DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: HANDS OF THE RIPPER (Synapse Films)
Jack the Ripper’s legacy gets an intense 1971 revision at the hands of Hammer Studios, purveyors of many Gothic goodies in its horror-filled heyday.Angharad Rees (in her screen debut) plays the mysterious Anna, who as a child saw her mother butchered by her father — Saucy Jack himself. Whether possessed by his spirit or merely traumatized by the experience makes little difference, as she is prone to murderous catatonic fits.Eric Porter plays the compassionate (if misguided) Dr. Pritchard, an early follower of Sigmund Freud determined to cure Anna. But, as any horror fan knows, psychiatry is among the most hazardous professions in the genre, no matter how benevolent the intentions.Director Peter Sasdy maintains a taut, tight pace and delivers the goods (some kills are gory even by today’s standards), yet the story is tinged with tragedy — not that it distracts from the bloody business at hand. Oddly, writers LW Davidson and Edward Spencer Shew boast no other screen credits.One of the most sought-after Hammer horrors is available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.95 retail) boasting the original, uncut British version in a sumptuous widescreen transfer. A good film has never looked better.
AMERICAN IDIOTS (LionsGate): Generic title for a generic comedy about friends who drive to Las Vegas to sabotage a wedding. Rated R. AROUSED (Ketchup Entertainment): Photographer Deborah Anderson’s documentary, based on her book, features observations about sex and pornography from some of the most popular adult stars in the world (including Alexis Texas, Ash Hollywood, Belladonna and more). Despite the nudity, this is not so much titillating as revealing. Not without insight but mildly pretentious, with quotes from the likes of Erica Jong, Eleanor Roosevelt, Angela Davis and Joan of Arc(!) interspersed throughout.
“BODY OF PROOF”: THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON (ABC Studios): Medical examiner Dana Delany’s back on the case in all 13 episodes from the 2013 (and final) season of the prime-time ABC mystery series, which wrapped things up in the last episode. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.
BULLET TO THE HEAD (Warner Home Video): Aging assassin Sylvester Stallone teams with young cop Sung Kang to take down those who killed their respective partners in this stylish, bone-crunching adaptation of the French graphic novel (read: comic book) Du Plomb Dans La Tete. The bad guys include Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jason Momoa and Christian Slater, very funny as a sleazy lawyer who experiences the ramifications of the film’s title. A box-office flop that deserved better, with great use of New Orleans locations and director Walter Hill’s patented flair for action. Rated R.
CAUGHT ON TAPE (LionsGate): Kirk “Sticky Fingaz” Jones co-wrote, produced, directed and stars in this urban melodrama/hip-hop musical hybrid about a bank job gone wrong. An old-hat story that runs barely 70 minutes (including the slowest end credits in recent memory), but at least it tries. Lots of familiar folk on hand: Cedric the Entertainer, Vivica A. Fox, Malik Yoba, David Marciano, Johnny Messner, Bokeem Woodbine, Kel Mitchell, Erik Palladino, Ian Somerhalder, Joe Torry, Angie Stone and Ellie Cornell. Rated R.
HEAVY TRAFFIC (Shout! Factory): The Blu-ray bow ($19.97 retail) of Ralph Bakshi’s R-rated (originally rated X), semi-autobiographical 1973 animated feature about a young underground cartoonist — named Michael Corleone and voiced by Joseph Kaufmann! — who finds inspiration in the people he meets on the mean streets of New York.
THE HORDE (Entertainment One): Andrei Proshkin directed this historical spectacle dramatizing the history of the feared Golden Horde of the Mongolian empire in the 14 th century. Originally titled Orda. In Russian with English subtitles. The DVD retails for $19.98.
HORNY WORKING GIRL: FROM 5 TO 9 (Impulse Pictures): Yes, more softcore swill from Japan’s venerable Nikkatsu Studios and yes, inspired by the 1980 comedy Nine to Five — but this is raunchier and (considerably) less funny. In Japanese with English subtitles.
THE INCREDIBLE BURT WONDERSTONE (Warner Home Video): Steve Carell stars in the title role of a Las Vegas magician undergoing a professional and personal meltdown in this likably loose comedy that didn’t work magic at the box-office but has its moments and a spirited cast including Steve Buscemi, Jim Carrey, Olivia Wilde, James Gandolfini and the always welcome Alan Arkin. The hairstyles and toupees are a scream. Rated PG-13.
INESCAPABLE (IFC Films): In writer/director Ruba Nadda’s political thriller, Syrian immigrant Alexander Siddig confronts his past when his daughter goes missing in Damascus. Potentially interesting storyline is only intermittently engaging, despite a cast including Joshua Jackson, Oded Fehr and Marisa Tomei, surprisingly but successfully cast as Siddig’s Syrian ex-fiancee. Rated R.
JOURNEY OF THE UNIVERSE (Shelter Island): Author/ philosopher Brian Thomas Schwimme hosts this Emmy Award-winning 2011 documentary ($24.98 retail), which aired on PBS and examined Earth’s origins. Shelter Island has also released Journey of the Universe: Conversations ($79.98 retail), a four-DVD boxed set of the entire 10- hour, 20-part follow-up series hosted by historian Mary Evelyn Tucker (who co-wrote the original documentary).
KNIFE FIGHT (IFC Films): Executive producer Rob Lowe portrays a smooth-talking strategist in this glib political satire that leans toward preaching but is well worth a look thanks to a cast including Carrie-Anne Moss (especially good), David Harbour (especially funny), Eric McCormack, Jamie Chung, Julie Bowen, Saffron Burrows, Jennifer Morrison, Chris Mulkey and Lowe’s old “West Wing” crony Richard Schiff. Rated R.
KNUCKLEBALL! (Film Buff/MPI Media Group): Baseball buffs will savor Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg’s enjoyable documentary following veteran hurlers RA Dickey and Tim Wakefield during the 2011 season, as they ponder and practice their principal pitch — one with “a mind of its” own — the increasingly rare, exponentially unpredictable knuckleball.
ONCE UPON A TIME IN BROOKLYN (LionsGate): Occasionally stylish but all-too-familiar mob melodrama (originally titled Goat) with producer/co-writer William DeMeo as an ex-con who can’t avoid trouble. Laden with flashbacks and ponderous narration, this wastes a cast that includes Armand Assante, Cathy Moriarty, Ice T, Vincent Pastore, Tony Darrow, Robert Costanzo and Ja Rule, the latter funny as a grouchy music mogul. Rated R.
STREET TRASH (Synapse Films): The Blu-ray bow ($24.95 retail) of the award-winning, low-rent 1987 schlock shocker set in the depths and dumps of lower Manhattan, where the disenfranchised denizens are literally melting away after sampling a taste of the corrosive “Tenafly Viper” hooch. In addition to memorably gory effects and lip-smacking black comedy, this is a grimy, slimy ode to ’80s New York City. A cult classic… but not for the squeamish.
SUMMONED (LionsGate): Has the spirit of a convicted San Francisco serial killer returned from beyond the grave? That’s what juror Ashley Scott and cop Bailey Chase try to find out in this lame whodunit from writer/coproducer/writer Peter Sullivan. Top-billed Cuba Gooding Jr. is wasted as Chase’s partner. Rated PG-13.
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2013, Mark Burger.