Video Vault – Jun 13, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
COLD TURKEY (Olive Films): Before his groundbreaking television work (All in the Family, Good Times, Sanford and Son, et al), Norman Lear scored with this subversive slice of America that, despite being much-maligned and oft-misunderstood, ranks as a genuine American classic.
Under the direction of public-relations flack Merwin Wren (Bob Newhart), the Valiant Tobacco Company – located in Charlotte – offers $25 million to any town in America that can quit smoking for 30 days, fully expecting no one to take up the challenge.
For the citizens of the fading Iowa burg of Eagle Rock (population 4,006), this is potential salvation, galvanizing Rev. Clayton Brooks (Dick Van Dyke) to spearhead efforts to sign up the townspeople to a “non-smoking pledge.” The good reverend is a charismatic figure, yet only his long-suffering wife Natalie (Pippa Scott) recognizes him for who he is – a pushy egotist with his own ambitions.
In addition to Van Dyke, who gives what may be his best big-screen performance, the peerless cast includes Barnard Hughes (hilarious as the unstable Doctor Proctor), Judith Lowry (as your average Commie-hating octogenarian), Vincent Gardenia, Jean Stapleton, Graham Jarvis, Tom Poston, Edward Everett Horton (in his last film), Paul Benedict, M. Emmet Walsh, Sudie Bond, and radio legends Bob and Ray, who incisively portray such newscasters as “Walter Chronic” (instead of Walter Cronkite), “David Chetley” (instead of David Brinkley), and “Hugh Upson” (instead of Hugh Downs).
Lear subjugates the cheery, homey facade of small-town Americana as the film gleefully skewers sacred cows aplenty: Religion, politics, big business, community, mass media, the military, and more – all of it set to Randy Newman’s brilliant score (his first for a feature film, and still one of his best).
Cold Turkey is like a Frank Capra comedy with a biting, bitter underbelly. The film was made in 1969 but not released until 1971, by which time it was perhaps more timely. Indeed, after almost 50 years the film holds up beautifully.
The DVD retails for $14.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. Rated PG-13. ****
BLOOD AND GLORY (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/producer/director Sean Else’s award-winning saga (originally titled Modder En Bloed) is set during the Anglo-Boer War of 1901, in which a group of Boer prisoners of war (led by stoic, grief-stricken Stian Bam) challenge the brutal British commander (Grant Swanby) to a game of rugby between prisoners and guards, with Bam’s life hanging in the balance. Gritty and engrossing, but repetitious at times. Patrick Connolly (as the Boer coach) and a memorably malevolent Swanby stand out. In English and Afrikaans with English subtitles. **½
A BUCKET OF BLOOD (Olive Films): Character actor extraordinaire Dick Miller introduced his signature character of Walter Paisley in Roger Corman’s low-budget 1959 cult classic, here a bumbling busboy-turned-artist hailed for his unique sculptures – which happen to be dead bodies. This legendary “Corman quickie” (shot in five days!) boasts screenwriter Charles B. Griffith’s delightful send-up of the Beatnik movement, with a “hep-cat” cast including Barboura Morris, Antony Carbone, Mel Welles, Ed Nelson, and Bert Convy. ***
ELIS (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Hugo Prata’s award-winning debut feature stars Andreia Horta as the legendary Brazilian songbird Elis Regina (1945-’82), whose passions, political ideals, and tempestuous lifestyle ultimately led to her tragic demise at age 36. Inescapably episodic, but beautifully shot by cinematographer Adrian Teijido and anchored by Horta’s powerhouse performance. In Spanish with English subtitles. ***
FORBIDDEN FILMS: THE HIDDEN LEGACY OF NAZI FILM (Zeitgeist Films/Kino Lorber): Writer/producer/director Felix Moeller’s fascinating, timely 2014 documentary (originally titled Verbotene Filme) looks at feature films made in Germany before and during World War II, particularly those which boasted blatant Nazi propaganda – and whether those films should be exhibited or remain banned. Both thoughtful and thought-provoking, this examines the debate from both perspectives. In German with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail). ***½
FREAK SHOW (IFC Films/Shout! Factory): Producer Trudie Styler makes her feature directorial debut with this timely comedy/drama starring Alex Lawther as a free-spirited, gender-bending teenager who scandalizes his conservative high school when he decides to run for homecoming queen, with Bette Midler, Abigail Breslin, AnnaSophia Robb, Laverne Cox, Larry Pine, John McEnroe, and UNCSA and Salem College graduate Celia Weston lending star-studded support, available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail).
GAME NIGHT (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): An inter-active, role-playing weekend game forms the crux of this R-rated black comedy boasting a star-studded ensemble cast including Jason Bateman (also a producer), Rachel McAdams, Sharon Horgan, Jesse Plemons, Michael C. Hall, Kyle Chandler, Billy Magnussen, Danny Huston and an unbilled Jeffrey Wright, available on DVD ($28.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail).
