video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: ANONYMOUS

(Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

A distinct change of pace for filmmaker Roland Emmerich, this elegantly messy combination of history and conjecture puts a distinct spin on the legacy of William Shakespeare.

Columbia Pictures decided at the last minute to bypass a general release (even after screenings had been held in many cities — including Greensboro) and unveil the film on a limited basis. Bad move, as the film flopped. It’s no masterpiece — and it’s not Shakespeare in Love (1998) either, but Anonymous deserved better.

“THE ANGRY BEAVERS”: SEASON 3, PART 1 (Nickelodeon/Shout! Factory): A DVD collection ($19.93 retail) of the first 13 episodes from the award-winning animated Nickeolodeon series about a pair of trouble-making beaver brothers.

THE BLACK TENT (VCI Entertainment): Director Brian Desmond Hurst’s 1956 melodrama stars Donald Sinden as a British nobleman who travels to Libya to discover what happened to brother Anthony Steel, vanished there during World War II. Dominating the film is a hokey romance between Steel and a Bedouin girl (Anna Maria Sandri, in her final film to date), but boosted by a cast including Andre Morell (wonderfully dignified as a shiek), Donald Pleasence (as a lascivious desert guide), Michael Craig, Anthony Bushell and Anton Diffring. Adapted from Robin Maugham’s story by the author and Bryan Forbes.

THE DOCTOR SERIES (VCI Entertainment): Richard Gordon’s popular series of novels became a hit British screen franchise: Doctor in the House (1954), Doctor at Sea (1955), Doctor at Large (1957), Doctor in Love (1960), Doctor in Distress (1963), Doctor in Clover (1966) and Doctor in Trouble (1970). All were produced by Betty Box and directed by Ralph Thomas, and featured a veritable Who’s Who of British and Continental talent in various installments: Dirk Bogarde, Donald Sinden, Muriel Pavlow, Samantha Eggar, Brigitte Bardot, Dennis Price, Michael Craig, Leslie Phillips, Harry Secombe, Robert Morley, Irene Handl, Shirley Anne Field and James Robertson Justice (who appeared in all seven films). A DVD boxed set retails for $59.99, each film retails individually on DVD for $14.99 retail.

DON WINSLOW OF THE COAST GUARD (VCI Entertainment): Don Terry battles enemy agents in the early days of World War II in this 13-chapter 1942 Universal serial based on Frank V Martinbek’s comic strip, which was also a popular radio series. The DVD retails for $19.99.

FEW OPTIONS (Monarch Home Entertainment): Kenny Johnson stars as an ex-con trying to stay out of trouble after a 22-year stint in prison. A familiar melodrama bolstered a bit by a good wrap-up and its cast: Erin Daniels, Rainn Wilson, Brad Dourif, David Marciano, and cameos by Laura San Giacomo and Michael Sheen.

GEORGE! (VCI Entertainment): A mischievous St. Bernard (that would be George) causes calamity in the life of an American pilot (Marshall It is the contention of John Orloff’s script that the works of Shakespeare were in fact penned by Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans), the Earl of Oxford, during a particularly tumultuous period in British history. As for the Bard, he’s portrayed (by Rafe Spall) as a booze-soaked boob. As the storyline shifts back and forth in time, sometimes incorporating flashbacks within flashbacks, it becomes rather convoluted. Yet there’s a fine cast on hand: Joely Richardson and real-life mother Vanessa Redgrave, as the younger and Thompson) based in Zurich, in this harmless 1972 kiddie comedy. Thompson also produced and penned the original story. Rated G.

HBO BLU-RAYS (HBO Home Entertainment): A pair of critically acclaimed, fact-based madefor-HBO films making their Blu-ray debuts: Lynn Whitfield stars in the title role of 1991’s The Josephine Baker Story, which won five Emmy Awards including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or Special and Outstanding Directing in a Mini-Series or Special (Brian Gibson, then married to Whitfield) and earned seven additional nominations including Outstanding Drama/ Comedy Special and Mini-Series and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Mini-Series or Special (both Ruben Blades and David Dukes); and 1995’s The Tuskegee Airmen, which won three Emmy Awards and earned seven additional nominations including Outstanding Made for Television Movie, Outstanding Lead Actor in a Mini-Series or Special (Laurence Fishburne) and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Mini-Series or Special (Andre Braugher). Each Blu-ray retails for $14.98.

