video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK HUSBANDS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): One of filmmaker John Cassavetes’ best works, this 1970 comedy/drama makes its long-awaited DVD debut — and in a longer version than the one released to theaters. Cassavetes is joined by Peter Falk and Ben Gazzara, playing Gus, Archie and Harry, three pals devastated by the sudden death of a fourth friend. Wallowing in self-pity and confused about their own lives, the three men cut loose and raise hell — all the while avoiding their responsibilities as husbands, fathers and, indeed, as adults. Eventually, the three men fly to London to continue their reckless revelry, only to come to the realization that they belong elsewhere. This is a penetrating study of the male ego, warts and all, as only Cassavetes could tell it. You may not like these characters, but you do get an understanding of who they are. Like many of Cassavetes’ films, Husbands is deeply personal, selfindulgent and, at times, acutely uncomfortable to watch. It is also hilarious and heartbreaking, acted to perfection, and touches upon emotional issues as common then as now. The best of his films (A Woman Under the Influence, Faces) share these traits, and Husbands is one of his very best. The spirit of Cassavetes’ work is sorely missing in contemporary movies. Rated PG- 13. ***’½


THE ART OF WAR III: RETRIBUTION (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The bullets and bodies fly as Anthony “Treach” Criss steps in for Wesley Snipes, playing United Nations special operative Neil Shaw in this standard-issue shoot-’em-up that sees Shaw on a dangerous mission to protect a North Korean peace summit from sabotage. Rated R. *

BOUNTY (North American Motion Pictures): Writer/producer/ editor/director Jared Isham’s debut feature is a low-budget, sepia-toned Western starring Jarret LeMaster as an outlaw-turned-bounty hunter and Michelle Acuna as “The Sparkle Eyed Kid,” a female gunslinger whose trail he’s on. This mild melodrama treads well-worn ground, although Steve Savage (in his screen debut) makes his mark as a ruthless sheriff. Rated PG-13. *’½

THE BURROWERS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Writer/ director JT Petty’s ambitious chiller sees a hunting party encountering a subterranean menace in the Dakota Territories, circa 1879. This Western/ horror combination doesn’t quite sustain, but it definitely has its scares and is acted with conviction by the likes of Clancy Brown, Karl Geary, Sean Patrick Thomas, William Mapother and Doug Hutchison. Rated R. **’½

DEAD BIRDS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): There are faint echoes of Children of the Corn in this moody, Civil War-era chiller about a gang of outlaws battling a demonic force in a haunted plantation house. A mixed bag overall, but horror fans could do worse. The ensemble cast includes Michael Shannon, Henry Thomas, Nicki Aycox, Patrick Fugit, Isaiah Washington, Mark Boone Junior and Muse Watson. Rated R. **

“DESIGNING WOMEN”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Shout! Factory): Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Annie Potts and Jean Smart are back at the helm of Atlanta’s Sugarbaker interior design firm, in all 22 episodes from the 1987-’88 season of the long-running, primetime CBS-TV sitcom. Meshach Taylor and Alice Ghostley join the regular cast, and guest stars include Hal Holbrook (Carter’s real-life husband), Richard Gilliland (Smart’s real-life husband), Gerald McRaney (who married Burke in real life), Scott Bakula, Tony Goldwyn and Carmen Argenziano. Three Emmy nominations, with a win — appropriately enough — for Outstanding Achievement in Hairstyling for a Series (for the episode “I’ll Be Seeing You”). Incredibly, that’s the only Emmy the series ever won. This boxed set retails for $44.99.

EURO-WESTERN DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A twin bill of spaghetti Westerns: Chen Lee (in his screen debut) portrays a Chinese immigrant whose martial-arts expertise comes in handy in the Old West in screenwriter/director Mario Caiano’s The Fighting Fists of Shanghai Joe (1972), the onscreen title of which reads “The Fighting Fist of Shangai Joe.” Second-billed Klaus Kinski, as a knife-wielding assassin called “Scalper Jack,” enters late and exits early. This R-rated action flick wasn’t released in the US until 1976, at the tail end of the kung-fu craze. The second feature is a widescreen edition of Enzo G. Castellari’s enjoyable, Leone-inspired 1967 action romp Any Gun Can Play, starring Edd Byrnes, Gilbert Roland and George Hilton. This double-feature DVD retails for $7.98.

