Dec. 1, 2010 12:00

video vault

DVD Pick of the week: Dark Star (VCI Entertainment)

John Carpenter made his directorial debut with this laidback, low-budget 1974 sci-fi send-up, newly reissued in what’s being billed as the 36½ th anniversary “Hyper-Drive” special edition ($19.99 retail).

Taking its cue from such sci-fi classics as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running, with a generous dose of absurdist humor sprinkled throughout, the film follows the endless journey of the title spaceship, whose assignment is to blow up rogue planets with literal “smart bombs” (that actually talk and think!).

The ship’s crew consists of Brian Narelle, Dre Pahich, Cal Kuniholm and editor/co-writer Dan O’Bannon, a motley bunch of bored goofballs who’d rather be doing just about anything other than what they’re doing.

Although very much the work of up-and-coming filmmakers, Dark Star possesses a likably quirky attitude that made it a midnight-movie favorite well into the ’80s, fueled by Carpenter’s subsequent success with Halloween and O’Bannon’s with Alien.

Special features include a retrospective documentary that runs longer than film, and much more for all of those diehard Dark Star devotees out there. You know who you are.

Rated G.

ALSO Available 

AMERICA’S MUSIC LEGACY (Quantum Leap/MVD Visual): A series of documentaries tracing different genres of American music: Gene Weed narrates “Country and Western,” LeVar Burton narrates “Gospel,” Billy Eckstine narrates “Rhythm & Blues” and Fabian narrates “Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Each DVD retails for $16.95.

BACK TO THE FUTURE 25TH ANNIVERSARY TRILOGY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A special-edition triple feature of Robert Zemeckis’ immensely popular sci-fi romps with Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, the all-American teenager who takes the ride of his life back and forth through time, thanks to the DeLorean time machine constructed by the brilliant Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd). The original 1985 film is an utter delight, but the back-to-back 1989 and ’90 follow-ups lacked its spirit, although not its special effects. The DVD boxed set retails for $49.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $79.98. All three films are rated PG.

BANGKOK ADRENALINE (Image Entertainment): Light-hearted (and often lightheaded) martial-arts madness, as a group of friends visiting the title town try to pay off a gambling debt by kidnapping a local mob boss’ daughter. Needless to say, this turns out to be a bad idea. Fancy stuntwork distinguishes this chop-socky potboiler. Rated R.

EAT PRAY LOVE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): This adaptation of Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book stars Julia Roberts as a woman who, after breaking up with Billy Crudup and James Franco, embarks on a year-long overseas jaunt to regain her zest for life. The very definition of a “chick flick,” with picturesque locations and an attractive cast (including Javier Bardem as Julia’s ultimate dream man, Richard Jenkins and Viola Davis) only partial compensation for the languidly paced, soap-opera storyline. Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated director’s version).

ELF (Warner Home Video): An “ultimate collector’s edition” of the 2003 box-office smash starring Will Ferrell as one of Santa’s (larger) elves, who travels to New York City to seek his roots. Slight but good-natured, with nice supporting work by James Caan, Mary Steenburgen, Bob Newhart, Zooey Deschanel and Edward Asner as Santa. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.92, the Blu-ray boxed set for $49.99. Rated PG.

FALLEN (Image Entertainment): Paul Wesley plays an all-American teenager who discovers his supernatural heritage in this adaptation of Thomas E Sniegoski’s best-selling series of fantasy novels, originally broadcast as a mini-series on ABC Family. Bryan Cranston plays his nemesis, an angel-gone-bad — and the cast also includes Fernanda Andrade, Rade Serbedzija and Tom Skerritt. Available separately in Parts 1 and 2 ($19.98 DVD retail) and Part 3 ($19.98 DVD retail), or as “The Complete Movie Event” ($27.98 DVD retail or $17.97 Blu-ray retail).

HERMAN COHEN CLASSIC HORROR DOUBLE FEATURE (VCI Entertainment): A DVD twin-bill ($14.99) retail of two scare-fests, both produced in 1959 by B-movie maestro Herman Cohen: A memorably malevolent Michael Gough dominates Horrors of the Black Museum, while Richard Lyon and Clive Revill appear in The Headless Ghost.

