video vault

by Mark Burger


(Blue Underground): The battle of the sexes is taken to eye-popping, satirical extremes in this 1965 cult favorite from director Elio Petri, originally titled La Decima Vittima and based on Robert Sheckley’s sci-fi story, The Seventh Victim. Set in a not-too-distant future, the story prefigures the reality-TV craze by focusing on “The Big Hit,” an immensely popular global phenomenon that pits “Hunters” against “Victims.” The object of the game, obviously, is kill or be killed. Marcello Mastroianni plays Marcello Polletti, a “Big Hit” champion who’s on his tenth hunt — this time as a potential Victim. His opponent is Caroline Meredith (Ursula Andress), a gorgeous ice queen — hailing from Hoboken, NJ! — who won her last match thanks to her machine-gun brassiere (a memorable moment, if ever there was one). But when Caroline finds herself falling for Marcello, she begins to rethink her priorities. As for Marcello, he’s so laid-back that it’s impossible to tell whether he knows Caroline’s his potential assassin or not… or even if he cares. The ambience is marvelously overblown and almost unbearably chic, with a design scheme saturated with a cool, crazy, art-deco, neo-modernist style that strives to epitomize ’60s glamour while also spoofing it. It’s also played to perfection by Mastroianni and Andress, who give flippant, witty performances as the parrying lovers. For a colorful bit of retro revelry, The 10th Victim is delicious eye candy to the Nth — and the 10 th — degree.


BABY ON BOARD (National Entertainment Media): Crass comedy with Heather Graham and Jerry O’Connell as a career-oriented couple whose marriage is upended by the news that she’s pregnant. Also on board: Lara Flynn Boyle, John Corbett and Katie Finnegan — but they can’t help, either. Rated R. *

THE BUTCHER (Vivendi Entertainment): Eric Roberts is armed and dangerous in writer/director Jesse V. Johnson’s familiar mob melodrama, as a veteran hood who retaliates against his boss (Robert Davi, sporting an Irish brogue) when he’s double-crossed. Helped by a veteran cast that also includes Geoffrey Lewis, Michael Ironside, Keith David, Vernon Wells, Bokeem Woodbine and Julie Carmen, but hindered by overlength (almost two hours). Still, Johnson displays some flair for tough talk and action choreography. **

DARK STREETS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Based on producer Glenn M. Stewart’s play The City Club, this awardwinning Depression-era melodrama stars Gabriel Mann (in a wimpy performance) as a nightclub owner caught up in a love triangle (with Bijou Phillips and Izabella Miko) and, more fatefully, mixed up in underworld doings. Despite original songs by the likes of Etta James, Aaron Neville, Natalie Cole and Richie Sambora and a nice turn by Toledo (Diamond) as the narrator, this low-budget film noir is as woozy and snoozy as it is bluesy. Rated R. *’½

ECHELON CONSPIRACY (Paramount Home Entertainment): Shane West is a wishy-washy hero in this routine cyber-thriller about an covert international plot, given a bit of a lift by co-stars Ed Burns and Ving Rhames and a pretty good car chase midway through. Martin Sheen and Jonathan Pryce (who needn’t have bothered) also turn up. Rated PG-13. **

FIVE FINGERS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A topical but overly talky political thriller with Ryan Phillippe as a Dutch pianist abducted by terrorists (led by Laurence Fishburne, also a producer) and systematically tortured to extract information. Structured (too much) like a play, but lent a bit of punch by some late-inning plot twists. Gina Torres (the off-screen Mrs. Fishburne) plays one of the terrorists. Rated R. **

GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT (Warner Home Video): Warner Premiere, DC Comics and Warner Bros. Animation have joined forces to present the first full-length animated adventure of the popular DC Comics superhero, with Christopher Meloni providing the voice of Hal Jordan and his crime-fighting alter-ego, The Green Lantern — here battling a diabolical conspiracy. (Is there any other kind?) Other familiar voices include Michael Madsen, Victor Garber and Tricia Helfer. Available as a single-disc DVD ($19.98 retail), a two-disc special edition ($24.98 retail), or a Blu-ray disc ($24.98 retail). Rated PG-13. HORSEMEN (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Michael Bay produces and presents this atmospheric but empty-headed thriller with Dennis Quaid as a burned-out, widowed detective trailing a serial killer who draws inspiration from the Book of Revelations’ story about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Too many lapses in logic spoil the party. Rated R. *’½

HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH BOX SET (First Run Features): A sevenfilm collection of feature films and documentaries (most of them award winners) that depict or explore some form of human-rights’ abuses in the world: writer/director Rithy Panh’s 2003 documentary S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine; writer/ producer/directors Kief Davidson and Richard Ladkani’s 2005 documentary The Devil’s Miner; Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam’s drama Dreaming Lhasa (2005); screenwriter/director Sabiha Sumar’s drama Silent Waters (2003); John Scagliotti’s 2003 documentary Dangerous Living: Coming Out in the Developing World, narrated by Janeane Garofalo; Anthony Giacchino’s political documentary The Camden 28 (2006); and Ana Carrigan and Bernard Stone’s 1982 documentary Roses in December. This boxed set retails for $79.98.“KNIGHT RIDER — SEASON 1” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Justin Bruening takes the wheel of the super-powered KITT (Knight Industries Three Thousand) car as he fights crime, in all 18 episodes from the 2008-’09 (and only) season of the prime-time NBC-TV action series, based on the popular ‘80s series. This four-DVD boxed set retails for $59.98. LOOKIN’ TO GET OUT (Warner Home Video): Jon Voight and Burt Young play gambling buddies who take Las Vegas by storm — more or less — in the newly discovered “director’s cut” of Hal Ashby’s rambling 1982 comedy/drama, which Vought (who helped develop the project) co-wrote with Al Schwartz. A box-office bust upon its original release, this new version is no lost gem — although it does restore the screen debut of Voight’s real-life daughter, Angelina Jolie (playing his daughter in the film) and offers a spectacular glimpse of the MGM Grand. A few scattered moments stand out in a generally uneven film, but Ashby aficionados will want to take a look. One of the singers credited on the theme song is named Mark Burger, but it’s not me. If it had been, people truly would have been lookin’ to get out! Rated R. **

M. BUTTERFLY (Warner Home Video): David Cronenberg’s ornate, fact-based, award-winning 1993 version of David Henry Hwang’s Tony Award-winning play (adapted by Hwang himself) stars Jeremy Irons as a French diplomat who embarks on an illicit, 20-year romance with a mysterious performer (John Lone) with the Beijing Opera — whom he believes to be a woman. There’s just one problem, however … as anyone who knows the play well knows. This maintains the operatic tone of the play, but what worked on stage doesn’t necessarily work on film. Flaws aside — and there are a few — Cronenberg is one of those rare filmmakers incapable of making an uninteresting film. Irons is very good in a familiar role, that of a man consumed by obsession. Rated R. **’½

NIGHT TRAIN (National Entertainment Media): On Christmas Eve, treachery rocks a train when a mysterious box comes into the possession of a veteran conductor (Danny Glover) and two passengers (Steve Zahn and Leelee Sobieski). Thanks to the cast, this noir-ish thriller holds interest for a while, but soon enough goes off the rails (sorry). Rated R. *’½

“RENO 911”: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON — UNCENSORED (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): The officers of Reno’s police department continue to lay down the law — as only they know how — in all 15 episodes from the 2009 season of the long-running Comedy Central sitcom created by Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney, who all star in the show as well. This boxed set retails for $26.98. STREETS OF BLOOD (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Standard-issue crime melodrama with Val Kilmer and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson as New Orleans cops caught up in dirty doings. In support, Sharon Stone and Michael Biehn have little to do. Rated R. *’½

THEY CALL ME BRUCE? (Liberation Entertainment): Although it was released in 1982, this is a “25th-anniversary edition” of the harmless, occasionally formless, chop-socky farce starring stand-up comedian and executive producer Johnny Yune (who also receives story and screenwriter credit) as a bumbling Korean chef who is constantly mistaken for martial-arts legend Bruce Lee — which actually comes in pretty handy when he gets mixed up with the mob. A surprise box-office hit that became a cable- TV staple throughout the ‘80s. Rated PG. **

TORSO (Blue Underground): Suzy Kendall and Tina Aumont are among the comely college co-eds being stalked by a killer in director/ co-screenwriter Sergio Martino’s kinky 1973 psycho-thriller, which was produced by Carlo Ponti (!). Pretty trashy, but it has its devotees. Rated R. **

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