Video Vault

by Mark Burger


(Universal Studios Home Entertainment)

Everything goes right in producer Alan J. Pakula and director Robert Mulligan’s esteemed 1962 adaptation of Harper Lee’s beloved (only) novel, newly released in a 50th anniversary edition, available as a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.98 retail) or a Blu-ray book/ DVD combo ($39.98 retail).

Gregory Peck is perfectly cast as Atticus Finch, a widowed lawyer in Depression-era Alabama, balancing work with family as he raises daughter Scout (Mary Badham) and son Jem (Philip Alford). So perfectly cast is Peck that he won the Academy Award as Best Actor, and often cited the role as his personal favorite.

Horton Foote’s screenplay (also an Oscar winner) is a beautiful translation, losing none of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel’s insight

or humanity. When Atticus defends Tom Robinson (Brock Peters), a black man accused of raping a white woman, the story takes on deeper, more adult overtones, which only enhance its dramatic resonance. This is very much a coming-of-age story, and damn near a perfect one.

The film also earned an Oscar for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Badham), Best Score (Elmer Bernstein) and Best Cinematography (black and white). A peerless cast also includes William Windom (in his screen debut), Paul Fix, Frank Overton, Rosemary Murphy and, in his screen debut, Robert Duvall as the mysterious Boo Radley. Essential viewing.

BEST PICTURE ACADEMY AWARD WINNERS – FIVE FILM COLLECTION (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A selfexplanatory collection ($39.98 retail DVD, $54.99 retail Blu-ray) of films, replete with special features, that copped the Academy’s top prize (and usually additional Oscars): 1996’s The English Patient (rated R), 1998’s Shakespeare in Love (rated R), 2002’s Chicago (rated PG-13), 2005’s Crash (rated R), and 2007’s No Country for Old Men.

CHEAPER TO KEEP HER (Entertainment One): A filmed version of writer/director Je’Caryous Johnson’s hit stage play, starring Vivica A. Fox and Brian McKnight as a couple whose marriage is on the rocks. The DVD retails for $19.98.

CODE OF THE RANGERS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Routine 1938 B Western with Tim McCoy as a Texas Ranger out to nab the outlaw gang that corrupted his younger brother (Rex Lease).

COURAGEOUS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The latest inspirational drama from brothers-in-film Alex and Stephen Kendrick (Alex directed, Stephen produced and both wrote the script) follows police officers as they try to balance family and faith with the hardships of their occupation. The DVD retails for $30.99, the Blu-ray for $35.99. Rated PG-13.

DATE BAIT (Alpha Home Entertainment): Producer/director/story writer O’Dale Ireland’s second (and last) feature, this low-budget 1960 melodrama stars Gary Clarke and Marlo Ryan as a young couple who elope to Las Vegas, then return and are confronted by her heroinaddicted, ex-con ex-boyfriend (Dick Gering) — and he’s got a gun! Fast-moving exploitation, with Reggie Perkins singing the theme song “Date Bait Baby.”

THE DOUBLE (Image Entertainment): Twisty, convoluted espionage thriller with ex-CIA agent Richard Gere and FBI agent Topher Grace on the trail of Soviet assassin “Cassius,” who has resumed his murderous ways after years underground… or has he? Gere has fun in his role, but ultimately this is standard, but slick, fare. Stephen Moyer, Odette Yustman, Stana Katic and Martin Sheen round out a competent if underused cast. Rated PG-13.

DOUBLE EXPOSURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): Sparks fly between editor Chester Morris and photographer Nancy Kelly in this breezy 1944 programmer (likely inspired by the success of His Girl Friday). Although promoted somewhat as a thriller, the murdermystery angle is a late addition. Morris and Kelly bounce off each other well.

“FATHER DOWLING MYSTERIES”: THE FIRST SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Tom Bosley dons the collar of the title character, the Chicago cleric with a knack for solving crime, in all eight episodes from the premiere 1989 season of the NBC mystery series based on the character created by Ralph McInerny. Tracy Nelson (as“Sister Steve”), Mary Wickes and James Stephens round out the regular cast. The DVD boxed set retails for $29.99.

