Video Vault – Jun 6, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The one that launched the spaghetti Western craze, made Clint Eastwood a big-screen star, immortalized Ennio Morricone’s award-winning music, and put filmmaker Sergio Leone on the map.
Filmed in 1964 in Spain (as were many Westerns, Italian and otherwise) as Per un pugno di dollari and released to surprise success in the US three years later, this is essentially a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), and his prompt lawsuit held up its American release. (Kurosawa later said he made more money from the settlement than any of his own films!)
Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” is a hard-bitten gunslinger swept up in an ongoing feud between the Rojo brothers (led by Gian Marie Volonte) and the corrupt marshal Baxter (W. Lukschy). Initially hired by each to destroy the other, Eastwood methodically plays them off one another – leading to inevitable bloodshed.
Leone subjugates the notion of the traditional Western by having an opportunistic, cynical anti-hero as his protagonist while the usual bastions of order – family and law, respectively – are the antagonists, so blinded by hatred that they self-destruct. It’s this irony that made Leone’s work stand out, although – truth be told – his subsequent films (including the 1965 follow-up For a Few Dollars More) were more polished and persuasive. The first may not be the best, but it’s still a classic of its kind.
Both the special-edition DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentaries, retrospective interviews and featurettes, trailers, radio spots, and much more. Rated R. ***
THE 15:17 TO PARIS (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Producer/director Clint Eastwood’s watchable adaptation of the non-fiction best-seller by Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, Spencer Stone and Jeffrey E. Stern, with Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone making their acting debuts as themselves, boyhood best friends whose European reunion in 2015 led to thwarting a terrorist attack aboard the titular train. As non-actors, the three leads acquit themselves acceptably, and although the first hour is slow going, the final third (aboard the train) is Eastwood’s directorial expertise at its heart-pounding best. The DVD retails for $28.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $35.99, and the 4K Ultra HD combo for $44.95, each with special features. Rated PG-13. **½
ANNIHILATION (Paramount): Director/screenwriter Alex Garland’s murky adaptation of the Jeff VanderMeer novel stars Natalie Portman as a scientist recruited for a top-secret mission to investigate a mysterious quarantine zone known as “The Shimmer.” Despite fine special effects and a good cast (including Jennifer Jason Leigh and Oscar Isaac), this never fulfills its potential and ends up maddeningly ambiguous. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $39.99. Rated R. **
BLAZE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director/screenwriter Ron Shelton’s ambitious but underwhelming 1989 adaptation of the best-selling memoir Blaze Starr: My Life as Told to Huey Perry, stars Lolita Davidovich (the future Mrs. Shelton) as the titular stripper character and dramatizes her star-crossed romance with flamboyant Louisiana governor Earl K. Long (Paul Newman) in the 1950s. A major disappointment despite Newman’s charismatic turn, Haskell Wexler’s Oscar-nominated cinematography, and a solid supporting cast (including Richard Jenkins, Jeffrey DeMunn, Gailard Sartain, Jerry Hardin and Shelton regular Robert Wuhl), this was produced by former UNCSA School of Filmmaking dean and current faculty member Dale Pollock, available on DVD ($11.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail), both boasting audio commentary and original trailer. Rated R. *½
FINDING OSCAR (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Steven Spielberg was executive producer for director/co-writer Ryan Suffern’s award-winning feature documentary, which brings to light a chilling (and long covered-up) injustice regarding the 1982 Dos Erres massacre in Guatemala, which prompted in the victims’ friends and relatives a 30-year obsession to uncover the truth – and to learn the whereabouts of a young boy named Oscar who witnessed and survived the atrocity. ***
GREASE (Paramount): John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John return to Rydell High School in the 40th-anniversary special edition of the award-winning, PG-13-rated 1978 musical blockbuster based on the smash Broadway play, which marked director Randal Kleiser’s feature debut, with the song “Hopelessly Devoted to You” earning an Academy Award nomination, available on DVD ($15.99 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($22.98 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($31.99 retail), each replete with special features including audio commentary, deleted/extended/alternate scenes, alternate ending, “Rydell sing-along,” and more.
“I’M DYING UP HERE”: SEASON ONE (CBS DVD/Showtime Entertainment/Paramount): A three-DVD collection ($39.98 retail) of all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2017 season of the Showtime comedy series based on William Knoedelseder’s non-fiction best-seller, dramatizing the rise of the stand-up comedy craze of the 1970s, with Melissa Leo portraying the brassy but supportive owner of an Los Angeles comedy club, backed by an ensemble cast including Clark Duke, Ari Graynor, Michael Angarano, Andrew Santino, Stephen Guarino, occasional appearances by Dylan Baker as Johnny Carson and Tommy Snider as Wolfman Jack, and guest stars including Alfred Molina, Cathy Moriarty, David Paymer, Richard Kind, Dom Irrera, Sebastian Stan, and ever-reliable Robert Forster.
