneven but entertaining black comedy, very much in the Tarantino vein, was filmed in 1999 in Ledger’s homeland of Australia – just as he was making a name for himself internationally. He acquits himself well here, as do the reliable Brown (having a grand old time) and adorable Rose Byrne, as Ledger’s love interest. Rated R. **1/2

UNDERSEA KINGDOM (VCI Entertainment): In this 12-chapter, 1936 Republic Pictures serial, Ray “Crash” Corrigan (playing “himself” as a fearless Naval officer) discovers that a series of cataclysmic earthquakes are emanating from the lost continent of Atlantis – and only he can save the day. Lon Chaney Jr. and Smiley Burnette are also on hand. This DVD retails for $14.99.

“WORLD WAR II – TURNING POINTS” (MPI Home Video): This DVD, which retails for $29.98, consists of three feature-length WWII documentaries: Allies at War, Archives of War and Lifting the Fog: The Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

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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