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by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THE SPLIT

(Warner Home Video)

Having scored with John Boorman’s Point Blank the year before, MGM rolled the dice a second time with this 1968 adaptation of a novel by the same author, Richard Stark (AKA Donald Westlake), and even imported another director from the UK (Gordon Flemyng).

Jim Brown, exuding cool, muscular, menace, plays mastermind McClain, who’s got the “perfect plan” (famous last words) to rob the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum during a big game. The score tops $500,000, but when it comes time for the split, the trouble really starts. Of course, we knew that going in. Just read the title.

The Split is not a great movie, but it is great fun — and boasts a great cast. Brown’s snarling, sneering cohorts are Ernest Borgnine, Jack Klugman, Warren Oates, Donald Sutherland and Julie Harris (having a ball in an atypically nasty role); Diahann Carroll plays his ex-wife (the only decent character in the entire film); James Whitmore shows up as a lusty, loony landlord; and, in a prime late-inning turn, Gene Hackman plays a corrupt LA cop who wants his cut of the cash… and a bit more.

For the cast alone, The Split is worth a look — and let’s not forget the late-’60s studio gloss, a funky score by Quincy Jones and a catchy theme song by Billy Preston. Hard to believe this film has never been available on homevideo before. (Available directly through warnerarchive.com.)

Rated R (reportedly this was the first film to receive this rating from the MPAA).

AERIAL AMERICA: PACIFIC RIM COLLECTION (Smithsonian Channel/Inception Media Group): A documentary journey that explores the sights of Washington, Oregon, California and Hawaii. The DVD retails for $14.98, the Blu-ray for $19.98.

AIR AND SPACE COLLECTION (Smithsonian Channel/Inception Media Group): A DVD collection ($24.98 retail) of self-explanatory aerial documentaries including History in HD: America in Space, Concorde: Flying Supersonic and Space Shuttle: Final Countdown.

“THE BIG C”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Laura Linney’s back in action and back in treatment, in all 13 episodes from the 2011 season of the award-winning Showtime series about an all-American housewife confronting the realities of being diagnosed with cancer. The DVD boxed set retails for $45.99.

“THE COMMANDER”: SET 2 (Acorn Media): A DVD boxed set ($49.99 retail) of mystery stories written by Lynda La Plante (of “Prime Suspect” fame), starring Amanda Burton as an ambitious Scotland Yard detective who stops at nothing to crack the toughest cases. The supporting cast includes Greg Wise, Celia Imrie, James D’Arcy and Simon Williams, and the four stories are “The Devil You Know,” “Fraudster,” “Windows of the Soul” and “Abduction.”

“DARK SHADOWS”: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (MPI Home Video): A selfexplanatory 131-DVD boxed set ($599.98 retail) containing all 1,225 episodes from Dan Curtis’ Gothic ABC soap opera, which ran 1966-’71, starred Jonathan Frid as the tormented vampire Barnabas Collins, and became a cult phenomenon — culminating in a recent big-budget big-screen version. The shape of the box is a coffin (appropriate!), and bonus features are plentiful. The series received a single Emmy nomination during its entire run, a 1968 nod for Joan Bennett as Outstanding Achievement in Daytime Programming (Serials).

DEBAUCHERY (Impulse Pictures/CAV Distributing): Writer/director Hidehiro Ito’s raunchy 1983 drama (originally titled Ryoshoku) stars Ryoko Watanabe as a bored housewife who spices up her love life by becoming a prostitute. Belle de Jour this isn’t (by a long shot), but the cinematography is colorful. In Japanese with English subtitles.

“FLASHPOINT”: THE FOURTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): A DVD boxed set ($42.99 retail) containing all 18 episodes from the 2011 season of the awardwinning Canadian action series (broadcast on CBS), which details the heroic actions of the police department’s elite Strategic Response Unit (SRU). The ensemble cast includes Enrico Colantoni, Michael Cram, Hugh Dillon and onetime “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger” Amy Jo Johnson.

