Video Vault – Apr 10, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
THE BODY SNATCHER (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Still scary after all these years, this masterful 1945 adaptation of a Robert Louis Stevenson short story marks a triumph for producer Val Lewton, director Robert Wise, and leading man Boris Karloff, who delivers an unforgettable performance as the title character.
Set in 19th-century Edinburgh, the story follows eminent physician Dr. MacFarlane (Henry Daniell), whose research is aided by the fresh cadavers procured by local cab driver John Gray (Karloff). The good doctor believes that his status and work, for the betterment of humanity, places him above the law, but Gray is a constant reminder of his moral turpitude.
Karloff plays Gray with unapologetic, diabolical relish, and Daniell – who specialized in sneering villains – enjoys one of his best screen roles as the conflicted, paranoid MacFarlane. The film also marked the last screen pairing of Karloff and Bela Lugosi, in a small role as MacFarlane’s assistant Joseph, whose attempt to blackmail Gray fatally backfires.
The sinister mood of corruption that permeates the proceedings, capped off by a riveting – and terrifying – climax, leads one to the inevitable conclusion that the real monsters are those within us.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective featurette, still galleries, and the 2005 documentary Shadows in the Dark: The Val Lewton Legacy. ***½
FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Sergio Leone’s second collaboration with Clint Eastwood (originally titled Per qualche dollaro in piu), released in 1965, sees Eastwood’s “Man With No Name” parrying with rival bounty hunter Lee Van Cleef as they both pursue sadistic bandit Gian Maria Volonte and his grubby gang. Ennio Morricone contributes yet another memorable score, and the Eastwood/Van Cleef chemistry is delightful. Mario Brega, Maria Krup, Luigi Pistilli, Aldo Sambrell, and Klaus Kinski round out the cast. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) boast a bevy of bonus features including audio commentaries, retrospective interviews, trailers and more. Rated R. ***
IN THE COLD OF THE NIGHT (Vinegar Syndrome): Nico Mastorakis produced and directed this steamy 1992 thriller starring Jeff Lester (in his final feature to date) as a troubled photographer, suffering from nightmares, who becomes infatuated with alluring Adrianne Sachs. Woefully overlong and ponderously paced, with a ludicrous plot twist straight out of Philip K. Dick, this was a late-night Cinemax perennial thanks to its sex scenes, which remarkably earned the film an NC-17 rating. Shannon Tweed, David Soul, Marc Singer, John Beck, Brian Thompson, and Tippi Hedren (replete with a gag reference to The Birds) pop up occasionally. The collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($32.98 retail) includes vintage featurette, original trailer, and more. *
THE KEY TO REBECCA (CBS DVD/Paramount): Allied intelligence officer Cliff Robertson matches wits with German spy David Soul in World War II Cairo in this loosely fact-based 1985 mini-series based on Ken Follett’s best-seller. Listlessly directed by David Hemmings (who also appears), with Season Hubley and Lina Raymond the resident femme fatales, Robert Culp (as Rommel), and Anthony Quayle (as an Arab!). Given the source material and talent involved, this is a major disappointment – and the climax so painfully protracted as to drain all suspense. *½
LET THE CORPSES TAN (Kino Lorber): Directors Helene Cattat and Bruno Forzani adapted this award-winning adaptation of the 1971 Jean-Patrick Manchette/Jean-Pierre Bastid novel (originally titled Laissez bronzer les cadavres), in which a gang of thieves descends upon the remote Corsican island retreat where reclusive artist Elina Lowensohn lives to divide the spoils of a gold robbery – only to fall prey to paranoia, suspicion and greed, which inevitably leads to bloodshed. In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail), each featuring audio commentary.
LITTLE GANDHI (Kino Lorber): Writer/producer/director Sam Kadi’s award-winning 2016 documentary feature chronicles the life of Ghiath Matar, the martyred Syrian political activist nicknamed “Little Gandhi” for his non-violent stance, who was brutally tortured and murdered in 2011. In English and Arabic with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).
LONDON FIELDS (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Executive producer/director Mathew Cullen’s disastrous adaptation of the best-selling 1989 Martin Amis novel (scripted by the author, who briefly appears, and Roberta Hanley) is set in strife-ridden 1999 London, with Amber Heard as a clairvoyant femme fatale who foresees her own murder – either at the hands of dying American writer Billy Bob Thornton, bored tycoon Theo James, or grubby darts champion Jim Sturgess (who takes dishonors for the film’s worst performance), all of whom are obsessed with her. Jumbled, shapeless and dispiriting, this began production in 2013 (!) and earned headlines thanks to a series of lawsuits that repeatedly delayed its release. A wasted cast includes Jason Isaacs, Jaimie Alexander, Cara Delevingne, Lily Cole, Gemma Chan, and an unbilled Johnny Depp (then Heard’s boyfriend). Rated R. ½
THE MAN WHO KILLED HITLER THEN THE BIGFOOT (RLJE Films): Writer/producer/director Robert D. Krzykowski’s award-winning debut feature stars Sam Elliott in the title role of a World War II veteran tapped by the government to track down the mythical creature, lest a deadly virus be unleashed on humankind. Well-made but oddly subdued and not nearly as wild as the title implies, but Elliott can do no wrong. Aidan Turner, Caitlin FitzGerald, Ron Livingston, Ellar Coltrane and Larry Miller also appear, available on DVD ($26.96 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.97 retail), each boasting bonus features including audio commentary. **
MARQUISE (Film Movement Classics): Sophie Marceau headlines screenwriter/producer/director Vera Belmont’s award-winning 1997 historical comedy/drama in the title role of ambitious actress and dancer who becomes the toast of society – and the mistress of some of the most important men in France, including King Louis XIV (Thierry Lhermitte) – during the 17th century, with Patrick Timsit as her stalwart husband, Bernard Giraudeau as Moliere, and Lambert Wilson as Racine. In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail).
