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by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: THE ESCAPIST (IFC Films/Dark Sky Films)

Co-writer/director Rupert Wyatt’s debut feature is a throwback to the gritty, gutsy jailbreak yarns of yesteryear, anchored by a top-flight cast headed by Brian Cox (also an executive producer) as the mastermind.

Upon learning that his daughter is dying, Frank Perry (Cox) begins plotting a daring escape, but he needs the help of fellow inmates Brodie (Liam Cunningham), Lenny (Joseph Fiennes) and Viv (Seu Jorge) to pull it off — and he has to keep it quiet, lest he incur the wrath of the cellblock czar, Rizza (Damian Lewis).

The film shifts back and forth from the planning of the escape to the execution, throwing in some surprises and twists (maybe one too many) along the way, as Benjamin Wallfisch’s punchy score accentuates the undeniably exciting proceedings.

The cast also includes Dominic Cooper as Frank’s new cellmate (who becomes pivotal to the plan) and Steven Mackintosh as Rizza’s sadistic brother (and resident hustler). It’s also fun to see Cox assume the leading role, which he does with great authority. This is good, tough stuff.

ALSO ON DVD

“ARMY WIVES”: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Catherine Bell and Kim Delaney head the ensemble cast of this popular, awardwinning Lifetime series detailing life on an Army Reserve post in Charleston, SC. All 18 episodes from the 2009 season are included in this five- DVD boxed set, which retails for $45.99.

BEYOND SHERWOOD FOREST (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Lightweight, CGI-heavy retelling of the Robin Hood legend, with Robin Dunne (aptly enough) as Robin, Erica Durance as Maid Marian, Julian Sands as a new Sheriff of Nottingham (albeit an expectedly villainous one) and a dragon or two added to the mix. Okay time-killer for the undiscriminating.

BRONSON (Magnet Releasing/Magnolia Home Video): Tom Hardy dominates this heavily stylized but fact-based (and award-winning) crime saga as real-life career criminal Michael Peterson, who violently flaunted authority to earn both the nickname “Charles Bronson” (after the legendary tough-guy movie star) and a reputation as England’s most dangerous prisoner — exemplified by his 34-year prison sentence, 30 of it spent in solitary confinement. There’s not much point to the proceedings, except to say that some people belong in jail (he absolutely being one of them), but it does pack a punch. Rated R.

“GARY UNMARRIED”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Jay Mohr plays Gary, an all- American guy re-acclimating himself to life after his 15-year marriage goes kaput, in all 20 episodes from the 2008-’09 season of the award-winning prime-time CBS-TV situation comedy. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

“GREEK”: CHAPTER FOUR (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Jesse McCartney joins the cast of the popular ABC Family series set on the campus of Cyprus- Rhodes University. This three-DVD boxed set ($29.99 retail) contains 19 episodes from the 2009 season.

THE INFORMANT! (Warner Home Video): A dazzlingly eccentric performance by Matt Damon anchors Steven Soderbergh’s fact-based corporate satire, based on Kurt Eichenwald’s best-seller, about a whistle-blower whose antics cause as many problems as they solve — much to the increasing consternation of the US government and those around him. This is off-kilter from the get-go, so be prepared to hang on for a weird and wild ride, but it’s worth it. As is so often the case, truth is stranger (and more compelling) than fiction. Nice supporting work by Scott Bakula, Melanie Lynskey, Clancy Brown and Tom Wilson, but it’s Damon who makes this tick. One of 2009’s best films. Rated R.

“MAKE IT OR BREAK IT”: VOLUME ONE (EXTENDED EDITION) (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A boxed set ($29.99 retail) consisting of all 10 episodes from the 2009 season of the ABC Family prime-time series focusing on the trials and tribulations faced buy four teenaged gymnasts (Chelsea Hobbs, Josie Loren, Ayla Kell and Cassie Scerbo).

