The Arts

Video Vault – Sep 13, 2017

MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT

DVD PICK OF THE WEEK

THE BIG KNIFE (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): Producer/director Robert Aldrich levels a cynical barb at Tinseltown in this award-winning 1955 melodrama based on Clifford Odets’ 1949 play, bolstered by a star-studded cast yet hamstrung by its adherence to its theatrical roots. In terms of “opening up” the play, Aldrich doesn’t even try.

Yet that claustrophobia isn’t altogether unwarranted, given the heated emotions and verbal exchanges that take place throughout the narrative. Jack Palance plays Charlie Castle, a Hollywood star disillusioned with a failing marriage and a career compromised by the studio system. He wants to escape with some semblance of dignity and integrity, despite the circumstances surrounding him.

The story still has relevance, and a strong cast includes Ida Lupino (as Charlie’s wife), Shelley Winters, Jean Hagen, Everett Sloane, Wendell Corey (exellent as the inaptly named studio toady Smiley Coy), and an unforgettable Rod Steiger, as bellicose studio head Stanley Hoff, whose ultimate showdown with Charlie is a highlight. Despite atmospheric touches that have led some to label this film noir, it falls more squarely into psychological drama – albeit with a noir flavor.

The special-edition DVD/Bly-ray combo ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, the Saul Bass documentary Bass on Titles (1972), theatrical trailer and more. ***

ALSO AVAILABLE

AMNESIA (The Film Movement): The unlikely friendship between a expatriate German cellist (Marthe Keller) an an aspiring dee-jay (Max Riemelt) in 1990s Ibiza forms the backbone of Barbet Schroeder’s low-key but picturesque character study. In English, French, German and Spanish with English subtitles. **½

THE CREEP BEHIND THE CAMERA (Synapse Films/CAV Distributing): Writer/director/composer/co-editor Pete Schuermann’s 2014 docu-drama explores the life and career of con-man/filmmaker A.J. Nelson (AKA Vic Savage), the “mastermind” behind the low-rent 1964 schlock cult classic The Creeping Terror, with Josh Phillips playing Nelson. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) boast a bevy of bonus features including audio commentary, interviews, deleted scenes, and more – and the Blu-ray includes the original The Creeping Terror.

“CRIMINAL MINDS”: SEASON 12 (CBS DVD/Paramount): A DVD collection ($55.98 retail) of all 22 episodes (plus special features) from the 2016′-17 season of the award-winning CBS crime drama dramatizing the activities of the FBI’s Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU), boasting the swan song for series regular Thomas Gibson (who was dismissed early in the season), although Joe Mantegna, AJ Cook, Matthew Gray Gubler, Kirsten Vangsness and Aisha Tyler remain on board, joined by new regulars Adam Rodriguez and Damon Gupton.

A DARK SONG (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Writer/director Liam Gavin’s award-winning debut feature stars Catherine Walker as a grief-stricken mother who will do anything to bring back her dead son, and Syve Oram as a mysterious occultist who consents to assist her – with dire results, available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail).

DOWN DOWN THE DEEP RIVER (Kino Lorber): Okkervil River’s Will Sheff makes his debut as writer/director of this wistful, wordless ode to childhood, inspired by his upbringing in ’80s New Hampshire, starring newcomers Dustin Cournoyer as an imaginative youth and Griffin Gamache as his new friend, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) – replete with bonus features including audio commentary. **½

DRACULA IN VEGAS (Slasher Video/Martini Entertainment): No, it’s not the Count – but eager “Max” (Maximilian Grabinger, in his first and only screen role) who puts the bite on Las Vegas when he enrolls at UNLV in this woefully unfunny, astonishingly cheap 1999 vampire spoof that only runs an hour but feels like an eternity. Strictly amateur hour on all counts. Zero stars

“ELEMENTARY”: THE THIRD SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount): Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu are back on the case as the latter-day Holmes and Watson, in all 22 episodes from the 2016-’17 season of the award-winning CBS mystery series inspired by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic characters, now available in a six-DVD collection ($49.99 retail), replete with special features.

ERIK THE CONQUEROR (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) of Mario Bava’s 1961 adventures spectacle (originally titled Gli invasori and also released as Fury of the Vikings) stars Cameron Mitchell and Giorgio Ardisson (he’s Erik) as brothers separated at birth reunited as adversaries during the English-Viking war in the ninth century. Special features include audio commentary, original ending, and more.

FIRST KILL (LionsGate): On a weekend getaway, Wall Street broker Hayden Christensen witnesses a murder after a botched bank robbery and becomes the target of corrupt police chief Bruce Willis in this R-rated suspense thriller, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.99 retail).

