Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


ZODIAC (Paramount Home Entertainment): David Fincher’s spellbinding dramatization of the murder spree that rocked northern California in the 1960s and ’70s is, quite simply, among the year’s best films. Both a marvel of storytelling and a dazzling display of Fincher’s directorial prowess, the film never sacrifices character or intensity as it details the murders and the subsequent investigation. This film captures the time, the place and the paranoia. That it’s a true story lends it a chilling urgency, even if the outcome is common knowledge. The case becomes an obsession for detectives Dave Toschi (Mark Ruffalo) and Bill Armstrong (Anthony Edwards), both of whom diligently follow every lead as the bodies pile up, and for San Francisco Chronicle cartoonist Robert Graysmith (Jake Gyllenhaal) – upon whose book the film is based – and crime reporter Paul Avery (Robert Downey Jr.), who ultimately self-destructs due to the pressure. The superb ensemble cast also includes Brian Cox (as attorney Melvin Belli), Chloe Sevigny, Elias Koteas, Donal Logue, John Carroll Lynch, Candy Clark, Charles Fleischer, Dermot Mulroney, Philip Baker Hall and Clea DuVall. There’s nary a false note struck in the entire movie, no mean feat when you consider that it runs nearly three hours. And you’ll never listen to Donovan’s “Hurdy-Gurdy Man” the same way again. Alas, the DVD contains no special features whatsoever – not even a trailer. Hopefully, a special edition is imminent. Rated R. ****


ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER PLACE (Paramount Home Entertainment): An okay World War II soap opera from 1958, with Lana Turner as an American war correspondent who attempts to piece together the life of the BBC radio reporter (Sean Connery) she was having an affair with. Good cast also includes Glynis Johns (as Connery’s wife), Barry Sullivan (as Turner’s boss) and Sid James. **1/2

BANJO HACKETT (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Andrew V. McLaglen’s 1976 TV movie stars Don Meredith as a charming, wily horse trader who adopts his orphaned nephew (Ike Eisenmann). Clearly a pilot for “Dandy Don” (then riding high on “Monday Night Football”), and not too hot – but you’ve gotta love that supporting cast: Chuck Connors, Slim Pickens, LQ Jones, Jeff Corey, Dan O’Herlihy, Anne Francis and Jennifer Warren. **

“BIRDMAN AND THE GALAXY TRIO”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Warner Home Video): The entire Hanna-Barbera animated series (21 episodes) that ran on Saturday mornings from 1967 through 1969, and later became the basis for the Cartoon Network Adult Swim take-off, “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law.” This collector’s set retails for $26.99.

CRAZY LEGS CONTI: ZEN AND THE ART OF COMPETITIVE EATING (Blue Underground): Chris Kenneally and Danielle Franco’s light-hearted (and lightweight) documentary follows the aspirations of a professional competitive eater in New York City. **1/2

DEATH OF A SALESMAN (Kultur): It’s great to see Lee J. Cobb, who originated the role, playing Willy Loman in this 1966 CBS-TV production of the Arthur Miller classic, directed by Alex Segal, who took home the Emmy Award. A superb supporting cast includes George Segal, James Farentino, Gene Wilder and Mildred Dunnock, who also originated the role of Linda on stage (but who also got to star in the 1951 film). Cobb and Dunnock picked up Emmy nominations, and Miller also won a special Emmy. One of the truly great American plays of the twentieth century, and this is a sterling rendition, albeit an abridged one. ***1/2

DESK SET (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The incomparable pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn shines again in this 1957 romantic comedy – their eighth film together and the first in color – involving the computerization of a TV network. Bright and cheerful throughout, with a pleasing supporting cast including Dina Merrill and Neva Patterson (who contribute an audio commentary), Joan Blondell and Gig Young. Amusingly enough, Tracy and Hepburn don’t even smooch until the last scene! ***1/2

DOGFIGHT OVER GUADALCANAL (Paramount Home Entertainment): An interesting PBS documentary recounting an intense aerial duel between two pilots – one American, one Japanese – during the Pacific Theatre in 1942. ***

THE MASUTATSU OYAMA TRILOGY (BCI Eclipse/Ronin Entertainment): Martial-arts superstar Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba portrays real-life martial-arts master Mas Oyama in three feature films included in this collection: Karate Bull Fighter (1975), Karate Bear Fighter and Karate for Life (both 1977). Oyama was, in fact, Chiba’s own teacher and master – and it’s common knowledge that Chiba is a huge influence on Quentin Tarantino. This boxed set retails for $24.98.

NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (VCI Entertainment): A special edition of a low-budget but quite watchable exploitation film pitting actual members of Detroit’s Scorpions Motorcycle Club against corrupt cops and assorted “establishment” figures. Originally titled Freedom RIP, this was made in 1972 but not released until 1976 – by which time its essential allegory was dated. Directed, produced and photographed by Thomas Dyke and William Dear (who later made Harry and the Hendersons), both of whom contribute individual commentaries. The voice for lead character Chris (David Hyry) is dubbed by Nick Nolte in one of his first professional jobs, and the score is by former Monkee Michael Nesmith. Rated R. **

THE RAINMAKER (Paramount Home Entertainment): A “special collector’s edition” of Francis Ford Coppola’s 1997 adaptation of John Grisham’s best-seller, starring Matt Damon playing – what else? – an idealistic young attorney who takes on an insurmountable case and… well, you can guess the rest. Lots of familiar faces on hand: Danny DeVito, Mickey Rourke (very good), Claire Danes (not so good), Jon Voight, Mary Kay Place, Dean Stockwell, Roy Scheider, Virginia Madsen (always hot), Teresa Wright (her last film) and an unbilled Danny Glover. Rated PG-13 **1/2

“SPACE GHOST AND DINO BOY”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Warner Home Video): The entire Hanna-Barbera animated series that ran on Saturday mornings from 1966 through 1968, and later became the basis for the Cartoon Network Adult Swim take-off, “Space Ghost: Coast to Coast.” Gary Owens (of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” fame) provided the voice for Space Ghost. This collector’s set retails for $26.99.

“TALES FROM THE CRYPT”: THE COMPLETE SIXTH SEASON (Warner Home Video): All 15 episodes from the 1994-’95 season of the grisly, giddy HBO series based on William Gaines’ legendary EC Comics. It even picked up an Emmy nomination for Best Costume Design that season (for the episode “Whirlpool.”) The boxed set retails for $39.98.

ZODIAC KILLER (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Producer/director/co-star Ulli Lommel adapts his own story for this cheap, uninspired thriller about a deranged teenager (Vladimir Maksic) who picks up where the original Zodiac Killer left off. The title song is sung by Pink, the pre-credit “warning” is a joke, and it’s almost impossible to believe that a film about the Zodiac case could be so tawdry and flat… but this is. Rated R. 1/2

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