Mark Burger’´s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger

NIXON (Buena Vista Home Entertainment): A special “election year edition” of Oliver Stone’s fascinating, flawed biographical drama tracing the life and career of the 37 th president of the United States, played with an inspired (and deeply internalized) passion by Anthony Hopkins, who scored an Academy Award nomination as best actor for his performance. Not unlike his 1991 hit JFK, Stone goes for broke with a fragmented, gonzo style that jumps back and forth in chronology. But whereas JFK depicted an event from various points of view, this film depicts a life — and a more straightforward, linear approach might have been the way to go, especially in a film nearly three hours long. This version of the film is even longer, by nearly 30 minutes — and it’s sometimes a long, self indulgent haul. Nevertheless, the film is firmly anchored by the superb work of Hopkins and Joan Allen, whose exceptional turn as Pat Nixon earned her an Oscar nomination as best supporting actress. There’s also fine work from a star studded supporting cast: Paul Sorvino (as Henry Kissinger), Bob Hoskins (delightfully hamming it up as J. Edgar Hoover), EG Marshall (as attorney general John Mitchell), James Woods (as Haldeman), JT Walsh (as Erlichman), David Hyde Pierce (as John Dean) and Powers Boothe (as Alexander Haig). Released in 1995, only a year after Nixon’s death, this film was extensively debated in the media but a box-office disappointment nonetheless. Still, it earned additional Oscar nominations for best original screenplay and for John Williams’ (typically bombastic) score. Director Stone will next dramatize the life of our current president in his upcoming film, W. Rated R. ***


ALEXANDER HAMILTON (PBS Home Video/ Paramount Home Entertainment): If you’ve ever wondered about the face on a $10 bill, producer/ director Muffie Meyer’s absorbing feature-length biographical documentary (originally broadcast on PBS’ “American Experience” series), traces the often-tumultuous life and career of one of this nation’s founding fathers (1755-1804). Narrated by Colm Feore, with Bryan F. O’Byrne playing Hamilton in dramatized segments, while historians and biographers weigh in on the man who wrote the Federalist Papers, was the first Secretary of the Treasury, was castigated for an adulterous affair, was ultimately (and probably needlessly) killed in a duel with political foe Aaron Burr and is described by one observer as “a great statesman and a terrible politician.” ***

“CAMP ROCK” — EXTENDED ROCK STAR EDITION (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A Disney Channel original movie that combines music and comedy, and features a special appearance by The Jonas Brothers. This special-edition DVD retails for $29.99.

“CITIZEN JIMMY” (Image Entertainment): Chicago-born comedian Jimmy Dore offers his take on current events in this stand-up performance, available on DVD for $14.98.

“DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES” — THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON: SIZZLING SECRETS EDITION (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Felicity Huffman, Teri Hatcher, Nicollette Sheridan, Marcia Cross and Eva Longoria return as the women of Wisteria Lane in all 17 episodes from the 2007-’08 of the popular, satirical ABC-TV prime-time soap opera, with Dana Delany joining in the fun. Four Emmy nominations, including two for outstanding guest actress in a comedy series (both Polly Bergen and Kathryn Joosten). This boxed set, which retails for $59.99, includes audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and bloopers.

DICK TRACY’S G-MEN (VCI Entertainment): Ralph Byrd returns as the tenacious G-Man, hot on the trail of nefarious spy Zarnoff (Irving Pichel), in this 15-chapter 1939 serial based on Chester Gould’s popular comic character. Stardom would soon beckon for leading lady Phyllis Isley once she changed her name to Jennifer Jones. This special-edition DVD retails for $29.99.

THE DOORS (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Years before depicting the life of Richard Nixon on the big screen, Oliver Stone dramatized the life of rock star Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) in this 1991 rock ‘n’ roll saga, now making its debut in the Blu-ray format ($29.98 retail). Conjecture abounds about how factual this depiction is, but in terms of cinematic razzle-dazzle, Stone is at the peak of his powers, and Kilmer’s performance is stunning. Rated R. ***’½

“HE-MAN AND THE MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE” — VOLUME THREE (Mattel/BCI): The final 13 episodes from the 2003 season of the award-winning animated series that aired on the Cartoon Network and was based on the popular line of Mattel toys in the 1980s. This boxed set, which retails for $26.98, includes such special features as interviews, audio commentaries, image galleries and more.

“HEROES” — SEASON 2 (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): All 11 episodes from the 2007-’08 season of the popular, award-winning NBC-TV prime-time series about a group of ordinary people from around the world who suddenly find themselves possessing remarkable abilities, which can be used for goo … or evil. The series picked up an Emmy nomination for outstanding art direction for a single-camera series (for the episode “Out of Time”). This boxed set, which includes plenty of fan-friendly extras including deleted scenes, audio commentaries and a sneak peek at the third season, retails for $39.98.

