Mark Burger’´s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

THE WACKNESS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/director Jonathan Levine’s irreverent character comedy is nothing we haven’t seen before, but has enough insight and energy to make it a winner. Set in New York City in 1994, this amiably hazy comedy follows disenchanted high-school graduate Luke (Josh Peck) as he contends with irresponsible parents and an unrequited crush on Stephanie (Olivia Thirlby), the stepdaughter of his psychiatrist Dr. Squires (the great Ben Kingsley), whom he pays for his sessions with marijuana.

Their shared dissatisfaction with their lives, combined with a mutual appetite for controlled substances, sends Luke and Dr. Squires staggering through the streets of New York, bonding and battling along the way. Luke also finds a way to make time with Stephanie, and finds the potential for romance. Yeah, this is a coming-of-age tale — but amusingly told and well-acted. Despite Kingsley’s broad “Noo Yawk” accent and a toupee that defies description, he gives yet another splendid performance, and he and Peck make for an appealing, if mismatched team. Also on hand are Famke Janssen as Stephanie’s frustrated mother, Method Man and Mary-Kate Olsen, who locks lips with Kingsley in the film’s most talkedabout moment. Rated R. ***


BURN AFTER READING (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Joel and Ethan Coen strike again with a bubbly black comedy about marital infidelity, mistaken identity and government secrets. A zesty cast includes George Clooney, Frances McDormand, Brad Pitt, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, JK Simmons and Richard Jenkins. Rated R. ***

A CANTERBURY TALE (The Criterion Collection): Michael Powell and Emeric Pressberger (see below) co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed this 1944 version of Geoffrey Chaucer’s classic story, with the time-frame changed to World War II and the setting to Powell’s birthplace of Kent, England. The cast includes Sheila Sim, Dennis Price and Eric Portman. For the American release, additional scenes were filmed with Kim Hunter and narration by Raymond Massey. This special-edition DVD, which includes retrospective documentaries and featurettes, retails for $39.95.

DARK HEART (MTI Home Video): Structured like a play (albeit a very violent one), writer/director Kevin Lewis’ award-winning melodrama stars Greg Joelson as an Iraqi War veteran abducted and beaten by an angry group of small-town drunks who believe that he’s hidden a fortune nearby. Needless to say, this is one man they’re going to wish they hadn’t messed with. Brooding and intense, with excellent cinematography by Marco Cappetta and a standout turn by veteran character actor R.D. Call as the principal villain. Rated R. ***

THE FILMS OF MICHAEL POWELL (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The cinematic legacy of the legendary writer/director (1905- 1990) is commemorated in this double feature that includes the award-winning 1946 fantasy A Matter of Life and Death (AKA Stairway to Heaven), which Powell co-wrote, co-produced and co-directed with long-time collaborator Emeric Pressberger, starring David Niven, Kim Hunter and Raymond Massey; and Age of Consent (1969), based on the autobiographical novel by Norman Lindsay and produced by Powell and leading man James Mason, who plays an artist seeking inspiration in Australia and finding it in a young, uninhibited Helen Mirren (in her first major screen role). Co-star Clarissa Kaye, making her screen debut, later married Mason in the real life. This special-edition DVD retails for $24.96.

THE GOOD LIFE (Image Entertainment): Pro skateboarder Steve Berra wrote and directed this well-acted but downbeat study of a young misfit (Mark Webber) struggling through a life in turmoil. A nice try… but it just misses, although it’s helped by the supporting cast: Zooey Deschanel, Harry Dean Stanton, Bill Paxton (also an executive producer), Drea De Matteo, Donal Logue, Deborah Rush, Patrick Fugit and Bruce McGill. Rated R. **

HATE CRIME (Image Entertainment): Writer/ producer/director Tommy Stovall’s auspicious, award-winning feature debut details the widespread repercussions of a homophobic hate crime in a quiet Texas suburb. A strong cast keeps this on track: Brian J Smith (in his screen debut, as the victim), Seth Peterson, Chad Donella, Bruce Davison, Cindy Pickett, Susan Blakely, Lin Shaye, Giancarlo Esposito and Farah White. Rated R. ***

HELLBREEDER (Gator Home Entertainment/MTI Home Video): A bereaved mother (Lyndie Uphill) is convinced that her child was murdered by a supernatural being that takes the form of a vicious clown in this incomprehensible low-budget chiller written, produced and directed by the not-very-dynamic duo of James Eaves and Johannes Roberts. Dominique Pinon co-stars as a cop on the case, and like everyone else in the film, looks utterly lost. Reportedly, this film underwent severe re-editing in post-production. The result is a botch. Rated R. ‘½*

IN THE GUTTER (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A flippant but entertaining documentary tracing the history of “gross-out” comedy in American moviemaking, with clips including National Lampoon’s Animal House, Blazing Saddles, The Meaning of Life, etc. **’½

