Mark Burger’´s VIDEO VAULT
TRAITOR (Anchor Bay Entertainment): An intelligent, suspenseful political thriller that is full of surprises and dominated by another strong performance from Don Cheadle (no surprise there). Cheadle, also one of the film’s producers, portrays Samir Horn, a onetime intelligence operative who becomes the target of an international manhunt, when evidence indicates he may be involved with a Middle Eastern terrorist cell. That’s what drives a pair of dogged FBI agents (Guy Pearce and Neal McDonough) on his trail. But whose side is Samir really on? Cheadle is appropriately enigmatic but no less appealing as the meticulous, devout Muslim coming to terms with his actions. Said Taghmaoui and Alyy Khan, as two of Samir’s cohorts, lend their characters a dignity that sidesteps stereotyping. Ditto Pearce and McDonough, and Jeff Daniels in a small but pivotal role as a fellow Fed with an agenda of his own. One of the strongest aspects of the film is that the principal characters, whether heroic or villainous in nature, have some texture and depth. The film is directed by screenwriter Jeffrey Nachmanoff, who collaborated with Steve Martin (one and the same) on the film’s story. Although the plot ultimately concerns a terrorist attack on American soil by terrorists, the film never feels exploitative — although it certainly feels credible, which enhances the suspense quotient considerably. This is a solid, thought-provoking piece of work. Rated PG-13.
ALSO ON DVD 199 LIVES: THE TRAVIS PASTRANA STORY (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): A feature documentary ($24.95 retail) tracing the career of champion freestyle motorcyclist Travis Pastrana, which has included such death-defying stunts as a base jump into San Francisco Bay during the Summer X Games in 1999 and a base jump into the Grand Canyon in 2007.
BEER FOR MY HORSES (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Toby Keith (who also produced) and Rodney Carrington wrote and star in this uneven action comedy about two Texas deputies who ride into Mexico to rescue the former’s old flame (Claire Forlani) from bad guys. Lots of familiar faces on hand: Tom Skerritt, Willie Nelson, Ted Nugent, Gina Gershon, Park Overall, Curtis Armstrong, Mac Davis, Mel Tillis, David Allan Coe and even Dan Rather — but this doesn’t add up to much. Rated PG-13. *’½
“THE BEST OF DR. KATZ” (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): A selection of episodes from the award-winning, animated Comedy Central series “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist” (which ran from 1995 to 2000) in which comedian Jonathan Katz offers counseling to his fellow comedians. Among the guests in this special=edition DVD ($19.99 retail) are Conan O’Brien, Dave Chappelle, Denis Leary, Jon Stewart and Ray Romano. In 1995, Katz won the Emmy Award for outstanding voiceover performance.
CHAPTER 27 (Genius Products): Jared Leto gained over 60 pounds to play Mark David Chapman, the man who assassinated John Lennon in 1980, in this interesting but downbeat dramatization of that horrific event. Lindsay Lohan fares well in a small role as a fellow Beatles buff named “Jude,” and Mark Lindsay Chapman — who was once supposed to play John Lennon in a TV movie (until Yoko Ono put the kibosh on it because of the name similarity) — now gets the chance to play the ex-Beatle, albeit briefly and mostly in silhouette. Rated R. **’½
A CHRISTMAS MEMORY (RHI Entertainment/Genius Products): Director Glenn Jordan’s warm-hearted 1997 adaptation of Truman Capote’s best-selling memoir about his boyhood friendship with a simple-minded but loving cousin (Patty Duke) in the rural South. A little oversweetened at times, but well-served by a cast that also includes Eric Lloyd (as the boy, Buddy), Piper Laurie, Jeffrey DeMunn and Anita Gillette. ***
“DANIEL BOONE” — THE FINAL SEASON (Liberation Entertainment/Ryko Distribution): All 22 episodes from the 1969-’70 (and last) season of the prime-time NBC-TV family Western with Fess Parker in the title role, that of the 18 th -century American adventurer and folk hero. Guest stars include Jodie Foster, Jill Ireland, Ed Flanders, Alex Karras, Strother Martin, Isabel Sanford and Jack Albertson. This DVD boxed set retails for $49.95.
DEAD END (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A dysfunctional family takes a wrong turn on Christmas Eve in this well-made but one-note shocker written and directed by Jean Baptiste Andrea and Fabrice Canepa. Rated R. **
“THE EARLY WORKS OF CHERYL DUNNE” (First Run Features): A selection of short films from the 1990s directed by the award-winning filmmaker Cheryl Dunye: Janine (1990), She Don’t Fade (1991), Vanilla Sex (1992), An Untitled Portrait (1993), The Potluck and the Passion (also ’93) and Greetings from Africa (1994). This special-edition DVD retails for $24.95.
FRED CLAUS (Warner Home Video): Vince Vaughn (who also co-produced) plays the title role in this outlandish, frequently crass Christmas comedy, that of the older brother of Santa Claus (Paul Giamatti), whose spent years nursing a grudge against him. Overblown, occasionally grating, and a colossal waste of three talented Oscar winners: Kathy Bates, Rachel Weisz and Kevin Spacey — but it does have a few amusing bits. Rated PG. **
GEORGE CARLIN: IT’S BAD FOR YA (MPI Home Video): Originally broadcast in March, this marks the final HBO stand-up comedy special featuring the late George Carlin, who died in June, and it earned an Emmy nomination as outstanding variety, music or comedy special. Among the topics Carlin discusses are politics, religion, big business and, yes, death. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $24.98.
