Video Vault – Jun 27, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW (Olive Films): Director Robert Wise’s nihilistic 1959 crime thriller is widely considered the last gasp of film-noir while prefiguring elements of social commentary that proliferated in the subsequent decade.
Adapted from William P. McGivern’s novel by John O. Killens (fronting for the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky) and Nelson Gidding (a frequent Wise collaborator), the set-up is pure melodrama: Disgraced ex-cop Dave Burke (Ed Begley) masterminds a bank robbery in upstate New York, and recruits as his henchman hair-trigger ex-con Earl Slater (Robert Ryan) and nightclub entertainer Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte), who needs the money to pay off gambling debts.
Needless to say, the heist does not go as planned, and animosity escalates between Ingram and the bigoted Slater, culminating in an action-packed showdown loaded with symbolism and irony. Belafonte (whose “HarBel Productions” backed the film) and the underrated Ryan infuse their scenes with palpable tension, while Shelley Winters (as Slater’s girlfriend), Gloria Grahame, and Begley acquit themselves in first-rate fashion.
The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. ***½
AL BERTO (TLA Releasing): Writer/director Vicente Alves do O’s award-winning drama is set in 1975, with Ricardo Teixiera (in his feature debut) as the titular character, the noted Portuguese poet Al Berto (the pseudonym for Alberto Raposo Pidwell Tavares), who returns home after an artistic sojourn and woos young singer Jose Pimentao while simultaneously spearheading a cultural revolution. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).
ALEX & ME (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Screenwriter Eric Champnella makes his feature directorial debut with this G-rated, family-friendly comedy/fantasy starring Siena Agudong as a die-hard soccer fan who bumps her head and imagines – or does she? – that her idol, Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Alex Morgan (also a co-producer, in her acting debut), emerges from her poster to encourage and inspire her, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.98 retail), each replete with special features.
“BLACK LIGHTNING”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Berlanti Productions/DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): The small screen “DC Universe” expands with this CW superhero series starring Cress Williams as the title character, the mysterious masked vigilante, and his alter-ego, crusading high-school principal Jefferson Pierce. Both the DVD ($29.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.99 retail) include all 13 episodes from the inaugural 2018 season plus bonus features.
COACH JAKE (First Run Features): Ian Phillips’ involving, award-winning feature documentary follows Martin Jacobson (“Coach Jake”), the most successful high-school soccer coach in New York City history as he tries to balance his hard work and can-do attitude with advancing age, infirmity, recalcitrant players, and domestic difficulties in his tireless quest for an 18th championship. ***
“DETECTIVE MONTALBANO”: EPISODES 31 & 32 (MHz Networks): A two-DVD collection ($29.95 retail) of two feature-length episodes – Merry-Go-Round (La giostra degli scambi) and Amore — from the 2018 season of the long-running, award-winning, Italian-language crime series (originally titled “Il commissario Montalbano”), based on Andrea Camilleri’s best-selling novels, set in modern-day Sicily and starring Luca Zingaretti as the title character, a tenacious but troubled sleuth whose ideals occasionally clash with his professional and personal responsibilities.
EDWARD II (Film Movement): Derek Jarman’s highly stylized, controversial, award-winning, post-modern (whew!) 1991 adaptation of Christopher Marlowe’s play dramatizes the downfall of the titular English monarch (Steven Waddington in his screen debut) over his illicit relationship with Piers Gaveston (Andrew Tiernan in his screen debut), while Edward’s neglected queen (first-rate Tilda Swinton) seethes and plots revenge. Both audacious and self-indulgent, but fascinating nonetheless. Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include a documentary featurette and essay. Rated R. ***
“HAUNTED” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): A Blu-ray collection ($39.95 retail) of all 11 episodes (including four which never aired) from the 2002 (and only) season of the UPN mystery series starring Matthew Fox as a disgraced ex-cop in Seattle who develops the ability to communicate with the recent dead after his own near-death experience.
“THE HEART GUY”: SERIES 2 (Acorn): Rodger Corser stars as a once-successful surgeon who returns to his rural hometown (“Whyhope”) in order to restart his career, in all 10 episodes from the 2017 season of the popular Australian comedy/drama series (originally titled Doctor Doctor), co-starring Hayley McElhinney, Steve Bisley, Ryan Johnson, Tina Bursill and Nicole da Silva, available in a four-DVD collection ($49.99 retail).
