Video Vault

by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEKTHE GREEN HORNET (VCIEntertainment): With a long-gestating,big-budget Hollywood remake in theoffing (reportedly with Seth Rogan),what better time to re-release theoriginal 1940 serial — that’s all 13action-packed chapters, folks! — thatpurported to depict the origin of thecharacter, based not on a comic bookbut on creator Fran Striker’s popularradio show of the 1930s?Affable Gordon Jones plays BrittReid, the dashing, playboy publisherof a daily newspaper, The Sentinel. Bynight, however, Reid dons the guise(and a dubbed voice!) of the GreenHornet, a masked avenger who takeson the city’s crime syndicate with thehelp of his trusty sidekick, Kato (theinimitable Keye Luke).Not unlike in contemporarysuperhero movies, the Green Hornetis viewed as a menace by the localpolice department, and even by Britt’sown staff, including Irish-brogued,gun-toting (!) veteran crime reporterMichael Axford (Wade Botelier).Britt’s secretary, Leonore “Casey”Case (Anne Nagel), is intrigued bythis masked man… and although shenever quite suspects that her own bossis the Green Hornet, she’s not entirelypredisposed against the crimefighter.Watching the serial in its entiretycan be a bit repetitive, but in its original20-minute chapters, the film movesswiftly and delivers the superhero actionit promises — replete with gun battlesand fistfights, secret passages, last-minuteescapes and other derring-do. (There’salso a good deal of stock footage andmusic cues for those familiar withUniversal’s ’30s films.)This serial proved so financiallysuccessful that a year later saw therelease of the 15-chapter serial The GreenHornet Strikes Again!, with Luke, Nageland Botelier all reprising their roles butWarren Hull stepping into the shoes —and mask — of Britt Reid. ***ALSO ON DVDANNA AND THE KING OFSIAM (Twentieth Century Fox HomeEntertainment): Before Rodgers andHammerstein did their number onMargaret Landon’s best-selling book,Irene Dunne played the former andRex Harrison the latter in directorJohn Cromwell’s 1946 adaptation,dramatizing the friendship betweena widowed English tutor and a proudSiamese monarch in the 1860s. Thisforgoes the songs of The King and Ibut maintains the charm and humanityof the original story in warm, touchingfashion (and is far superior to thenon-musical 1999 remake)… even iffew of the actors remotely resembleactual Asians. Those include LeeJ. Cobb, Linda Darnell and GaleSondergaard (Oscar nominee forBest Supporting Actress). Additionalnominations for adapted screenplayand Bernard Herrmann’s score, winnerfor cinematography (black-and-white)and art direction/set decoration (blackand-white). ***’½BECOMING CHARLEY CHASE(VCI Entertainment): A collection of40 rare comedy shorts from 1915-’25 showcasing the talents of writer/director/actor Charley Chase (1893-1940), one of the most acclaimedcomic personalities of the silent era.This four-disc boxed set retails for$39.99.“ER” — THE COMPLETEELEVENTH SEASON (Warner HomeVideo): The end of the line for thedoctors and nurses of County GeneralHospital, in all 22 episodes fromthe 2008-’09 (and final) season ofthe much-acclaimed, long-runningNBC-TV prime-time medical drama,created by Michael Crichton (whodied just as the 11th season started).Series regulars included NoahWyle, Maura Tierney, Mekhi Phifer,Sherry Stringfield, Linda Cardellini,Parminder Nagra, John Stamos andAngela Bassett, with an all-starroster of guest stars including ErnestBorgnine, Susan Sarandon, AmyMadigan, Louis Gossett Jr., WallaceShawn, William H. Macy, CourtneyB. Vance (Bassett’s real-life husband)and, of course, the return of such ERfavorites as George Clooney, JuliannaMargulies and Eriq LaSalle. Thisboxed set retails for $49.98.“EVERWOOD” — THE COMPLETESECOND SEASON (Warner HomeVideo): After the unexpected death ofhis wife, physician and father TreatWilliams looks to start over with hischildren (Gregory Smith and VivienCardone) to the title town, in all 22episodes from the 2003-‘04 season ofthe prime-time WB series. James EarlJones picked up an Emmy nominationas Outstanding Guest Actor in aDrama Series. This six-DVD boxedset retails for $39.98.IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE(Paramount Home Entertainment).It sure is. A two-disc collector’s set($24.99 retail) of Frank Capra’s muchbeloved1946 fable, starring JamesStewart as a disillusioned, small-townpatriarch who contemplates suicideon Christmas Eve but then gets areprieve when his guardian angel(Henry Travers) shows up to showhim what life would have been likehad he never lived. The greatest filmI’ve never seen, or so say my friends.A box-office flop upon its initialrelease, this is arguably the mostbeloved American film of all time…and a TV staple during the holidays.Five Academy Award nominations:Best Picture, Best Actor (Stewart, ofcourse), Best Director, Best Editingand Best Sound Recording. Bewarepublic-domain copies, of which