video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Pontypool (IFC Films/MPI Media Group)

The term “shock radio” takes on a whole new meaning in director Bruce McDonald’s crisp, claustrophobic chiller, adapted by Tony Burgess from his novel Pontypool Changes Everything.

Stephen McHattie is aces as Grant Mazzy, a gruff-and-tumble radio DJ whose live news reports become broadcasts of the apocalypse: A mass psychosis has gripped the area’s populace, resulting in mass slaughter and even reports of cannibalism.

With brisk efficiency and some choice moments of dark satire, Pontypool bids to be something different and better — and it is. As Mazzy and his producer Sydney (Lisa Houle) discover, they’re not only reporting this catastrophe, but they may also be part of its cause.

Pontypool, so named for the Ontario burg from which Mazzy broadcasts, offers a fresh take on the horror genre, one fraught with interesting possibilities — only some of which are explored here. Nevertheless, this is a worthy, cult-friendly shocker that deserves to find favor with the horror faithful.


Sandra Bullock won the Academy Award as Best Actress (yes, she did) for her performance as Leigh Anne Tuohy, the affluent Texas housewife who, along with husband Sean (Tim McGraw), took troubled teenager Michael Oher (Quintin Aaron) into their home and made him feel a part of the family as he embarked on an athletic career that would eventually lead to the NFL. Sincerely played but seriously overlong — and not much different from the average Lifetime movie — but it hit the box-office jackpot and also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture. Rated PG-13.

THE BOONDOCK SAINTS II: ALL SAINTS DAY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Ten years later, writer/director Troy Duffy reunites Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus as the hair-trigger MacManus brothers, who return to Boston after being accused of murder, in this sequel to the 1999 cult hit. Billy Connolly and David Della Rocca also reprise their roles. The special-edition DVD retails for $27.96, the special-edition Blu-ray for $34.95. Rated R.

BROKEN EMBRACES (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Pedro Almodovar scores again with this complex, award-winning meditation on art, love and loss, starring Llius Homar as a blind former filmmaker forced to look back (so to speak) on the circumstances that cost him his sight and his career, which involved a tempestuous beauty (Almodovar favorite Penelope Cruz) who captured his heart, and her wealthy lover (Jose Luis Gomez), who bankrolled his final film. Absorbing, haunting and powerful — and Almodovar makes it look easy. If not one of 2009’s best films, then certainly one of the better ones! In Spanish with English subtitles. Rated R.

THE BROTHERS WARNER (Warner Home Video): An affectionate, fascinating documentary about Hollywood pioneers Harry, Albert, Sam and Jack Warner, and the studio they founded (Warner Bros.), which still bears their name today, despite tragedy and treachery from within and without. Directed by Cass Warner Sperling (Harry’s granddaughter) and based on her best-selling book. Among those who weigh in on the history and legacy of the Warners are actors George Segal, Dennis Hopper, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Debbie Reynolds, Angie Dickinson and Tab Hunter, and filmmakers Sherry Lansing, Haskell Wexler, Samuel Goldwyn Jr., Frank Pierson, Norman Lear and the late Roy Disney Jr.

DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS (Frontline Entertainment/Tempe Video): A two-disc special edition of writer/director Donald F. Glut’s campy, jiggly 1997 Jurassic Park spoof, with Jeff Rector (fun) as a jaded movie star who finds himself catapulted back into prehistoric times, where he encounters scantily-clad women who find him irresistible. Glut wrote and performs (!) the song “Jurassic Punk,” the sort of tune you simply can’t get out of your head — no matter how hard you try. Karen Black, William Marshall (in his final film) and Forrest J. Ackerman also turn up. A few laughs but it goes on forever. Also available directly from the distributor:

“IN PLAIN SIGHT”: SEASON TWO (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A three-DVD boxed set ($39.98 retail) containing all 15 episodes from the 2009 season of the USA Network series starring Mary McCormack as Mary Shannon, a federal marshal operating under the auspices of the Federal Witness Protection Program in Albuquerque, NM — yet still trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life. Other series regulars include Frederick Weller, Nichole Hiltz, Paul Ben-Victor and Lesley Ann Warren (as Mary’s mom).

