Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


RESERVATION ROAD (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Despite being based on a best-selling novel (by John Bunrham Schwartz) and being released last fall with a full-fledged promotional campaign with an eye on Oscar consideration, this somber drama stalled at the gate and disappeared quickly. It’s not a perfect film, by any means, but deserved a better shake.

Ethan and Grace Learner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) are a young couple whose world is shattered when their son is killed by a hit-and-run driver. In their frustration and grief, they turn to Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo), a neighborhood attorney who – the viewer has seen – is the guilty driver.

Dwight, a divorced father whose life was in tatters even before the accident – and, make no mistake, it truly was an accident – is wracked with guilt and shame. But he’s a conflicted man, torn between love for his son (young Eddie Alderson, in his screen debut) and a mounting urge to atone for his wrongdoing.

This is not a happy film, but it is an effective and uncommonly well-acted one, as it tackles a topic that most mainstream viewers would (understandably) prefer not to deal with. Remarkably non-judgmental in tone, it doesn’t condemn Dwight for not confessing sooner, but convincingly details the toll it takes on his psyche and his soul – and Ruffalo has rarely been better than he is here, portraying that pain.

There’s also fine work from Phoenix, Connelly, Elle Fanning and Mira Sorvino, the latter as Dwight’s ex-wife. Also on hand is character actor Antoni Corone, an acquaintance of mine back in my south Florida days, in one of his best roles as a sympathetic policeman. Rated R. ***


3 WAY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Director Scott Ziehl’s adaptation of Gil Brewer’s 1963 pulp novel depicts a kidnapping gone awry. Don’t they all? Everybody’s got an angle – Dominic Purcell, Joy Bryant, Ali Larter, Gina Gershon, Desmond Harrington, Roxana Zal, Al Israel and a menacing Dwight Yoakam – and there are plenty of twists and turns, but we’ve been here before. Rated R. *½

BEE MOVIE (DreamWorks Animation SKG/Paramount Home Entertainment): Jerry Seinfeld wrote, produced and provides the key voice for this amusing animated feature that explores the world of bees – with plenty of Seinfeld stand-up material thrown in along the way. Other voices include Renee Zellweger, Chris Rock, John Goodman, Kathy Bates, Oprah Winfrey, Rip Torn, Megan Mullally, Sting and Matthew Broderick, who might better have been suited for the lead instead of the sidekick. Rated G. ***

“THE BETTE DAVIS COLLECTION – VOLUME 2” (Warner Home Video): To commemorate what would have been her 100th birthday, here are six classic films, all making their DVD debuts, commemorating the legacy of one of America’s great actresses: Based on Edith Wharton’s novel, The Old Maid (1939) teamed Davis with Miriam Hopkins and George Brent (who reportedly replaced Humphrey Bogart); Anatole Litvak’s 1940 adaptation of All This and Heaven Too marked Davis’ only onscreen pairing with Charles Boyer and earned Academy Award nominations for best picture, supporting actress (Barbara O’Neil) and cinematography (black and white); Davis and Brent re-teamed for Edmund Goulding’s 1941 adaptation of The Great Lie, for which Mary Astor won the Oscar as best supporting actress; John Huston’s 1942 adaptation of In This Our Life teamed Davis with Olivia de Havilland as sisters, with Brent also on hand; Watch on the Rhine (1943), adapted from Lillian Hellman’s play by Dashiell Hammett, won Paul Lukas the Oscar as best actor, with additional nominations for best picture, adapted screenplay and supporting actress (Lucile Watson); and the 1946 thriller Deception teamed Davis with Paul Henreid and Claude Rains. This boxed set retails for $59.92.

THE DARJEELING LIMITED (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Writer/director Wes Anderson’s (expectedly) quirky comedy stars Adrien Brody, Owen Wilson and Jason Schwartzman as brothers who attempt to restore their relationship during a journey across modern-day India. Well made and well acted, with some droll moments along the way, but unsteady in its pacing and its point of view. Still worth a look. Look for Anjelica Huston, Bill Murray, filmmaker Barbet Schroeder and Natalie Portman. Rated R. **½

“DAY BREAK” (BCI): Taye Diggs plays a police detective who continues to live the same fateful day over and over again in this ABC-TV sci-fi series that lasted only 13 episodes in 2006 but nevertheless earned a cult following. This boxed set, which retails for $39.98, includes seven additional episodes that never aired – and which brought the story to its conclusion, as well as audio commentaries, interviews and behind-the-scenes footage.

DEAD COOL (MTI Home Video): Some good moments in this odd, sometimes strained, black comedy about a teenager (James Callis) whose world is turned upside-down when his widowed mother (Imogen Stubbs) falls for a divorced man (Anthony Calf). Allusions to Shakespeare’s Hamlet are sprinkled throughout, and the supporting cast includes Rosanna Arquette (as Calf’s ex-wife), Kevin McNally and Liz Smith, who utters the film’s best line: “I can’t cope without my beef!” Rated R. **

ELIZABETH – THE GOLDEN AGE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): This sequel to the acclaimed historical drama reunites director Shekhar Kapur with Cate Blanchett (again playing the title role) and Geoffrey Rush (as her ruthless advisor, Sir Francis Walsingham), and depicts the growing enmity between Spain and England in the late 16th century. Less sweeping and more episodic than the first film, but powerhouse Blanchett (earning an Oscar nomination as best actress) plays the role with such assurance that it’s impossible to resist. Clive Owen makes a robust, virile Sir Walter Raleigh, and Samantha Morton is inspired casting as the exiled Mary, Queen of Scots. Alexandra Byrne’s costume design won an Oscar. Rated PG-13. ***

