video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: 12 ANGRY MEN

(The Criterion Collection)

What makes this 1957 courtroom drama an enduring classic? Simple: Perfect story. Perfect cast. Perfect execution. The result? Perfect movie. On a sweltering day in New York City, 12 jurors sit in deliberation of a young man on trial for killing his own father. It’s open-and-shut… except for Juror 8 (Henry Fonda), who urges further, deeper discussion — much to the initial consternation of the others. Tensions run high and tempers flare as they begin to question each other, and themselves.

Fonda and screenwriter Reginald Rose produced the film, which boasts a peerless ensemble cast: Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam, Ed Begley, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Robert Webber, E.G. Marshall, Edward Binns, John Fielder, Joseph Sweeney and George Voskovec. This marked director Sidney Lumet’s feature debut, launching a spectacular career, and earned three Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay.

The special-edition DVD retails for $29.95, the special-edition Blu-ray for $39.95. Each contain such special features as archival interviews, a retrospective documentary and even the original, Emmy-winning 1954 TV version of 12 Angry Men with Robert Cummings. (Sweeney and Voskovec were the only holdovers from the original cast).

ATTACK ON LENINGRAD (Entertainment One): One of World War II’s longest, bloodiest sieges is dramatized in writer/director Aleksandr Buravsky’s fact-based drama starring Mira Sorvino, Gabriel Byrne and Armin Mueller-Stahl. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98. Rated PG-13.

CALDECOTT FAVORITES (Scholastic Storybook Treasures): A three-DVD boxed set ($24.95 retail) featuring a selection of popular 20th-century children’s stories that were awarded the Caldecott Medal by the American Library Association, named for 19thcentury English illustrator Randolph Caldecott, including “Make Way for Ducklings,” “The Snowy Day,” “The Ugly Duckling” and many more.

“A CHILD’S GARDEN OF POETRY” (HBO Entertainment): A collection of poems by such literary luminaries as William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, William Butler Yeats and others, as read by such Hollywood luminaries as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, Liam Neeson, Claire Danes, Carrie Fisher and others. Emmy winner as Outstanding Children’s Program. The DVD retails for $9.97.

“CHRYSANTHEMUM… AND MORE WHIMSICAL STORIES” (Scholastic Storybook Treasures): A three-DVD boxed set ($24.95 retail) featuring a collection of award-winning children’s stories including “A Weekend with Wendell,” “Make Way for Ducklings,” “Noisy Nora” and the title tale.

FIERCE PEOPLE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Griffin Dunne directs this irreverent but inconsistent adaptation of Dirk Wittenborn’s novel (scripted by the author/ executive producer), a black comedy set during Summer 1980 in “deepest, darkest New Jersey.” The cast tries: Donald Sutherland, Diane Lane, a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart, Chris Evans, Anton Yelchin and Elizabeth Perkins. Filmed in 2005. Rated R.

GIVING THANKS… AND MORE STORIES TO CELEBRATE AMERICAN HERITAGE (Scholastic Storybook Treasures): The title tells all in this DVD collection ($14.95 retail) of Thanksgiving-themed children’s stories, including “Lincoln & Douglass: An American Friendship” (narrated by Danny Glover), “The Pilgrims of Plymouth” and the title tale.

HBO BLU-RAYS (HBO Home Entertainment):

Three Blu-ray debuts, each retailing for $14.98: The all-star 1981 road-race comedy The Cannonball Run (rated PG); John Landis’ 1986 comedy !The Three Amigos! (rated PG) with Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short; and the unrated version of the Emmy-winning 1998 HBO film Gia, which earned six nominations including Outstanding Made for Television Movie and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or Movie (Angelina Jolie).

THE LAST UNICORN (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($19.99 retail) of the 1982 animated Rankin/Bass feature based on Peter S. Beagle’s best-selling children’s book centering on the adventures of the title character (voiced by Mia Farrow) as she seeks others of her kind. Songs by America, music and lyrics by Jimmy Webb. The all-star voice cast also includes Jeff Bridges, Alan Arkin, Angela Lansbury, Christopher Lee, Robert Klein, Keenan Wynn, Tammy Grimes and even Brother Theodore. A bit on the flowery side, but it has its devotees. Rated G.

