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Gojira, Pretty Poison, Romancing the Stone

GOJIRA (GODZILLA) (1954). This two-disc DVD edition is notable for a pair of reasons: It not only includes the original, uncut version of the immortal monster movie (not released in the United States until 2004), it also contains the more familiar American re-edit, thus allowing viewers the opportunity to see how and why drastic changes were made before its US launch. When Gojira (a.k.a. Godzilla) premiered in Japan in 1954, it was hardly viewed as a campy monster movie. Instead, this tale about a rampaging behemoth terrorizing Tokyo was its makers' fantasy-veiled look at the evils of nuclear power -- a direct statement against the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that had marked the final chapter of World War II nine years earlier. The film was an enormous success in Japan, but before it reached our shores, American distributors knew some changes had to be made. Gone were almost all references to Japan's recent H-bomb annihilation, as well as numerous talky sequences that were believed would hurt the picture's stateside success. Trimming close to 40 minutes from the 98-minute original, its US handlers then added 20 minutes of newly shot footage featuring Raymond Burr as an American reporter passing through Tokyo at the time of Godzilla's reign of terror. This version opened in America in 1956 under the title Godzilla, King of the Monsters! and went on to become an international smash. Certainly, the American cut works well enough as a typical example of the sort of sci-fi yarns being produced during the '50s, yet it's the more somber Japanese version that resonates as a true tale of horror rather than just another creature feature. DVD extras include audio commentaries by film historians Steve Ryfle and Ed Godziszewski, an informative 16-page booklet, short features on the story's genesis and the Godzilla suit, and theatrical trailers.

Gojira: ***

Godzilla, King of the Monsters!: **1/2

Extras: ***

PRETTY POISON (1968)/THE OTHER (1972). Fox's home division outfit has recently released two largely forgotten thrillers, both of which deserve renewed interest on DVD.

Pretty much ignored at the time by audiences and most reviewers (except the New York Film Critics Circle, who awarded it Best Screenplay), Pretty Poison was quickly sought out by adventurous filmgoers, thereby turning it into a minor cult offering. Anthony Perkins, stirring memories of Psycho, plays Dennis Pitt, a nervous young man who's just been released from prison for causing a house fire that ended up killing his aunt. His parole officer (John Randolph) implores him to stop daydreaming all the time and focus on making a clean start, but that advice gets tossed aside once he meets Sue Ann Stepanek (Tuesday Weld). Sue Ann's a high school honor student and cheerleader who's charmed by Dennis as he explains that he's a CIA agent working undercover to foil an international plot unfolding in her small Massachusetts hometown. But as the pair become lovers and begin planning assorted pranks, it's soon apparent that Sue Ann is really the dangerous individual in this coupling. Weld's excellent performance as the lethal Lolita is the centerpiece of this film (in his book Alternate Oscars, Danny Peary makes the case that she deserved that year's Best Actress Academy Award) though Noel Black's understated direction and Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s layered script also deserve mention.

After a rocky career as a Hollywood hunk, actor Thomas Tryon turned his attention to writing horror novels and struck pay dirt with both The Other and Harvest Home. Both are creepy reads, and the film version of The Other (Harvest Home was made into a so-so TV miniseries in 1978) retains that sense of perpetual dread. Efficiently directed by Robert Mulligan -- whose previous pictures about American youth, To Kill a Mockingbird and Summer of '42, were a far cry from this one -- The Other tells the story of twin brothers Niles and Holland Perry (Chris and Martin Udvarnoky) living on a Connecticut farm with their extended family. Niles is angelic while Holland is evil, and a string of fatal "accidents" leaves no one the wiser as to Holland's true nature; only Grandma Ada (legendary acting coach Uta Hagen in her screen debut) eventually suspects foul play. Mulligan and Tryon (adapting his own book) pull few punches with the tale's more horrifying aspects, and, in a twist from the norm, the movie features a more uncompromising ending than the novel. Be careful, though, not to read the plot synopsis on the back of the DVD case, since the clueless copywriter gives away a major plot twist! Let's just be thankful this person didn't also write the box copy for Citizen Kane or The Usual Suspects or The Sixth Sense.

There are no extras on the DVDs aside from theatrical trailers.

Both Films: ***

Extras: *

ROMANCING THE STONE (1984)/THE JEWEL OF THE NILE (1985). Sneaking into theaters just before the start of the potent blockbuster season, Romancing the Stone turned out to be a sleeper hit and continued the career ascension of director Robert Zemeckis (he would next helm Back to the Future and later win an Oscar for Forrest Gump). Written by Diane Thomas, a former waitress who would die in a car accident a year after the movie's release, this romance-cum-adventure yarn stars Kathleen Turner as Joan Wilder, a best-selling author who, unlike the heroine of her string of romance novels, can't ever find the right guy. After her sister gets kidnapped in Colombia by a pair of crooks (Danny DeVito and Zack Norman) hot on the trail of a hidden treasure, Joan finds herself basically living her own novels as she's pursued by a corrupt police official (Manuel Ojeda) through the harsh South American terrain. Luckily, she bumps into Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas), an opportunistic soldier of fortune who's handy to have around in moments of peril. An ingratiating mix of comedy, action and romance, this derives most of its charm from Turner, whose Joan Wilder remains one of the most memorable movie heroines of the past quarter-century. Turner won the Los Angeles Film Critics' Best Actress award for her performance, and she should have snagged the Oscar as well (alas, she wasn't even nominated).

The 1985 sequel The Jewel of the Nile was critically lambasted for not living up to the charms of its predecessor, yet I've always considered it a decent follow-up, with Joan and Jack striving to keep the title "jewel" (not what you think it is) out of the hands of a Middle Eastern tyrant (Spiros Focas). Turner and Douglas maintain their easygoing chemistry, DeVito has plenty of chances to provide comic relief, and Avner Eisenberg contributes a scene-stealing turn as a whimsical holy man.

DVD extras on Stone include deleted scenes, a retrospective feature, a piece on Diane Thomas, and interviews with Douglas, Turner and DeVito. Extras on Jewel include audio commentary by director Lewis Teague, deleted scenes, and a retrospective feature.

Romancing the Stone: ***1/2

The Jewel of the Nile: ***

Extras: **1/2

UNITED 93 (2006). It's hard to imagine a less sensationalized 9/11 film than writer-director Paul Greengrass' superb docudrama focusing on the morning when all hell broke loose in the US -- and specifically zooming in on the tragic yet inspiring saga of the one hijacked plane that did not reach its intended target. Perhaps it was imperative that an outsider tell this story, and that's what we get with Greengrass. A British filmmaker who achieved similar verisimilitude with 2002's Bloody Sunday (about the 1972 massacre of Irish civilians by English troops), Greengrass repeatedly refuses to take the bait of making a picture that can be tagged as exploitive, propagandistic or too political. Yet his restraint can only shelter us for so long. Ultimately, there's no defense against our own humanity. I imagine it's impossible to watch United 93 and not be brought to tears on several occasions. Whether such an outpouring of emotion will help the healing or tear open old wounds -- well, that's for each viewer to decide for themselves. At any rate, this ranks head and shoulders above Oliver Stone's recent (and more conventional) 9/11 flick, World Trade Center. Extras on the two-disc Limited Edition (a single-disc version is also available) include audio commentary by Greengrass, a touching hour-long documentary about the real-life families of the victims and their relationships to this film, detailed biographies of all the victims, and a feature focusing on the ground crews involved with the events of that fateful day.

Movie: ****

Extras: ***1/2

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