FALLING FROM GRACE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): John Mellencamp directs and stars in this flat 1992 drama, scripted by Larry McMurtry, about a a famous singer who returns to his hometown and resumes his wild ways – much to the dismay of his wife (Mariel Hemingway). The bright spot is Kay Lenz, a standout as John’s old flame. The film was an utter disaster at the box office, earning less than $1 million. Ever wonder why Mellencamp never directed another film? Rated PG-13. *

HOLLA (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A sitcom star (Shelli Boone) and her friends find themselves being stalked by a psychotic killer during a weekend getaway in this urban-flavored shocker that boasts a few amusing bits, but is otherwise standard slasher fare. There is, however, a nice turn by rapper Young Sir in his screen debut. Rated R. *½

THE KITE RUNNER (Paramount Home Entertainment): Director Marc Forster’s adaptation of the best-selling novel traces the friendship between two boys in war-torn Afghanistan whose relationship is renewed decades later following a family betrayal. Respectful and respectable, but curiously lacking the emotional resonance that the novel evidently possessed in spades. Academy Award nomination for best original score. Rated PG-13. **½

THE LAST PLACE ON EARTH (MTI Home Video): Writer/director Joseph Slocum’s gooey, overripe soap opera stars Dana Ashbrook and Tisha Campbell-Martin as an unlikely pair who meet on the road and embark on a relationship – only to learn that their time together cannot last. Also on hand (and summarily wasted) are Billy Dee Williams, Mink Stole, Phyllis Diller and the late Brock Peters. Nice scenery, though. Rated PG-13. *

LOST HIGHWAY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A re-release of David Lynch’s dark, dank 1997 thriller with an all-star cast including Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, Balthazar Getty, Robert Loggia, Natasha Gregson Wagner, Gary Busey, Richard Pryor (in his last film), Jack Nance (his last film, too) and a memorably creepy Robert Blake (his last film to date). What’s it about? You’ve got me, but it’s long and frequently boring. After their negative review, the ads for this film boasted “Two thumbs down” from Siskel and Ebert, and even die-hard Lynch lovers were disappointed. This was on my 10-Worst list for 1997. Some people dig it. They’re welcome to it. Rated R. *

THE MIST (Genius Products): Screenwriter/director Frank Darabont’s latest Stephen King adaptation pits a group of average folk in Maine against an unseen but malevolent menace that traps them within a small-town grocery store. A fine cast includes Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, William Sadler, Jeffrey DeMunn, Frances Sternhagen, Toby Jones and Andre Braugher, but despite a tremendous build-up and some highly effective scenes, this slumps distressingly in the third act. Still, there have been far worse King adaptations over the years. Rated R (also available in a special edition). **½

P2 (Summit Entertainment): Sexy executive Rachel Nichols is stalked by psychopathic security guard Wes Bentley in the parking garage of her office building on Christmas Eve in this one-note shocker that marks the directorial debut of Franck Khalfoun. (Better luck next time.) Rated R. *½

SOLOMON AND SHEBA (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Producer/director King Vidor’s grand-scale 1959 Biblical bacchanal stars Yul Brynner (with a full head of hair!) as the wise king and Gina Lollobrigida as the temptress who leads him astray. Familiar faces amid the spectacle include George Sanders (as Solomon’s villainous brother, Adonijah), Harry Andrews, Laurence Naismith, Marisa Pavan, David Farrar and Finlay Currie as King David. The beginning and ending are colorful and fun, but the mid-section sags mightily. The “pagan” dance numbers are, however, a hoot. Tyrone Power had been cast as Solomon, but suffered a fatal heart attack late into production, necessitating considerable reshooting with Brynner recast in the lead (nowadays they’d probably use CGI). This marked Vidor’s last feature, although he directed a final short film before his death in 1982. **½

“WARNER BROS. PICTURES GANGSTERS COLLECTION VOLUME 3” (Warner Home Video): The venerable studio reaches back into its vaults for a six-film collection of old-school crime dramas, each of them making their DVD debut: Edward G. Robinson and James Cagney starred together for the only time in Smart Money (1931), which picked up an Oscar nomination for best original story and features an uncredited appearance by a pre-stardom Boris Karloff (as “Sport Williams”); Cagney returns in Lloyd Bacon’s Picture Snatcher (1933), as an ex-con-turned-shutterbug; Lady Killer (1933) is a light-hearted change of pace for Cagney, here playing a con man who holes up in Hollywood and winds up becoming a star; Mayor of Hell (also ’33) sees Cagney as a reformed gangster trying to do likewise for a group of juvenile delinquents; Archie Mayo’s Black Legion (1937), which earned an Oscar nomination for best original story, affords Humphrey Bogart one of his first leads, playing a man swept up caught up in the doings of a white supremacist group; and 1940’s Black Orchid pairs Robinson and Bogart, along with Ann Sothern, Donald Crisp, Cecil Kellaway and the always-welcome Ralph Bellamy. The boxed set retails for $59.92, individual titles for $19.97.

WRESTLEMANIAC (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Subtlety is nowhere to be found in this jokey B-movie pitting a group of internet porn filmmakers against a bloodthirsty wrestler known as “El Mascarado” (real-life wrestler Rey Mysterio) south of the border. A lot of grisly moments and a few laughs, but even fewer surprises… and in the end, it doesn’t add up to much. Not for the squeamish, in any case. Rated R. *

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.

Copyright 2007, Mark Burger