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by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK

THOMAS KINKADE’S CHRISTMAS COTTAGE

(LionsGate Home Entertainment): For a last blast of Christmas cheer, this bittersweet, autobiographical comedy/drama focusing on the circumstances leading up to the famous painter’s title work makes for warm family fare.

Jared Paladecki portrays the young college student Thom Kinkade, who returns home to Placerville, Calif. for the holidays in 1978 to spend time with his his estranged parents (Marcia Gay Harden and Richard Burgi), his younger brother (Aaron Ashmore) and his mentor, the aging — and ailing — painter Glen Wesman (Peter O’Toole).

Upon learning that the family cottage is in danger of foreclosure, Thom struggles to find some hope for the future, forgetting (if only briefly) that with love and compassion, things sometimes have a way of working out for the better.

The story, as you might expect (especially for those who know Kinkade’s work), is unabashedly sentimental, but the syrup is ladled on judiciously by director/producer Michael Campus (who directed the ’70s pimp classic The Mack!) and by a cast that brings a nice spirit to the proceedings, including Chris Elliott (very funny as the town’s mayor), Geoffrey Lewis, Richard Moll, Charlotte Rae and Edward Asner, whose scene with O’Toole is a treat. Rated PG. ***

ALSO ON DVD

AMARCORD (The CriterionCollection): Federico Fellinilooks back on life in a bucolic burg onthe Italian coast in the 1930s, as seenthrough the eyes of an imaginativeteenager (Bruno Zanin), in this 1973comedy/fantasy long thought tohave reflected Fellini’s own youth.Winner of the Academy Award as bestforeign-language film, with subsequentnominations the next year for bestdirector and best original screenplay(Fellini and Tonino Guerra) — backwhen the academy used to split thecategories. This special-edition boxedset retails for $39.95. Rated R.

ARCH OF TRIUMPH (LionsGateHome Entertainment): LewisMilestone’s 1948 adaptation of ErichMaria Remarque’s classic novel starsIngrid Bergman and Charles Boyer asrefugees who find romance in 1938Paris, just prior to the Nazi invasion.Drastically recut after a disastrouspremiere, this diluted romanticmelodrama is slow going much of thetime, despite a cast that also includesCharles Laughton (almost totally wastedas the heavy), Louis Calhern and RuthWarrick. Plenty of talent behind thecameras as well: Irwin Shaw and BertholtBrecht worked on the screenplay,William Cameron Menzies was theproduction designer, Russell Metty thecinematographer and Robert Aldrich theassistant director — but, except for a fewscenes, the film stubbornly refuses tocome to life. **

“BATTLESTAR GALACTICA: THEPLAN” (Universal Studios HomeEntertainment): Edward James Olmosdirects and stars in this spin-off of theaward-winning Sci-Fi Channel series,which conveys the storyline of the series— except through the eyes (monitors?) ofthe enemy Cylons. Series regulars DeanStockwell, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park andCallum Keith Rennie reprise their roles.This special-edition DVD retails for$26.98, the Blu-ray for $39.98.

DEATH WARRIOR (LionsGate HomeEntertainment): Mixed martial-artschamp Hector Echavarria served as storywriter, executive producer and fightchoreographer for this action thrillerpitting him against several of his realliferivals (including Georges “Rush”St-Pierre, Quinton “Rampage” Jacksonand Rashad “Sugar” Evans) in a series offights to the death — most of them set tohard-rockin’ tunes — as engineered bya diabolical crime czar (Nick Mancuso,whose eye-rolling histrionics providea few laughs). One character remarks:“Let’s not start handing out Oscars justyet.” He ain’t kidding. Rated R. *

ENLIGHTEN UP! (Docurama Films):Subtitled “A Skeptic’s Journey intothe World of Yoga,” Kate Churchill’sdocumentary feature follows journalistNick Rosen as he delves into the yogaphenomenon. This DVD, which includesinterviews and deleted scenes, retails for$26.95.

“THE FUGITIVE”: SEASON THREE,VOLUME TWO (CBS DVD/ParamountHome Entertainment): David Janssen(Emmy Award nominee for outstandingcontinued lead performance by an actorin a drama) continues his flight fromInspector Gerard (Barry Morse) as heattempts to prove that the One-ArmedMan (Bill Raisch) murdered his wife,in the last 15 episodes from the 1965-’66 season of the prime-time ABC-TVseries, which won the Emmy Award asoutstanding dramatic series and receivedan additional nomination for outstandingcinematography. This boxed set retailsfor $39.98.

