Mark Burger’´s DVD Vault

by Mark Burger

PSYCHO (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A new, two-disc special edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic — one of the most debated and influential films of the last 50 years, and also one of the greatest. In a performance so legendary that it hindered his subsequent career, Anthony Perkins plays Norman Bates, proprietor of the Bates Motel, located on a lonely stretch of the California highway. On the surface, Norman’s a nice enough fellow, a little shy and unduly harangued by his unseen mother, who seems rather a jealous sort. Enter Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), who has just embezzled $40,000 from her employer and stops at the Bates Motel to think things over. She and Norman enjoy a friendly chat, after which she retires to her room and takes the most memorable shower in the history of cinema. Adapted by Joseph Stefano from Robert Bloch’s novel and based on real-life serial killer Ed Gein, this is Hitchcock Supreme. It simply couldn’t be any better — as Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake proved — and has lost none of its impact as a thriller and as a black comedy. (There are some very funny and very dark moments to be savored here.) The film was a huge box-office hit and earned four Academy Award nominations: best director, supporting actress (Leigh), cinematography (black-and-white) and art direction/set decoration (black-and-white). How Bernard Herrmann’s score (all strings) was overlooked is an Academy mystery. A great cast also includes Vera Miles, John Gavin, Simon Oakland, John McIntire, Lurene Tuttle and, best of all, Martin Balsam as private investigator Milton Arbogast, whose walk up the staircase of the Bates House packs as much of a wallop as the shower scene. And remember: “A boy’s best friend is his mother.” Rated R. ****


BABY MAMA (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): High-powered Philadelphia executive Tina Fey wants a baby, so she hires slovenly Amy Poehler as a surrogate mother — and then the fun begins. This enjoyable, if lightweight, high-concept comedy gets a lot of mileage out of its enjoyable cast, which also includes Sigourney Weaver, Greg Kinnear, Dax Shepard, Maura Tierney, Holland Taylor, a ponytailed Steve Martin (as Fey’s boss) and Romany Malco, who steals the show as a doorman who’s seen it all — or so he thinks. Rated PG-13. **’½

THE COMPLETE HISTORY OF THE CLEVELAND BROWNS (NFL Films/Warner Home Video): This two-disc collector’s set ($26.95 retail) recounts the 62-year history of Cleveland’s professional football franchise, which won four championships (in the pre- Super Bowl days) and over the years boasted in its lineup such star players as Bernie Kosar, Chuck Noll (later a successful NFL coach), Mike Pruitt, Ozzie Newsome and Jim Brown, who might have been the best of them all.

ESPN ULTIMATE NASCAR: THE FAMILIES (ESPN Home Entertainment/Genius Products): This special-edition DVD ($16.95 retail) celebrates the family dynasties of such professional auto racers as the Allisons (Donnie, Bonny and Davey), the Earnhardts (Ralph, Dale and Dale Jr.) and the Pettys (Richard and Kyle).

“GIRLFRIENDS” — THE FIFTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 22 episodes from the 2004-’05 season of the long-running (and still-running), awardwinning ensemble comedy series, now broadcast on the CW Network, which follows the lives of four female friends (Tracie Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks, Jill Jones and Persia White) in Los Angeles. This boxed set retails for $36.98.

“JAG” — THE SEVENTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 24 episodes from the 2001-’02 season of the long-running, prime-time military drama focusing on the cases brought to the attention of the Judge Advocate General’s crack team of investigators. The series earned an Emmy nomination that season for outstanding music composition (dramatic underscore) for a series (for the episode “Adrift, Part 2”). This boxed set retails for $55.98.

LINEWATCH (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Cuba Gooding Jr., who once won an Academy Award, plays a border patrolman whose past comes back to haunt him when he is blackmailed by members of his former gang into aiding and abetting a drug deal. Well-acted but routine. Nice work by Omari Hardwick and Evan Ross as two of those gangstas. Rated R. **

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S ANIMAL HOUSE (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): A 30 th -anniversary edition of John Landis’ groundbreaking 1978 slapstick comedy depicting the misadventures of the members of Delta House, the worst fraternity on the campus of Faber College (founder Emil Faber’s legend: “Knowledge is good”) back in ’62. This was the first R-rated movie I ever saw in a theater and boy, was my Mom pissed. And boy, do I feel old. John Belushi (in his screen debut) heads an enthusiastic ensemble cast that includes Tim Matheson, John Vernon, Verna Bloom, NCSA graduate Tom Hulce, Peter Riegert, Karen Allen, Stephen Furst, Bruce McGill, Cesare Danova, Mark Metcalf, James Daughton, Kevin Bacon and Donald Sutherland as Prof. Jennings, whose lecture on John Milton (of Paradise Lost fame) is a highlight. The dialogue is endlessly quotable, and Elmer Bernstein’s poker-faced score is great. This special-edition DVD includes retrospective documentaries and more. The two-disc edition retails for $19.98; a gift set (in the shape of the Delta House, which makes shelving it a challenge) retails for $34.98. Rated R. ***

“THE NEW ADVENTURES OF OLD CHRISTINE” — THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 22 episodes from the 2006-’07 season of the popular prime-time CBS-TV sitcom with Julia Louis- Dreyfus (Emmy nominee for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series) as a single mother navigating the treacherous waters of dating and post-divorce stress — with her neuroses in full bloom much of the time. Clark Gregg plays her ex-husband and Trevor Gagnon their son. This four-disc boxed set retails for $39.98.