JUSTINE DE SADE (Blue Underground): Director Claude Pierson’s 1972 Euro-sleaze costume drama, adapted from the Marquis de Sade’s story, features the frequently undressed Alice Arno as Therese, a delicate young maiden who is repeatedly subjected to all sorts of humiliation, often of the sexual sort. Elegant costumes and literary “pedigree” aside, this is frequently silly, occasionally unpleasant, softcore schlock. Arno’s real-life sister, Chantal Broquet, co-stars. This is the full, uncut version – never released before in the U.S. *

LOVE FOR SALE (One Village Entertainment/ Image Entertainment): Radio disc jockey Russ Parr wrote and directed this romantic comedy starring Jackie Long as an average guy who finds unexpected success as a modern-day gigolo. Slow getting started, but the cast is likable. At least it’s no Deuce Bigalow. Rated R. **

LOWER LEARNING (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The hi-jinks at Geraldine Ferraro Elementary School are depicted in this middling farce that has the benefit of a decent cast (Jason Biggs, Eva Longoria Parker, Monica Potter, Kyle Gass and Rob Corddry) and the occasional chuckle, but is generally disappointing otherwise. Rated R. *’½

MADHOUSE (Dark Sky Films): Producer/director Ovidio G Assonitis’ 1981 shocker stars Trish Everly (in her only film) as a young teacher tormented by memories of her deformed, deranged twin sister (Allison Biggers, in her screen debut), who has just escaped from the local asylum and appears to be stalking her. It took four screenwriters, including Assonitis, to cook up this bizarre, stilted, dreadfully acted melodrama, which features one of the more protracted stalking scenes in memory and a quote by George Bernard Shaw (!) over the end credits. Filmed in Savannah, Ga. Also known as There Was a Little Girl and Scared to Death, this was banned in some countries for years (lucky them) and never before released in the US until now. *

PAINTED HERO (Echo Bridge Home Entertainment): Writer/director Terry Benedict’s feature debut stars Dwight Yoakam as a rodeo clown who encounters trouble when he returns to his home town in Texas. Slow going, but helped by a good cast: Bo Hopkins, Cindy Pickett, John Getz, Michelle Joyner, Walton Goggins, Kiersten Warren, Peter Fonda and Bill Thurman (in his final film). Made in 1995 but not released until ’97. Rated R. **

RIDE THE WILD SURF (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Actor-turned-director Don Taylor helmed this picturesque 1964 surfing drama (!) with Tab Hunter, Fabian and Peter Brown as three college buddies from Malibu who take Christmas vacation in Hawaii to romance bitchin’ babes and battle killer waves… or is it the other way around? Barbara Eden, Shelley Fabares, Susan Hart and James Mitchum round out the cast of the nostalgic fluff. **

SAVING GOD (Cloud Ten Pictures/Echo Bridge Home Entertainment): Ving Rhames plays an ex-con-turned-minister who tries to turn around the gang-infested ghetto he grew up in. Somewhat obvious melodrama is less pushy than other Cloud Ten films, and played with conviction by Rhames (also an executive producer). Rated PG-13. **

SPIKER (MTI Home Video): Producer/director/ story writer Frank Zagarino plays an escaped albino serial killer who targets a group of randy teens on a weekend excursion in this low-rent, low-interest, predictable slasher junk, originally titled Blood Rails. This killer favors railroad spikes, hence the title. There are more than a dozen executive producers credited. Rated R. ‘½*

TROPIC THUNDER (Paramount Home Entertainment): Ben Stiller co-wrote, produced, directed and stars in this outrageous spoof of big-budget action filmmaking, in which he and fellow actors Robert Downey Jr. and Jack Black find themselves in an actual skirmish while filming a Vietnam War epic in Southeast Asia. A little long at times, but loaded with laughs — including some savage digs at contemporary Hollywood. Downey, playing an Australian-born Oscar winner who has changed his skin pigmentation to play a black soldier, and Black as a drug-addled movie star, are in top form. Stiller’s movie-within-a-movie, Simple Jack, is a scream. Also on hand: Nick Nolte, Steve Coogan, UNCSA alumnus Danny McBride, Matthew McConaughey and an unrecognizable Tom Cruise, playing a sleazy producer. Available as a single DVD ($19.99 retail), a two-disc Unrated Director’s Cut ($24.99 retail) and the Director’s Cut Blu-ray ($29.99 retail). Rated R. ***

VAMPYRES (Blue Underground): In their respective screen debuts, Marianne Morris and Anulka (AKA Anulka Dziubinska, Playboy’s Miss May 1973) portray bisexual bloodsuckers at large in the remote English countryside. It’s easy to see why this softcore 1974 shocker, directed by Jose Ramon Larraz, has long been a cult favorite: Any red-blooded male would be happy to fall victim to this delectable duo. This special-edition DVD is the complete, uncut version of the film. That’s silent screen star Bessie Love in the final scene. **

THE X-FILES: I WANT TO BELIEVE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): With series creator Chris Carter in the director’s chair, David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson return as Mulder and Scully in the second feature film based on the popular prime-time sci-fi series, which ran from 1993-2002 on Fox. This well-made but ponderous mystery involves illegal organ transplants, two-headed dogs and renegade Russians — but it’s all build-up and too little payoff. Even fans were disappointed. Rated PG-13 (also available in an extended version). **

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2009, Mark Burger