DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: MACBETH (THE TRAGEDY OF MACBETH)(The Criterion Collection)
Only in 1971 could Roman Polanski have directed a Shakespearean adaptation under the financial auspices of Hugh Hefner and Playboy. Yet this unlikely, even mind boggling, partnership yielded an excellent version that is very much Shakespeare and very much Polanski – and still the best big-screen Macbeth to date.Polanski confounded expectations by casting two young, near-unknowns in the pivotal roles: Jon Finch brings a virile arrogance to Macbeth and Francesca Annis a manipulative sensuality to her Lady Macbeth. Their ruthless rise to power, culminating in Macbeth being crowned king of Scotland, is detailed in vivid, visceral terms. Martin Shaw offers excellent support as Banquo.Ultimately, the king and his queen will be undone by guilt and paranoia – an unsubtle but ever-relevant observation that power corrupts absolutely, leading inevitably to oblivion.This was the first film Polanski made after his wife Sharon Tate’s murder, leading some observers to perceive the film’s gruesome bloodletting as a form of directorial purgation. (Macbeth is, however, among the Bard’s most violent plays.)Savage and stylish throughout, the film is beautifully photographed by Gil Taylor on extravagant (and, for the time, expensive) sets. The Third Ear Band’s score is appropriately eerie and evocative. There is some dated camera trickery, but all told this does full-bodied, full-blooded justice to Shakespeare’s timeless tale.The DVD retails for $19.99, the Blu-ray for $39.95. Both contain extensive special features. Rated R.
AMERICAN MUSCLE (Well Go USA Entertainment): Director/editor/cinematographer/music supervisor Ravi Dhar’s debut feature is a familiar revenge melodrama that sees ex-con Nick Principe embarking on a 24-hour rampage against those who wronged him, especially brother Todd Farmer. It’s familiar but fast-moving and full of gratuitous nudity and CGI violence. Co-star John Fallon is also scripted.
BOREDOM (Disinformation/TDC Entertainment): Having previously addressed Stupidity (2003) and Laughology (2009), award-winning filmmaker Albert Nerenberg now turns his attention to the title topic in his latest feature documentary ($19.98 retail).
BURT’S BUZZ (Kino Lorber): Producer/director Jody Shapiro’s feature documentary explores the unique life and career of Burt Shavitz, the reclusive photographer, bee-keeper and cofounder of the “Burt’s Bees” brand of products. The DVD retails for $19.95, the Blu-ray for $24.95.
CALLOUSED HANDS (Horizon Movies): Writer/producer/director Jesse Quinones’ impressive, semi-autobiographical, award-winning debut feature stars Andre Royo (also a producer) as a struggling addict in Miami trying to find work, sustain his relationship with single mother Daisy Haggard and encourage her son Luca Oriel’s baseball dreams. It’s extremely well-acted by all concerned, including Sean McConaghy as a sympathetic sports-nut rabbi.
“INSPECTOR MANARA” (MHz Networks): He breaks the rules and he breaks hearts – Guido Caprino stars in the title role of the maverick, motorcycle-riding Tuscan detective/ladies’ man in this popular Italian crime series (originally titled Il commissario Manara). “Season One” includes all 12 episodes from the inaugural 2009 season, “Season Two” all 12 episodes from the 2010 season. Each four-DVD collection retails for $39.95. In Italian with English subtitles.
KORENGAL (Virgil Films): Sebastian Junger revisits the soldiers he profiled in his Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo (2010), in this award-winning, R- rated follow-up that takes its title taken from the Afghan valley where the first film took place, as he further explores the ongoing conflict there. The DVD and Blu-ray each retail for $19.99.
L’IMMORTELLE (Redemption/Kino Lorber): In his directorial debut, Alain Robbe-Grillet’s award-winning 1963 mystery stars Jacques Doniol-Valcroze as a French tourist in Istanbul bewitched by a mysterious beauty (Francoise Brion) who leads him into danger. In French with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $34.95.
MUSIC FROM THE BIG HOUSE (Kino Lorber): Director Bruce McDonald’s award-winning documentary follows performer Rita Chiarelli (“Canada’s Queen of the Blues”) as she tours and performs at Louisiana’s notorious and historic Angola Prison, widely considered to be the birthplace of blues music. The DVD retails for $19.97, the Blu-ray for $24.97.
PROBATION (Alpha Home Entertainment): Richard Thorpe directed this creaky but brisk 1932 melodrama starring Sally Blane as a spoiled society girl who falls for John Darrow, who’s been assigned her driver as part of his probation for assault. Look for Betty Grable (in her first credited role) as Darrow’s bratty younger sister.
THE ROCKET (Kino Lorber): Newcomer Sittiphon Disamoe is enormously appealing in writer/director Kim Mordaunt’s award-winning drama, as a luckless young boy determined to win the annual Rocket Festival in contemporary Laos on behalf of his impoverished, grief-stricken family. Both an underdog story and a coming-of-age fable, as well as a fascinating portrait of Lao culture. In Lao with English subtitles.
STUNT SQUAD (RaroVideo/Kino Lorber): The city of Bologna is terrorized by racketeers led by Vittorio Mezzogiorno, prompting hard-boiled inspector Marcel Bozzuffi (of French Connection) to recruit a secret team of police motorcyclists to mete out retribution in this 1977 thriller (originally titled La Polizia e Sconfitta and also known as Elimination Force), a quintessential example of the ’70s Italian polizia action genre, aptly boasting some nifty car chases.
“SUPER VOLCANOES!” (Alpha Home Entertainment): A DVD compilation ($7.98 retail) of three self-explanatory documentary shorts: Eruption of Kilauea, The Land Beneath the Sea and Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius!
TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXCTINCTION (Paramount): The fourth in Michael Bay’s overblown sci-fi action series brings Mark Wahlberg aboard as the new hero, Kelsey Grammer as the new (human) heavy, and a full-tilt Stanley Tucci as a scientist not so much mad as misguided. Once again, the special effects are the whole show “¦ for the entire 164 minutes. Available as a single DVD $29.99 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo $42.99 retail), and a 3-D Blu-ray combo ($52.99 retail). Rated PG-13.
“TRANSFORMERS RESCUE BOTS: MYSTERY RESCUE” (Hasbro/ Shout! Kids Factory): A DVD collection ($14.93 retail) of five episodes from the animated fantasy series (broadcast on The Hub) marking another offshoot of the perennially popular “Transformers” toy line. The star-studded voice-over cast includes LeVar Burton, James Marsden, Lacey Chabert, Maurice LaMarche, and Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime.
I VINTI (RaroVideo/Kino Lorber): Michelangelo Antonioni’s third feature was this three-part 1953 anthology (AKA The Vanquished) depicting murders committed by affluent youths in Rome, Paris and London – and the resulting consequences. In French and Italian with English subtitles. The new special-edition Blu-ray retails for $34.95.
WE ALWAYS LIE TO STRANGERS (Virgil Films): Directors AJ Schnack and David Wilson spent five years filming this award-winning documentary (subtitled The Incredible True Story of Branson, Missouri), following four families who live and perform in the small Ozark Mountain burg which bills itself “the live music capital of the world” and attracts millions of tourists each year. The DVD retails for $19.99.
WE WON’T GROW OLD TOGETHER (Kino Lorber): Maurice Pialat’s 1972 romantic drama (originally titled Nous ne Viellirons pas Ensemble) stars Marlene Jobert and Jean Yanne (who won Best Actor at Cannes) as lovers whose fiveyear affair hits the skids. Never available on home-video, the DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $34.95. In French with English subtitles.
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. ‘© 2014, Mark Burger.