video vault

by Mark Burger


(Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)

This breezy, bittersweet comedy didn’t make waves at the box-office during its theatrical run, but deserves a second chance on homevideo.

Directed by David Frankel and inspired by Mark Obmascik’s book, the film follows three men as they embark on a “Big Year” — an ornithological excursion in which each must spot as many different birds over a yearlong span, each one motivated by different reasons. Owen Wilson plays the reigning champ, obsessed with furthering his legend despite the damage it’s doing to his marriage (to Rosamund Pike). Steve Martin plays a corporate CEO easing into retirement by channeling his residual energy into “birding” and Jack Black plays a lovable loser who just wants to accomplish something in his life.

The three leads are in good form, both together and apart, and a personable cast includes Brian Dennehy, Dianne Wiest, JoBeth Williams, Rashida Jones, Jim Parsons, Anjelica Huston, Corbin Bernsen, Tim Blake Nelson, Steven Weber and Kevin Pollak, with John Cleese providing droll narration. Excellent cinematography by Lawrence Sher, too. Rated PG (also available in an unrated version).

ALWAYS FROM DARKNESS (R2 Films): There’s trouble in suburbia when bodacious bloodsucker Danielle Paccione takes up residence. Writer/director/executive producer Phil Thomas and Matt Brooks’ shocker isn’t so much low-budget as it is cheap, with music and sound effects often obscuring the dialogue. Then again, maybe that’s not a bad thing….

“ANCIENT ALIENS”: SEASON THREE (A&E Networks): A DVD boxed set ($29.95 retail) including all 16 episodes from the 2011 season of the popular History Channel documentary series (narrated by Robert Clotworthy) that explores the UFO phenomenon as it pertains to Earth’s history… if you believe in UFOs, of course.

“BIG LOVE”: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment): It ends with a bang — or does it? — for Utah bigamist Bill Paxton and his brides (Chloe Sevigny, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ginnifer Goodwin), in all 10 episodes from the 2011 (and final) season of the critically acclaimed, award-winning HBO series. The star-studded lineup of guest stars and semi-regulars includes Ellen Burstyn, Harry Dean Stanton, Amanda Seyfried, Mary Kay Place, Grace Zabriskie and Bruce Dern, who earned an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series. The DVD boxed set retails for $59.99.

THE COLOMBIAN (Indican Pictures): Andrew Molina produced, edited and directed this fact-based melodrama about Eishy Hayata (who wrote the script and plays himself as a middle-aged man), a Japanese-American who conquered the Colombian emerald trade. A true story it may be, but this dramatization is flat. Lucho Velasco, who looks nothing like Hayata, plays him as a young man. The same filmmakers are credited with a 2003 documentary called Emerald Cowboy (AKA Esmeraldero) about Hayata. This print bears a 2006 copyright, but perhaps it’s the same film(?). A dud under any circumstance. Rated R.

“CSI: CRIME SCIENCE INVESTIGATION — GRAVE DANGER” (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): The DVD/Blu-ray combo debut ($24.99 retail) of the two-part, fifth-season finale of the award-winning CBS crime series, directed by Quentin Tarantino, who picked up an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series. Series regulars William Petersen and Marg Helgenberger are joined by guest stars Andrew Prine, John Saxon, Lois Chiles, Tony Curtis and Frank Gorshin (in his final appearance).

DEBBIE ROCHON CONFIDENTIAL: MY YEARS IN TROMAVILLE EXPOSED (Troma Entertainment): A compilation DVD ($9.95 retail) paying tribute to the popular — and mighty cute — scream queen/author/ radio host Debbie Rochon, featuring myriad clips (few of them family-friendly), DVD introductions, TV appearances and the like. Fun for Debbie’s devotees, but an interview would have tied it together.

HEAVY MENTAL (Troma Entertainment): Rock ‘n’ roller Ace Spade (Josh Hooper) receives a guitar possessed by the spirit of a murdered heavy-metal superstar in this campy shocker from writer/cinematographer/ co-editor/director Mike Hartman, who also plays the deceased rocker and the voice of the monster Ace turns into. A direct remake of The Toxic Avenger (although, if anything, cheaper!), with bits of commedia dell’arte and appropriately released by Troma. Dave Doran provides the voice of the glowing guitar. Troma’s own Lloyd Kaufman cameos as — surprise! — himself. Hampered by dopey pacing and jerky camerawork, but has its moments.

“IN TREATMENT”: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (HBO Home Entertainment): It’s the end of the line for Gabriel Byrne’s burdened psychotherapist Dr. Paul Weston, in all 28 “sessions” from the 2010 (and final) season of the award-winning HBO series. The four-DVD boxed set retails for $59.99.

KING ARTHUR AND MEDIEVAL BRITAIN (A&E Networks): The title tells all in this DVD collection ($19.95 retail) of History Channel documentaries tracing the historical origins of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and the impact on European history.

“MATLOCK”: THE SEVENTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Andy Griffith returns as legal eagle Ben Matlock in all 14 episodes from the 1992-’93 season of the long-running, award-winning NBC courtroom drama. The five-DVD boxed set retails for $54.99.

ON THE BOWERY: THE FILMS OF LIONEL ROGOSIN, VOLUME 1 (The Milestone Cinematheque): A self-explanatory special edition of documentary filmmaker Lionel Rogosin’s acclaimed 1957 documentary about the denizens of New York City’s Skid Row, which earned an Academy Award nomination as Best Documentary Feature, as well as documentaries and additional films made by Rogosin (including Good Times, Wonderful Times and Out). The DVD retails for $34.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95.

PORN STAR ZOMBIES (R2 Films): A low-budget porn shoot is hampered when members of the cast and crew start turning into the living dead, in this inauspicious, lowrent feature debut for writer/producer/director Keith Emerson, who also performs songs on the soundtrack (but definitely isn’t the same Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake & Palmer). Even at barely an hour long, this is a talky drag.

SCARLET COUNTESS (Frontline Entertainment): A special edition ($19.95 retail) of writer/director Donald F. Glut’s campy, softcore 2001 vampire saga (also known as The Erotic Rites of Countess Dracula) starring buxom Brick Randall (in her screen debut) as an aspiring rock singer-turned-bisexual-bloodsucker after an encounter with Count Dracula (William Smith). Del Howison plays Renfield as an overaged hippie (tooling around town in a red convertible!), and Nicole Liberty stands out among the luscious co-stars. Any film that opens with four nude vampire women writhing on the floor can’t be all bad…. Also available directly from the distributor:

SKYWAY (Alpha Home Entertainment): Framed for a robbery he didn’t commit, exflyboy Ray Walker (in his screen debut) uses his aviation skills to nab the culprit in this 1933 programmer, which perks up considerably in a fast-moving third act.

“STORAGE WARS”: VOLUME 2 (A&E Networks): A DVD collection ($24.95 retail) of 14 episodes from the popular A&E reality series in which latter-day “fortune hunters” as they attempt to outsmart and outbid each other in their quest for valuable items found in storage.

THAT BRENNAN GIRL (Alpha Home Entertainment): Mona Freeman plays the title role in this 1946 melodrama, as a girl whose dreams are dashed when she falls in with smooth-talking con artist James Dunn (fresh from his Oscar-winning turn in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). A little dated, but strong performances help.

“TOP SHOT: RELOADED”: THE COMPLETE SEASON TWO (A&E Networks): A four-DVD collection ($34.95 retail) containing all 13 episodes (plus bonus footage) from the 2011 season of the popular History Channel reality series, in which marksmen compete against each other in a quest for the $100,000 “Top Shot” grand prize. Hosted by Colby Donaldson.

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