Mark Burger’s Video Vault
PICK OF THE WEEK:
“THE DARIO ARGENTO BOX SET” (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A five-film boxed set of fearful features from the internationally renowned cult filmmaker known to some as “the Italian Hitchcock” and to others as, simply, “the Maestro.” (Well, that’s what I always called him…).
This collection includes the special edition of 1982’s Tenebre (**½), which stars Anthony Franciosa as a horror author stalked by a deranged killer; the special edition of 1985’s Phenomena (**), which stars Jennifer Connelly (in her first leading role) and the ever-delightful Donald Pleasence; the disappointing but still-interesting 1993 Trauma (**), which boasts an all-star cast including Piper Laurie, Frederic Forrest, James Russo, Brad Dourif and Argento’s intoxicating daughter Asia; the 2005 thriller Do You Like Hitchcock?, which was made for Italian television and is Argento’s tribute to Alfred Hitchcock; and, the gem of this collection, the 2004 serial-killer thriller The Card Player (***), which marked a distinct return to form for Argento and boasts strong performances by Stefania Rocca and Liam Cunningham as cops trailing a fiendish murderer who broadcasts his crimes on the Internet.
Good or bad, Dario Argento’s films are always interesting and they bear the distinctive visual and thematic imprint of their maker. In this day and age of high-concept, low-impact, cookie-cutter filmmaking, that matters. This collection retails for $49.97, individual titles for $19.97.
(Truth in disclosure: Yours truly wrote the official press release for this boxed set, but aside from my basic writing fee I don’t see a cent from any sales. I did it primarily because I’m a huge Argento admirer and it was an honor to do it. And that’s the whole truth.)
ALSO ON DVD
“BEST OF LOCO COMEDY JAM” – VOL. 1 (Mars Films/BCI Latino): George Lopez, Gary Owen, Mike Robles, Gabriel Iglesias, Joey Medina and Jeff Garcia are among the all-star, all-Latino line-up of stand-up comedians, taped live in Pasadena. This DVD retails for $14.98.
CAN I DO IT… TILL I NEED GLASSES? (Code Red DVD/BCI): This low-budget 1977 comedy, essentially a series of one-liners and bawdy shtick in the Kentucky Fried Movie/Groove Tube vein, is noteworthy because of Robin Williams’ screen debut, although he only has a few scenes. The level of wit can easily be ascertained by the bit that begins: “Hey buddy, got any toilet paper?” Most of the gags are groaners, but you may find yourself laughing in spite of yourself (and your good taste). Hard to believe the theme song wasn’t a hit. This is actually a sequel to a similar film called If You Don’t Stop It… You’ll Go Blind, so you can see there’s a theme here. Rated R. **
DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (Genius Products): There’s plenty of life in the old chestnut yet, as this updated version of the classic Robert Louis Stevenson tale adds some interesting contemporary twists and boasts a fantastic turn by Dougray Scott in the dual role of the driven scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll and his murderous alter-ego, Edward Hyde. Nice supporting work from Krista Bridges as Jekyll’s attorney and reliable Tom Skerritt as his friend, Utterson. ***
HAMBURGER HILL (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A special edition of director John Irvin’s fact-based 1987 Vietnam War drama in which a group of GIs desperately attempt to capture the title territory from the Viet Cong in 1969. In the wake of the Oscar-winning Platoon (1986), this was one of the first films to take a more realistic approach to the war in Vietnam – and it remains one of the better ones. An up-and-coming cast includes Dylan McDermott (in his screen debut), Don Cheadle, Steven Weber and the terrific Courtney B. Vance (also in his screen debut). Rated R. ***
“HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE” – VOLUME TWO (Mattel/BCI): All 39 episodes from the 2002-’03 season of the award-winning animated series based on the popular line of Mattel action figures. Winner of a Daytime Emmy for outstanding achievement in sound editing (live-action and animation). This boxed set, which retails for $26.98, includes such special features as interviews, sketch galleries, commentaries and collectible cards.
THE HOTTIE AND THE NOTTIE (Liberation Entertainment/Genius Products): Paris Hilton is the former and Christine Lakin the latter in this sometimes-charming romantic comedy about a lovelorn slacker (Joel David Moore) who tries to woo the girl he’s had a crush on since first grade but must contend with her less-attractive best friend… who begins to fall for him. Utterly predictable at the outset, this gets better as it goes along, with Hilton actually giving her best performance to date(!)… but this is Lakin’s movie all the way. Rated PG-13. **
“I LOVE NEW YORK” – SEASON 2 (Anchor Bay Entertainment): All 11 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the popular VH1 reality series focusing on the efforts of former “Flavor of Love” contestant Tiffany Pollard as she chooses from 20 eligible bachelors in the Big Apple. This boxed set retails for $34.97.
“THE INCREDIBLE HULK” (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Timed to coincide with the release of the second Incredible Hulk feature film comes this DVD double-feature of two TV movies based on the popular prime-time series (which ran on CBS from 1978 to 1982) starring Bill Bixby as David Banner and Lou Ferrigno as his alter-ego, the Hulk. In The Incredible Hulk Returns (1988), Eric Allan Kramer portrays the Mighty Thor, and in The Trial of the Incredible Hulk (1989) – which Bixby also directed – the cast includes Rex Smith as blind attorney Matt Murdock (AKA “The Daredevil”) and John Rhys-Davies as the nefarious Wilson Fisk (AKA “Kingpin”). This DVD retails for $9.98.
