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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

BREAKING NEWS (Palm Pictures/Visual Entertainment): Director Johnnie To’s furious, fast-moving crime thriller is a quintessential example of Asian-style cops-and-robbers, filled with ironic humor and an intense claustrophobia that serves it very well indeed.

After the embarrassing defeat of local police by a group of bank robbers is broadcast on television, public trust plummets. When the cops discover the robbers’ hideout – in a downtown Hong Kong high-rise – ambitious young Inspector Fong (Kelly Chen) has the siege broadcast live on television, figuring that it’s only a matter of time before the situation is contained.

She couldn’t be more wrong, as dozens of cops (led by Nick Cheung and Hui Siu Hung) find themselves shooting it out with not one, but two gangs – the second one sent to eliminate the first one! Of course, several innocent tenants are taken hostage or caught in the line of fire, and as the situation spirals out of control, the robbers (led by Richie Jen) turn the TV coverage to their advantage, much to the continued consternation of both police and public.

The film incorporates sharp, sometimes satirical, points about media manipulation into the story, but never at the expense of blazing action. It’s like Die Hard with social commentary, and it’s an absolute knockout. (In Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles). ***½

ALSO ON DVD

ACES ‘N’ EIGHTS (Genius Products): It isn’t John Ford and it isn’t Clint Eastwood, but Western fans will get their fill from this fast-moving shoot-’em-up pitting ranchers (including Casper Van Dien and Bruce Boxleitner) against the minions of an unscrupulous railroad tycoon (William Atherton). Jeff Kober, Jack Noseworthy, Deirdre Quinn and the indomitable Ernest Borgnine also saddle up for this enjoyable melodrama. **½

BEFORE THE DEVIL KNOWS YOU’RE DEAD (THINKFilm/Image Entertainment): Troubled brothers Philip Seymour Hoffman and Ethan Hawke (both superb) decide to turn their financial fortunes around by robbing a jewelry store – the one owned by their mother (Winston-Salem’s own Rosemary Harris) and father (the peerless Albert Finney)… that’s just the beginning of this sprawling, deeply emotional, flawlessly acted family thriller directed with unparalleled verve and nerve by Sidney Lumet and written with supreme, sharp assurance by first-timer (!) Kelly Masterson. Marisa Tomei, Amy Ryan, Michael Shannon, Aleksa Palladino (welcome back!), Bryan O’Byrne and Leonardo DiCimino add indelible supporting moments in what was one of 2007’s very best – and most overlooked – films. It won some awards but not nearly enough of them. Pretty damned near perfect. Don’t rent it; buy it. Rated R. ****

BORDER LOST (Allumination FilmWorks): Writer/producer/directors Scott Peck and David Murphy’s feature debut is a gritty shoot-’em-up, inspired by actual events (according to the opening legend), pitting maverick border cops against an illegal immigration ring. This topical but overly familiar melodrama does boast a kinetic style not unlike that of Steven Soderbergh, Oliver Stone or William Friedkin. Interesting, but often distracting, use of subtitles. Rated R. **

EMPLOYEE OF THE MONTH (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Rivals Dane Cook and Dax Shepard vie for the title honor – and the honor of wooing buxom new cashier Jessica Simpson, who (rumor has it) only dates the employee of the month. Enthusiastic performances, especially those of Efren Ramirez (as Shepard’s toady) and Andy Dick, keep this flimsy farce watchable, but it goes on way too long. Still, any film with the ’80s classic “Surrender” (performed over the end credits by Camp Freddy) can’t be all bad. Rated PG-13. **

“FATHER KNOWS BEST” – SEASON ONE (Shout! Factory): All 26 episodes from the 1954-’55 season of the TV sitcom spun off from Robert Young’s popular radio show. This remains one of the few television shows to have run on all three of the major networks. This boxed set, which retails for $34.99, includes behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with co-stars Elinor Donahue and Lauren Chapin, and the never-before-seen episode “24 Hours in Tyrantland,” which was commissioned by the Department of the Treasury in an effort to sell bonds.

