Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


SEE NO EVIL: THE STORY OF THE MOORS MURDERS (MPI Home Video): One of England’s most notorious murder cases is given thorough and effective treatment in this well-rendered docudrama, originally broadcast in two parts on English television.

For devotees of true crime, the names Ian Brady and Myra Hindley need no introduction. In the mid-1960s, the couple (played here by Sean Harris and Maxine Peak) was accused of murdering five children. Shortly before their trial, the death penalty was abolished in England, yet the crimes were so heinous that there was a huge public outcry to reinstate it.

Leaving most of the grislier details of the murders to the viewer’s imagination – which in no way render them less effective – this persuasive procedural tends to focus on the principal characters in the case. In addition to Hindley and Brady, who remain (appropriately) inscrutable throughout, the impact of the case is also felt by Myra’s sister Maureen (Joanna Froggatt) and brother-in-law Dave (Michael McNulty), both of whom were also vilified to some extent given how much time they spent with Myra and Ian.

There’s also superior work by George Costigan as Joe Mounsey, the diligent police detective who eventually cracked the case, and Charlotte Emmerson as his partner, Pat Clayton. As for the actual perpetrators, Brady and Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment. Hindley died in 2002; Brady is still alive. ***


“BURKE’S LAW” – SEASON ONE, VOLUME ONE (VCI Entertainment): Gene Barry stars in the title role of the first 16 episodes from the 1963-’64 season of the prime-time ABC-TV mystery series (one of the first produced by Aaron Spelling), in which the chief of detectives of the LA Police Department – who also happens to be a millionaire playboy – solves a seemingly unsolvable murder each week. Other regulars: Gary Conway, Regis Toomey and Leon Lontoc, the latter as Burke’s faithful driver, Henry. The lineup of guest stars includes Telly Savalas, Gloria Swanson, Mary Astor, Broderick Crawford, Sammy Davis Jr., Terry-Thomas, Carolyn Jones (then married to Spelling), Zasu Pitts (in her final TV appearance), Ed Begley, William Bendix, Burgess Meredith, Keenan Wynn, Ida Lupino, Don Rickles, Cedric Hardwicke, Nick Adams, John Ireland and even Soupy Sales. Both Swanson and Jones earned Golden Globe nominations for their work here. This boxed set retails for $29.99.

CITY SLICKERS (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A “collector’s edition” of director Ron Howard’s satisfying high-concept 1991 comedy smash, with Billy Crystal (also the executive producer), Bruno Kirby and Daniel Stern as three friends who embark on an eventful vacation sojourn at a modern-day dude ranch. The cherry on top is Jack Palance’s Oscar-winning performance (best supporting actor) as Curly, the grizzled (but ill-fated) trail boss. Jake Gyllenhaal makes his screen debut as Crystal’s son. Rated PG-13. ***½

CUT OFF (Union Station Media/Anchor Bay Entertainment): An engagingly trashy guilty pleasure with Amanda Brooks as a spoiled heiress who turns to crime immediately after being cut off by her wealthy father (Malcolm McDowell). Fast-paced and occasionally hilarious, with nods toward The Wizard of Oz and nice work from Thomas Ian Nicholas (as Brooks’ drug-addled boyfriend), Patricia Rae, Jimmy Shubert, rapper Kurupt, James Russo (in his umpteenth turn as a hard-boiled cop), Richard Edson, Francesco Quinn, Clint Howard, Anne Archer, Faye Dunaway (as Brooks’ mother) and Matthew H Fisher and Robert F Lyons as sleazy policemen named “Bush” and “Cheney.” Can you dig it? **½

DARFUR NOW (Warner Home Video): Writer/director Ted Braun’s well-rendered and award-winning documentary feature focuses on the efforts of six different people (including actor Don Cheadle, who also produced and did some filming) to raise awareness and lobby for support on behalf of the suffering populace of war-torn Darfur in the Sudan. Rated PG. ***

“ESPN RINGSIDE RIVALRIES” (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products LLC): A special-edition DVD that examines some of professional boxing’s more noteworthy (and notorious) rivalries, including James Braddock/Joe Louis, Jake LaMotta/Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Frazier/Muhammad Ali. This two-disc “Slugfest Edition,” which retails for $27.95, includes observations from boxing experts about the fights and fighters, as well as the complete, uncut broadcasts of the “Thrilla in Manila” and the “St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.” Everybody reveres Muhammad Ali, and that’s fine – but give me Smokin’ Joe Frazier any day.

