video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: 13

(Anchor Bay Entertainment)

In the oft-dubious tradition of “Americanizing” popular foreign films, 13 is the remake of the award-winning 2005 thriller 13 Tzameti, but at least writer/ director Gela Babluani is also at the helm here.

Down on his luck and desperate for money, Vince (Sam Riley) finds himself participating in a unique underground tournament that offers big money and the highest stakes. The name of the game is Russian roulette, and Vince is Contestant No. 13.

The star-studded lineup of contestants and interested onlookers includes ever-reliable Ray Winstone, Jason Statham, Alexander Skarsgard, Ben Gazzara, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Emmanuelle Chriqui (in a tiny role) and Mickey Rourke, who did the movie no favors by bad-mouthing it in print. Admittedly, Rourke’s role isn’t very good, but he’s done worse films.

Best of all is Michael Shannon, in a nutty turn that would do Christopher Walken proud, as a high-strung referee/emcee also reminiscent of Gig Young’s Oscar-winning turn in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (This could very easily be called They Shoot People, Don’t They?) A few things have been lost or at least lessened in the translation; this isn’t as resonant as the original film and is a bit clunkier, but it passes as a B-grade black comedy/potboiler, with a good cast and undeniable suspense generated in some of the “matches.” Rated R.

1911 (Well Go USA): The founding of the Republic of China is dramatized in this epic adventure directed by Jackie Chan and cinematographer Zhang Li. Chan also stars with Joan Chen, Li Bing Bing, Winston Chao and reallife son Jaycee Chan. In Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles. Available as a single DVD ($24.98 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail), a collector’s-edition DVD ($29.98 retail), or a collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($32.98 retail). Rated R.

CATCH .44 (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Forest Whitaker (adopting various accents) and Bruce Willis are top-billed in writer/director Aaron Harvey’s disjointed Tarantino-esque knockoff about a trio of female criminals (Malin Akerman, Deborah Ann Woll and dishy Nikki Reed) mixed up in a drug deal gone wrong. A few good moments, and any film that opens with Sweet’s “Fox on the Run” can’t be all bad, but this folds too soon. Brad Dourif and Shea Whigham appear briefly, and some 18 producers are credited. Rated R.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Spooky doings in the (big) mansion being renovated by Katie Holmes and Guy Pearce, with only his daughter (Bailee Madison) aware that malevolent creatures live within. Guillermo del Toro produced and co-scripted this atmospheric but silly big-screen version of an atmospheric but silly 1973 made-for-TV cult classic. Rated R.

FRANKENHOOKER (Synapse Films): At long last, Frank Henenlotter’s wild, sometimes wicked 1990 riff on Mary Shelley’s classic comes to Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) — in an uncut version replete with special features. Not for all tastes, to say the least, but it’s not a cult favorite for nothing.

GREATEST SUPER BOWL MOMENTS (NFL Films/Vivendi Entertainment): The title tells all in this DVD compilation ($14.93 retail) featuring highlights from the Super Bowl over the years.

“HALF PINT BRAWLERS”: SEASON 1 (Image Entertainment): A DVD collection ($14.98 retail) of all six episodes from the premiere 2010 season of the Spike TV reality series, which follows a group of “little wrestlers” as they perform on the wrestling circuit.

“HAWAII FIVE-0”: THE TWELFTH AND FINAL SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Aloha means goodbye, as the popular primetime CBS crime drama comes to a close, culminating in the final showdown between Steve Garrett (Jack Lord) and nemesis Wo Fat (Khigh Dhiegh). This DVD boxed set ($54.99 retail) features all 19 episodes from the 1979-’80 season.

