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VIDEO VAULT

by Mark Burger

THE RAINMAKER (Paramount Home Entertainment): Long before John Grisham’s best-seller and Francis Coppola’s film version, there was N. Richard Nash’s hit Broadway play, which the author himself adapted into this colorful 1956 feature film. Burt Lancaster is perfectly cast as the fast-talking charlatan Bill Starbuck, who travels from small town to small town, selling his wares and promising prosperity to the people — then usually hitting the road, a few bucks wealthier and frequently with the law on his tail. Arriving in a parched Texas town, Starbuck insinuates himself into the household of HC Curry (Cameron Prud’homme, reprising his stage role) by promising rain to the region. He’s sold Curry and his two sons (Lloyd Bridges and Earl Holliman) on the idea, but not daughter Lizzie (Katharine Hepburn), whose spinsterish demeanor masks an iron will. She knows Starbuck for the con man he is, but that doesn’t make her immune to his charismatic wiles on her — and a potential romance begins to bloom. Making his feature debut, director Joseph Anthony is never quite able to open up the story, but that hardly matters whenever Lancaster and/or Hepburn (who earned an Academy Award nomination as best actress) is onscreen. It’s called star power, and they’ve got it. Even a half-century later, it’s still an absolute and undiluted pleasure to watch these two titans spar with one another. All by themselves, they make this one a winner. Alex North’s score also earned an Oscar nomination. ***

ALSO ON DVD

“ALVIN AND THE CHIPMUNKS: THE CHIPETTES” (Bagdasarian Productions/ Paramount Home Entertainment): For those who can’t get enough of “Alvin and the Chipmunks” — you know who you are — this is a selection of six episodes ($16.99 retail) from the animated Saturday-morning series (which ran from 1983-’91), each one featuring the three female chipmunks known as “The Chipettes,” as well as Alvin, Theodore and Simon.

BODY LANGUAGE (HBO Video): Tom Berenger plays a hotshot lawyer who finds himself ensnared in sex, deceit and murder in this glossy 1995 potboiler featuring Nancy Travis, Robert Patrick, Eddie Jones and Heidi Schanz (in her film debut). Rated R. **

DEAD SPACE: DOWNFALL (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The discovery of an ancient artifact sets in motion a violent supernatural apocalypse in this animated science-fiction shocker structured as a prequel to the popular Image Comics series and Electronic Arts video game. Extremely violent — this is not a cartoon for kids — with Nika Futterman, Bruce Boxleitner and Kelly Hu lending their voices to the proceedings. **’½

DR. SYN: THE SCARECROW OF ROMNEY MARSH (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Patrick McGoohan plays the title role, that of a 19 th -century English vicar who leads a double life as a mysterious avenger known as “The Scarecrow,” in this 1963 adaptation of Russell Thorndyke’s popular series of adventure novels. Originally broadcast in three parts on “The Wonderful World of Disney” and then edited into a feature film, Dr. Syn, Alias the Scarecrow. This special- and limited-edition DVD, which retails for $32.99, includes both versions as well as retrospective documentaries.

ENCHANTED (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Amy Adams portrays a fairytale princess who winds up in modernday Manhattan in this nimble combination of animation, comedy and music. The special effects get a little out of hand in the third act, but the players (including Susan Sarandon, James Marsden, Timothy Spall, Patrick Dempsey and Idina Menzel) provide a generous dose of charm. Three Academy Award nominations — all of them for best song (“So Close,” “Happy Working Song” and “That’s How You Know”). Director Kevin Lima provides the voice of Pip in New York. Rated G. ***

FLASHBACKS OF A FOOL (Anchor Bay Entertainment): In a distinct break from playing James Bond, Daniel Craig (also an executive producer) portrays a burnedout movie star ruminating on his past, in writer/director Baillie Walsh’s well-acted, beautifully photographed, but heavyhanded debut feature. Rated R. **’½

“GREEK: CHAPTER TWO” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 12 episodes from 2008 season of the prime-time ABC Family comedy/drama series focusing on the lives of a group of undergraduates enrolled at Cyprus Rhodes University. This boxed set retails for $29.99.

