March 28, 2012 10:53

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DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: CONVERSATION PIECE

(RaroVideo)

Conversation dominates in filmmaker Luchino Visconti’s penultimate 1974 drama, originally titled Gruppo Di Famiglia in un Interno and much maligned (undeservedly) on its original release.

The great Burt Lancaster, in an autumnal performance that prefigures Atlantic City (1981), plays a retired antiquarian, known as “The Professor,” who sublets an upstairs apartment to a wealthy harridan (Silvana Mangano), her spoiled children (Claudia Marsani and Stefano Patrizi, see Young, Violent, Dangerous below), and an anarchist gigolo (Helmut Berger).

Like many of his contemporaries (Fellini, Bergman, Antonioni), Visconti tended to incorporate his moods, attitudes and opinions in his films — and this is no exception. It’s easy to envision Visconti as the Professor. There are discussions about politics, morality, permissiveness and any number of topics that Visconti

pondered in life and his films, sometimes to exquisite effect and other times (including this one) to the edge of self-indulgence.

Given his ill health when he made Conversation Piece, many former collaborators returned for the opportunity to work with him again, including Lancaster, Mangano, Berger and Romolo Valli. Even Claudia Cardinale and Dominique Sanda contribute cameo appearances in flashback sequences as the Professor’s wife and mother, respectively. Pasqualino De Santis’ cinematography and Mario Garbuglia’s production design add visual beauty that was also a Visconti trademark.

There’s a sense of completion to the proceedings, as if Visconti was putting affairs in order. Conversation Piece is overlong and overstated, but it is the work of a master. Not at the peak of his powers, perhaps, but still capable of greatness.

BOUNTY HUNTERS (MPI Home Video):

In her screen debut, pro wrestler Trish Status has fancy curves and moves, but this lame crime drama is as generic as its title. Originally titled Bail Enforcers, which is scarcely better. Rated R.

BOX OF BIGFOOT (CFS Releasing/MVD Entertainment Group): Subtitled “Hillbillies vs. Sasquatch,” this DVD triple-feature ($9.95 retail) of low-budget B-movies includes Charles B. Pierce’s surprise G-rated 1972 hit The Legend of Boggy Creek (AKA The Barbaric Beast of Boggy Creek); the 1976 documentary The Legend of Bigfoot (rated G), which follows tracker Ivan Marx’s pursuit of the elusive Bigfoot; and director Bill Rebane’s dire 1979 chiller The Capture of Bigfoot (rated PG), featuring John Goff, Otis Young and George “Buck” Flower.

“CATDOG”: SEASON 1, PART 2 (Shout! Factory): A two-DVD collection ($19.93 retail) of the final 10 episodes from the premiere 1998 season of the popular Nickelodeon cartoon series about a conjoined cat and dog.

A DANGEROUS METHOD (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Michael Fassbender plays Carl Jung, Viggo Mortensen plays Sigmund Freud and Keira Knightley the woman who comes between them, in director David Cronenberg’s adaptation of Christopher Hampton’s play The Talking Cure, itself based on John Kerr’s book A Most Dangerous Method. Cronenberg is incapable of making an uninteresting film, but this is a misfire. Rated R.

EXTREMELY LOUD & INCREDIBLY CLOSE (Warner Home Video): Stephen Daldry directs this adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s best-seller, with Thomas Horn as a withdrawn boy coming to terms with the death of his father (Tom Hanks), who perished in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. An all-star cast includes Sandra Bullock, Viola Davis, John Goodman, Jeffrey Wright, Zoe Caldwell and Max Von Sydow, who earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Additional nomination for Best Picture. Available as a single DVD ($28.98 retail) or a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail). Rated PG-13.

HAPPY FEET TWO (Warner Home Video): Presentation is everything in director George Miller’s belated (and rather unnecessary) sequel to the 2006 animated hit about a family of penguins in Antarctica, with Robin Williams, Elijah Wood and Hugo Weaving reprising their voiceover roles, joined this time by Alecia (P!nk) Moore, Hank Azaria, Anthony LaPaglia, Common, and Brad Pitt and Matt Damon as comic-relief krills. The flimsy story and environmental message take a backseat to the spectacular animation. The first film was a box-office smash, but this was a surprise miss. Available as a single DVD ($28.98 retail), a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), or a 3-D Blu-ray combo pack ($44.95 retail). Rated PG.