THE HELP (DreamWorks Studios/Buena Vista Home Entertainment): Screenwriter/ producer/director Tate Taylor makes his feature debut with this award-winning adaptation of Kathryn Stockett’s best-selling novel, with Emma Stone as an aspiring writer in 1960s Mississippi who decides to surreptitiously write about the relationship between her friends and their black maids. A surprise box-office hit, this well-acted and well-intentioned big-screen soap opera pushes the right buttons (stridently at times), but rarely in surprising fashion. Stone’s character becomes almost incidental by the end. Viola Davis, Jessica Chastain, Bryce Dallas Howard and Octavia Spencer stand out in a cast including Sissy Spacek, Allison Janney, Cicely Tyson and Mary Steenburgen. Available as a single DVD ($29.99 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail), or a three-disc combo ($44.99 retail). Rated PG-13.

ICE QUAKE (Anchor Bay Entertainment): It’s Christmas Eve in Alaska, and the title tragedy is imminent in this drab disaster opus with lame CGI effects. Rated PG.

I DON’T KNOW HOW SHE DOES IT (The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Sarah Jessica Parker headlines this adaptation of Allison Pearson’s best-seller, which tanked at the box-office despite Greg Kinnear, Pierce Brosnan, Christina Hendricks, Seth Meyers, Olivia Munn and Kelsey Grammer in support. The DVD retails for $29.98, the Bluray for $39.99. Rated PG-13.

“THE INCREASINGLY POOR DECISIONS OF TODD MARGARET”: SERIES 1 (MPI Home Video): David Cross created, wrote and stars in this comedy series as an American office temp on the loose in London. The release of this DVD collection ($24.98 retail) of the first season coincides with the premiere of Season 2 on IFC. Guest stars include Amber Tamblyn (Cross’ real-life girlfriend), Russ Tamblyn (Amber’s real-life dad), Will Arnett and Janeane Garofalo.

AN INVISIBLE SIGN (MPI Home Video): Jessica Alba toplines this comedy/drama as a young math teacher coming to terms with her neuroses and her life. The DVD retails for $24.98, the Blu-rat for $29.98. Rated PG-13.

“KENDRA”: SEASONS 2 & 3 (MPI Home Video): A DVD boxed set ($29.98 retail) containing all 24 episodes from the 2010 and 2011 seasons of the popular E! Entertainment Television reality series following the dayto-day life of former Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson.

MEDIUM RAW: NIGHT OF THE WOLF (Anchor Bay Entertainment): On Christmas Eve, inmates take over an asylum in this glum, protracted shocker that’s both overplotted and underbaked, while getting progressively worse. A few fun touches, but a lot of ridiculous ones. Writer/director Andrew Cymek heads a cast that includes John Rhys-Davies, William B. Davis, Mercedes McNab and pro wrestlers Jay “Christian” Reso and the late Andrew “Test” Martin (in his last film).

MR. NICE (MPI Home Video): Rhys Ifans plays real-life drug smuggler Howard Marks in screenwriter/director Bernard Rose’s award-winning biographical comedy/drama. Chloe Sevigny, David Thewlis, Elsa Pataky, the inimitable Crispin Glover and filmmaker Ken Russell (who died in November) also appear. Available on DVD ($27.98 retail) or Blu-ray ($34.98 retail).

NEVER BACK DOWN 2: THE BEATDOWN (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Michael Jai White makes his directorial debut and stars in this in-name-only follow-up to the 2008 film, in which he plays mentor to four young fighters competing in an underground mixed martial-arts tournament. A bit on the long side, and a bit melodramatic, but certainly superior to its predecessor, and White shows some directorial flair.

“THE REAL L WORD”: THE SECOND SEASON (Showtime Entertainment/CBS DVD/ Paramount Home Entertainment): A three- DVD boxed set ($39.99 retail) containing all nine episodes from the 2011 season of the Showtime reality series, inspired by the awardwinning dramatic series, exploring the lives of lesbians in Los Angeles.

TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS: LIVE (Image Entertainment): The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers/multiple Grammy Award winners take to the stage in this concert documentary ($14.98 retail) performing such chart-topping tunes as “I Won’t Back Down,” “Handle With Care,” “I Done Somebody Wrong,” “I Got a Woman,” “Melinda” and more.

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