Video Vault – Apr 12, 2017
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
BLOW-UP (The Criterion Collection): One of the premier art-house smashes of its time, Michelangelo Antonioni’s ground-breaking exercise in style and suspense cemented his reputation as a master filmmaker and earned him Oscar nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
David Hemmings (in his best-known role) plays a hedonistic fashion photographer cutting a swath through ’60s London (set to the music of The Yardbirds), until he inadvertently photographs a murder in Maryon Park – or is it a murder? In the Antonioni universe, seeing is not necessarily believing. Perception is tenuous, reality is indistinct.
A fine cast includes Vanessa Redgrave, Sarah Miles, Peter Bowles and John Castle, but the real star is Antonioni himself, the director as auteur. Blow-Up may be dated in terms of its “mod” fashions and blissful amorality, but its huge impact and influence are still felt in films today – including its now-legendary final scene, an utter exemplification of ambiguity.
Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include retrospective documentary and interviews, vintage interviews, trailers and more. ***½
AMERICANA (Candy Factory Films): Writer/producer/director Zachary Shedd’s award-winning debut feature is a dour, downbeat character study/film noir, starring David Call as an alcoholic editor driven to the breaking point when his actress sister Kelli Garner is gunned down before his eyes, forcing him to confront demons from his past. Well-shot by cinematographer Justin Foster, with a good cast (including Jack Davenport, Frank Mosley and Peter Coyote) – but it never quite peaks, although Shedd may be a talent to watch. **
“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 2016 season of this Miami-set HBO comedy series. Omar Miller, Rob Corddry, Troy Garrity, Donovan Carter, and real-life ex-NFL star John David Washington also star, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.98 retail).
CANOA: A SHAMEFUL MEMORY (The Criterion Collection): The Blu-ray bow ($39.95 retail) of Felipe Cazals’ award-winning, fact-based 1976 drama (originally titled Canoa: memoria de un hecho vergonzoso) in which a group of young mountain climbers are mistaken for Communist agitators and persecuted by right-wing villagers. In Spanish with English subtitles.
CATHY’S CURSE (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): A special edition (!) of screenwriter/producer/director Eddy Matalon’s laugh-filled, low-budget 1977 horror schlock-fest, starring Randi Allen (her first and only screen role) in the title role of a young girl possessed by the spirit of an aunt who died years ago in a car crash, with muddled mayhem following. Clearly designed to cash in on the Exorcist/Omen formula, this played drive-ins and grindhouses well into the ’80s, and who can forget the trailer and TV spots proclaiming: Cathy’s Curse … she has the power … to terrorize!”? Both the DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.98 retail) include such special features as director’s cut and alternate US version, audio commentary, retrospective interviews and more. This may be awful, but the new transfer looks great. Rated R. *
A KIND OF MURDER (Magnolia Home Entertainment): This R-rated adaptation of the Patricia Highsmith novel The Blunderer stars Patrick Wilson as a successful New York architect whose obsession with a murder case draws him into jeopardy – and suspicion that he too might be a killer. Jessica Biel, Vincent Kartheiser, Haley Bennett and Eddie Marsan also star, available on DVD ($26.98 retail), Blu-ray ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($32.98 retail).
LIVE BY NIGHT (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Despite exquisite period detail and blazing action sequences, Ben Affleck’s adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s best-seller about the rise of a World War I veteran-turned-gangster during Prohibition was a critical and box-office misfire, with a star-studded cast including Elle Fanning, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina and Chris Cooper, available on DVD ($28.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail). Rated R. **
PHAEDRA (Olive Films): The Blu-ray bow ($24.95 retail) of Jules Dassin’s contemporary 1962 adaptation of Euripides’ Hippolytus, depicting the doomed love affair between Melina Mercouri, as the wife of a powerful shipping tycoon (Raf Vallone), and his son (Anthony Perkins) from his first marriage.
