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Mark Burger’s Video Week

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

NEXT (Paramount Home Entertainment): This adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s The Golden Man is a surprisingly exciting and entertaining popcorn movie that misfired at the box-office but ought to find its audience the second time around.

Nicolas Cage (also a producer) portrays Cris Johnson, a Las Vegas stage magician with an uncanny ability to see two minutes into the future. This comes in mighty handy when gambling, but circumstances soon find Cris gambling with his life.

Julianne Moore, in a fun change of pace, plays ballsy FBI agent Callie Ferris, who wants to use Cris’s skills in ferreting out a terrorist cell before it takes action. Cris tries to elude the Feds but winds up running afoul of the terrorists themselves, throwing him and his new girlfriend (Jessica Biel) into jeopardy.

Director Lee Tamahori throws logic to the wind and charges full speed ahead, lobbing twists and turns at a delirious pace. Next frequently makes more noise than sense. It’s high-concept brain candy and most definitely has its silly moments, but it’s also executed with enough snap and savvy to make it a fun and splashy diversion – plus it’s got a guest appearance by Peter Falk. What’s not to like? Rated PG-13. ***

ALSO ON DVD

“THE ASTAIRE AND ROGERS ULTIMATE COLLECTOR’S EDITION” (Warner Home Video): An incredible DVD boxed set that includes all 10 of the feature films highlighting the legendary teamwork (and footwork) of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, as well as the documentary Astaire and Rogers: Partners in Rhythm. The collection includes Flying Down to Rio (1933), which earned an Oscar nomination for best song (“Carioca”); The Gay Divorcee (1934), which won the Oscar for best song (“The Continental”) and earned additional nominations for best score, best art direction/set decoration, best sound recording and the big one, best picture; Roberta (1935), which co-stars Randolph Scott and Irene Dunne, and earned an Oscar nomination for best song (“Lovely to Look At”); Top Hat (1936), which received Oscar nominations for best picture, best art direction/set decoration, best dance direction and best song (Irving Berlin’s “Cheek to Cheek”); Follow the Fleet (1936); Swing Time (also ’36), which earned an Oscar for best song (“The Way You Look Tonight”) and a nomination for dance direction; Shall We Dance? (1937), which earned an Oscar nomination for best song (George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Way You Look Tonight”); Carefree (1938), which earned Oscar nominations for best score, best art direction/set decoration and best song (Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners and Dance with Me”); The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939); and their final onscreen pairing, The Barkleys of Broadway (1949), which earned an Oscar nomination for best cinematography (color). The boxed set retails for $199.98, individual titles for $19.97.

BABYLON 5: THE LOST TALES (Warner Home Video): The latest, feature-length follow-up installment to the popular Sci-Fi Channel series, again exploring the world of the 23rd century about an orbiting space station where the many races of the universe congregate to settle political negotiations and grievances. Original cast members Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins and Peter Woodward are back onboard, with series creator J. Michael Straczynski writing the screenplay, and co-directing with Sara Barnes. Even if you’re not a fan of the series, this bats around some interesting sci-fi ideas in concise, entertaining fashion. **1/2

CANNIBALS (Blue Underground): The title tells all in the indomitable Jess Franco’s 1980 shocker about unwary explorers who run afoul of savage natives who sometimes speak perfect English but also have an unhealthy appetite for human flesh – which they noisily devour in slow motion. Known in most countries as Mondo Cannibale and originally released to US grindhouses as White Cannibal Queen – but a stinker by any name. Banned in several countries – a boast it repeatedly tries to live up (or down) to. Franco gives an on-camera interview more entertaining than anything in the film. For some reason, producer Franco Prosperi is listed as the director in the opening credits. 1/2*

CHINATOWN (Paramount Home Entertainment): A “special collector’s edition” (not all that different from the earlier edition) of Roman Polanski’s dazzling 1974 crime drama, written by Robert Towne and starring Jack Nicholson as a private eye in 1930s’ Los Angeles whose latest case proves more complex than he initially thought. To say much more would spoil the craftiness of what is close to a perfect movie. A superb cast includes Faye Dunaway, John Huston, Perry Lopez, John Hillerman, Diane Ladd, Burt Young and Polanski in a memorable cameo. Towne’s original screenplay won the Academy Award – the only win of the film’s 11 nominations, which included best picture, best director, best actor (Nicholson), best actress (Faye Dunaway), best cinematography, best art direction/set decoration, best editing, best costume design, best sound and Jerry Goldsmith’s score. Rated R. ****

COMMUNE (First Run Features): Jonathan Berman’s documentary chronicles the history of Black Bear Ranch, a hippie happen in Siskiyou County, Calif. in the late 1960s, whose members included actor Peter Coyote. An appropriately rambling but engaging (and confidently made) look at free love, free will, and free spirits – and how the experience shaped the lives of its participants, even to this day. ***

“DIAGNOSIS MURDER” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 18 episodes from the 1995-’96 season of the long-running CBS series starring Dick Van Dyke as a physician with a knack for solving mysteries. Charlie Schlatter joins the show, succeeding Scott Baio (a major accomplishment). The series picked up the only Emmy nomination of its entire run this season, for outstanding achievement in music composition for a series (for the episode “Mind Over Murder”). Guest stars include George Hamilton, Terry O’Quinn, Susan Blakely, Dixie Carter and the much-missed Morton Downey Jr. This boxed set retails for $54.99.