“FORGOTTEN NOIR – COLLECTOR’S SET, SERIES ONE” (VCI Entertainment): A selection of DVD double-features of low-budget film-noir rarities. Volume 1 includes Kurt Neumann’s 1954 white-slavery melodrama They Were So Young, with Scott Brady, Raymond Burr and Gert Frobe, and Portland Expose (1957) with Edward Binns and Frank Gorshin. Volume 2 includes George Raft in Loan Shark (1952) and director William Berke’s Arson, Inc. (1949). Volume 3 includes Cesar Romero in the 1953 whodunit Shadow Man (AKA Street of Shadows) and Berke’s 1947 crime drama Shoot to Kill, featuring a great turn by Edmund MacDonald as a corrupt DA. The boxed set retails for $29.99, individual volumes for $14.99.

GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN (Anchor Bay Entertainment): This bubble-headed teen comedy from 1985 is harmless fun, due in large part to such enthusiastic up-and-comers as Sarah Jessica Parker, Helen Hunt, Shannen Doherty and Jonathan Silverman. Evidently, however, the budget didn’t allot for Cyndi Lauper’s rendition of the title tune… which, as we all know, is the definitive one. Rated PG. **

A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Screenwriter/director Leslie Small’s adaptation of David Payton’s popular ’90s’ touring play stars Darrin Dewitt Henson as a handsome minister trying to deal with the personal problems of his parishoners, while his ambitious wife (Golden Brooks) succumbs to the temptations of a potential show-biz career. Melissa De Sousa, Joe Torry, Darius McCrary, Hill Harper, real-life bishop Noel Jones (in his screen debut) and Tatyana Ali (briefly) also appear in this soap-opera melodrama that’s at least better-acted than expected. Rated PG-13. **

NAVAJO JOE (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A strapping Burt Reynolds plays the title role in Sergio Corbucci’s 1966 spaghetti Western, that of a cunning and fearless Navajo brave who avenges his tribe’s massacre at the hands (and guns) of a gang of outlaws. Produced by Dino De Laurentiis’s company, Reynolds joked in later years, when it came to his spaghetti Western, “I worked with the wrong Sergio.” The blaring score, replete with blaring theme song, is by Ennio Morricone under the pseudonym “Leo Nichols.” This is standard issue all the way, but does offer the novelty (still) of a Native American character who is the hero of the story, and the widescreen DVD transfer is quite nice. **

THE NUDE BOMB (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Don Adams returns as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86, in this fitfully funny 1980 comedy based on the popular 1960s TV series “Get Smart.” Here, Smart is once again battling the forces of KAOS, which has developed a weapon that can destroy all clothing throughout the world. Vittorio Gassman hams it up as the villain, and the cast includes such familiar faces as Dana Elcar (succeeding the late Ed Platt as “The Chief”), Norman Lloyd, Vito Scotti, Walter Brooke, Richard Sanders, Rhonda Fleming, co-screenwriter Bill Dana and some holdovers from the series: Joey Forman as Agent 13 and Robert Karvelas as Larrabee. Fans of the show have a big head start. Best gags: The desk-mobile and the “shush”-copter, and the filmmakers get plenty of mileage out of the Universal Studios Tour. I saw this in the theater for my 12th birthday. (It had to be something rated PG, so…) Rated PG. **½

“THE ODD COUPLE” – SEASON FOUR (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 22 episodes from the 1973-’74 season of the ever-popular TV sitcom adapted from Neil Simon’s hit play, with the peerless pairing of Tony Randall as Felix Unger and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison. During its prime-time run, the series was only a mild ratings success. In syndication, however, it went through the roof – and still airs regularly. This is one show I never get tired of watching. Three Emmy nominations that season: Outstanding comedy series and best lead actor in a comedy series (Randall and Klugman both). This boxed set retails for $39.98.

