video vault

by Mark Burger


(Warner Home Video): If this shrill comedy is any indication, one is enough.

There’s more jeer than cheer in this Christmas farce, with Reese Witherspoon and Vince Vaughn as a (seemingly) happy unmarried couple whose plans for a holiday getaway are thwarted by bad weather, which inspires them to visit their respective parents instead.

Said parents, all divorced, are played by the likes of Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, Mary Steenburgen and Jon Voight — while assorted relatives, friends and tag-alongs include Dwight Yoakam, Kristin Chenoweth, Tim McGraw, Colleen Camp, an unbilled Carol Kane and Vaughn’s old buddy, Jon Favreau.

Amid the (mostly predictable) slapstick shenanigans, our lead couple learn a few things about each other and about their relationship. Needless to say, however, all ends well for all concerned by the fade-out. As Tiny Tim would say: “Merry Christmas, every one!” Thanks to the high-powered cast — which includes five Oscar winners — Four Christmases gets by… but only barely. Evidently gleaning its comedic inspiration more from the National Lampoon movies rather than any classic Christmas films, the gags lean toward how best (or worst) to humiliate its principal characters. A few jokes connect, but most tend to outstay their welcome. Still, it was enough to make this a boxoffice hit, although hardly the most deserving one. Rated PG-13. **


AMERICAN BULLFIGHTER (Cinema Libre Studio): Writer/director/ executive producer Alex LeMay takes center stage in his own documentary, in which he chronicles his recovery from alcoholism by fulfilling a dream to become a bullfighter. Surprising, engaging and never heavy-handed, despite serious moments. Originally titled The Bulls of Suburbia. ***

CHRISTMAS STORY (Lightning Media/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Producer/director/story writer Juha Wuolijoki’s pleasant, award-winning Finnish Christmas fable (originally titled Joulutarian) dramatizes how a young orphan named Nikolas became Santa Claus. Rated PG. **’½

THE FANTASTIC WORLD OF WILLIAM CAMERON MENZIES (Alpha Home Entertainment): A collection of rare short films (including Hungarian Rhapsody and The Wizard’s Apprentice) created by the legendary, Oscar-winning filmmaker William Cameron Menzies (1896-1957), the first man credited as production designer. This DVD retails for $7.98.

“FRAGGLE ROCK”: THE COMPLETE FINAL SEASON (SEASON 4) (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A boxed set ($29.98 retail) of all 24 episodes from the 1986-’87 season of the popular, Emmy Award-winning children’s series created by Jim Henson and set in the magical, underground world of Fraggle Rock. LionsGate is also releasing “Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection,” a boxed set ($99.98 retail) featuring all 96 episodes from the series, which ran from 1983-’87 on HBO, as well as the self-explanatory special “A Merry Fraggle Holiday” ($14.98 retail).

GEORGE LOPEZ: TALL, DARK & CHICANO (HBO Home Entertainment): The award-winning stand-up comedian (and new TV talk-show host) performs at the AT&T Center in San Antonio in this self-explanatory comedy special that retails for $19.97.

LA CUCARACHA (Alpha Home Entertainment): Released in 1934, this musical short was the first live-action film shot in three-color Technicolor, and won the Academy Award as Best Short Subject (Comedy). In an interesting Hollywood reversal, director/co-story writer Lloyd Corrigan later became an actor. This special-edition DVD ($7.98 retail) also includes additional (and rare) color shorts, including Ted Eshbaugh’s animated “Pastrytown Wedding,” “The Sunshine Makers” and his 1933 version of The Wizard of Oz.

“LEGEND OF THE SEEKER”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A boxed set ($45.99 retail) of all 22 episodes from the prime-time ABC-TV fantasy series, based on Terry Goodkind’s bestselling Sword of Truth series of novels, with Craig Horner as a woodsman who discovers that his true identity is the Seeker, and his destiny to become a hero. Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series (for the episode “Prophecy”).

