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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK

WHO IS HENRY JAGLOM? (First Run Features): Henry Alex Rubin and Jeremy Workman’s engaging 1997 documentary examines the ongoing career of filmmaker Henry Jaglom, who has made a name for himself in independent film circles for the better part of 35 years.

To his admirers, Jaglom’s work is highly individualistic, innovative and (ostensibly) insightful, ranking alongside that of Altman and Cassavetes. To his detractors, Jaglom’s work is self-absorbed, self-indulgent and self-important – often to a maddening degree. One needn’t guess which point-of-view this critic represents. It isn’t pretty, believe me.

You may or may not have heard of some of his films, which include Someone to Love (1987), Venice/Venice (1992), Last Summer in the Hamptons (1995) and the execrable Déjà Vu (1998), but it almost doesn’t matter. The film presents a concise overview of Jaglom’s work, while interviews with friends, relatives, co-stars and critics paint a memorable portrait of the artist – both at work and at play, and there’s not much difference between the two.

Unlike much of Jaglom’s work – sorry, Henry – this fast-paced documentary is bright, insightful and entertaining, and, to its (and his) credit, it really does capture the filmmaker, his work, and his world. This is a must for fans of indie cinema. ***

(For an exclusive interview with co-director Jeremy Workman, see page 43.)

ALSO ON DVD

“THE 2008 ROSE BOWL GAME” (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): It’s the USC Trojans against the Illinois Fighting Illini in the 94th annual Rose Bowl game, played this New Year’s Day. Not to spoil anything, but the game wasn’t even close. This official DVD, replete with special features, retails for $19.95.

BACK ROADS (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Director Martin Ritt reunited with his Oscar-winning Norma Rae star Sally Field for this uneven 1981 comedy/drama about a prostitute (Field) and a two-bit prizefighter (Tommy Lee Jones) on the road to California. Lots of familiar faces drop by: David Keith, M. Emmet Walsh, Michael Gazzo, Nell Carter, Dan Shor, Miriam Colon, Barbara Babcock, a pre-Porky’s Tony Munafo and Don “Red” Barry (in his final film). A nice try, but it doesn’t work. Rated R. **

BAD APPLE (Paramount Home Entertainment): Chris Noth (also an executive producer) plays an undercover FBI agent whose latest sting operation goes awry in this enjoyable adaptation of Anthony Bruno’s novel, which is much in the Elmore Leonard vein. Spirited supporting cast includes Robert Patrick, Colm Meaney, Dagmara Dominczyk, Mercedes Ruehl, James Villemaire, Anthony Rubistello and Elliott Gould. Great soundtrack, too. Rated PG-13. ***

BLACK WIDOW (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): It may seem incongruous to make a film noir in CinemaScope and color, but this 1954 whodunit is glossy fun nonetheless. Van Heflin is excellent as a theater producer framed for the murder of a young writer (Peggy Ann Garner), trying to ferret out the real killer while sidestepping a dogged homicide detective (a remarkably tan George Raft). Other suspects include top-billed Ginger Rogers (who’s a scream as a Broadway diva), Gene Tierney (as Heflin’s worried wife), Reginald Gardiner, Otto Kruger, Virginia Leith and Skip Homeier. Adapted from a story by Patrick Quentin (AKA Hugh Wheeler) by producer/director Nunnally Johnson. ***

DAISY KENYON (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Producer/director Otto Preminger’s 1947 adaptation of Elizabeth Janeway’s best-seller stars Joan Crawford as a woman torn between dashing (and married) attorney Dana Andrews and widowed war veteran Henry Fonda. Although being promoted as a film noir (with some noir-ish cinematography by Leon Shamroy), this is more soap opera than thriller – but with complex characters and a surprisingly adult storyline. Generally overlooked upon its release, this holds up better than many movies of the time. Ruth Warrick adds memorable support as Andrews’ wife. ***

“FRISKY DINGO – SEASON 1” (Warner Home Video): All 13 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the irreverent, animated Adult Swim series pitting super-rich, self-absorbed tycoon Xander Crews (and his equally egotistical alter-ego, the super-hero Awesome X) against super-villain Killface, who wants to destroy the Earth with his Annihilatrix. If only he could raise the corporate funding to pay for it…. This DVD retails for $19.97.