I CALLED HIM MORGAN (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Kasper Collin’s award-winning, occasionally meandering documentary feature traces the life of Philadelphia-born jazz musician Lee Morgan (1938-’72) and his untimely death at the hands of his common-law wife Helen in a nightclub shooting, augmented by vintage photos, footage, and music – plus audio of Helen Morgan, who lived out her days in Wilmington until her own death in 1996. **½
ICE MOTHER (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/director Bohdan Slama’s award-winning comedy/drama (originally titled Baba z ledu) stars Zuzana Kronerova as a compassionate widow who unexpectedly finds romance with quirky eccentric Pavel Novy, the member of a senior-citizens’ swimming club who encourages her to broaden her horizons. In Czech with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
THE MIMIC (Well Go USA Entertainment): Inspired by the legend of the “Tiger of Mt. Jang,” writer/director Huh Jung’s supernatural shocker (originally titled Jang-san-beom) pits a family against a malevolent demon mimics human voices to entice its victims. In Korean with English subtitles, available on Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
MIRACLES (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Writer Jim Kouf’s PG-rated 1986 feature directorial debut stars Tom Conti and Teri Garr as a divorcing couple who can’t seem to escape each other after being kidnapped by bumbling burglar Paul Rodriguez, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), both replete with audio commentary and original trailer.
NIGHT OF THE LEPUS (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Arguably one of the most misguided sci-fi shockers of its time (if not all time), this 1972 schlock cult favorite sees giant, man-eating mutant rabbits terrorizing Arizona, while Stuart Whitman, Janet Leigh, DeForest Kelley, Rory Calhoun and Paul Fix head up the stalwart, straight-faced human contingent. The special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) includes audio commentaries, theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots. Rated PG. *½
PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): John Boyega (also making his producing debut), Scott Eastwood, and newcomer Cailee Spaeny join returnees Charlie Day, Rinko Kikuchi, and Burn Gorman for this PG-13-rated sequel to the 2013 sci-fi extravaganza, set 10 years later, with humanity again threatened by giant monsters bent on world domination, with Stephen S. DeKnight making his feature directorial debut and earlier director Guillermo del Toro taking a producer credit, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail), 3-D Blu-ray combo ($37.98 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($37.98 retail) – each boasting bonus features.
SOUTHWEST OF SALEM: THE STORY OF THE SAN ANTONIO FOUR (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Not so much a “true crime” documentary as a “false crime” one, Deborah S. Esquenazi’s award-winning, timely documentary feature chronicles the plight of four Latina lesbians wrongly imprisoned for the sexual assault of two little girls. A chilling portrait of a miscarriage of justice fueled by homophobia and hatred. ***
SPINNING MAN (LionsGate): This R-rated adaptation of George Harrar’s best-selling novel stars Guy Pearce as a college professor who becomes hard-boiled detective Pierce Brosnan’s prime suspect after female student Odeya Rush vanishes, with Minnie Driver, Clark Gregg, Patrika Darbo and Jamie Kennedy in support, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($21.99 retail).
TORMENTERO (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Elements of Shakespeare’s The Tempest echo through Ruben Imaz’s strange, surreal character study starring Jose Carlos Ruiz as an alcoholic schizophrenic who returns to the fishing village where he once discovered oil and was subsequently banished by the townspeople. Gerardo Barroso Alcala’s beautiful cinematography is a standout throughout. In Spanish with English subtitles. **
THE VALLEY (Wavefront Pictures): Writer/producer/director Saila Kariat’s award-winning drama stars Alyy Kahn as a successful Indian-American executive whose world is shaken by the unexplained suicide of his teen-aged daughter (Agneeta Thacker). Earnest, sincerely-acted and timely, yet the inconclusive ending feels out of place. The DVD retails for $14.96, the Blu-ray for $19.96. **½
VIGIL (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/director Vincent Ward’s award-winning debut feature is a moody coming-of-age parable as seen through the eyes of an impressionable, lonely girl (Fiona Kay in her screen debut) living on a remote New Zealand farm. The special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes vintage featurettes, theatrical trailer, and more.
ZOMBIE 3 (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): Yes, they’ll make a special-edition DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) of anything – including this infamous 1988 shocker (originally titled Zombi 3) that brought filmmaker Lucio Fulci back to the walking-dead fold, although the story has nothing to do with his 1980 cult classic Zombie (which was titled Zombi 2 in Italy – got that?). Here, scientists in the Philippines perfect a virus that – surprise! — turns people and animals into flesh-eating ghouls. The hero and heroine are future filmmaker Deran Sarafian and Beatrice Ring, who were dating at the time. Whether it was Fulci’s dissatisfaction with the script or increasingly ill health, his original 70-minute cut was supplanted by an initially uncredited Bruno Matteri and screenwriter Claudio Fragasso, who also appear in supporting roles. Anything with Fulci’s name on it seems to rate as a cult classic, and so it is with this – although some fans groove to its unintentional humor and gory specials effects than any directorial “style.” Special features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, and trailer.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)