by Mark Burger



VENOM (Blue Underground): An absolute guilty pleasure, this star-studded 1981 kidnap thriller was both a critical and financial flop, yet it’s an enjoyable and entertaining popcorn diversion that mimics Jaws (1975) – except it’s a black mamba, the world’s deadliest snake, instead of a great white shark. (Smaller, undoubtedly, but no less lethal.)

Klaus Kinski, Oliver Reed and Susan George are the trio conspiring to abduct wealthy young Lance Holcomb, but when the lad is mistakenly given that black mamba instead of a harmless garden snake, things immediately take a turn for the worse, as the asthmatic Holcomb and aging grandpa Sterling Hayden (very likable in his last feature) are taken hostage in the house, with the mamba slithering through the air ducts, waiting to strike. Rest assured, it does — more than once.

Nicol Williamson classes up the stock role of the cop on the case, and Sarah Miles plays a herpetologist soon swept up in the crisis. Cornelia Sharpe (wife of producer Martin Bregman) worries and weeps a lot as Holcomb’s distressed mother.

With that crackling cast – some of whom clashed behind the scenes (Kinski and Reed detested each other) – and an admittedly oddball mash-up of genres, Venom may be silly, but it’s never dull. Director Piers Haggard, who replaced Tobe Hooper, wisely keeps things moving at a fast-moving clip. Cinematographers Gilbert Taylor (Star Wars) and Denys Coop create an appropriately menacing mood, nicely augmented by Michael Kamen’s score. Great art? Perhaps not. Great fun? Absolutely.

The DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail) includes Haggard’s hugely entertaining audio commentary, theatrical trailer, TV spots and more Rated R. ***


ALL AMERICAN BIKINI CAR WASH (Monarch Home Entertainment): The title says it all in this harmless comedy, as enterprising college student Jack Cullison makes a Las Vegas car wash a success by hiring gorgeous girls (including Playboy Playmate Kayla Collins, Ashley Park, Erika Jordan, Mindy Robinson, Emma Lane and especially Dora Pereli) to do the “dirty” work. *½

“BALLERS”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO) Executive producer Dwayne Johnson plays a retired gridiron great who re-enters the game – as a financial manager for current players – in all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2015 season of this Miami-set HBO comedy series created by Boardwalk Empire‘s Stephen Levinson. Omar Miller, Rob Corddry, Troy Garrity (son of Jane Fonda and Tom Hayden), Donovan Carter, and real-life ex-NFL player John David Washington round out the regular cast. The DVD retails for $29.98, the Blu-ray for $39.98.

A BIT OF BAD LUCK (Indican Pictures): Writer/director John Fuhrman’s award-winning black-comedy debut feature Cary Elwes (in good form) as a sleazy attorney who finds himself trapped – and persecuted – in a small town after an adulterous tryst (with Agnes Bruckner) goes wrong. Echoing “The Twilight Zone” and even The Wicker Man (1973), this grows repetitious but benefits from fast pacing and a fun cast including Marshall Bell and Teri Polo. **½

CLOUDS OF SILS MARIA (The Criterion Collection): Olivier Assayas’ award-winning drama stars Juliette Binoche (fearless and radiant) as a famous actress whose decision to revisit the stage play that launched her career has unexpected consequences. Beautifully shot and frequently fascinating, although the ambiguous ending may seem derivative in the wake of the Oscar-winning Birdman. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the spoiled American tabloid queen who assumes Binoche’s ingenue role in the production, and – surprise, surprise – Kristen Stewart is first-rate as Binoche’s assistant. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $39.95 – both replete with special features. In English, French and German with English subtitles. Rated R. ***½

COMIN’ AT YA! (MVD Entertainment Group): The 3-D Blu-ray debut ($24.95 retail) of the 1981 shoot-’em-up, starring producer/story writer Tony Anthony as a gunslinger out for revenge. A standard-issue (and belated) spaghetti Western, noteworthy only it was the first 3-D movie of the 1980s and a box-office success. Rated R. *½

THE CRUSH (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Writer/director Alan Shapiro’s 1993 psycho-thriller stars Cary Elwes as a writer who becomes the romantic obsession of precocious teen Alicia Silverstone (in her screen debut). A surprise box-officer sleeper and Silverstone’s breakout role (she even won two MTV awards for it!), but silly in the extreme. The special-edition Blu-ray ($27.99 retail) includes audio commentary and retrospective interviews. Rated R. *½

DANGEROUS MEN (Drafthouse Films/MVD Entertainment Group): Filmmaker John S. Rad, whose onscreen credits include director, producer, writer and creator (to name a few) fled his native Iran then tried, with little success, to make this movie, a hilariously amateurish, meandering, badly dubbed revenge melodrama begun in the mid-’90s and “finished” in 2005 – replete with gratuitous nudity and violence, lapses in continuity, changes in film stock, poor dubbing, and so much more. A surefire cult contender, available in a special-edition (!) DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.95 retail). Zero stars

THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION/THE DECLINE OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION II: THE METAL YEARS (Shout! Factory): The single-disc Blu-ray release of Penelope Spheeris’ critically acclaimed 1981 documentary about the punk rock scene and its R-rated 1988 follow-up examining heavy metal music. Each Blu-ray retails for $19.98.

“EDGAR WALLACE DOUBLE FEATURE” (Blue Underground): The Blu-ray bow ($29.98 retail) of a pair of thrillers loosely based on Edgar Wallace stories, both scripted by producer Harry Alan Towers under his usual pseudonym Peter Welbeck and both featuring Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski: Circus of Fear (1966) co-stars Leo Genn, Suzy Kendall and Cecil Parker; Five Golden Dragons (1967) features Bob Cummings, George Raft, Brian Donlevy, Dan Duryea, Rupert Davies, Margaret Lee, Maria Perschy and Towers’ real-life wife, Maria Rohm.

