by Mark Burger



THE SPOILS OF BABYLON (Anchor Bay Entertainment): IFC aired this spirited and well-played send-up of TV mini-series’ that graciously allows an all-star cast (Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Tim Robbins, Val Kilmer, Michael Sheen, Haley Joel Osment, Molly Shannon, David Spade and Jessica Alba) to act very silly indeed.

The saga of the oil-rich, intelligence-deprived Morehouse clan is told by the show’s creator, Eric Jonrosh (Will Ferrell, doing his best Orson Welles), as his imperiously reiterates both his (misunderstood) genius and the inadequacies of others.

Robbins plays the clueless patriarch Jonas Morehouse who impetuously adopts orphaned Devon (Maguire), who later falls for Jonas’ daughter Cynthia (Wiig) – a situation that will have serious (so to speak) consequences for all concerned. Spanning several decades, costumes and hairstyles, The Spoils of Babylon works because everyone takes everything very seriously. When Devon returns from World War II married to a mannequin (voiced by Carey Mulligan), no one bats an eye – and things only get more absurd after that.

Everyone’s in good form – Wiig scored an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or Movie – and although the momentum flags toward the end, there are a lot of laughs – from Steve Lawrence crooning the theme song to the uproarious special effects that range from (intentionally) bad to worse. The DVD retails for $24.98. ***


ARABIAN NIGHTS (Kino Lorber): Acclaimed filmmaker Miguel Gomes’ award-winning trilogy (The Restless One, The Desolate One and The Enchanted One) uses 1001 Nights as its inspiration to explore the current political and social culture in Portugal. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($39.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($49.95 retail).

BETRAYED (Olive Films): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of Costa-Gavras’ well-meaning but disappointing 1988 thriller starring Debra Winger as an FBI agent who infiltrates a white-supremacy movement by wooing leader Tom Berenger. A good cast includes John Heard, Ted Levine, Jeffrey DeMunn, David Clennon, Albert Hall, Richard Libertini and especially John Mahoney, but Joe Eszterhas’ screenplay careens into formula melodrama. Rated R. **

“BLUE UNDERGROUND BLU-RAY DOUBLE FEATURE” (Blue Underground): A Blu-ray twin bill ($29.98 retail) of globe-trotting thrillers based on Sax Rohmer stories, both produced by the ubiquitous Harry Alan Towers, who penned the story for the first and the screenplay for the second under his usual pseudonym Peter Welbeck: The Million Eyes of Su Muru (1967) stars Frankie Avalon, George Nader, Shirley Eaton, Wilfrid Hyde-White, Klaus Kinski and Maria Rohm (Towers’ real-life wife, in her screen bow); and director Jess Franco’s 1969 follow-up The Girl from Rio (AKA Rio ’70), with Eaton and Rohm joined by George Sanders.

CREED (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Filmmaker Ryan Coogler infuses fresh life into the Rocky franchise by introducing Michael B. Jordan as aspiring boxer Adonis Creed, the illegitimate son of the late champ Apollo Creed. Sylvester Stallone (also a producer) earned a well-deserved Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his touching turn as the aging, ailing Rocky Balboa. Formula filmmaking the way it should be, available on DVD ($28.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail). Rated PG-13. ***½

“THE FALL”: SERIES 2 (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): Gillian Anderson continues her relentless pursuit of diabolical serial killer Jamie Dornan in all six episodes from the 2014 season of the award-winning BBC Two crime series created by Allan Cubit and aired by Netflix in the US, available on DVD and Blu-ray (each $39.99 retail), both including bonus features.

“FREAKS & GEEKS BLU-RAY COLLECTOR’S EDITION” (Shout! Factory): A self-explanatory boxed set ($119 retail) of all 18 episodes from the 1999-2000 (and only) season of the NBC sitcom, created by Paul Feig, set in 1980s’ Detroit at McKinley High School, where the student body consisted of such future stars as Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jason Segel and Linda Cardellini. Feig earned two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, with an Emmy win for Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series. Plenty of special features including multiple audio commentaries, audition footage, bloopers, and more.

THE GREAT HYPNOTIST (Well Go USA Entertainment): Leste Chen’s psychological thriller stars Xu Zheng as a hypnotherapist tapped to probe the mind of mysterious Karen Mok, who claims to have experienced supernatural phenomena. Highly stylized and well-acted but a little too tricky for its own good, with a “twist” ending that attentive viewers may be able to predict. In Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98 retail). **½

THE MAJOR (Olive Films): Writer/director/composer/editor/co-star Yury Bykov’s award-winning thriller (originally titled Mayor) stars Denis Shvedov as a police major whose accidental hit-and-run killing of a young boy is summarily covered up – until the victim’s grief-stricken mother (Irina Nizina) decides to take action. In Russian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail).

“MAYDAY” (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): The disappearance of teenager Leila Mimmack during the annual Mayday celebration rocks a sleepy English village in this five-part 2012 BBC One mini-series, co-starring Peter Firth, Sophie Okonedo, Aidan Gillen, Lesley Manville and Max Fowler, available on DVD ($39.99 retail).

