Video Vault – Dec 19, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
THE GINGERBREAD MAN (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Based on an original John Grisham story, Robert Altman’s 1998 legal thriller is a classy, noir-ish melodrama boasting a first-rate star turn from Kenneth Branagh, but studio politics prevented this from being the success it deserved to be.
Branagh’s Rick Magruder is a hotshot, rule-bending Savannah lawyer swept up in a web of deception and intrigue when he embarks on an affair with Mallory Doss (Embeth Davidtz), the seemingly terrified daughter of notorious white supremacist Dixon Doss (a memorable cameo by Robert Duvall, reunited with Altman for the first time since 1970’s M*A*S*H).
No good can come of this illicit romance, as Rick is soon to discover – with his career, his children, and his life ultimately thrown into jeopardy. A stellar supporting cast includes Daryl Hannah as Rick’s adoring secretary, Famke Janssen as Rick’s antagonistic ex-wife, Tom Berenger as Mallory’s mysterious ex-husband, and Robert Downey Jr. as Rick’s hard-partying investigator.
Changwei Gu’s evocative cinematography and Mark Isham’s atmospheric score add immeasurably to the film’s cool, controlled tension. It’s certainly among the better Grisham adaptations, even if the author reportedly disliked the alterations Altman had made, such as making Magruder an extremely flawed protagonist instead of a true-blue legal eagle.
When Altman delivered his cut to PolyGram (which folded not long after), it didn’t test well, so the film was recut against Altman’s wishes – and tested worse. PolyGram ended up dumping the film with almost no fanfare, although critical consensus was favorable. The Gingerbread Man is no masterpiece – nor was it meant to be – but it’s undoubtedly the work of a master (and maverick) filmmaker.
The Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary and theatrical trailer. Rated R. ***
BASIC INSTINCT 2 (MVD Entertainment Group): Still luscious and lethal, Sharon Stone returns as the mysterious and voracious Catherine Tramell in this belated (and wildly unnecessary) 2006 sequel to the 1992 box-office smash, in which she entrances criminal psychologist David Morrissey in London, with Charlotte Rampling, David Thewlis, Terence Harvey, and Hugh Dancy swept up in the sordid proceedings. This was so long in development that numerous prospective directors and leading men fell by the wayside, then Stone ended up in a lawsuit with producers Mario Kassar and Andrew G. Vajna, but the end result satisfied no one – including the audience, which stayed away in droves. Unintentionally hilarious at times and a camp favorite, but a pale shadow of the original. The “MVD Marquee Collection” collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.95 retail) includes both the R-rated and unrated versions, audio commentary, deleted scenes, alternate ending, and more. *½
BLOOD, SWEAT AND TERRORS (RLJE Films): This exercise in pure style offers a weird and wild collection of nine action and fantasy shorts, featuring the likes of John Hannah, Ed Speleers, Neil Maskell, and David Leitch. Like most anthologies, this is hit-and-miss, although it gets better as it goes along, with writer/director Olaf Svenson’s Olga (a bloody Christmas parable starring Naomi Frechette in the title role) and Adam and Joe Horton’s Get Some (a reality zombie series) the standouts. **½
BLOODY BIRTHDAY (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Director/screenwriter Ed Hunt’s 1981 shocker sees three children (Billy Jacoby, Elizabeth Hoy, and newcomer Andrew Freeman) – all born during a solar eclipse – who embark on a murderous rampage 10 years later. This flat but curiously watchable Bad Seed/Omen knock-off plays like an R-rated TV movie. Plucky Lori Lethin (in her screen debut) earns her “scream queen” stripes as the embattled heroine, with brief appearances by a slumming Susan Strasberg and Jose Ferrer, as well as Melinda Cordell, Julie Brown, Joe Penny, Ellen Geer, William Boyett, and Michael Dudikoff. The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentaries, retrospective and vintage interviews, original trailer, and more. Rated R. *½
LA BOYITA (Film Movement): Writer/producer/director Julia Solomonoff’s award-winning drama (originally titled El ultimo verano de la Boyita and also released as The Last Summer of La Boyita) is a sincere, if slow-moving, coming-of-age drama following the friendship of lonely tourist Guadalupe Alonso (in her screen debut) and withdrawn farm hand Nicolas Treise (in his screen debut) during a sleepy summer vacation in Argentina. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail). **½
THE LADYKILLERS (Indican Pictures): Not to be confused with the classic Ealing Studios comedy or the Coen Brothers’ remake, writer/co-producer/director Phil Leirness’ award-winning ensemble comedy offers a dark and deft satire of arrested adolescence and misogyny, as a group of men make a collective wager to commit the most daring sexual escapade. Smart, snappy, and topical – and takes an intriguing twist midway through. The enthusiastic ensemble cast includes Leirness, Jamie Kaler (doing a great Will Ferrell impression), Arye Gross, Peter Shinkoda, producer Burt Bulos, executive producer Dean Haglund, and newcomer Shaun Parker. A sure-fire cult contender. ***
“MacGYVER”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount): The Blu-ray bow ($55.98 retail) of all 22 episodes from the inaugural 1985-’86 season of the award-winning ABC adventure series, starring Richard Dean Anderson in the title role of an intrepid secret agent (first name Angus), and Dana Elcar as his government contact.