“THE JAMES STEWART WESTERNS COLLECTION” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): To commemorate the 100th birthday of one of America’s greatest stars – and a great actor, to boot – here is a six-film collection including some of his most memorable Westerns: George Marshall’s classic 1939 Western comedy Destry Rides Again pairs Stewart with Marlene Dietrich; Anthony Mann’s Winchester ’73 (1950) marked the first, but hardly the last, time that a star took a percentage of the profits instead of a normal salary; Mann’s 1953 adaptation of Bend of the River co-stars Arthur Kennedy and Rock Hudson; Stewart and Mann reunited a year later for The Far Country; Stewart is joined by Audie Murphy and Dan Duryea in Night Passage (1957), and then by Maureen O’Hara and Brian Keith in The Rare Breed (1966). There wasn’t a genre, it seems, that Stewart wasn’t good in. This boxed set retails for $39.98.
PARK (Monarch Home Video): Writer/director Kurt Voelker’s award-winning but uneven debut feature is an ensemble comedy in the Robert Altman mold, focusing on a group of people parked in a public park on an average day in LA. Melanie Lynskey, William Baldwin, Ricki Lake, Cheri Oteri, Anne Dudek, Anthony “Treach” Criss, Izabella Miko and Dagney Kerry give it their all. It has its insightful and satirical moments, but also a lot of shrill ones. Rated R. **
“RED SOX MEMORIES: THE GREATEST MOMENTS IN BOSTON RED SOX HISTORY” (Shout! Factory): You can be damned sure that the long-awaited world championships of 2004 and 2007 will be highlighted in this baseball documentary tracing the highs (and lows) of Beantown’s beloved Sox, celebrating their 107th year in existence. The last few years, it seems, everyone’s a Red Sox fan. This DVD retails for $19.99.
THE RED VIOLIN (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Director Francois Gerard’s episodic 1998 drama traces the history of a rare and precious violin over the course of three centuries. A good cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, Colm Feore, Don McKellar (who co-wrote the film with Girard) and gorgeous Greta Scacchi, but despite Alain Dostie’s exquisite cinematography and John Corigliano’s Oscar-winning score, this is ponderous in the extreme. Rated R. **
“SONNY CHIBA DOUBLE FEATURE” (Rarescope/BCI): A pair of martial-arts thrillers starring the internationally popular Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba, available for the first time on these shores: In Fighting Fist (1992), Chiba plays a police superintendent intent on breaking the mob stranglehold of the Yakuza; and in 1974’s Soul of Bruce Lee (AKA Soul of Chiba), he joins forces with Interpol to bring down a Thai drug empire. This double-feature retails for $14.98.
“STARGATE: INFINITY” – THE COMPLETE SERIES (Shout! Factory): Somehow, Roland Emmerich’s 1996 sci-fi melodrama spawned two live-action television series as well as this animated one (which ran on Fox from 2002-’03), all 26 episodes of which are included in this boxed set, which includes such bonus features as special-effects tests, and retails for $34.99.
THOSE DARING YOUNG MEN IN THEIR JAUNTY JALOPIES (Legend Films): Producer/director/co-writer Ken Annakin’s 1969 follow-up to his 1965 hit Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines isn’t quite as much fun (and has too many pit stops) but still offers colorful, breezy, slapstick escapism for all ages. The international all-star cast includes Tony Curtis, Terry-Thomas, Gert Frobe, Eric Sykes, Susan Hampshire, Jack Hawkins, and the scene-stealing duo of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. As is customary with this sort of film, the team I root for doesn’t win. Also known as Monte Carlo or Bust!, the film’s theme song is sung by none other than Jimmy Durante. Rated G. **½
“TNA DESTINATION X” (TNA Home Video/Navarre): For wrestling fans, here are highlights from the “Total Nonstop Action” pay-per-view wrestling event from March 9, 2008, including the “Six Man Main Event” (The Angle Alliance vs. Samoa Joe, Christian Cage and Kevin Gage), the X Division Championship Match (“Black Machismo” Jay Lethal vs. “Maple Leaf Muscle” Petey Williams), and other matches. This DVD retails for $19.98.
VIOLENT CITY (Blue Underground): Charles Bronson headlines director Sergio Sollima’s 1970 shoot-’em-up as a vengeful hit-man torn between a sly mob boss (the inimitable Telly Savalas), who wants him to join the team, and his ex-mistress (Jill Ireland, Bronson’s real-life wife), who just plain wants him. Lina Wertmuller was one of the screenwriters of this uneven potboiler, which does boast a memorable finale and one of Ennio Morricone’s loudest scores. This is the full, European cut of the film, which was released in the US in 1973 as The Family – more to capitalize on Savalas’ fame than Bronson’s. Not a particularly good movie (although it does have its fans), but steer clear of the public-domain versions released under its US title, which tend to be badly edited. **
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.
Copyright 2008, Mark Burger