GAG (THINKFilm): Yet another sawed-off Saw knock-off, this one placing a pair of robbers (producer/director Scott W. McKinlay and executive producer Vince Marinelli) in a house where they encounter other prisoners being tortured by the owner… but who really is the owner? Intense at times, but also excessive and unpleasant. Still, if you like this sort of thing…. **

HIGHLANDER – THE SOURCE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The usual combination of swords, sorcery (and astronomy) and special effects in the fifth feature in the undying Highlander series, with Adrian Paul (also an executive producer) reprising his role as Duncan MacLeod. Other holdovers from the TV series include Peter Wingfield and Jim Byrnes. The songs on the soundtrack are dreadful. If “there can be only one,” how come they keep making sequels? Enough, already. The DVD includes a tribute to producer Bill Panzer, who died last year. Rated R. *½

“HUMAN GIANT” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (MTV Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): All eight episodes from the 2007 season of the popular MTV series showcasing irreverent short films and improvisational sketch comedy. Regulars include Rob Huebel, Paul Scheer, Aziz Ansari and Jason Woliner. This collection, which retails for $26.99, includes such special features as unaired sketches, audio commentaries, behind-the-scenes clips, and more.

I AM LEGEND (Warner Home Video): The latest big-screen rendition of Richard Matheson’s classic science-fiction story stars Will Smith as the (seemingly) solitary survivor of a worldwide plague that has wiped out the rest of humanity – except for some CGI mutants whom he hunts down. Smith gives it everything he’s got (as he so frequently does), but the bombardment of visual effects tends to diminish the effectiveness of the story. Available in both a single-disc version and a double-disc special edition. Rated PG-13. *½

“LIL’ BUSH: RESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES” – SEASON ONE UNCENSORED (Comedy Central DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): For those who can’t get enough laughs from the Bush White House, here are all six episodes from the 2007 season of the irreverent, animated Comedy Central series that depicts President George W. Bush and his cronies as young children. This DVD, which includes a bonus, never-before-seen episode and interviews with show creators, retails for $19.99.

PROTOCOLS OF ZION (ThinkFILM): Marc Levin’s excellent documentary feature focuses on the controversial “non-fiction” book The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an anti-Semitic treatise that describes the systematic attempt by the Jews to take over the world. Provocative, stimulating and not for a moment heavy-handed, this explores yet another schism that continues to divide world cultures – yet in remarkably entertaining fashion. Rated R. ***½

SHARPSHOOTER (Genius Products): James Remar plays the title role this generic action melodrama, in which a sniper’s “last mission” turns out to be trickier than planned. It’s nice to see Remar (always an interesting actor) in a lead role, but this is routine at best. Mario Van Peebles, Catherine Mary Stewart and Bruce Boxleitner also find themselves in the crosshairs. *½

SHOWSTOPPERS (Warner Home Video): One-dimensional, generic dance melodrama in the mold of Stomp the Yard, depicting two rival college dance teams competing in an annual step competition. Stereotypical characters are made worse by annoying performances. ½*

SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET (DreamWorks Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton hit paydirt with this atmospheric (and very bloody) adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s award-winning Broadway musical, in which a vengeful Fleet Street barber exacts gory revenge upon those who had him wrongly imprisoned years before. Depp scored an Academy Award nomination as best actor, and the film also earned a nomination for costume design, with an Oscar win (well-deserved) for art direction/set decoration. Rated R. ***

TARAS BULBA (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A well-cast Yul Brynner plays the title role of director J. Lee Thompson (the one and only)’s amusingly brawny 1962 historical melodrama, based on Nikolai Gogol’s novel, that of a 16th-century Cossack warrior who takes umbrage when his fearless son (top-billed Tony Curtis) falls in love with a Polish babe (Christine Kaufmann)… this, of course, being a period in history when Poland and Russia weren’t exactly chummy. Curtis and Kaufmann later married (and divorced) in real life, and Max Steiner’s score earned an Oscar nomination – the last of his illustrious career. Dig those hairdos, and that supporting cast: Guy Rolfe (whose hand Yul chops off), Brad Dexter, Sam Wanamaker, George Macready and Perry Lopez (who died earlier this year). Impressive grand-scale battle scenes, filmed in Argentina. **½

“WALT DISNEY TREASURES – THE COMPLETE PLUTO, VOLUME ONE” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A limited-edition, two-disc collector’s edition showcasing 29 animated Disney shorts featuring Pluto, including his 1929 debut “The Chain Gang” and the Oscar-winning “Lend a Paw” (1941), as well as various special features exploring the character’s history. This retails for $32.99.

“WALT DISNEY TREASURES – MICKEY MOUSE IN LIVING COLOR, VOLUME TWO” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A limited-edition,two-disc collector’s edition boasting a selection of animated Disney shorts featuring one of the most popular cartoon characters ever, spanning “Society Dog Show” (1939) to 1953’s “The Simple Things,” which marked Mickey’s last theatrical short. (Needless to say, he found an entirely new audience on television.) Of course, there are plenty of bonus features for the Disney faithful. This retails for $32.99.

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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