LA CONFIDENTIAL (Warner Home Video): The best film of 1997 — Academy Awards notwithstanding — and one of the best films of the entire ’90s, gets its due with a two-disc special edition. No film is perfect, but this one’s close.
Set in the City of Angels in 1959, the complex but compelling yarn focuses on three detectives who fates are inexorably intertwined: the charismatic and smooth Jack Vincennes (Kevin Spacey), the hard-nosed and by-the-book Ed Exley (Guy Pearce) and the hard-boiled and hair-trigger Bud White (Russell Crowe).
Along with their captain, Dudley Smith (James Cromwell), they are drawn into a serpentine labyrinth of corruption that encompasses big business, big politics and big Hollywood.
All of these sordid details are duly reported by Sid Hudgens (Danny DeVito), the editor of a sleazy tabloid (hence the title), but even the power of the press is no match for the murderous machinations of a conspiracy that reaches the highest levels.
There’s nary a false note in the entire proceedings, and the ensemble cast — which also includes Kim Basinger in the best role (and performance) of her career, David Strathairn and Ron Rifkin — is peerless. This is contemporary film noir, and contemporary filmmaking, at its absolute best. The film received countless critic’s group awards and two Oscars: Best supporting actress (Basinger) and adapted screenplay (Hanson and Brian Helgeland), with an additional seven nominations: Best picture, director, cinematography, editing, sound, art direction/set decoration and original score (a masterful one by the much-missed Jerry Goldsmith). Unfortunately, LA Confidential hit that lugubrious iceberg known as Titanic, which swept the Oscars that year. The better film lost, sad to say. Rated R. ****
ALSO ON DVD
A/K/A TOMMY CHONG (Infinity Entertainment Group): Writer/producer/director Josh Gilbert’s documentary feature examines the extremely interesting circumstances by which actor/ comedian Tommy Chong was incarcerated in prison for selling novelty bongs on-line. This highly-charged diatribe against political hypocrisy is undeniably one-sided, but just as undeniably entertaining and rousing. ***
BORDERTOWN (THINKFilm): Inspired by true events, writer/director Gregory Nava’s sociallyconscious melodrama stars Jennifer Lopez as a reporter investigating multiple cases of working women being raped and killed in Juarez, Mexico — and opening a can of political worms in the process. Ambitious and well-meaning, but also preachy and heavy-handed. Despite a high-profile cast (that also includes Martin Sheen, Sonia Braga and Antonio Banderas) and overt topicality, this bypassed theatrical release. Rated R. **
“BRITISH CINEMA COLLECTION” — VOLUME 1 (VCI Entertainment): The first in a proposed series of multi-film collections commemorating Great Britain’s B-movie history. Volume 1, which retails for $29.99, includes six films: Tod Slaughter stars in 1938’s The Hooded Terror (AKA Sexton Blake and the Hooded Menace) and Crimes at the Dark House (1940), both directed by George King; Margaret Lockwood, Emlyn Williams and Roger Livesey star in Girl in the News (1940), directed by Carol Reed from a Sidney Gilliat screenplay;
Dermot Walsh and Barbara Murray star in writer/ director John Gilling’s The Frightened Man (1952); Diana Dors and George Baker star in the 1958 thriller Tread Softly Stranger, based on a Jack Popplewell play; and Donald Sinden and Kieron Moore star in The Siege of Sidney Street (1960), directed by the duo of Robert S. Baker and Monty Berman.
BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): An unrated “director’s cut” of Christophe Gans’ imaginative, award-winning 2001 arthouse hit (known in its native France as Le Pacte des Loups), in which Samuel Le Bihan and Mark Dacascos play heroes investigating a series of seemingly supernatural murders in a strange 18 th -century French province… and uncover so much more. Atmospheric, action-packed, sensual and suspenseful — and an immediate cult smash.
Many of the film’s characters have some basis in historical fact. This two-disc set retails for $19.98. It’s worth it. ***˝
“THE BUSBY BERKELEY COLLECTION” — VOLUME 2 (Warner Home Video): A fourfilm collection devoted to the classic screen work of legendary choreographer Busby Berkeley (1895-1976), with each film making its debut on homevideo: Dick Powell and Joan Blondell headline Gold Diggers of 1937 (1936), for which Berkeley was nominated for an Oscar for best dance direction (a category long gone); 1937’s Varsity Show marked the big-screen debut of sisters Rosemary and Priscilla Lane, and earned an Oscar nomination for Berkeley’s dance direction; Berkeley himself directed Hollywood Hotel (1937) with Powell, Rosemary Lane and another Lane sister, Lola; and Rosemary Lane is back, co-starring with Rudy Vallee in 1938’s Gold Diggers in Paris. The boxed set retails for $39.92; individual titles for $19.97.
“CHUCK” — THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 13 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the award-winning, prime-time NBC-TV adventure/comedy starring Zachary Levi in the title role, that of an average computer geek who is pressed into action by the CIA after critical government data is accidentally downloaded into his brain. Yvonne Strahovski and Adam Baldwin play the agents charged with protecting him. This boxed set, which retails for $39.98, includes featurettes, “declassified” scenes, and a playable demo of EA Sports’ Madden NFL 09 video game for Xbox 360. (Woo-hoo!)
“CSI MIAMI” — THE SIXTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 21 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the awardwinning, top-rated CBS-TV prime-time crime drama produced by Jerry Bruckheimer, the first spin-off from the successful “CSI.” David Caruso heads the cast as Horatio Caine, with Khandi Alexander, Emily Procter (from Raleigh, originally) and Rex Linn (who I interviewed once — nice guy) in support. This boxed set, which includes commentaries and deleted scenes, retails for $72.99.
