video vault

by Mark Burger


(The Criterion Collection)

The granddaddy of Japanese monster movies, this 1954 science-fiction epic brought forth the giant monster Godzilla and unleashed a screen phenomenon that has continued for more than 50 years.

Director Ishiro Honda’s original 1954 version is a somber, tragic treatise on the consequences of atomic power — a subject painfully familiar to Japan, it being less than 10 years since the end of World War II — with the title terror aroused from prehistoric slumber by atomic testing in the Pacific. Godzilla (or “Gojira,” if you prefer) is a clear metaphor for the destructive capabilities of atomic power. The film’s special effects may be dated, but they’re still effective and impressive.

The American version Godzilla, King of the Monsters, was released in 1956 and eliminated some (but not all) of the original story’s dramatic resonance, while adding Raymond Burr as newspaperman Steve Martin(!), covering Godzilla’s rampage through Tokyo. The original version is darker and more mature, but so popular was the American version that, without it, the Godzilla franchise might not have existed.

This special edition includes both versions of the film, with individual (and highly engaging) commentaries by film historian and unabashed Godzilla enthusiast David Kalat, as well as exclusive interviews (including one with the late composer Akira Ifukube, whose ominous score is a classic) and other special features. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95.

ALIEN OUTLAW DOUBLE FEATURE (VCI Entertainment): Winston-Salem’s own Phil Smoot wrote and directed this pair of low-budget sci-fi shockers starring one-time B-movie Western favorite Lash LaRue: Alien Outlaw (1985) and The Dark Power (1987). This DVD twin-bill retails for $14.99.

“BRATZ: DESERT JEWELZ” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The popular “Bratz” empire expands with this animated feature ($16.98 retail). LionsGate has also released the self-explanatory “Bratz: 3-DVD Movie Collection + Fashion Bracelets,” which retails for $19.98.

“CARE BEARS: SUPER CUDDLY ADVENTURE” (LionsGate Home Entertainment): The Bears are back in town, in this six-DVD boxed set ($29.98 retail) featuring 40 animated episodes from the popular children’s series plus the feature-length film Care Bears to the Rescue” LionsGate Home Entertainment is also releasing the featurelength animated film “Care Bears: Share Bear Shines Movie,” which retails for $14.98.

DAHLING: A TRIBUTE TO ZSA ZSA GABOR (Inception Media Group): A special-edition DVD ($14.98 retail) featuring Zsa Zsa’s TV appearances on “The Milton Berle Show” and “G.E. Theatre: ‘The Honest Man,’” as well as the films Mooch Goes to Hollywood (1971), which she narrates with Richard Burton (!); and the dismal 1985 horror spoof Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie, in which she only has a cameo appearance.

DIANA RIGG AT THE BBC (BBC Worldwide): A self-explanatory five-DVD boxed set ($49.98 retail) showcasing Emmy Award winner Dame Diana Rigg in various acclaimed television performances originally broadcast in the UK on the BBC and then by PBS in the US: The 1977 comedy series “Three Piece Suite” featuring appearances by Bob Hoskins, John

Cleese and George Baker; the 1982 Ibsen adaptation “Little Eyolf” co-starring Anthony Hopkins, Peggy Ashcroft and Charles Dance; “Unexplained Laughter” (1989) co-starring Jon Finch; “Genghis Cohn” (1994) with Robert Lindsay, Antony Sher and Daniel Craig; and the entire 1998-2000 run of “Mrs. Bradley Mysteries,” adapted from the bestselling novels by Gladys Mitchell.

DRIVE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment):

Ryan Gosling oozes cool as a Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as a getaway driver in Nicholas Winding Refn’s sleek, stylish contemporary film noir, based on a James Sallis novel. Solid support from Carey Mulligan, Ron Perlman, Bryan Cranston, Oscar Isaac and especially Albert Brooks, in an eyeopening turn as a ruthless, razor-wielding crime czar. Rated R.

