JOHNNY HANDSOME (LionsGate Home Entertainment): With Mickey Rourke’s career on the rebound after his Oscar nomination for The Wrestler, the timing’s pretty perfect for a reissue of this gritty, overlooked 1989 adaptation of John Godey’s novel by ace director Walter Hill. Rourke’s John Sedley is a disfigured New Orleans lowlife and convict given a shot at redemption (and a parole) when he volunteers for experimental plastic surgery — performed by no less a surgeon than Forest Whitaker — that will see his misshapen facial features transformed into some semblance of normalcy. The thinking is that by making John handsome, he’ll tread on the right side of the law from now on. Cynical cop Morgan Freeman thinks it’s all bunk, and lurks on the sidelines, waiting for Johnny to step wrong. The handsome new John embarks on a romance with a fellow co-worker (the ever-lovely Elizabeth McGovern), but all the while he’s biding his time until he can exact revenge upon Rafe (Lance Henriksen) and Sunny (Ellen Barkin), the sleazebag criminals who killed his best friend (Scott Wilson) and left him to take the rap. One can find metaphors aplenty in the story should they care to look, but this works just fine as an action-packed, latter- day film noir — with the entire cast in fine form. In retrospect, this was Rourke’s last truly good film for a long while. It wasn’t a hit, but is well worth revisiting. When it comes to action, Walter Hill is one filmmaker who knows his business. Ry Cooder’s moody score is also a big plus. A major caveat: The DVD is in standard (pan and scan) format. Let’s face it: In this day and age, widescreen’s the only way to go anymore. Rated R. *** .
ALSO ON DVD
EXIT SPEED (Peace Arch Entertainment): Assault on Precinct 13 meets Speed in this well-paced B-movie that sees 10 passengers aboard a bus across Texas forced to defend themselves against a malevolent, murderous motorcycle gang — on Christmas Eve, no less! The cast also gives it a boost: Lea Thompson (who wields a mean machete), Desmond Harrington, Gregory Jbara, Everett Sifuentes and the always-welcome Fred Ward. Rated R. **
FEAR X (LionsGate Home Entertainment): John Turturro headlines this well-acted but frustrating psychological thriller as a mall security guard obsessed with solving his wife’s murder. Definitely in the David Lynch mold, but ultimately it doesn’t add up. Screenplay by director Nicolas Winding Refn and the late novelist Hubert Selby Jr. Rated PG-13. **
FIREPROOF (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Kirk Cameron (not bad) plays a fire chief trying to repair his marriage to wife Erin Bethea (not good) in this well-meaning but overwrought (and overlong), inspirational soap opera. Rated PG. * FIVE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Also known as 5ive, this 1951 Cold War parable from writer/producer/director Arch Oboler depicts a world devastated by atomic war, and the five survivors (William Phipps, James Anderson, Charles Lampkin, Earl Lee and Susan Douglas) attempting to come to terms with the end of the world as they know it. Thoughtful, direct and uncommonly mature, this rates as a little classic in the sci-fi genre. Oboler also served as the film’s production designer. ***
THE GRISTLE (Lightyear Entertainment/Warner Home Video): Producers Mychal Wilson and Eugene “Geno” Taylor make their starring debuts as Hollywood orderlies caught up in a series of mix-ups involving both an illicit drug deal and a organ black market. This funny, fast-talking, Tarantino-esque black comedy from screenwriter/director David Portlock also features Michael Dorn, Orson Bean, Richard Riehle and Barry Corbin — and was actually funded by a Small Business Administration loan. ***
I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/director Philippe Claudel’s moving, award-winning drama stars Kristin Scott Thomas as a woman released from prison after 15 years, trying to re-adjust to life outside and to repair the relationship with her younger sister (Elsa Zylberstein). Both actresses are in top form. Rated PG-13. *** “JAG” —
THE EIGHTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): David James Elliott and Catherine Bell are on the case (again) in all 24 episodes from the 2002-’03 season of the long-running, award-winning primetime drama focusing on the legal issues and court cases which confront members of the US military. A single Emmy nomination that season — for outstanding musical composition for a series (for the episode “Need to Know”). This boxed set retails for $55.98. By the way, “JAG” stands for Judge Advocate General.
