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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A 20th-anniversary special edition of Terry Gilliam’s expensive, expansive 1988 fantasy epic – the circumstances of whose production are every bit as crazy as the fanciful events depicted onscreen.

John Neville plays the dashing, if delusional (and slightly dissipated), Baron Munchausen, whose feats of heroism and adventure are exceeded only by his extravagant re-telling of them. Encountering gods, monsters and damsels in distress are all in a day’s work for the good Baron. Like any good fairy tale, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is imaginative, wistful, splashy and even a little scary, with Gilliam’s irreverent sensibilities on full display

The cheeky supporting cast includes Gilliam’s old Monty Python mate Eric Idle, Jonathan Pryce, Sarah Polley, the volcanic Oliver Reed (as Vulcan), the ethereal Uma Thurman (as Venus), Valentina Cortese, Alison Steadman and Robin Williams (under the pseudonym “Ray D. Tutto”) as the King of the Moon. Look for Sting and Gilliam in there, too.

Despite a tumultuous production – neither the first nor the last time that Gilliam would experience that – and a half-hearted release that effectively sabotaged any chance of recouping its budget, the film did find a cult following and earned four Academy Award nominations: Best art direction/set decoration, visual effects, makeup and costume design. Rated PG. ***

ALSO ON DVD:

APRIL FOOL’S DAY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A dullish update of the 1986 slasher comedy written, produced and directed by the Butcher Brothers. The original film was okay, but this one isn’t ­- despite enthusiastic performances and the occasional blip of self-parody. Leading lady Taylor Cole is easy on the eyes, for sure, and keep an eye out for Greensboro’s own R. Keith Harris in a brief role. This was filmed in Charlotte. This “unrated” version would easily have gotten an R. *

“CLASSIC COMEDIES COLLECTION” (Warner Home Video): Six classic comedies from Hollywood’s golden era: George Cukor’s all-star 1933 adaptation of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber’s play Dinner at Eight, with Marie Dressler, John and Lionel Barrymore, Jean Harlow and Jean Hersholt; Libeled Lady (1936), with Harlow, William Powell (Harlow’s real-life beau at the time), Myrna Loy and Spencer Tracy, which earned one Academy Award nomination (the big one – best picture); Katharine Hepburn, Ginger Rogers and Adolphe Menjou in director Gregory La Cava’s 1937 adaptation of the Kaufman/Ferber play Stage Door, which earned Oscar nominations for best picture, director, supporting actress (Andrea Leeds) and adapted screenplay; Hepburn and Cary Grant in Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby, (1938), which was a box-office flop in its day but is now considered one of Hawks’ triumphs; Hepburn, Grant and James Stewart (Academy Award winner for best actor) in George Cukor’s 1940 adaptation of the Phillip Barry stage hit The Philadelphia Story, which also won an Oscar for adapted screenplay and additional nominations for best picture, actress (Hepburn), director and supporting actress (Ruth Hussey); and Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 farce To Be or Not To Be, which earned an Oscar nomination for best original score and marked the final film of Carole Lombard, killed in a plane crash shortly before the film’s release. The boxed set retails for $68.98, single titles range from to $19.97 to $26.99.

DAY OF THE DEAD (First Look Studios): Mena Suvari and Nick Cannon topline Steve Miner’s “remake” of George A. Romero’s 1985 horror classic, here transposed to a small Colorado town (actually Bulgaria) where a viral outbreak results in scores of flesh-eating zombies on the prowl. There are plenty of grisly moments (augmented by CGI) and a few good scenes, but poor scripting does ’em dead. Unlike Romero’s films, the living dead are quite agile, but a bullet to the brain will still do the trick. Ving Rhames, who appeared in the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, pops up here in an unrelated (and unnecessary) role. Despite considerable pre-release hype, this bypassed theatrical release. Rated R. *½

DEVIL’S DEN (Starz Home Entertainment): Devon Sawa, Kelly Hu and Ken Foree are among the unlucky clientele of a strip club populated by voracious zombies in this silly shocker that takes its (obvious) inspiration from From Dusk Till Dawn. Karen Maxwell and Dawn Olivieri (whose lapdance is a highlight) co-star. Jeff Burr directed under a pseudonym. *½

“DIANA – QUEEN OF HEARTS” (Genius Products): Richard Attenborough narrates this retrospective documentary tracing the all-too short life of Diana, Princess of Wales (1961-1997) that was originally broadcast on NBC a year after her death. This DVD retails for $9.95.

“THE DORIS DAY COLLECTION – VOLUME ONE” (Warner Home Video): Eight feature films showcasing the talents of one of the leading ladies of the 1950s and ’60s: The 1950 drama Young Man With a Horn, based on Dorothy Baker’s novel and co-starring Kirk Douglas, Lauren Bacall and Hoagy Carmichael; opposite Gene Nelson in the 1951 musical Lullaby of Broadway; playing the title role in the 1953 musical Calamity Jane, co-starring Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok and an Oscar winner for best original song (“Secret Love”), with additional nominations for best score and best sound recording; Charles Vidor’s 1955 drama Love Me or Leave Me, based on the life of singer Ruth Etting, which won an Oscar for best motion-picture story and earned five additional nominations: co-star James Cagney as best actor (the third and final nomination of his career), best screenplay, best sound recording, best original song (“I’ll Never Stop Loving You”) and best score; George Abbott and Stanley Donen’s 1956 adaptation of the smash Broadway musical The Pajama Game; opposite David Niven in the award-winning 1960 adaptation of Jean Kerr’s best-seller Please Don’t Eat the Daisies; opposite Stephen Boyd, Jimmy Durante, Dean Jagger, Martha Raye and an elephant in Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962), which received an Oscar for best musical score; and the 1966 spy comedy The Glass Bottom Boat, co-starring Rod Taylor, Arthur Godfrey and Paul Lynde. The boxed set retails for $88.98, individual titles for $19.98.