I AIN’T SCARED OF YOU: A TRIBUTE TO BERNIE MAC (One Village Entertainment/Image Entertainment): A wonderful salute to a talent who left us too soon, this endearing documentary traces the life and career of comedian/actor Bernie Mac (1957-2008), featuring interviews with wife Rhonda (also an executive producer), daughter Je’niece, and such show-biz luminaries as Samuel L. Jackson, Steven Soderbergh, Don Cheadle, Angela Bassett, Cedric the Entertainer, Cameron Diaz, Carl Reiner and many more. We miss you, Bernie.

J. EDGAR (Warner Home Video): Leonardo DiCaprio’s in fine form as FBI head J. Edgar Hoover in Clint Eastwood’s intriguing biographical drama, but Dustin Lance Black’s script so emphasizes Hoover’s personal life that the history he impacted becomes a secondary consideration. Judi Dench (as Hoover’s mom), Naomi Watts, Josh Lucas and Armie Hammer (looking mummified in old-age makeup as Clyde Tolson) round out an earnest cast. Rated R.

MONSIGNOR (Shout! Factory): After the screen adaptation of Mommie Dearest the year before, producer Frank Yablans and director Frank Perry re-teamed for this 1982 adaptation of Jean- Alain Leger’s novel, with a sheepish Christopher Reeve donning the robes of the title character, an ambitious young priest embroiled in financial and moral malfeasance as his career at the Vatican ascends. The studio anticipated a firestorm of controversy, which was quickly drowned by a flood of bad reviews. The kind of unintentionally uproarious camp potboiler that they don’t make anymore, with a script by Abraham Polonsky and Wendell Mayes (who should’ve known better) and a floundering cast including Genevieve Bujold (as the nun Reeve falls in love with!), Jason Miller (as a Sicilian Mafioso), Joe Cortese, Tomas Milian, Adolfo Celi, Joe Spinell, Joe Pantoliano, Robert Prosky, Charles Hallahan, Leonardo Cimino (as the Pope) and Fernando Rey (as the craftiest cardinal). Bless me, father, for I have laughed. Rated R.

THE TWILIGHT SAGA: BREAKING DAWN — PART 1 (Summit Entertainment): The beginning of the end of the mega-buck screen franchise based on Stephenie Meyer’s best-selling series of supernatural novels. Series regulars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson, Tyler Lautner, Billy Burke, Anna Kendrick, Nikki Reed, Peter Facinelli, Ashley Greene, Kellan Lutz, et al. Like its predecessors, a box-office bonanza. Available as a two-DVD special edition ($30.49 retail) or a Blu-ray special edition ($33.99 retail). Rated PG-13.

“TYLER PERRY’S MEET THE BROWNS”: SEASON 4 (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A three-DVD boxed set ($29.98 retail) containing 20 episodes from the 2010 season of the award-winning sitcom starring David Mann and real-life wife Tamela Mann as Leroy and Cora, characters spun off from Perry’s 2008 film and based on his play.

WOODY ALLEN: A DOCUMENTARY (Docurama Films): Writer/producer/director Robert Weide’s self-explanatory documentary, originally broadcast on PBS’ “American Masters” series, chronicles one of the most acclaimed comic minds and filmmakers of the 20th century… while judiciously skating over some matters. Fascinating, in any case. Among those who discuss Allen’s legacy are Martin Scorsese, Diane Keaton, Sean Penn, Mariel Hemingway, Tony Roberts, Martin Landau and many others, as well as Allen himself. Not surprisingly, Mia Farrow does not weigh in.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2012, Mark Burger

older Queen Elizabeth I; David Thewlis as the manipulative William Cecil and Edward Hogg as his son Robert Cecil (the First Earl of Salisbury); and Shakespearean veteran Derek Jacobi, who acts as “host” for the proceedings.

For history buffs and Shakespeare aficionados, Anonymous may be a bit lumpy, but it’s also an entertaining and interesting romp, and a visual feast for devotees of period pieces, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Costume Design. Rated PG-13.