FIDELIO: ALICE’S ODYSSEY (First Run Features): Actress-turned-writer/director Lucie Borleteau’s award-winning feature debut (originally titled Fidelio, l’odyssee d’Alice and also known as Fidelio: Alice’s Journey) stars the terrific Ariane Labed in the title role, a female sailor who enjoys the freedom of her travels (sexual and otherwise), but learns it comes at an emotional cost. In English, French, Romanian, Norwegian and Tagalog with English subtitles. ***

THE GLASS MAN (Indican Pictures): Writer/editor/director Christian Solimeno’s intriguing psychological thriller (made in 2012) stars Andy Nyman as an unemployed British businessman whose descent into madness is hastened by the arrival of mysterious James Cosmo at his doorstep one night. Neve Campbell, sporting a sharp British accent, appears as Nyman’s suspicious wife, and Solimeno shines in a small but pivotal role. Long-winded at times but worth a look, and the mid-point plot twist is a good one. **½

JANIS: LITTLE GIRL BLUE (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): An absorbing and entertaining feature documentary tracing the brief life and meteoric career of rock star Janis Joplin (1943-’70), featuring interviews with siblings, bandmates and friends including DA Pennebaker, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Weir and Dick Cavett, plus a treasure trove of vintage photos, videos and home movies, with Janis’ letters read by Chan Marshall (Cat Power). Despite Joplin’s unfortunate end, this film brims with life and love. ***

KNIGHT OF CUPS (Broad Green Pictures): Terrence Malick’s award-winning, R-rated drama stars Christian Bale as a disillusioned writer on an existential journey through Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with cinematography by three-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki and an all-star cast including Cate Blanchett, Natalie Portman, Imogen Poots, Brian Dennehy, Wes Bentley, Freida Pinto, Wes Bentley, Isabel Lucas, Teresa Palmer, Armin Mueller-Stahl, Cherry Jones, Jason Clarke and Antonio Banderas, available on DVD ($26.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.99 retail).

MY BIG FAT GREEK WEDDING 2 (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): After 14 years, screenwriter/executive producer Nia Vardalos revisits the Portokalos clan in this PG-13-rated sequel, with John Corbett, Lainie Kazan, Michael Constantine, Joey Fatone, Louis Mandylos, Gia Carides, Bess Meisler and Andrea Martin back on board, joined this time by Elena Kampouris (as Vardalos and Corbett’s daughter), John Stamos and producer Rita Wilson joining the fun. The DVD retails for $22.98, the Blu-ray for $34.98.

“OUTINGS” (TLA Releasing): A DVD collection ($24.99 retail) of all three episodes from the inaugural 2016 season of the British drama series about a group of young gay friends, with an ensemble cast including writer/producer/director Lloyd Eyre-Morgan, Verity-May Henry, Amy Jane Ollies, Ali Kahn, Joel Keating, Simon Keen, Jenny Morgan, and writer/producer Rob Ward.

RABIN, THE LAST DAY (Kino Lorber): Amos Gitai’s award-winning documentary feature chronicles the events leading up to the assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin on Nov. 4, 1995 in Tel Aviv. In Hebrew with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail).

SMOTHERED (Indican Pictures): Actor John Schneider wrote and directed this affectionate, albeit hit-and-miss, slasher spoof in which many of the genre’s icons (including producer Kane Hodder, R.A. Milhailoff, Don Shanks, Bill Moseley and Malcolm Danare) play “themselves” on the convention circuit, but opting to hire out to haunt a trailer park – where they are themselves haunted, although they get to display their comedy chops before being — well, chopped. Michael Berryman, John Kassir (voice of “the Crypt Keeper”) and Schneider also show up. **½

SOUTHLANDER: DIARY OF A DESPERATE MUSICIAN (MVD Entertainment Group): A special-edition DVD ($16.95 retail) of a low-budget 2001 comedy starring Rory Cochrane as a musician searching for his stolen 1969 “Moltron” keyboard in Los Angeles. Rambling and dull, despite a few inspired touches and a cast including Gregg Henry (funny), Ross Harris (who made his screenwriting debut), Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Beck, Hank Williams III, Richard Edson, Ione Skye, Elliott Smith, Beth Orton and Laura Prepon (in her screen debut). *

“VERA”: SET 6 (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): Brenda Blethyn returns as Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, laying down the law and solving intricate crimes in rural England, in all four feature-length episodes from the 2016 season of the award-winning ITV Studios mystery series based on Ann Cleeves’ best-selling novels.

“VINYL”: THE COMPLETE SEASON ONE (HBO): Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese are among the executive producers/creators of this HBO drama series set against the backdrop of the record industry in the early ’70s, with Bobby Cannavale a record president determined to resurrect his faltering label. The ensemble cast includes Olivia Wilde, Juno Temple, Paul-Ben Victor, P.J. Byrne, Mick’s son James Jagger, and Ray Romano. All 10 episodes from the inaugural (and only) 2016 season are available on DVD ($49.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($59.98 retail).

WE MONSTERS (First Run Features): Sebastian Ko’s psychological thriller (originally titled Wir Monster and also known as Cold Days) stars Mehdi Nebbou and Ulrike C. Tscharre as a divorced couple reunited in an effort to cover up their teenaged daughter’s (Janina Fautz) involvement in a murder. In German with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).

(Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2016, Mark Burger) HYPERLINK “”