Video Vault – Apr 18, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL (Olive Films): Director John Sturges was renowned for such tough, gutsy films as Bad Day at Black Rock (1954), The Magnificent Seven (1960) and The Great Escape (1963). This overblown, overlong 1965 Western send-up marked his only venture into comedy – and it’s easy to see why.
The plot, such as it is, involves a shipment of whiskey being transported to Denver by wagon train in 1867. Among the interested parties are Col. Thaddeus Gearheart (Burt Lancaster), a hard-nosed cavalry commander; Cora Templeton Massingale (Lee Remick), the feisty organizer of a women’s temperance movement; Gearheart’s well-meaning but bumbling adjutant, Capt. Paul Slater (Jim Hutton, who specialized in playing well-meaning bumblers); Gearheart’s daughter Louise (Pamela Tiffin), who is engaged to Slater; and the gruff wagon train leader Frank Wallingham (Brian Keith, who specialized in playing gruff roles).
The Native American contingent is represented, as so many movies once upon a time, by Caucasian actors – in this case Robert J. Wilke as “Chief Five Barrels” and a hammy Martin Landau as “Walks-Stooped-Over.” Clearly, political correctness was not a concern in these portrayals. The real scene-stealer is a delightfully canny Donald Pleasence as a seer called “Oracle Jones,” whose predictions and prognostications depend on the amount of spirits he consumes.
The action scenes are amusingly rambunctious and rowdy, John Dehner’s sonorous narration a constant treat, Robert Surtees’ expansive cinematography suitably breathtaking, and Elmer Bernstein’s score a delight – including a remarkably catchy theme song. The Hallelujah Trail misses the mark, but it’s not a total loss.
The DVD retails for $24.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. **½
“THE ACCIDENT” (Acorn TV): A two-DVD collection ($39.99 retail) of all six feature-length episodes from the 2016 French mini-series (originally titled L’Accident) starring Bruno Solo as a grief-stricken widower whose investigation into the circumstances surrounding his wife’s death propels him into a dangerous odyssey of suspicion and betrayal.
BOSTON: THE DOCUMENTARY (First Run Features): Matt Damon narrates producer/cinematographer/director Jon Dunham’s comprehensive documentary feature covering the 121-year history of the Boston Marathon, through the tragic 2013 terrorist bombing and beyond. A bit long, but sincere, entertaining, and extremely well-made. The DVD ($24.95 retail) includes bonus features. ***
CAMP NOWHERE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Christopher Lloyd headlines this knockabout 1994 comedy as an unemployed actor coerced into posing the as the head counselor of a summer camp, the silly shenanigans boosted by an enthusiastic cast including Jonathan Jackson (his screen debut), reliable M. Emmet Walsh, Peter Scolari, Wendy Makenna, Tom Wilson, Kate Mulgrew, Ray Baker, Burgess Meredith, Peter Onorati, Jessica Alba (her screen debut), and unbilled cameos by husband-and-wife Jonathan Frakes and Genie Francis, the latter of whom played Jackson’s mother on “General Hospital.” Both the DVD ($11.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail) include audio commentary and original trailer. Rated PG. **½
THE CITY OF THE DEAD (VCI Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): A limited-edition Blu-ray ($19.95 retail) of director John Moxey’s spooky, richly atmospheric 1960 chiller starring Venetia Stevenson (a great screamer) as a college student who pays a visit to Whitewood, a remote New England burg with a history of witchcraft … and soon wishes she hadn’t. Released in the US as Horror Hotel (with the memorable tagline “Just ring for doom service!”), this ranks as a “mini-classic” and overcomes its low budget with Desmond Dickinson’s inventive cinematography – the entire film was shot indoors! – and a solid cast including Patricia Jessel, Dennis Lotis, Valentine Dyall, Betta St. John, and Christopher Lee, in top form as a professor with an agenda of his own. Special features include audio commentary and interview with Lee, and theatrical trailer. ***
“CLAWS”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): A three-DVD collection ($24.98 retail) of all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2017 season of the award-winning TNT series created by co-executive producer Eliot Laurence, detailing the comings and goings at a shady South Florida nail salon in darkly humorous fashion, featuring an ensemble cast including Niecy Nash, Carrie Preston, Judy Reyes, Jenn Lyon, Karrueche Tran, Harold Perrineau and Dean Norris.
DOWNSIZING (Paramount): Alexander Payne’s award-winning, R-rated satirical fantasy stars Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as an all-American couple who allow themselves to be shrunk to five inches tall, so they can live in splendor in an ornate, downsized community, with Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Laura Dern, Neil Patrick Harris, Udo Kier, James Van Der Beek, Niecy Nash, Margo Martindale, Mary Kay Place, Joaquim de Almeida, Pepe Serna, and Jason Sudeikis in support, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($34.99 retail).
