Video Vault – July 19, 2017
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Acclaimed filmmaker Hal Ashby suffered through a string of failures toward the end of his career, including this 1986 adaptation of Lawrence Block’s novel, which marked Ashby’s final feature.
Jeff Bridges portrays Block’s hero, Matt Scudder, an alcoholic ex-cop who gets involved with a pair of high-class call girls (Rosanna Arquette’s Sarah and Alexandra Paul’s Sunny). When Sunny is murdered, Scudder seeks redemption by protecting Sarah and ferreting out Sunny’s killers.
Despite considerable production contretemps – including script rewrites (Oliver Stone and an uncredited Robert Towne participated), re-shoots and re-editing (especially insulting to Ashby, who won an Oscar for editing In the Heat of the Night) – there’s much to savor in 8 Million Ways to Die, not the least of which are fully committed performances by Bridges, Arquette and Paul, show-stopping early turns for Andy Garcia and Randy Brooks (as rivals in crime).
The film earned mixed reviews and was a box-office flop, yet it boasts a fervent following – yours truly included – among film-noir aficionados. It’s not perfect, yet its raw and ragged presentation somehow adds to to its effective ambiance. This is a little gem, rough around the edges but worthy of rediscovery.
Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, and more. Rated R. ***
ALIVE AND KICKING (Magnolia Home Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Susan Glatzer’s award-winning feature documentary debut explores the history of swing dance as told by the dancers themselves. Pleasant and sometimes inspiring, with camerawork that ranges from excellent to oddly stationary, available on DVD ($26.98 retail). **½
BUSTER’S MAL HEART (Well Go USA Entertainment): Writer/editor/director Sarah Adina Smith’s satirical psychological thriller stars Remi Malek as an unstable drifter consumed by paranoia as he confronts his past, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Charlize Theron’s the new baddie in the eighth of the endless action franchise, which serves up another helping of mindless motorized mayhem that’s hardly different from earlier installments (which seems to be the formula), with Vin Diesel (also a producer), Dwayne Johnson, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez, Tyrese Gibson, Chris “Ludacris” Bridges and Kurt Russell encoring. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $34.95, and the 4K Ultra HD ($44.98 retail) – each boasting special features. Rated PG-13 (also available in an extended director’s cut). *
FEED THE LIGHT (InterVision/Severin Films/CAV Distributing): Actior/filmmaker Henrik Moller makes his feature debut with this shocker (originally titled Lokalvardaren) based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, starring Lina Sunden (in her feature debut) as a young mother whose desperate search to locate her missing daughter leads her into the mouth of madness. In Swedish and Scanian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) – both boasting interview, documentary and theatrical trailer.
FREE FIRE (LionsGate): Editor/co-writer/director Ben Wheatley’s award-winning, R-rated shoot-’em-up is set in ’70s Boston, as Brie Larson and Armie Hammer broker an arms deal between IRA buyer Cillian Murphy and South African weapons dealer Sharlto Copley – which quickly descends into a blood-splattered, bullet-riddled battle for survival, with Jack Reynor, Noah Taylor, Sam Riley and Patrick Bergin also caught in the crossfire, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.99 retail).
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO AL GREEN (Mug-Shot Productions/MVD Entertainment Group): Award-winning music-documentary filmmaker Robert Mugge turns his cameras on the legendary soul singer (whose hits included “Let’s Stay Together” and “Love and Happiness”) who founded his own church in Memphis after suffering a crisis of faith. The DVD and Blu-ray each retail for $19.95 and include 90-minute audio interview, concert excerpts and more.
HAVENHURST (Brainstorm Media/Twisted Pictures): Echoes of Polanski’s The Tenant (1976) abound in producer/co-writer/director Andrew C. Erin’s good-looking, blood-soaked shocker, in which recovering addict Julie Benz moves into a new apartment in New York City that is stalked by a shadowy killer. Co-stars Fionnula Flanagan, Josh Stamberg, Belle Shouse, Danielle Harris, Matt Lasky, Douglas Tait and Jennifer Blanc add heft. Not bad, and worth a look for horror fans. **
KANSAS VS. DARWIN (Kino Lorber): Writer/producer/director Jeff Tamblyn’s intelligent documentary feature examines – from both perspectives – the Kansas School Board’s attempt in 2005 to challenge the teaching of evolution in its schools, available on DVD ($29.95 retail). ***
PULSE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) of Kyoshi Kurosawa’s award-winning 2001 Japanese shocker (originally titled Kairo) posits the terrifying theory that evil spirits can use the internet to wreak havoc. Special features include retrospective featurettes and interviews, and more.
