Video Vault – Aug 2, 2017
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
BRAIN DAMAGE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Independent filmmaker Frank Henenlotter will always be remembered for his cult-classic 1982 breakthrough Basket Case, but his 1988 follow-up benefits from a bigger budget and a more assured confidence. Indeed, it may be Henenlotter’s best film.
Future soap-opera heartthrob Rick Hearst (billed under his actual surname “Herbst”) makes his feature debut as Brian, an all-American everyman who forms a fast, if unorthodox, partnership with Aylmer, a slimy – but talkative – parasite who feeds on human brains and can provide euphoric doses of an hallucinogenic that Brian quickly becomes hooked on, so much so that he begins providing Aylmer with a steady supply of victims.
Amidst the black comedy and gore – considerable on both counts – there’s a slyly subversive allegory on drug addiction, and a special treat is the uncredited but inestimable contribution of popular TV horror host John Zacherle, as the voice of Aylmer. There’s also a delightful nod to Basket Case with a cameo by that film’s star, Kevin Van Hentenryck – replete with basket.
The DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, featurettes and more. ***
BENDER (Candy Factory Films): James Karen plays the deranged patriarch of the title clan in co-writer/director John Alexander’s award-winning, fact-based debut feature dramatizing the grisly actions of the first reported serial-killing family, who lured unwary passerby to their doom in post-Civil War Kansas. The narrative follows the trajectory of Psycho (1960), which is not a bad thing, and first-time composer Edouard Korvin’s score is clearly in the Bernard Herrmann fashion. Jon Monastero (in a dual role), Nicole Jellen (in her feature debut), Leslie Woodies, Linda Purl, Buck Taylor and Bruce Davison round out the cast of this modestly effective thriller with definite cult possibilities. **½
BEYOND THE DARKNESS (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): Aristide Massachessi (under his usual pseudonym “Joe D’Amato”) directed this controversial 1979 cult shocker (also known as Buio Omega, Blue Omega and Buried Alive), starring Kieran Canter as a deranged taxidermist who uses his skills to preserve the body of his dead wife (Cinzia Monreale), even as he slides deeper into paranoia and madness, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray/CD combo ($34.95 retail) – both replete with bonus features including archival and retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer and more.
BIG LITTLE LIES (HBO): Writer/creator David E. Kelley and director Jean-Marc Vallee’s seven-part mini-series adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel focuses on three mothers (executive producers Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, and Shailene Woodley) caught up in a web of deceit and suspicion in the seaside California town of Monterey. Nominated for 15 Emmy Awards including Outstanding Limited Series, Outstanding Direction and Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Move or Dramatic Special, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Kidman and Witherspoon), Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie (Woodley and Laura Dern), and Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie (Alexander Skarsgard). The DVD retails for $39.99, the Blu-ray for $49.99 – both with bonus features.
BITCOIN HEIST (Well Go USA Entertainment): Director Ham Tran’s self-explanatory, high-tech caper thriller stars Kate Nhung as a maverick Interpol agent who assembles a group of highly skilled thieves to trap a nefarious computer hacker. In English, German and Vietnamese with English subtitles, available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail).
THE BOSS BABY (Dreamworks Animation/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Alec Baldwin provides the voice for the title character in this breezy, flippant, award-winning animated farce based on Marla Frazee’s best-seller, with a star-studded voice-over cast including Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow and Miles Bakshi, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($36.99 retail), 3-D Blu-ray combo ($44.99 retail) and 4K Ultra HD ($44.99 retail) – each replete with special features. Rated PG. **½
“THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW: THE BEST OF HARVEY KORMAN” (Time Life): The title tells all in this DVD selection ($12.95 retail) of four episodes – three unseen for the last 40 years – from the long-running, award-winning CBS comedy/variety series, showcasing the comedic skills of co-star Harvey Korman, who won four Emmy Awards for his efforts.