“THE GREGORY PECK FILM COLLECTION” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A sixfilm boxed set ($59.98 retail) that highlights the durable career of the great Gregory Peck (1916- 2003). The selection includes Raoul Walsh’s 1952 adaptation of The World in His Arms, costarring Ann Blyth and Anthony Quinn; J. Lee Thompson’s original 1962 adaptation of Cape Fear, with Robert Mitchum an outstanding foil as villainous Max Cady; Robert Mulligan’s much-beloved adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1962), for whick Peck won the Academy Award as best actor and also earned Oscar wins for adapted screenplay (Horton Foote) and art direction/set decoration (black and white), as well as nominations for best picture, director, supporting actress (Mary Badham, in her screen debut), cinematography (black and white), and Elmer Bernstein’s score; in the title role of the 1963 adaptation of Captain Newman, MD, which earned Oscar nominations for adapted screenplay, sound and supporting actor (Bobby Darin); opposite Diane Baker, Walter Matthau, George Kennedy and Kevin McCarthy in Edward Dmytryk’s 1965 adaptation of Howard Fast’s novel Mirage; and opposite Sophia Loren in Stanley Donen’s award-winning 1966 adaptation of Arabesque.
“THE L WORD” — THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 12 episodes from the 2008 season of the award-winning Showtime series focusing on the lives and loves of a close-knit group of lesbian friends in Southern California. The (extremely attractive) ensemble cast includes Jennifer Beals, Laurel Holloman, Leisha Hailey, Mia Kirshner, Katherine Moennig and Pam Grier. This boxed set retails for $55.98.
MOSCOW ZERO (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Ponderous junk about mysterious doings in the catacombs underneath Moscow. The cast includes Vincent Gallo, Rade Serbedzija, Joaquim De Almeida, Sage Stallone, Joss Ackland (as a character named “Tolstoy”) and Val Kilmer, who gets prominent billing for a minor role. Not quite a zero, but close…. Rated R. ‘½*
THE PERFECT HOLIDAY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A single mom (Gabrielle Union) and a department-store Santa (Morris Chestnut) find romance while Mrs. Christmas (Queen Latifah, also a producer) and “Bah Humbug” (Terrence Howard) tarry in the background. Corny Christmas comedy gets a boost from its appealing cast. Rated PG. **
“REAPER” — SEASON ONE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): All 18 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the award-winning CW Network situation comedy with Bret Harrison as a 21-year-old slacker who learns that his parents sold his soul to the Devil (Ray Wise), who then employs him as a bounty hunter seeking souls to bring to hell. This boxed set retails for $39.98.
RL STINE’S “MOSTLY GHOSTLY” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): The creator of the popular “Goosebumps” series of kids’ novels fashions yet another potential franchise, this one about an 11-year-old boy (Sterling Beaumon) who helps a pair of young ghosts (Madison Pettis and Luke Benward) solve a mystery. Rated PG. This DVD retails for $19.98.
“THE RON HOWARD SPOTLIGHT COLLECTION” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): This self-explanatory boxed set ($39.98 retails) includes four feature films directed by the former Opie of “The Andy Griffith Show” and Richie Cunningham of “Happy Days”: Kurt Russell and Robert De Niro head an all-star cast in 1991’s disappointing firefighting melodrama Backdraft (*’½), which earned Oscar nominations for best sound, sound effects editing and visual effects; Tom Hanks stars in the fact-based 1995 blockbuster Apollo 13 (***), which earned Academy Awards for best editing and sound, and additional nominations for best picture, supporting actor (Ed Harris), supporting actress (Kathleen Quinlan), original score, art direction/set decoration, visual effects adapted screenplay; the fact-based 2001 smash A Beautiful Mind (****), which won Oscars for best picture, director, supporting actress (Jennifer Connelly) and adapted screenplay, with additional nominations for actor (Russell Crowe), original score, makeup and editing; and yet another fact-based drama with Crowe, 2005’s Cinderella Man (**’½), which earned Oscar nominations for best supporting actor (Paul Giamatti), editing and makeup. The films are rated R, PG, PG-13 and PG-13, respectively.
“ROUTE 66” — COMPLETE SECOND SEASON TELEVISION SERIES (Infinity Entertainment Group): Martin Milner and George Maharis hit the highway again in all 32 episodes from the 1961-’62 season of the popular prime-time CBS-TV drama, in which earned the only Emmy nominations of its entire run, for outstanding continued performance by an actor in a drama series (Maharis) and single performance by an actress in a leading role (Ethel Waters, for the episode “Goodnight, Sweet Blues”). Other guest stars that season included Lee Marvin, Robert Redford, Robert Duvall, Anne Francis, Claude Akins, Suzanne Pleshette, Martin Balsam, Sylvia Miles, Lon Chaney, Sylvia Miles, Martin Sheen, Edward Asner, James Caan, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Peter Graves, Jack Warden and Tuesday Weld. This boxed set retails for $49.98.
“SPIN CITY” — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Shout! Factory): All 24 episodes from the 1996-’97 season of the popular ABC- TV prime-time sitcom with Michael J. Fox (Emmy nominee for outstanding lead actor in a comedy series) as the harried deputy mayor to a bumbling big-city mayor (Barry Bostwick). The supporting cast includes Alan Rick, Richard Kind and gorgeous Carla Gugino, who only lasted 12 episodes as Fox’s onscreen girlfriend. This special-edition DVD boxed set, which retails for $39.99, includes all-new interviews with Fox, the supporting cast, and series creators.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger