video vault

by Mark Burger


(A&E Home Entertainment): Devotees of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’simmortal sleuth are in for aroyal treat this Christmas season, with the release of this ’60s TV series broadcast by the BBC in the United Kingdom. This collection of five episodes from the 1968 season are the only known surviving episodes of the series —and have rarely (if ever) been seen in North America until now.

Starring as The Great Detective is agreat actor: Peter Cushing. An icon of fantasy cinema, Cushing had previously played Holmes in Hammer Films’ 1959 version of The Hound of the Baskervilles and proved he was ideally suited to the role. Determined, decisive, relentless and brilliant —and just abit quirky —Cushing’s Holmesisgreatly complemented by Nigel Stock’s Dr. Watson, who is no buffoon but astalwart and trusted ally who can’t help but be amazed by Holmes’ seemingly effortless deductions.

This boxed set ($29.95 retail) features adaptations of “The Sign of the Four,” “The Blue Carbuncle,” “A Study in Scarlet,” “The Boscombe Valley Mystery,” and atwo-part versionof“The Hound of the Baskervilles.” The stories have been condensed somewhat to fit time and budget constraints,but are fast-moving and entertaining nonetheless. Great fun for Holmes enthusiasts —and this reviewer is guilty as charged. ***’½


ALLHELLBROKE LOOSE (North American Motion Pictures): Cowriter/associate producer Jim Hilton plays aCivil Warveteran trying to leave his past behind. This being aWestern, that’snot going to happen. Christopher Forbes cowrote, produced, directed, edited, shot and composed the score for this boring, poorly paced melodrama, which features the late David Carradine as agrizzled marshal. This is his last Western, and it’snot one to remember.Rated PG-13. ‘½*

BLUE SEDUCTION (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Actress Jackelyn Giroux wrote and produced this Play Misty for Me/ Fatal Attraction knock-off, with Billy Zane (sporting ashaggy mane) as aformer rock star seduced and stalked by buxom songbird and psycho fan Estella Warren (who does her own singing). They manage to give it a sly,ifslight, boost. **

CURIOUSGEORGE: AVERY MONKEY CHRISTMAS (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): It’sa(vine-)swinging Christmas with this animated feature ($19.98 retail) in which the inquisitive primate and his keeper,the Man With the Yellow Hat, celebrate the holiday season.

DRIFTER: HENRYLEE LUCAS (Barnholtz Entertainment/LionsGate Home Entertainment): Antonio Sabato Jr.plays the real-life serial killer in this fragmented, flashback-laden true-crime melodrama from writer/producer/director Michael Feifer,who’s made anumber of fictional films about actual serial killers. Sabato and John Diehl (as the Texas Ranger who nabs Henry) are better than the material, although this actually won afew awards at afilm festival. Rated R. *’½

FILTHAND WISDOM (IFC Films/MPI Media Group): Having married two directors (Sean Penn and Guy Ritchie), Madonna now makes her feature directorial debut with this off-putting comedy starring Eugene Hutz, Holly Weston and Vicky McClure as roommates who share aLondon flat. A few amusing moments, and anice turn by Richard E. Grant as ablind professor,but overall amess. Madonna also co-wrote the script and served as executive producer, but this didn’thave much of arelease… and she didn’tseem to go out of her way to promote it. Oddly enough, the concert scenes (featuring Hutz and his band, Gogol Bordello) are poorly rendered —and you’d think Madonna would know athing or two about concerts. *’½

FRAT PARTY (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Guess what this movie’s about? Ageneric title for ageneric movie, which marks an inauspicious (and uninspired)feature debut for writer/producer/ director Robert Bennett. ‘½* “THE JERRYLEWIS SHOW” (Infinity Entertainment Group): Love him or hate him, the one and only Jerry Lewis headlines all 13 episodes from this sketch-comedy series broadcast from 1967-’69 on NBC-TV.Guest stars include Don Rickles, Ben Gazzara, Shirley Jones, Joey Heatherton, Laurence Harvey,Frank Gorshin, Lynn Redgrave, Imogene Coca, Richard Kiley,the Osmond Brothers and more. Produced (of course) by Jerry Lewis Productions, and Jerry also served as awriter for the series. This two- DVD boxed set retails for $29.98.

“MANNIX”:THE THIRD SEASON” (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Mike Connors (Emmy nominee for Outstanding Continued Performance by aLeading Actor in aDrama Series) returns as the tough, tenacious LA private eye Joe Mannix in all 25 episodes from the 1969-’70 season of the longrunning, award-winning CBS-TV detective series, created by the legendary team of Richard Levinson and William Link. As faithful secretary Peggy Fair,Gail Fisher took home the Emmy for OutstandingContinued Performance by aSupporting Actress in a Drama SeriesThis six-DVD boxed set retails for $49.99. CBS/Paramount is also releasing the self-explanatory “Mannix”: Seasons 1-3 DVD boxed set, which retails for $129.98.

