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Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger

PICK OF THE WEEK:

THE MONSTER SQUAD (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Although it was ignored by critics and audiences when released in the summer of 1987, Fred Dekker’s affectionate homage to the horror films of yesteryear found its cult on cable television and now returns in a 20th anniversary, double DVD special edition.

When the world’s most infamous monsters – led by Count Dracula (Duncan Regehr) – converge in Smalltown, USA, it’s clear that there’s something diabolical afoot, and it falls to a group of movie-mad adolescents to prevent the Drac Pack from obtaining a magical amulet that will give them the power to rule the world.

Imaginative and engaging throughout, this is a film with a lot of heart and a lot of smarts. The in-jokes come fast and furious, but never at the expense of the story. This is most definitely a kids’ movie, but it also has some scary and thrilling moments – more than enough to satisfy older children and grown-ups.

There’s nice work from the adult actors, especially Regehr’s ruthless Dracula and Tom Noonan as an oddly endearing Frankenstein’s Monster, and equally impressive work from the younger thespians on board: Andre Gower, Robby Kiger, Ryan Lambert, scene-stealer Ashley Bank and Brent Chalem (who, sadly, died in 1997 of pneumonia at age 22). Rated PG-13. ***

ALSO ON DVD

DAVID AND LISA (Home Vision Entertainment/Image Entertainment): Keir Dullea and Janet Margolin play the title roles in Frank Perry’s sensitive 1962 drama detailing the relationship between two teenagers in a mental institution. The terrific Howard da Silva plays their psychiatrist; this was his first film role since being blacklisted in the 1950s. Filmed in and around Philadelphia (thumbs up!). Academy Award nominations for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay (Eleanor Perry). ***

THE GRAPES OF WRATH (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): John Ford’s evocative and beautifully rendered 1940 John Steinbeck adaptation is as timeless and powerful as the novel upon which it’s based. Even Steinbeck liked it. Henry Fonda (Academy Award nominee as Best Actor) has one of his signature roles as the Everyman ex-con Tom Joad, and Jane Darwell (Oscar winner as Best Suppporting Actress) plays his beleagured Ma. Equally effective are Russell Simpson (as Pa Joad) and John Carradine (as the ex-preacher Casy). Ford won the Oscar as Best Director, with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay (Nunnally Johnson), Best Editing and Best Sound Recording. Essential viewing. ****

“HAWAII FIVE-O” – THE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 25 episodes from the 1969-’70 season of the hit CBS series starring Jack Lord (and his implacable hair) as the implacable Steve McGarrett. The various guest stars include Khigh Dhiegh (as McGarrett’s arch-foe, Wo Fat), Hume Cronyn, Herbert Lom, Harry Guardino, Ricardo Montalban and Helen Hayes, the real-life mother of series co-star James MacArthur. This boxed set retails for $54.99.

LASSIE (Genius Products Inc.): The world’s most famous collie returns in this lively, sweet-natured tearjerker that (wisely) goes back to the original Eric Knight best-seller Lassie Come Home. Well-directed by Charles Sturridge, who also wrote the screenplay, with a fine cast including Peter O’Toole, Samantha Morton, John Lynch, Peter Dinklage, Jemma Redgrave, John Standing, Edward Fox, Robert Hardy, Kelly Macdonald and newcomers Hester Odgers and Jonathan Mason. The Loch Ness bit is a hoot. Does Lassie make it home in time for Christmas? What do you think? And break out the Kleenex while you’re at it. Rated PG. ***

LIFEGUARD (Paramount Home Entertainment): Sam Elliott gives one of his best performances as a thirtysomething LA lifeguard re-evaluating his priorities in Daniel Petrie’s 1976 drama co-starring Anne Archer and Parker Stevenson (later to co-star on “Baywatch”). Kathleen Quinlan steals many a scene as an infatuated teenager. There’s no way this would get a PG rating now, but it did then – and the rating stands. ***

“THE LITTLE RASCALS” – COLLECTORS’ EDITION III (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Ten full-length “Our Gang” shorts have been compiled in this package, including “Bored of Education,” which won the 1936 Academy Award as Best Short Subject. Time has not always been kind to these films, particularly when dealing with minority characters, but there’s plenty of slapstick shenanigans to savor – including such classic shorts as Divot Diggers (1936), which could almost be construed as a precursor to Caddyshack; “When the Wind Blows” (1930), featuring Edgar Kennedy as the bumbling Kennedy the Cop (“I always get my man!); and the hilarious “Mike Fright” (1934), which introduced the International Silver String Submarine Band and its riotous rendition of “The Man in the Flying Trapeze.” ***1/2

THE MARINES (Paramount Home Entertainment): This PBS documentary occasionally smacks of a recruiting poster but also provides a thorough and comprehensive history of the US Marine Corps. ***

“SABRINA, THE TEENAGE WITCH” – THE SECOND SEASON (Paramount Home Entertainment): For a good number of red-blooded American boys, scrumptious Melissa Joan Hart in the title role was enough to keep this ABC-TV sitcom going strong for more than seven seasons. Here’s all 26 episodes of the 1997-’98 season, retailing for $42.99.

