The Arts

Video Vault – July 12, 2017

MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT

PICK OF THE WEEK

THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Dario Argento’s 1970 solo directorial debut (originally titled L’uccello dalle piume di cristallo) – which won a Golden Globe award (!) as Best First Feature — immediately established Argento’s reputation as a master filmmaker, a reputation he’s had a difficult time sustaining of late.
A sleek, stylish thriller that combines elements of Alfred Hitchcock and Michelangelo Antonioni, the film stars Tony Musante as Sam Dalmas, an American artist (and prototypical everyman hero) living in Rome. When he witnesses an attempted murder, he finds himself drawn into a web of deception and violence that threatens both him and his girlfriend Julia (Suzy Kendall).
Red herrings abound, and in typical Argento fashion style trumps substance, with Vittorio Storaro’s sumptuous cinematography and Ennio Morricone’s score providing perfect seasoning for these dire doings. Musante and Kendall are likable and sympathetic, and a polished supporting cast includes Eva Renzi, Mario Adorf, Enrico Maria Salerno and Umberto Raho.
The limited-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($49.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews and more. Rated PG. ***

ALSO AVAILABLE

AMAR AKBAR & TONY (Kino Lorber): Rez Kempton, Sam Vicenti and Martin Delaney play the title characters in writer/producer/director Atul Malhotra’s colorful comedy/drama as three boyhood buddies whose different ethnic backgrounds have given each an insight into the others’ cultures. Moments of broad comedy don’t always congeal with the dramatic overtones, but sincere performances overcome all. ***

THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Trollhunter director Andre Ovredal’s award-winning chiller pairs Brian Cox and Emile Hirsch as father-and-son morticians baffled by the arrival of the well-preserved title body (played, perfectly still, by newcomer Olwen Kelly), which seems to possess unearthly powers. Effective, creepy, and acted with conviction (especially by the reliable Cox), but fumbles the pay-off. Still, well worth a look for genre fans – and available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.97 retail). Rated R. **½

“THE BORGIAS”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (CBS DVD/Paramount): A self-explanatory nine-DVD collection ($35.98 retail) of all 29 episodes (plus bonus features) from the entire 2011-’13 run of the Showtime series created by executive producer/writer/director Neil Jordan, which won three Emmy awards and dramatized the history of an ambitious 15th-century Italian family. Jeremy Irons stars as Rodrigo Borgia, the patriarch who rose to power as Pope Alexander VI, with Francois Arnaud, Holliday Grainger, Joanne Whalley and Colm Feore also on hand.

DEJA VU (Olive Films): For his only directorial effort, noted cinematographer Anthony B. Richmond cast then-wife Jaclyn Smith and Nigel Terry in this muddled 1985 adaptation of Trevor Meldal-Johnsen’s novel Always as a couple convinced they are the reincarnation of lovers whose romance came to a tragic end. Pino Donaggio’s score and Claire Bloom’s appearance add some class, while Shelley Winters has a high old time as an eccentric medium. The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Rated R. *½

DOBERMAN COP (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Kinji Fukasaku’s 1977 police thriller (originally titled Doberuman deka) stars Shinichi “Sonny” Chiba as a hard-boiled detective who prowls Tokyo’s seamy underworld to solve a brutal murder. In Japanese with English subtitles, available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) that includes retrospective interviews and more.

“DOUBLE FEATURE: THE WILD WILD WEST” (CBS DVD/Paramount): Robert Conrad (“James West”) and Ross Martin (“Artemus Gordon”) returned in a pair of CBS reunion movies, both directed by Western veteran Burt Kennedy: The Wild Wild West Revisited (1979) co-starring Rene Auberjonois, Harry Morgan, Wilford Brimley, Shields & Yarnell, and Paul Williams (as the villainous son of Dr. Loveless); and More Wild Wild West (1980) again with Auberjonois and Morgan, as well as Jonathan Winters, Victor Buono, Emma Samms, Jack LaLanne, and Dr. Joyce Brothers (!). The DVD retails for $14.98.

ELECTRIC APRICOT: QUEST FOR FESTEROO (Troma Entertainment/CAV Distributing): Les Claypool (of Primus) wrote, edited, directed and stars in this intermittently amusing music “mockumentary” (originally released in 2006) focusing on the titular band as it records its first album and goes on tour, with guest appearances by Bob Weir, Seth Green, Matt Stone, Dion Bichar, Wavy Gravy and others. **

HELL IN THE PACIFIC (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): John Boorman’s rugged, gutsy, G-rated (!) 1969 World War II adventure (and existential allegory) stars Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune as enemies who must work together in order to survive after being marooned on an island in the Pacific. The two leads are in top form, and Conrad L. Hall’s cinematography is first-rate. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective interviews and the original ending. ***

“HOMICIDE: LIFE ON THE STREET”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Shout! Factory): A 35-DVD collection ($149.99 retail) of all 122 episodes (plus bonus features) from the entire 1993-’99 network run of the NBC crime series based on David Simon’s best-selling book Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets, which won four Emmy awards and reaped considerable critical praise, featuring an ensemble cast including Andre Braugher, Yaphet Kotto, Melissa Leo, Giancarlo Esposito, Kyle Secor, Clark Johnson and Ned Beatty.

