video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEKTHE WOLF MAN (UniversalStudios Home Entertainment): Withthe long-awaited, big-budget remakecurrently tearing up theaters, Universalhas (again) reached back into its vaults tounleash a digitally remastered two-discspecial edition of its original 1941 classic.In what would be his signature role,Lon Chaney Jr. stars as Lawrence “Larry”Talbot, who returns to his ancestral homein England following the death of hisbrother. Attempts to reconcile with hisgrief-stricken father Sir John (the greatClaude Rains) are interrupted when Larryis mauled by a strange, wolf-like creatureduring a night out on the moors.This, of course, is only the beginningof Larry’s problems, as he has becomeafflicted with the curse of lycanthrophyand now becomes a werewolf himselfwhenever the moon is full.Directed in riveting, breakneck styleby George Waggner and potently pennedby Curt Siodmak, the film also benefitsfrom its solid cast: Ralph Bellamy, EvelynAnkers, Warren William, Patric Knowles,Bela Lugosi, and Maria Ouspenskaya asthe Gypsy woman Maleva, who utters theimmortal poem that begins “Even a manwho is pure in heart …”The special features include anaudio commentary with film historianTom Weaver and myriad retrospectivedocumentaries, including ones on Chaneyand makeup artist Jack Pierce. It’s enoughto make any red-blooded horror fan howlwith delight. This one’s a keeper.ALSO ON DVDACCORDING TO GRETA(Anchor Bay Entertainment): Executiveproducer Hilary Duff tackles a morenuanced role as a rebellious 17-yearoldwho spends the summer withher grandparents (Ellen Burstyn andMichael Murphy) at the Jersey Shore— first telling them that she plans tokill herself by age 18. (Visiting NewJersey does that to you…) The effort’sthere but the execution falls short in acomedy/drama that’s wildly uncertain(and uneven) in its approach. Evan Rossand Melissa Leo also turn up. They try,too. Rated PG-13.ACTION MAN COLLECTION (VCIEntertainment): Intrigue’s the name of thegame in this four-film collection ($24.99retail) of international thrillers: RobertStack and Jean Gabin headline 1967’sAction Man (originally titled Le soleil desvoyous), based on a novel by JM Flynn;Edward G. Robinson appears in the ColdWar melodrama Peking Blonde (also ’67),based on a novel by James Hadley Chase;Stephen Boyd, Ray Milland, FranceNuyen and Cameron Mitchell star in1972’s Big Game (AKA Control Factor);and Richard Egan and Martha Hyer (inher last film to date) star in writer/directorFerde Grofe Jr.’s The Day of the Wolves(1973).AWAY WE GO (Universal StudiosHome Entertainment): John Krasinski andMaya Rudolph are a well-matched screencouple in Sam Mendes’ comedy about anunmarried, expectant couple who wonderif they’re prepared to become parents.Sharply written and well-acted by a castthat also includes Jeff Daniels, AllisonJanney, Melanie Lynskey, Jim Gaffigan,Carmen Ejogo, Josh Hamilton, ChrisMessina, UNCSA graduate Paul Schneiderand the invaluable Catherine O’Hara.Rated R.BATTLE IN SEATTLE (Screen MediaFilms): Actor Stuart Townsend makes hisfeature debut as writer/producer/directorof this ambitious, well-intentioned dramaset against the backdrop of the 1999 WorldTrade Organization summit in Seattle,during which thousands of protestors tookto the streets. Loses focus in the secondhalf and becomes progressively morepreachy. An all-star ensemble includesCharlize Theron, Woody Harrelson,Ray Liotta, Michelle Rodriguez, MartinHenderson, Jennifer Carpenter, ConnieNielsen, Joshua Jackson, Channing Tatum,Andre Benjamin (AKA Andre 3000) andIvana Milicevic. Rated R.BRITISH CINEMA COLLECTION:VOLUME 3 (VCI Entertainment): A fourfilmcollection ($29.99 retail) of Englishdramas from the 1950s: Nigel Patrick andMichael Hordern star in the 1953 crimedrama Grand National Night, adaptedfrom the play by Campbell and DorothyChristie; Pat O’Brien, Lois Maxwelland George Coulouris star in Kill MeTomorrow (1957); Richard Attenboroughheadlines The Scamp (also ’57), adaptedfrom Charlotte Hastings’ play by directorWolf Rilla; and Robert Siodmark’s TheRough & The Smooth (1959), released inthe US as Portrait of a Sinner, is adaptedfrom Robin Maugham’s novel and starsNadja Tiller, Tony Britton, William Bendixand Donald Wolfit.DANGER ON THE AIR (Alpha HomeEntertainment): Donald Woods and NanGrey try to solve the murder of a soft-drinkmagnate (Berton Churchill) during a liveradio broadcast in director Otis Garrett’szippy, entertaining 1938 whodunit basedon the novel Death Catches Up With Mr.Kluck. Jed Prouty adds comic relief as theblustery station owner, and the suspects onhand include Richard “Skeets” Gallagher,Edward Van Sloan, William Lundigan,Peter Lind Hayes, George Meeker, FrankMilan and Lee J. Cobb (doing the “elderlyItalian