Mark Burger’s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger


GHIDORAH, THE THREE-HEADED MONSTER (Classic Media): Japan’s Toho Studios struck box-office gold by uniting Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra against the title terror in this 1964 monster mash, released in a special-edition DVD that includes both the original Japanese version and the (dubbed) American version, which was released stateside in ’65. The pristine restoration of the picture sometimes makes the wires glaringly obvious, but also showcases the miniature work – which still holds up and, with those four monsters on hand, gets knocked down in spectacular fashion. Most of the Godzilla films retain a certain charm for the kid in all of us, and this is no exception. ** 1/2

INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER (Classic Media): Better known under one of its American titles, Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, this sci-fi spectacular remains one of the more well-known – and beloved – in the entire Godzilla canon. The inhabitants of Planet X, who favor a wardrobe that would do Devo proud, have a problem: King Ghidorah (whom they dub “Monster Zero”). So they ask Earth if they can “borrow” Godzilla and Rodan to vanquish this inter-stellar menace. Earth agrees, but it’s all a ruse – Planet X intends to conquer Earth and will use the three monsters to achieve this nefarious goal. There’s plenty of rock-’em, sock-’em monster action as Godzilla, Rodan and Ghidorah trample Japan underfoot. In an effort to enhance the film’s international appeal, Toho Studios tapped American actor Nick Adams (an Academy Award nominee only a few years before!) to star along with Japanese favorite Akira Takadara, who’s still appearing in Godzilla movies, as a pair of astronauts doing their part to preserve humanity. The film, which was made in 1965, didn’t reach American shores until 1970 – under the title Monster Zero. By then, Adams had been dead two years – an accidental drug overdose that remains one of Hollywood’s more mysterious fatalities.


BE MY BABY (Monarch Home Video): Attractive cast does what it can with this cute but flimsy romantic comedy about a woman (René Ashton) who blackmails married men by telling them she’s had their baby after a one-night stand. Brody Hutzler, Julia Duffy and luscious Lacey Chabert are also on hand, but the mere premise is vaguely alarming. Rated PG-13. * 1/2

BROKEN VESSELS (Allumination FilmWorks): Director Todd Ziehl’s highly charged 1999 drama, laden with black comedy, stars Todd Field and Jason London as Los Angeles EMS workers who descend into drug addiction and despair. London and especially Field (now a director himself) give terrific performances, backed by Roxana Zal (also a producer), James Hong, Susan Traylor, Charlie Spradling (London’s real-life wife), Patrick Cranshaw (as “Gramps”), William Smith, Al Israel and Ron Jeremy. Stanley Kubrick receives a “special thanks” during the end credits. Rated R. ***

CRIMINAL LAW (MGM Home Entertainment/20th Century Fox Home Entertainment): In a bit of role reversal, Gary Oldman plays an attorney and Kevin Bacon the killer he defends in Martin Campbell’s atmospheric but uneven – and eventually overheated – 1988 courtroom thriller. Good supporting cast includes Tess Harper, Joe Don Baker, Elizabeth Shepherd and Karen Young, but Bacon’s startling performance is the main reason to see this. Rated R. **

FAREWELL TO THE KING (MGM Home Entertainment/Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Nick Nolte plays a World War II hero who is stranded in Borneo and becomes the ruler of a native tribe in this 1989 drama written and directed by John Milius – so it’s very much in the Joseph Conrad vein, with echoes of Rudyard Kipling (who is referenced in the film) and Joseph Campbell. A stalwart supporting cast includes Nigel Havers, James Fox, Frank McRae and John Bennett Perry (as Gen. Douglas MacArthur). A slow-moving first half is completely redeemed by an intense, action-packed second half. Rated PG-13. ***

THE GOSPEL ROAD (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment): Johnny Cash sings about the life of Jesus in this sincere but heavy-handed 1973 re-telling of the Gospels (appropriately truncated to fit an 85-minute running time). Johnny co-wrote and produced with wife June Carter Cash, who also appears as Mary Magdalene. Robert Elfstrom directed and plays Jesus, and distinguishes himself in neither capacity. (Robert Elfstrom Jr. plays the young Jesus.) The soundtrack includes songs penned by John Denver, Larry Gatlin and Kris Kristofferson. Clearly a labor of love for the Cashes, but that only goes so far – and not nearly enough here. Rated G. **

