video vault

by Mark Burger


(Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment)

An auspicious feature debut for writer/director Sean Durkin and leading lady Elizabeth Olsen, this effective, absorbing psychological thriller became one of 2011 arthouse hits.

Having recently fled from a cult, Martha (Olsen) calls her estranged sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson), pleading to stay with her. Lucy and her husband Ted (Hugh Dancy) are surprised by Martha’s unexpected reappearance, and even more surprised by the irrational behavior she exhibits. It’s only as the story unfolds — Durkin uses flashbacks extremely well here — that the reasons for Martha’s state of mind become clear.

The cast could hardly be bettered: Olsen captures the character’s paranoia and emotional instability, while Paulson and Dancy provide balance. As Patrick, the cult leader, John Hawkes combines folksy charisma with cold-blooded menace to devastating effect. All told, a sharp exercise in suspense. Rated R. ***

5 DAYS OF WAR (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The five-day war between Russia and Georgia is dramatized in producer/ director Renny Harlin’s melodrama, with Rupert Friend and Richard Coyle as typical journalists covering the conflict. Andy Garcia (as Georgia’s president Mikheil Saakashvili), Emmanuelle Chriqui, Val Kilmer, Johnathon Schaech, Ken Cranham, Dean Cain, Rade Serbedzija and Heather Graham round out a high-profile cast. The story and characters tend toward the obvious, but at least Harlin is bringing his high-octane filmmaking approach to a substantive subject. Also known as 5 Days of August. Rated R. **½

“BREAKOUT KINGS” (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): A DVD boxed set ($39.98 retail) of all 13 episodes from the premiere 2012 season of the A&E crime drama series with Laz Alonso and Domenick Lombardozzi as US marshals who recruit former fugitives to help them track down current ones.

CARNAGE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Roman Polanski’s awardwinning adaptation of Yasmina Reza’s Tony Award-winning play God of Carnage concerns two couples (Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly, Kate Winlset and Christoph Waltz) who trade recriminations when they meet to discuss why their sons were involved in a schoolyard fight. With an ensemble cast this good (and in such good form), all Polanski essentially need do is point the camera in their direction. Rated R. ***

“GI JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO”: SERIES 2, SEASON 1 (Hasbro/Shout! Factory): A four-DVD boxed set ($29.93 retail) featuring all 24 episodes from the 1990 season of the animated action series based on the popular Hasbro toy line, as well as the five-part 1989 miniseries “Operation Dragonfire.”

“HEY ARNOLD!”: SEASON 2, PART 1 (Shout! Factory): A DVD collection ($19.93 retail) of the first 10 episodes from the 1997- ’98 season of the award-winning, animated Nickelodeon children’s series about a young boy (voiced by Phillip Van Dyke) whose overactive imagination tends to lead him into trouble.

“JANE BY DESIGN”: VOLUME ONE (Walt Disney Home Entertainment): A two-DVD boxed set ($29.99 retail) from the premiere 2012 season of ABC Family series in which Erica Dasher leads a double life as both a highschool student and working at a prestigious fashion house under the tutelage of Andie MacDowell.

“THE KILLING”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The murder of a girl named Rosie Larsen is the subject of this AMC mystery series, which earned six Emmy nominations including Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series (Mireille Enos), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series (Michelle Forbes), Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series (Patty Jenkins) and Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series. Other cast regulars include Billy Campbell, Joel Kinnaman, Brent Sexton, Annie Corley and Brendan Sexton III. All 13 episodes from the premiere 2011 season and bonus features are included in the DVD boxed set ($39.98 retail) and the Blu-ray boxed set ($49.98 retail).

MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (The Weinstein Company/Anchor Bay Entertainment): Michelle Williams picked up an Oscar nomination as Best Actress for her fine turn as Marilyn Monroe in this affectionate adaptation of Colin Clark’s memoir, in which he recalls her time in ’50s London while filming The Prince and the Showgirl with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh, who earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor). A wistful and nostalgic valentine to classic show-business, with a fine cast including Eddie Redmayne (as Clark), Julia Ormond, Zoe Wanamaker, Toby Jones, Dougray Scott, Derek Jacobi, Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper, Emma Watson, Jim Carter and a warm Judi Dench as actress Dame Sybil Thorndike. Rated R. ***

RETREAT (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Cillian Murphy and Thandie Newton’s weekend getaway to a remote island becomes a fight for survival when mysterious stranger Jamie Bell arrives and announces that a virulent plague has swept the rest of the world… or has it? Essentially a three-hander, but despite a few interesting twists this is ordinary suspense fare. David Frost was one of the executive producers. Rated R. **

“SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS: SPONGEBOB’S FROZEN FACE-OFF” (Nickelodeon/Paramount Home Entertainment): A DVD compilation ($16.99 retail) of episodes from the current season of the long-running, award-winning animated Nickelodeon children’s series, with Tom Kenny providing the voice of the absorbent title character.

SUPER BOWL XLVI CHAMPIONS: NEW YORK GIANTS (NFL Films/Vivendi Entertainment): The New York Giants (who play in New Jersey, actually) won their fourth Super Bowl by defeating the New England Patriots, 21-17. The DVD retails for $24.99, the Blu-ray for $34.93.

“SWITCHED AT BIRTH”: VOLUME 1 (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A two- DVD boxed set ($29.99 retail) of the first 10 episodes from the 2011 season of the ABC Family drama series starring Vanessa Marano and Katie Leclerc as teenagers who discover they were accidentally switched at birth. Lea Thompson, DW Moffett and Marlee Matlin round out the regular cast.

TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Gary Oldman earned an (overdue) Academy Award nomination as Best Actor for his quietly stellar turn as British agent George Smiley (himself a quietly stellar character) in this intricate, complex adaptation of John le Carre’s bestselling novel, in which Smiley attempts to identify a Soviet mole in the highest echelon of British Intelligence. A great cast includes Colin Firth, Mark Strong, Toby Jones, John Hurt, Ciaran Hinds, Tom Hardy, Benedict Cumberbatch. One of 2011’s very best films. Additional Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. Rated R. ****

TORSO (Blue Underground): An uncensored English version of Sergio Martino’s 1973 shocker (originally titled I corpi presentano tracce di violenza carnale) in which a group of college coeds (including Suzy Kendall and Tina Aumont) is stalked by a sex maniac. One of the more popular giallo thrillers, thanks in part to a memorable American TV campaign (“Torso! Torso! Torso!”). The story’s pretty routine but the ladies are lovely and so is Giancarlo Ferrando’s cinematography. Produced by Carlo Ponti (!). The DVD retails for $19.98, the Blu-ray for $29.98. **

“UFC 140: JONES VS. MACHIDA” (UFC/ Anchor Bay Entertainment): This two-DVD Ultimate Fighting Championship collector’s edition ($19.98 retail) boasts a bevy of hard-hitting matches, including the lightheavyweight championship bout between reigning champ Jon Jones and former champ Lyoto Machida, along with additional matches, preliminary bouts, and other special features. Coming up next will be “UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem,” featuring superstars Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem, which will be released April 3 and also retails for $19.98.

“UNDERDOG”: THE COMPLETE COLLECTOR’S EDITION (Shout! Factory): A self-explanatory nine-DVD boxed set ($69.97 retail) that includes all 62 episodes from the entire, original three-season run (1964-’66) of the NBC cartoon series, with Wally Cox providing the memorable voice for the title character. Bonus features include audio commentaries and a retrospective featurette.

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