THE CIRCLE (LionsGate): Director James Ponsoldt and Dave Eggers’ adaptation of the latter’s best-selling novel stars Emma Watson as an idealistic new employee at a high-powered tech corporation who discovers its motives may not be what they seem, despite assurances to the contrary by avuncular, if vaguely mysterious, CEO Tom Hanks. A potentially topical and provocative storyline falls utterly flat, making this a major disappointment, sadly marking the final film of Bill Paxton and Glenne Headly’s penultimate one, ill-used as Watson’s parents. The DVD retails for $29.95, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $39.99. Rated PG-13. *½
“CRASHING”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (HBO): Executive producer Pete Holmes created this semi-autobiographical HBO comedy series in which he plays an aspiring stand-up comedian (named “Pete”) who dumps his cheating wife (Lauren Lapkus) and heads to New York City to make his dream come true, in all eight episodes from the inaugural 2017 season, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.98 retail).
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Superb special effects take precedence in this action-packed fantasy in which a group of explorers pay a visit to the titular locale, where they encounter the titular menace – who’s none too happy about being bothered. The (one-dimensional) human contingent includes Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman and John C. Reilly. The DVD retails for $28.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $35.99, the 3-D Blu-ray combo for $44.95, and the 4K Ultra HD for $44.95 – each boasting bonus features. Rated PG-13. **½
THE LOVERS (LionsGate): Writer/director Azazel Jacobs’ R-rated romantic comedy stars Debra Winger and Tracy Letts as a long-married couple who forsake extra-martial affairs when they unexpectedly fall back in love, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.98 retail).
OBSESSIONS (Cult Epics/CAV Distributing): A DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.95 retail) of writer/producer Pim de la Parra’s 1969 directorial debut (originally titled Bezeten – Het gat in de muur), which holds the distinction of being the first English-language Dutch film, starring co-producer Dieter Gessler as an expatriate college student who surreptitiously sees his neighbor commit sexual deviance – and murder – through a peephole. This kinky, giallo-type thriller, with obvious nods to Hitchock, Antonioni and Michael Powell (Peeping Tom, anyone?) is more notable for its participants than its presentation, as Martin Scorsese earned his first screenwriting credit (and was reportedly paid a whopping $500 for his efforts), future director Jan de Bont was the second unit photographer, and future filmmaker (and Oscar winner) Fons Rademakers has a supporting role. Special features include retrospective interviews and more. *½
PURE COUNTRY: PURE HEART (WWE Studios/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Cozi Zuehlsdorff and Kaitlyn Bausch (in her feature debut) portray sisters whose country-music career is inspired as they embark on a journey to discover the legacy of their late father, himself a country singer, in this PG-rated drama featuring pro wrestler Shawn Michaels, Willie Nelson (as himself) and Ronny Cox, available on DVD ($18.94 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.98 retail).
RED LEAVES (IndiePix Films): Writer/producer/director Bazi Gete’s award-winning debut feature (originally titled Alim adumim) stars Debebe Eshtu (his first film in 40 years!) as an embittered, recently widowed Ethopian immigrant still struggling to assimilate in Israel despite having lived there 30 years. In Amharic and Hebrew with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).
S.W.A.T.: UNDER SIEGE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Sam Jaeger and Adrianne Palicki are caught in the line of fire when their S.W.A.T. compound is raided by terrorists bent on springing drug lord Michael Jai White from custody in this R-rated shoot-’em-up inspired by the popular ’70s police series, available on DVD ($19.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($25.99 retail).
“TEEN WOLF”: SEASON 6, PART 1 (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Tyler Posey’s Scott McCall continues his struggle with adolescence – and the curse of lycanthropy – in this three-DVD collection ($29.98 retail) of the first 10 episodes from the 2016-’17 season of the award-winning MTV fantasy series created by executive producer Jeff Davis and (very) loosely based on the ’80s Michael J. Fox comedy.
TRUST FUND (Mapelle Films): Executive producer/writer/director Sandra L. Martin’s debut feature is a contemporary riff on the Biblical parable of “The Prodigal Son” – in this case with Jessica Rothe as a would-be writer who absconds with her inheritance but then returns to her forgiving father (Kevin Kilner) while her sister (Louise Dylan) seethes with resentment. Well-made and well-meaning, but poorly paced and heavy-handed in the extreme. Rated PG. *½
WITH GREAT POWER … THE STAN LEE STORY (Well Go USA Entertainment): The title tells all in this affectionate, award-winning 2010 feature documentary tracing the life and career of Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee, still going strong at age 93 – and recently having made his customary cameo in Spider-Man: Homecoming. ***
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2017, Mark Burger)