SILENCE (Paramount): One of Martin Scorsese’s long-gestating “dream projects,” this ponderous adaptation of Shusaku Endo’s novel stars Andrew Garfield as Adam Driver as Jesuit priests who smuggle into 17th-century Japan in search of their missing mentor (Liam Neeson). Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography earned an Oscar nomination, but this ranks as a major disappointment from a major filmmaker despite his abilities and noblest intentions. The DVD retails for $29.99, the Blu-ray for $39.99. Rated R. *½
SWORD MASTER (Well Go USA Entertainment): Producer Tsui Hark and director Derek Yee collaborated on the screenplay with Chun Tin-Nam for this adaptation (originally titled San shao ye de jian) of of Gi Long’s novel The Third Master’s Sword, previously made as Death Duel (1977), with Lin Gengxin in the title role of a master warrior pitted against ruthless assassin Peter Ho. In Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
THREE (Well Go USA Entertainment): Johnnie To’s latest action extravaganza (originally titled San ren xing) stars Wallace Chung as a wounded thug who awaits his cohorts in the hospital despite the obsessed cop (Louis Koo) guarding him and the surgeon (Zhao Wei) assigned to treat him. In English, Cantonese and Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
“TROMA BLU-RAY DOUBLE FEATURE” (Troma Entertainment/CAV Distributing): A self-explanatory double-shot of low-budget shockers from the inimitable New York-based indie studio Troma Entertainment: Writer/producer/editor/director Brandon Bassham’s 2014 debut feature, the slasher spoof Fear Town USA, and his equally light-hearted (and gore-soaked) 2015 romp The Slashening, available for $24.98 retail.
“VEEP”: THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON (HBO): Julia Louis-Dreyfus scored her fifth consecutive Emmy Award (Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series) as US Vice-President Selina Meyer, making her bid to be elected President, in the critically acclaimed HBO comedy series created by Armando Iannucci, which also won Emmys as Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Casting for a Comedy Series, with an additional 13 Emmy nominations including Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series (Tony Hale and Matt Walsh), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series (Anna Chlumsky), Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series (Martin Mull) and three for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy Series. All 10 episodes from the 2016 season are available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.98 retail).
WE DON’T BELONG HERE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Echoes of The Virgin Suicides (1999) – itself a flawed film – abound in executive producer Peer Pederson’s heavy-handed feature debut as writer/director, starring Catherine Keener as an affluent but troubled widow with three daughters (Riley Keough, Kaitlyn Dever and Annie Starke) and a missing son (the late Anton Yelchin). Originally titled The Greens Are Gone and well-shot by cinematographer Doug Emmett, a good cast includes Maya Rudolph, Molly Shannon, Justin Chatwin and Cary Elwes. Dedicated to Yelchin, whose last released film this is. Rated R. **
“THE WEISSENSEE SAGA” (MHz Networks): The intertwined lives of two East German families during the politically and socially turbulent 1980s and ’90s are dramatized in this critically acclaimed, award-winning German-language series (originally titled, simply, Weissensee), featuring an ensemble cast including Florian Lukas, Uwe Kockisch, Katrin Sass, Jorg Hartmann, Ruth Reineke, Hannah Herzsprung and Anna Loos. All six episodes from the premiere 2010 season, all six from the 2013 season, and all six from the 2015 season are available in three-DVD collections (each $39.95 retail).
“WENTWORTH”: SEASON 2 (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): A four-DVD collection ($59.99 retail) of all 12 episodes from the 2014 season of the award-winning Australian drama series (also known as “Wentworth Prison”) starring Danielle Cormack as a woman learning the ropes of prison life, with Kate Atkinson, Nicole da Silva, Robbie Magasiva and Pamela Rabe in support.
WHY HIM? (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Straight-laced patriarch Bryan Cranston becomes incensed – and then some – when daughter Zoey Deutsch begins dating eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire James Franco in this R-rated comedy, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail) and 4K UHD Blu-ray ($39.99 retail).
(Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. Copyright 2017, Mark Burger) HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com”firstname.lastname@example.org