Video Vault – Dec 4, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
SCARFACE (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Although critically roasted in some quarters upon its 1983 release, Brian De Palma’s updated remake of the 1932 gangster classic has since become a pop-culture phenomenon, particularly in hip-hop circles.
Al Pacino, in an iconic performance as expansive and explosive as the narrative, plays Tony Montana, a Cuban exile who becomes the drug king of the Miami. His rise and inevitable fall are conveyed in spectacularly violent terms that originally earned the film an X rating. Tony Montana lives the American Dream, and it’s giving nothing away to say he dies it, too. This is a film about excess, presented excessively – yet Oliver Stone’s screenplay remains credible throughout.
The film captures the time and place in vivid fashion, augmented by John A. Alonzo’s sharp cinematography and Giorgio Moroder’s pounding score. Pacino understandably dominates the proceedings, but he receives sharp support from Michelle Pfeiifer, Steven Bauer (in his screen debut), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (in her screen debut), Robert Loggia, Harris Yulin, Paul Shenar, Miriam Colon, Pepe Serna, Al Israel, and F. Murray Abraham.
The limited-edition “Scarface: The World is Yours” 4K Ultra HD combo ($79.98 retail) includes the 1932 version of the film (starring Paul Muni), retrospective featurettes, the television version (for laughs?), collectible statue (!), and more. Rated R. ***½
AQUARELA (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/editor/cinematographer/director Victor Kossakovsky’s award-winning, PG-rated, globe-trotting documentary feature explores the beauty and power of water, one of nature’s strongest forces, and its impact on the planet and its people, available on Blu-ray ($24.49 retail).
ART OF DECEPTION (Breaking Glass Pictures): Producer/executive producer/editor/story writer/director Richard Ryan headlines this low-budget, low-impact action thriller as a scientist attempting to both rescue his kidnapped wife (producer/executive producer Jackie Nova) and stop a rogue CIA plot to infect the United States with a virus. Cliché-riddled, poorly acted, and embarrassingly small-scale, available on DVD ($19.99 retail), replete with special features. ½
BARE KNUCKLE BRAWLER (Breaking Glass Pictures): Martial-arts champion Pete Passaro makes his feature debut as co-writer/producer of co-writer/producer/director Joe Gawalis’s self-explanatory action potboiler in which he infiltrates an underground fighting ring to avenge the death of his undercover cop brother (Jesse Kove). Plenty of fisticuffs but utterly predictable, with Danny Trejo, William DeMeo, John Bianco, and co-producer Martin Kove (Jesse’s real-life father) also on hand. *
BERSERKER (Vinegar Syndrome): Writer/director Jefferson “Jef” Richard’s unintentionally laughable, low-rent 1987 shocker (subtitled The Nordic Curse) sees the prototypical group of dumb hikers who encounter a marauding bear, or the reincarnation of a 10th-century Viking warrior (or perhaps both), during a weekend getaway in Utah. Despite the presence of B-movie stalwarts George “Buck” Flower and John Goff, this is pretty cheesy throughout, although there’s gratuitous gore and nudity for those who care. The collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, and more. Rated R. *
THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH (Kino Classics): Writer/producer/director Fred Schepisi scored an international sensation with his hard-hitting 1978 adaptation of Thomas Keneally’s best-selling, fact-based novel, starring Tommy Lewis (in an impressive screen debut) in the title role of an indigenous Australian half-caste who becomes both a folk hero and a wanted criminal after striking back at the white establishment that has repeatedly demeaned and taken advantage of him. Freddy Reynolds (in his first and only screen role), Jack Thompson, Ray Barrett, Angela Punch McGregor, Ruth Cracknell, and Peter Carroll also star. At the time, this was the highest-budgeted film ever made in Australia, and although a financial disappointment it brought Schepisi to the attention of Hollywood. Both the two-disc DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) include both the theatrical version and director’s cut, audio commentary, retrospective interviews, and more. ***½
COPA 181 (Breaking Glass Pictures): Executive producer/writer/director Dannon Lacerda’s award-winning debut feature stars Carlos Takechi and Simone Mazzer as an unhappily married couple in Rio de Janeiro who find themselves drawn to the titular local sauna, where their relationship – and their lives – are irrevocably altered by the regulars they encounter and emotions they experience. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail), replete with bonus features.
“DEADLINE” (Film Chest Media Group): A three-DVD collection ($19.98 retail) of all 39 episodes –plus bonus features — from the entire 1959-’61 run of the syndicated anthology series based on actual newspaper headlines from the era, hosted and narrated by Paul Stewart (who also directed a few episodes), featuring guest appearances by Peter Falk, Diane Ladd, Robert Lansing, George Maharis, Dana Elcar, Frank Overton, Lonny Chapman, Simon Oakland, Andrew Prine, William Redfield, and others. Reportedly, these episodes were located in a garage in New Jersey!