HAMMER FILM NOIR COLLECTOR’S SET (VCI Entertainment): In addition to its classic horror and sci-fi films, Britain’s Hammer Films also dabbled in low-budget film noirs during the 1950s. This boxed set, which retails for $29.99, includes the first three double-feature volumes. Volume One contains Terence Fisher’s Man Bait (AKA The Last Page) starring George Brent and Diana Dors, and Reginald LeBorg’s 1953 adaptation of Bad Blonde (AKA The Flanagan Boy) starring Barbara Payton and Sid James. Volume Two includes Paul Henreid and Lizabeth Scott in Fisher’s A Stolen Face (1952) and Fisher’s Murder by Proxy (AKA Blackout) (1954) starring Dane Clark. Volume Three contains Dane Clark and Kathleen Byron in Gambler and the Lady (1952) and Ken Hughes’ The House Across the Lake (AKA Heat Wave) (1954) starring Alex Nicol and Hillary Brooke. Each volume is available individually, retailing for $14.99 each, or as the boxed set.

JACKNIFE (LionsGate Entertainment): Robert De Niro portrays a Vietnam veteran who re-establishes contact with a troubled buddy (Ed Harris) and winds up falling for his sister (Kathy Baker) in this sympathetic, well-acted 1989 adaptation of Stephen Metcalfe’s play. Rated R. ***

THE MANHATTAN PROJECT (LionsGate Entertainment): A special edition of writer/director Marshall Brickman’s underappreciated 1986 thriller about a high-school kid (Christopher Collet) who builds an atomic bomb. Despite a solid cast (including John Lithgow and John Mahoney) and a big summer release, this engaging and smartly paced film never found its audience. Then again, distributor Twentieth Century Fox went sci-fi crazy in the summer of ’86: Aliens, The Fly, Big Trouble in Little China – so audiences might simply have had enough. Rated PG. ***

MONSTER HIGH (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Aliens invade a suburban high school in this campy 1989 spoof that tries a little too hard to reach cult status, but there are some yucks. Rated R. * 1/2

“PERRY MASON”: SEASON TWO, VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Entertainment): The first 15 episodes of the 1958-’59 season of the ever-popular CBS prime-time series starring Emmy Award winner Raymond Burr as the brilliant attorney who never seems to lose a case. Barbara Hale (as Della Street) also won an Emmy as Best Supporting Actress (Continuing Character) in a Dramatic Series, with William Hopper garnering an Emmy nomination as Best Supporting Actor. The boxed set retails for $42.99.

PRETTY COOL (MTI Home Video): A likably raunchy teen comedy, reminiscent of the “golden era” (the 1980s), with Will Burke as a geek who develops the ability to read and control people’s minds. Naturally, this entails a jaunt to the girls’ locker room at one point. Nothing spectacular, but the cast is enthusiastic, especially Amy Brassette (“Reno 911”) as Burke’s sister. Rated R. **

THE ROOST (Paramount Home Entertainment): En route to a wedding, four friends encounter rabid bats whose bites turn the victims into frenzied zombies – and all of it happens on Halloween night. Tom Noonan presides over the proceedings as an old-time horror host. Some effective moments and knowing directorial touches from Ti West, who’s a talent to watch. ** 1/2

SHADOWBOXER (Codeblack Entertainment): Cuba Gooding Jr. and Helen Mirren play hired killers and lovers who break their latest contract when the target (Vanessa Ferlito) turns out to be pregnant – and gives birth during the attempted hit. Stephen Dorff and Joseph Gordon-Levitt lend scuzziness to this extremely odd (and not entirely successful) drama that marked the directorial debut of producer Lee Daniels. It’s certainly different, that’s for sure. Filmed in – and dedicated to – the city of Philadelphia, which always earns points with me. **

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2007, Mark Burger