THE LODGER (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Based on Marie Belloc Lowndes’ 1913 novel (also the basis for Alfred Hitchcock’s first talkie), this thriller about Jack the Ripper has been updated — none too gracefully — and the action transplanted to Hollywood, with Alfred Molina as the cop on the killer’s trail. The high-profile cast includes Hope Davis, Donal Logue, Shane West, Rachael Leigh Cook, Rebecca Pidgeon, Philip Baker Hall and Simon Baker (in the title role), but this is lukewarm at best. Good score by John Frizzell. Rated R. **
LULLABY (Peace Arch Entertainment): Melissa Leo adds intensity to this otherwise routine melodrama about a mother who travels to Johannesburg in order to save her estranged son from drug dealers. Oddly enough, the DVD box says that this is in full-frame, but it’s actually widescreen. ** MOVING MIDWAY (First Run Features): Film criticturned- filmmaker Godfrey Cheshire examines his family’s history in this easy-going, award-winning documentary feature that focuses on the circumstances surrounding his relatives’ decision to move the family’s ancestral home in North Carolina to a new location — and the surprises in store for them along the way. ***
“THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS 10 GREATEST GAMES COLLECTOR’S EDITION” (NHL/ Warner Home Video): With the Stanley Cup playoffs fast approaching, this 10-disc boxed set ($49.98 retail) recounts the greatest games in the 37-year history of the NHL franchise, which won an unprecedented four championships between 1980-‘83, as selected by the. All games are the original and complete broadcasts. Disc 1 features the Islanders’ clinching win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, which was not a happy day for me.
THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Maggie Smith won the Academy Award as best actress for director Ronald Neame’s 1969 adaptation of the Muriel Spark novel (previously adapted for the stage by screenwriter Jay Presson Allen), portraying a free-thinking schoolteacher in 1930s Edinburgh whose attitudes and opinions ultimately cause her undoing. A little talky at times, but Smith is the grandest of dames. Also on hand: Robert Stephens (Smith’s real-life husband at the time), Gordon Jackson, Pamela Franklin and Celia Johnson. Rod McKuen’s theme song also earned an Oscar nomination. Rated PG. ***
RETURN OF THE MAN FROM UNCLE: THE FIFTEEN YEARS LATER AFFAIR (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Robert Vaughn and David Mc- Callum reprise their roles as respective super-spies Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in this fun-filled, nostalgia-laden 1983 made-for-TV espionage romp based upon their popular prime-time series (which ran from 1964-’68), in which they are once again called upon to do battle with the nefarious forces of the international crime syndicate
THRUSH, which has stolen a nuclear warhead. Patrick Macnee plays the head of UNCLE (which stands for “United Network Command for Law and Enforcement”); Anthony Zerbe, Geoffrey Lewis and Keenan Wynn are the baddies; Gayle Hunnicutt is the femme fatale; and one-time James Bond George Lazenby reprises the role in a breezy cameo. Great fun, especially for fans of the old series. ***
ROCKNROLLA (Warner Home Video): Guy Ritchie’s latest shoot-‘em-up involves plenty of the action and snappy patter for which he’s renowned, as stolen loot, a stolen painting and a series of double-crosses endanger the efforts of an English crime lord (Tom Wilkinson) in the midst of an international transaction. A shrewd cast includes Gerard Butler, Jeremy Piven, Mark Strong, Thandie Newton, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges, Tom Hardy and Toby Kebbell. The theatrical release was unaccountably spotty, so here’s its second opportunity to find favor — and it will. Available as a single DVD ($27.95 retail), a two-disc special edition ($34.99 retail), or a Blu-ray disc ($35.99 retail). Rated R. ***
SCREAMERS: THE HUNTING (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Killer robots are on the rampage in this belated follow-up to the 1995 sci-fi thriller, which was loosely based on a Philip K. Dick story. Ever notice how most Dick adaptations are “loosely” based on his work? Some grisly moments and a brief appearance by Lance Henriksen toward the end, but otherwise this is familiar stuff. In this case, familiarity tends to breed contempt. Rated R. *
TRANSPORTER 3 (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Jason Statham headlines another mindless barrage of violence. One of last year’s worst movies, it’s available as a single DVD ($29.95 retail), a two-disc special edition ($34.98 retail), or a two-disc Blu-ray ($39.99 retail). Rated PG-13. *
“UFC 11: THE PROVING GROUND”/”UFC 12: JUDGMENT DAY” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The latest installments in the Ultimate Fighting Championship series, each one retailing for $19.98. “UFC 11” features such heavy hitters as David “Tank” Abbott, Mark “The Hammer” Coleman and Brian Johnston, while “UFC 12” boasts a lineup that includes Coleman, Vitor Belfort and Dan “The Beast” Severn.
WATCHMEN: THE COMPLETE MOTION COMIC (Warner Premiere): In conjunction with the theatrical release of the new movie, this animated, 12-chapter rendition of the Alan Moore’s award-winning comic book/graphic novel (overseen by original illustrator Dave Gibbons) recounts the origins of the superheroes who defend justice and freedom in an alternative universe on Earth, circa 1985… which was kind of an alternative universe anyhow. The two-disc DVD retails for $29.98, the Blu-ray special edition for $34.99. In addition, Warner Home Video’s Warner Premiere label is releasing “Watchmen: Tales of the Black Freighter,” an animated story depicting one of the stories-within-the story of Watchmen, featuring the voices of Gerard Butler and Jared Harris. This special-edition DVD ($27.95 retail) or Blu-ray ($35.99) also includes “Under the Hood,” a live-action faux documentary tracing the origins of Nite Owl.
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2009, Mark Burger