LIFETIME HOLIDAY MOVIES (Lifetime/A&E Home Entertainment): A selection of madefor-TV movies. Retailing for $14.95 each are: A Christmas Wedding (2006) with Sarah Paulson, Eric Mabius and Dean Cain; Under the Mistletoe (‘06) with Michael Shanks and Jaime Ray Newman; Amber Benson in 2006’s Holiday Wishes (AKA All I Want for Christmas); and A Very Merry Daughter of the Bride (2008) with Joanna Garcia, Helen Shaver and Luke Perry. Retailing for $19.95 each are double-features: Christmas in Paradise (2007)/Deck the Halls (2005); His & Her Christmas (‘05)/Will You Merry Me? (‘08); Holiday Switch (‘07)/Home by Christmas (‘06); and The Road to Christmas (‘06)/Recipe for a Perfect Christmas (‘05).

THE LITTLEST ANGEL (Anchor Bay Entertainment): An animated adaptation of Charles Tazewell’s best-selling children’s book about a little boy (voiced by Caleb Wolfe) who arrives in heaven before his time. Ron Perlman provides the voice of God in this G-rated family film, available on DVD ($19.98 retail).

MAKING THE BOYS (First Run Features):

Producer/director Crayton Robey’s enlightened (and enlightening) documentary traces the history and impact of Mart Crowley’s 1968 off-Broadway smash The Boys in the Band, the first play to bring homosexuality into the mainstream. Among those interviewed are Crowley, William Friedkin (who directed the 1970 film version), Laurence Luckinbill, Peter White, Edward Albee, Tony Kushner, Robert Wagner, Paul Rudnick and the late Dominick Dunne (who produced the film). Bill Condon was executive producer.


FEATURING SPOON” (Scholastic Storybook Treasures): A three-DVD boxed set ($24.95 retail) boasting a collection of award-winning children’s stories designed to inspire a love of reading in youngsters. The stories include “I Love You Like Crazy Cakes” (narrated by Mia Farrow), “Blueberries for Sal,” “Dem Bones,” “Bugs! Bugs! Bugs!” and more.

STEVE WINWOOD: LIVE (Image Entertainment): This rock documentary showcases the Grammy-winning singer/songwriter in concert, performing such hits as “Dear Mr. Fantasy,” “Back in the High Life,” “Can’t Find My Way Back Home” and “Empty Pages” (a personal favorite of mine). This DVD retails for $14.98.

TRESPASS (Millennium Entertainment): Oh, how the mighty have fallen…. Nicolas Cage and Nicole Kidman are an affluent couple whose sleek home is invaded by a gang of grubby

thieves. This stagey, high-strung thriller, directed by Joel Schumacher and punctuated by absurd flashbacks, is one of those films that paints itself into a corner and can’t get out. Cage’s trademark histrionics provide some unintentional laughs. A critical and box-office bust. Rated R.

WARNER BROS. BLU-RAYS (Warner Home Video): Two new Blu-rays bow, each retailing for $19.98: The nine-episode sci-fi anthology Mortal Kombat — Legacy, based on the popular videogame franchise; and director Lewis Milestone’s epic 1962 adaptation of Mutiny on the Bounty with Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian and Trevor Howard as Capt. Bligh, which earned seven Academy Award nominations (including Best Picture) despite being a production plagued by innumerable complications … including misbehavior by certain cast members.

WISHFUL DRINKING (HBO Home Entertainment): Actress and author Carrie Fisher discusses her famous parents (Debbie Reynolds and Eddie Fisher), her famous movie (Star Wars) and the pitfalls of being famous in her frequently tart, sometimes touching one-woman Broadway show.

THE WOMAN IN BROWN (Alpha Home Entertainment): W. Lee Wilder (Billy’s brother) directed this well-intentioned 1948 adaptation of the play The Burning Bush, in which idealistic attorney Conrad Nagel defends a group of peasants accused of murder by a wealthy Hungarian baron (Reinhold Schunzel) who covets their property. Originally, more aptly titled The Vicious Circle, this courtroom melodrama dramatizes anti-Semitism. Hampered by a low budget, but bolstered by a sturdy cast that includes Edwin Maxwell, Lyle Talbot and Frank Ferguson (superb as the conscience-stricken prosecutor).

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