HUNT TO KILL (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Predictable action potboiler with Steve Austin as a retired US border agent who tangles with a group of bank robbers (led by Gil Bellows) who have taken him and his teenaged daughter (Marie Avgeropolous) hostage in the mountains of Montana. The fight scenes aren’t bad, but this ends up an ersatz “Cliffhanger in the Woods.” Eric Roberts takes an early powder (before the opening credits) as Austin’s partner. Rated R.

JIMI HENDRIX: THE GUITAR HERO (Image Entertainment): Slash narrates this well-paced, well-told documentary tracing the career of one John Allen “Jimi” Hendrix (1942-’70), whose revolutionary style of power guitar continues to inspire rock music to this day. Eric Clapton, Eric Burdon, Mick Taylor, Ginger Baker, Dave Mason and Hendrix’ brother Leon are among those who offer affectionate, appreciative reminiscences. It’s ironic to see the legendary musicians in their autumn years, whereas Hendrix’ early demise makes him forever young.

JUDGE PRIEST (Alpha Home Entertainment): Will Rogers embodies Irwin Cobb’s popular character, a homespun judge in 1890 Kentucky, in John Ford’s 1934 adaptation. Some of the story’s sentiments, to say nothing of Stepin Fetchit’s “comic” performance as the Judge’s shuffling sidekick, have seriously dated — but there’s no mistaking that Ford magic. Other familiar faces on hand include Anita Louise, Henry B Walthall, Charley Grapewin, Rochelle Hudson, Hattie McDaniel and Francis Ford (the director’s brother).

OPERATION: ENDGAME (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Abrasive, foul-mouthed espionage black comedy (originally titled Rogues’ Gallery) in which rival government assassins start knocking each other off. An all-star cast (Zach Galifianakis, Ellen Barkin, Ving Rhames, Jeffrey Tambor, Rob Corddry, Odette Yustman, Maggie Q, Emilie de Raven, et al) struggles to mine laughs from the material. Rated R.

“PARKS & RECREATION”: SEASON 2 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Amy Poehler heads the ensemble cast (and is one of the producers) of this prime-time NBC-TV situation comedy about the ins and outs of city government in a small Indiana town. This four-DVD boxed set ($39.98 retail) includes all 24 episodes from the 2009-’10 season. Two Emmy nominations including one for Poehler as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

“PARTY DOWN”: SEASON TWO (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The party continues for LA’s most ambitious caterers and wannabe Hollywood stars, in all 10 episodes from the 2010 season of the critically-acclaimed Starz Entertainment original series. The ensemble cast includes Lizzy Caplan, Ken Marino, Ryan Hansen and Megan Mullally, with guest stars Kristen Bell, JK Simmons and semi-regular Jane Lynch. This two-DVD boxed set retails for $29.97.

SAN FERNANDO VALLEY (Alpha Home Entertainment): One of Roy Rogers’ more lighthearted Westerns, this 1944 outing sees Roy and (second-billed) Trigger setting things right on a ranch. Dale Evans (who else?) plays Roy’s love interest, while Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers contribute a few songs.

THE SLAMMIN’ SALMON (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The Broken Lizard comedy troupe returns as the wait staff of a Miami seafood restaurant owned by a former boxing champ (Michael Clarke Duncan) in this raunchy send-up that, like much of Broken Lizard’s work, is hit or miss throughout — until it runs out of steam completely. Will Forte, Lance Henriksen, Morgan Fairchild, Jim Gaffigan and Vivica A Fox are also on hand for the shenanigans. Rated R.

THE STITCHER (VCI Entertainment): Inspired by “true events,” this generic low-budget shocker sees a group of friends stalked by a costumed killer in a backwoods burg. Energetically played and jokey, but hampered by flabby third-act exposition and the unmistakable sense that we’ve been down this road before.

Also in DVD Vault

Also from Mark Burger