Mark Burger’s Video Vault

by Mark Burger


YOUTH OF THE BEAST (The Criterion Collection): Director Seijun Suzuki’s 1963 gangster saga brought a fresh, vibrant jolt to the crime genre that took Japanese cinema by storm and influenced filmmakers the world over, some later than others.

The storyline is archetypical but the execution anything but. Joe Shishido plays Joji “Jo” Mizuno, a disgraced ex-cop who strategically pits two rival gangs against each other – a methodical revenge plot that he’s been formulating during his years in prison.

Based on a Haruhiko Oyabu novel, the film still feels fresh and vibrant, and it matter-of-factly takes an unsentimental approach when depicting prostitution, drug addiction, torture and murder. Loyalty is for suckers, and betrayal is the name of the game.

Kazue Nagatsuka’s cinematography and Hajime Okumura’s brassy score add the perfect complement to the punchy proceedings. Criterion’s DVD also includes retrospective interviews with Suzuki and Shishido. (In Japanese with English subtitles) ***1/2


“THE ADVENTURES OF YOUNG INDIANA JONES: THE WAR YEARS” (Paramount Home Entertainment): A selection of 8 episodes from the award-winning “Young Indiana Jones Chronicles” prime-time series that ran on ABC from 1992 to 1994 under the auspices of executive producer George Lucas, with our intrepid hero (Sean Patrick Flanery as a teenager and Corey Carrier as a boy) embarking on a series of real-life military exploits – and frequently playing a part in the resolution. The series earned quite a few Emmy Awards (and nominations) for its technical achievements. Guest directors include Bille August, Terry Jones, Joe Johnston and Nicolas Roeg, and various guest stars include Christopher Lee, Timothy Spall and early performances by Daniel Craig and Catherine Zeta-Jones. This boxed set retails for $129.99.

BATTLING WITH BUFFALO BILL (VCI Entertainment): A 12-chapter 1931 serial starring Tom Tyler as the Western legend “Buffalo” Bill Cody, here battling corruption and villainy in a town where gold has been discovered. The principal villain is played by one-time director Francis Ford (brother of John) and legendary stuntman Yakima Canutt also appears. This is ostensibly based on Cody’s (non-fiction?) book The West That Was. Needless to say, this isn’t the most politically correct portrayal of American Indians. This DVD retails for $29.99.

DEATH SENTENCE (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Director James Wan’s updated rendition of Death Wish stars Kevin Bacon as an all-American businessman whose son is killed by a gang, compelling him to take the law into his own hands and track the killers down… which only leads to more tragedy and violence. A surprisingly good action potboiler that, equally surprising, tanked at the box-office. Rated R (also available in an unrated edition) ***

“GUNSMOKE” – THE SECOND SEASON, VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Entertainment): The first 20 episodes from the 1956-’57 season of the long-running prime-time CBS Western starring James Arness (who earned an Emmy nomination for best continuing performance by an actor in a drama series) as Matt Dillon, the tough and incorruptible marshal of Dodge City. Guest stars include Simon Oakland, Andrew Duggan, Cloris Leachman, Mike Connors, Stuart Whitman, Angie Dickinson and Claude Akins. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

IGNITION (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): A burned-out US marshal (Bill Pullman) is assigned to protect a federal judge (Lena Olin) from a murderous conspiracy within the military. You might expect to see Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal or Wesley Snipes in a B-movie like this, but Pullman acquits himself reasonably well as an action hero. Colm Feore plays the bad guy, as he so frequently does. Rated R. **

I’M DANCING AS FAST AS I CAN (Paramount Home Entertainment): Jill Clayburgh headlines this overwrought and overacted 1982 adaptation of Barbara Gordon’s best-selling book about her battle with substance abuse, adapted by noted playwright David Rabe (Clayburgh’s real-life husband) and directed by stage veteran Jack Hofsiss (his only feature film). An amazing but mostly ill-used supporting cast includes Nicol Williamson, Geraldine Page, Joe Pesci, John Lithgow, Daniel Stern, Richard Masur, Dianne Wiest, Ellen Greene, Joseph Maher, Dan Hedaya, Jeffrey DeMunn, CCH Pounder, Robert Doqui, David Margulies and Albert Salmi. Rated R. **

INDIE SEX (Genius Products): A three-part IFC documentary mini-series tracing the evolution of sex in the cinema, with on-camera interviews featuring the likes of Rosanna Arquette, Peter Sarsgaard, John Waters, Tatum O’Neal, Piper Perabo, Ally Sheedy and latter-day burlesque queen Dita Von Teese. This two-DVD set retails for $29.95.

THE LORELEY’S GRASP (BCI Eclipse): Amando de Ossorio’s 1973 shocker takes its inspiration from a German legend about the “Loreley” (similar to the gorgon Medusa), a creature that takes the form of a beautiful woman (Helga Line) and tears the hearts out of her victims. Aside from a few stock shots of the Rhine River, the entire movie was shot in Spain (and it shows). Pretty dumb but pretty fun nevertheless – and the girls are pretty, too. The scariest thing about the film may be hero Tony Kendall’s far-out ’70s duds. This was released to the US years later as When the Screaming Stops. Rated R. **

MANEATER (Genius Products): An escaped Bengal tiger raises hell in a small Appalachian town (actually Canada) where Gary Busey (more subdued than usual) is the sheriff. Nothing original, but not bad for this sort of thing. **

“THE MOD SQUAD” – SEASON ONE, VOLUME ONE (Paramount Home Entertainment): The first 13 episodes from the 1968-’69 season of the popular, prime-time ABC series starring Michael Cole, Peggy Lipton and Clarence Williams III as three young hipsters who act as undercover agents for the LAPD. Lipton picked up an Emmy Award nomination for outstanding continued performance by an actress in a leading role in a dramatic series. Guest stars include Louis Gossett Jr., Richard Pryor, Robert Lansing, Della Reese and Joan Van Ark. The show may seem dated now, but it’s better than the movie. This boxed set retails for $42.99.