EXPERIMENT IN TORTURE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Low-budget schlock centering on a group of strippers subjected to various forms of torture and torment at a remote mountain getaway. This “experiment” fails. Rated R. 1/2*

“HAPPY DAYS” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 1975-’76 season of the top-rated ABC prime-time sitcom about teenage life in Milwaukee in the 1950s. This was the year that Henry Winkler’s the Fonz really stormed into pop-culture consciousness, and Winkler even earned an Emmy nomination as outstanding lead actor in a comedy series that season. The boxed set retails for $42.99.

“HIGH SCHOOL PHENOMS – TOP OF THE CLASS” (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): A compilation of highlights from the best high-school games and pre-NBA appearances of such current stars as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett, Carlos Boozer, Greg Oden and Kevin Durant, hosted by Scoop Jackson. This DVD retails for $19.99.

“HIP HOP HARRY – FUN WITH FRIENDS” (Allumination FilmWorks): Three episodes of the popular, award-winning children’s series showcasing a rap-happy teddy bear, which currently airs on Discovery Kids and The Learning Channel, compiled on one DVD, which retails for $14.98. Like they said in The Hudsucker Proxy: “You know – for kids.”

HUSSY (First Run Features): Helen Mirren is both scintillating and sympathetic as a London call girl who falls in with a moody American expatriate (John Shea) in writer/director Matthew Chapman’s appropriately seedy 1980 melodrama. Mirren’s nude scenes made this was a late-night perennial on cable television throughout the ’80s, but this is hardly a raunchy comedy. **1/2

THE INSURGENTS (Allumination FilmWorks): Writer/director Scott Dacko makes a noteworthy feature debut with this topical and intriguing drama about a group of political dissidents (including Henry Simmons, Juliette Marquis and Michael Mosley) who drift into terrorism under the tutelage of a radical author (John Shea). Worth a look. Rated R. **1/2

INVINCIBLE (Miramax Home Entertainment): Mel Gibson and Jet Li were among the executive producers of this slick martial-arts melodrama pitting Billy Zane (in good humor) and a group of “super-evolved human warriors” against the forces of darkness. This wound up premiering on cable television (perhaps as a pilot?) and may be the only movie in which a bad guy is called “an arrogant putz.” Rated PG-13. **

THE KILLING KIND (Dark Sky Films): Curtis Harrington’s grim 1973 thriller stars John Savage (in his first lead) as a sexual psychopath who returns home from prison to stay with his smothering mother (Ann Sothern) – which only leads to more trouble. Also on hand: Cindy Williams (one of her first roles, too), Ruth Roman, Luana Anders and one-time Playboy playmate Sue Bernard. Like most of Harrington’s films, some chilling moments linger in the memory long after the movie has ended. The DVD includes the final on-camera interview with director Harrington, who died last May 6 (my birthday). I once had dinner with Harrington at a Thai restaurant in Los Angeles and he was a swell guy. Rated R. **

“LAVERNE & SHIRLEY” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): Following the top-rated “Happy Days” on Tuesday nights, this ABC sitcom had absolutely no problem holding onto the audience and becoming a prime-time smash in its own right. Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams star as roommates Laverne DeFazio and Shirley Feeney… but did you ever notice that this was merely a slight reworking of “The Odd Couple?” Michael McKean and David L. Lander stole many a scene as the ubiquitous Lenny and Squiggy. All 24 episodes from the 1977-’78 season are included in this boxed set, which retails for $42.99.

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): Peter Graves leads the “IMF” (Impossible Missions Force) through all 25 episodes from the 1968-’69 season of the ever-popular espionage series, which won an Emmy Award for Barbara Bain as outstanding continued performance by an actress in a leading role in a dramatic series, with an additional five nominations: outstanding dramatic aeries, outstanding dramatic presentation (for the episode “The Execution”), Graves and Martin Landau (outstanding performance by an actor in a leading role in a dramatic series) and Greg Morris (outstanding performance by an actor in a supporting role in a series). This boxed set retails for $54.99.

PETER PAN (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A limited-edition “platinum edition” of the studio’s 1953 animated classic based on JM Barrie’s classic story, featuring the voices of Bobby Driscoll as Peter and delightful Hans Conreid as Captain Hook. A wee bit slow at the outset, but this soon accelerates into one of the studio’s zippiest features ever. This was the last Disney film to be distributed by another company (in this case, RKO) before Uncle Walt set up Buena Vista. Rated G. ***1/2

RETURN TO NEVER LAND (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A “pixie-powered edition” of the much-belated sequel to Disney’s Peter Pan (see above), this 2002 animated feature was originally planned as a direct-to-video offering … and maybe should have stayed that way. Not bad, but nowhere near as good as the original. Rated G. **

THE TWO JAKES (Paramount Home Entertainment): Jack Nicholson returns as private eye Jake Gittes and directs this long-overdue (16 years) sequel to Chinatown, also written by Robert Towne, which sees Gittes embroiled in a case that recalls the earlier one, this time in post-World War II Los Angeles. A good-looking but convoluted film that won’t make much sense unless the viewer has just watched the earlier film… yet that’s part of this flawed film’s charm. Great supporting cast includes Harvey Keitel (as the second Jake), Richard Farnsworth, Meg Tilly, Madeleine Stowe, Ruben Blades, David Keith, Frederic Forrest, Perry Lopez and James Hong (from the original film), and the always-welcome Eli Wallach. This is a quintessential example of a film where the parts are greater than the whole. Rated R. ***

“THE WILD WILD WEST” – THE THIRD SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): Robert Conrad and Ross Martin are back, fighting crime on behalf of the US Secret Service in all 24 episodes from the 1967-’68 season of the CBS series. Guest stars include Robert Duvall, Bradford Dillman, Robert Loggia, Pernell Roberts, Ray Walston and, of course, diminutive Michael Dunn as the arch-villain Dr. Loveless. The boxed set retails for $54.99.

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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