THE HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT (LionsGate Home Entertainment): An all-American family encounters the supernatural in this purportedly fact-based chiller that benefits from good performances (especially the delectable Virginia Madsen as Mom) and some well-modulated scares, but credibility isn’t always this movie’s strong suit. Available as a single-disc DVD ($29.95 retail), a two-disc special edition ($34.98 retail), or a Blu-ray disc ($39.99 retail). Rated PG-13 (also available in an unrated version). **’½

THE HELLBENDERS (Alpha Home Entertainment): Director Sergio Corbucci’s 1967 spaghetti Western is lent a touch of class by Joseph Cotten, as the patriarch of a band of ex-Confederate siblings who rob and pillage their way across the West. **’½

ICONS OF SCI-FI: TOHO COLLECTION (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A triple-feature of Japanese sci-fi extravaganzas produced by Toho Studios and directed by Ishiro Honda: H-Man (1958) involves a radioactive liquid that threatens the citizenry of Tokyo; Battle in Outer Space (1959) depicts, as the title implies, an interstellar grudge match between the people of Earth and the denizens of the planet Natal; and Mothra (1962), which introduced one of the most popular monsters of Japanese screen lore. This three-DVD set retails for $24.96.

THE PHANTOM FIEND (Alpha Home Entertainment): This 1932 remake of Alfred Hitchock’s silent classic The Lodger stars Ivor Novello (who headlined the original, and added an uncredited contribution to the screenplay) as a mysterious musician who takes a room in London during a killing spree conducted by a maniac known as “The Avenger.” This version, a truncated, 65-minute version (released in the US in 1935), beefs up the romance angle between the Lodger and the daughter of his boarders (Elizabeth Allan, whose name is misspelled in the credits), is creaky but well-acted by Novello, Allan and Jack Hawkins (as her newspaperman boyfriend). According to some sources, George Sanders is in here somewhere, too. Competently directed by Maurice Elvey, but he’s no Hitchcock. **

“PITTSBURGH PENGUINS 2007 STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS” (NHL/ Warner Home Video): Like last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins squared off against the Detroit Red Wings for Lord Stanley’s championship cup, but this time (in seven games), the Penguins skated off with the trophy — the third in franchise history and the first since 1992. This DVD retails for $24.98.

REVOLUTION (Warner Home Video): A “revisited” director’s cut of Hugh Hudson’s lumpy, heavy-handed 1985 spectacle (and box-office flop) starring Al Pacino (sporting a bizarre, pseudo-Scottish accent) as a trapper swept up in the American Revolution in 1776. Even in this shortened version, with Pacino’s incongruous narration ostensibly to fill the narrative gaps, this is still a failed epic. Just about everything that can go wrong, does. Movies this bad take some doing…and some undoing. Rated PG-13. *

“SIMON & SIMON”: SEASON THREE (Shout! Factory): Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker are back on the case as bickering brothers who run a San Diego detective agency, in all 23 episodes from the 1983-’84 season of the long-running, prime-time CBS-TV series. It earned the only Emmy nominations of its entire run during that season: Outstanding Film Editing for a Series (for the episode “Double Play”) and Outstanding Film Sound Editing for a Series (for the episode “Betty Grable Flies Again”). This six-DVD boxed set retails for $49.99.

WHAT DOESN’T KILL YOU (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Actor Brian Goodman makes his feature debut as a screenwriter/director with this brooding, autobiographical tale about two friends and criminals (Mark Ruffalo and Ethan Hawke) struggling to survive on the mean streets of South Boston. Familiar territory elevated by Ruffalo’s gutsy, heartfelt performance. Co-star Donnie Wahlberg contributed to the screenplay, and Goodman appears as a crime boss. Rated R. **’½

ZABRISKIE POINT (Warner Home Video): Michelangelo Antonioni’s first American film, released in 1970, explores rebellion and dissatisfaction in late-1960s America, as personified by a college dropout (Mark Frechette, in his screen debut) and a lonely free spirit (Daria Halprin, in her screen debut). Heavy on symbolism and metaphor, the visuals are stunning, but Antonioni is so concerned with making a “Statement” that it weighs down the proceedings. Sam Shepard was one of the screenwriters, and the soundtrack includes songs by Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, the Youngbloods and more. Familiar faces include Rod Taylor (personifying Big Business as a realestate mogul), GD Spradlin, Paul Fix and, if you look quickly, Harrison Ford. Rated R. **’½

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