“THE HIGH SCHOOL FLASHBACK COLLECTION” (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A triple-bill of popular ’80s comedies, all written and directed by John Hughes: his 1984 directorial debut, Sixteen Candles (***), with Molly Ringwald, Paul Dooley and Anthony Michael Hall; the 1985 ensemble comedy/drama The Breakfast Club (***), starring Ringwald, Hall, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and the much-missed Paul Gleason (as Principal Vernon); and the uneven 1985 sci-fi farce Weird Science (**), in which Hall and Ian Mitchell-Smith create Kelly LeBrock. The films are rated PG, R and PG- 13, respectively. The boxed set, in “high-school locker” packaging, retails for $39.98; individual titles for $19.98.
“LEGION OF SUPER HEROES” — VOLUME 3 (Warner Home Video): A selection of five episodes from the popular Kids WB! Saturday-morning animated series featuring a team of teenaged superheroes from the DC Comics universe, including Superman, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Timber Wolf, Braniac 5, Bouncing Boy and Phantom Girl. This boxed set retails for $14.97.
REBELLIOUS (Retromedia Entertainment/ Image Entertainment): Bernhard Pock wrote, directed and stars in this rambling, low-budget 1995 road movie as a restless writer (aren’t they all?) who takes off on an eventful, existential motorcycle journey. Along the way, he encounters Amber Tamblyn (in her film debut), Russ and Bonnie Tamblyn (Amber’s real-life parents), Ross Hagen and producers Nancy Kwan (Pock’s real-life mother) and Norbert Meisel (Kwan’s real-life husband). This was originally titled Glass Mountain after one of Pock’s poems. Sadly, Pock died of AIDS in 1996; the completed film is dedicated to his memory. **
“SMALLVILLE” — THE COMPLETE SEVENTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 20 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the ongoing, awardwinning series, now airing on the CW Television Network, dramatizing the adventures of the young Clark Kent, AKA Superman (Tom Welling).
Laura Vandervoort joins the cast as Superman’s Kryptonian cousin, Kara, AKA Supergirl. Could a spin-off be in the works? The supporting cast includes Kristin Kreuk (as Lana Lang), Michael Rosenbaum (as Lex Luthor) and John Glover (as Lex’s dad, Lionel Luthor). Bonus features include commentaries, unaired scenes and featurettes.
This boxed set retails for $79.98.
“START-UP JUNKIES” — SEASON ONE (Mojo HD/Infinity Entertainment Group): All eight episodes from the 2008 season of MOJO HD reality-TV series depicting the efforts of startup entrepreneur Ron Wiener as he and his team attempt to establish Earth Class Mail, an on-line postal service. This DVD retails for $24.98.
STRANGER ON HORSEBACK (VCI Entertainment): Joel McCrea lays down the law
in director Jacques Tourneur’s 1955 adaptation of a Louis L’Amour story, playing a 19 th -century frontier judge who clashes with town bigwig John McIntire when he arrests the latter’s son (Kevin McCarthy) for a shooting. Also on hand: Nancy Gates, Miroslava and John Carradine, the latter having a grand time as a Southern colonel-turnedattorney.
Filmed in “Ansco-Color” in Sedona, Ariz., this was thought to be a lost film for years until a print was found in, of all places, the British Film Institute. **˝
STREET KINGS (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): James Ellroy (see LA Confidential, above) penned the original screenplay for this gritty, violent crime drama with Keanu Reeves (better than usual) as a maverick cop embroiled in deception and corruption, and surrounded by the likes of Forest Whitaker, Hugh Laurie, Chris Evans, Cedric the Entertainer, John Corbett and Terry Crews — many of whom get blown away before the end credits roll. Intriguing and timely, but rather familiar. Rated R. **˝
SUPER NINJA DOLL (Retromedia Entertainment/Infinity Entertainment Group): Saucy schoolgirl Christine Nguyen is transformed into a high-flying, karate-chopping, interstellar super-heroine, and must then battle sex-crazed alien invaders in this low-budget, lowbrow outing from the ubiquitous Fred Olen Ray (directing under the pseudonym “Nicholas Medina”). Had the filmmaker concentrated more on the camp comedy than the simulated sex, this might well have been funnier. That’s my pal, filmmaker and fellow journalist Ted Newsom, in a supporting role as agent of the BSS — Bureau of Scientific Strangeness. *˝
TARZEENA (Retromedia Entertainment/Infinity Entertainment Group): Yet another bit of softcore camp from director “Nicholas Medina” (AKA Fred Olen Ray), with Christine Nguyen this time playing a jungle heroine with a taste for adventure… and other physical pursuits. *˝
THEN SHE FOUND ME (THINKFilm/Image Entertainment): Helen Hunt makes a solid feature debut as screenwriter and director of this adaptation of Elinor Lipman’s novel, in which she plays a woman enduring a mid-life crisis when she is simultaneously dumped by her husband (Matthew Broderick) and introduced to her biological mother (Bette Midler). Colin Firth again plays Mr. Right, but although the actors have played roles like this before, Hunt strikes a deft, appealing balance between pathos and comedy.
It’s a little triumph for her. Rated R. ***
TORTURED (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): James Cromwell, a few years removed from LA Confidential (see above), appears in this competent but unremarkable crime drama starring Cole Hauser as an FBI agent whose undercover assignment to nail a mysterious crime lord puts him in physical and psychological jeopardy. Laurence Fishburne, James Denton, Jon Cryer, Kevin Pollak, James Denton, Robert LaSardo and curvaceous Emmanuelle Chriqui (as the token neglected girlfriend) comprise a highprofile cast, but this bypassed theatrical release. It happens. Rated R. **
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92.
Copyright 2008, Mark Burger