“THE SECRETS OF ISIS” – THE COMPLETE SERIES (BCI): For a previous generation of red-blooded American boys, this action fantasy series was reason to get up on Saturday mornings. JoAnna Cameron plays a leggy archaeologist who possesses the powers of the goddess Isis, as well as a costume that kept a lot of young boys – including this one – glued to his TV set, no matter how hokey the story was… and it was plenty hokey. This boxed set, which retails for $29.98, includes all 22 episodes of the series (which ran from 1975 to 1976) as well as numerous DVD extras, including retrospective interviews, audio commentaries and even a new “Isis” comic book. “Oh, mighty Isis!” (add echo here).

SEVEN MEN FROM NOW (Paramount Home Entertainment): Budd Boetticher’s trim 1956 Western stars the ever-taciturn Randolph Scott as a former lawman tracking down the bank robbers who killed his wife. Lee Marvin steals the show as an opportunistic outlaw, and look fast for Stuart Whitman as a cavalry officer. Among the special features is an excellent documentary about Boetticher’s career. ***

SLOW BURN (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Wayne Beach’s convoluted thriller about an assistant DA (Jolene Blalock) who kills a man she claimed raped her… but that’s only the beginning. A good cast keeps it watchable: Mekhi Phifer (as the unfortunate victim), Ray Liotta (also a co-executive producer), LL Cool J, Taye Diggs, Guy Torry, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Joe Grifasi and the always-welcome Bruce McGill. Rated R. **

TEXAS CYCLONE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Tim McCoy – he of the 10-gallon hat – saddles up for this routine 1933 Western programmer mostly notably for its supporting cast, including a tall young fellow named John Wayne and Walter Brennan (misspelled as “Brenan”) as a crusty sheriff. It’s even got the line “This town ain’t big enough to hold the two of us.” It sure ain’t! **

THE 300 (Warner Home Video): Director Zack Snyder’s brawny, bloody and bombastic box-office smash based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel (read: comic book), depicting the legendary Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, in which 300 Spartan warriors were opposed – and outnumbered – by the Persian Army. Rated R. **1/2

THE 2006-2007 NBA CHAMPIONS: SAN ANTONIO SPURS (Warner Home Video): Or, “How the Spurs won their fourth NBA title in nine years.” There’s even a segment about Finals MVP Tony Parker and his now-wife, actress Eva Longoria. Hoop dreams, indeed! This DVD retails for $24.98.

ULTRACHRIST! (Eclectic DVD/Leisure Suit Media): Jesus Christ (Jonathan C. Green) returns to modern-day Earth to spread his message of love, but realizes his approach is somewhat out of touch. So he dons a Spandex costume and becomes a superhero. It’s not Martin Scorsese. It’s not Mel Gibson. And it’s definitely not for all tastes, but Kerry Douglas Dye’s low-budget comedy has its funny (and relevant) moments as well as an extremely likable and sympathetic turn by Green as the modern Messiah. Don Creech plays God the Father – who rues the day he created earth – and Samuel Bruce Campbell plays the New York City parks commissioner, who happens to be the Anti-Christ. Appealing Celia A. Montgomery plays Jesus’ love interest. **1/2

WHO ARE THE DEBOLTS? AND WHERE DID THEY GET NINETEEN KIDS? (Docurama): John Korty’s acclaimed 1977 documentary about a couple who added more than a dozen of refugees, orphans and handicapped children to their family. Warm-hearted without being touchy-feely, this won the Academy Award as Best Documentary Feature and an Emmy Award for Korty for Outstanding Individual Achievement in directing (for an Informational Program), as well as an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Informational Program. ***

THE WILL ROGERS COLLECTION – VOLUME ONE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): He “never met a man he didn’t like,” and during the 1920s and ’30s he was among the nation’s most popular and beloved entertainers. This four-film collection includes his final films, all of which were released in 1935, the year that Rogers died: Life Begins at Forty, Doubting Thomas, Steamboat Round the Bend (directed by John Ford) and In Old Kentucky, based on Charles Dazey’s play. This boxed set retails for $59.98.

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

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