Dec. 9, 2009 12:00

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DVD PICK OF THE WEEK

WORLD’S GREATEST DAD (Magnolia Home Entertainment): The topic of teen suicide isn’t exactly conducive to humor, but writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait (one and the same) has made the best film of his career with this bold, uncompromising, frequently hilarious black comedy — thanks to a huge assist from leading man Robin Williams, giving one of the best performances of his career. Williams plays Lance Clayton, a mildmannered and divorced English teacher struggling to raise his son Kyle (Daryl Sabara), a lascivious and ill-mannered lout who shows no respect to anyone, least of all his father. But when Kyle accidentally asphyxiates himself in an ill-conceived autoerotic practice (read between the lines, if you will), Lance tries to cover up the actual circumstance of his death by penning an eloquent note and making it look like suicide. The ruse, further fueled by Kyle’s “diary” (which Lance has also written) snowballs rapidly, much to Lance’s surprise — not all of it entirely unpleasant. In life, Kyle was miserable and obnoxious. In death, thanks to his father’s chicanery, he becomes a national icon for teen angst — and propels Lance to the sort of celebrity status he was unable to achieve before. Both Williams and Goldthwait nimbly sidestep any semblance of sentiment, which makes the film all the more sharper and savage. Although the film made waves at this year’s RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston-Salem, it deserved a far better reception (and a far bigger release) than it got. Nevertheless, it stands as one of the best, funniest and most outrageous films of the year. Rated R. ***½

ALSO ON DVD

BYE BYE MONKEY (KOCH Lorber Films): “Bizarre” does not begin to describe writer/director Marco Ferreri’s first English-language film, an award-winning, absurdist 1978 satire set in a futuristic (?) New York City where Gerard Depardieu discovers a baby monkey hidden in the carcass of King Kong and begins to treat it like his child. Before an unexpectedly fiery finale, it gets weirder and weirder. Among the equally eccentric denizens of this freakish landscape are Marcello Mastroianni, James Coco, Geraldine Fitzgerald, Mimsy Farmer, Stefania Casini, Avon Long and Gail Lawrence (better known as adult-film star Abigail Clayton). **

COUGAR CLUB (Vivendi Entertainment): This tacky sex comedy stars Jason Jurman and Warren Cole as college students who start a club for young men attracted to older women. A waste of time and of a cast that also includes Joe Mantegna, Faye Dunaway, Izabella Scorupco, Kaley Cuoco, Jon Polito, Loretta Devine, Molly Cheek and extremely brief appearances by Jack Carter, Norm Crosby and Carrie Fisher. Rated R (also available in an unrated version). *

THE ELEPHANT KING (E1 Entertainment): Writer/director Seth Grossman’s award-winning feature debut is a cautionary tale starring Tate Oliver and Jonno Roberts as American brothers reveling in the hedonistic lifestyle of Thailand’s nightlife, only to discover the heavy price to pay for such misbehavior. Back home, Ellen Burstyn and Josef Sommer play their worried parents. Rated R. **½

ELVIS HAS LEFT THE BUILDING (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Director Joel Zwick’s scatter-brained romantic/black comedy involves Kim Basinger and John Corbett (both attractive but stranded by the material), as well as a series of fatal accidents involving Elvis impersonators. This strained comedy just barely scrapes by on the good will of its cast, which also includes Denise Richards, Angie Dickinson, Wayne Newton (as himself), Annie Potts, Mike Starr, Phill Lewis, Sean Astin, Billy Ray Cyrus, the late Pat Morita, Tom Hanks and Zwick himself. Although Zwick directed one of the most successful comedies of all time (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), this bypassed theatrical release here in the US. Rated PG-13. **

FAR CRY (Vivendi Entertainment): The latest video-game adaptation from the indefatigable Uwe Boll involves a remote island in the Pacific Northwest populated by genetically-enhanced mutant soldiers, being created for military use. Noisy, violent and stupid — par for the course in Boll’s oeuvre, although some of the action scenes (especially the speedboat chase) aren’t bad. The cast includes Udo Keir (inspired typecasting as the mad scientist), Emmanuelle Vaugier, Til Schweiger, Craig Fairbrass, Chris Coppola (providing comic relief), Michael Pare (in one scene) and the late Don S. Davis. *½

THE GAMBLER, THE GIRL AND THE GUNSLINGER (E1 Entertainment): Dean Cain, Allison Hossack and James Tupper occupy the title roles in this amiable if unsurprising Western co-written by cult filmmaker Larry Cohen. **

THE GOLDEN BOYS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): David Carradine, Bruce Dern and Rip Torn star as retired sea captains who advertise for a wife to keep house for them in 1905 Cape Cod. Enter Mariel Hemingway, as a young widow whose charms and common sense make her irresistible. The pleasures of watching the cast (also including Charles Durning, John Savage, Julie Harris and Rip’s daughter Angelica) are almost completely undone by leaden pacing. Adapted from Joseph C. Lincoln’s novel by director Daniel Adams. Rated PG. **

HANNA D.: THE GIRL FROM VONDEL PARK (Severin Films): Dutch teenager Ann-Gisel Glass drifts into heroin, hooking and other various indignities in this cautionary exploitation item from 1984. For all of the softcore silliness, this is for undiscriminating grindhouse junkies only. The DVD includes an on-camera interview with director/co-writer Rino Di Silvestre (AKA Axel Berger), who died in October. *

THE HAUNTED AIRMAN (E1 Entertainment): A pre-Twilight Robert Pattinson broods and smokes frequently as a traumatized, paraplegic World War II flier in this rendition of Dennis Wheatley’s occult novel The Haunting of Toby Jugg, adapted by producer/director Chris Durlacher. Julian Sands and Rachael Stirling are also on hand for this atmospheric but ultimately unsatisfying chiller. **

“HEARTLAND”: SEASON 1, PART 2 (E1 Entertainment): This two-DVD boxed set ($24.98 retail) includes episodes 8-13 from the 2008 season of the awardwinning, Canadian-made family drama, based on a best-selling series of teen novels by Lauren Brooke, starring Amber Marshall and Michelle Morgan as sisters dealing with the death of their mother while toiling away at the rustic horse farm owned by their grandfather (Shaun Johnston).

