Video Vault – Jan 10, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
THE MERCENARY (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Often unfairly compared to Sergio Leone, filmmaker Sergio Corbucci’s got a following all his own – and this 1968 spaghetti Western (originally titled Il mercenario) is one of the daffiest entries of that particular sub-genre.
Set in the early 20th century during the Mexican Revolution and boasting an appropriately zesty score by Ennio Morricone (naturally!) and Bruno Nicolai, we’re introduced to the principal characters of this truly wild Western: Franco Nero in the title role of a Polish mercenary named Kowalski (!); Tony Musante as brash, bumbling revolutionary Paco Roman; Giovanna Ralli as the beauteous Columba, torn between both men; and Jack Palance as Kowalski’s unscrupulous rival — the dandified, outrageously swishy Ricciolo (“Curly”). Palance’s campy turn may not be politically correct in retrospect, but it is an unhinged delight – and lest one think he’s merely comic relief, Curly proves a formidable adversary throughout.
Somehow, it figures that the climax involves a quintessential “Mexican standoff” between Kowalski, Paco and Curly – neatly orchestrated by Corbucci for maximum suspense (and no little irony). The Mercenary may not rank as a classic, but it’s a funky, fun-filled gem that’s ripe for rediscovery.
Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox (Repo Man) and original theatrical trailer. Rated PG-13. ***
BAD DAY FOR THE CUT (Well Go USA Entertainment): Writer/director Chris Baugh’s debut feature stars Nigel O’Neill as a kindly Irish farmer-turned-vigilante after his elderly mother (Stella McCusker) is murdered during a home invasion, available on Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
BAD LUCKY GOAT (Film Movement): Writer/director Samir Oliveros’ assured, award-winning debut feature stars newcomers Honlenny Huffington and Kiara Howard as bickering siblings who embark on a whimsical adventure along the Caribbean coast of Colombia after accidentally hitting a goat (billed as “Vincent Van Goat”) with their parents’ car. In Creole with English subtitles. ***
THE CAT O’NINE TAILS (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A limited-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($49.95 retail) of Dario Argento’s 1971 stylish giallo (originally titled Il gatto a nove code), loosely based on an (uncredited) Edgar Wallace story, pits blind ex-newspaperman Karl Malden and ambitious reporter James Franciscus against a serial killer. Ennio Morricone’s score, Erico Menzcer’s cinematography, and the leads’ star power don’t entirely compensate for dodgy dialogue and spotty plot contrivances. Still, well worth a look – particularly for Argento aficionados. Special features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, trailers, and more. Originally rated PG, this is the full, uncut version. **
CHAVELA (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi produced and co-directed this award-winning documentary tracing the life and career of the legendary Mexican singer Chavela Vargas (1919-2012), as well as her enduring popularity and influence. In English and Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) – replete with special features including audio commentary, interviews, and vintage Chavela concert appearances.
DUNKIRK (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Christopher Nolan’s sweeping, award-winning World War II epic dramatizes the desperate evacuation of Allied soldiers from the coast of France in 1940, boasting a first-rate ensemble cast including newcomers Fionn Whitehead and Harry Styles (in their respective screen debuts), Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hardy, Mark Rylance, Jack Lowden, James D’Arcy and Cillian Murphy. One of 2017’s best and most impressive films, available on DVD ($28.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.95 retail) – each replete with special features. Rated PG-13. ***½
THE GLASS CASTLE (LionsGate): This PG-13-rated adaptation of Jeannette Wails’ best-selling memoir stars Brie Larson as the author, recalling her unorthodox, improverished upbringing by alcoholic father Woody Harrelson and eccentric mother Naomi Watts, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and DVD/Bly-ray combo ($39.99 retail), each replete with bonus features.
“THE GODFATHER TRILOGY”: OMERTA EDITION (Paramount): A limited-edition, four-disc Blu-ray collection ($59.98 retail) of Francis Ford Coppola’s award-winning, R-rated trilogy of crime dramas based on Mario Puzo’s best-seller: The Godfather (1972), The Godfather Part II (1974), and The Godfather Part III (1990) – replete with special features including audio commentaries, collectible trivia cards, and much more.
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (Shout! Factory): Sunao Katabuchi’s award-winning, PG-13-rated anime adaptation of Fmuiyo Kuono’s award-winning manga (originally titled Kono sekai no katasumi ni) focuses on a young woman’s coming of age, set against the backdrop of the Hiroshima bombing during World War II. In Japanese with English subtitles, available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($22.97 retail) – replete with special features.
KARL MARX CITY (Bond 360/Film Movement): Filmmakers Petra Epperlein and Michael Tucker’s feature documentary follows Epperlein as she returns to the former East Germany after 25 years to investigate the circumstances of her father’s suicide and his reputed ties to the much-feared East German secret police, the Stasi. In English and German with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).