NATIONAL LAMPOON’S GOLD DIGGERS (MGM Home Entertainment/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): There’s little comic gold – but plenty of leaden gags – in this raunchy black comedy starring Will Friedle and Chris Owen as losers who marry a couple of older ladies (Louise Lasser and Renee Taylor) for their money, mistakenly believing thinking them to be rich. Then they try to kill each other. The cast tries, but to no avail. Even Nikki Ziering topless doesn’t help… much. Originally titled Lady Killers, but a dud by any name. Rated R (also available in an unrated edition) *

OSWALD’S GHOST (Paramount Home Entertainment): Robert Stone’s feature documentary zeroes in on the identity of one Lee Harvey Oswald, the man thought to have assassinated President John F. Kennedy on Nov. 22, 1963. Whatever one’s opinion about the possibility of a conspiracy, this is yet another fascinating addition to an increasingly large canon of books, studies, films and documentaries devoted to the Kennedy assassination, boasting rarely-seen archival footage and on-camera interviews with such authorities as newsman Dan Rather, former politician Gary Hart, Warren Commission critics Mark Lane and Edward Jay Epstein and, in one of his final interviews, the great Norman Mailer. This will also premiere on PBS’ “The American Experience” later this month. ***1/2

THE RAINS CAME (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Producer Darryl F. Zanuck’s engaging 1939 adaptation of the Louis Bromfield best-seller, depicting an India under British rule that is devastated by an earthquake and subsequent flooding – prompting three people (Myrna Loy, George Brent and a turbaned Tyrone Power) to re-evaluate their lives and work to rebuild the colony they call home. A first-rate soap opera that won the first Academy Award for visual effects, with additional nominations for art direction/set decoration, cinematography, editing, sound recording and original score. It’s odd, in retrospect, to see Indian characters played by non-Indian actors (the entire film was shot on the studio backlot), but this film refreshingly keeps the stereotypes to a minimum. Brent was never better as a hard-drinking wastrel who redeems himself, and the supporting cast includes Jane Darwell, Nigel Bruce, Joseph Schildkraut, Maria Ouspenskaya, Henry Travers, H.B. Warner and a luminous Brenda Joyce (in her screen debut). ***1/2

“ROB & BIG” – THE COMPLETE SEASONS 1 & 2 UNCENSORED (Paramount Home Entertainment): All 16 episodes from the MTV reality series focusing on the day-to-day misadventures of professional skateboarder Rob Drydek and his bodyguard and best bud, Christopher “Big Black” Boykin. This boxed set retails for $39.99.

SOS COAST GUARD (VCI Entertainment): A 12-chapter 1937 Republic Pictures serial pitting the heroes of the US Coast Guard (led by Ralph Byrd) against a mad genius (the incomparable Bela Lugosi), who has developed a formula for a gas that disintegrates everything. Directed by serial stalwarts William Witney and Alan Jones. This DVD retails for $14.99.

THEY CAME TO CORDURA (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Gary Cooper heads a strong cast in Robert Rossen’s 1959 adaptation of Glendon Swarthout’s novel, in which a group of US Cavalrymen (potential Medal of Honor winners) embark on a treacherous, grueling trek to the title town during the Mexican Revolution. A thoughtful but hard-hitting, and still timely, meditation on the notion of heroism and bravery, given weight by a cast that also includes Van Heflin, Rita Hayworth, Tab Hunter, Richard Conte and Michael Callan (in his screen debut). ***

WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE (**1/2)/DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR (*1/2) (Anchor Bay Entertainment): A “Demolition Double Feature” of two action films released by New World Pictures in 1987. Wanted, directed by Gary A. Sherman, is a fun, flashy update of the old Steve McQueen TV series, with Rutger Hauer as modern-day bounty hunter Nick Randall tracking down Arab terrorists (led by Gene Simmons) at large in LA. Death, directed by ace stuntman Terry Leonard, was lame attempt to turn former pro footballer (and TV’s “Hunter”) Fred Dryer into a big-screen action hero, playing a Marine gunnery sergeant battling terrorists in the Middle East. Yes indeed, once upon a time, Arab terrorists were the stock villains for action movies. Both films are rated R.

WHITE EAGLE (VCI Entertainment): Cowboy star Buck Jones plays the title role in this 15-chapter 1941 Western serial co-starring Chief Yowlachie, an actual Native American (born Daniel Simmons) from the Yakima Indian Reservation. This DVD retails for $29.99.

ZODIAC (Paramount Home Entertainment): At last, a two-disc director’s cut of David Fincher’s knockout crime drama detailing the series of murders that rocked the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960s and ’70s, baffling investigators and onlookers alike for years afterward. A terrific cast includes Jake Gyllenhaal, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Edwards, Brian Cox and Robert Downey Jr., whose performance as San Francisco Chronicle reporter Paul Avery deserves to be remembered at Oscar time. So, for that matter, does the movie itself. Based on the best-selling book by Robert Graysmith (played in the film by Gyllenhaal). This was not the box-office success it deserved to be, but is unquestionably one of 2007’s best films. Rated R. ****

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