“HONEY WEST” — THE COMPLETE SERIES (VCI Entertainment): All 30 episodes from the Aaron Spelling-produced ABC-TV series which ran from 1965-’66 and stars Anne Francis in the title role, that of a foxy private eye (and martial artist) who’s as lethal as she is lovely. John Ericson plays partner Sam Bolt, with Irene Hervey as Aunt Meg and Bruce (Honey’s pet ocelot) lending support. This was spun off from an episode of “Burke’s Law,” also produced by Spelling. Guest stars include Kevin McCarthy, Bert Parks, Lloyd Bochner, Nehemiah Persoff, Warren Stevens, Mimsy Farmer, James B Sikking, Michael J Pollard, Bobby Sherman, Joe Don Baker, Edd Byrnes, Everett Sloane, Richard Kiel, Wayne Rogers and even Dick Clark. In 1966, Francis scored an Emmy nomination for outstanding continued performance by an actress in a leading role in a dramatic series, and won the Golden Globe as best TV star (female). This show was very much a favorite of young boys (and grown-up boys, too) during its prime time run. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

“KING OF THE CAGE” COMBAT COLLECTION — VOLUME 2 (Elite XC/BCI): A selection of championship matches in mixed martial-arts competition, originally broadcast on Pay-Per-View and featuring the likes of Aaron “Slam” Wetherspoon, Manny “The Mangler” Tapia, Thomas “The Wildman” Denny, LaVerne Clark and others. This DVD retails for $14.98.

LOVE AND OTHER FOUR LETTER WORDS (One Village Entertainment/Image Entertainment): Tangi Miller (also billed as a producer and the executive producer) plays a workaholic Chicago TV host who tries to fool her ailing grandmother (Alona Wright) by finding a fiancée and getting married. Needless to say, this causes all sorts of comedic confusion. No surprises here, but the attractive cast (including Flex Alexander, Marcus Patrick and Essence Atkins) tries to inject a little personality into the predictable proceedings. Rated R. **

THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): A 15 th -anniversary special-edition re-release of the beautifully rendered, award-winning 1993 animated musical, produced by Tim Burton and directed by Henry Selick, in which Jack Skellington (voice by Chris Sarandon), the mascot of Halloween, boldly tries to prove his holiday versatility by kidnapping Santa Claus and bringing his own unique touch to Christmas… with expectedly calamitous results. Danny Elfman composed the score and provided Jack’s singing voice, and does a fine job at both. Academy Award nomination for best visual effects. This was only a moderate success upon its initial release but has gained in popularity over the years. The two-disc DVD retails for $32.99, the Blu-ray disc for $39.99, and the “ultimate collector’s DVD gift set” (replete with limited-edition, hand-carved bust of Jack Skellington!) for $179.99. ***

“THE PRESIDENTS COLLECTION” (PBS Home Video/Paramount Home Entertainment): A collection of feature-length PBS documentaries focusing on the lives 10 American presidents of the twentieth century: Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Harry Truman, John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush. This boxed set retails for $129.99.

REDBELT (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The ubiquitous David Mamet continues to surprise, as he writes and directs this martial-arts melodrama (!) about a teacher (the excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor) whose personal scruples are compromised when he agrees to participate in competitive matches. An eclectic cast, not uncommon in the Mamet universe, includes Mamet regulars Joe Mantegna and Ricky Jay, Emily Mortimer, Alice Braga, David Paymer and Tim Allen, the latter inspired casting as a Hollywood action star. Rated R. ***

THE SCORPION KING 2: RISE OF A WARRIOR (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Russell Mulcahy directs this prequel to the 2002 adventure, itself a prequel and a spin-off to Universal’s Mummy series, with Michael Copon in the title role of the young warrior Mathayus, here pitted against the sadistic Sargon (Randy Coutoure), who murdered his father. Somehow,

they even throw the Greek playwright Aristophanes (played by Simon Quarterman) into the mix. More watchable than the first film, but that’s faint praise. Ray Harryhausen used to do this sort of thing so much better. Rated PG- 13. *’½

THEY DON’T CUT THE GRASS ANYMORE (Image Entertainment): John Smihula and Adam Berke play a pair of psychopathic Texas yokels who go on a rampage on Long Island, trimming lawns while also eviscerating and disemboweling the residents left and right — and always on camera. This low-rent 1985 gorefest is backyard filmmaking at its… peak? Not really, but it’s got a few laughs. This DVD special edition (!) includes an extensive interview and an audio commentary with Nathan C Schiff, the veritable one-man crew who wrote, produced, directed, edited, shot and did the makeup effects (cheesy though they are) for the film. *’½

THE WEATHER UNDERGROUND (Docurama): Sam Green and Bill Siegel’s award winning feature debut is an informative and impressive documentary that chronicles the rise, fall, and fall-out of the Weathermen, a California based student revolutionary group that protested racism and the Vietnam War by conducting a low-level assault on the US government. This fine account earned an Academy Award nomination for best documentary feature (2003). ***’½

THE YOUNG CARUSO (VCI Entertainment): This simple-minded, poorly dubbed 1951 biographical drama depicts the early life of famed opera singer Enrico Caruso (1873-1921) in purely soap-opera terms. Maurizio de Nardo (in his screen debut) plays Caruso as a boy and Ermanno Randi (in one of his last films) plays him as a young man. Young Gina Lollobrigida plays the object of Caruso’s affections. Noted tenor Mario del Monaco does the singing. Ostensibly based on Frank Thiess’ two-volume Caruso biography, this DVD does boast a bonus selection of rare recordings of the actual Caruso. *’½

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2008, Mark Burger