THE LONG NIGHT OF FRANCISCO SANCTIS (Breaking Glass Pictures): The political turmoil of 1977 Buenos Aires forms the backdrop for writer/directors and Andrea Testa and Francisco Marquez’s award-winning adaptation of Humberto Costantini’s novel La Larga Noche de Francisco Sanctis, starring Diego Valazquez in the title role of an average family man thrust into a nocturnal odyssey of paranoia when a political poem he wrote as a student is published years later. Simmering, low-key suspense is enhanced by Valazquez’s subtle performance and Federico Lastra’s evocative cinematography, but the ambiguous fade-out may frustrate some viewers. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail). **½
MAYHEM (RLJE Films): Director Joe Lynch’s outrageous, ultra-violent, award-winning black comedy (reminiscent of Battle Royale and the recent Belko Experiment) sees a corporate high-rise infected with a virus whose victims act on their most primal impulses, with Steven Yeun (also an executive producer) and Samara Weaving teaming up to kill their way up the corporate ladder. Not for all tastes but a surefire cult contender, with Steven Brand, Kerry Fox, Dallas Roberts and Caroline Chikezie caught up in the melee. The DVD retails for $27.97, the DVD/Blu-ray combo for $29.97, and the 4K Ultra HD combo for $35.97 – each replete with special features. **½
A NEW LEAF (Olive Films): Screenwriter Elaine May made her feature directorial debut with this quirky 1971 black comedy, adapted from Jack Ritchie’s short story The Green Heart, in which she plays the bumbling betrothed to playboy wastrel Walter Matthau – who plots to murder her once they’re wed. A critical darling but a box-office flop, with May complaining that the studio (Paramount) recut the film against her wishes. Jack Weston, James Coco, George Rose, William Redfield, Graham Jarvis, Renee Taylor, and Doris Roberts round out a familiar cast. The limited-edition “Olive Signature” Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, featurettes and more. Rated G. **½
“ROWAN & MARTIN’S LAUGH-IN”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Time Life): Dan Rowan and Dick Martin return to host all 26 episodes from the 1968-’69 season of the ground-breaking TV sketch-comedy series, featuring regulars Goldie Hawn, Henry Gibson, Lily Tomlin, Arte Johnson (who won a special Emmy), Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Jo Ann Worley, Alan Sues and announcer Gary Owens, plus guest appearances by Jack Lemmon, Kirk Douglas, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Bob Newhart, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, Sammy Davis Jr., Rich Little, Peter Lawford, Vincent Price, Rod Serling, John Wayne, Flip Wilson, Tom and Dick Smothers, and even future President Richard Nixon. Emmy winner for Outstanding Variety or Musical Series, with an additional nine nominations (including ones for Buzzi and Hawn). The seven-DVD collection ($39.95 retail) includes bonus interviews.
SHADOWMAN (Film Movement): Oren Jacoby’s in-depth documentary feature traces the life and career of controversial, influential underground artist Richard “the Shadowman” Hambleton, who specialized in provocative, politically astute silhouettes but was derailed by drug addiction, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), replete with special features. ***
THE THINGY: CONFESSIONS OF A TEENAGE PLACENTA (Troma Entertainment/CAV Distributing): With a title like that, it just has to be a Troma film … Joel Rabijns and Yves Sondermeier’s Belgian-made, English-language black comedy (originally titled The Miracle of Life) stars Pascal Maetens as a disturbed mother who raises the placenta of her stillborn baby as if it were a human being, available on Blu-ray ($19.98 retail)
VALDEZ IS COMING (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director Edwin Sherin’s 1971 debut feature, adapted from Elmore Leonard’s novel, stars Burt Lancaster in the title role of a venerable Mexican-American lawman determined to bring murderous, manipulative rancher Jon Cypher (in his screen debut) to justice. Gritty, gutsy and surprisingly layered, although the ambiguous fade-out (so common for the time) leaves the narrative dangling. A sturdy cast includes Susan Clark, Richard Jordan (his screen debut), Hector Elizondo, Barton Heyman, and Frank Silvera (his final film). The Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes audio commentary and trailer. Rated PG-13. ***
VALLEY OF BONES (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Producer/director/editor/co-screenwriter Dan Glaser’s brooding, latter-day film noir stars Autumn Reeser as a disgraced scientist who forms an uneasy (and ultimately disastrous) alliance with unstable drug addict Steven Molony (also producer/co-screenwriter) to find a rare fossil in the badlands of North Dakota. Slow going at the outset, but picks up steam in the second half. Rated R. **
WHEELS (Loaded Dice Films): Writer/producer Donavon Warren and Tim Gagliardo (making his feature debut) co-directed this auspicious, award-winning character study starring Warren as a suicidal paraplegic who forms a fast friendship with fellow paraplegic and junkie Patrick Hume. This black comedy, which takes a sharp turn into drama, benefits from strong performances and Ioana Vasile’s gritty, atmospheric cinematography. The DVD/Blu-ray combo ($19.95 retail) includes featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate ending, Easter eggs, eight episodes of the animated web series Story Time with Drake, and more. Rated R. ***
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)