video vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK FALLING DOWN (Warner Home Video): A deluxe edition, replete with director’s commentary, of Joel Schumacher’s 1993 intense urban satire — a film that perfectly captures a time, a place, and an attitude. Michael Douglas, in a terrific performance, plays an unemployed, divorced defense worker whose vanity plate reads “D-FENS.” On a hot, miserable day in Los Angeles, he ditches his car and embarks on an outrageous, sometimes treacherous, trek through the city, wreaking havoc wherever he goes. Initially, there’s a strong sense of empathy for D-FENS; he’s one of us. He’s the little man striking back at an unsympathetic system. He’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. But, as the story progresses, it becomes clear that D-FENS is a dangerous man, one who has lost touch with reality. Paralleling D-FENS’ increasingly violent actions are those of Prendergast (Robert Duvall), the veteran cop on his trail, who has also taken a lot of hard knocks over the years but is still able to maintain some semblance of humanity and compassion. This story is as much Prendergast’s as it is D-FENS’, and the film is as much Duvall’s as it is Douglas’. The film is unable to entirely sustain the balance between satire and suspense to the end, but still offers plenty of food for thought — as well as a solid supporting cast including Rachel Ticotin, Barbara Hershey, Tuesday Weld, Raymond J. Barry and Frederic Forrest. It falls short of being a great film, but it is an important and insightful one. Rated R. ***


ALIEN RAIDERS (Warner Home Video): Director Ben Rock’s award-winning debut feature is a derivative but fast-paced sci-fi shocker in which a hostage situation at a supermarket turns out to be much more —and involves a virulent alien infestation that threatens to consume humanity. Horror fans have a big head start, and the squeamish are forewarned. Rated R. **’½

“ARMY WIVES” — THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 19 episodes from the 2008-’09 season of the popular, awardwinning, prime-time Lifetime series focusing on romance and intrigue on a US Army base as seen through the eyes of the wives. The ensemble cast includes Kim Delaney, Catherine Bell and Wendy Davis. This boxed set retails for $45.99.

THE BEST OF “WHOSE LINE IS IT, ANYWAY?” — UNCENSORED! (Warner Home Video): Like the title says, here’s a collection of 10 uncut episodes from the long-running (1998-2006), award-winning prime-time ABC-TV improvisational-comedy game show hosted by Drew Carey (also an executive producer) and featuring a rotating cast of regulars including Wayne Brady (who won the Emmy Award in 2003 as Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program) and Ryan Stiles (also an executive producer). Inspired by a popular British TV series, which was itself inspired by a hit radio show. This two-DVD set retails for $24.98.

BEYOND RANGOON (Warner Home Video): John Boorman directs Patricia Arquette as a grief-stricken young widow who witnesses first-hand the atrocities of war in latter-day Burma in this well-intentioned (and award-winning) but heavy-handed 1995 melodrama. Rated R. **

“CANNON” — SEASON TWO, VOLUME ONE (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): William Conrad is on the case as portly ex-cop-turned-private eye Frank Cannon in the first 12 episodes from the 1972-’73 season of the popular, primetime CBS-TV crime drama that earned Emmy nominations as Outstanding Drama Series and for Conrad as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Guest stars include Stefanie Powers, Lloyd Bochner, Micky Dolenz, Sheree North, Mike Farrell, Phyllis Thaxter, Pamela Franklin, Clu Gulager, Julie Adams and Patrick O’Neal. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

DEFIANCE (Paramount Home Entertainment): Producer/director/co screenwriter’s fact-based World War II saga, based on Nechama Tec’s book, starring Daniel Craig, Liev Schreiber and Jamie Bell as the brothers Bielski, who organized both a resistance movement and a sanctuary for fugitive Jews in the forests surrounding Poland and Belorussia. Although this reportedly takes some liberties with the factual aspects of the story, it still makes for rousing and intense human drama. Not perfect, but still one of 2008’s best films. James Newton Howard’s score earned an Oscar nomination. Rated R. ***’½

THE DESERT OF THE TARTARS (NoShame Films): Symbolism abounds in director Valerio Zurlini’s award-winning final film, an ethereal 1976 adaptation of Dino Buzzati’s controversial 1938 anti-war novel set in Bastanio, a remote military fort where the soldiers await an inevitable (?) confrontation with the enemy. Jacques Perin plays a young officer assigned to the fort, and an star-studded international cast includes Vittorio Gassman, Max Von Sydow, Jean-Louis Trintignant, Fernando Rey, Philippe Noiret, Francisco Rabal and Giuliano Gemma — yet this was never widely seen in the US. The location of the fort was the 2,000-year-old Bam Citadel in Iran. This special-edition DVD ($29.95 retail) includes a bonus CD of Ennio Morricone’s score. Overlong and occasionally confusing, but with some hauntingly effective and relevant moments nevertheless. In Italian with English subtitles. Rated PG. ***