“THE FLASH: THECOMPLETE THIRD SEASON” (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Grant Gustin returns as scientist Barry Allen and his fleet-footed superhero alter-ego in all 23 episodes from the 2016-’17 season of the award-winning, top-rated CW fantasy series based on the DC Comics character, with Candice Patton, Danielle Panabaker, Jesse L. Martin, Carlos Valdes, Keiynan Lonsdale, Tom Felton and Tom Cavanagh rounding out the regular cast. Both the DVD ($49.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($54.97 retail) boast special features including deleted scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more.

THE GHOUL (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Actor-turned-writer/producer/director Gareth Tunley’s  surreal psychological shocker stars producer Tom Meeten as a detective  investigating a bizarre murder case with seemingly supernatural origins, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) – each boasting special features including audio commentary, interviews, Tunley’s 2013 short film The Baron, and more.

IRON PROTECTOR (Well Go USA Entertainment): Yue Song wrote, directed and stars in this martial-arts extravaganza (originally titled Chao ji bao biao) as a powerful warrior battling a powerful gang in the city of Fei-Fei, In Chinese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail).

“MY LITTLE PONY – FRIENDSHIP IS MAGIC: FLUTTERSHY(Hasbro Studios/Shout! Kids Factory/Shout! Factory): A DVD selection ($14.98 retail) of five episodes from the award-winning, animated children’s series broadcast on the Discovery Family Channel.

“NARCOS”: SEASON TWO (LionsGate): Wagner Moura plays real-life Colombian crime kingpin Pablo Escobar and Boyd Holbrook and Pedro Pascal the DEA agents on his trail, in all 10 episodes from the 2016 season of the fact-based, award-winning Netflix crime series, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.97 retail) – both replete with special features.

“NCIS”: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount): Mark Harmon and his crack team from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are back in action in all 24 episodes from the 2016-’17 season of the award-winning CBS mystery series which spawned a spate of “NCIS” series’ in its wake, now available on DVD ($55.98 retail) – replete with special features.

PHENOMENA (Synapse Films/CAV Distributing): A collector’s-edition ($39.95 retail) of Dario Argento’s 1985 shocker, starring Jennifer Connelly as a student at a posh girls’ school in Switzerland with an unusual psychic connection to insects, which comes in handy when she becomes the next target of a serial killer. Argento’s trademark virtuoso direction (replete with gory interludes) outweighs a dicey screenplay, and a good cast helps: Patrick Bachau, Argento’s then-muse Daria Nicolodi, Dario’s daughter Fiore (in her screen debut), future filmmaker Michele Soavi, and the always welcome Donald Pleasence. Simon Boswell and Goblin contribute a pounding score. Special features include all three versions of the film (including the truncated US version, retitled Creepers), audio commentary, the full-length 1985 documentary Dario Argento’s World of Horror (directed by Soavi)and more. **½

“P. KING DUCKLING: SEIZE THE DAY(Shout! Kids Factory/Shout! Factory): A DVD collection ($14.93 retail) of seven episodes from the inaugural 2016-’17 season of the animated children’s series, broadcast on Disney Junior, focusing on the misadventures of the title character and his pals.

“RAKE”: SERIES 3 (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): Richard Roxburgh (also producer/creator) stars as a sharp but self-destructive Australian lawyer who tackles seemingly impossible cases, in all eight episodes from the 2014 season of the award-winning courtroom series, with Danielle Cormack, Damien Garvey and Adrienne Pickering, with guest appearances by John Noble, Magda Szubanski, Robyn Nevin and two-time Oscar winner Cate Blancett. The three-DVD collection retails for $39.99.

SPIRITS OF THE SOMME (Olive Films): Producer/director Bob Carruthers’ documentary explores the history and legacy of July 1, 1916, known as “The Blackest Day” due to the loss of some 60,000 British troops in France during World War I. Respectful, but also low-key and talky – almost to a fault. **

THE STRANGER (Olive Films): Orson Welles directed and stars in this brooding, paranoid 1946 melodrama as a respected college professor who actually a Nazi war criminal, with Loretta Young as his wife, who begins to suspect the truth when government agent Edward G. Robinson begins snooping around. Producer “S.P. Eagle” is Sam Spiegel, and John Huston reportedly had a hand in the screenplay. Oscar nomination for Best Original Story. Welles liked this the least of his own films, but it was one of his rare box-office hits, with a hair-raising climax. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary and trailer. ***

“TALES OF THE TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES WANTED: BEBOP & ROCKSTEADY (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD selection ($21.99 retail) of four time-travel episodes of the award-winning, animated fantasy series and the latest in the popular, long-running “TMNT” franchise.

THE WEDDING BANQUET (Olive Films): Ang Lee’s award-winning, R-rated 1993 art-house hit (originally titled Xi yan) stars Winston Chao (in his feature debut) as a gay Taiwanese immigrant who agrees to marry a penniless young artist (May Chin) in order to get her a green card and to placate his tradition-minded parents (Ah-Leh Gua and Sihung Lung), but things go haywire when the parents unexpectedly arrive for the festivities. Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film. In English and Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail).

See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2017, Mark Burger)

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