THE ICE KING (Film Movement): Writer/producer/director James Erskine’s compassionate and illuminating documentary profiles the life of the legendary British ice-skating champion John Curry (1949-’94), who became the first openly gay Olympian in 1976, based on the Bill Jones biography Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry, and highlighted by archival footage and Freddie Fox’s narration. The DVD ($24.95 retail) includes bonus features. ***
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (Paramount Home Entertainment): The 4K Ultra HD combo ($25.99 retail) of Frank Capra’s 1946 holiday perennial starring James Stewart as a depressed, all-American everyman who is gifted by his guardian angel (Henry Travers) with a glimpse into what the world would have been had he never lived. Based on Philip Van Doren Stern’s short story The Greatest Gift, this was a notorious box-office flop upon release but has since become one of the most beloved movies in Hollywood history, with Donna Reed, Thomas Mitchell, Thomas Mitchell, Beulah Bondi, Gloria Grahame, Ward Bond, Frank Faylen, and H.B. Warner. Nominated for five Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Editing, and Best Sound Recording. This includes both the original black-and-white version and the (completely unnecessary) colorized version.
MR. WRONG (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Nick Castle directed this predictable 1996 comedy starring Ellen DeGeneres as a single woman whose new boyfriend (Bill Pullman) turns out to be an obsessed stalker. If you’ve ever wondered why DeGeneres didn’t become a movie star, look no further. Pullman, however, is a hoot, and a friendly cast includes Joan Cusack, Dean Stockwell, Joan Plowright, Hope Davis, Polly Holliday, Ellen Cleghorne, and Robert Goulet, available on DVD ($11.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail). Rated PG-13. **
PAPI CHULO (Breaking Glass Pictures): Writer/director John Butler’s award-winning, bittersweet comedy/drama stars Matt Bomer as a lovelorn Los Angeles television weatherman who forms an attachment to Mexican migrant worker Alejandro Patino, whom he’s hired to repaint his deck. Rather talky, but Patino brings a quiet, earthy dignity to his role, and along the way some stereotypes are nicely deflated. Rated R. **½
RETURN TO NUKE ‘EM HIGH, AKA VOLUME 2 (Troma Entertainment/CAV Distributing): Catherine Corcoran, Ata Paredes, and co-screenwriter/producer/director Lloyd Kaufman are back in action in this award-winning follow-up to the 2013 sci-fi spoof, in which the residents of Tromaville and the students of Tromaville High School continue their raunchy revelry amid toxic contamination, political corruption, and other sundry distractions, available in a two-disc special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) boasting bonus features including audio commentary and tributes to narrator Stan Lee, Lemmy (of Motorhead), and Troma regular Joe Fleishaker, all of whom died before the film’s release.
“SESAME STREET: 50TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION” (Sesame Workshop/Shout! Kids/Shout! Factory): The title tells all in this DVD ($16.97 retail) hosted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, which commemorates the 50th birthday of the much-beloved, long-running, award-winning children’s series, featuring the classic Sesame Street characters (both human and Muppet), as well as guest appearances by Elvis Costello, Norah Jones, Sterling K. Brown, Nile Rodgers, Patti LaBelle, Meghan Trainor, and others, as well as bonus features.
SHE’S JUST A SHADOW (Breaking Glass Pictures): Writer/producer/director Adam Sherman’s demented, wildly uneven latter-day film noir details the (very) violent goings-on rocking the Tokyo underworld, as seen through the eyes of disillusioned prostitute Tao Okamoto. This opens strong, with Tarantino-esque overtones, style and attitude to spare, but quickly goes over the top and stay there, saturated with excessive self-indulgence. Characters spend much of their time bloodying their foes or being bloodied by them. Literally and figuratively, this is a bloody mess, but cult status is a certainty and there’s an inspired running gag about a Philly cheesesteak. David Newbert’s cinematography is impressive, but the squeamish are strongly forewarned. The ensemble cast includes Kentz Asaka (very charismatic as a blade-wielding pimp), Ichi Omiya (as a serial-killer cop), Haruka Abe, Mercedes Maxwell, Marcus “DJ L-Spade” Johnson (in his screen debut), and pop star Khiro (in his screen debut). Both the DVD ($24.96 retail) and Blu-ray ($17.99 retail) boast bonus features. **
THIS MAGNIFICENT CAKE! (GKIDS/Kino Lorber): Emma De Swaef and producer/cinematographer Marc James Roelf co-wrote and co-directed this award-winning, stop-motion animation anthology (originally titled Ce magnifique gateau!), set against the backdrop of the occupied Congo in the 19th century, following five disparate characters. In Dutch and French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail), both boasting bonus features.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Richard Linklater’s PG-13-rated adaptation of Maria Semple’s 2012 best-seller stars Cate Blanchett in the title role of a brilliant but mercurial architect who vanishes on the eve of her family’s trip to Antarctica, with Billy Crudup, Judy Greer, Kristen Wiig, Megan Mullally, Steve Zahn, Laurence Fishburne, Troilan Bellisario, James Urbaniak, Kate Burton, and newcomer Emma Nelson in support. Both the DVD ($29.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) boast bonus features.
YESTERDAY WAS A LIE (IndiePix Films): A 10th-anniversary special edition of executive producer/editor/writer/director James Kerwin’s award-winning noir-ish 2009 feature debut, starring Kipleigh Brown as a booze-soaked, fedora-clad female private investigator who begins to lose all touch with reality as she attempts to track down enigmatic scientist John Newton, with Chase Masterson (also a producer), Mik Scriba, Nathan Mobley, Jennifer Slimko, radio personality Robert Siegel (in his screen debut), and Peter Mayhew in support. Great atmosphere, but murky and meandering. A seven-episode web series followed in 2011. Both the DVD ($24.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) boast bonus features including audio commentary, featurettes and interviews, camera tests and outtakes, trailers, and more. Rated PG. **
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)