FIREFLIES IN THE GARDEN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): An unexpected death forces a dysfunctional family to examine its own past in writer/director Dennis Lee’s semiautobiographical but slow-moving feature debut, boasting an earnest, star-studded cast (Willem Dafoe, Ryan Reynolds, Emily Watson, Carrie-Anne Moss, Hayden Panettiere and Julia Roberts), yet the overall impact is curiously muted. Filmed in 2007. Roberts’ real-life husband Danny Moder was the cinematographer. Rated R.

OCEAN HEAVEN (Well Go USA Entertainment): A dramatic change of pace for Jet Li, cast here as a widowed father who learns he’s dying and is determined to ensure the future of his autistic son (Lunmei Kwai). Xiao Lu Xue wrote and directed this award-winning drama, originally titled Haiyang tiantang. In Mandarin with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $29.98.

SCUM OF THE EARTH DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha New Cinema): A DVD twin-bill ($7.98 retail) of Lynch Mob Vigilantes (amusing junk) and Chain Gang Massacre (boring junk), lowrent action thrillers created by Oregon-based filmmaker Ray Etheridge. Neither film runs a full hour.

TEXAS JUSTICE (Alpha Home Entertainment): George Houston (as “The Lone Rider”) saddles up in this 1942 Western programmer, battling rustlers when not belting out a tune. A few interesting touches include having the bad guys disguised as monks and the main villain a woman (Claire Rochelle). Directed by Hollywood workhouse Sam Newfield and produced by his brother, Sigmund Neufeld.

THE THRILL OF YOUTH (Alpha Home Entertainment): An affluent family is rocked by jealousy and illicit romance in this creaky but amusing 1932 big-screen soap opera directed by the prolific Richard Thorpe.

TRUE ADOLESCENTS (Flatiron Film Company): Writer/director Craig Johnson’s debut feature stars Mark Duplass as an aimless Seattle musician who embarks on an eventful, coming-of-age camping trip with his rebellious teenaged nephew (Bret Loehr) and his best friend (newcomer Carr Thompson). Melissa Leo appears as Duplass’ aunt. The latter sections meander, but good performances carry the day.

TUCKER & DALE VS. EVIL (Magnolia Home Entertainment): Eli Craig’s award-winning horror spoof stars Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine in the

title roles, as a couple of goofy, good-natured Southern rednecks whose weekend fishing trip goes haywire when a group of camping teens mistakenly believes them to be deranged killers. A smart and sassy send-up of slasher cinema, with exuberant performances and plenty of gore. An instant cult classic. Rated R.

A VERY HAROLD & KUMAR CHRISTMAS (Warner Home Video): The title tells all, as the yuletide season takes a ribbing in the third in the lowbrow comedy series, with John Cho and Kal Penn reprising their title roles, joined again by Neil Patrick Harris as himself. Available as a single DVD ($28.98 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), or a 3-D Blu-ray/DVD combo ($44.95 retail). Rated R (also available in an unrated edition).

YAKUZA WEAPON (Well Go USA Entertainment): Tak Sakaguchi portrays a one-man force who wages war on the Tokyo underworld in this sci-fi/martial-arts action bloodbath based on Ken Ishikawa’s popular manga and directed by Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi. In Japanese with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $24.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $29.98.

YESTERDAY WAS A LIE (Entertainment One): Time and reality are both relative in writer/ director/executive producer/editor James Kerwin’s award-winning, noir-ish sci-fi mystery with Kipleigh Brown as a fedora-clad female cop on the trail of a mysterious scientist (John Newton). Chase Masterson (who also produced) and Chewbacca himself, Peter Mayhew (human here, essentially), also appear. Encouraging, especially considering its budget, but murky and meandering. Rated PG.

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