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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

SLEUTH (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The 1972 screen adaptation of Anthony Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning Sleuth, which starred Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine (and no one else), was a perfect rendition of a perfect play, with both actors (Oscar-nominated as best actor) in peak form.

Some 35 years later, Caine is back – now playing Olivier’s role of writer Andrew Wyke – and Jude Law stepping into Caine’s shoes (more successfully than he did in the remake of Alfie) as Milo Tindle, the much-younger lover of Andrew’s wife.

Andrew has invited Milo to his house – a masterpiece of modern architecture and design – to sort their business out, and the two men soon find themselves engaged in a tricky game of cat and mouse, with each character (and each actor) having a grand old time attempting to upstage and outmaneuver the other.

Adapted from Shaffer’s play by no less a talent than Harold Pinter, and directed by Kenneth Branagh (no slouch himself), the new Sleuth is a daring attempt to add some new wrinkles to the original text. Whereas Shaffer focused more on the gamesmanship of the two protagonists, Pinter shakes things up by delving into more psychological and psycho-sexual territory. This is not a scene-by-scene (or even idea-by-idea) remake, but a true reinvention that does not besmirch fond memories of the original. And, whether on stage or film, it remains a smashing showcase for its two leading men. Rated R. ***½

ALSO ON DVD

ATONEMENT (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Director Joe Wright’s adaptation of Ian McEwan’s best-selling novel starring Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as star-crossed lovers whose passion sustains through betrayal and war. Appropriately sweeping and well-played, this play is like a “Masterpiece Theatre” soap opera. It’s a good film but not a great one. The film won the Academy Award for original score, with additional nominations for best picture, supporting actress (Saoirse Ronan), adapted screenplay, cinematography, costume design and art direction/set decoration. Rated R. ***

BATS: HUMAN HARVEST (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Guess what the Delta Force encounters while on a covert military mission in Chechnya? This in-name-only follow-up to the 1999 shocker bypassed theatrical release and premiered on cable. The hordes of bloodthirsty CGI bats lose their impact early on, and that’s really all there is. ½*

“BELADI – A NIGHT AT THE PYRAMIDS” (Ninemuse Entertainment): International singer/songwriter Chantal Chamandy’s live concert performance at the base of the Pyramids in Egypt on Sept. 7, 2007 – the first time that a performer was ever granted permission to hold a concert there. This DVD, which retails for $18.98, is being released in conjunction with Chamandy’s album of the same name.

BLOOD OF BEASTS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Originally titled Beauty and the Beast, this is a drab retelling of that oft-told tale, with a Viking setting the only noticeable difference. Jane March is the beauty and David Dukas the beast. Rated PG-13. *

BORN KILLERS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Director Morgan J. Freeman’s cold-blooded black comedy, originally titled Piggy Banks, stars Jake Muxworthy and Gabriel Mann as sibling serial killers who trace their rampage back to their long-missing father (Tom Sizemore, who’s scary even in flashback). This unconventional outing boasts good performances (including those of Lauren German and Kelli Garner), but never quite jells. Rated R. **

CATACOMBS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The perennially underwhelming Shannyn Sossamon plays an American tourist trapped in the dark, foreboding catacombs beneath the streets of Paris (although most of this was shot in Romania) while attending a wild rave party with her sister (Alecia Moore, AKA “Pink”). This subterranean shocker from writer/directors Tomm Coker and David Elliot is repetitious and dull, and not helped by its leads; Sossamon is more irritating than sympathetic, and Moore is utterly obnoxious. With leading characters as unlikable as these, why bother? Despite being produced by the Saw team (with a dedication to producer Gregg Hoffman, who died in 2005), this bypassed theatrical release. Don’t wonder why. *

DANGEROUS CROSSING (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Director Joseph Newman’s fast-paced 1953 film noir stars Jeanne Crain as a bride whose husband (Carl Betz) vanishes shortly after they board a cruise ship for their honeymoon. A smooth adaptation of John Dickson Carr’s radio drama, given heft by Lionel Newman’s score and the polished performances of Crain and Michael Rennie (as the ship’s doctor). ***

THE DEAL (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A talky but topical melodrama with Christian Slater (also an executive producer) as a financial hotshot spearheading the corporate takeover of a Russian oil company, only to discover that something is very much out of whack. Lovely Selma Blair plays Slater’s idealistic assistant, and the cast also includes Angie Harmon, Colm Feore, Kevin Tighe, Francoise Yip, real-life US Congressman Jay Robert Inslee and reliable Robert Loggia (cast to type as a menacing tycoon). Rated R. **½