LIONSGATE BLU-RAYS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The Blu-ray roll-out continues, with the 15th-anniversary edition of Roland Emmerich’s award-winning 1994 sci-fi hit StarGate (rated PG-13, $29.99 retail), starring Kurt Russell and James Spader; the unrated version of Darren Aronofsky’s stunning, award-winning 2000 adaptation of Hubert Selby Jr.’s best-seller Requiem for a Dream ($19.99 retail), for which Ellen Burstyn scored an Oscar nomination as Best Actress; screenwriter/ director Kathryn Bigelow’s award-winning, Western-tinged 1987 vampire thriller Near Dark (rated R, $19.99 retail); Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Belushi as mismatched cops (is there any other kind?) in Walter Hill’s enjoyable 1988 action romp Red Heat (rated R, $19.99 retail); the 25th-anniversary special edition of Lewis Teague’s award-winning (and quite faithful) 1983 adaptation of Stephen King’s Cujo (rated R, $19.99 retail); the 20th-anniversary special edition of Fred Dekker’s affectionate, awardwinning 1987 horror romp The Monster Squad (rated PG-13, $19.99 retail); the special edition of the original 1981 slasher favorite My Bloody Valentine (rated R; $19.99 retail); Mickey Rourke (in one of his best performances) and Robert De Niro in Alan Parker’s controversial, award-winning 1987 adaptation of Angel Heart (rated R, $19.98 retail); Mel Gibson and Robert Downey Jr. in the 1990 war satire Air America (rated R, $19.98 retail); Ryan Phillippe and Benicio Del Toro in screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie’s 2000 directorial debut Way of the Gun (rated R; $19.99 retail); Bill Paxton’s excellent, award-winning 2001 directorial debut Frailty (rated R, $19.98 retail), starring Paxton, Matthew McConaughey and Powers Boothe; and the 2004 Hong Kong action blow-out New Police Story (rated R, $19.99 retail), in which Jackie Chan stars and serves as producer, executive producer and stunt director.

“MARVEL ANIMATION: 6 FILM GIFT SET” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A collection of six animated features showcasing popular characters from Marvel Comics: The award winning Ultimate Avengers: The Movie (1986) and its immediate follow-up, Ultimate Avengers 2; the award-winning Doctor Strange (2007); The Invincible Iron Man (2007); Next Avengers: Heroes of Tomorrow (2008); and 2009’s Hulk Vs. All of the films are rated PG- 13 except Next Avengers, which is rated PG. This boxed set retails for $49.98.

“NUMB3RS”: THE FIFTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): FBI agent Rob Morrow and his mathematics-genius brother David Krumholtz once again pool their skills to crack the toughest cases, in all 23 episodes from the 2008-’09 season of the awardwinning, prime-time CBS-TV crime series. This six-DVD boxed set retails for $60.90.

“THE PRISONER”: BLU-RAY EDITION (A&E Home Entertainment): All 17 episodes from the classic 1967-’68 television series come to Blu-ray, with executive producer Patrick McGoohan as “Number Six,” a former secret agent imprisoned in a mysterious village, from which he tries to escape and figure out who his captors are. McGoohan also wrote and directed several episodes. This boxed set retails for $99.95.

RIPPED OFF: MADOFF AND THE SCAMMING OF AMERICA (A&E Home Entertainment): Some $65 billion went down the drain and investor Bernard Madoff is now serving what is essentially a life sentence in federal prison, in a true-life financial fiasco that is covered in this History Channel documentary. As a bonus, this special-edition DVD ($19.95 retail) also includes the documentary Crash: The Next Great Depression?

SNAKE DANCER (Mondo Macabro): A South African (!) exploitation melodrama, vintage 1976, starring Glenda Kemp as Glenda, a free-spirited but good-hearted girl who finds fame as a striptease dancer who specialty is an act involving live snakes. Alas, she becomes the target of an oppressive political climate. If you like the snake routine, check out Glenda’s puppet act. *½

TRAIN (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A group of college wrestlers (including Thora Birch, who far outclasses this trash) traveling through Eastern Europe fall prey to an illegal organ-transplant ring aboard the title mode of transportation. Originally conceived as a remake of the ’80s favorite Terror Train, this grisly, one-note shocker might be more accurately titled “Torture Train.” Rated R. *

WILLIE NELSON AND WYNTON MARSALIS PLAY THE MUSIC OF RAY CHARLES (A&E Home Entertainment): The title tells all in this concert special, filmed at the “Jazz at Lincoln Center” event in New York City. Willie and Wynton are joined by Norah Jones as they perform such Ray Charles favorites as “Hit the Road, Jack,” “Unchain My Heart,” and many more. The DVD retails for $19.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2009, Mark Burger !

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