“HOLLY’S WORLD”: THE COMPLETE SEASONS 1 & 2 (MPI Home Video): A three- DVD boxed set ($29.98) of all 19 episodes from the 2010 and ’11 seasons of the popular E! Entertainment Television reality series focusing on the life of blonde bombshell Holly Madison.

IN THE LAND OF BLOOD AND HONEY (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Angelina Jolie makes her screenwriting and directing debut with this award-winning chronicle of the Bosnian War as seen through the eyes of a young Serbian soldier (Goran Kostic) and a Bosnian woman (Zana Marjanovic). The DVD/ Blu-ray combo retails for $40.99. Rated R.

IN TIME (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Time is currency (literally) in writer/producer/director Andrew Niccol’s futuristic thriller, with Justin Timberlake as an innocent man on the run. An uneven mashing-together of Dickensian (as in Philip K.) themes, with a bit of George Orwell, and slick, hi-tech action. Characterization is sketchy, with Amanda Seyfried, curiously top-billed and a redhead here, as Timberlake’s love interest, and Cillian Murphy, Olivia Wilde (as Timberlake’s mom — which makes sense under these circumstances), Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Galecki, Vincent Kartheiser and Matt Bomer on hand. Rated PG-13.

MANGUS! (Wolfe Video): Writer/producer/ director Ash Christian’s broad, bawdy comedy, very much in the Del Shores vein, stars Ryan Nelson Boggus in the title role, a teen thespian bent on playing the lead role in his high school’s annual production of Jesus Christ Spectacular. A zealous cast includes Heather Matarazzo (also a producer), Jennifer Coolidge, Leslie Jordan and John Waters.

MURDER OBSESSION (RaroVideo): Horror actor Stefano Patrizi takes a sabbatical to visit his widowed mother (Anita Strindberg) at the family mansion, at which point the bodies start piling up. This oddball giallo shocker (vintage 1981) is good to look at but awfully slow moving, although there’s an interesting cast, including Martine Brouchard, John Richardson, Silvia Dionisio, Henri Garcin and international sex star Laura Gemser. Points to anyone who can predict, or decipher, the film’s ending(s). Originally titled Follia Omicida, this marked the final completed feature of cult director Riccardo Freda as well as the last to date for Strindberg, who retired shortly thereafter. Also known as Murder Syndrome and released on VHS in the US as Fear in the ‘80s.

MYSTERIES OF LISBON (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): The late Raoul Ruiz’ penultimate project, this epic, awardwinning adaptation of Camilo Castelo Branco’s 19th-century novel (originally broadcast as a miniseries, Misterios de Lisboa) follows a young orphan (Joao Luis Arrais as a boy, Afonso Pimentel as an adult) as he encounters a disparate group of people over several decades and across several continents while searching for his roots. In Portuguese and French with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $34.95, the Blu-ray for $43.95.

QUEEN OF THE SUN: WHAT ARE THE BEES TELLING US? (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): This award-winning documentary ($29.95 retail) examines the sudden and alarming decrease in honeybee population throughout the world — a phenomenon known as “Colony Collapse Disorder” — which could have repercussions on the balance of nature.

THE SITTER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Jonah Hill plays the title role in this featherweight farce designed entirely for quick-buck business last Christmas, now available in an unrated, “totally irresponsible” edition. Not a high-water mark for UNCSA graduates David Gordon Green (director) or Tim Orr (cinematographer)… or anyone involved, for that matter.

YOUNG, VIOLENT, DANGEROUS (RaroVideo): The title aptly describes Stefano Patrizi, Max Delys and Benjamin Lev, as punks on a violent rampage across the Italian countryside, with Eleonora Georgi along for the ride and police commissioner Tomas Milian in pursuit, in this 1976 crime drama (original title: Liberi armati pericolosi) highlighted by some decent shoot-outs, a goofy score, and Milian’s lecture to the parents of these miscreants.

Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2012, Mark Burger

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