immigrant” routine he wouldperfect in Golden Boy the next year).The cinematography was by StanleyCortez. George Lucas tried (and failed) torecapture the charm of this sort of film in1994’s Radioland Murders.DRIVE-IN GRINDHOUSE (VCIEntertainment): That title tells all in thisfour-film boxed set ($29.99 retail) of B-(and lesser-) grade favorites from the goodold daze: Judy Pennebaker made her first(and last) screen appearance in the 1965comedy The Farmer’s Other Daughter;writer/director William Rotsler’s 1968documentary Psychedelic Fever (AKALike It Is) looks at the San Francisco hippiescene; the 1978 comedy Summer School(AKA Mag Wheels), marks writer/directorBethel Buckalew’s last film to date; andBelinda Balaski and Cindy Morgan (in herscreen debut) appear in the 1979 gagfestUp Yours — A Rockin’ Comedy. Rated R.GHOST MACHINE (Anchor BayEntertainment): Rachael Taylor, SeanFaris, Luke Ford and Richard Dormer areamong a group of soldiers who decideto practice combat techniques using avirtual-reality simulator that happens tobe haunted (or possessed) by a malevolentspirit. Needless to say, this proves to be anunwise (and fatal) decision. A few niftyvisuals distinguish this otherwise clunky,low-grade shocker. Rated R.GHOST OF GREVILLE LODGE (VCIEntertainment): Screenwriter/director NiallJohnson’s 2000 adaptation of NicholasWilde’s novel Down Came a Blackbirdstars Jon Newman (in his screen debut) asa teenager who uncovers a mystery in hisfamily’s ancestral home. It’s nice to seeveterans George Cole and Prunella Scalesin large roles, but this low-key chillergenerates only mild suspense.“HEAD CASE”: SEASON 2 (AnchorBay Entertainment): Alexandra Wentworthreturns as neurotic Hollywood therapistDr. Elizabeth Goode in all 10 episodesfrom the 2008 season of the Starzoriginal comedy series, which made itto a third season before the appointmentwas canceled. Guest stars include JeffGoldblum, Jerry Seinfeld, Lea Thompson,Ione Skye, Janeane Garofalo, David AlanGrier, Monica Potter, Hugh Hefner, SandraBernhard and others. This boxed set retailsfor $19.97. Anchor Bay Entertainment isalso releasing the self-explanatory boxedset “Head Case: The Complete Series”($24.97 retail).MURDER ON THE YUKON (AlphaHome Entertainment): This 1940installment in the Renfrew of the RoyalMounted series, based on Laurie YorkErskine’s novels, sees the singing Mountie(James Newill) and his sidekick (DaveO’Brien) trying to crack a murderouscounterfeiting ring. The most interestingaspect of this film is that director LouisGasnier and O’Brien had previouslycollaborated on the 1936 camp classicReefer Madness!RED LIPS DOUBLE FEATURE (BlueUnderground): In 1969, the indefatigableand infamous Jess Franco wrote anddirected Two Undercover Angels andKiss Me, Monster, a pair of psychedelicspy spoofs starring Janine Reynaud andRosanna Yanni as Diana and Regina, the“Red Lips,” a pair of glamorous sleuthswho tend to find themselves enmeshed inkinky, bizarre mysteries. Two UndercoverAngels was released in the US drive-in/grindhouse circuit in 1972 (known asSadist Erotica in some markets), followedby Kiss Me, Monster in 1975. Both filmsfeature Adrien Hoven and Franco himself— in different roles each time — and bothare rated R. This DVD twin-bill retails for$29.95.A SERIOUS MAN (Universal StudiosHome Entertainment): The Coen Brothersstrike again with this deliciously off-kilterblack comedy inspired by the Biblicalstory of Job, starring Michael Stuhlbargas a mild-mannered college professorwhose world collapses around him dueto circumstances beyond his control. Yetanother quintessential one-of-a-kind fromJoel and Ethan, with Stuhlbarg givinga superb, low-key performance. One of2009’s best films, with Academy Awardnominations for Best Picture and BestOriginal Screenplay. Rated R.STAUNTON HILL (Anchor BayEntertainment): Five friends (dummiesall) fall prey to a crazed family ofcannibals (pretty dumb, too) in the Virginiabackwoods in this gory, predictableshocker directed by Cameron Romero (sonof George). Set in 1969, although it hardlymatters.TORNADO (Alpha HomeEntertainment): Before the title catastrophestrikes, much of this melodramatic 1943adaptation of John Guedel’s novel takesplace in and around the coal mines ofIllinois town, where golddigger NancyKelly stirs up trouble, especially with aforeman (Chester Morris) who has bigdreams of his own.UFC 106: TITO ORTIZ VS. FORRESTGRIFFIN 2 (Anchor Bay Entertainment):For fans of the Ultimate FightingChampionship, this two-DVD specialedition ($19.97 retail) pits the title fightersagainst each other. Other matches includeJosh Koscheck vs. Anthony Johnson, PauloThiago vs. Jacob Volkmann, and more.Mark Burger can be heard Fridaymornings on the “Two Guys NamedChris” radio show on Rock-92.Copyright 2010, Mark Burger !