“PROM QUEEN” (Shout! Factory): All 95 episodes from the 2007 season of the popular broadband series and its companion series, “Summer Heat,” are included in this specialedition DVD ($19.99 retail), detailing the intense, sometimes insane, competition among five candidates for the title honor during senior year at Edward Adams High School. The series earned an Emmy nomination as outstanding broadband program (drama).

RINGSIDE ALI (ESPN Home Entertainment/ Genius Products): A four-disc collector’s set ($34.95 retail) that chronicles the life and career of three-time heavyweight boxing champion and world icon Muhammad Ali. This specialedition boxed set includes 15 of Ali’s most legendary fights (including those against Sonny Liston, George Foreman and Joe Frazier) and a 3’½-hour documentary originally broadcast on ABC Classic Wide World of Sports.

RODAN (**)/WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (**) DOUBLE DISC COLLECTOR’S SET (Classic Media): A twin bill of Japanese monster movies from the golden era. The former, made in 1956, tells the origin of one of the most popular of the Japanese monsters, that of the winged terror Rodan. The latter, made in 1966, pits two shaggy humanoid creatures against each other — with token American star Russ Tamblyn lackadaisically observing from the sidelines — while Tokyo collapses. Both films were directed by Ishiro Honda. Rodan still holds up pretty well, and although War of the Gargantuas is pretty bad, it’s got plenty of action and lots of those miniatures that get blown up and trampled so well. This special-edition DVD, which retails for $19.95, includes both the Japanese and American versions of both films.

“SILVERHAWKS” — SEASON 1, VOLUME 1 (Warner Home Video): A collection of the first 32 episodes from the 1986 (and only) season of the animated sci-fi series from the same producers as “Thundercats.” The two series’ shared quite a few of the same creative talent, as well. This four-DVD boxed set retails for $44.98.

STUCK (Image Entertainment): Stuart Gordon’s grisly, hard-hitting black comedy stars Mena Suvari (also an associate producer) as a young nurse who accidentally hits downon-his-luck ex-businessman Stephen Rea with her car… and then leaves him stuck, alive and writhing in agony, in her windshield while she decides what to do. Suvari, Rea and Russell Hornsby (as Suvari’s drug-dealing boyfriend) are first-rate, and this film has a lot to say about the human condition… and it ain’t pretty. Incredibly enough, based on a true story. Rated R. ***

THE TIGER BLADE (MonoFilm/BCI): A nonsensical but irresistible Thai crime thriller (originally titled Seua Khaap Daap), which pits cops against robbers in an action-packed quest for a sacred sword. Oh, did I forget to mention that both cop and criminal possess mystical powers of invincibility? Plenty of fisticuffs and firepower, with a refreshing tongue-incheek attitude combined with the usual fistin-face motif. The English-dubbed version is recommended. ***

VERTIGO (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): Speaking of two-disc Alfred Hitchcock special editions, here’s the 50 th – anniversary one for the Master’s 1958 romantic thriller with James Stewart as an agoraphobic private investigator obsessed with Kim Novak (who wouldn’t be?), especially after she dies… or did she really die? There’s plenty of sexual and psychological undercurrent to these intricately tricky proceedings, and although many devotees consider this to be among Hitchcock’s greatest films, yours truly has always found it just a trifle remote… but that’s in no way a condemnation (or even a major criticism!). Stewart is superb, Novak’s never been better and San Francisco has never looked more spectacular. Oscar nominations for best art direction/set decoration and sound. Rated PG. ***’½

WARREN MILLER’S PLAYGROUND (Shout! Factory): Skiing enthusiasts need no introduction to filmmaker Warren Miller, who’s been making documentaries on the subject for nearly 60 years. Here, he follows the exploits of such “free-ride” skiers as Jon Olsson, Zach and Reggie Crist, Dan Treadway and others, while Olympic gold medalist Jonny Moseley provides narration. The DVD retails for $19.99 and the Blu-ray for $29.99.

WATCHING THE DETECTIVES (Genius Products): Comedian/screenwriter Paul Soter makes his directorial debut with this romantic comedy, starring Cillian Murphy as a video-store clerk who meets his match in adventurous Lucy Liu. Initially ingratiating, with some inspired bits and on-liners (and clips of Squeeze Play on TV in one scene), this eventually becomes irritating and never recovers. This played a couple of film festivals but not really anywhere else. *’½

ZOMBIE STRIPPERS (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): As a result of a secret government experiment gone awry, flesh-eating zombies lay siege to a Nebraska strip club run by Robert Englund where the featured act is Jenna Jameson. Get ready for a lap-dance like you’ve never seen before. Raunchy, gory, silly… pretty much what you’d expect. At least it’s not dull. Based on Eugene Ionesco’s absurdist classic Rhinoceros (replete with in-jokes). Rated R (also available in an unrated edition). **

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