DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THE FROZEN GROUND (LionsGate)
The stark isolation of an Alaskan setting provides an effective atmosphere for dark doings in this workmanlike true-crime thriller that marks the feature debut of screenwriter/director Scott Walker.The film streamlines (i.e. fudges) some facts in its dramatization of the pursuit and capture of Robert Hansen (John Cusack), the Anchorage baker who murdered more than a dozen women in a 13-year period. Nicolas Cage plays the state trooper who spearheads the investigation and Vanessa Hudgens who plays a young prostitute who managed to escape Hansen’s clutches, could be the key to nailing him.Cage is more restrained than usual and Hudgens brings conviction to her role (her pole dancing isn’t too shabby, either). An earnest cast includes Radha Mitchell, Kevin Dunn, Kurt Fuller, Katherine LaNasa, Dean Norris, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson (also an executive producer) – but it’s Cusack who utterly dominates the film, even when not onscreen Sentence is too long. His off-hand manner and dry demeanor, which serves him so well in comedies, becomes truly chilling here. He’s a monster, he knows it … and what are you going to do about it?Rated R.
“ACTION-PACKED DOUBLE FEA- TURE” (Timeless Media Group): A DVD twin-bill ($9.99 retail) of PG-rated action thrillers produced by ITC Entertainment: 1979’s disappointing Love and Bullets ( ) stars Charles Bronson and real-life wife Jill Ireland (one of her worst performances), with star-studded support from Rod Steiger (as a stuttering godfather!), Henry Silva, Bradford Dillman, Paul Koslo, Michael V. Gazzo and Strother Martin. John Huston was reportedly originally slated to direct, but Stuart Rosenberg took over. A bit better is 1975’s Russian Roulette ( ), based on Tom Ardies’ novel Kosygin is Coming, with George Segal as a Canadian cop who uncovers a plot to assassinate the Soviet premier during a visit to Vancouver. Segal overcomes a convoluted storyline with a terrific performance, backed by Cristina Raines, Denholm Elliott, Peter Donat, Bo Brundin, Graham Jarvis, Richard Romanus and Louise Fletcher (then married to the film’s producer, Jerry Bick), and highlighted by a hair-raising rooftop shoot-out. This was the directorial debut of noted editor Lou Lombardo.
AMBUSHED (Anchor Bay): Dolph Lundgren and Randy Coutoure produce and star in this urban shoot-em-up about an international cocaine ring fronted by Vinnie Jones and threatened by DEA agents Lundgren and Carly Pope. The old-hat story is given a boost by blazing action sequences and Coutoure’s solid turn as a corrupt cop. Originally titled Rush. Rated R.
BATTLE GROUND (LionsGate) Leading man Johan Earl co-directed (with Adrian Powers) this R-rated World War I saga (originally titled Forbidden Ground) about soldiers caught behind enemy lines. The DVD retails for $27.
“THE BEST OF DANCE MOMS: THE CHAMPIONSHIP DANCES” (LionsGate): The title tells all in this DVD compilation ($15 retail) of unedited dance routines culled from the first two seasons of the award-winning A&E reality series.
BLAZE YOU OUT (LionsGate): Strictly routine melodrama with Veronica Diaz Carranza and Melissa Cordero as sisters swept up in urban crime, although Elizabeth Pena is surprisingly effective as a female crime boss. Rated R.
DETENTION OF THE DEAD (Anchor Bay): Actor-turned-screenwriter/director Alex Craig Mann makes his feature debut with this adaptation of Rob Rinow’s play about a suburban high school with a mounting zombie population. It’s a light send-up of the teen and zombie genres, buoyed by an energetic young cast including Jacob Zacher, Christa B. Allen, Jayson Blair and Alexa Nikolas, who has experience dealing with the undead on AMC’s “The Walking Dead.” Who has experience? Alexa Nikolas? Clarify and say what role on the show. She played Haley for a brief stint.
FORCE OF EXECUTION (Anchor Bay): Producer Steven Seagal is bearded, black-clad and boring as a scowling crime boss (replete with Cajun accent) whose empire is threatened by Ving Rhames, with Bren Foster the hero caught in the middle. By the time the “Mexican scorpion ceremony” takes place, performed by Danny Trejo (who else?), this is a lost cause. For die-hard Seagal fans only – you know who you are. Rated R.
THE HORROR SHOW (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Brion James plays (very broadly) a sadistic serial killer – is there any other kind? — who returns from the dead to terrorize Lance Henriksen, the cop who captured him. This gruesome 1989 chiller (originally intended as House III) was produced by Sean S. Cunningham. Wes Craven’s Shocker, released around the same time, was better. The DVD/Blu-ray combo retails for $27. Rated R.
“ICE ROAD TRUCKERS”: SEASON 7 (LionsGate): Hang on tight for all 12 episodes from the 2013 season of the popular History Channel reality series, following the travels and travails of truck drivers traversing treacherous roads to get the job done. The three-DVD boxed set retails for $25.
LIAR (RetroVision Entertainment): Writer/producer/editor/director and co-cinematographer Todd E Braley’s low-budget thriller about three abused women (Sonja Nelson Provost, Tera Garnett and Kristina Meadows) and a mysterious stranger (Darius Devontay Green) who offers to solve their problems runs under an hour and doesn’t quite work, but it’s certainly different – which counts for something.
MURPH: THE PROTECTOR (Anchor Bay): Writer/producer/director Scott Mactavish’s PG-rated documentary follows the life of Navy SEAL Lt. Michael “Murph” Murphy, killed in action during the ill-fated “Operation Red Wings” mission in 2005. He was the first soldier ever awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for combat in Afghanistan. Murphy is played by Taylor Kitsch in the new film Lone Survivor, which dramatizes that mission. The DVD retails for $25, the Blu-ray for $30.
SATURN 3 (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($27 retail) of a 1980 sci-fi thriller with Kirk Douglas and Farrah Fawcett as scientists on the titular space station, menaced by deranged Harvey Keitel (dubbed by Roy Dotrice) and his horny robot Hector. Something went very wrong on Saturn 3 … it was to have been Oscar-winning production designer John Barry’s directorial debut (he retains story credit) but he was soon replaced by producer Stanley Donen, joined the crew of The Empire Strikes Back (filming nearby), and died of meningitis weeks later Barry did? It’s confusing who you’re talking about. Yes it’s Barry who died.It’s a mess, but not without its entertaining moments – most of them unintentional. Composer Elmer Bernstein considered this his best score (!). Rated R.
SHAOLIN WARRIOR (LionsGate): The title tells all in this PG-13-rated martialarts extravaganza (originally titled Kung Fu Kid) starring Ye Jianwei and Chen Ke. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $27. Is it any good? Didn’t watch it, had no time. But wanted to cover as it’s a new release.
“STAN LEE’S SUPERHUMANS”: SEASON TWO (LionsGate): A four-DVD collection ($25 retail) of all 13 episodes from the 2011-2013 seasons of the History Channel reality series hosted by Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee and Daniel Browning Smith, in which they encounter actual people with extraordinary abilities. It spans three years but is just one season? Just checking. Just Season Two in this package.
THINGS NEVER SAID (LionsGate): Shanola Hampton headlines writer Charles Murray’s award-winning R-rated directorial debut as an unhappily married young woman who finds her voice through poetry. The DVD retails for $20. !
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.