video vault

by Mark Burger

video vault

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK THE HIT (The Criterion Collection): After making his feature debut with Gumshoe (1971) — reviewed in this column back in the spring — director Stephen Frears spent more than a decade toiling in television before making a triumphant return to the big screen with this crisp, cool 1984 crime thriller that hits all the right notes. Ten years ago, gangster Willie Parker (Terence Stamp) testified against his cohorts and took a hike — all the way to a quiet life in Spain. His idyllic repose is interrupted by Braddock (John Hurt) and Myron (Tim Roth, in his screen debut), a mismatched pair of hit-men who have come to Spain to finally carry out “the hit” on Willie. Nothing, however, goes according to plan, as Frears and screenwriter Peter Prince put a fresh spin on the rudimentary elements of the crime genre. It’s a sharp, savvy combination of style and substance, with some wicked moments of black comedy thrown in for good measure. The principal trio is in top form, with fine support Bill Hunter as an old mob contact from whom Braddock seeks a favor and Laura Del Sol as his gorgeous girlfriend, whom he takes hostage as insurance (and incentive). There’s also a nice, mostly silent bit by Fernando Rey as an observant police inspector on their trail — and keep a sharp eye out for future Oscar winner Jim Broadbent in the courtroom scene. Rated R. ***’½


BRITISH CINEMA: RENOWN PICTURES CRIME & NOIR (VCI Entertainment): The description tells all in this selection of six black-and-white thrillers produced by Renown Pictures, some of them never released theatrically in the United States: Maxwell Reed and

Dinah Sheridan star in Blackout (1950); Sheridan teams with Hugh Sinclair in No Trace (also ’50), directed by John Gilling; Guy Rolfe stars in Home to Danger (1951), directed by Terence Fisher; Gilling wrote and directed Recoil (1953), starring Edward Underdown and Elizabeth Sellars; Derrick DeMarney and Harriette Johns star in the 1954 adaptation of Meet Mr. Callaghan; and 1956’s Bond of Fear stars Dermot Walsh, Jane Barrett and John Colicos. This two-DVD set retails for $29.99.

THE JACK LEMMON FILM COLLECTION (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A selection of five feature films showcasing the comedic abilities of the great Jack Lemmon (1925-2001): In one of his first films, Lemmon co-stars with Judy Holliday in the marital comedy Phffft! (1954); teamed with Ernie Kovacs and Mickey Rooney in the 1957 military farce Operation Mad Ball; opposite Kim Novak and Fred Astaire in the 1962 adaptation of The Notorious Landlady, whose screenwriters were Blake Edwards and Larry Gelbart; joined by Carol Lynley, Dean Jones and Edie Adams in 1963’s Under the Yum Yum Tree; and in the title role of the 1964 adaptation of Good Neighbor Sam, co-starring Romy Schneider and Edward G. Robinson. This six-disc boxed set, which includes a two-part documentary on Lemmon’s career hosted by his son Chris, retails for $59.98.

JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN (Shout! Factory): Noted (and blacklisted) screenwriter Dalton Trumbo directed only one film in his career, this controversial, award-winning 1971 adaptation of his acclaimed 1939 novel, starring Timothy Bottoms (in his screen debut) as an injured World War I soldier who ruminates on his life and on the world while lying in a hospital bed, year after year. By turns eerie, evocative, self-indulgent and pretentious — but also powerful and relevant. The cast also includes Donald Sutherland (as Christ), Jason Robards, Diane Varsi, Marsha Hunt and Trumbo himself in a cameo. A treasure trove of bonus features include a 1940 radio adaptation (with James Cagney), a terrific documentary about Trumbo, and more. Rated R. ***

KILLSHOT (Genius Products): A pony-tailed Mickey Rourke plays a hit man trailing an estranged couple (Diane Lane and Thomas Jane) in director/executive producer John Madden’s barely-released adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s novel. Despite having Leonard credited as an executive producer, cinematography by Caleb Deschanel and a noteworthy cast (also including Joseph Gordon- Levitt, Rosario Dawson and the always-welcome Hal Holbrook), this convoluted production was beset with rewrites — and reshoots — and winds up an undistinguished, barely average thriller that only occasionally captures Leonard’s savage wit. Rated R. **

LEGEND OF THE BOG (LionsGate Home Entertainment): This supremely silly shocker, originally titled Bog Bodies, sees a group of people (including hunter Vinnie Jones) encountering a resurrected, 2,000-year-old “Bog Body” (Adam Fogerty) that kills them off one by one… but not quickly enough. The first half veers badly between camp and horror; the second half veers between bad and worse. Rated R. ‘½*