THE GREAT SILENCE (Film Movement): A 50th-anniversary special edition of Sergio Corbucci’s bleak, politically-charged 1968 spaghetti Western (originally titled Il grande silenzio) pits Jean-Louis Trintignant’s mute gunslinger against the minions of sadistic bounty hunter Klaus Kinski in late-19th century Utah, with Vonetta McGee, Luigi Pistilli, Mario Brega and Frank Wolff caught in the crossfire, and a customarily flavorful score by the inimitable Ennio Morricone. Barely released to U.S. theaters, this has long been sought-after by fans of the genre – and this marks the first time the full version has been available on home-video. Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include original Italian and English-language versions, retrospective and vintage featurettes, alternate endings and more. ***
“HOSTAGES”: SEASON 1 (Kino Lorber): A two-DVD collection ($29.95 retail) of all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2013 season of the award-winning Israeli suspense series (originally titled Bnei Aruba), created by Omri Givon and Roteem Shamir, in which the family of a noted surgeon (Ayelet Zurer) is taken captive by political extremists who demand that she carry out a political assassination lest her family be murdered – but that’s just the beginning of the story. This was later remade as an American series. In Hebrew with English subtitles.
“JERICHO”: THE COMPLETE SERIES (CBS DVD/Paramount): An eight-DVD collection ($29.98 retail) of all 30 episodes (plus special features) from the entire 2006-08 run of the award-winning CBS sci-fi/drama series set in the titular Kansas town, where the residents must somehow rebuild civilization after a nuclear holocaust, featuring an ensemble cast including Skeet Ulrich, Lennie James, Ashley Scott, Gerald McRaney, and Pamela Reed. In 2008, the series earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Special Visual Effects for a Series.
KILLER KLOWNS FROM OUTER SPACE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of the 1988 feature debut from the Chiodo Brothers (Stephen, Charles and Edwin), wherein alien invaders – costumed as leering circus clowns – invade Earth. Goofy, good-natured and fast-paced, this stumbled in theatrical release but soon found its inevitable cult following on cable-TV and home-video. The enthusiastic cast includes Grant Cramer, Suzanne Snyder, Royal Dano, John Allen Nelson, Christopher Titus (in his screen debut), and John Vernon (as the obligatory nasty small-town cop). Special features include audio commentary, vintage and retrospective featurettes and interviews, short films, deleted scenes and bloopers, original trailer, and more. Rated PG-13. **½
“MENACE & MURDER: A LYDIA LA PLANTE COLLECTION” (Acorn TV): The title tells all in this five-DVD collection ($59.99 retail) of three mystery thrillers created by the prolific, award-winning Lydia La Plante: The 1998 mini-series Killer Net starring Emily Woof, Paul Bettany, Tam Williams, Zoe Lucker and Christopher Neame; the mini-series Supply & Demand (also 1998) starring Miriam Margolyes, Larry Lamb, Martin Kemp, Benedict Wong and Eamonn Walker; and the 2001 TV movie Mind Games starring Fiona Shaw, Colin Salmon, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sara Kestelman.
THE MIDNIGHT MAN (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Writer/director Travis Zariwny’s supernatural shocker stars Gabrielle Haugh (in her feature debut) and Grayson Gabriel as friends who unwittingly unleash the titular fiend (played by Kyle Strauts, in his feature debut), who uses their deepest, darkest fears to destroy them. Genre icons Robert Englund and Lin Shaye also appear, available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($22.97 retail).
NEGATIVE (Monarch Home Entertainment): Producer/director Joshua Caldwell’s competently made but talky thriller stars executive producers Katia Winter and Simon Quarterman as a rogue British agent and the unwitting photographer she takes with her on the lam. Caldwell’s cinematography is excellent, but otherwise this is fairly routine. **
“NICKELODEON FAVORITES: GREAT SUMMER CAMPOUT!” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD selection ($10.99 retail) of summer-themed episodes from such popular animated Nickelodeon series’ as Blaze and the Monster Machines, Bubble Guppies, Nella the Princess Knight, Shimmer and Shine, and Sunny Day.
“RWBY”: VOLUME 5 (Rooster Teeth/Cinedigm): The latest installment of the popular, award-winning animated fantasy franchise created by Monty Oum, in which the pivotal players are again brought together for the latest battle for Remnant, available on DVD ($14.93 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.95 retail), and special-edition combo ($24.95 retail) – each replete with special features.
A WRINKLE IN TIME (Disney): Director Ava DuVernay’s big-budget, PG-rated adaptation of the classic 1962 children’s novel by Madeleine L’Engle sees Storm Reid, Levi Miller and Deric McCabe as the youthful trio that embarks on a mystical, magical journey to another world to search for Reid and McCabe’s scientist father (Chris Prine), with star-studded back-up from Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling, Zach Galifianakis, Michael Pena, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Rowan Blanchard, Andre Holland, Bellamy Young and David Oyelwo, available on DVD ($19.99 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($29.99 retail).
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)