Video Vault – Apr 24, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
THE SERPENT’S EGG (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): The term “interesting failure” – or, perhaps, “unholy mess”– certainly applies to this unique 1977 collaboration between Ingmar Bergman and producer Dino De Laurentiis, which left audiences and critics cold, and is considered by many to be Bergman’s nadir.
Perhaps, but even a great director’s unsuccessful films are worthy of appraisal. Beautifully photographed by Sven Nykvist and acted with (occasionally misguided) conviction by Liv Ullmann and David Carradine, it’s always watchable, frequently puzzling, and eventually rather pointless. But it’s interesting, that’s for sure!
The story follows Abel Rosenberg (Carradine), an alcoholic expatriate American and ex-trapeze artist, as he wanders through the decadence and mounting menace of early ’20s Berlin, with the climate clearly leaning toward the rise of the Third Reich. Ullmann plays Abel’s widowed sister-in-law Consuela, a cabaret performer (first glimpsed with green hair!) who becomes his companion in this Kafka-esque nightmare. At first glance, Carradine would appear to be miscast, but rather it’s Ullmann who seems out of place.
The film isn’t so much a depiction of the era than a twisted – but evocative – celebration of the German expressionist cinema of the era. The cast includes Gert Froebe (very smooth as a shady police inspector), Heinz Bennent, Glynn Turman, Gunter Meisner, and James Whitmore in a terrific cameo as a priest who’s lost his faith.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews and featurettes, original trailer, and more. Rated R. **
BORN IN EAST L.A. (Shout! Factory): Cheech Marin goes solo as writer/director/star of this flimsy 1987 farce based on his hit 1984 song, in which he’s mistakenly deported to Mexico after an immigration raid and repeatedly tries to return to the United States. Daniel Stern, Paul Rodriguez, Kamala Lopez, and Jan-Michael Vincent also appear, but let’s face it: The song was shorter, better, and funnier. The “Shout Select” Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, extended television cut, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated R. *
CARGA (Breaking Glass Pictures): Screenwriter/director Bruno Gascon’s feature debut is a topical tale of international human trafficking, as soon through the eyes of victims, perpetrators, and those forced by external circumstances to be involved, featuring Michalina Olszanska (in a dual role as both a victim and a trafficker), Sara Sampaio (in her screen debut), Vitore Norte, Rita Blanco, and Migiel Borges. In English, Portuguese and Russian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail), with special features.
DEATH IS A NUMBER (Juno Films Selects/MVD Entertainment Group): Producer/director Robert Henryson’s curious low-budget 1951 thriller stars Terence Alexander as a numerologist who relates the tale – and fate – of a friend (Denis Webb) who might have been the victim of a family curse related to the number nine. Stuffy and staid, with more than its fair share of stock footage, but running a mere 45 minutes it kills time easily enough and boasts a few atmospheric touches. **
DEVIL’S PASS (Breaking Glass Pictures): Actor-turned-producer and first-time director/co-screenwriter Matthew Montgomery’s award-winning feature debut stars co-screenwriter/producer Stephen Twardokus and Jo Scalzo (in his feature debut) as gay men who meet on the titular hiking trail in the early 1990s and soon find themselves imperiled. Acted with conviction but muddled, available on DVD ($19.95) including audio commentary and interviews. **
ENIGMA (S’MORE Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): The Blu-ray bow ($24.95 retail) of director Jeannot Szwarc’s 1982 adaptation of Michael Barak’s novel Enigma Sacrifice, starring Martin Sheen as an ex-CIA operative recruited to penetrate the Iron Curtain and locate a code scrambler, aided by former lover Brigitte Fossey and pursued by KGB agent Sam Neill, who also falls for Fossey. Standard-issue Cold War fare enlivened by a polished cast including Derek Jacobi, Frank Finlay, Michael Lonsdale, Kevin McNally, and Warren Clarke. Screenwriter John Briley got luckier with his next script – Gandhi (1982), also featuring Sheen – which won him an Academy Award. Special features include original trailer. Rated PG. **
ESCAPE AT DANNEMORA (CBS DVD/Showtime Entertainment/Paramount): Executive producer Ben Stiller directed this award-winning, seven-episode 2018 Showtime mini-series dramatizing the daring 2015 prison break by two convicted murderers (Benicio del Toro and Paul Dano) from the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, in which they were aided by a married prison worker (Patricia Arquette) with whom both were involved. Bonnie Hunt, David Morse, Eric Lange, Skipp Sudduth, and Michael Imperioli (as New York governor Andrew Cuomo) also appear, and the three-DVD collection ($33.99 retail) boasts bonus features including audio commentary and production featurette.
