CADILLAC RECORDS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/director Darnell MartinÃs award-winning dramatization of the history of Chicago’s legendary Chess Records never found the audience it deserved last year but is well worth a look and a listen — especially for music mavens.
In the 1950s, Chess Records broke new ground by recording and promoting jazz, rhythm & blues and early rock-and-roll artists — most of whom happened to be black. That doesn’t bother founder Leonard Chess (Adrien Brody), who realizes that this is a sound that will revolutionize the industry and pop culture and, ultimately, American culture in general. (Incidentally, the film’s title is derived from ChessÃ penchant for rewarding his talent with brandnew Cadillacs.) There’s a lot of ground to cover and a lot of music to savor, with Mos Def as Chuck Berry, Beyonce Knowles (also the film’s executive producer) as Etta James, and the superb Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters. Told with affection and respect, and drenched in an appropriately bluesy and smoky ambience, this is absorbing and entertaining throughout, but doesn’t shy away from the more serious aspects of the story — including the ever-present specter of racism. It’s a shame this film didn’t do better in theaters. It deserved to. Rated R. ***
ALSO ON DVD
DEAD OF NIGHT (Dark Sky Films): Producer/director Dan Curtis and writer Richard Matheson are right at home with this enjoyably spooky, three-part 1977 horror anthology. The first story, “Second Chance,” is more fantasy than horror, but “No Such Thing as a Vampire” and especially “Bobby” definitely have their scary moments. Joan Hackett dazzles in the latter tale as a bereaved mother who brings her dead son (Lee Montgomery) back to life, and then wishes she hadn’t. Also on hand: Ed Begley Jr., Anjanette Comer, Horst Buchholz, Elisha Cook Jr. and the always-welcome Patrick Macnee. ***
THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): With the latest installment of the franchise, Fast and Furious, currently in theaters, Universal is reissuing all three of the previous films in limited editions: Vin Diesel and Paul Walker star in Rob Cohen’s original, award-winning 2000 film (*1/2); Walker returns for John Singleton’s 2003 sequel 2 Fast 2 Furious (*), which also managed to win some awards; and Lucas Black takes over the wheel for The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), which I missed, alas. Each DVD retails for $19.98, and the Blu-ray boxed set of all three films (with exclusive special features) retails for $99.98. All three films are rated PG-13.
“THE FUGITIVE” — SEASON TWO, VOLUME TWO (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 14 episodes from the second half of the 1965-‘66 season of the classic prime-time CBS-TV series starring David Janssen as Dr. Richard Kimble, on the run and trying to find the actual killer of his wife while dogged Inspector Gerard (Barry Morse) remains on his trail. Emmy Award winner for outstanding dramatic series, with additional nominations for actor (Janssen) and cinematography. This boxed set retails for $39.98.
GHOST TOWN (Paramount Home Entertainment): Ricky Gervais sees dead people in director/co-writer David KoeppÃs award-winning comedy, playing a misanthropic dentist who gains the ability to communicate with the departed after a near-death experience during surgery. This ersatz but enjoyable update of the old Topper scenario features Greg Kinnear as a recently-deceased rake who wants to prevent the remarriage of his widow (Tea Leoni). Some of the language is surprisingly strong for a PG-13 movie. **1/2
HEIGHTS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Director Chris TerrioÃs debut feature is an adaptation of Amy Fox’s play, focusing on five characters during a 24-hour period in New York City, during which secrets and revelations alter their relationships in unexpected ways. One of the final films of producer Ismail Merchant, this sometimes self-indulgent ensemble drama gets a lot of mileage out of its cast: Glenn Close, Elizabeth Banks, James Marsden, Jesse Bradford, John Light, Isabella Rossellini, Michael Murphy, Eric Bogosian, Loudon Wainwright, Matt Davis and George Segal, very funny as an observant rabbi and marriage counselor. Rated R. **1/2
“THE HILLS” — THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (MTV Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 20 episodes from the 2008 season of MTV’s awardwinning reality series following “Laguna Beach” veteran Lauren Conrad and her friends as they wend their way through life and love in Los Angeles. This boxed set retails for $39.98.
“IN PLAIN SIGHT” — SEASON ONE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Mary McCormack lays down the law as a federal marshal working with the Federal Witness Protection Program in all 12 episodes from the 2008 season of this offbeat USA Network series. This boxed set retails for $59.98.
“KENNEDY” — THE COMPLETE SERIES (MPI Home Video): Martin Sheen portrays John F. Kennedy in this award-winning 1983 mini-series that concentrates on his political career. A star-studded cast includes Blair Brown (as Jackie), John Shea (as Bobby Kennedy), EG Marshall (as Joseph Kennedy) and Vincent Gardenia (as J. Edgar Hoover). This special-edition DVD retails for $19.98. In addition, MPI Home Video is also releasing the award-winning 1999 TV special “The Murder of JFK: A Revisionist History” ($19.98 retail), which explores various theories regarding the Kennedy assassination and its impact on American history.
