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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

THE NAKED PREY (The Criterion Collection): Cornel Wilde produced, directed and stars in this rugged 1966 saga about survival of the fittest, newly released in a special-edition DVD that does full justice to the film’s gorgeous widescreen presentation.

A safari in Africa is captured by a native tribe, and all but one member is ritualistically killed for their transgression. Only Wilde (known simply as “Man”) is given a chance – albeit a slim one – to save himself. He will be shorn of clothing and weapons and given a slight start ahead of the tribe’s fiercest hunters. If he can elude them and make it back to civilization, he will survive.

The African landscape has never looked more beautiful, nor as foreboding, as Wilde endures the punishing heat, treacherous terrain, wild animals and, of course, his relentless pursuers. Led by Ken Gampu, they aren’t portrayed as wild-eyed savages, but as cunning and relentless hunters who respect their quarry – and who follow a set line of rules. What they don’t expect is that Wilde is a fast learner… as well as a fast runner.

The film can be taken as an allegory – regarding either apartheid-era South Africa (where the film was shot) and/or the racially-charged Civil Rights movement in this country – or simply as a crackling chase adventure in the tradition of Rudyard Kipling or H. Rider Haggard. It was probably the latter aspect that made The Naked Prey a surprise box-office hit, and the film even earned an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay – which is pretty remarkable when you consider how little actual dialogue there is. Of the handful of films that Wilde directed, this remains his best and most memorable – as well as his own personal favorite. ***

ALSO ON DVD

ALL IN (MTI Home Video): Dominique Swain plays a pre-med student who tries to offset expenses by playing high-stakes poker – taught to her as a child by her father (Michael Madsen), who supposedly died in a car accident years before. This mawkish melodrama appears to be a low-budget take-off on Curtis Hanson’s Lucky You, which was itself flawed and turned out to be a box-office bomb. Unbelievable soap-opera twists often make the film unintentionally funny. A familiar supporting cast includes Louis Gossett Jr., James Russo, Leo Rossi, Peter Onorati, Ken Lerner, Robert Costanzo and Mark Cuban (as himself). All In is all bad. Rated PG-13. *

“ANDRZEJ WAJDA: THREE WAR FILMS” (The Criterion Collection): A trilogy of feature films by one of Poland’s most acclaimed filmmakers: The 1955 adaptation of Bohdan Czeszko’s Pokolenie (A Generation), which marked Wajda’s feature debut and depicts life in Poland during the Nazi occupation of World War II; the award-winning 1957 adaptation of Jerzy Stefan Stawinski’s Kanal, which dramatizes the Warsaw Resistance’s efforts to escape the Nazi onslaught during the war; and the award-winning 1958 adaptation of Jerzy Andrejewski’s Popiol I Diament (Ashes and Diamonds), which examines the early days of Soviet occupation in Poland following the end of World War. Wajda was awarded an honorary Oscar for his body of work in 1999 – and he’s still going strong. His most recent film, last year’s Katyn, earned an Academy Award nomination as best foreign-language film. This boxed set retails for $79.95.

BABY THE RAIN MUST FALL (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The creative team that made To Kill a Mockingbird – producer Alan J. Pakula, director Robert Mulligan, screenwriter Horton Foote and composer Elmer Bernstein – reunited for this 1965 drama, based on Foote’s play The Traveling Lady, focusing on a recently paroled ex-con (Steve McQueen) reunited with his wife (Lee Remick) in a sleepy Texas town. Well-intentioned and sincerely acted, but it just doesn’t come to life. Too much psychological territory is left unexplored, and McQueen’s singing is obviously dubbed by someone else, and his “guitar-playing” is even less convincing. **

“BEAUTY AND THE BEAST” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 12 episodes from the 1989-’90 (and final) season of the prime-time CBS fantasy series detailing the mystical, romantic relationship between Linda Hamilton as a New York DA and Ron Perlman as a noble creature who roams the underground. The series picked up one last Emmy nomination in its final season, for outstanding achievement in makeup for a series (for the episode “In the Forests of the Night”). This boxed set retails for $49.99.

CAUSE CELEBRE (KOCH Vision): The Rattenbury murder case, which rocked Britain in 1935, is dramatized in this 1987 version adapted from Terrence Rattigan’s radio and stage play, with Helen Mirren as the adulterous Alma Rattenbury and the great Harry Andrews (in one of his last roles) as her ill-fated husband, Francis. Was Alma guilty of Francis’ murder, or was it her young lover, George Bowman (David Morrissey)? Agatha Christie couldn’t have dreamed up something this scandalous. David Suchet comes on strong late in the game as Alma’s crafty defense attorney, while Geoffrey Bayldon portrays the presiding judge. **1/2

“THE COMEDY CENTRAL ROAST OF FLAVOR FLAV – EXTENDED & UNCENSORED” (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Rapper Flavor Flav’s on the hot seat and Katt Williams is the “roast master” of this Comedy Central event in which Flav gets roasted by the likes of Patton Oswalt, Ice-T, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Lampanelli, Greg Giraldo, ex-girlfriend, Brigitte Nielsen, Carrot Top and Snoop Dogg, who contributes a special rhyme in (dis)honor of the evening’s guest. This DVD retails for $19.99.