EL DORADO (Paramount Home Entertainment): The ads proclaimed: “The big two in the big one!” — and they weren’t kidding. John Wayne and Robert Mitchum team up in producer/director Howard Hawks’ gutsy, good-humored 1966 adaptation of Harry Brown’s Western novel The Stars in Their Courses that bears considerable resemblance to Hawks’ earlier film Rio Bravo (also with Wayne) but is still quite entertaining on its own. Also on hand: James Caan, Edward Asner, Michele Carey, Charlene Holt, Arthur Hunnicutt, Paul Fix and Christopher George (as a coolly ruthless gunslinger). This two-disc “Centennial Edition” retails for $16.99. ***

“GET SMART” — SEASON THREE (HBO Home Entertainment): Would you believe… all 26 episodes from the 1967-’68 season of the classic NBC-TV situation comedy starring Don Adams as Maxwell Smart, Agent 86? Joined by Agent 99 (Barbara Feldon) and tolerated by The Chief (Edward Platt), Max continuously thwarts the enemies of freedom in his own, inimitable fashion. Created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, which may account for its enduring hilarity. Adams wrote and directed some episodes, and won the Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. The show also won Emmys as Outstanding Comedy Series and for Outstanding Direction in a Comedy Series (for the episode “Maxwell Smart, Private Eye”), while Feldon earned a nomination as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. This boxed set retails for $24.98.

GRAN TORINO (Warner Home Video): In a towering, award-winning performance, Clint Eastwood (who also produced and directed) plays an embittered, widowed Korean War veteran who becomes comes to terms with the changing cultural landscape, with his own long-held biases — and his own mortality — when he becomes involved in the life of the immigrant neighbor (Bee Vang, in his screen debut) attempts to steal his prized possession (the title car). One of last year’s best films and one of Eastwood’s biggest box-office hits, yet he was unaccountably overlooked for an Oscar nomination. No matter, as this great film speaks for itself — and for his talents as an actor, a movie star and a filmmaker. Rated R. ***’½

“RAISING THE BAR” — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): All 10 episodes from the 2008 season of TNT prime-time courtroom series boasting television powerhouse Steven Bochco as its executive producer, dramatizing the personal and professional lives of young defense attorneys and prosecutors. Series regulars include Melissa Sagemiller, Mark- Paul Gosselaar, Gloria Reuben and Jane Kaczmarek. Bochco’s real-life son Jesse serves as co-executive producer. This threedisc boxed set retails for $39.99.

RAZORTOOTH (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A large (and very hungry) prehistoric eel slithers its way through the Florida Everglades, chowing down on folks with reckless abandon, in this amusing sci-fi schlock-fest that just so happens to have been written by two friends of mine, Jack Monroe and Matt Holly (who also appear in the film). Thanks to them, I’ve drunk absinthe. It helped. Ian Pliske, in his screen debut, stands out as Cousin Lou, a dim-wit redneck who gets it in the outhouse. For an exclusive interview with screenwriters Holly and Monroe, see Page 64. Rated R. **

“TRUE BLOOD” — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment): Anna Paquin — all grown up — stars in all 12 episodes from the 2008 season of the top-rated, awardwinning HBO series, created by Alan Ball and based on Charlaine Harris’ “Dead Until Dark” series of novels, depicting a (very) star-crossed romance between a Southern waitress with psychic abilities (Golden Globe winner Paquin) and a handsome vampire named Bill (Stephen Moyer). This boxed set is available on DVD ($59.99 retail) or Blu-ray ($79.98 retail).

“TWO AND A HALF MEN” — THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer (the “two men”) return, along with Angus T. Jones (the “half”), in all 24 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the awardwinning, top-rated CBS-TV prime-time situation comedy about the misadventures of two brothers who share a beach house in Southern California. Seven Emmy Award nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (Sheen), Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Cryer), and Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Holland Taylor). This boxed set retails for $44.98.

“WEEDS” — SEASON FOUR (LionsGate Home Entertainment): UNCSA School of Drama Mary-Louise Parker returns in all 13 episodes from the 2008 season of the critically acclaimed, awardwinning Showtime series centering around a single mother who deals marijuana in order to make ends meet. This boxed set, which includes such special features as audio commentaries and exclusive behind-thescenes featurettes, retails on DVD or Blu-ray for $39.98.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2009, Mark Burger