A QUIET PASSION (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Writer/director Terence Davies’ elegant, award-winning biographical drama affords Cynthia Nixon perhaps her best big-screen role as the real-life poet Emily Dickinson, yet her towering turn tends to overshadow everything – and everyone – else, including Jennifer Ehle as her sister and Keith Carradine as her father. Nevertheless, Nixon’s performance makes this worth seeing all by itself. The DVD retails for $29.95, the Blu-ray for $24.95. Rated PG-13. **½
ROBOCOP 2 (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($34.93 retail) of the 1990 sequel to the 1987 hit, with Peter Weller (in the title role), Nancy Allen, Dan O’Herlihy, Felton Perry and Robert DoQui all encoring, joined this time by Tom Noonan, Belinda Bauer and Gabriel Damon. Well-made, with impressive special effects, but the third act is a major letdown. Original director Tim Hunter left late in pre-production, with Irvin Kershner assuming the reins for what would be his final feature. Special features include audio commentaries, vintage and retrospective interviews, trailers and more. Rated R. **
ROBOCOP 3 (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Robert John Burke dons the armor of the title character in director Fred Dekker’s 1993 follow-up, with Nancy Allen, Felton Perry and Robert DoQui returning from earlier installments, joined this time by Rip Torn, John Castle, CCH Pounder, Jill Hennessy, Daniel Von Bargen, Bradley Whitford and Mako. More family-friendly than the earlier films and not as disappointing as RoboCop 2, but only moderately successful. This marks Dekker’s final feature to date. The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($34.93 retail) includes audio commentaries, retrospective interviews and more. Rated PG-13. **½
SMURFS: THE LOST VILLAGE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): The third in the popular, family-friendly, PG-rated animated franchise is essentially a reboot – for those who can’t get enough of “Smurf-mania. The star-studded voice-over cast includes Julia Roberts, Demi Lovato, Rainn Wilson, Mandy Patinkin, Michelle Rodriguez, Ellie Kemper, Joe Manganiello, Jack McBrayer and Ariel Winter, available on DVD ($30.99 retail), Blu-ray ($34.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray ($45.99 retail).
SPECIES (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Gruesome special effects are the main selling point of director Roger Donaldson’s award-winning, inexplicably popular 1995 sci-fi potboiler in which a crack military/scientific team (Ben Kingsley, Michael Madsen, Alfred Molina, Forest Whitaker and Marg Helgenberger) pursue a seductive alien siren (Natasha Henstridge in her screen debut) determined to mate – and exterminate. The collector’s-edition two-disc Blu-ray ($34.93 retail) includes audio commentaries, retrospective interviews, alternate ending and more. Rated R. *½
TERROR IN A TEXAS TOWN (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): A special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) of director Joseph H. Lewis’ 1958 Western (and final feature), scripted by a pseudonymous Dalton Trumbo, starring Sterling Hayden as a Swedish whaler bent on avenging the murder of his father at the hands of gunman Ned Young (who also had a hand in the screenplay and was, like Trumbo, blacklisted). Special features include scene-select commentary, introduction and theatrical trailer.
“T.J. HOOKER”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (Shout! Factory): A self-explanatory DVD collection ($79.97 retail) of all 91 episodes from the entire 1982-86 run (first ABC, then CBS) of the police series starring the incomparable William Shatner in the title role of a tough, incorruptible Los Angeles cop, with Adrian Zmed, Heather Locklear, James Darren and Richard Herd providing back-up, and guest appearances by Jim Brown, Dennis Franz, Sharon Stone, Lisa Hartman and Shatner’s old “Star Trek” co-star Leonard Nimoy.
YOU CAN’T ESCAPE LITHUANIA (TLA Releasing): Writer/producer/director Romas Zabarauskas’ drama (originally titled Nuo Lietuvos nepabegsi) stars Denisas Kolomyckis as a young filmmaker who impetuously decides to film his actress mother (Irina Lavrinovic) as she flees the authorities after committing a murder. In Lithuanian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).
THE ZOOKEEPER’S WIFE (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): This award-winning adaptation of Angela Workman’s non-fiction best-seller stars executive producer Jessica Chastain in the title role, Antonina Zabinska, who along with husband Jan (Johan Heldenbergh) used the Warsaw Zoo as a refuge for Jews and the French Resistance during the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II. Well-made, with the noblest intentions, but slow-moving and sometimes heavy-handed – but Chastain is customarily first-rate. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $34.98. Rated PG-13. **½
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2017, Mark Burger)