video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Riot

(Olive Films)

The title tells all in this gritty 1969 melodrama filmed on location at the Arizona State Prison, with actual prisoners and personnel (including Warden Frank A. Eyman) playing roles in the film.

Jim Brown is in fine, formidable form as Cully Briston, the quintessential loner swept up in the violent riot of the title, which has been engineered to mask an escape attempt masterminded by crafty Red Fraker (Gene Hackman). Cully soon finds himself irresistibly drawn into the escape plot, despite serious misgivings.

The prisoners are mean and, in some cases, psychotic.

The guards and police are itching to open fire. Tensions run high and tempers flare, bloodshed is inevitable — and Cully’s caught right in the middle.

There aren’t many sympathetic characters here, although Brown’s Cully is smarter than most, but there’s some semblance of political subtext in the proceedings — fairly timely when you consider that the Attica uprising was barely a year away. This isn’t a great movie or a particularly nuanced one, but it delivers the action it promises and is executed in hard-boiled B-movie fashion by director Buzz Kulik. It’s also fun to see Hackman and Brown go toe to toe in their heated exchanges, each trying to maintain control over a situation that has rapidly gone awry.

(Riot wiall be released Feb. 8 on DVD.) Rated R.

ALSO Available

ANIMAL KINGDOM (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): First-time writer/director David McLeod’s wicked, award-winning drama stars newcomer James Frecheville as an orphaned teen sent to live with relatives who possess a cheerful disregard for law and life, especially his uncle (Ben Mendelsohn) and grandmother (the superb Jacki Weaver, who earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actress), both of whom ultimately try to destroy him. Guy Pearce plays a sympathetic cop on the case. Rated R.

“BEST GAMES” (NFL Films/Warner Home Video): With the Super Bowl upon us, NFL Films has released a pair of self-explanatory sports documentaries showcasing three 2010 regularseason victories by the Atlanta Falcons and the Oakland Raiders. Each DVD retails for $26.95.

CHILDREN SHOULDN’T PLAY WITH DEAD THINGS (VCI Entertainment): A 35 th -anniversary “Exhumed Edition” ($19.99 retail) of the low-budget 1972 chiller in which an acting troupe raises hell in an island graveyard — until the dead really start to rise. Crude yet effective, and executed with gusto by first-time director Benjamin (later Bob) Clark and an energetic cast including Anya Ormsby, Jeffrey Gillen, Valerie Mamches, Seth Sklarey (as a corpse named Orville) and Alan Ormsby, unforgettably smarmy as the troupe’s leader. Clark and Alan Ormsby (then Anya’s husband) also wrote the screenplay. Special features include an audio commentary, music videos inspired by the film, and more. This was a staple of late-night viewing on New York’s WOR-TV throughout the ’70s and ’80s, and I have fond memories of watching it (too) many times. Lesson to remember: Never read incantations in dark cemeteries. Rated PG.

CHINESE KAMASUTRA (One 7 Movies/CAV Distributing): Giorgia Emerald plays a British librarian who falls under the erotic spell of the Kama Sutra in this raunchy 1993 outing from the prolific (now deceased) schlock auteur Joe D’Amato (born Aristide Massaccesi), who adopted the Asian pseudonym “Chang Lee Sun” for this. Not so much Euro-sleaze as Euro-smut, but for all the graphic groping and laughable dubbing, this is pretty boring.

“ER”: THE COMPLETE FOURTEENTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): A DVD boxed set ($49.98 retail) of all 19 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the long-running, primetime NBC medical series set in and around Chicago’s County General Hospital. The ensemble cast includes Linda Cardellini, John Stamos, Mekhi Phifer, Goran Visnijc and Maura Tierney. Two Emmy nominations including Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series (Stanley Tucci).

“FUNNY OR DIE PRESENTS…”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment): A two-DVD boxed set ($29.98 retail) featuring all 12 episodes from inaugural 2010 season of the HBO late-night comedy sketch series based on the website Guest stars include Will Ferrell (also an executive producer), Don Cheadle, John C Reilly, Zooey Deschanel, David Spade, Zach Galifianakis, Richard Lewis and the incomparable Fred Willard.

GRAHAM PARKER AND THE FIGGS: LIVE AT THE FTC (Image Entertainment): The Britishborn rock-’n’-roller celebrates the release of his 20th album with a live concert appearance in Connecticut. This DVD, which retails for $19.98, includes a bonus CD.

“KATHLEEN MADIGAN: GONE MADIGAN” (Image Entertainment): Award winning comedienne Kathleen Madigan takes aim at American culture, politics and her own family, in this stand-up comedy special filmed at the Gramercy Theatre in New York City. The DVD retails for $14.98, the Blu-ray for $17.97.

LAST DAY OF SUMMER (Entertainment One): DJ Qualls plays a disgruntled fast-food worker who takes a girl (Nikki Reed) hostage in this bungled (and unlikable) black comedy that marks an inauspicious debut for writer/producer/director Vlad Yudin. Rated R.

LEGION: THE FINAL EXORCISM (MTI Home Video): Stone-faced auteur David Heavener wrote, produced, directed, stars, narrates and sings the theme song in this laughably low-rent shocker, as an exorcist battling the demons within an Arizona teenagerl (Ariel Teal Toombs). According to the opening credits, “this story is based on true events.” Does that include the possessed pig that talks in both Latin and English? The immortal “Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays the poor girl’s drunken uncle. Rated R.

MACHETE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The Grindhouse trailer was better. Danny Trejo takes the lead in the title role of this self-indulgent B-movie action blowout from directors Robert Rodriguez (he of many on-screen credits) and first-timer Ethan Maniquis. An eclectic cast, to say the least, includes Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Alba, Don Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez, Cheech Marin, Jeff Fahey and Tom Savini — yet there’s the uneasy sense that they’re all trashing themselves. Rated R.

MADE FOR EACH OTHER (IFC Films): But not for audiences. A shrill, smarmy sex comedy with Christopher Masterson (also a producer) and Bijou Phillips as a recently-married couple having problems in the bedroom. Also on hand: Danny Masterson (Christopher’s brother and Phillips’ reallife beau), Leslie Hendrix, Lauren German, George Segal and Patrick Warburton, who contributes the film’s only laughs as an egotistical actor.

NIGHT OF THE DEMONS (Entertainment One): Halloween turns hellish for a group of partiers in this remake of a 1988 shocker. Not bad as these things go, with dollops of self-conscious humor and even more dollops of blood and gore. The original wasn’t exactly a masterpiece, either. Shannon Elizabeth, Monica Keena, Diora Baird and Edward Furlong head the cast. Rated R.

SAW: THE FINAL CHAPTER (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The seventh, and purportedly last, in the sadistic horror series brings the lethal lessons of serial killer Jigsaw (Tobin Bell again, even though the character died several films ago) full circle. Series veterans Costas Mandylor, Betsy Russell and Cary Elwes also encore — some for the last time. If you’ve seen one Saw you’ve seen them all, although this isn’t the worst of the bunch. Available as a single-disc DVD ($29.95 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail), or as a 3-D DVD/Blu-ray combo ($49.99 retail). Rated R (also available in an unrated version).

VAN GOGH: A BRUSH WITH GENIUS (Image Entertainment): This documentary, originally released to IMAX theaters, explores the works of painter Vincent Van Gogh. Jacques Gamblin provides narration as Van Gogh. Filmed in the actual locales that inspired the artist’s work. Lowkey and laid-back, but visually enticing — as it should be. The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $24.98.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger