IN BRUGES (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Writer/director Martin McDonagh (an Oscar winner for the 2004 live-action short Six Shooter) makes a sharp feature debut with this salty black comedy starring Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as Ray and Ken, a pair of hit men cooling their heels at Christmastime in the Belgian city of Bruges.
The two have been ordered to await a phone call from their boss, Harry (Ralph Fiennes). When it comes, Ken takes the call and is ordered to kill Ray. Suffering pangs of conscience, Ken refuses and tries to help Ray escape. Unforeseen circumstances prevent this, however, and it's not long before Harry himself shows up, ready to knock them both off.
At times outrageously funny - and wonderfully off-color - there are also melancholy undertones to the story, a delicate balance that is handled deftly by McDonagh and played beautifully by the cast. There's fine work by Farrell and Fiennes, as well as by Clemence Poesy, Jordan Prentice, Elizabeth Berrington, Zeljko Ivanek and an unbilled Ciaran Hinds in supporting roles - but it's Gleeson, an actor infinitely (and exquisitely) capable of stealing scenes by the score, who dominates the proceedings. In Bruges is well worth seeking out.
Rated R. ***
ALSO ON DVD
"THE BIG EASY" - THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (MPI Home Video): All 22 episodes from the 1996-'97 season of the USA Network series, inspired by the 1987 film, in which a rule-bending New Orleans cop (Tony Crane) and a by-the-book federal agent (Susan Walters) mix business with pleasure as they fight crime in and around the city's Latin Quarter. This boxed set retails for $39.98.
"THE CELEBRITY SERIES - SOPHIA LOREN 4-FILM COLLECTION" (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A limited-edition selection of four rarely-seen feature films with the legendary screen beauty and Oscar-winning actress: Ettore Giannini's award-winning 1954 comedy Carosello Napoletano (AKA Neopolitan Carousel); opposite with Anthony Quinn, who plays the pivotal role of the 1958 historical epic Attila; in the title role of the 1962 costume drama Madame Sans-Gene; and opposite Marcello Mastroianni in Vittorio De Sica's World War II drama I Girasoli (1970), which was released as Sunflower in the US and earned Henry Mancini an Oscar nomination for best original score. This boxed set retails for $39.98.
"ER" - THE COMPLETE NINTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 22 episodes from the 2002-'03 season of the award-winning, long-running (and still going!) NBC prime-time drama created by Michael Crichton, dramatizing the daily goings-on in the emergency room of County General Hospital in Chicago. This marked the final season for Paul McCrane (Dr. Romano), Conni Marie Brazelton (Nurse Oligario) and Ellen Crawford (Nurse Wright) as regulars, and the show earned four Emmy nominations that season including outstanding guest actor (Don Cheadle) and outstanding guest actress (Sally Field) in a drama series, with a win for outstanding single-camera sound mixing for a series (for the episode "Chaos Theory"). In fact, this series has earned more Emmy nominations than any other. This boxed set retails for $49.98.
"ESPN INSIDE ACCESS - JEFF GORDON" (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): The champion NASCAR racer is profiled in this biographical documentary that retails for $19.95. Special features include interview and exclusive footage from Gordon's races.
"HOME IMPROVEMENT" - THE COMPLETE EIGHTH SEASON (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): The end of the line for Tim Allen and "Tool Time," with all 28 episodes from the 1998-'99 (and final) season of the award-winning, top-rated prime-time sitcom detailing the misadventures of TV host Tim Taylor (Allen) at work and at home. Four Emmy nominations that season with one win: Outstanding lighting direction for a comedy series. Special features include a blooper reel and the live reunion special. This boxed set retails for $23.99.
THE INTERPRETER (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): United Nations interpreter Nicole Kidman overhears a potential assassination plot, which brings burned-out Secret Service agent Sean Penn into the picture. Topical, well-made and efficient (rather than urgent), the film nevertheless benefits from some intriguing twists and the assured hand of director/executive producer Sydney Pollack, who also appears as Penn's boss. This marked the final narrative feature of Pollack, who died earlier this year. Rated PG-13. ***
"JAG" - THE SIXTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 2000-'01 season of the long-running, award-winning, prime-time military drama starring David James Elliott and Catherine Bell. The series, which ran a full 10 seasons, picked up an Emmy nomination that season for outstanding cinematography for a single-camera series (for the episode "Adrift, Part I."). This boxed set retails for $55.98.
JUMPER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Director Doug Liman's flashy but empty-headed adaptation of Simon Gould's novel stars Hayden Christensen as a young man with a remarkable ability to "jump" to anywhere in the world just by thinking about it. Along the way, he encounters Samuel L. Jackson (who's out to stop him), Rachel Bilson (who's cute), Jamie Bell (who has the same ability), Tom Hulce (who's an NCSA alumnus), Diane Lane (who has nothing to do), Kristen Stewart (ditto) and Michael Rooker (ditto). If this is meant to be the first in a series - and it plays that way - then they should have made this one better and less jumbled. A strong box-office opening was cured by a steep decline, so whether or not this franchise will continue is anybody's guess, but few are holding their breath. Rated PG-13. *½
KING OF THE GYPSIES (Legend Films): With a title like that and clear aspirations toward another Godfather, how could this 1978 Dino De Laurentiis production miss? Sterling Hayden, playing it far and wide, is Zharko Stepanowicz, the self-proclaimed "king of the Gypsies," who bestows the title upon his grandson Dave (Eric Roberts), much to the increasingly violent consternation of his son, Groffo (Judd Hirsch). "Suggested" by Peter Maas' book, this Gypsy soap opera is sometimes sincere and often overwrought, but frequently entertaining. In addition to Hayden, the scenery is chewed extensively by Shelley Winters (as Zharko's queen!), Susan Sarandon (who can get away with it), Annie Potts (who can't), Michael V. Gazzo and Hirsch (seemingly miscast but quite forceful). This was Roberts' big-screen debut, and he does a credible job of it. On the other hand, Brooke Shields (as his ill-fated younger sister) is simply terrible, and Annette O'Toole (as his girlfriend) is wasted. Cinematography by Sven Nykvist (!). Rated R. **½
THE LATHER EFFECT (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Writer/director Sarah Kelly's affectionate comedy/drama is reminiscent of an '80s version The Big Chill, as a group of high-school friends reunite for one last bash before selling the house they used to party in. (Orson Bean lives next door.) Nicely played by the ensemble cast: Eric Stoltz (also an associate producer), Ione Skye, Connie Britton, Tate Donovan, Caitlin Keats, Peter Facinelli, David Herman, William Mapother, et al. Fun soundtrack, too. Rated R. **½
LOST COLONY (Allumination FilmWorks): A speculative historical horror film depicting what actually happened to those settlers on Roanoke Island whose mysterious disappearance has baffled historians and mystery buffs for over 400 years. Broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel as Wraiths of Roanoke - which pretty much gives the ghost(s) away - this okay potboiler gets a boost from Adrian Paul in the lead role, but the CGI effects are sometimes cheesy. Rated R. **
NATIONAL TREASURE: BOOK OF SECRETS (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Producer Jerry Bruckheimer's latest box-office blowout is a sequel to the 2004 box-office hit, with Nicolas Cage & Company again embarking on a globe-trotting adventure of decoding, deciphering, downloading and derring-'do as they try to clear the family name and locate a fabled City of Gold. Jon Voight, Harvey Keitel, Diane Kruger, Justin Bartha and director/producer Jon Turteltaub all encore from the first film, joined this time by Helen Mirren, Ed Harris and Bruce Greenwood (as the President). Plenty of visual razzle-dazzle and light-hearted performances, but in the end it's more exhausting than exhilarating. Audiences didn't seem to mind, however, as this outgrossed its predecessor and earned over $200 million at the US box-office alone. Another installment is due in 2010. Rated PG. **½
"RODNEY PERRY - FUNNY BUSINESS" (Urban Home Entertainment/BCI): Popular comedian Rodney Perry makes his DVD debut with this filmed performance of his stand-up show in Birmingham, Alabama. This DVD retails for $14.98.
SIMON, KING OF THE WITCHES (Dark Sky Films): Andrew Prine dominates this uneven, low-budget 1971 drive-in favorite as a latter-day warlock at large in southern California, where he uses his powers for both good and evil... and always for his own gain. Not a horror film per se, but often a satire (clunky as it is) of the era's counter-culture. Screenwriter Robert Phippeny was reportedly a practicing warlock himself. The supporting cast includes Brenda Scott (Prine's off-screen leading lady at the time) and Andy Warhol "discovery" Ultra Violet. Rated R. **
"THE VICE" - SEASON TWO (MPI Home Video): All eight episodes (divided into four feature-length segments) from the 2000 season of the acclaimed, award-winning British television series (broadcast in the US on BBC America), dramatizing the efforts of the Metropolitan Police's vice unit to clean up the mean streets of London's West End. Ken Stott heads the cast as Inspector Pat Chappel, a hard-bitten cop with a heart. This boxed set retails for $49.98.
WEREWOLF SHADOW (Deimos/BCI): Paul Naschy reprises his role as the lycanthropic Waldemar Daninsky in this 1970 shocker that marked Naschy's first teaming with director Leon Klimovsky. Naschy also co-wrote the script under his real name, Jacinto Molina. The moral of this story seems to be: Never remove silver bullets from a werewolf's heart during an autopsy. Also known as Night of the Walpurgis, Blood Moon and the title by which it was initially released in the US, The Werewolf vs. the Vampire Woman. That version is also included on this DVD. **
XANADU (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A "Magical Music Edition" of the 1980 disaster whose box-office failure helped sound the death knell for musicals. Olivia Newton-John plays the mystical muse Kira, who inspires a frustrated young artist (Michael Beck) to pursue his dream... of opening a disco! Beck's partner in this enterprise is none other than Gene Kelly. One reviewer called this "Xana-Don't," and they weren't mistaken. Still, where else can you see Don Bluth animation, the Tubes and the music of Electric Light Orchestra all in one movie? Some of the songs (including "Magic," "Suddenly" and the title tune) are still radio perennials after all this time. Even under these mindless circumstances, there's a certain pleasure in seeing Kelly do a few more dance steps (some on roller skates!). This was director Robert Greenwald's feature debut. Look for Matt Lattanzi, who later married (and divorced) Newton-John. There's even a retrospective documentary, although, oddly enough, no mention is made of the current Broadway musical. For years after this movie, I couldn't stand ELO. Then in college I discovered how cool they really were. Rated PG. *½
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the "Two Guys Named Chris" radio show on Rock-92.
Copyright 2008, Mark Burger