OPERATION FINALE (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Chris Weitz directed this fact-based thriller detailing the efforts of Israeli intelligence to abduct Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann (Ben Kingsley) from Argentina in 1960. Oscar Isaac (also a producer) plays the leader of the mission, with Melanie Laurent, Nick Kroll, Lior Roz, Haley Lu Richardson, Joe Alwyn, Greta Scacchi, Peter Strauss, and Simon Russell Beale (as David Ben-Gurion) in support. Episodic but engrossing, with Kingsley the standout as he makes the inhuman Eichmann human. Both the DVD ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail) include bonus features including audio commentary. Rated PG-13. **½
“RAY DONOVAN”: THE SIXTH SEASON (Showtime Entertainment/CBS DVD/Paramount): Producer Liev Schreiber returns in the title role of L.A.’s preeminent “fixer” – newly relocated to Staten Island – in all 12 episodes from the 2018-’19 season of the award-winning Showtime drama created by Ann Biderman. Jon Voight, Eddie Marsan, Dash Mihok, Kerris Dorsey, Devon Bagby, Graham Rogers and Katherine Moennig round out the regular cast, joined by guest stars Susan Sarandon, Lola Glaudini, and Dominick Lombardozzi, available in a four-DVD collection ($39.98 retail), replete with bonus features.
“THE RETRO AFRIKA COLLECTION” (IndiePix Films): During the apartheid era in South Africa, numerous low-budget feature films were produced exclusively for black audiences, and this marks the third volume of this ongoing series, which offers these films as originally made, often by the same filmmakers and featuring the same actors: Director Tonie van der Merwe’s crime drama Rich Girl (1990), the 1989 adventure Isiboshwa (also directed by van der Merwe), and the 1986 thriller Hostage. Each film stars Innocent “Popo” Gumede, each are in Zulu with English subtitles, and each DVD retails for $19.95.
SECOND ACT (STX Films/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Producer/star Jennifer Lopez makes her bid to climb the corporate ladder in this PG-13-rated romantic comedy co-starring Vanessa Hudgens, Leah Remini, Milo Ventimiglia and Treat Williams, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail).
TRAUMA (Artsploitation Films): Writer/executive producer/co-editor/director Lucio A. Rojas’s award-winning shocker sees a group of young women whose plans for a weekend getaway are violently dashed by Daniel Antivilo, playing a deranged victim of persecution during the Pinochet regime in 1970s Chile. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($14.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.99 retail).
THE UNSEEN (Monarch Home Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Geoff Redknap’s award-winning debut feature stars Aden Young as a disillusioned drifter – who is slowly turning invisible – who goes on a rampage to find his estranged daughter (Julia Sarah Stone), who suffers from the same condition and has gone missing (no pun intended). A brooding, existential domestic drama with a sci-fi bent, but the embittered characters are off-putting. **
THE VAULT (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): A daring bank robbery goes awry when a supernatural force is unleashed from its subterranean vault in this routine but well-made shocker, featuring a good ensemble cast including Francesca Eastwood (Clint’s daughter with Frances Fisher), Taryn Manning, James Franco, Scott Haze, Q’Oriana Kilcher, Clifton Collins Jr., and the late Keith Loneker (in his final film) — but they’re at the mercy of executive producer/director Dan Bush and co-star Conal Byrne’s dopey script. Still, any film that includes “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and the Shondells can’t be all bad. **
VICTOR GOODVIEW (Troma Entertainment/CAV Distributing): Writer/director Vincent Turturro’s award-winning debut feature stars newcomer Winston Shaw in the title role of an urban misfit contending with depression, drug addiction, and a severe case of constipation as he wends his way through the mean streets of Yonkers, available on Blu-ray ($19.99 retail), which boasts bonus features including audio commentary, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer, and more.
WARNING SIGN (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Biological contamination forces the shutdown of a research facility, leaving those trapped inside – including Kathleen Quinlan’s security guard – jeopardized by those infected, who become psychotic killers. This sleek but routine 1985 thriller get a boost from a polished cast: Sam Waterston (as Quinlan’s lawman husband), reliable Yaphet Kotto, Jeffrey DeMunn, Richard Dysart, G.W. Bailey, Jerry Hardin, Rick Rossovich, Keith Szarabajka, Kavi Raz, Scott Paulin, and Tom McFadden. The special-edition Blu-ray ($27.99 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer and more. Rated R. **
WE DIE YOUNG (LionsGate): Writer/director Lior Geller’s R-rated shoot-’em-up stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as a combat veteran who comes to the aid of brothers Elijah Rodriguez and Nicholas Sean Johnny as they attempt to flee Washington, D.C. drug lord David Castaneda, available on DVD ($19.98) and Blu-ray ($21.99) – each replete with bonus features.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)