LAST DAY OF SCHOOL (Troma Entertainment/CAV Distributing): Actor/editor Michael Mahal and sibling Sonny Mahal produced and directed this college comedy, set in Las Vegas, about four students forced to participate in a series of raunchy, risky stunts in order to make the grade, available on Blu-ray ($19.99 retail).

LONDON HEIST (LionsGate): Executive producer/co-writer Craig Fairbrass (in an award-winning performance) plays a hard-bitten hood bent on vengeance when the loot from his latest heist is stolen and his father (Steven Berkoff) murdered. Originally titled Gunned Down, this is a slick and stylish, but standard, shoot-’em-up. Rated R. **

MONEY (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Producer/director Martin Rosete’s award-winning debut feature is a twisty but talky thriller in the Elmore Leonard vein, with Kellan Lutz and Jesse Williams as executives whose theft of trade secrets has blackmailer Jamie Bamber knocking on the door, with Lutz’s wife (Jess Weixler) and Williams’ girlfriend (Lucia Guerrero) drawn into the scheme. Ideally suited to the small screen, with Bamber and Weixler the standouts. Rated R. **

MONSTER HUNT: ENGLISH VERSION (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Acclaimed filmmaker Raman Hui’s award-winning, family-friendly, animated fantasy became the highest-grossing film in China in 2015, available in its English-language version on DVD ($29.95 retail).

“RAKE”: SERIES 2 (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): Richard Roxburgh (also producer/creator) stars as a sharp but self-destructive Australian lawyer who tackles seemingly impossible cases, in all eight episodes from the inaugural 2012 season of the award-winning courtroom series, with Danielle Cormack, Damien Garvey and Adrienne Pickering, with guest appearances by Maeve Dermody, Martin Henderson and Stephen Curry. The three-DVD collection retails for $39.99.

“ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Time Life): A 38-DVD collector’s edition ($250 retail) of all 140 episodes (plus bonus features) from the entire 1968-’73 network run of the ground-breaking, even controversial, NBC comedy/variety series hosted by Dan Rowan and Dick Martin, which won seven Emmy Awards and launched such talents as Goldie Hawn, Lily Tomlin, Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Henry Gibson, Alan Sues and Garry Owens.

THE SAVAGE INNOCENTS (Olive Films): Nicholas Ray’s award-winning 1960 adaptation of Hans Rausch’s novel Top of the World stars Anthony Quinn as an Eskimo pursued through the Arctic after he commits a murder. Yoko Tani plays Quinn’s wife, and Peter O’Toole enjoys one of his earliest screen roles as a policeman, but wanted his name removed from the credits when he was dubbed. The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95.

THIS BEAUTIFUL FANTASTIC (Samuel Goldwyn Films/Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Mousey librarian and would-be writer Jessica Brown Findlay forms an unlikely friendship with grouchy horticulturist neighbor Tom Wilkinson in writer/director Simon Aboud’s picturesque and whimsical but overly sugary comedy. Rated PG. **

A UNITED KINGDOM (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Producer David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike shine in this compassionate, well-played adaptation of Susan Williams’ non-fiction best-seller Colour Bar, detailing the marriage of the King of Botswana and a white English woman in the 1940s – and the considerable hurdles they faced, together and apart. Jack Davenport is memorably oily as an officious British official, and Oyelowo’s real-life wife Jessica plays Davenport’s wife. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $39.99. Rated PG-13. ***

VICTIMS! (Martini Entertainment): For his feature debut, made in 1981 but not released until 1985, first-time writer/producer/director Jeff Hathcock jumps aboard the slasher bandwagon, as a weekend getaway turns dire and deadly for women hikers Ava Kauffman, Ann Richardson, Pam Richards and Geri Schlessel (each in her first – and only – film to date). Both the DVD ($24.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective interview and more.

LA VIE DE JEAN MARIE (IndiePix Films): Peter van Houten’s award-winning, epic documentary follows Jean-Marie, an aging Dutch clergyman who is perhaps the last of the area parish priests, tending 25 villages in the remote French Pyrenees. In French and Flemish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).

See Mark Burger’s movie reviews on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2017, Mark Burger)

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