THE LAST RIDE OF THE DALTON GANG (MPI Home Video): Director Dan Curtis’ only Western, this engrossing but longwinded 1979 oater dramatizes the rise and fall of the 19th-century outlaws and brothers Dalton (played by Randy Quaid, Cliff Potts and Larry Wilcox). Jack Palance plays the boys’ nemesis, Sheriff Will Smith, and Harris Yulin briefly appears as their cousin, Jesse James. Lots of familiar faces (many of them Curtis veterans) on hand: Bo Hopkins, Dale Robertson, Matt Clark, John Karlen, Sharon Farrell, RG Armstrong, Royal Dano, Scott Brady, Mills Watson (as the fourth Dalton brother) and even Bubba Smith. Good score by Robert Cobert. The historical accuracy is debatable, but that never hurt a Western. **1/2
LUCY AND DESI: A HOME MOVIE (MPI Home Video): A wonderfully intimate, warm and candid 1993 made-for-TV documentary exploring the lives and careers of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who struck gold with the classic sitcom “I Love Lucy” but were extremely complex individuals away from the limelight. Daughter Lucie Arnaz and her husband Laurence Luckinbill wrote, directed, and served as executive producers for this fascinating insight, which deservedly won the Emmy Award as outstanding information special. ****
MILK (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Sean Penn took home the Academy Award as best actor for his terrific turn as real-life San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, the first gay man elected to public office in American history, in Gus Van Sant’s extremely sympathetic — and extremely winning — dramatization of Milk’s career, which was tragically cut short by his murder at the hands of fellow San Francisco Supervisor Dan White (Josh Brolin, who earned an Oscar nomination as best supporting actor) in 1978. Dustin Lance Black also won an Oscar for his original screenplay. One of 2008’s best films, this also earned Oscar nominations for best picture, director, costume design, editing and original score. Rated R. ***1/2
A MOMENT IN HISTORY: THE INAUGURA- TION OF BARACK OBAMA (MPI Home Video/ABC News): Speaking of political firsts, and like the title says, this special-edition DVD ($14.98 retail) includes the entire ABC News coverage of the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. Bonuses include footage of the inaugurations of the last nine Presidents, as well (all the way back to JFK).
THE PRE-CODE HOLLYWOOD COLLEC- TION (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Before the “Production Code” clamped down on Hollywood mov iemaking in the 1930s, the major studios often tackled difficult and/or controversial issues on screen, with varying degrees of success (both artistic and financial). Nevertheless, they hold a unique place in Hollywood history, and often featured the top stars of the day. This collection of six films, each making its DVD debut, includes: Tallulah Bankhead in George Abbott’s The Cheat (1931); Fredric March, Sylvia Sidney and Cary Grant in Dorothy Arzner’s 1932 adaptation of Merrily We Go to Hell (a title that the Production Code would never have okayed); Grant and one-time roommate Randolph Scott in the 1932 adaptation of Hot Saturday; Claudette Colbert in Torch Singer (1933); Victor McLaglen, Jack Oakie, Kitty Carlisle (in her screen debut) and Duke Ellington (as himself) in the 1934 adaptation of Earl Carroll’s mystery/musical Murder at the Vanities, which features the notorious number “Sweet Marijuana” (!); and Erle C. Kenton’s adaptation of the stage satire Search for Beauty (also ’34), with Ida Lupino and Buster Crabbe. This boxed set, the first in the studioÃs “Universal Backlot Series,” retails for $49.98.
PRIMAL FEAR (Paramount Home Entertainment): A “Hard Evidence” special edition of director Gregory Hoblit’s award-winning 1996 debut feature, with Richard Gere as a hotshot lawyer defending a former altar boy (Edward Norton, in his screen debut), on trial for the murder of a Catholic archbishop. Aside from Norton’s Oscar-nominated (best supporting actor) turn and a solid supporting cast (Laura Linney, Frances McDormand, John Mahoney, Alfre Woodard), this slick courtroom melodrama is pretty routine, and goes on too long. Rated R. **
“SERGEANT PRESTON OF THE YUKON” — COMPLETE SEASON 1 (Infinity Entertainment Group/Falcon Picture Group): Based on a long-running radio program, Richard “Dick” Simmons essays the title role in all 33 episodes from the 1955-’56 CBS-TV series, that of a fearless Royal Canadian Mounted Police sergeant who encounters danger and adventure on a regular (or at least weekly) basis in the Alaskan wilderness during the 1890s Gold Rush. This five-disc boxed set retails for $39.98.
THE SKULLS TRILOGY (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A DVD triple feature ($19.98 retail) consisting of the original 2000 thriller (*1/2), depicting a secret and powerful college society, and the two direct-to-video sequels, which followed in 2002 and ’03. The first and third film are rated PG-13, the second is rated R.
SPECTACULAR! (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Nolan Gerard Funk plays a rebellious teen rocker who joins the title group, a high-school show choir competing in the national championships, in this teen comedy that premiered on Nickelodeon. This special-edition DVD, which includes bonus song tracks, retails for $24.94.
“THE STARTER WIFE” — SEASON ONE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Debra Messing (also an executive producer) stars in all 10 episodes from the 2008 season of the serio-comic USA Network series, based on the best-selling novel by Gigi Levangie Grazier (who’s also an executive producer), which depicts the efforts of the ex-wife of a Hollywood mogul (David Alan Basche) who is determined to start her life over. This boxed set retails for $34.98.
“SUSPENSE” — THE LOST EPISODES, COLLEC- TION 3 (Infinity Entertainment Group/Falcon Picture Group): A selection of 30 episodes from the half-hour CBS-TV anthology series that ran — live on the air — from 1949 to ’53 and presented tales of the eerie and the macabre. In 1954, the series earned an Emmy Award nomination as best mystery, action and adventure program. Bernard Herrmann composed the theme, and guest stars include such notables as Boris Karloff, Walter Matthau, Eddie Albert, Jackie Cooper, Hume Cronyn, Lloyd Bridges, Jack Warden, Steven Hill, George Reeves, Walter Slezak, Stella Adler and many others. This four-disc boxed set, which completes the “Suspense” Collection, retails for $39.98.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2009, Mark Burger