THE ICE STORM (The Criterion Collection): A special edition of director Ang Lee’s superb, award-winning adaptation of Rick Moody’s best-selling novel, detailing the lives of a group of desperately unhappy suburbanites in 1973 Connecticut. A bleak and brilliant satire, with a top-flight ensemble cast including Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Christina Ricci, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, Jamey Sheridan, Kate Burton, Henry Czerny and Katie Holmes (in her screen debut). One of the very best films of 1997. Rated R. ****

“ERIC ROHMER’S SIX MORAL TALES” (The Criterion Collection): A collection of six films directed by the award-winning French filmmaker: The 1963 short “The Baker’s Girl of Monceau,” starring future filmmaker Barbet Schroeder; the 1963 feature romance Suzanne’s Career; the award-winning 1967 drama La Collectionneuse; Jean-Louis Trintignant and Marie-Christine Barrault in 1969’s My Night at Maud’s, which earned Academy Award nominations for best foreign-language film and best original screenplay (Rohmer); Jean-Claude Brialy in the controversial 1970 drama Claire’s Knee, which earned a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign-language film; and Chloe in the Afternoon (1972), starring Zouzou in the title role. This boxed set, which retails for $99.95, includes archival interviews, Rohmer’s short films and more.

“GREEK” – SEASON ONE, CHAPTER ONE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): The inaugural 10 episodes from the 2007 season of the ongoing ABC Family sitcom detailing the misadventures of college students in the fraternities and sororities at Cyprus-Rhodes University. This boxed set, which retails for $29.99, includes such bonus features as deleted scenes, cast and creator interviews, and a sneak preview of the next chapter.

ILLEGAL TENDER (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): This well made but familiar crime drama, written and directed by Franc. Reyes (yes, he puts a period after his first name), gets a big lift from Wanda De Jesus, as a single mother forced into action to save her sons (Nick Gonzalez and Antonio Ortiz) from a 20-year vendetta. Rated R. **½

KNIGHTS OF THE SOUTH BRONX (Allumination FilmWorks): Ted Danson stars in producer/director Allen Hughes’ inspirational, fact-based drama about a middle-aged substitute teacher whose inner-city students became a champion chess team – and improved their grades – under his tutelage. Nicely executed without wallowing in sentiment. Danson is terrific. ***

“McHALE’S NAVY” – SEASON THREE (Shout! Factory): All 36 episodes from the 1964-65 season of the ever-amusing, black-and-white CBS sitcom with the inimitable Ernest Borgnine as the fun-loving commander of a PT boat during World War II. Tim Conway plays bumbling Ensign Parker, and the much-missed Joe Flynn portrays the endlessly-flustered Captain Binghamton. This boxed set retails for $44.99.

NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (Miramax Home Entertainment): Joel and Ethan Coen’s powerhouse rendition of Cormac McCarthy’s bestseller is a fiercely compelling and complex study of greed, corruption and retribution. Josh Brolin portrays an ex-con who stumbles across a drug deal gone bad and makes off with a suitcase full of cash, only to be pursued by both a veteran lawman (Tommy Lee Jones) and a relentless, sociopathic killer-for-hire (Javier Bardem). Also on hand – and, in some cases, in the line of fire – are Woody Harrelson, Kelly Macdonald, Tess Harper and Barry Corbin. Bardem, who won the Oscar as best supporting actor, is one of the scariest movie villains in recent memory. This time, the Academy got it right; this also won Oscars for best picture, director (the Coen Brothers) and adapted screenplay (ditto), with additional nominations for cinematography, editing, sound and sound editing. Rated R. ****

THE SOFT KILL (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Oversexed LA private eye Michael Harris is implicated in the murder of one of his (married) lovers in this cliché-riddled, modern-day film noir. Red herrings include such “usual suspects” as Corbin Bernsen, Matt McCoy and the late Brion James. Originally made in 1994 as Killing Me Softly, this was re-released to capitalize on the later success of leading lady Carrie-Anne Moss. Rated R. *

“UPRIGHT CITIZENS BRIGADE – ASSSSCAT!” (Shout! Factory): A collection of improvisational comedy sketches, billed as “renegade improv comedy,” from the Comedy Central series and featuring founding members Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Ian Walsh, along with such guest stars as Will Arnett (Poehler’s real-life husband), Horatio Sanz, Kate Walsh, Thomas Lennon and others. This special-edition DVD retails for $14.99.

THE VISITATION (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Residents of the small town of Antioch are gripped by a religious fervor when a mysterious healer (Edward Furlong) enters their midst. This intriguing adaptation of Frank Perretti’s novel goes off the deep end in the third act but is better than most, with effective, down-to-earth performances by Kelly Lynch, Randy Travis and particularly Martin Donovan as the hero. Rated PG-13. **½

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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