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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

IN THE VALLEY OF ELAH (Warner Home Video): Tommy Lee Jones scored an Academy Award nomination as best actor (his first in that category) for this hard-hitting, sobering mystery inspired by actual events.

Jones’ Hank Deerfield is a retired career soldier who learns that his son has gone missing shortly after returning from a tour of duty in Iraq. Leaving his quietly anguished wife (Susan Sarandon) at home, Hank proceeds to the boy’s military base and begins his own investigation – much to the consternation of the soldiers there, and more so to Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a local detective who begins to realize the validity of Hank’s suspicion that something very wrong has transpired, and that a cover-up may be in motion. It has, and there is.

Directed with cool precision by screenwriter Paul Haggis (of Crash renown), the film takes a penetrating look the military mindset at a time when the US military is under considerable fire – both figuratively and literally. The film (wisely) sidesteps any preaching or sermonizing, and concentrates on story and character. Jones and Theron have rarely been better, and Sarandon’s presence is felt even when she’s not onscreen.

Also noteworthy are Jones’ No Country for Old Men co-stars Barry Corbin and Josh Brolin, as well as Frances Fisher, James Franco and Jason Patric, the latter particularly good as the base’s chief investigator.

Not only is this an excellent film – one of the best of 2007, actually – but it’s also an important one. Little wonder, then, that it tanked at the box-office. Here’s to second chances, because this film richly deserves one. Rated R. ***½

ALSO ON DVD

AUGUST RUSH (Warner Home Video): An unbearable big-screen soap opera with Freddie Highmore as a young musical prodigy being sought by his mother (Keri Russell) and father (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), who had no idea he even existed. Shamelessly manipulative and often laughably hokey, with Robin Williams in a bizarre role as a latter-day Fagin, and Terrence Howard as a social worker whose entire role could have been eliminated from the film with absolutely no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of the story. One of the worst films of 2007 – if not the worst. Rated PG. No stars

“BATMAN” – THE BATMAN DOUBLE FEATURE (Warner Home Video): A double-feature of animated feature films based on Bob Kane’s comic-book hero: Batman – Mask of the Phantasm (1993) features the voices of Dana Delany, Stacy Keach and Mark Hamill, and is rated PG – while the award-winning Batman and Mr. Freeze: Sub Zero (1998) features the voices of Marilu Henner, Dean Jones and Michael Ansara. In both films, Kevin Conroy provides the voice of Batman and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. the voice of the butler Alfred. This DVD retails for $14.97.

“BEN 10” – SEASON 3 (Warner Home Video): All 13 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the hit Cartoon Network series depicting the inter stellar adventures of a 10-year-old boy with the ability to transform himself into 10 different alien beings – but only for 10 minutes at a time. This has very quickly become a popular franchise with kids. This two-disc set retails for $19.98.

BILL’S GUN SHOP (Polychrome Pictures/Warner Home Video): An earnest, heavy-handed polemic on gun control, with Scott Cooper as a young gun enthusiast who gets a job in the title business – and gets a crash course in the consequences of using firearms. Not without merit, but this preaches (rather stridently) to the converted. Reliable John Ashton plays Bill, and Victor Rivers steals the film as a fellow employee who moonlights as a bounty hunter. **

COLLIER & CO. – HOT PURSUIT! (Westlake Entertainment): A labor of love for John Schneider, who wrote, produced, directed and stars in this predictable but painless family comedy (intentionally reminiscent of “The Dukes of Hazzard”) about a former race-car driver trying to reform his wayward ways when his family is jeopardized by criminals whose car he has “won” in a bar match. Schneider’s real-life wife, Elly Castle, plays his wife here, and daughter Karis plays their daughter. Their other kids and Schneider’s mom also appear. Rated PG. **

THE CUTTING EDGE: THE MAGIC OF MOVIE EDITING (Warner Home Video): Kathy Bates narrates this informative and engaging documentary feature detailing the history of film editing. Among the directors and editors who weigh in: Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott, Lawrence Kasdan, Quentin Tarantino, Anthony Minghella, Walter Murch, Thelma Schoonmaker, Anne V. Coates, Dede Allen and many others. A must for movie buffs. ***

“FAMILY TIES” – THE THIRD SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 23 episodes from the 1984-’85 season of the popular prime-time sitcom with Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter (then Baxter-Birney) as former ’60s hippies contending with three kids (Michael J. Fox, Justine Bateman and Tina Yothers) in ’80s suburbia. The series earned two Emmy nominations that season: Outstanding comedy series and Fox as outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

FINAL DRAFT (Genius Products): Tidy little psychological thriller, with James Van Der Beek excellent as a brooding, burned-out screenwriter who locks himself in his apartment in order to hammer out his latest script. Originally titled Punchy (the new title is better), this is appropriately claustrophobic and captures well a writer’s solitude. **½

THE GAME PLAN (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays a superstar quarterback who is shocked to learn that he has an 8-year-old daughter (Madison Pettis) from a previous relationship. The Rock is an affable screen presence, but this corny comedy goes on and on and on… but it was a box-office hit nonetheless. Rated PG. **

“GIRLFRIENDS” – THE THIRD SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 2002-’03 season of the long-running, award-winning sitcom focusing on four friends (Tracee Ellis Ross, Jill Marie Jones, Golden Brooks and Persia White) and their lives in Los Angeles. That season, it earned its only Emmy nomination (to date) – for outstanding cinematography for a multi-camera series (for the episode “Where Everyone Knows My Name”). This boxed set retails for $39.99. The show’s still running on the CW Television Network.

THE IRIS EFFECT (MTI Home Video): An atmospheric but clumsy thriller with Anne Archer as a psychologist convinced that her long-missing son is in St. Petersburg, Russia. Archer brings intensity to the role, and the cast includes Kip Pardue, Agnes Bruckner and Mia Kirshner, but this falls apart before too long. Rated R. *½

JOAN OF ARC – CHILD OF WAR, SOLDIER OF GOD (Gaiam): A reverential but not uninteresting documentary tracing the life of Jeanne d’Arc, who would, in her brief lifetime, save the kingdom of France from the British before being betrayed by those she fought for. Centuries later, of course, she would be canonized as a saint. Anna Paquin provides the voice of Joan, while Alfred Molina handles the narration. **

“MY FRIENDS TIGGER & POOH – FRIENDLY TALES” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Three episodes from the popular, computer-animated Playhouse Disney series inspired by the classic characters from AA Milne’s “Winnie the Pooh” stories. This DVD, which includes an interactive children’s game, retails for $19.99.

SNOW BUDDIES (Walt Disney Home Entertainment): Unless the (repeated) sight of puppies frolicking in the snow is your idea of great cinema, this latest installment in the Air Bud franchise – the seventh (!) to date – is standard kiddie fare. Five talking pups are accidentally transported to Alaska, where they wind up participating in a dog-sled race. Gee, do you think they win? Among the voiceover talent: Kris Kristofferson, Jim Belushi, Whoopi Goldberg and Molly Shannon. The human contingent includes Cynthia Stevenson and Richard Karn, who seem to be making their careers out of this franchise. Rated G. *½

A STRANGER’S HEART (Genius Products): Maudlin tearjerker with Samanatha Mathis and Peter Dobson as heart-transplant recipients who receive their respective hearts from a dead couple, and then encounter the couple’s orphaned daughter. Even worse than it sounds. *

“TOM AND JERRY TALES” – VOLUME 4 (Warner Home Video): Cat and Mouse are at it again in various international locations, in 12 episodes from the popular Saturday-morning Kids WB television series. This boxed set retails for $14.97.

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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