by Mark Burger


(Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

An instant classic, this 1973 comedy marked a smashing reunion for director George Roy Hill and the star duo of Paul Newman and Robert Redford following Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969).

Set in Depression-era Chicago, the story follows con artists Henry Gondorff (Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Redford) as they pull an elaborate scam on nasty crime boss Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) — all of it set to Marvin Hamlisch’s immortal, Oscar-winning score, which spurred new interest in Scott Joplin’s ragtime music.

The three leads are in top form, backed by a stellar supporting cast: Charles Durning, Ray Walston, Eileen Brennan, Dana Elcar, Harold Gould and Robert Earl Jones (James’ father).

Pure entertainment from beginning to end, The Sting scored big with audiences, critics and ultimately the Academy, winning an additional six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Editing and Best Costume Design, with additional nominations for Best Actor (Redford), Best Cinematography and Best Sound.

This new special edition, among several titles being re-released to commemorate Universal Pictures’ 100th anniversary, is available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($19.98 retail) or a DVD/Blu-ray book ($39.98 retail). Rated PG.

ACT OF VENGEANCE (Millennium Entertainment): Topical political thriller, with Mahsun Kirmizigul (also director and executive producer) and Mustafa Sandal as Turkish agents who travel to New York City to apprehend a suspected terrorist (Haluk Bilginer). Not entirely successful but interesting and worth a look. Danny Glover, Gina Gershon and Robert Patrick add some American star power to this film, which was originally released as Five Minarets in New York.

ALIEN OPPONENT (Shout! Factory): An uncut version of the grisly, goofy sci-fi send-up pitting rednecks against extraterrestrial visitors in a rural junkyard. Plenty of in-jokes and lowbrow humor, but a little thin. Roddy Piper, as a gun-toting, lascivious clergyman and Jason London head a deliberately hammy cast. Originally broadcast on the Chiller Network.

“AMERICAN DAD!”: VOLUME 7 (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): An “uncensored” collection of 17 episodes (including the 100th ) of the animated Fox Network comedy series about a completely dysfunctional all-American family, with creator Seth MacFarlane providing the voice of title character and CIA agent Stan Smith. MacFarlane’s real-life sister Rachael is also a voice regular as Hayley. The three-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.

BEYOND (Anchor Bay Films): Jon Voight stars in executive producer/director Josef Rusnak’s moody but muddled mystery as a veteran detective trying to locate a missing 7-year-old girl in Alaska, with Teri Polo, Julian Morris, Brett Baker and Dermot Mulroney under suspicion. Rated PG-13.

BOMBAY BEACH (Entertainment One): Alma Har’el produced, directed and coedited this award-winning documentary ($24.98 retail) examines the lives of three residents of the title community located on the shores of the Salton Sea.

CHRONICLE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Josh Trank makes his feature directorial debut with this “found footage” sci-fi thriller starring Dane DeHaan, Alex Russell and Michael B. Jordan as high school friends who gain super powers. Screenwriter Max Landis is the son of filmmaker John Landis. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $39.99. Rated PG-13.

HELL ON EARTH (Elite Entertainment/ MVD Visual): Writer/director Ted Bohus’ smirky, low-budget horror spoof — “based on a true story” — stars Brett Fallon as a troubled teen who conjures up a menagerie of murderous monsters after reading the Apochryphal Book of Takuhm. Kristin Woodburn stands out as Fallon’s wicked sister.

JOURNEY 2: THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (Warner Home Video): Effectsladen follow-up to the equally overstuffed 2008 version of Jules Verne’s classic fantasy, with encoring Josh Hutcherson joined by Dwayne Johnson (also a co-producer), Vanessa Hudgens and Luis Guzman on an expedition to locate his explorer grandfather (Michael Caine). A likable cast helps float this comic-book-level excursion, which entertains sometimes in spite of itself. As usual, Caine can do no wrong, and his introductory line onscreen — “Don’t just stand there, applaud!” — is a sound statement under any circumstance. Available as a single DVD ($28.98 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), or a 3-D Blu-ray combo ($44.95 retail). Rated PG.

JULES VERNE’S MYSTERIOUS ISLAND (Green Apple): During the Civil War, soldiers escape in a balloon to the title location, where they encounter all sorts of peril and even Captain Nemo (W. Morgan Sheppard). With Verne in the public domain and a big-budget theatrical version (see above) that plays just as fast and loose, this adaptation of the fantasy boasts lots of references and in-jokes, but is severely hampered by poor special effects. The cast includes Lochlyn Munro, Gina Holden, Susie Arbromeit and Pruitt Taylor Vince (who exits too soon). Directed by Sheppard’s real-life son, Mark, who also plays Nemo in flashback. More than 20 producers(!) are credited.

MAN ON A LEDGE (Summit Entertainment): Well-made but far-fetched thriller with Sam Worthington as an escaped convict who holds midtown Manhattan in panic when he steps out on the ledge of the Roosevelt Hotel — a diversionary tactic while younger brother Jamie Bell breaks into a nearby skyscraper to steal the evidence that proves his innocence. A good cast helps: Ed Harris as the heavy, Elizabeth Banks, Anthony Mackie, Kyra Sedgwick, Edward Burns, Titus Welliver, William Sandler and gorgeous Genesis Rodriguez. Rated PG-13.

MOTHER’S DAY (Anchor Bay Films): Rebecca De Mornay is a mad matriarch in Darren Lynn Bousman’s remake of Charles Kaufman’s 1980 shocker, this version about a violent home invasion. Too many plot twists, too long, and too unpleasant. The first film was nothing special, either. The bloodied cast included Jaime King, Briana Evigan, Shawn Ashmore, Frank Grillo and Deborah Ann Woll. Brett Ratner was one of the producers. Rated R.

PERFECT SENSE (IFC Films/MPI Media Group): Ewan McGregor and Eva Green find romance in a future where the population is losing all sensory perception, in this ironically titled sci-fi drama co-starring Connie Nielsen, Ewen Bremner and Stephen Dillane. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98.

PLANET OF VAMPIRE WOMEN (Seminal Films/MVD Visual): Writer/director Darin Wood’s ribald low-budget, highcamp sci-fi silliness in which a band of space pirates land on the title planet and encounter bloodthirsty peril. A little longish, even at 95 minutes, but Liesel Hanson and the girls are easy on the eyes.

SONS OF THE CITY: NEW YORK (Image Entertainment): With the NBA playoffs in full swing — after an early-season lockout — this affectionate, informative documentary looks at the many players and personalities who hailed from the Big Apple, including Bob Cousy, Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Connie Hawkins, Chris Mullin and Billy Cunningham, the latter of particular personal favorite given his legacy in Philadelphia.

“SWAT”: THE FINAL SEASON (Shout! Factory): Steve Forrest leads his gun-toting team into action on the mean streets of Los Angeles, in all 24 episodes from the 1975-’76 season of the prime-time ABC crime series, which the network canceled not so much because of ratings as the controversy over the show’s violent content (which looks positively tame these days). Guest stars include Robert Loggia, Tom Skerritt, Sal Mineo, Carl Weathers, Leslie Nielsen, Lesley Ann Warren, Susan Dey and Stuart Whitman. The six-DVD boxed set retails for $44.99.

THIS MEANS WAR (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): It’s spy vs. spy when best friends and CIA agents Tom Hardy and Chris Pine vie for Reese Witherspoon’s attentions in director McG’s comedy, available on DVD ($20 retail) or Blu-ray ($25 retail). Rated PG-13.

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

© 2012, Mark Burger.