GRIZZLY RAGE (Genius Products): Dumb teenagers on a camping excursion accidentally run over a bear cub, and Mama Bear is none to happy about it… but she’s plenty hungry. Director David DeCoteau is an old hand at this sort of thing, so he knows the drill. It may be stupid, but it moves. **

HEEBIE JEEBIES (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The feature debut of writer/producer/directors Doug Evans an Michael Hawkins-Burgos (who also co-star) is a low-budget horror anthology centering around the dire psychic visions of a young girl (Bobbie Jo Westphall)… which all come horrifyingly true. There are a few novel tricks, and give the cast and crew a few points for trying something different, but this is pretty weak overall. Still, it might be nice to hear from these filmmakers again. Rated R. *½

“HIYA, KIDS!! – A ’50S SATURDAY MORNING” (Shout! Factory): A compilation of 21 complete episodes of popular children’s shows from the 1950s, including “Howdy Dowdy,” “Kukla, Fran and Ollie,” “The Rootie Kazootie Club,” “Winky Dink and You,” “Andy’s Gang,” “The Pinky Lee Show,” “The Paul Winchell Show,” “Super Circus” and many others. This 4-DVD boxed set retails for $34.99.

MAD MONEY (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Director Callie Khouri’s pallid caper comedy (and remake of a British TV movie) stars Diane Keaton, Katie Holmes and Queen Latifah as three ladies who supplement their incomes by stealing soon-to-be-destroyed currency from the Federal Reserve Bank. Rated PG-13. *½

MIST: THE TALE OF A SHEEPDOG PUPPY (Allumination FilmWorks): The title tells all in this cute, sometimes precious adaptation of David Kennard’s story, narrated by Derek Jacobi and aimed squarely at the family audience. Mel Giedroyc provides the voice of Mist, and author Kennard appears as “the Boss.” This launched a popular children’s TV series in the UK. **

“THE MUPPET SHOW” – THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 1978-’79 season of the perennially popular comedy/variety show featuring Jim Henson’s Muppets and such guest stars as Sylvester Stallone, Raquel Welch, Gilda Radner, Alice Cooper, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge (husband and wife at the time), Harry Belafonte and Danny Kaye. The show picked up an Emmy nomination that season as outstanding comedy/variety or music program. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

THE NEW MAVERICK (Warner Home Video): James Garner and Jack Kelly return as brothers and cardsharps Bret and Bart Maverick in this easy-going 1978 reunion movie that introduced Charles Frank as Ben Maverick and spawned the subsequent “Young Maverick” series on CBS-TV. Frank’s real-life wife, Susan Blanchard, co-stars here and joined Frank in the later series. Susan Sullivan plays Poker Alice. Garner would reprise the Bret Maverick role in the NBC series “Bret Maverick” in the early ’80s, and then starred with Mel Gibson and Jodie Foster in the 1994 feature film. **½

OVER HER DEAD BODY (New Line Home Entertainment): After dying in a wedding-day mishap, Eva Longoria Parker tries to prevent her fiancé (Paul Rudd) from romancing a sexy, part-time psychic (Lake Bell) that he’s consulted in his grief. Sitcom veteran Jeff Lowell makes his feature directorial debut and provides the voice of the parrot, but this updated (and unacknowledged) version of Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit just isn’t funny. Rated PG-13. *

“SPEED RACER, THE NEXT GENERATION: THE BEGINNING” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Just in time for the big-budget, live-action summer film comes the feature-length pilot for the animated version of the Nickelodeon’s cable-TV series, focusing on the mechanized misadventures of Speed Racer’s orphaned son. This DVD, which retails for $19.98, includes a promotional featurette, an interactive racing game, and even tips on fuel efficiency (nice touch).

STRANGE WILDERNESS (Paramount Home Entertainment): Steve Zahn heads a colossally funny cast in this colossally unfunny spoof of nature programs, in which a group of colossally inept documentary filmmakers attempt to uncover the existence of Bigfoot. Jonah Hill, Allen Covert, Justin Long, Harry Hamlin, Robert Patrick, Joe Don Baker, Jeff Garlin, Peter Dante and even the great Ernest Borgnine can’t save it. A colossally missed opportunity… Rated R. *

“THE TOM SELLECK WESTERN COLLECTION” (Warner Home Video): A trio of made-for-TNT Westerns starring Tom Selleck (also executive producer of all three): The award-winning 1997 adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s Last Stand at Saber River co-stars Suzy Amis and real-life siblings David and Keith Carradine; the award-winning adaptation of Louis L’Amour’s Crossfire Trail (2001) co-stars Virginia Madsen, Mark Harmon and Wilford Brimley; and the award-winning 2003 remake of Monte Walsh, based on Jack Schaffer’s novel, stars Selleck in the title role along with Isabella Rossellini, George Eads and real-life siblings Keith and Robert Carradine, and earned an Emmy nomination for outstanding sound editing for a mini-series, movie or special. This boxed set retails for $19.97, individual titles for $14.98.

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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