CROC (Genius Products): Guess what’s chowing down on the tourists at a Thailand resort? The title might also refer to the big-game hunter “Croc” Hawkins, played by a bored-looking Michael Madsen, and it could well refer to this predictable, dull film as a whole. *

DETONATOR (Key DVD/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Elizabeth Berkley and Randall Batinkoff track a mad bomber in Los Angeles in this dull melodrama that borrows a lot of footage from other films (particularly 1995’s Sudden Death). Also on hand: Stan Shaw, Bokeem Woodbine, Peter Jason and Denis Forest (in his last film) as the bomber. Rated R. *

GRAYSON ARMS (MTI Home Video): Deadly doings at a boarding house where the tenants include Judd Nelson, Jennifer Carpenter, Stacey Dash, James Avery and Michael Learned – all of whom deserve better accommodations. Originally titled Lethal Eviction. Rated R. *1/2

HEAVENS FALL (Allumination FilmWorks): Timothy Hutton (also an executive producer) stars in this earnest, fact-based drama about nine black men sentenced to death for allegedly raping two white girls in Alabama in the early 1930s. The fascinating saga of “the Scottsboro Boys” is only partly realized in this well-meaning but remarkably low-key rendition, which is ideally suited to the small screen. Its heart’s in the right place but there’s not enough fire in its belly. A sturdy supporting cast includes Anthony Mackie, Bill Sage, Bill Smitrovich, James Tolkan, Leelee Sobieski and reliable David Strathairn as the presiding judge. Rated PG-13. **1/2

“JAG” – THE FIFTH SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 25 episodes from the 1999-2000 season of the long-running prime-time series dramatizing the actions of the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, which investigates matters relating to the US Navy and US Marine Corps. David James Elliott and Catherine Bell star. That season, the series picked up an Emmy Award for outstanding costuming for a series (for the episode “Gypsy Eyes”), and a nomination for outstanding cinematography in a series (for the same episode). This boxed set retails for $64.99.

THE JEWISH AMERICANS (PBS Home Video/Paramount Home Entertainment): Liev Schreiber narrates writer/director David Grubin’s documentary mini-series, which traces the history of Jewish immigrants and their assimilation into American culture. Among those interviewed are Carl Reiner, Sid Caesar, playwright Tony Kushner, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and others. This DVD retails for $34.99.

MICHAEL MOORE HATES AMERICA (Allumination FilmWorks): Writer/producer/director Michael Wilson’s debut feature is a documentary that takes Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Moore to task – not so much about his choice of topics (and targets), but his methodology. Wilson’s “underdog” approach to making his documentary is not unlike Moore’s own grassroots technique, which is part of this film’s appeal. Rated R. **1/2

NO RESERVATIONS (Warner Home Video): Attractively made but lightweight soap opera stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as a renowned chef who becomes guardian to her niece (Abigail Breslin) after her sister dies suddenly. Aaron Eckhart plays the handsome fellow chef who woos Zeta-Jones while she grows accustomed to parenting. No surprises here. Rated PG. **

“SOUL FOOD” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 10 episodes from the 2002 season of the award-winning Showtime series, based on the 1997 film, focusing on the lives and loves of the Joseph family in Chicago. The cast includes Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker, who later married in real life. This boxed set retails for $49.99.

“THIRD WATCH” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): The professional and private lives of police officers and firefighters in New York City are dramatized in all 22 episodes from the 1999-2000 season of the award-winning, prime-time NBC series created by John Wells (of “ER” fame) and Edward Allen Bernero, who was himself a former cop. The series won an Emmy for outstanding sound editing for a series (for the episode “Welcome to Camelot”). This boxed set, which retails for $59.98, includes deleted scenes and a gag reel.

TRANSFORMERS (Paramount Home Entertainment): Hasbro’s shape-shifting toys return to the big screen in this sci-fi epic that is big and loud and dumb, and makes no sense whatsoever – just the sort of empty-headed barrage we’ve come to expect from director/executive producer Michael Bay. Some impressive visual effects are dampened by awkward comedy interludes in which hysteria is mistaken for humor. Nevertheless, the film grossed over $350 million in the US alone and earned three Academy Award nominations: Best visual effects, best sound and best sound editing. A sequel is in preparation, too … Rated PG-13. *1/2

TWITCHES TOO (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Real-life twins Tia and Tamera Mowry (of the Disney Channel’s “Sister, Sister”) return as twin witches Alex and Camryn in this sequel to their 2005 TV movie, based on a popular series of supernatural novels by HB Gilmour and Randi Reisfeld. Pat Kelly and Jackie Rosenbaum reprise their roles from the original, too. This special-edition DVD retails for $26.99.

“THE WHITEST KIDS U’ KNOW” – SEASON 1 (Genius Products): All 10 episodes (uncut and uncensored) from the 2007 season of the IFC Network sketch-comedy series featuring Trevor Moore, Zach Cregger, Sam Brown, Timmy Williams and Darren Trumeter. This DVD, which includes a sneak preview of the show’s upcoming season, retails for $26.95.

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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