“MIDNIGHT BLUE” COLLECTION (Blue Underground): Back in “the good old days,” Manhattan’s publicaccess Channel J would run this notorious late-night series hosted by the one and only Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw Magazine, featuring interviews with adultfilm stars, adults-only ads (some very funny) and, at the center of everything, Al himself, defending (some would say abusing) the First Amendment as only he can. Volume 6 is entitled “Porn Stars of the ’80s” (featuring Annette Haven, Desiree Cousteau, Veronica Hart, Vanessa Del Rio and the inescapable Ron Jeremy) and Volume 7 is entitled, appropriately enough, “Porn Stars of the ’90s” (featuring Jeanna Fine, Christy Canyon and Teri Weigel). Each volume retails for $29.95.

NEW IN TOWN (LionsGate Home Entertainment): In this appallingly, agonizingly predictable romantic comedy, Renee Zellweger plays a hotshot Miami executive who winds up in a frigid Minnesota burg overseeing renovations to a manufacturing plant. There she encounters various eccentric locals (evidently meant to be endearing) and a union representative (a typecast Harry Connick Jr.) who just might be her Mr. Right. No cliché is unturned (nor any stomach) in what may well turn out to be the worst film of 2009. Rated PG-13. No stars

NYMPHA (MTI Home Video): Latter-day scream queen Tiffany Shepis finds herself trapped in a cursed convent when she goes to take her vows. This sluggish, surreal chiller features a lot of dripping blood (and the obligatory nudity from Shepis), but doesn’t make much sense. Rated R. *

THE PINK PANTHER 2 (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Steve Martin (also a screenwriter) returns as Inspector Clouseau in this unnecessary sequel to the equally unnecessary 2006 remake of the Blake Edwards favorite, again stumbling and bumbling his way through an investigation to retrieve the stolen Pink Panther diamond. A talented supporting cast (John Cleese, Lily Tomlin, Jean Reno, Jeremy Irons, Alfred Molina, Emily Mortimer, Andy Garcia and Aishwarya Rai) isn’t enough to erase fond memories of Peter Sellers as Clouseau. What’s more (and less), the story just isn’t funny. Rated PG. *

POSTAL (Vivendi Entertainment): Yet another big-screen video-game adaptation from notorious writer/ producer/director Uwe Boll (who also appears as himself), this one a wildly uneven black comedy that satirizes American society and its propensity for violence. An eclectic cast includes Zack Ward, Dave Foley, Seymour Cassel, David Huddleston, JK Simmons, Chris Coppola, Michael Pare, Verne Troyer (as himself) and game creator Vince Deal (also playing himself). A few amusing bits are offset by Boll’s sledgehammer approach to satire. Both the DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film include the PC video game that inspired the film. Rated R (also available in an unrated edition). *’½

“SECRET DIARY OF A CALL GIRL” — SEASON TWO (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Billie Piper returns as Hannah, an independent 27-yearold Londoner who moonlights as Belle, one of the city’s most popular call girls, in all eight episodes of the controversial, top-rated British series, which also became a success in the US when broadcast by Showtime. This two-disc DVD set retails for $29.98.

“SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON” — COMPLETE SEASON 2 (Infinity Entertainment Group/ Falcon Pictures/Classic Media): Richard “Dick” Simmons returns as the dashing and dauntless Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, battling crime and thwarting evildoers during the Alaskan Gold Rush of the 1890s, in all 23 episodes from the 1956-’57 season of the prime-time CBS-TV adventure series based on the long-running radio serial. This four-DVD boxed set retails for $39.98.

TIME LIMIT (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Richard Widmark produced and stars in this thoughtful, intense and well-acted 1957 screen version of the Harry Denker/Ralph Berkey stage drama (adapted by Denker), playing a military lawyer investigating the court-martial of an officer (an excellent Richard Basehart) accused of collaborating with the enemy during his stint as a POW in Korea. The only film directed by actor Karl Malden, but it’s a good one, with solid supporting work from Rip Torn, June Lockhart, Carl Benton Reid and the indispensable Martin Balsam. ***

“TOMB DETECTIVES” (Infinity Entertainment Group): Some of history’s most bizarre and baffling historical mysteries are tackled in this six-part Smithsonian Networks documentary series, retailing for $19.98.

WAR WOLVES (Monarch Home Video): Michael Worth wrote, directed and stars in this potentially intriguing but disappointing shocker about a group of war veterans who return home suffering from a lycanthropic virus that turns them into werewolves. Despite a genrefriendly cast (John Saxon, Tim Thomerson, Adrienne Barbeau, etc.) and a few well-placed in-jokes, this gets bogged down by endless talk and winds up going nowhere — slowly. Rated R. *

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