“THE PASSION OF GREG THE BUNNY” – THE BEST OF THE FILM PARODIES VOLUME 2 (Shout! Factory): All five episodes from the 2006 (and second) season of the popular Independent Film Channel series in which obnoxious puppets “remake” popular films – in this case, Blue Velvet, Dogville, Freaky Friday and both American Movie and The Passion of the Christ (in the same episode, no less). This DVD includes deleted scenes and outtakes, commentaries by series creators and a reunion special, and retails for $19.99.

“PRIDE SHOCKWAVE 2006” (Pride FC Worldwide LLC/BCI): For extreme-fighting fans, here’s the championship event held in Japan on Dec. 31, 2006, as Fedor Emelianenko defends his title against Mark Hunt. Other bouts include Kiyoshi Tamura vs. Ikuhisa Minowa, Shinya Aoki vs. Joachim Hansen, Takanori Gomi vs. Mitsuhiro Ishida, etc. This DVD retails for $19.98.

PS I LOVE YOU (Warner Home Video): Hilary Swank, who looks great in her underwear, plays a young widow who starts receiving letters from her deceased hunk of a husband (Gerard Butler, no slouch in the looks department himself) giving her advice on how to move on with her life, in this awkward adaptation of Cecelia Ahern’s best-seller, a bizarre and occasionally jaw-dropping combination of romantic comedy and pathos. A “chick flick” to the Nth degree, this is at least better than Swank and director/co-screenwriter Richard LaGravnese’s earlier team-up, the unbearable Freedom Writers. Two or three more movies together and they might make something tolerable. A full-tilt supporting cast includes Kathy Bates, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, James Marsters and Harry Connick Jr., but the end theme song by James Blunt is the last straw for anyone with testosterone. Rated PG-13. *½

“SOAP” – THE COMPLETE SERIES (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): All 90 episodes from the controversial but often inventive ABC-TV sitcom that poked fun at the clichés of nighttime soap operas as it depicted (in broad fashion) the antics of two suburban families: The blue-collar Campbells and the white-collar Tates. This was the first prime-time series to feature an openly gay character, Jodie Tate – and it launched the actor playing him (Billy Crystal) to prominence. During its 1977-’81, the show thrice earned Emmy nominations as outstanding comedy series, and won Emmys for Richard Mulligan (Burt Campbell), Cathryn Damon (Mary Campbell) and Robert Guillaume (Benson) – as well as spawning the series “Benson.” My mom wouldn’t let me watch this show but I did anyway. This 12-disc boxed set retails for $59.95.

TO KILL A KING (Union Station Media/Starz Home Entertainment): A familiar but well-acted historical melodrama tracing Oliver Cromwell’s rise to power in 17th-century England – the first (and last?) time that the country would be a republic instead of a monarchy. Tim Roth seethes as Cromwell, Rupert Everett dithers as the doomed King Charles I, and Dougray Scott (also an associate producer) plays Lord Gen. Thomas Fairfax, whose notions of reform were less extreme than Cromwell’s, which brought the two men into conflict. Olivia Williams, James Bolam and the always-welcome Corin Redgrave round out a polished cast. **½

WELCOME HOME, ROSCOE JENKINS (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Martin Lawrence, in one of his better performances, plays the title role in writer/director Malcolm D. Lee’s so-so ensemble comedy about a popular TV talk-show host whose family reunion (predictably) goes haywire. Also part of the clan: James Earl Jones, Margaret Avery, Michael Clarke Duncan, Mike Epps, Cedric the Entertainer (who’s funny) and Mo’Nique (who’s not). Rated PG-13. **

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

Copyright 2008, Mark Burger