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by Mark Burger

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ALEC GUINNESS 5-FILM COLLECTION (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A selection of films starring the great Alec Guinness (1914-2000), truly one of the most versatile actors of the 20 th century: Guinness plays eight roles — all of them murdered by greedy relative Dennis Price — in the classic 1949 adaptation of Kind Hearts and Coronets; playing a brilliant scientist whose invention of a fabric that can’t be dirtied sparks an international crisis, in The Man in the White Suit (1951), which earned an Academy Award nomination for best screenplay (adaptation); playing a mild-mannered bank teller who masterminds the perfect crime in The Lavender Hill Mob (also ’51), which won an Oscar for TEB Clarke’s original screenplay and earned a best actor nomination for Guinness; portraying a charming ferry-boat skipper who happens to be married to two women (Yvonne de Carlo and Celia Johnson) — one in each port — in The Captain’s Paradise (1954), which earned an Oscar nomination for motion picture story. All of the films are terrific, but my personal favorite is The Ladykillers (1955), in which Guinness leads a crew of bank robbers — including Peter Sellers, Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker and Danny Green –—who repeatedly attempt, and fail, to murder the little old lady (Katie Johnson) whose boarding house they’re hiding out in. Guinness’ entrance is a scream, and it only gets funnier after that. William Rose’s original screenplay earned an Academy Award nomination. This boxed set retails for $39.95. It’s worth it.

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ALSO ON DVD AND NEVER LET HER GO (Genius Entertainment): Adapted from the true-crime best-seller by Ann Rule, this absorbing and suspenseful thriller stars Mark Harmon as Thomas Capano, a high-powered Delaware attorney whose turbulent affair with government staffer Anne Marie Fahey (Kathryn Morris) ended in murder. A solid supporting cast includes Rachel Ward, Olympia Dukakis, Rebecca Jenkins and Paul Michael Glaser (particularly good as a veteran homicide detective), but it’s Morris’ superb performance as the victim that adds a palpable layer of tragedy and sadness to the proceedings. Originally broadcast as a mini-series in 2001. ***’

ARTIFACTS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): This award-winning, existential, sci-fi psycho-thriller stars Mary Stockley as a woman who realizes something’s very wrong when her friends start getting killed — by their exact doubles! Filmed, guerilla-style over 12 days (in Belgium, no less) by writer/producer/directors Giles Daoust and Emmanuel Jespers, this doesn’t always compute, but it’s frequently intriguing and unsettling — and at 75 minutes can hardly be accused of wearing out its welcome. Originally titled Artefacts. Rated R. **’

THE COMPLETE GIDGET COLLECTION (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A triple-feature DVD ($19.94 retail) featuring all three of the original Gidget films, originally based on the best-selling novel by Frederick Kohner, depicting the comical misadventures of a dreamy California teen. The original Gidget (1959) stars James Darren, Cliff Robertson (as the Big Kahuna) and Sandra Dee in the title role; Darren returned for 1961’s Gidget Goes Hawaiian, with Deborah Walley (in her screen debut) in the title role; Darren completed the trilogy with Gidget Goes to Rome (1963), this time opposite Cindy Carol in the title role. Jerry Bresler produced and Paul Wendkos directed all three films.

DEATH GAME (VCI Entertainment): Filmed in 1974 but not released until ’76, this deranged melodrama stars Seymour Cassel (badly dubbed) as a San Francisco businessman who unwisely allows a couple of comely but psychopathic teenagers (Sondra Locke and Colleen Camp) to spend the night at his house. This was a drive-in staple, and then a late-night cable favorite, for years. The twist ending is memorably ridiculous and the theme song (played incessantly) is maddening. Two of the set dressers were Bill Paxton and Sissy Spacek! Rated R. *’

THE FORBIDDEN KINGDOM (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The first onscreen teaming of Jackie Chan and Jet Li — both in dual roles — is an enjoyable comic-book adventure in which a troubled teen (Michael Angarano) is whisked away to ancient China and embarks on a perilous journey to save the world and return to his own. The martial-arts scenes are spectacular, but faster pacing would’ve helped. Available as a single-disc DVD ($29.95 retail), a two-disc special edition ($34.95 retail), or a Blu-ray special edition ($39.99 retail). Rated PG-13. **’

GARDEN PARTY (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Writer/director Jason Freeland’s ensemble comedy/drama follows a group of young souls as they seek stardom — and themselves — in modern-day LA. Occasionally funny and insightful, but it doesn’t add up to much. The cast includes Vinessa Shaw, Willa Holland, Richard Gunn, Fiona Dourif (Brad’s daughter) and the late Christopher Allport (in his final film), to whom the film is dedicated. **

GETTING STRAIGHT (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Producer/director Richard Rush’s 1970 comedy/drama stars Elliott Gould as Harry Bailey, a Vietnam veteran and everyman struggling to earn his master’s degree while campus unrest simmers around him. Candice Bergen plays his co-ed girlfriend, and the supporting cast includes such familiar faces as Jeff Corey, Robert F. Lyons, John Rubinstein, Max Julien, Cecil Kellaway (in his final feature film), Jon Lormer, Gregory Sierra, Brenda Sykes and Harrison Ford. Some aspects of the story have seriously dated, and the story veers wildly from satire to soap opera, but the themes of individuality and fighting the Establishment retain some punch. Its head is in the clouds, but its heart is in the right place. Gould gives it everything he’s got (and then some). Rated R. **’