FATHER FIGURES (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Ed Helms and Owen Wilson headline this aweard-winning, R-rated comedy as twin (!) brothers who embark on a journey to find their father after their mother (Glenn Close) belatedly admits she was never certain of his identity. Christopher Walken, J.K. Simmons, Ving Rhames, Katt Williams, Harry Shearer, June Squibb, Katie Aselton, and Terry Bradshaw (as himself) round out a star-studded cast, available on DVD ($28.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($35.99 retail).
FULL MOON HIGH (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) of Larry Cohen’s scattershot 1981 horror spoof, with Adam Arkin as a teenaged werewolf who returns to high school 20 years after being bitten and struggling to find a solution to his condition, with Ed McMahon, Elizabeth Hartman, Roz Kelly, Joanne Nail, Louis Nye, Bill Kirchenbauer, Kenneth Mars, Pat Morita, Demond Wilson, Cohen regular James Dixon, and Adam’s dad Alan Arkin (in a scene-stealing turn as a quack psychiatrist) adding to the levity. Bonus features include audio commentary and theatrical trailer. Rated PG. **
HONOR UP (LionsGate): Writer/producer/director Damon Dash’s R-rated urban thriller casts him in the pivotal role of a Harlem gangster trying to hold his crew together after a deadly shootout in Harlem, with Cameron “Cam’ron” Giles, John “Murda Mook” Giles, Stacey Dash (Damon’s cousin), Daniel Jenkins and Nicholas Turturro also in the line of fire, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($21.99 retail), both boasting audio commentary.
HUMOR ME (Shout! Factory): Writer/producer/director Sam Hoffman’s debut feature, inspired by his popular cable series “Old Jews Telling Jokes,” stars Jemaine Clement as a has-been playwright who reconnects with estranged father Elliott Gould when he moves into his retirement home, available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail), each replete with special features including audio commentary, deleted scenes, and trailer.
“INDIEPIX FESTIVAL FAVORITES, VOLUME 5” (IndiePix Films): A three-DVD collection ($59.95 retail) of critically acclaimed foreign films: Writer/directors Paola Mendoza and Gloria Le Morte’s award-winning 2009 Spanish debut feature Entre nos (We Can), in which Mendoza also stars; writer/producer/director Anurag Kashya’s 2010 Indian mystery That Girl in Yellow Boots (A sarga csizmas lany); and the award-winning 2008 Indonesian drama Jermal (Fishing Platform).
“PEYTON PLACE”: PART THREE (Shout! Factory): A five-DVD collection ($34.99 retail) of 33 original (and black-and-white) episodes from the award-winning ABC prime-time soap opera (which ran 1965-’69), based on Grace Metalious’ best-selling novel, featuring a star-studded ensemble cast including Dorothy Malone, Mia Farrow, Ryan O’Neal, Barbara Parkins, Ed Nelson and Christopher Connelly, and narrated by Warner Anderson.
THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (Omnibus Entertainment): The award-winning ike Kenny/Damian Cruden stage production of E. Nesbit’s classic novel has been preserved on film in director Ross MacGibbon’s seven-camera team, with Beth Lilly, Rosalind Lailey and newcomer Izaak Cainer portraying the titular trio of siblings who embark on a magical, coming-of-age adventure, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).
“SEIJUN SUZUKI: THE EARLY YEARS, VOL. 2 – BORDER CROSSINGS: THE CRIME AND ACTION MOVIES” (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A limited-edition, four-disc DVD/Blu-ray collection ($69.95 retail) of five early crime thrillers (plus bonus features) made by the controversial, award-winning auteur Seijun Suzuki (1923-2017): 1957’s Eight Hours of Terror (Hachijikan no kyofu), 1960’s The Sleeping Beast Within (Kemono no nemuri), 1960’s Smashing the O-Line (mikko zero rain), 1961’s Tokyo Knights (Tokyo naito) and 1961’s The Man With a Shotgun (Shottogun no otoko). In Japanese with English subtitles.
SLEEPING DOGS (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): A special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of Roger Donaldson’s 1977 feature debut, the first 35mm film ever made in New Zealand (and the first Kiwi film to receive an American release), starring Sam Neill in his first lead as a disillusioned everyman drawn inexorably into an impending civil war. Brooding, atmospheric and vaguely Orwellian, it’s rough around the edges but worth a look, with the always-welcome Warren Oates on hand as a cynical American colonel. Special features include audio commentary, retrospective and vintage documentaries, theatrical trailer, and more. **½
A TAXI DRIVER (Well Go USA Entertainment): Director Hun Jang’s award-winning, fact-based political drama (originally titled Taeksi woonjunsa) stars Kang-ho Song in the title role of a widowed taxi driver who becomes enmeshed in the 1980 Gwangju Uprising in South Korea when hired by journalist Thomas Kretschmann to drive him there to cover it. In English, German, Japanese and Korean with English subtitles, available on Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)