DUANE HOPWOOD (HBO Video): Maybe Nicolas Cage was busy, but David Schwimmer delivers his best big-screen performance to date in the title role of writer/director Matt Mulhern’s award-winning, bittersweet chronicle of a hard-drinking, divorced father trying to salvage some semblance of dignity in an uncaring world. Nice supporting work by Janeane Garofalo (as Duane’s ex-wife), Susan Lynch, John Krasinski (of Leatherheads), Judah Friedlander and Dick Cavett, and great use of locations in and around Atlantic City. Rated R. ***

THE INITIATION OF SARAH (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): This enjoyable remake of a 1978 TV movie stars Mika Boorem as a college freshman mixed up with supernatural shenanigans when two sororities – one good and one evil – vie for her attention. An attractive cast, in more ways than one, also includes Jennifer Tilly, Summer Glau and Morgan Fairchild. Fun combination of cattiness and camp, but the open ending (for a potential series?) goes on a bit long. **½



IN MY COUNTRY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Director John Boorman’s adaptation of the best-seller Country of My Skull stars Samuel L. Jackson and Juliette Binoche as reporters covering the reconciliation hearings in South Africa just after the fall of apartheid. Well-meaning, with some powerful moments, but detours into melodrama hamper the intent. Good performances help, including those of Menzi “Ngubs” Ngubane and reliable Brendan Gleeson as a South African cop with a heinous history. Rated R. **

KILLER WAVE (Genius Products): A series of catastrophic tsunamis ravage the planet in this entertaining time-killer that is part-disaster movie and part-conspiracy thriller. Angus Macfadyen is the beefy hero and Karine Vanasse the lovely heroine. Originally broadcast on cable as a mini-series, this boasts a fun use of split-screen imagery and some tongue-in-cheek moments to help compensate for both overlength and its silly science-fiction wrap-up. Tom Skerritt and Stephen McHattie are also swept up in the proceedings. **

LOCH NESS TERROR (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Guess what just showed up in Lake Superior? A few hints: It’s big, it’s CGI, and it eats people. There are some fun moments, but not enough of them. Rated R. *½

McLINTOCK! (Paramount Home Entertainment): John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara are in prime form in director Andrew V. McLaglen’s boisterous 1963 comedy Western inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew. An energetic supporting cast includes Yvonne de Carlo, Stefanie Powers, Jack Kruschen, Chill Wills, Jerry Van Dyke, Edgar Buchanan, Leo Gordon, Michael Pate, Perry Lopez, Bruce Cabot and Strother Martin. This rollicking box-office hit was a Wayne family affair all around, with son Michael producing, son Patrick in a major role, and daughter Aissa (in her last screen role to date) on hand, too. This is available on a number of public-domain labels, but look for the Paramount label – this is the “authentic widescreen collector’s edition,” replete with a bevy of DVD extras. ***

“MIKE BIRBIGLIA – WHAT I SHOULD HAVE SAID WAS NOTHING: TALES FROM MY SECRET PUBLIC JOURNAL” (Shout! Factory): The stand-up comedian is performs live in concert. This DVD, which includes bonus footage, retails for $14.99.

“ROME” (HBO Video): All 12 episodes from the initial, 2005 season of the award-winning HBO drama series tracing life in glorious Rome, circa 52 B.C.-44 B.C. The cast includes Kevin McKidd, Ray Stevenson, Polly Walker, Lindsay Duncan and Ciaran Hinds (as Julius Caesar). Nominated for 8 Emmy awards, it won four – including art direction for a series (for the episode “Caesarion, Triumph, Kalends of February”), outstanding costumes for a series (for the episode “Triumph”), outstanding hairstyling for a series (for the episode “Stealing from Saturn”) and outstanding special visual effects for a series (for the episode “The Stolen Eagle”). This boxed set, which retails for $99.98, includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes and more.

WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): This silly show-biz parody gives John C. Reilly the chance to occupy center stage, playing a singer whose career is filled with both triumph and tribulation. Jenna Fischer also shines as Dewey’s second wife, but the comedic inspiration begins to flag after awhile. Rated R (also available in an extended, unrated edition). **

“WALT DISNEY’S TIMELESS TALES” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A collection of acclaimed animated shorts produced during the Uncle Walt’s Hollywood heyday. “Volume One” includes “The Three Little Pigs” (Academy Award winner for best animated short, 1933) and “The Tortoise and the Hare” (Academy Award winner for best animated short, 1935); “Volume Two” includes “The Country Cousin” (Academy Award winner for best animated short, 1936) and “Ferdinand the Bull” (Academy Award winner for best animated short, 1938). Each volume retails for $19.99, and each one includes a collectible, full-color, DVD storybook.

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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