KAWA (Wolfe Video): Director Katie Wolfe’s adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s novel Nights in the Gardens of Spain stars Calvin Tuteao as a Maori patriarch who shocks his family and community by admitting he’s gay. The DVD retails for $24.95.

LET THE BULLETS FLY (Well Go USA Entertainment): And they do, in Jiang Wen’s action/ comedy set in the 1920s, pitting a notorious bandit (Wen himself) against a crime boss (Chow Yun-Fat). Originally titled Rang zidan fei, this awardwinning film became China’s biggest box-office hit ever. Available as a single DVD ($24.98 retail), a collector’s-edition DVD ($29.98 retail), a DVD/Bluray combo ($29.98 retail), or a collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($32.98 retail). In Mandarin and Cantonese with English subtitles.

LOVE’S EVERLASTING COURAGE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The latest Hallmark Channel adaptation of Janette Oke’s best-selling series of faith-based novels stars Wes Brown, Julie Mond, Bruce Boxleitner and Cheryl Ladd. The DVD retails for $22.98.

NEW YEAR’S EVE (Warner Home Video): Producer/director Garry Marshall and screenwriter Katherine Fugate reunite for this follow-up to their 2010 hit Valentine’s Day, set in New York City on a different holiday (guess which one?). The star-studded ensemble includes Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hilary Swank, Ashton Kutcher, Jessica Biel, Zac Efron, Halle Berry, Abigail Breslin, Sofia Vergera, Jon Bon Jovi and Marshall regular Hector Elizondo. The DVD retails for $28.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $35.99. Rated PG-13.

NIGHT WOLF (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Lycanthropy can put such a damper on dysfunctional family reunions, as a group of young siblings at a dark and isolated estate discover in this draggy chiller featuring Isabella Calthorpe (who looks like Keira Knightley) and the late Simon MacCorkindale (in his last film). Rated R.

PLAYBACK (Magnet Label/Magnolia Home Entertainment): Reminiscent of – and inferior to – The Ring films, writer/director Michael A. Nickels’ gory shocker involves an evil spirit emanating from a vintage horror tape. Christian Slater, who should have had something else to do, plays a creepy cop on the case. Rated R.

PROJECT NIM (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Based on Elizabeth Marks’ book, James Marsh’s fascinating, awardwinning documentary examines the study of a chimpanzee (“Nim Chimpsky”) raised entirely in a human environment during the 1970s — an experiment that had as unexpected, unforeseen repercussions for the human participants as Nim. Rated PG-13.

“TIME TEAM: UNEARTHING THE ROMAN INVASION” (Acorn Media): A DVD boxed set ($59.99 retail) of 12 collected episodes from the long-running British documentary series following host Tony Robinson as he unearths that country’s illustrious and tumultuous history.

THE TRIP (IFC Films/MPI Media Group): Michael Winterbottom’s comedy, culled from a BBC television series, with Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon playing variations of themselves as they embark on a trip across the English countryside visiting fine restaurants for a magazine article. Largely improvised but sometimes repetitious, despite great chemistry between Coogan and Brydon and some very funny moments (including a classic Michael Caine impersonation). Definitely worth a look, however.

“TYLER PERRY’S MEET THE BROWNS”: SEASON 5 (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A three-DVD boxed set ($29.98 retail) containing 20 episodes (81-100) 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 stage play and 2008 film.

WE BOUGHT A ZOO (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Cameron Crowe goes heavy on the sentiment with this adaptation of Benjamin Mee’s self-explanatory non-fiction best-seller. Matt Damon plays Mee, and a pleasant cast includes Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Angus Macfadyen, Elle Fanning, Patrick Fugit, John Michael Higgins and Peter Riegert. Crowe provides some customarily good lines and a customarily good song choice, but this overlong comedy/drama may be his blandest film to date. Rated PG.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT (Wolfe Video): Director/co-writer Jay Arnold’s romantic comedy with a twist, starring Jon Lindstrom as a wealthy bachelor whose sister (Wendie Malick) gives him a dog hoping he’ll meet Miss Right at the local park. Instead, he meets Mr. Right (newcomer Chris Murrah). The DVD retails for $24.98.

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

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