HAMLET 2 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Steve Coogan plays a spectacularly untalented actor-turnedunsuccessful high-school drama teacher who sparks a national controversy when he hatches on the idea of mounting an original, religious-themed musical play — a sequel (of sorts) to Shakespeare’s classic, one that involves such musical numbers as “Rock Me, Sexy Jesus.” Coogan’s uproarious turn in this outrageously winning farce is well supported by the likes of Catherine Keener, Amy Poehler, David Arquette, Marshall Bell and Elisabeth Shue (as herself). Rated R. ***

HELLBOUND: HELLRAISER II (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A 20 th -anniversary special edition of the award-winning 1988 shocker that followed — and improved upon — Clive Barker’s 1987 box-office hit, with Ashley Laurence reprising her role as Kirsty Cotton, still being tormented by the otherworldly Cenobites (led by Doug Bradley’s Pinhead). Not for the squeamish, but inventive, surreal and well-acted, particularly by Clare Higgins (as Kirsty’s evil stepmother Julia) and Kenneth Cranham (as the extremely mad Dr. Channard). This is probably the best of the Hellraiser series, as well as director Anthony Randel’s finest hour. Rated R. ***

“LITTLE BRITAIN USA” (HBO Home Entertainment): All 6 episodes from the HBO sketch-comedy series, based on a popular, award-winning British series created by and starring Matt Lucas and David Williams, who have set their sights on the United States with this incarnation. Guest stars include Paul Rudd, Harry Lennix and Sting. Narrated by Tom Baker. This special-edition DVD retails for $29.98.

NOISE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Writer/director Henry Bean’s uneven urban satire, inspired by his own experiences, stars Tim Robbins as a New Yorker so fed up with car alarms that he starts vandalizing them and calling himself “The Rectifier,” ultimately leading to a confrontation with the city’s arrogant mayor (William Hurt). Some amusing and sharp moments, but a missed opportunity overall. **

PARAMOUNT CENTENNIAL COLLECTION (Paramount Home Entertainment): One of Hollywood’s most venerable studios, celebrating its 97 th birthday this year, is releasing a series of its most popular and acclaimed films as two-disc special editions: Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), William Wyler’s Roman Holiday (1953), Wilder’s Sabrina (1954), Stanley Donen’s Funny Face (1957) and Blake Edwards’ Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), four of which happen to star Audrey Hepburn. Each DVD retails for $24.99. All have been released before on DVD, but not with as many special features as they do here.

RIGHTEOUS KILL (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The seemingly can’t-miss pairing of Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, as veteran New York homicide detectives trailing a serial killer, misfires in this tiresome, jumbled thriller directed, none too well, by Jon Avnet. Also on hand — and also wasted — are Brian Dennehy, John Leguizamo and Carla Gugino. A major disappointment that comes dangerously close to catastrophe. Rated R. *’½

“THE SECRET LIFE OF THE AMERICAN TEENAGER” – THE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 11 episodes from the 2008 season of the award-winning ABC Family prime-time series focusing on a group of six teenaged friends contending with the difficulties of adolescence. (Some of us still are.) The ensemble cast includes Molly Ringwald, Shailene Woodley, Megan Park, Josie Bissett and John Schneider. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

SOCCER MOM (Anchor Bay Entertainment): UNCSA School of Drama alumnus Missi Pyle does the Mrs. Doubtfire thing in this lightweight family comedy about a single mom who disguises herself as an Italian soccer star (Dan Cortese) in order to coach her daughter’s team. Predictable but painless, and it’s nice to see Pyle take center stage. Rated PG. **

TINKER BELL (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Mae Whitman provides the voice for one of Disney’s most enduring heroines, the fairy from Peter Pan, here given her very own animated feature, which explores the origins of Tinker Bell and her fellow fairies in Pixie Hollow, a secret hideaway deep in the heart of Never Land. This is the first in a proposed series of films focusing on the adventures of the Disney Fairies. Other voices include Anjelica Huston, America Ferrera, Raven-Symone, Kristin Chenowith, Lucy Liu and Jesse McCartney. The special-edition DVD retails for $29.99 and the Blu-ray disc for $35.99. Rated G.

TOO TOUGH TO DIE: A TRIBUTE TO JOHNNY RAMONE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): “Gabba Gabba Hey!” Producer/director Mandy Stein’s rock documentary examines the legacy of the punk rock band Ramones and, more specifically, the 2004 tribute concert at LA’s Avalon Theatre, hosted by Rob Zombie, in honor of guitarist Johnny Ramone, who would die only a few days later. Deborah Harry, Eddie Vedder, Henry Rollins and Lisa Marie Presley are among those who reminisce about Johnny and the Ramones, almost all of whom are gone now. **’½

WANTED (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A fast-paced, endlessly stylized action blowout, based on Mark Miller’s comic book, with James McAvoy as a neurotic nebbish recruited by a top-secret cadre of international assassins headed by Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. Even by the silliest comic-book standards, this is aggressively absurd and excessively violent — with unlikable characters, to boot. Available in various special editions that range in retail price from $29.98 to $69.98. Not one, but two, sequels are threatened… errr, promised. Rated R. *’½

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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