LOOKING FOR KITTY (THINKFilm): Edward Burns wrote, directed and stars in this moderately amusing character comedy as a down-at-his-heel ex-cop who tries to help lovelorn small-town coach David Krumholtz scour the streets of New York in search of the latter’s missing wife. Also on hand: Chris Parnell, Connie Britton, Ari Meyers and Rachel Dratch, the latter in good form as a lonely girl Krumholtz encounters in a bar. Rated R.

ORPHAN (Warner Home Video): Young Isabelle Fuhrmann is effective in the title role of this protracted chiller, as a Russian girl who is adopted by a young couple (Vera Farmiga and Peter Sarsgaard) and proceeds to wreak considerable havoc in their lives. The build-up’s not bad and the cast (which also includes CCH Pounder and Jimmy Bennett) is good, but at over two hours (!) this soon becomes increasingly exasperating and absurd, culminating in a late-inning twist that’s beyond belief. Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the producers. Rated R.

POOR BOY’S GAME (THINKFilm): An awardwinning, racially-charged melodrama starring Rossif Sutherland (Donald’s son) as an ex-con who returns to the neighborhood where he committed a hate crime years before and attempts to redeem himself by fighting a pro boxer (Flex Alexander) bent on avenging the previous crime. Danny Glover (expectedly good) plays the victim’s father, forced to confront his own prejudices and anger. Potentially powerful material is hindered by Sutherland’s sullen performance. Rated R.

“THE PRISONER” (Warner Home Video):

Jim Caviezel plays Number 6 and Ian McKellen his nemesis, Number 2, in this updated miniseries remake of Patrick McGoohan’s popular 1960s’ science-fiction/psychological thriller/ political allegory about a bucolic island known as “The Village,” where guests arrive but are not permitted to leave… ever. This special-edition DVD, which includes audio commentaries and other bonus features, retails for $29.98.

LE SAMOURAI (The Criterion Collection):

Director/co-screenwriter Jean-Pierre Melville’s influential 1967 crime drama stars Alain Delon as a calculating, meticulous killer for hire who strikes back against those who betrayed him. In French with English subtitles. This specialedition DVD, boasting a new digital transfer and rare archival interviews, retails for $29.95.

THE SKEPTIC (IFC Films/MPI Media Group):

Timothy Daly stars in writer/producer/director Tennyson Bardwell’s chiller as a troubled lawyer who must confront secrets from his past when he inherits his aunt’s old (and possibly haunted) house. Some creepy moments and a few jolts, but the ending’s a letdown. Good cinematography and score by Claudio Rocha and Brett Rosenberg, respectively. Zoe Saldana, Andrea Roth, Edward Herrmann, Tom Arnold (not good) and Robert Prosky (in his final film) round out the cast.

SUPER BOWL XLIV CHAMPIONS: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (NFL Films/Warner Home Video): It took 43 years, but the Saints finally went marching in to capture their first Super Bowl title with a 31-17 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. This special-edition DVD ($24.98 retail) or Blu-Ray ($34.99 retail) includes the network broadcast, the halftime show, post-game ceremonies, and more.

“THE WHITEST KIDS U’KNOW”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON — UNCUT AND UNCENSORED (E1 Entertainment): The popular sketch-comedy troupe (Trevor Moore, Sam Brown, Zach Cregger, Darren Trumeter and Timmy Williams) is back in action, in all 10 episodes from the 2008 season of their cable series, which originated on the Fuse Network and is now broadcast on IFC. This two-DVD boxed set retails for $24.98.

YOUR VICE IS A LOCKED ROOM AND ONLY I HAVE THE KEY (NoShame Films): Taking (loose) inspiration from Clouzot’s Diabolique and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Black Cat, Sergio Martino’s garish, kinky 1972 thriller involves lust, madness and murder surrounding the unhappy marriage of a misanthropic, misogynistic writer (Luigi Pistilli), his unhappy wife (Anita Strindberg), and a naughty niece (Edwige Fenech)… and let’s not forget the ever-present black cat named Satan. Produced by Sergio’s brother Luciano, this marks the first time that the film has been released uncut in the US. Giallo junkies have a head start. They’re welcome to it.

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

Copyright 2010, Mark Burger