video vault

by Mark Burger

DVD Pick of the week: A Private Function (Image Entertainment)

Maggie Smith and Michael Palin headline this deliciously wicked, award-winning 1984 satire from a story by screenwriter Alan Bennett and director Malcolm Mowbray.

Gilbert Chilvers (Palin) is an unassuming podiatrist whose status-conscious wife Joyce (Smith) is anxious to better her standing in their community. Their ticket, unlikely though it may seem, is an unlicensed, illegal pig belonging to a local farmer (Tony Haygarth), being fattened up for a feast to celebrate the wedding of Princess Elizabeth to Prince Philip. This being 1947, the nation is still subject to food rationing.

Thus, the porker is truly a prize — and everybody wants it.

With outrageous flair, the film skewers social mores to core, with nearly every character a study in avarice (Palin’s a notable and intentional exception). A peerless cast includes Denholm Elliott, Pete Postlethwaite, Jim Carter, Richard Griffiths, Alison Steadman, John Normington, Bill Paterson and Liz Smith, the latter as Joyce’s doddering mum, perpetually terrified that she’ll wind up in a nursing home. At least that’s better than what’s in mind for the pig!

The DVD retails for $14.98, the Blu-ray for $17.97. Rated R.

ALSO Available

BEAUTY AND THE BRIEFCASE (Image Entertainment): Executive producer Hilary Duff stars in this romantic comedy as an ambitious young writer who goes undercover for Cosmopolitan to do a piece on dating in the workplace. Guess what happens next? Perky and predictable, but painless. An attractive cast helps a lot.

BLOOD OUT (LionsGate Home Entertainment): Hard-bitten cop Luke Goss goes undercover to avenge his brother’s murder. Ho-hum. Val Kilmer, Vinnie Jones, AnnaLynne McCord and executive producer Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson waste time in support. Rated R.

THE BOB HOPE COLLECTION: VOLUME 2 (Shout! Factory): A self-explanatory three-DVD boxed set ($34.93 retail) featuring six screen comedies starring Bob Hope (1903-2003): The Great Lover (1949) co-stars Rhonda Fleming; Son of Paleface (1952), the sequel to his 1948 hit, costarring Jane Russell and Roy Rogers, and Oscarnominated for Best Song (“Am I in Love”); Paris Holiday (1958) pairs Hope with French comedy legend Fernandel; The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell (1968) co-stars Phyllis Diller and Gina Lollobrigida; How to Commit Marriage (also ‘68) featured Hope’s only screen teaming with Jackie Gleason; and 1972’s Cancel My Reservation (rated PG) marked Hope’s final big-screen lead. Some of Bob’s later films were hardly his best….

DON’T LOOK BACK (Docurama Films): Widely acclaimed as one of the first great rock ‘n’ roll documentaries, DA Pennebaker’s 1967 chronicle of Bob Dylan’s three-week concert tour in 1965 England, makes its Blu-ray debut ($39.95 retail), replete with multiple special features.

DYING GOD (Green Apple Entertainment):

The Incubus (1981) meets Split Second (1992) in

this lousy, cheapjack shocker. wherein a corrupt cop (the wooden James Horan) battles an inhuman killer on the streets of Buenos Aires, aided by Erin Brown (AKA softcore scream queen Misty Mundae) and Lance Henriksen (as a crippled crime lord). Just awful. Rated R.

EMBODIMENT OF EVIL (Synapse Films): After four decades, Jose Mojica Marins resurrects his signature character “Coffin Joe,” the evil undertaker bent on finding women who will bear his progeny, after having spent 40 years in prison. It’s a whole new world for Coffin Joe to conquer, but conquer it he does. Rui Rezende plays Joe’s faithful, hunchbacked assistant Bruno, always willing to do his master’s bidding. Distinctive imagery and attitude mark this colorful, entertaining horror opus, directed and co-written by Marins, but the squeamish are forewarned. In Portuguese with English subtitles.