INTREPID DESCENT (First RunFeatures): Skiing enthusiasts should enjoyErik Osterholm and Zander Hartung’sdocumentary tracing the history ofthe Tuckerman Ravine in the WhiteMountains of New Hampshire, widelyconsidered the birthplace of “extremeskiing.” **’½

NOTHING LIKE THE HOLIDAYS(Anchor Bay Entertainment): A PuertoRican family experiences a tumultuousChristmas reunion in Chicago in thissympathetic comedy/drama that derivesmuch of its warmth from an appealingensemble cast: Alfred Molina andElizabeth Pena as Dad and Mom, JohnLeguizamo, Debra Messing, FreddyRodriguez (also an executive producer),Luis Guzman, Vanessa Ferlito, JayHernandez and Melonie Diaz. Rated PG-13. **’½

PALE FORCE (New Video): Acompilation of 33 animated shorts,drawn by Paul Noth, featuring executiveproducer/writer Jim Gaffigan as thevoices of both the fearless superhero“Pale Man” and his scrawny sidekick“Conan O’Brien,” as they battle evildoersas best (and as only) they can. Theseries, originally broadcast in segmentson “Late Night with Conan O’Brien,”earned a Daytime Emmy nomination asoutstanding broadband program (comedy)in 2007. This special-edition DVD retailsfor $14.95.

PAPER HEART (Anchor BayEntertainment): Director NicolasJasenovec’s award-winning pseudodocumentary/romantic comedy followsCharlyne Yi as she seeks the true meaningof love — and then finds romance herself,with actor Michael Cera. Jasenovec andYi also collaborated on the screenplayand served as executive producers. RatedPG-13. **’½

“PERRY MASON”: SEASON 4,VOLUME 2 (CBS DVD/ParamountHome Entertainment): He just can’tbe beat. Raymond Burr (Emmy Awardwinner as outstanding lead actor in adrama series) returns as the dynamicdefense attorney in the final 12 episodesfrom the 1960-’61 season of the longrunningprime-time CBS-TV courtroomdrama, based on the character created byErle Stanley Gardner (who was himselfa practicing attorney for 20 years). Asfaithful associate Della Street, BarbaraHale scored an Emmy nomination asoutstanding performance in a supportingrole by an actor or actress in a series. Thisboxed set retails for $39.98.

SPREAD (Anchor Bay Entertainment):Ashton Kutcher produced and stars asan “American gigolo” who sweeps —and sleeps his way — through southernCalifornia in this ambitious, semisatiricaldrama that boasts some goodmoments and some steamy ones, buttends to emulate the aimlessness of itslead character. A contemporary Shampooit’s not, although not for lack of effort.Among Ashton’s on-screen conquestsare Anne Heche, Margarita Levievaand Maria Conchita Alonso (seen onlybriefly). Rated R. **

TAKING CHANCES (LionsGateHome Entertainment): Originally titledPatriotville, this flat farce stars JustinLong as a small-town historian whotries to fight city hall over plans to buildan Indian casino on the site where aRevolutionary War battle took place over200 years before. Rob Corddry playsthe smarmy mayor and UNC School ofthe Arts alum Missi Pyle his cuckoldedwife, with Emmanuelle Chriqui, JimmiSimpson and Robert Beltran also on hand.Rated R. *

“THE UNTOUCHABLES”: SEASON3, VOLUME 2 (CBS DVD/ParamountHome Entertainment): The great RobertStack is back as Eliot Ness, battlingorganized (and disorganized) crime inProhibition-era Chicago, in the last 12episodes from the 1961-’62 season of theaward-winning, prime-time CBS-TV crimeseries, (very) loosely based on Ness’ reallifeexploits and narrated in memorablestaccato fashion by Walter Winchell.Guest stars include Martin Balsam, ClorisLeachman, Warren Oates, Pat Hingle,Gavin MacLeod, Claude Akins, DonGordon, Harry Guardino, Jack Elam,Steven Hill and Mike Mazurki, whileBruce Gordon turns up periodically as mobenforcer Frank Nitti. This three-disc boxedset retails for $39.98.

WILD CHILD (Universal StudiosHome Entertainment): Emma Robertsplays a spoiled Malibu teenager whomakes waves when she’s sent to a Britishboarding school by her fed-up father(Aidan Quinn) in this stale, predictableculture-clash comedy that was barelyreleased in the US. Sadly, this marksthe final film appearance of NatashaRichardson (wasted as the school’sheadmistress), who died last summer.Rated PG-13. *

“WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN:BEGINNING OF THE END” (LionsGateHome Entertainment): A collectionof five episodes from the animatedNicktoons series, based on the popularMarvel Comics characters, with SteveBlum providing the voice of the titlecharacter. This special-edition DVDretails for $14.98, and LionsGate HomeEntertainment is also releasing the selfexplanatory“Wolverine and the X-Men:Volumes 1-3” as a three-DVD boxed set($29.98 retail).

Mark Burger can be heard Fridaymornings on the “Two Guys NamedChris” radio show on Rock-92.Copyright 2009, Mark Burger !

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