video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK NORTH BY NORTHWEST (Warner Home Video): For its 50th anniversary, one of Alfred Hitchcock’s best films returns in a two-disc specialedition DVD ($24.98 retail) or a Blu-ray Book ($34.99 retail), replete with a bevy of behind-the-scenes extras. Screenwriter Ernest Lehman’s scenario is tailor-made for Hitchcock’s mastery: Good-natured advertising exec Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for a mysterious (and non-existent) spy named “George Kaplan” and soon enmeshed in a deadly conspiracy that involves an elegant, icy blonde (Eva Marie Saint), a cunning enemy agent (James Mason) and a roll of stolen microfilm that everyone wants to get his hands on. Bernard Herrmann’s magnificent score accentuates the action, as the eponymous Everyman Thornhill unexpectedly embarks on the adventure of a lifetime, but he’s always got a witty quip at the ready even when facing death… which occurs with some rapidity under these circumstances. The marvelous cast also includes Jessie Royce Landis, Leo G. Carroll, Josephine Hutchinson, Philip Ober, Edward Platt and Martin Landau (in his second film), playing Mason’s very attentive hatchet man. The trademark Hitchcock cameo is there, too — and it’s a beauty. The film is loaded with memorable scenes, from the crop-duster that suddenly appears and attempts to kill Thornhill on a lonely stretch of highway, to the climactic chase across the presidents’ faces on Mount Rushmore — and pretty much everything inbetween. Audiences responded by making it one of Hitchcock’s biggest hits, and the film earned Academy Award nominations for art direction/set decoration (color), editing and Lehman’s original screenplay. North by Northwest remains escapist entertainment at its finest. **** ALSO ON DVD ACTORS AND SIN (VCI Entertainment): Ben Hecht wrote and co-directed (with cinematographer Lee Garmes) this two-part 1952 anthology based on his short stories: Edward G. Robinson, Marsha Hunt and Dan O’Herlihy star in the Broadway whodunit Actor’s Blood; Eddie Albert and Hecht’s daughter Jenny (in her screen debut) star in the Hollywood satire Woman of Sin, with a grand turn by Alan Reed (later the voice of Fred Flintstone) as a self-absorbed studio head. Both segments are entertaining, but the second part wins, hands-down. *** “ALL DAY WITH ADRIAN PETERSON” (NFL Films/Warner Home Video): Robb Webb narrates this sports documentary ($24.98 retail) that explores the career of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, winner of the 2007 Associated Press NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award and the MVP of the 2008 Pro Bowl game — only the second rookie to do so.’ “THE BIG BANG THEORY”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Warner Home Video): Johnny Galecki and Emmy nominee Jim Parsons (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series) are the brains and Kaley Cuoco is the beauty, in all 23 episodes from the 2008-’09 season of the hit prime-time CBS-TV situation comedy about two geeky guys and their knockout neighbor. Playing Galecki’s mother, Christine Baranski also scored an Emmy nomination as Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series (for the episode “The Maternal Capacitance”). This boxed set retails for $44.98. BLOOD, SWEAT & GEARS (First Run Features): Nick Davis’ documentary, subtitled “Racing Clean to the Tour de France,” follows SlipStream, America’s only ProTour cycling team, as it competes with the ultimate goal of winning that prestigious race. This DVD, which retails for $29.95, also includes behind-the-scenes footage and film notes. “BONANZA”: THE OFFICIAL FIRST SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): All 32 episodes from the premiere 1959-’60 season of the longrunning, award-winning, prime-time NBC-TV Western drama, starring Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright, the widowed patriarch of the Ponderosa Ranch, with Michael Landon, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts as his sons. Episodes have long been available on various public-domain labels, but this is the first “official” release, timed to coincide with the show’s 50th anniversary. Both Volume 1 and Volume 2 contain 16 episodes. Each volume retails for $39.98, or both for $69.98. FOREVER STRONG (Crane Movie Co.): Sincere performances help this predictable, often-contrived sports melodrama starring Gary Cole as real-life high-school rugby coach Larry Gelwix, who attempts to instill discipline and determination in his players — in particular a troubled teen (Sean Faris) who initially resists his overtures. Also on hand: Neal McDonough, Julie Warner, Sean Astin and adorable Arielle Kebbel. Rated PG-13. ** “THE HILLS”: SEASON FIVE —PART ONE (MTV Home Entertainment/ Paramount Home Entertainment): Lauren Conrad bids farewell to the MTV reality series, while Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt head to the altar, in this two-DVD boxed set ($26.99 retail) which is being released to coincide with the premiere of the second part of the series’ fifth season.’ I LOVE YOU ROSA (VCI Entertainment): Writer/director Moshe Mizrahi’s well-rendered 1972 Israeli drama, based in part on his own mother’s life, stars Michal Bat-Adam (Mizrahi’s real-life wife) as Rosa, a young widow who is compelled by tradition to marry her late husband’s younger brother (played by Gabi Otterman as a boy and Moshe Tal as an adult). Slow moving, but stick with it. Narrated by Rabbi Gunter Hirschberg and produced by the ubiquitous Menahem Golan, this scored an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign-Language Film. *** “JACKASS”: THE LOST TAPES (MTV Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Just when you thought there couldn’t be more, this compilation of unaired footage from the MTV reality series (which aired 2000-’02) again sees Johnny Knoxville, Steve-O, Bam Margera and their buds engaging in a series of ridiculous stunts that tend to go disastrously wrong. This special-edition DVD retails for $22.99. KOKO: A TALKING GORILLA (The Criterion Collection): Barbet Schroeder’s acclaimed 1978 documentary feature showcases Koko, a gorilla that has been trained to communicate in sign language by animal behavioral experts at Stanford University. This special-edition DVD, which includes an exclusive interview with Schroeder, retails for $29.95. MARTIN LUTHER (VCI Entertainment): Niall MacGinnis firmly plays the title role in Irving Pichel’s sincere 1953 biographical drama tracing the life of the 16th century clergyman who rebelled against what he saw as the hypocrisy of the Holy Roman (Catholic) Church, was branded a heretic, and founded the Christian denomination which bears his name. Narrated by John Wiggin, with Philip Leaver notable in support as Pope Leo X. Director Pichel also makes his final screen appearance here. Filmed in location in Germany and financed by the Lutheran Church. Oscar nominations for art direction/set decoration (black and white) and cinematography (black and white). ***’ “THE MODERN CON MAN COLLECTION” (First Run Features): The tricks of the trade, as explained and demonstrated by real-life con artist and trickster Todd Robbins, based on his bestselling book, The Modern Con Man. This three-DVD boxed set retails for $29.95. “NITRO CIRCUS”: SEASON ONE (MTV Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): From the creators of “Jackass” — that’s a boast, evidently, not a threat — come all 12 episodes from the 2009 season of the MTV reality series, featuring professional motorcyclist Travis Pastrana as he attempts a variety of bizarre stunts and feats that should not be attempted at home. This two-DVD boxed set retails for $26.99. STOP MAKING SENSE (Palm Pictures): To commemorate its 25th anniversary, the Blu-ray debut ($34.99 retail) of Jonathan Demme’s award-winning 1984 rock documentary showcasing The Talking Heads in concert at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. “TCM SPOTLIGHT: ESTHER WILLIAMS VOLUME 2” (Warner Home Video): A selection of six Technicolor musicals showcasing swimming championturned- Hollywood leading lady Esther Williams: Thrill of a Romance (1945) costars Van Johnson; Fiesta (1947), which earned an Oscar nomination for its score, co-stars Ricardo Montalban, Mary Astor and Cyd Charisse; This Time for Keeps (also ‘47) co-stars Jimmy Durante and Xavier Cugat and His Orchestra; Pagan Love Song (1950) co-stars Howard Keel and Rita Moreno; Million Dollar Mermaid (1952), which co-stars Victor Mature and Walter Pidgeon, was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and earned an Oscar nomination for cinematography (color); and Easy to Love (1953) co-stars Van Johnson and Carroll Baker (in her screen debut). This boxed set retails for $59.92. TELEVISION UNDER THE SWASTIKA (First Run Features): A little-known aspect of the Third Reich’s rise to power is explored in writer/director Michael Kloft’s thorough (and sometimes frightening) documentary about how Nazi Germany pioneered the use of television for propaganda purposes in the 1930s up through World War II. Much of the footage shown here hasn’t been seen since the original broadcasts — and never before in this country. *** “TERMINATOR: THE SARAH CONNOR CHRONICLES”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Warner Home Video): In this small-screen offshoot of the Terminator films, Lena Headey plays the title role and Thomas Dekker plays her son John, the future leader of the human resistance when machines ultimately ravage the planet, in all 22 episodes from the 2008-’09 (and final) season of the prime-time sci-fi Fox Network series, which had the bad fortune to be canceled shortly before the latest Terminator movie hit theaters. Emmy nomination for Outstanding Sound Editing in a Series (for the episode “Mr. Ferguson is Ill Today”). The DVD boxed set retails for $59.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $79.98. Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2009, Mark Burger !