Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

SHOTGUN STORIES (Liberation Entertainment/Genius Products): NCSA School of Filmmaking alumnus Jeff Nichols makes an auspicious feature debut as writer and director of this haunting and intense drama.

Set in a small Arkansas town, the film depicts a latter-day blood feud between the sons of a patriarch who had two families. As an abusive and raging alcoholic, he fathered three sons that he never bothered to properly name: Son (Michael Shannon), Kid (Barlow Jacobs) and Boy (Douglas Ligon). After kicking the bottle and finding religion, he started over and remarried, fathering four more boys: Cleaman (Michael Abbott Jr.), Mark (Travis Smith), Stephen (Lynsee Provence) and John (David Rhodes).

It is Son who speaks for his brothers at the old man’s funeral, in blunt terminology that serves only to reopen old wounds between the half-siblings. This time, however, nothing is going to staunch the flow of blood, as each act of retribution escalates in intensity and consequence. One by one, the Hayes boys are killing each other off, and no one is able to do anything about it.

Depressing yet devastating, the film features uncommonly good acting (particularly by Shannon), writing and directing. This is a story about violence that focuses not on the act itself, but on the emotional and physical devastation it wreaks. Strong stuff, powerfully executed.

Rated PG-13. ***½

(For an exclusive interview with Shotgun Stories producer David Gordon Green, see page 43)


“ARMY WIVES” – THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 13 episodes from the 2007 season of the popular, award-winning Lifetime drama, based on the non-fiction best-seller Under the Sabers: The Unwritten Code of Army Wives, depicting life on a US Army base in the South as seen through the eyes of the soldiers’ wives. Catherine Bell and Kim Delaney head the ensemble cast, and Greensboro’s own R. Keith Harris played the base chaplain in the pilot episode. This boxed set, which includes such special features as deleted scenes and audio commentaries, retails for $39.99.

DON’T CALL ME BUGSY (MPI Home Video): This 1992 documentary examines the violent rise and equally violent fall of gangster Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (1906-1941), the New York-born mobster whose dream it was to create the greatest gambling palace the world had ever seen: the Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. As it turned out, he gambled with his life… and lost. Among those who weigh in are authors Andy Edmonds and Max Allan Collins, screenwriter Charles Bennett, entertainer Rose Marie and others. **½

HEATHERS (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A “20th High School Reunion Edition” of director Michael Lehmann’s award-winning 1989 debut feature starring Winona Ryder as a high-school student who plots to murder the most popular girls in her class (all of whom seem to be named Heather) with the help of a reckless new student (Christian Slater) whom she falls for. A smart and hip black comedy… but a tad overrated. Just try telling that to its legion of fans, however. Rated R. ***

HE WAS A QUIET MAN (Anchor Bay Entertainment): In a real change of pace, Christian Slater (looking very different than he did in Heathers!) gives a terrific performance as a nerdy, sociopathic corporate shill who unexpectedly becomes a hero when a fellow employee goes on a shooting spree, and is later drawn into a relationship with one of the survivors (Elisha Cuthbert) of the incident. Writer/director Frank Cappello’s surreal black comedy packs a real wallop, but the twist ending misses the mark. Still, this is well worth catching. Cuthbert and William H. Macy (as Slater’s boss) are also excellent. Rated R. ***

HIS DOUBLE LIFE (Alpha Home Video): This 1933 comedy of mistaken identity, based on Arnold Bennett’s play, stars Roland Young as a renowned painter so reclusive that, when his manservant dies, he assumes his identity and starts his life over. This is the only sound film directed by Arthur Hopkins and, despite nice work by Young and leading lady Lillian Gish, it’s slow going – especially for a screwball comedy – until the courtroom climax. **

HOW SHE MOVE (Paramount Home Entertainment): Newcomer Rutina Wesley plays a teenager who tries to escape her urban neighborhood and earn money for college by participating in step-dance competitions. Nice performances (including those of Dwain Murphy, Brennan Gademans and Cle Bennett) and energetic step sequences, but too often this veers into “Afterschool Special” soap-opera territory. Rated PG-13. **

“I BET YOU” – SEASON 1 (MOJO HD/Infinity Entertainment Group): All 8 episodes (plus two bonus episodes) from the first season of the MOJO HD reality-TV series focusing on the antics of poker champions and best friends Phil “The Unabomber” Laak and Antonio “The Magician” Esfandiari, as they wager their way through life. This two-disc set retails for $24.98.