MCLEOD’SDAUGHTERS:THE ORIGINAL MOVIE (E1Entertainment): The original 1996 TV pilot for the long-running, award-winning prime-time Australian soap opera, with Kym Wilson as awoman who returns home to the Australian Outback to reconnect with her estranged father (Jack Thompson, as McLeod) and her half-sister (Tammy McIntosh). The series, which premiered in 2001 (and is still running) featured an entirely new cast. This specialedition DVD, which includes two episodes from the first season, retails for $14.98.

THENIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS: SPECIALEDITION (Scholastic Storybook Treasures): The classic Clement C. Moore poem and Jan Brett’sbest-selling book is one of 12 popular children’sstories included in this two-DVDboxed set ($19.95 retail). Anthony Edwards narrates the title tale; others include “Seven Candles for Kwanzaa,” narrated by Alfre Woodard; “Max’sChristmas,” narrated by Jenny Agutter and Rex Robbins; “Great Joy,” narrated by Jane Curtin; “Merry Christmas, Space Case,” narrated by Christopher Lloyd; and more.

“THE OFFICE”: SEASON FIVE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): The employees of the Dunder Mifflin papersupply company are up to their old tricks in all 26 episodes from the popular,primetime NBC-TV situation comedy based on a popular British sitcom. Steve Carell heads an ensemble cast that includes Jenna Fischer, John Krasinski,Melora Hardin and Rainn Wilson. TenEmmy nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in aComedy Series (Carell) and Outstanding Supporting Actor in aComedy Series (Wilson), with awin for Outstanding Directing for aComedy Series (for the episode “Stress Relief”). The DVD boxed set retails for $59.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $69.98.

PUBLIC ENEMIES (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Johnny Depp plays real-life gangster John Dillinger in Michael Mann’sornate but overlong Depressionera crime saga, with Christian Bale as FBI agent Melvin Purvis and Marion Cotillard as Dillinger’s mistress,Billie Frechette. Billy Crudup plays J. Edgar Hoover.Far too much screentime is devoted to the Dillinger/ Frechette romance, which is (of course) doomed from the start, and the overall film suffers as awhole. One of the year’s bigger disappointments, but it’snice to look at. Available as asingle-disc DVD ($29.98 retail), atwo-DVD special edition ($34.98 retail), or aBlu-ray special edition ($36.98 retail). Rated R. **

“THE REAL STORY” (Smithsonian Networks/Infinity Entertainment Group):A series of documentaries that exploremyths, legends and lore. Part 1delves into “Escape fromAlcatraz” and “TheAmityville Horror”; Part 2examines “Indiana Jones,” “The Untouchables” and “James Bond.” Each volume retails for $14.98.

“SCIQ”:VOLUMES 1AND 2 (Smithsonian Networks/Infinity Entertainment Group): Three teenagers (Andrew Chapman, Paula Lemyre and Pemma Muzumdar) learn about science and technology in this Smithsonian Channel educational series. Volume 1contains four episodes and retails for $14.98, Volume 2 contains three episodes and retails for $9.98.

SHERLOCK HOLMES DOUBLE FEATURES (MPI Home Video): The game’s afoot for Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce as Sherlock Holmes and Dr.Watson in a pair of DVD twin bills: The House of Death (1945) and Pearl of Death (1944); and The Spider Woman (1944), co-starring Gale Sondergaard in the title role, and The Voice of Terror (1942), which was originally called Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror, and which sees the Great Detective working on behalf of the war effort. Many of the Rathbone/Bruce series are available on various public-domain labels, but these double features (each retailing for $19.98) have been digitally restored by the UCLA Film and Television Archive. They’re not of perfect quality, but definitely an improvement.

“TAXI”:THE FOURTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): The drivers of the Sunshine Cab Company are back on the streets of New York City in all 20 episodes from the 1981-’82 season of the award-winning, prime-time ABC-TV situation comedy.The popular ensemble cast included Judd Hirsch, Danny DeVito, Marilu Henner,Christopher Lloyd, Tony Danza, JeffConaway and Andy Kaufman. Eight Emmy nominations including Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Lead Actor in aComedy Series (Hirsch) and Outstanding Supporting Actor in aComedy Series (DeVito), with three wins: Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series (Carol Kane, as Simka), Outstanding Supporting Actor in aComedy Series (Lloyd) and Outstanding Writing for aComedy Series (for the episode “Elegant Iggy”). Despite the acclaim, ABC canceled the series at the end of the season, but NBC picked it up for one final go-’round. This boxed set retails for $39.98.

TERMINATOR SALVATION (Warner Home Video): The fourth in the 25-year sci-fi franchise —and the first not to star Arnold Schwarzenegger —sees the remnants of humanity battling the onslaught of technology in apost-apocalyptic future. Christian Bale plays John Connor,leader of the resistance, and Sam Worthington amysterious drifter who holds the key to mankind’ssurvival. The story seams are wearing alittle thin, but the action scenes deliver.Assequels go, this is better than most. Rated PG-13 (also available in an R-rated director’s cut). **’½

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

Copyright 2009, Mark Burger)