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by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: BURKE & HARE

(IFC Films)

History’s most notorious grave robbers are the subject of this ghoulish black comedy that marks director John Landis’ first feature in more than a decade. An opening title card sets the tone for the story: “This is a true story. Except the parts that are not.”

Simon Pegg and Andy Serkis (in his own skin, so to speak) play the titular twosome, 18th-century con men who supplement their income by procuring fresh corpses for research to eminent Dr. Knox (the always-welcome Tom Wilkinson) at Edinburgh University. When fresh corpses are in short supply, this doesn’t daunt our diabolical duo, who propose to simply create their own corpses by, as Hare says, “helping them along.”

The period detail and atmosphere are intentionally reminiscent of the old Hammer Films, and the irreverent humor of Ealing Studios — only fitting, as this is an Ealing production. Piers Ashworth and Nick Moorcroft’s screenplay is hit-or-miss at times, but delightful performances carry the day — and the film.

Familiar faces abound, some in cameo roles: Isla Fisher, Tim Curry, Ronnie Corbett, Hugh Bonneville, David Hayman, Allan Corduner, Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine (from Landis’ An American Werewolf in London), Ray Harryhausen, filmmakers Michael Winner and Costa-Gavras, and the immortal Christopher Lee. Burke & Hare is not for all tastes (to say the least!) and was not well-received critically, but it’s a giddy treat for horror fans.

AGE OF HEROES (Entertainment One): Sean Bean, James D’Arcy and Danny Dyer headline this World War II thriller inspired by the actual 30 Commando Assault Unit, of which James Bond author Ian Fleming was a member. The DVD retails for $29.98, the Blu-ray for $24.98.

“AMERICAN RESTORATION”: VOLUME ONE (A&E Networks): This DVD boxed set ($19.95 retail) features selected episodes from the History Channel reality series, which premiered in 2010 and spun off from “Pawn Stars,” following Rick Dale, the owner of Rick’s Restorations in Las Vegas, which specializes in restoring old, damaged items into valuable collectibles.

BELLE DE JOUR (The Criterion Collection):

Luis Bunuel’s award-winning, controversial 1967 adaptation of Joseph Kessel’s novel stars Catherine Deneuve as an affluent Parisian housewife who decides to spice up her life by becoming a call girl. Surreal and sensuous, with ironic twists and symbolism throughout. Deneuve’s performance is as breathtaking as her beauty, which is considerable. Fine support provided by Jean Sorel (as the unsuspecting husband), Michel Piccoli, Genevieve Page and Pierre Clementi. In French with English subtitles. The special-edition DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95. Rated R.

“THE BORGIAS”: THE FIRST SEASON (Showtime Entertainment/CBS DVD/ Paramount Home Entertainment): Neil Jordan created this dramatic historical series focusing on the rise to power of the title clan (headed by Jeremy Irons) in 15th-century Rome, as depicted in all nine episodes from the 2011 season of the Showtime series. Emmy Awards for Outstanding Cosuimes for a Series and Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music, with four additional nominations including

Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Jordan). The DVD boxed set retails for $49.99, the Blu-ray boxed set for $67.99.

BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Nick Swardson plays the buck-toothed, bowl-cut title character, who travels to Hollywood to take the adult-film industry by storm after learning his parents (Edward Herrmann and Miriam Flynn) were porn stars in the ’70s. A few scattered laughs, but about what you’d expect from something from Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison Productions. The screenplay was by Swardson, Sandler and Allen Covert (who also appears), and all three were producers. Also on hand: Christina Ricci, Don Johnson, Stephen Dorff, Kevin Nealon, Nick Turturro, Curtis Armstrong, Jimmy Fallon (as himself), Pauly Shore (as himself) and various real porn stars. Rated R.

“CALL ME FITZ”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Entertainment One): Jason Priestley returns to series television as a party-hearty car salesman whose inner conscience (Ernie Grunwald) manifests itself to keep him on the straight and narrow, in all 13 episodes from the 2011 season of the award-winning comedy series aired in the US on DirectTV. Priestley has also produced and directed some episodes. The three-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.

DEAD CERT (Shout! Factory): There are definite echoes of Guy Ritchie and Quentin Tarantino (particularly From Dusk Till Dawn) in this bloody, cheeky British shocker wherein tough nightclub owner “Dead Cert” (Craig Fairbrass) is pitted against a crew of vampires (led by Billy Murray – not Bill Murray) who covet the cursed land the club is built on. Writer/ producer Jonathan Sothcott is best known as a Hammer Films historian, which explains everything. Steven Berkoff is fun as an old bum who turns out to be a vampire hunter, and the cast includes Dexter Fletcher, Danny Dyer, Janet Motgomery, Lisa McAllister, Roland Manookian, Perry Benson and (briefly) Jason Flemyng. The door is left open for a sequel.

“FROZEN WORLD: THE STORY OF THE ICE AGE” (A&E Networks): The title tells all in this two-DVD boxed set ($19.95 retail) featuring four History Channel documentary specials exploring the origins of man and his world.

HELP ME HELP YOU (Monarch Home Entertainment): Real-life physician and self-help author Ravi Godse wrote, directed and stars in this bland comedy about a doctor (guess who?) who thinks he’s dying and tries to play matchmaker for his friends. Steve Guttenberg, Richard Kind, Bill Nunn, Sabrina Bryan, Rondell Sheridan and football great Franco Harris all found reasons to appear here. Godse’s script and direction are as unimpressive as his performance.

JUDY MOODY AND THE NOT BUMMER SUMMER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Appealing newcomer Jordana Beatty plays the title role in this big-screen adaptation of Megan McDonald’s popular series of children’s books, about a precocious pre-teen desperate to enjoy summer vacation, aided and abetted by her free-spirited aunt (Heather Graham, appealing in other ways) and her goofy brother “Stink” (Parris Mosteller, who’s a hoot in his screen debut). This possible franchise floundered at the box-office, but it’s ideal smallscreen fare for kids. McDonald also co-scripted.

Rated PG.

JUST MY LUCK (Alpha Home Entertainment):

One-time silent star Charles Ray stars in this 1936 comedy as a bumbling everyman wading through treacherous corporate waters. This “little-guy-makes-big” fable is typical Depression-era fare.

“MANNIX”: SEASON 6 (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Mike Connors returns as the tough, tenacious LA private eye in all 24 episodes from the 1972-’73 season of the longrunning, award-winning, prime-time CBS crime drama. Three Emmy nominations: Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Lead Actor (Connors) in a Drama Series, and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Gail Fisher). The six- DVD boxed set retails for $54.99.

“MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000:

XXII” (Shout! Factory): The Satellite of Love keeps spinning in the latest four-DVD collection ($59.97 retail) culled from the long-running, Peabody Award-winning comedy series, which ran from 1988-’99 — first on Comedy Central and then the Sci-Fi Channel. This time, the crew riffs and rags on such cinematic monstrosities as 1987’s Time of the Apes, which was stitched together from episodes of a ’70s Japanese sci-fi series; Mighty Jack (1968), which was fashioned likewise; the 1956 teen-rebellion potboiler The Violent Years; and 1946’s The Brute Man, starring Rondo Hatten (in his final film) in the title role.

WILD HORSE CANYON (Alpha Home Entertainment): Typical but fast-paced 1938 Western programmer with Jack Randall as a heroic wrangler who tracks down his brother’s murderer with the help of his stalwart (but stereotypical) Mexican sidekick (Frank Yaconelli) and “Rusty the Wonder Horse.”

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2011, Mark Burger

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