MUMMIES: SECRETS OF THE PHAROAHS (Image Entertainment): The recently knighted Sir Christopher Lee, who knows a thing or two about playing a mummy, provides ideal narration for this IMAX documentary about the history and secrets of ancient mummies. Informative and entertaining, but leaves one wanting for more. **’½

“MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XVI” (Shout! Factory): The Satellite of Love keeps spinning with this latest installment from the long-running, award-winning cable-TV series. The lowbrow lineup of feature films included here include The Corpse Vanishes (1942), starring Bela Lugosi; Night of the Blood Beast (1958), starring Ed Nelson and Michael Emmet; director Rene Cardona’s award-winning (!) Mexican fantasy Santa Claus (1959); and writer/director David Worth’s 1983 sci-fi opus Warrior of the Lost World, starring Robert Ginty, Donald Pleasence, Persis Khambatta and Fred Williamson. This limited-edition boxed set ($64.99 retail) includes a collectible figurine of Tom Servo, the wise-cracking robot.

PHOEBE IN WONDERLAND (Image Entertainment): Writer/director Daniel Barnz’ warm-hearted feature debut — which kicked off the 2008 RiverRun International Film Festival in Winston- Salem — stars Elle Fanning as a young girl whose imagination tends to run away with her, causing problems both at home and at school. A potentially cloying storyline is kept from drowning in sentimentality by a sure-footed cast that also includes Bill Pullman (recipient of the Master of Cinema award at RiverRun in ‘08), Felicity Huffman, Campbell Scott and Patricia Clarkson. This deserved a better fate at the box-office. Rated PG-13. ***

ROY ROGERS DOUBLE FEATURE (Alpha Home Entertainment): A twin bill ($7.98 retail) of low-budget Republic Pictures Westerns starring Roy Rogers: The Cowboy and the Senorita (1944) marked Rogers’ first on-screen teaming with real-life wife Dale Evans; the two reunited in Under Nevada Skies (1946). Both films also feature Roy’s trusty horse, Trigger, as well as Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers.

SANTA BUDDIES: THE LEGEND OF SANTA PAWS (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): The latest in the “Air Buddies” franchise, itself a spin-off of the Air Bud films, sees the persistent pups visiting Santa’s Workshop in the North Pole and helping to restore the true spirit of the holidays. George Wendt (as Santa Claus) and Christopher Lloyd head the human contingent, while Tim Conway, Tom Bosley, Josh Flitter and Richard Kind provide voiceovers for the four-legged characters. The DVD retails for $29.99, the Blu-ray for $39.99. Rated G.

SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT BOX SET (LionsGate Home Entertainment): For Christmas cheer of a different sort, this DVD triple-feature ($19.98 retail) boasts three follow-ups to the infamous 1984 “Killer Santa” slasher favorite: Monte Hellman directed Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! (1989), starring Richard Beymer, Robert Culp and Laura Herring (later Laura Harring) in her screen debut; Maud Adams, Clint Howard and Reggie Bannister star in director Brian Yuzna’s Initiation: Silent Night, Deadly Night 4 (1990); and Mickey Rooney (!) plays the title role in Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991). All three films are rated R — for reasons you can easily fathom.

“SPIN CITY”: SEASON THREE (Shout! Factory): Executive producer Michael J. Fox (Emmy nominee for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series) returns as New York City’s harried deputy mayor, constantly trying to keep his bumbling boss (Barry Bostwick) out of trouble and out of the headlines, in all 26 episodes from the 1998-’99 season of the award-winning, prime-time ABC-TV sitcom. This four-DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.

“TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES”: THE COMPLETE SEASON 7 SET (LionsGate Home Entertainment): What it says is what it is: All 27 episodes from the 1993 season of the CBS-TV cartoon series following the adventures of those “Heroes in a Halfshell.” This four- DVD boxed set retails for $29.98.

WATCHMEN (Warner Home Video): A limited-edition “ultimate cut” of director Zack Snyder’s visually impressive but dramatically muddled adaptation of the DC Comics cult series, focusing on a group of superheroes in an alternative universe that’s almost — but not quite — like the United States, circa the 1980s. The five-DVD boxed set retails for $43.87, the four-disc Blu-ray boxed set for $59.99. Rated R. **

WILL FERRELL: YOU’RE WELCOME AMERICA, A FINAL NIGHT WITH GEORGE W. BUSH (HBO Home Entertainment): Will Ferrell reprises his “Saturday Night Live” role as the 43rd President for a Tony Award-nominated, one-man Broadway show that “salutes” the presidency and legacy of George W. Bush. This DVD, which includes interviews and an interactive trivia game (!), retails for $19.97.

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

Copyright 2009, Mark Burger