KEEPING UP WITH THE STEINS (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): Director Scott Marshall’s comedy stars Daryl Sabara as an all-American 13-year-old whose upcoming bar mitzvah becomes an obsession to his neurotic, status-conscious father (Jeremy Piven). A good cast, which also includes Jami Gertz, Daryl Hannah, Richard Benjamin, Larry Miller, Cheryl Hines, an unbilled Adam Goldberg and Marshall’s real-life dad, Garry, keeps the laughs coming, and the film has a good time tweaking stereotypes. Best line: “Let’s get Jewish. Ready to get Jewish?” A big plus: Neil Diamond sings “Hava Nagliah Hava.” Rated PG-13. **’

KIND HEARTS AND CORONETS (The Criterion Collection): A two-disc special edition ($39.95 retail) of the classic 1949 black comedy (see the Alec Guinness Collection, above) — but this version includes such special features as BBC documentaries about Guinness and Ealing Studios, archival promotional materials, and more.

MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA (Dream- Works Animation/Paramount Home Entertainment): The gang’s all here for this flippant, fun-filled sequel to the animated hit of 2005, as the refugees from the Central Park Zoo repeatedly try — and fail — to return home to New York. Here, they wind up in Africa and encounter further misadventures. Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, Jada Pinkett Smith, David Schwimmer, Andy Richter and Sacha Baron Cohen reprise their voiceover roles from the first film, joined this time by Alec Baldwin, Cedric the Entertainer, Will.i.am and the late Bernie Mac (in one of his final roles). Another sequel is due in 2012. Available in various editions ranging in retail price from $29.98 to $34.98, as well as a boxed set including both films and the animated special “The Penguins of Madagascar,” which retails for $49.98. Rated PG. ***

OUR MAN IN HAVANA (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Alec Guinness — the one and only — expertly plays the title role in producer/director Carol Reed’s 1959 adaptation of Graham Greene’s best-seller (scripted by Greene himself), that of a British expatriate and vacuum-cleaner salesman recruited by Britain’s secret service to keep an eye on the political situation in Cuba. When he starts making up his reports — in order to keep the money coming — he unwittingly sparks a potential international incident. This crafty combination of satire, espionage and suspense seemed incredibly prescient as it was filmed on location just after Fidel Castro took power. A splendid supporting cast includes Maureen O’Hara, Burl Ives, Noel Coward, Ralph Richardson and Ernie Kovacs, who’s both amusing and menacing as a ruthless police captain with his eye on Guinness’ daughter (Jo Morrow). ***

PANDORA’S BOX (The Criterion Collection): A special edition of GW Pabst’s 1929 adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s plays Erdgeist and Die Busche der Pandora (the films’ German titles), with Louise Brooks as a na’ve yet feisty showgirl whose sexuality has devastating consequences on those around her — and eventually herself. This silent classic has been digitally restored and includes such special features as four separate musical tracks, documentaries about Brooks (whose hairstyle in the film became an international rage), audio commentary and more. This DVD retails for $39.95.

PHINEAS AND FERB: THE DAZE OF SUM- MER (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A collection of five episodes from the popular, animated Disney Channel original series about two brothers who send their summer days embarking on a variety of adventures (and misadventures). This DVD retails for $19.99.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: THE MAN AND HIS JOURNEY (Vivendi Entertainment): Blair Underwood narrates this feature-length documentary tracing the career of Barack Obama, culminating in his election as the 44 th president of the United States. One-sided, to be sure, but not overly fawning. **’

QUARANTINE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A TV crew tags along with firefighters when they take a call from an apartment building where something… bad… has taken place. Once there, all find themselves battling a virulent plague that turns its victims into ravenous maniacs — and it’s all being captured live on camera. This fast-paced, white-knuckle shocker rarely lets up for a minute and delivers the gory goods. Based on the Spanish thriller Rec, this is one of the best “Americanized” adaptations of a foreign horror film to date. Rated R. ***

RELIGULOUS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Bill Maher strikes a blow for the seculars with a sharp, shocking and frequently hilarious documentary examining the very concept of religion. This definitely speaks to the converted (no pun intended) but also makes some very valid observations. Besides, any film — especially one about religion — that plays Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” over the end credits has got guts. (Brains, too.) Rated R. ***’

WIZARDS OF WAVERLY PLACE: SUPER- NATURALLY STYLIN’ (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A selection of episodes from the award-winning, live-action Disney Channel Original Series about three young siblings (Selena Gomez, David Henrie and Jake T. Austin) coming to terms with their supernatural powers. Undoubtedly, the success of Harry Potter has spawned imitators… This DVD retails for $19.99.

A WONDERFUL NIGHT IN SPLIT (First Run Features): Writer/director Arsen Anton Ostojic’s award-winning, atmospheric feature debut (originally titled Ta diva Splitska Noc) follows interrelated vignettes occurring just before the New Year’s celebration in the Croatian city of Split. As well as being both affecting and effective, this strange film also boasts the best big-screen performance of Coolio to date. No joke. Among its awards was the Jury Prize for best feature film at the 2006 RiverRun International Film Festival here in Winston-Salem.

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

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