video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: The Illusionist (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

This lovely, lyrical animated fable is a triumph for Sylvain Chomet (of The Triplets of Belleville renown), who directed, designed, scored, penned the adaptation, and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature for his splendid efforts.

The simple plot follows the relationship between an aging stage magician whose career is winding down and the young orphaned girl he befriends. The Chaplinesque overtones are unmistakable, and hardly unexpected when one considers that Chomet adapted an original story by Jacques Tati, France’s answer to Charlie Chaplin and a legend in his own right. There’s poetry at work here, sprinkled with magic but also tinged with melancholy.

There is dialogue, but it’s mostly incidental; the emotions of its characters come across fully. The entrancing combination of sound and imagery is gorgeous, and the traditional handdrawn animation proves that in the era of CGI, there’s still a place for old-school. Rated PG.

ALSO Available

ALIEN 2: ON EARTH (Midnight Legacy/MVD Visual): Anyone fooled into thinking this is a legitimate sequel to Alien is in for a surprise, as writer/director Ciro Ippolito’s low-rent 1980 Italian rip-off involves a group of scientists (including Belinda Mayne and future director Michele Soavi, under the pseudonym “Mychael Shaw”) encountering an alien menace while exploring caves. Gory, gooey and laughable, with a bowling-alley climax(!) that must be seen to be believed. Even then, you may not believe it!

ANOTHER YEAR (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Mike Leigh scores again, and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay (his seventh nomination overall), with this keenly incisive, utterly and sometimes painfully observant drama starring Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen as a couple who always seem happier than their friends… and, much to their exasperation in some cases, are sometimes counted upon to pick up the pieces of their friends’ lives. Superb performances by all, including Lesley Manville (who deserved a nomination), Peter Wight, Maltman and Karina Fernandez. Among 2010’s very best films. Rated PG-13.

THE BOB HOSKINS COLLECTION (Image Entertainment): A self-explanatory four-film boxed set ($29.98 retail) spotlighting the burly British actor: John Mackenzie’s classic 1981 gangster saga The Long Good Friday (rated R); Neil Jordan’s 1986 Mona Lisa (rated R), for which he received an Oscar nomination (his only one to date) as Best Actor; opposite Maggie Smith in Jack Clayton’s 1987 adaptation of The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne (rated R); and 1988’s The Raggedy Rawney (rated R), which co-wrote and directed.

“BREAKING BAD”: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Life’s a crime — and sometimes crime pays — for ailing chemistry teacher Bryan Cranston when he teams up with former student Aaron Paul to break into the drug trade, in all 13 episodes from 2011 season of the criticallyacclaimed AMC series, which won Emmy Awards for Cranston (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series) and Paul (Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series), along with five additional nominations including Outstanding Drama Series. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.95, the Blu-ray boxed set for $49.95.

THE COMPANY MEN (The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Noted television writer/director John Wells makes his feature film debut with this topical, timely drama about how the economic downturn affects a group of corporate executives who suddenly find themselves unemployed. Occasionally melodramatic but distinguished by an all-star cast: Ben Affleck, Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Craig T. Nelson, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, the latter two particularly strong. Rated R.

FORGIVENESS (Docurama Films): Awardwinning writer/producer/director Helen Whitney examines the title concept through a wide range of stories, ranging from the individual to the collective, in this two-part PBS documentary ($29.95 retail).

“I AM ALIVE: SURVIVING THE ANDES PLANE CRASH” (A&E Home Entertainment): This History Channel documentary ($19.95 retail) focuses on Nando Parrado, a Uruguayan rugby player who survived the cataclysmic 1972 airline crash in the Andes Mountain, in which the survivors were pushed to the limits of endurance… and beyond.

LEGENDS OF FLIGHT (Image Entertainment): The ongoing development and progress of aviation is traced in this documentary, originally created for IMAX theaters. The DVD retails for $19.98, the 3-D Blu-ray for $24.98.

THE MICHAEL PALIN COLLECTION (Image Entertainment): A DVD boxed set ($24.98 retail) of three films starring Monty Python alumnus Michael Palin: Terry Gilliam’s classic all-star 1981 fantasy Time Bandits (rated PG), 1982’s The Missionary (rated R), co-starring Maggie Smith, Trevor Howard and Denholm Elliott; and 1984’s A Private Function (rated R), again opposite Smith and Elliott.

“PRETTY LITTLE LIARS”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): Sara Shepard’s popular series of mystery novels comes to the small screen, in all 22 episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the popular, award-winning ABC Family series about four friends trying to figure out who’s been sending them threatening messages. The ensemble cast includes Ashley Benson, Holly Marie Combs, Troian Bellisario, Bianca Lawson, Lucy Hale and Ian Harding. The five-DVD boxed set retails for $59.98.

“THE SECRET LIFE OF AN AMERICAN TEENAGER”: VOLUME SIX (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Shailene Woodley, Mark Derwin, India Eisley and Molly Ringwald continue to contend with teen life, in the first 12 episodes from the 2010 season of the award-winning ABC Family drama series. This three-DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.

“TALKING BASEBALL WITH ED RANDALL” ( Popular sports commentator and analyst Ed Randall celebrates the National Pastime with the first 13 in a series of DVDs featuring his interviews with great players, managers and announcers. The selected teams are the Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Detroit Tigers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals and my favorite, Philadelphia Phillies. Each DVD retails for $14.99.

ULTIMATE DEATH MATCH 2 (IMD/MVD Visual): Writer/director/co-star Shawn Cain’s follow-up to his 2009 film continues the illegal underground tournament in which the last man standing goes home with $10 million and is the only one left alive. The first film was terrible. This one is scarcely better but slightly bigger. Several pro wrestlers are on hand. Guess who they play? That’s right: wrestlers.

THE VIRGINITY HIT (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Will Ferrell and Adam McKay produced writer/director Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko’s high-concept, lowbrow mockumentary about a group of suburban teenagers who film their own documentary about losing their virginity. Some inspired gags and an energetic young cast, including Matt Bennett, Krysta Rodriguez, Nicole Weaver and newcomer Zack Pearlman (most using their real first names), engender some laughs, but the concept can’t sustain for feature length. Still, this deserved a better reception (and release) than it got. Rated R.

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