Video Vault – Mar 28, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
SUSPIRIA (Synapse Films/CAV Distributing): Dario Argento’s superior 1977 shocker is among his best films, a near-perfect triumph of style over substance that ranks as a true genre classic – for those who can take it.
Penned by Argento and then-companion Daria Nicolodi, the story is twisted reworking of Alice in Wonderland, with Susy Banyon (Jessica Harper) a young American dancer enrolled at the Tanz Dance Academy in Germany. Unlike Wonderland, however, the Tanz Academy is home to a modern-day coven of witches, led by the imperious headmistress (Joan Bennett), and the sanctuary of the sorceress Helena Markos (the “Mother of Sighs”).
Thus begins a surreal odyssey of black magic and murder, brilliantly photographed by Luciano Tovoli and accompanied by a nerve-shattering score by Goblin. Argento’s penchant for grisly set pieces is given full reign here, overpowering any semblance of narrative coherence – although it scarcely matters given the end result.
Stefania Casini, Alida Valli, Flavio Bucci, Barbara Magnolfi and cult icon Udo Kier (in subdued form) round out the cast. Argento would complete his “Three Mothers” trilogy in his next film, Inferno (1980), and belatedly in Mother of Tears (2007), but Suspiria remains the best of the bunch, a bona-fide masterpiece of imagination and terror. A remake, long in development (and rife with false starts), is due for release this year, with Harper in a featured role.
The two-disc Blu-ray ($43.95 retail) includes audio commentaries, retrospective interviews and featurettes, original trailers, TV and radio spots, and more. The single-disc Blu-ray ($39,95 retail) includes audio commentaries. The DVD ($29.95 retail) includes theatrical trailers. ****
7 WITCHES (Indican Pictures): A dysfunctional family’s reunion for a wedding off the coast of Washington goes awry when the true, diabolical motive of their hosts is revealed in writer/composer/director Brady Hall’s low-budget shocker, which is slow going at the outset but picks up in the (grislier) second half, with Persephone Apostolou and Macall Gordon standouts as the heroine and her practical, pot-smoking aunt, respectively. Ryan Purcell’s spooky cinematography is also an asset. **
BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Writer/producer/director Scott Glosserman’s award-winning 2006 debut feature is an inspired send-up of the slasher genre in “mockumentary” fashion, with documentary filmmaker Angela Goethals following the title character (Nathan Baesel in his screen debut) as he plots his inaugural rampage. The genre-friendly cast includes Robert Englund, Scott Wilson, Kane Hodder and Zelda Rubinstein (in her final film), and the in-jokes come fast and furious. The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($34.93 retail) includes audio commentaries, retrospective interviews, featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, and more. Rated R. ***
BIRDBOY: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN (GKIDS/Shout! Factory): Producer Pedro Rivera and art director Alberto Vazquez wrote and directed this award-winning animated feature (originally titled Psiconautas, los ninos olvidados and also released as Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children) set in a post-apocalyptic future populated by intelligent animals capable of speech. In English and Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail), each boasting bonus features.
“THE BROKENWOOD MYSTERIES”: SERIES 4 (Acorn TV): Neill Rea, Fern Sutherland and Nic Sampson are back on the case, investigating crimes in the titular New Zealand town, a seemingly bucolic burg with dark secrets all its own, in all four feature-length episodes from the 2017 season of the popular mystery series, available on DVD and Blu-ray (each $59.99 retail).
