video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: Jackboots on Whitehall (Flatiron Film Company/New Video)

In the annals of World War II movies, it’s safe to say you’ve never seen one this one, which rewrites history by speculating that the Third Reich invaded Britain and proceeded to plow through downtown London with guns blazing and bombs bursting.

And, by the way, it’s a puppet show… although it’s certainly not for the kiddies.

More specifically, Jackboots on Whitehall is a “supermarionation” film — presented in “glorious PanzerVision,” no less — and it’s an inspired, sometimes ingenious and sometimes rousing send-up of what Winston Churchill called Britain’s “finest hour,” marking an auspicious (and outrageous) feature debut for writer/director brothers Edward and Rory McHenry.

A remarkably star-studded voiceover cast includes Ewan McGregor, Tom Wilkinson, Rosamund Pike, Richard E. Grant, Alan Cumming, Dominic West, Richard O’Brien and Timothy Spall, the latter as Churchill — whom he played (in-person) in last year’s big Oscar-winner The King’s Speech. David McHenry’s inventive production design and Guy Michelmore’s terrific, bombastic score add the finishing touches to a sure-fire cult favorite. Rule Britannia!

ALSO Available

BLOODY BIRTHDAY (Severin Films): This vintage (1981) supernatural shocker involves three children (Billy Jacoby, Andy Freeman and Elizabeth Hoy), born during a lunar eclipse, who go on a murderous rampage in their suburban neighborhood. Ed Hunt’s flat direction oddly works to the film’s (admittedly minor) advantage, as does a unique premise and a straight-faced cast including Lori Lethin, KC Martel, Melinda Cordell, Joe Penny, Michael Dudikoff and a pre-MTV Julie Brown (who comes to a very bad end, but not before doffing her top), as well as “guest stars” Jose Ferrer as the doctor and Susan Strasberg as an ill-fated schoolmarm. Even after its VHS release, this turned up in theaters throughout the ’80s. Rated R.

DINOCROC VS. SUPERGATOR (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Executive producer Roger Corman’s latest creature feature, directed in formless fashion by Jim Wynorski (under the pseudonym Jay Andrews), features a reptilian rumble between the title titans. In perhaps his final role, David Carradine plays the mad scientist responsible. Don’t be surprised if you start rooting for the monsters.

DIVE! (First Run Features): Jeremy Seifert’s worthwhile but self-satisfied documentary looks at how much food Americans tend to waste, compelling the filmmaker and his friends to “dumpster-dive” for discarded food items to prove their (and the film’s) point.

“DOCTOR WHO”: SERIES 6, PART 1 (BBC Worldwide): Matt Smith plays the latest incarnation of the title character in the first seven episodes from the 2010-’11 season of the popular BBC science-fiction, a mainstay of British television for nearly 50 years. Joined by series regulars Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill and Alex Kingston, as well as guest stars Michael Sheen, Hugh Bonneville, Mark Sheppard and lovely Lily Cole, this marks the first time that the good doctor’s time-traveling, mind-bending adventures take him to the United States. The DVD boxed set retails for $24.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $29.98.

FERRY TO HONG KONG (VCI Entertainment): Based on Max Catto’s novel, this enjoyably colorful (if occasionally inconsistent) 1959 sea-going saga stars Curt Jurgens as a shiftless expatriate stuck aboard the title ship, much to the consternation of its corrupt and corpulent captain (Orson Welles, larger than life and sporting a remarkable British accent). In a recent interview, director/co-screenwriter Lewis Gilbert expressed no nostalgia for working with Welles, who leaves no scenery unchewed. Sylvia Sims plays a demure schoolteacher who melts Jurgens’ heart.

FOREIGNER: LIVE (Image Entertainment): It “feels like the first time” in this concert documentary ($14.98 retail) featuring the award-winning rock ‘n’ roll band, whose hits also include “Cold as Ice,” “Dirty White Boy,” “Double Vision” and others.

THE MINNESOTA TWINS 1991 WORLD SERIES COLLECTOR’S EDITION (A&E Home Entertainment): This self-explanatory seven- DVD boxed set ($69.95 retail) includes all seven games from the 1991 Fall Classic between the Twins and the Atlanta Braves, considered by many to be one of the greatest World Series’ ever played. A&E Home Entertainment is also releasing the equally self-explanatory documentary Minnesota Magic: Remembering the Minnesota Twins 1991 World Series Championship on DVD ($19.95 retail).

“NHL STANLEY CUP CHAMPIONS 2011: BOSTON BRUINS” (National Hockey League/ Warner Home Video): Beantown’s hockey franchise celebrates its first world championship in 39 years in this sports documentary, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) or Blu-ray ($34.99 retail).

“OMNIBUS: AMERICAN PROFILES” (Entertainment One): This self-explanatory two- DVD boxed set ($39.98) boasts 14 segments from the award-winning TV series, hosted by Alistair Cooke, in which significant Americans are profiled, including William Faulkner, Sugar Ray Robinson, Frank Lloyd Wright, James Thurber, Leonard Bernstein, Pearl Buck and others.

ROBBERY UNDER ARMS (VCI Entertainment): Based on Rolf Boldrewood’s international bestseller, this rugged, fact-based 1957 action drama depicts the 1865 castle-rustling incident, the most infamous in Australian history. Long stretches between the action slow things down, but it’s not the fault of a robust cast: Peter Finch (as the memorably named Capt. Starlight), Ronald Lewis, Maureen Swanson (in her last role to date), Laurence Naismith, and David McCallum and Jill Ireland, who were married in real life at the time. Location filming is a plus.

SHOT IN THE DARK (HBO Home Entertainment): Actor Adrian Grenier makes his directorial debut with this sincere documentary about his quest to re-establish a bond with his estranged biological father. Grenier began this project in the late ’90s, just as his career was beginning its ascent. Uneven at times but affecting.

TIARA TAHITI (VCI Entertainment): Director Ted Kotcheff’s 1962 feature debut, an adaptation of Geoffrey Cotterell’s novel, stars James Mason and John Mills as former servicemen whose rivalry is renewed when they unexpectedly encounter each other on the title tropical isle. Watching Mason and Mills parry is a treat, as this film coasts on its cast, which also includes Jacques Marin, Rosenda Monteros, Roy Kinnear and Herbert Lom as an Asian(!) named Chong, replete with goofy theme music. Mordecai Richler contributed to the screenplay, and worked again with Kotcheff over the years.

TRACY MORGAN: BLACK AND BLUE (HBO Home Entertainment): The popular — and recently controversial — actor/comedian rants, raves and riffs at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem in this stand-up comedy special ($19.97 retail).

WARTORN 1861-2010 (HBO Home Entertainment): The impact of post-traumatic stress upon this nation’s servicemen is explored in this sympathetic, expectedly depressing documentary executive-produced by James Gandolfini. Interviews with soldiers and their loved ones are heart-rending, but little is conveyed in the way of medical and psychological treatment, lending this an unfinished quality.

“YOUNG JUSTICE”: SEASON 1, VOLUME 1 (DC Entertainment/Warner Home Video): A collection of four episodes ($14.97 retail) from the new Cartoon Network animated series depicting the teenaged adventures of such classic DC Comics characters as Superboy, Robin, Aqualad and others.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2011, Mark Burger