“THE ORIGINAL CHRISTMAS SPECIALS COLLECTION: DELUXE EDITION” (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): A self-explanatory selection of five beloved, animated yuletide television specials produced by Rankin/Bass: Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1965), Cricket on the Hearth (1967), The Little Drummer Boy (1968), and Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town (1970). Both the DVD ($26.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail) boast bonus features including retrospective documentary and featurettes, audio commentaries, and more.
PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (Acorn): The classic 1967 mystery novel by Joan Lindsay, depicting the baffling case of three students and a teacher who mysteriously vanished in the Australian wilderness on Valentine’s Day, 1900 – and previously adapted in Peter Weir’s award-winning 1975 feature film – is revisited in this six-part mini-series aired in the U.S. by Amazon Prime, boasting an ensemble cast including Natalie Dormer, Samara Weaving, Don Hany, Anna McGahan, Lola Bessis and Yael Stone, available on DVD and Blu-ray (each $39.99 retail), replete with special features including cast and crew interviews.
REVOLT OF THE SLAVES (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Despite nice costumes and a refreshing number of black characters, this ham-fisted, Italian-made 1960 “sword-and-sandal” saga (originally titled La rivolta degli schiavi) stars Rhonda Fleming as an affluent Roman who falls for Christian slave Lang Jeffries (in his screen debut) during the waning days of pagan Rome. Fleming was later married to Jeffries (briefly), and the supporting cast includes Fernando Rey (almost unrecognizable without his trademark beard), Ettore Mami, Dario Moreno, Gino Cervi, and future pop star Serge Gainsbourg, quite the scene-stealer as a sniveling Roman who comes to a deservedly bad end. The DVD retails for $19.95, the Blu-ray for $29.95. *½
SGT. STUBBY: AN AMERICAN HERO (Paramount Home Media Distribution): The true story of the most decorated canine in American military history is dramatized in executive producer/writer/director Richard Lanni’s award-winning, PG-rated animated feature, boasting the voice-over talents of Helena Bonham Carter, Logan Lerman, and Gerard Depardieu – available on DVD ($22.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.99 retail), each replete with bonus features.
“SHERYL CROW – LIVE AT THE CAPITOL THEATER” (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): The title tells all in this three-disc Blu-ray/CD combo ($29.95 retail) finds the Grammy-winning pop star playing the final night of her “Be Myself” tour at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, N.Y., performing such chart-topping hits as “Every Day is a Winding Road,” “All I Wanna Do,” “First Cut is the Deepest,” “Soak Up the Sun,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and more, as well as discussing her career in an exclusive interview.
THE SOUND AND THE FURY (Monarch Home Entertainment): James Franco directs and stars in this 2014 adaptation of William Faulkner’s classic 1929 novel, depicting the precipitous fall of the Compson clan, a once-proud Southern family awash in drink and despair in 1920s’ Mississippi, with an ensemble cast including Tim Blake Nelson, Ahna O’Reilly, Scott Haze, Loretta Devine, Joey King, Janet Jones Gretzky (also an executive producer), Seth Rogen, and UNCSA School of Drama graduate Danny McBride. A noble but leaden attempt to adapt unwieldy source material, conveyed in a fragmented style that hampers its overall impact – but there are points of interest along the way. **
“STAR TREK: DISCOVERY” – SEASON ONE (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount): The immortal science-fiction franchise soars once more in all 15 episodes from the inaugural 2017 season of the award-winning, prime-time CBS series created by executive producers Bryan Fuller and Alex Kurtman, based (naturally) on Gene Roddenberry’s original vision and set a decade before the events of the original series, featuring an ensemble cast including Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Mary Wiseman, Shazad Latif, Anthony Rapp, Wilson Cruz and Jason Isaacs, plus guest appearances by James Frain, Rainn Wilson, Mia Kirshner and Michelle Yeoh. Both the four-disc DVD ($41.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($50.99 retail) boast bonus features.
THE THIRD MURDER (Film Movement): Hirokazu Kore-eda’s award-winning courtroom thriller (originally titled Sandome no satsujin) starring Masaharu Fukuyama as a hot-shot attorney who begins to question the guilt of a client (Koji Yakusho) accused of murdering his boss. In Japanese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail), each replete with bonus features.
TVTV: VIDEO REVOLUTIONARIES (First Run Features): An entertaining, informative documentary feature depicting the history of Total Value Television (TVTV), a maverick group of filmmakers – including director Paul Goldsmith – whose do-it-yourself style of media coverage and satire was a precursor of reality television and provided early exposure to such future luminaries as Bill Murray, Christopher Guest, Harold Ramis, and others. ***
WILD WOMEN (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Hugh O’Brian, the very personification of swaggering machismo, portrays a fearless frontier scout leading a contingent of Army surveyors into 1840s Texas accompanied by a feisty group of female prisoners (including Anne Francis, Marie Winsdor, Sherry Jackson and Marilyn Maxwell) in this predictable 1970 Aaron Spelling made-for-television movie directed by Don Taylor and based on Vincent Fotre’s novel The Trailmakers, originally aired on ABC as a “Movie of the Week” (perhaps as a pilot for a potential series). Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary. **
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)