FAMILY SECRET (X Posse/Webhead Entertainment/Tempe Video): Writer/director Geno McGahee’s shocker stars Forris Day Jr. as “Geno McGee,” a small-town reporter whose relatives start meeting violent ends after the much-disliked matriarch dies. Strictly amateur night in all departments, yet there’s a laughable charm to these dirt-cheap doings. The bowling alley sequence is a howl, with young Jacob Moon (in his screen debut) very funny as a smart-aleck teenager.

HEAVEN AIN’T HARD TO FIND (Entertainment One): Escaped convict Andre Pitre finds himself trying to save a Baptist church from foreclosure in this low-budget comedy hampered by corny stereotypes and bizarre, uncalled-for plot twists. As a result, the spirited cast, including Kym Whitley and Clifton Powell, fights an uphill battle. Rated PG-13.

“HIGHWAY TO HEAVEN”: SEASON ONE (A&E Home Entertainment): A DVD boxed set

($29.95 retail) of all 25 episodes from the premiere 1984-’85 season of the award-winning prime-time NBC series with Michael Landon as a “probationary angel” who comes to Earth to help those in need, aided by a grizzled ex-cop (Victor French). Landon created the series, served as executive producer, directed the majority of episodes and wrote several, too. The first season earned three Emmy nominations including two for Outstanding Cinematography for a Series.

LUCKY BOOTS (Alpha Home Entertainment):

There’s a treasure map hidden in a boot, hence the title of this 1935 Western programmer, in which Guinn “Big Boy” Williams eventually puts his foot down.

NEVER TOO LATE (Alpha Home Entertainment): Richard Talmadge tangles with jewel thieves in this 1935 melodrama. A thin plot is elevated by Talmadge’s trademark acrobatics (he doubled Douglas Fairbanks in some silents).

SEXY PIRATES (One 7 Movies/CAV Distributing): Not really. There’s low-budget swordplay on display in this boring, silly 1998 adventure helmed by the prolific Joe D’Amato (AKA Aristide Massaccesi), under the pseudonym “David Hills.” Given that leading lady Anita Rinaldi was a Penthouse Pet and future porn star, the nudity is negligible. In Italian with English subtitles.

SHARPAY’S FABULOUS ADVENTURE (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment): Ashley Tisdale takes center stage as she reprises her High School Musical role as teen diva Sharpay Evans in this G-rated musical comedy, available as a single-disc DVD ($29.99 retail), a DVD/ Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail), or a DVD/Blu-ray “superset” ($49.99 retail).


VOLUME SEVEN (LionsGate Home Entertainment): A three-DVD boxed set ($29.98

retail) containing 24 episodes from the 2009-’10 season of the award-winning Fox sitcom about a multi-generational family trying to co-exist peacefully (not likely!) under one roof. Allen Payne heads the cast.

“THE UNIVERSE” MEGA COLLECTION (A&E Home Entertainment): All 63 episodes from the entire five-season run of the popular History Channel science documentary series are included in this collection, which retails for $149.95 (DVD) or $179.95 (Blu-ray).

THE WALKING DEAD GIRLS (IMD Films/ MVD Visual): A loose, light documentary about the zombie phenomenon, with particular emphasisonthe making of a “Zombie Pin-Up Calendar” and featuring interviews with such genre favorites as George A. Romero, Bruce Campbell, Linnea Quigley, Terry Alexander, Troma Films founder Lloyd Kaufman and others.

THE WAY BACK (Image Entertainment):

Director Peter Weir’s purportedly fact-based drama features Ed Harris, Colin Farrell, Saorise Ronan and Jim Sturgess as refugees who traverse impossible landscapes and face long odds when they flee a Soviet gulag and trek some 4,500 miles to freedom. As exhausting as it is entertaining, Weir captures well the arduousness and heroism of the journey. Oscar nomination for Best Makeup. Rated PG-13.

WHEN A MAN RIDES ALONE (Alpha Home Entertainment): Snappy performances elevate this low-budget 1933 Western with Tom Tyler as “The Llano Kid” caught up in a series of stagecoach robberies.

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