thereare (too) many. Rated G.JOHN ADAMS (HBO HomeEntertainment): Paul Giamatti playsthe second president of the UnitedStates, one of this nation’s greateststatesmen and also one of its principalarchitects, in this sprawling, criticallyacclaimedmini-series based on DavidMcCullough’s Pulitzer Prize-winningbest-seller. Winner of a whopping 13Emmy Awards including OutstandingMini-Series, Giamatti as OutstandingLead Actor in a Mini-Series or Movie,Laura Linney (Abigail Adams) asOutstanding Lead Actress in a Mini-Series or Movie and Tom Wilkinson(Benjamin Franklin) as OutstandingSupporting Actor in a Mini-Seriesor Movie, with an additional 10nominations including Tom Hooperfor Outstanding Directing of aMini-Series, Movie or DramaticSpecial, and David Morse (GeorgeWashington) and Stephen Dillane(Thomas Jefferson) as OutstandingSupporting Actor in a Mini-Series orMovie. It won a lot of other awards,too. The special-edition DVD retailsfor $59.99, the special-edition Blu-rayfor $79.98.JONAS BROTHERS: THE CONCERTEXPERIENCE (Walt Disney StudiosHome Entertainment): For those whosimply can’t get enough of Kevin,Joe and Nick, this “deluxe extendedmovie” of the concert documentaryfeatures four additional songs notincluded in the theatrical version. Thesingle-disc DVD retails for $29.99,the double-disc special-edition for$32.99, and the three-disc combo pack(including both Blu-ray and DVD)for $44.99. Only the latter editionincludes the 3-D capability. Rated G.“MOON MACHINES” (ImageEntertainment): This two-disc DVDboxed set ($24.98 retail) features allsix episodes from the Science Channelseries that examines the technologyand hardware — and the peoplewho invented them — that allowedNASA to reach the moon in 1969(although we haven’t been back in afew decades). The episodes include:“Saturn V,” “Command Module,”“Navigation,” “Lunar Module,”“Suits” and “Lunar Rover.”MY GEISHA (Paramount HomeEntertainment): Shirley MacLaineplays a famous movie star whodisguises herself as a geisha girl to winthe title role of Madame Butterfly ina production directed in Japan by herhusband (Yves Montand). Thanks tocinematographer-turned-director JackCardiff (who died in April at age 94)and Edith Head’s Oscar-nominatedcostumes, this 1962 comedy certainlyengages the eye, but it’s also slowgoing,not particularly funny, andforced to coast almost entirely on thecharms of its cast, which also includesBob Cummings as an amorous leadingman and Edward G. Robinson as oneof the kindliest producers in cinemahistory. The film’s actual producer,Steve Parker, was MacLaine’shusband at the time. **“MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER3000: VOLUME XV” (Shout! Factory):The latest installment of the longrunning(1988-’99), award-winningcable-TV series includes four films,each one given its due — and thensome! — by the “Satellite of Love”crew: The Robot vs. the AztecMummy (1958), The Girl in LoversLane (1959), Racket Girls (1951) andZombie Nightmare (1986), whichstarred Adam West and Tia Carrere(in her screen debut). Bonus featuresinclude interviews, mini-posters andmore. This four-disc boxed set retailsfor $59.99.STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS(Warner Home Video): George Lucaswas the executive producer of thisanimated feature that continues theStar Wars saga and focuses on theescalating conflict between the Jedi,including Anakin Skywalker (voicedby Matt Lanter) and the Separatists,under the command of Count Dooku(voiced by Christopher Lee, reprisinghis live-action role), with craftyChancellor Palpatine (voiced by IanAbercrombie) waiting and watchingon the sidelines. Other voices includeAnthony Daniels as C-3PO andSamuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu.There’s plenty of action, but aneedlessly convoluted storyline maybaffle all but the most die-hard StarWars devotees. Available as a singlediscDVD ($28.98 retail), a two-discspecial edition ($35.99 retail), or asa Blu-ray disc ($35.99 retail). RatedPG. **WE’RE BACK! A DINOSAUR’SSTORY (Universal Studios HomeEntertainment): Steven Spielbergwas the executive producer of thiscutesy, scattershot 1993 animatedfeature, adapted by Hudson Talbott’sbest-selling children’s book by noless than John Patrick Shanley, inwhich a group of dinosaurs travelthrough time to New York City. Theanimation’s not bad, but the storyfeels rushed and incomplete. Thefamiliar voice cast includes JohnGoodman, Martin Short, WalterCronkite, Julia Child, Jay Leno,Rhea Perlman and Yeardley Smith.Rated G. *’½“WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN:DEADLY ENEMIES” (MarvelAnimation/LionsGate HomeEntertainment): A selection of fiveepisodes from the popular, animatedNicktoons Network series basedon the popular Marvel Comicscharacter. Steve Blum providesthe voice of the title character, andthis special-edition DVD retails for$14.98.Mark Burger can be heardFriday mornings on the “TwoGuys Named Chris” radio showon Rock-92.Copyright 2009, Mark Burger!