“THE LAST SHIP”: THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON (TNT/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): The crew of the U.S.S. Nathan James continues its ongoing journey to find a cure for a virus that has ravaged civilization, in all 10 episodes from the 2017 season of the TNT adventure series based on William Brinkley’s best-selling 1988 novel and inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey, with Eric Dane, Adam Baldwin, Bridget Regan, Charles Parnell, Marissa Neitling, Christina Elmore, Jocko Sims, and Travis Van Winkle among the regular cast. The DVD retails for $29.98, the Blu-ray for $39.99 – both with bonus features.
OH LUCY! (Film Movement): Writer/producer/director Atsuko Hirayanagi’s award-winning feature debut expands upon her acclaimed 2014 short, starring Shinobu Terajima in the pivotal role of a bored, lonely Tokyo office lady who adopts an alter-ego (“Lucy”) when she enrolls in an English class, only to fall for handsome instructor Josh Hartnett – at which point her ruse becomes much more complicated. In English and Japanese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.95 retail).
PAWS P.I. (LionsGate): Jon Lovitz provides the voice for the world’s first canine private eye, paired with a pompous British parrot (voiced by Circus-Szalewski) to crack a neighborhood mystery in this PG-rated, family-friendly comedy, available on DVD ($14.98 retail).
ROOMMATES (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director Peter Yates’ 1995 comedy/drama is a lovingly acted, unabashed tearjerker detailing the 30-year relationship between cantankerous baker Peter Falk and orphaned grandson D.B. Sweeney. Falk and Sweeney are top-notch and exhibit wonderful chemistry, with fine support from Julianne Moore, Frankie Faison, Jan Rubes, Ernie Sabella, and always-welcome Ellen Burstyn. The makeup earned an Oscar nomination. Both the DVD ($11.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail) include audio commentary and original trailer. Rated PG. ***
THE SACRIFICE (Kino Classics): Andrei Tarkovsky’s award-winning, PG-rated 1986 big-screen swan song (originally titled Offret) stars Erland Josephson as the patriarch of an affluent family whose birthday celebration on a remote Baltic Island is interrupted by news of World War III, driving them into despair and self-destruction as the apocalypse looms. In Swedish with English subtitles, the special-edition two-disc Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interview, collectible booklet, and the award-winning 1988 feature documentary Directed by Andrei Tarkovsky, (originally titled Regi Andrej Tarkovskij), narrated by Brian Cox.
SAVANNAH SMILES (MVD Entertainment Group): Producer/screenwriter Mark Miller and Donovan Scott star in this 1982 family comedy as escaped convicts who are charmed by the precocious, titular six-year-old runaway (Bridgette Anderson in her screen debut). This early-’80s cable-TV perennial is definitely on the corny and cutesy side, but played with ingratiating ease by a cast including Peter Graves, Michael Parks, Pat Morita, Philip Abbott, Fran Ryan, Carol Wayne, Chris Robinson, and Miller’s then-wife, Barbara Stanger. The “MVD Rewind” collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.95 retail) includes retrospective featurettes and interviews, original trailer, mini-poster, and more. Rated PG. **
SHOCKING DARK (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): Director Bruno Mattei (under his usual pseudonym “Vincent Dawn”) helmed this derivative 1990 sci-fi schlock saga (also released as Alienators and Contaminator), involving trigger-happy commandos, bloodthirsty aliens, and a rampaging cyborg on the loose beneath the canals of Venice – Italy, not California or Florida. This was released in some territories as Aliens II or Terminator II, which undoubtedly hampered legitimate American distribution – but it didn’t hinder an underground cult following. Both the special-edition DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include retrospective interviews and more.
SIX L.A. LOVE STORIES (Random Media): Writer/producer/director/co-star Michael Dunaway’s self-explanatory romantic comedy, based on short plays by Jim Christy, Elliott Hayes and Mark Loewenstern, offers a series of breezy, sometimes bittersweet vignettes populated by such appealing players as Ross Partridge (especially good), Alicia Witt, Beth Grant, Matthew Lillard, Carrie Williams, Carrie Preston, and reliable Stephen Tobolowsky. Producer/production designer Antonia Bogdanovich is the daughter of filmmaker (and former UNCSA School of Filmmaking faculty member) Peter Bogdanovich, who turns up in small role. **½
“SOUTH PARK”: THE COMPLETE TWENTY-FIRST SEASON (Comedy Central Home Entertainment/Paramount): With no end in sight, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Emmy- and Peabody-winning Comedy Central animated juggernaut continues in all 10 episodes from the 2017 season, again nominated for the Emmy as Outstanding Animated Program, available on DVD ($29.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($42.99 retail) – both boasting special features.
“SUNNY DAY” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of four episodes from the inaugural 2017 season of the animated Nickelodeon pre-school series following the misadventures of an aspiring, 10-year-old hairstylist and entrepreneur named Sunny (voiced by Lilla Crawford
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)