EAT THIS NEW YORK (First Run Features):

Andrew Rossi and Kate Novack’s documentary follows Billy Phelps and John McCormick, as they struggle to build their dream restaurant (Moto) in Brooklyn, interspersed with interviews with established New York restaurateurs, including Daniel Boulod, Sirio Maccioni, Danny Meyer and others. Epicurean aficionados will eat this up, no pun intended.

THE FUTURE (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Miranda July wrote, directed and stars in this contemporary fable about a young couple (July and Hamish Linklater) whose relationship comes unglued when they decide to adopt a stray cat. Some found this to be delightfully quirky and original; others (like yours truly) found it self-indulgent and irritating. Rated R.

GO FOR IT! (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Better yet, don’t. Aimee Garcia plays a young street dancer determined to audition at a formal dance school. A few fancy moves but the story is strictly old hat and the soap-opera trappings out of place. Rated PG-13.

JIM’S GIFT (VCI Entertainment): Noted special-effects wizard Bob Keen directed this mild 1996 family comedy about a young boy (newcomer Luciano Romano) who purchases a VCR that can see into the past and the future. Doug Bradley of Hellraiser (which Keen toiled on) appears as a nasty neighbor. Originally broadcast on British television, perhaps as a series pilot(?).

KUNG FU JOE (Indican Pictures): There are in-jokes galore in writer/producer/ editor/director Glen Berry’s goofy, Tromastyle B-movie spoof, starring Zak VanWinkle in the title role, a streetwise private eye who’s got the attitude and the Afro (even though he’s white). An encouraging low-budget effort.

MALCOLM X (Warner Home Video): The Blu-ray release ($34.99 retail) of Spike Lee’s 1992 epic focusing on the life of the title character, as portrayed in a towering, Oscarnominated (Best Actor) performance by Denzel Washington. Additional nomination for Best Costume Design. A moving, informative and informed experience, maybe Spike’s masterpiece. Rated PG-13.

MY OWN LOVE SONG (Inception Media Group): Renee Zellweger (a paraplegic) and Forest Whitaker (emotionally disturbed) embark on a rambling road trip to New Orleans to visit the son she gave up for adoption, in writer/director Olivier Dahan’s drippy, episodic soap opera, featuring music and songs by Bob Dylan. If you wonder how a film with two recent Academy Award winners could bypass theatrical release, wonder no more. Also on hand: Nick Nolte, Madeline Zima, Elias Koteas and Jay Patterson. Zellweger’s not a bad singer, however. Rated PG-13.

REAL STEEL (DreamWorks Studios): Former boxer-turned-promoter Hugh Jackman is saddled with his estranged son (Dakota Goya) when he gets his last shot at glory with an old sparring robot that goes on a winning streak. Director Shawn Levy’s ostensibly rousing sci-fi melodrama was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis, but never strays from formula and goes on way too long. The script is so mechanical it could’ve been written by a robot. Available as a single DVD ($29.99 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail), or a three-disc combo ($44.99 retail). Rated PG-13.

ROGER CORMAN’S CULT CLASSICS: STREETS/ANGEL IN RED (Shout! Factory): A DVD double-feature ($19.99 retail) of lowbudget street thrillers produced by Roger Corman: Christina Applegate plays a troubled teen prostitute tormented by a deranged LA cop (Eb Lottimer) in co-screenwriter/director Katt Shea Ruben’s gritty Streets (1990); and 1991’s Angel in Red (AKA Uncaged), which marked Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s screen debut and is a virtual remake of the earlier Corman production Streetwalkin’. Both films are rated R. Available directly from the Shout! Factory website:

“STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION” – THE NEXT LEVEL (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Paramount whets the appetite of Trekkies (or “Trekkers,” if you prefer) with this special Blu-ray release ($21.99 retail) that includes selected episodes from the long-running, award-winning second TV series, including the 1987 pilot “Encounter at Farpoint.” Subsequent seasons will be released on Blu-ray beginning later this year.

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