MAMA’S BOY (Warner Home Video): Jon Heder plays a 29-year-old guy who still lives at home with his widowed mother (Diane Keaton), and bristles when a new man (Jeff Daniels) enters her – and thereby, his – life. This predictable comedy, which the studio gave a half-hearted theatrical release, gets some mileage out of its talented cast, which includes Anna Faris, Mary Kay Place (who has nothing to do), Sarah Chalke and the always-welcome Eli Wallach, but there’s only so much they can do. Rated PG-13. **

NFL: MANNING, BRADY AND FAVRE – THE QUARTERBACKS (Warner Home Video): The title says it all, as this official NFL Films release spotlights the careers of three superstar quarterbacks who have led their respective teams to Super Bowl glory: Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts), Brett Favre (Green Bay Packers) and Tom Brady (New England Patriots). Of course, we now know that one or more of New England’s three championships may have been tainted the old-fashioned way – by cheating. Tsk, tsk…. This DVD retails for $19.98.

OTIS (Warner Home Video): A broad black comedy with Bostin Christopher as an obese suburban serial killer who kidnaps a teenaged neighbor (Ashley Johnson), much to the mounting concern of her parents (Illeana Douglas and Daniel Stern), brother (Jared Kusnitz), and a smug, ineffectual FBI agent (Jere Burns, cast to type). Alternately creepy, funny, grisly and edgy, with an excellent score by James S. Levine (and some killer ’80s tunes thrown in for good measure). Although the energy flags, the collective zeal of the performers takes it over the top – and keeps it there. Check out the (wisely) deleted ending in the special features. ***

“POPEYE THE SAILOR 1938-1940, VOLUME 2” (Warner Home Video): A collection of 31 fully restored and unedited animated theatrical shorts created by Max Fleischer and based on the classic comics character created by Elzie Segar. This DVD, which retails for $34.98, also includes commentaries, documentaries and rare archival. Warner Home Video is also releasing “Popeye and Friends, Volume 1,” a collection of eight color cartoon shorts from the Saturday-morning Hanna-Barbera series. This DVD retails for $14.97. The character of Popeye was so popular that spinach sales skyrocketed, and it’s hard to argue his credo: “I Yam What I Yam!”

“PRESSURE COOK” – SEASON 1 (MOJO HD/Infinity Entertainment Group): All 10 episodes from the debut season of the Mojo HD reality-TV series in which renowned chef Ralph Pagano goes to a random country with 72 hours in which to earn enough money (via his culinary expertise) for plane fare back to the US. This boxed set retails for $24.98.

“THE REAL McCOYS” – COMPLETE SEASON 3 (Infinity Entertainment Group): All 39 episodes from the 1959-’61 season(s) of the popular half-hour TV sitcom about a wacky rural family from West Virginia that settles in southern California to become dirt farmers. This was the only season the series received any Emmy consideration, garnering five nominations (but no wins) including those for series stars Walter Brennan (best actor in a leading role in a comedy series), Richard Crenna (best actor in a supporting role in a comedy series) and Kathleen Freeman (best actress in a supporting role in a comedy series). I don’t know about you, but I miss Richard Crenna. He was cool. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

“THE SUITE LIFE OF ZACK AND CODY: LIP SYNCHIN’ IN THE RAIN” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Four episodes from the popular Disney Channel series starring teen twins Dylan and Cole Sprouse. This DVD, which includes such special features as outtakes, bloopers and more, retails for $19.99.

THE TATTOOIST (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A brooding horror film with Jason Behr as a tattoo artist cursed after he stealing a sacred Samoan tool. There are some queasy moments (for those who care), but this takes forever to get going… and then it doesn’t really go anywhere. This marks the debut feature of director Peter Burger (no relation). Rated R. *½

TYPHOON (Genius Products): Writer/director Kwak Kyung-Taek’s sleek, slam-bang action yarn pits a young Naval Intelligence officer (Lee Jung-Jae) against a cunning terrorist (Jang Dong-Gun) who is planning to launch toxic waste (taken from Chernobyl, no less!) in the middle of a typhoon as it hits South Korea, thereby contaminating the populace. Had this been an American film, you would have expected it to star the likes of a Steven Seagal or a Jean-Claude Van Damme. Thankfully, it’s not so it doesn’t. (In Korean with English subtitles) Rated R. ***

WHERE IS JIMMY HOFFA? (MPI Home Video): Subtitled “The Life and Disappearance of Labor Legend,” this fascinating 1992 documentary examines the tumultuous career of Teamster leader James Riddle Hoffa, whose disappearance on July 30, 1975 remains one of the 20th century’s great unsolved mysteries. Archival footage and rare interviews are augmented by interviews with journalists, biographers and former labor officials. According to the speculation here, Jimmy’s remains did not end up in the foundation of Giants Stadium… but maybe not too far away! ***

YANKEE STADIUM – BASEBALL’S CATHEDRAL (MLB Productions/Shout! Factory): Chazz Palminteri, who wrote and starred in A Bronx Tale, narrates this feature-length documentary detailing the illustrious 85-year history of what may well be the most famous landmark of the Bronx – the “House That Ruth Built.” This two-DVD collector’s edition, which includes a commemorative ticket and coin, retails for $26.99.

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

Copyright 2008, Mark Burger