video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Blue Sunshine (Flatiron Film Company/New Video)

Writer/director Jeff Lieberman’s 1977 drive-in favorite, now being reissued in a 35 th anniversary special edition ($24.95 retail), might best be labeled “the damning of the Age of Aquarius” given its bleak (yet then-timely) storyline.

“Blue Sunshine” was the street name of a particularly potent strain of LSD that was popular among college students at Stanford University in the 1960s. Now, a decade later and a decade older, they’re starting to rapidly lose their hair and then (even more rapidly) their minds, going into sudden psychotic rages.

Zalman King, later a filmmaker of some notoriety (Wild Orchid, Red Shoe Diaries) stars as Jerry Zipkin, wrongly accused of a “Blue Sunshine” murder and desperate to clear his name. This being the conspiracy-filled ’70s, he soon finds himself on the trail of a popular Congressional candidate (Mark Goddard of TV’s “Lost in Space”) with direct ties to Blue Sunshine’s origins.

The film’s a little ragged around the edges, but possesses a strange, almost hallucinatory atmosphere very much in keeping with the story’s themes. It’s wild and weird, with flashes of inspiration and some memorably creepy moments. Rated R.

ALSO Available

ASSASSINATION GAMES (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Jean-Claude Van Damme and Scott Adkins play hired assassins forced to team up against a common foe in this routine action melodrama. Rated R.

“THE BIG BANG THEORY”: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): The sparks fly as readily as the wisecracks, in all 24 episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the popular prime-time CBS comedy starring Kaley Cuoco, Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons, who won the Emmy Award as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series, with four additional nominations including one for Christine Baranski as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series. The DVD boxed set retails for $44.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $54.97.

“BLUE MOUNTAIN STATE”: SEASON TWO (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The gridiron goofiness continues for the Blue Mountain State Goats in all 13 episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the Spike Network sitcom starring Ed Marinaro (as the coach), Darin Brooks, Alan Ritchson, Frankie Shaw and guest stars Denise Richards, Stacy Keibler and Chuck Liddell. The two-DVD boxed set retails for $29.98.

FOX BLU-RAYS (Twentieth Century Fox Entertainment): A trio of feature films newly released in the Blu-ray format: Dustin Hoffman stars in Sam Peckinpah’s controversial 1971 thriller Straw Dogs ($24.99 retail), which earned an Oscar nomination for Jerry Fielding’s score; Michael Caine, Angie Dickinson and Nancy Allen star in Brian de Palma’s equally controversial 1980 thriller Dressed to Kill ($24.99 retail); and Keanu Reeves, James Caan and Vera Farmiga star in the caper comedy Henry’s Crime ($29.99 retail). Each film is rated R.

IN A BETTER WORLD (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The consequences of violence are explored in director Susanne Bier’s worthy, well-acted drama about two schoolboys (Markus Rygaard and William Johnk Nielsen) whose friendship becomes fraught with psychological tension and adolescent angst. Winner of the Academy Award as Best Foreign Language Film. In English and Danish with English subtitles. The DVD/Blu-ray combo pack retails for $45.99. Rated R.

“THE KENNEDYS” (New Video): Greg Kinnear plays JFK and Katie Holmes is Jackie in this eight-part miniseries about what is undoubtedly among America’s most famous familes. This premiered on ReelzChannel after the History Channel opted not to air it and scored big ratings. Nominated for 10 Emmy Awards including Outstanding Miniseries or Made-for-Television Movie, Kinnear and Barry Pepper (as RFK) as Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie, and Tom Wilkinson (as Joseph Kennedy Sr.) as Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95.

LET’S TALK ABOUT SEX (Docurama Films): Noted photographer James Houston makes a noteworthy directorial debut with this sharply observant documentary examining the American perspective on sex, one in which the topic is more prevalent in advertising and media than actually addressed — which, in some cases, is exactly the opposite of other cultures. Intelligent, ironic and refreshing.

LIONSGATE BLU-RAYS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The Blu-ray roll-out continues with a selection of feature films originally released by Miramax Films: Josh Hartnett stars in the tepid 2002 romantic comedy 40 Days and 40 Nights (rated R); Anna Faris headlines the 2001 horror spoofs Scary Movie 2 (rated R) and the unrated version of its 2003 follow-up Scary Movie 3; Nicole Kidman stars in Alejandro Amenabar’s award-winning 2001 horror hit The Others (rated PG-13); Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn in their 1996 breakout comedy Swingers (rated R); Bruce Willis stars in the 2005 thriller Hostage (rated R); and Matt Damon and Edward Norton head an all-star cast in John Dahl’s 1998 gambling drama Rounders (rated R). Each of these Blu-rays retails for $14.99. Retailing for $19.99 each are the unrated director’s cut of Guillermo Del Toro’s 1997 chiller Mimic and Gus Van Sant’s 1997 drama Good Will Hunting (rated R), which won Academy Awards for Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s original screenplay and Robin Williams as Best Supporting Actor, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Minnie Driver), Best Score (Danny Elfman), Best Editing and Best Song (“Miss Misery”).

PICASSO AND BRAQUE GO TO THE MOVIES (Arthouse Films/New Video): Leave it to producer/narrator Martin Scorsese and director Arne Glimcher to point out a different aspect of filmmaking in this fun, informative observation how early cinema inspired the artists of the era (including those noted in the title). This is like an engaging film-school seminar.

THE REAL CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST (One 7 Movies/CAV Distributing): A stomach-churning 1976 documentary in the Mondo Cane mold that examines (in graphic detail) the customs of the natives of Papua New Guinea. If your idea of fun is watching bats skinned, pigs bashed and rotting flesh, this is the movie for you. In Italian with English subtitles.

SEX, DEMONS AND DEATH (One 7 Movies/ CAV Distributing): Despite the lurid promise of its title, this 1975 thriller (originally titled Diabolicamente Letizia ) is more tawdry than titillating, as a mysterious girl (Franca Gonella) bewitches those around her. The suggestion of the occult makes little sense — not much does, really — but the twist ending is good for a laugh. In Italian with English subtitles.

TYLER PERRY’S MADEA’S BIG HAPPY FAMILY (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Tyler Perry’s patented combination of comedy and corn is in full evidence in this adaptation of his stage play, in which Madea (Perry) tries to unite the family of her ailing niece (Loretta Devine). Perry’s not about to stray from a successful formula, but the climactic sequence with Maury Povich is embarrassing. LionsGate is also releasing the play Tyler Perry’s Laugh to Keep from Crying ($19.98 retail), and if you can’t get enough of the Browns (David Mann and Tamala Mann), LionsGate is also releasing “Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns”: Season 1, which includes all 20 episodes from the premiere season of the award-winning TV sitcom and is available in a three-DVD boxed set ($29.98 retail). Rated PG-13.

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