THE OBJECTIVE (IFC Films): Director Daniel Myrick (of Blair Witch Project fame) applies a similar tough to this eerie, topical, award-winning chiller that sees a US Special Forces team encountering a supernatural phenomenon known as “The Dashton” while pursuing a Muslim terrorist in a remote corner of Afghanistan shortly after the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Jonas Ball makes an impressive screen debut as a CIA operative who unwittingly leads the team into trouble. Unlike Blair Witch, however, the puzzling ending doesn’t quite work here.

THE OPEN ROAD (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Jeff Bridges and Justin Timberlake play an estranged father and son, reunited when the latter’s mother (Mary Steenburgen) falls ill, in this slight drama that smacks of small-screen fare. The cast also includes the always-welcome Harry Dean Stanton, Kate Mara, Lyle Lovett and Ted Danson (Steenburgen’s real-life husband). Rated PG-13.

PANDORUM (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Eye-popping visuals dominate this convoluted sci-fi shocker starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster as astronauts who awaken from cryogenic freeze aboard a gigantic spacecraft with lots of dark corridors and shadowy tunnels… as well as a few spooky surprises. Producers Paul WS Anderson and Jeremy Bolt previously made Event Horizon (1997), of which this seems vaguely reminiscent (although not as good). Still, there have been worse bad movies. Many worse than this. Rated R.

RIDERS OF BLACK MOUNTAIN (Alpha Home Entertainment): Tim McCoy’s fast on the draw, whether with a six-shooter or a deck of cards, as an undercover marshal investigating a rash of stagecoach robberies in this routine horse opera, vintage 1940.

“THE SECRET LIFE OF AN AMERICAN TEENAGER”: VOLUME THREE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): The highs and lows of adolescence are dramatized in 13 episodes from the 2009 season of the awardwinning, prime-time ABC Family drama series starring Shailene Woodley, Megan Park, Greg Finley, Daren Kagasoff and Molly Ringwald — herself a veteran of on-camera teen angst. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

SURROGATES (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Bruce Willis stars in director Jonathan Mostow’s nifty adaptation of a popular graphic novel (i.e. comic book), set in a future where much of humanity uses synthetic surrogates to walk through life on their behalf, a future where murder isn’t supposed to occur… but does. Metaphors abound in this fast-paced sci-fi melodrama, which deserved a better box-office reception. A good supporting cast includes Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Ving Rhames and James Cromwell. Rated PG-13.

UP (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Disney/Pixar strike paydirt (again) with this fabulous animated feature about a grumpy old widower (voice by Edward Asner) who embarks on the adventure of a lifetime, accompanied by a young Wilderness Explorer (voice by Jordan Nagai). Touching, funny and enthralling. An instant classic, and one of the very best films of 2009 — if not the best. Other voiceovers include Christopher Plummer, Delroy Lindo, Pixar favorite John Ratzenberger, and directors Pete Docter and Bob Peterson. Nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Animated Feature, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score and Best Sound Editing. Available as a singledisc DVD ($29.99 retail), a two-disc DVD ($39.99 retail), or a four-disc Blu-ray combo ($45.99 retail). Rated PG.

VISIONS OF HELL: THE FILMS OF JIM VAN BEBBER (Dark Sky Films): A four-disc boxed set ($39.95 retail) devoted to the works of award-winning independent filmmaker Jim Van Bebber: His 1988 feature debut Deadbeat at Dawn, which he also wrote, edited, co-starred in and served as stunt choreographer; the director’s cut of the 2003 true-crime thriller The Manson Family starring Marcelo Grimes as cult leader Charles Manson, which Van Bebber also wrote, edited, produced and co-stars in; and a collection of rare short films.

“ZORRO” (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Guy Williams plays the title role, that of the masked avenger Zorro, in this long-awaited release of the popular Disney series that ran on ABC-TV from 1957-’59. Released under the “Walt Disney Treasures” auspices, the limited-edition six-DVD boxed sets “Zorro: The First Complete Season” and “Zorro: The Second Complete Season” each retail for $59.99.

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

‘© 2010, Mark Burger

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