DADDY’S HOME 2 (Paramount): Producer Will Ferrell and executive producer Mark Wahlberg are back as “co-dads” in producer/director/ co-writer Sean Anders’ unnecessary and underwhelming, holiday-themed follow-up to his 2015 hit, with Linda Cardellini, Alessandro Ambrosio, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro and John Cena also returning, joined this time by John Lithgow (as Ferrell’s fawning father) and Mel Gibson (as Wahlberg’s boorish dad). Everyone tries hard, but to little avail. The DVD retails for $25.99, the DVD/Blu-ray for $31.99, the 4K Ultra HD combo for $34.99. Rated PG-13. *½
THE EXECUTIONERS (LionsGate): Writer/producer/director co-star Giorgio Serafini is billed as having “scribbled, shot, and cut” this routine, unpleasant home-invasion shocker starring Jemma Dallender, Natalie Burn, Rachel Rosenstein, and Anna Shields as friends terrorized in a remote lakefront mansion. Rated R. *
A GIRL (Redemption Films/Kino Lorber): Writer/director Simon Black and lead actress Hannah Short created this expressionistic, experimental, pseudo-sexual character study, with Short as a (very) troubled woman. Kinky and bizarre, but ultimately pointless. The DVD ($29.95 retail), which includes Black and Short’s 2014 short Tar Rot, is the first in a series of “Satanic Sluts: Second Generation” films (!) from Redemption/Kino Lorber. *½
JUSTICE LEAGUE (DC Entertainment/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Just when it seemed like the DC universe was taking an upward turn with Wonder Woman, along comes this overblown, overstuffed, superhero-filled farrago involving the resurrection of Superman (Henry Cavill) and their collective battle against the alien antagonist Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciaran Hinds), with Ben Affleck (Batman), Gal Gadot (Wonder Woman), Ezra Miller (The Flash), Jason Momoa (Aquaman) and Ray Fisher (Cyborg) backed by a star-studded but ill-used supporting cast: Jeremy Irons, Amy Adams, Diane Lane, J.K. Simmons, Connie Nielsen, Joe Morton, David Thewlis, Amber Heard and Jesse Eisenberg (Lex Luthor), available on DVD ($28.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), 3-D Blu-ray combo ($44.95 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.95 retail) – each replete with special features. Rated PG-13. *½
PATH OF BLOOD (Synapse Films/CAV Distributing): Writer/director Eric Power pays homage to classic samurai films in this 2013 animated feature set in 17th-century Japan, as fearless Ronin wage war in a forgotten village, available in a special-edition Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) boasting the original animated short, featurette, promotional trailer and more.
PITCH PERFECT 3 (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): The gang’s all here – Anna Kendrick, Hailee Steinfeld, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Hana Mae Lee, Kelley Jakle, Ester Dean, Alexis Knapp, Chrissie Fit, Shelley Regner, John Michael Higgins and producer Elizabeth Banks – for the third (purportedly final), PG-13-rated installment of the tune-filled musical/comedy franchise, in which the “Bellas” reunite for a USO tour, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($37.98 retail) – each replete with bonus features.
THE RACHELS (Monarch Home Entertainment): Caitlin Carver and Madison Iseman headline this twisty, darkly satirical, yet quite credible high-school psycho-drama as best friends (both named “Rachel”) whose (literal) falling out has unexpected and dire consequences. To say more would spoil the surprises of this neatly structured tale. This marks the promising feature-length debut (originally broadcast on Lifetime) of director Michael Civille, with notable turns by co-stars Daniela Bobadilla and Austin Cauldwell. ***
“THE ROBOT CHICKEN WALKING DEAD SPECIAL: LOOK WHO’S WALKING” (Cartoon Network/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): The Emmy Award-winning, stop-motion Adult Swim sketch comedy series teams with “Walking Dead” executive producers Robert Kirkman and Scott M. Gimple for this cheerfully irreverent, frequently inspired send-up of the award-winning AMC zombie series, featuring the voices of series regulars Andrew Lincoln, Sarah Wayne Callies, Scott Wilson, Norman Reedus, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Melissa McBride, Andrew Yeun, Lauren Cohan, Dania Gurira and Michael Rooker, plus guest stars Daniel Radcliffe, Breckin Meyer and Chris Hardwick, available on DVD ($14.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($18.94 retail), both boasting bonus features. ***
SCREWED (Dekkoo Films/TLA Releasing): Nils-Erik Ekblom’s award-winning, semi-autobiographical comedy/drama details the burgeoning summer romance between two teenagers (Mikko Kauppila and Valtteri Lehtinen) living next door to each other. In Finnish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99) – replete with bonus features.
THE SHAPE OF WATER (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Guillermo del Toro’s strange and wonderful fantasy details the relationship between a lonely, mute custodian (Sally Hawkins) at a top-secret military installation and the amphibious creature (Doug Jones) held captive there. Del Toro’s distinctive style, with nods to Terry Gilliam, Luis Bunuel, Tim Burton, Jeunet/Caro, the Coen Brothers and any number of filmmakers, remains uniquely his own, as the story (set in 1962 Baltimore) encompasses both the Cold War and Civil Rights eras, while offering a poetic and sublime parable about humanity (and inhumanity), with touches of subversive satire and even a full-blown musical number. The top-notch cast includes Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Octavia Spencer, David Hewlett, Nick Searcy, Lauren Lee Smith, and Michael Stuhlbarg. Unquestionably one of 2017’s best films, this won Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Production Design, with additional nominations for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor (Jenkins), Best Supporting Actress (Spencer), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, Best Editing, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. The DVD retails for $29.98, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $34.99, the 4K Ultra HD combo for $39.99 – each boasting bonus features. Rated R. ****
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)