FLESHPOT ON 42ND STREET (Vinegar Syndrome): A collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($32.98 retail) of filmmaker Andy Milligan’s final collaboration with producer William Mishkin, a graphic, low-budget, X-rated 1972 exploitation variation on Midnight Cowboy (1969), with Laura Cannon (billed as “Diana Lewis”) as an opportunistic New York hooker, Neil “Lynn” Flanagan as her transvestite confidante, and future Deep Throat star Harry Reems (billed as “Bob Walters”) as a nice guy from Staten Island who wins Cannon’s heart. Widely regarded as Milligan’s “masterpiece” (as it were), this is not for all tastes but is certainly among his most watchable works. Special features include audio commentary and more. **
THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ANDRE (Magnolia Home Entertainment): The award-winning team of producer Andrew Rossi and director Kate Novack are reunited for this PG-13-rated documentary feature tracing the life and career of noted fashion maestro Andre Leon Talley, available on DVD ($19.98 retail).
LOVERS AND OTHER STRANGERS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Michael Brandon plays the groom and Bonnie Bedelia the bride in this winning 1970 adaptation of the hit Broadway play by Joseph Bologna and Renee Taylor about a star-crossed wedding, boasting a stellar cast including Gig Young, Cloris Leachman, Beatrice Arthur, Anne Jackson, Diane Keaton (in an impressive feature debut), Bob Dishy, Harry Guardino, Anne Meara, Marian Hailey, and the hilarious Richard Castellano (“So, Richie, what’s the story?”) as the groom’s father. Oscar winner for Best Song (“For All We Know”), nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay (Bologna, Taylor, and David Zelag Goodman) and Best Supporting Actor (Castellano). Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary. Rated R. ***
MACUNAIMA (Kino Classics): Joaquim Pedro de Andrade’s award-winning 1969 adaptation of the 1928 novel by Mario de Andrade, a political and social parable of Brazil, follows the misadventures of Grande Otelo in the title role, a black man who is born fully grown and embarks on a journey of self-discovery amidst the turmoil of the land and its people. In Portuguese with English subtitles, the special-edition Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes de Andrade’s short films Brazilia, Contradictions of a New City (1967) and The Language of Persuasion (1972), and the award-winning 1972 feature The Conspirators.
SCARED STIFF (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of screenwriter/director Richard Friedman’s R-rated 1987 feature debut, a low-budget shocker starring Andrew Stevens and Mary Page Keller as a couple who move into an old plantation with a horrific past. Special features include audio commentary, retrospective documentary and interview, original trailer and more.
SHE WOLF (Omnibus Entertainment/Film Movement): Echoes of David Lynch and Italian giallo thrillers abound in Tamae Garateguy’s explicit, stylish, black-and-white 2013 shocker (originally titled Mujer lobo) that follows a female serial killer who seduces and slays her victims in modern-day Buenos Aires. It’s an interesting idea that, given the title character’s multiple personalities, she would be played by three different actresses (Monica Lairana, Guadalupe Ducampo, and Lujan Ariza), but loathsome characters (including Edgardo Castro’s twisted cop) are a drawback. In Spanish with English subtitles. **
SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME (Shout! Factory): Married cop Tom Berenger falls for Manhattan socialite and murder witness Mimi Rogers in Ridley Scott’s 1987 stylish but shallow thriller, boosted by a polished supporting cast including Lorraine Bracco (in her impressive feature debut) as Berenger’s betrayed wife, John Rubinstein, Andreas Katsulas, Daniel Hugh Kelly, Tony DiBenedetto, Mark Moses, and the always-welcome Jerry Orbach as Berenger’s predictably gruff lieutenant. The “Shout Select” Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) includes retrospective interviews. Rated R. **
THE SUCKLING (Vinegar Syndrome): Toxic waste turns an aborted fetus into a bloodthirsty monster that terrorizes a Brooklyn whorehouse, circa 1973, in filmmaker Francis Teri’s 1989 debut feature (and last to date), a cheap and cheesy shocker in the Troma vein, rife with humor both intentional and unintentional, amateurish performances, and outlandish dialogue. The monster effects aren’t bad, however, and this does boast a cult following. The special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($32.98 retail) includes retrospective interviews. *½
TICKLED (Magnolia Home Entertainment): The eye-opening, award-winning feature documentary debut from directors David Farrar and Dylan Reeve follows New Zealand journalist Farrar as he delves into the underground “sport” of competitive tickling. Despite the title, this is nothing to laugh at – and becomes genuinely disturbing as the vastness of its corporate empire is revealed. One thing’s for sure: You’ve never seen anything like it. (You may wish you never had.) Rated R. ***
TRACKING EDITH (First Run Features): Filmmaker Peter Stephan Jungk’s intriguing and informative debut documentary feature, based on his book Die Dunkelkammern der Edith Tudor-Hart, traces the life of his aunt, Edith Tudor-Hart (1908-’73), a noted photographer who was also a KGB operative instrumental in the formation of the infamous Cambridge Five (headed by Kim Philby), one of the most notorious of the Cold War spy rings. ***
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)