McHALE’S NAVY/McHALE’S NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE (Shout! Factory): A DVD double-feature ($12.97 retail) of two feature films produced in the wake of the popular ABC sitcom: 1964’s McHale’s Navy features the show’s cast, including Ernest Borgnine, Joe Flynn and Tim Conway, while the 1965 follow-up McHale’s Navy Joins the Air Force leaves Borgnine behind and ups Flynn and Conway to lead status. Neither film is great, but “McHale” mavens probably won’t care. Kids should enjoy the slapstick antics, too. Both films: **

THE METEOR MAN (Olive Films): Writer/producer/director Robert Townsend strikes a blow for diversity as the first black superhero in this mild 1993 spoof, supported by a star-studded cast including James Earl Jones, Robert Guillaume, Marla Gibbs, Don Cheadle, Wallace Shawn, Eddie Griffin, Luther Vandross, Sinbad, Naughty by Nature, Cypress Hill, Another Bad Creation, Big Daddy Kane, Lela Rochon, John Witherspoon, “Tiny” Lister, and Bill Cosby (when he was more well-liked). The new Blu-ray retails for $29.95. Rated PG. **

“MEXICAN MEN” (TLA Releasing): A DVD compilation ($22.99 retail) of gay-themed Spanish-language short films by Julian Hernandez and Robert Fiesco.

MOJIN: THE LOST LEGEND (Well Go USA Entertainment): Based on the international best-selling novels, this fantasy adventure (originally titled The Ghouls) follows three retired adventurers (Shu Qui, Huang Bo and Chen Kun) as they are called upon to pull off one final heist — which, naturally, doesn’t quite go according to plan (do they ever?). In Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).

PHASE IV (Olive Films): Noted designer Saul Bass’ intriguing 1974 directorial debut pits Nigel Davenport and Michael Murphy against a colony of super-intelligent ants in a remote corner of the Arizona desert. Echoes of Kubrick abound (too many) but Dick Bush’s cinematography is excellent and at least this strives for a level rare in the genre. Needless to say, a cult favorite. The DVD retails for $14.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Rated PG. **½

PRIDE AND JOY: THE STORY OF ALLIGATOR RECORDS (Mug-Shot Productions/MVD Entertainment Group): The Blu-ray bow ($19.95 retail) of filmmaker Robert Mugge’s 1992 documentary feature tracing the history of the Chicago-based blues label founded in 1971, whose artists included Elvin Bishop, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, Katie Webster, and others

SNIPER: SPECIAL OPS (LionsGate): The Sniper franchise continues – on a downward spiral – in writer/producer/director Fred Olen Ray’s hackneyed shoot-’em-up with producer Steven Seagal trapped behind enemy lines. Despite his billing, Seagal only appears intermittently – usually seated and apparently bored. The feeling’s mutual. Rated R. ½

STANDOFF (LionsGate): Screenwriter Adam Alleca’s auspicious directorial debut stars Laurence Fishburne as a hired killer who tracks young murder witness Ella Ballentine to the remote farmhouse of suicidal veteran Thomas Jane, at which point the title condition ensues. Highly theatrical, with most events confined to the farmhouse, bolstered by swift pacing, good performances, and a touch of gallows humor. A B-movie with class. Fishburne and Jane were also executive producers. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $24.99. Rated R. ***

THE SURFACE (Aimes Media/Ariztical Entertainment): Australian model Harry Hains makes his film debut in writer/director Michael J. Saul’s drama as a disillusioned orphan coming to terms with his identity and sexuality. The DVD retails for $24.95.

TATTOO (TLA Releasing): Writer/director Hilton Lacerda’s award-winning drama (originally titled Tatuagem) depicts the illicit relationship between a young soldier (Jesuita Barbosa) and a politically-active cabaret impresario (Irandhir Santos) in socially-repressive ’70s Brazil. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).

TOP GUN (Paramount): A 30th-anniversary limited-edition Blu-ray steelbook ($14.99 retail) of producer Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott’s phenomenally popular, and sometimes very hokey, 1996 airborne melodrama with Tom Cruise as the aptly nicknamed “Maverick.” The aerial scenes are terrific, but on the ground – especially the romance between Maverick and civilian instructor Kelly McGillis – this is pure soap opera. Val Kilmer, Anthony Edwards, Meg Ryan, Tom Skerritt, Michael Ironside, John Stockwell, Tim Robbins, James Tolkan and Rick Rossovich also appear. Berlin’s inescapable “Take My Breath Away” won the Academy Award as Best Song, with additional nominations for Best Editing, Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing. Special features are plentiful. Rated PG-13. **½

TRY AND GET ME (Olive Films): Lloyd Bridges and Frank Lovejoy star in this noir-ish 1950 thriller (also released as The Sound of Fury), adapted from screenwriter Jo Pagano’s fact-based 1947 novel The Condemned, as small-time hoods who hasten their inevitable downfall when their crimes escalate to kidnapping, available on DVD ($24.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail).

UPTOWN GIRLS (Olive Films): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of Boaz Yakin’s PG-13-rated 2003 comedy starring Brittany Murphy as an unlikely nanny to Dakota Fanning, the preocious daughter of high-powered executive Heather Locklear.

(Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2016, Mark Burger) HYPERLINK “”