Video Vault – Feb 6, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT (The Criterion Collection): Director Norman Jewison’s 1967 adaptation of John Ball’s novel became an immediate sensation upon its release – a critical and box-office blockbuster that was the right movie at the right time.
The sleepy Mississippi town of Sparta is rocked by the murder of Phillip Colbert, a wealthy industrialist recently relocated from Chicago to build a factory. The investigation is headed by local police chief Bill Gillespie (Rod Steiger), with unexpected assistance from Virgil Tibbs (Sidney Poitier), a detective from Philadelphia who happened to be passing through – and whom deputy Sam Wood (Warren Oates) arrested on sight – because he’s black.
Gillespie and Tibbs must confront their own prejudices to solve the case, and both actors are in peak form as they bait one another, somehow managing to forge an uncertain alliance. In addition to being a timely – even timeless – study of racism and bigotry, the film is also a crackling whodunit, augmented by a great Quincy Jones score and an unforgettable theme song performed by Ray Charles.
A peerless cast includes Lee Grant as Colbert’s grief-stricken widow (“What kind of people are you?”), Scott Wilson, Larry Gates, William Schallert, Anthony James, James Patterson, Beah Richards, Matt Clark, and Quentin Dean (in her screen debut).
Although Poitier was unaccountably overlooked (despite also appearing in To Sir, With Love and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? the same year), the film earned Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Actor (Steiger), Best Original Screenplay (Stirling Silliphant), Best Film Editing (Hal Ashby) and Best Sound, with additional nominations for Best Director and Best Sound Effects.
Poitier would encore as Virgil Tibbs in two sequels – the disappointing They Call Me MISTER Tibbs! (1970) and the better-received The Organization (1971) – and there would be a subsequent, long-running NBC series, but none came close to the original. Some 50 years later, In the Heat of the Night has lost none of its power. I daresay it’s a perfect film.
Both DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews and featurettes, theatrical trailer, and more. ****
“800 WORDS”: SEASON 3, PART 2 (Acorn TV): Widowed newspaperman Erik Thomson has comfortably settled in to the seaside village in New Zealand where he spent summers as a boy, having relocated there from bustling Sydney, Australia. This two-DVD collection ($49.99 retail) includes the final eight episodes from the 2017-’18 season of the award-winning comedy/drama series, which also features Rick Donald, Benson Jack Anthony, Michelle Langstone, Bridie Carter, Emma Leonard and Jonny Brugh.
ALL THE COLORS OF GIALLO (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): Federico Caddeo’s entertaining, Italian-language documentary examines the phenomenon of the Italian giallo, the pulp thrillers loosely inspired by film noir, featuring interviews with filmmakers and film historians as they discuss its origins, its impact, and its legacy. Enthusiasts have a head start, but this is a concise exploration. The three-disc DVD/Blu-ray ($34.98 retail) includes audio commentary, bonus interviews, over four hours of trailers, and the bonus CD compilation “The Strange Sounds of The Bloodstained Films.” ***
BERNIE THE DOLPHIN (LionsGate): This G-rated family adventures stars Lois Sultan and Logan Allen (in his screen debut) as siblings who search for the title character when he goes missing – only to uncover a real-estate scheme fronted by unscrupulous developer Kevin Sorbo. Patrick Muldoon and Sam Sorbo (Kevin’s real-life wife) play the kids’ parents. A sequel’s on the way. The DVD, which includes a production featurette, retails for $14.98.
“BLAZE AND THE MONSTER MACHINES: ROBOT RIDERS” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of four episodes from the animated Nickelodeon children’s series following the high-octane adventures of the titular monster truck (voiced by Nolan North) and his free-wheeling pals.
BREAKING BROOKLYN (LionsGate): Choreographer Paul Becker makes his feature debut as screenwriter and director of this feel-good holiday fable about two hard-luck brothers (Colin Critchley and Nathan Kress) who are taken in by a faded Broadway performer (Louis Gossett Jr.) after their father (Brian Tarantina) is jailed, then set out to save an old theater by putting on a concert and reuniting Gossett with estranged brother Vondie Curtis-Hall. Corny and predictable, but played with conviction – and it’s nice to see Gossett and Curtis-Hall tackle meaty roles. Rated PG-13. **
THE CLOVERFIELD PARADOX (Paramount Home Media Distribution): Producer J.J. Abrams expands the Cloverfield universe with the third in the franchise, a PG-13-rated science-fiction adventure (originally titled God Particle) set aboard an orbiting space station while Earth teeters on the brink of war, the crew about to test a device which could provide the planet with unlimited energy … or cause untold devastation. The ensemble cast includes David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Daniel Bruhl, Elizabeth Debicki, Chris O’Dowd, Ziyi Zhang, Donal Logue, John Ortiz and Aksel Hennie, available on DVD ($16.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.98 retail), each with bonus features.
DEADMAN STANDING (LionsGate): Writer/producer/editor/director Nicholas Barton’s low-budget Western (originally titled The Gunfight at Hyde Park ) stars Luke Arnold as a laconic lawan and Vida Bianca as a tough madam who join forces to battle ruthless land baron M.C. Gainey and his clan in 1873 New Mexico, with C. Thomas Howell (unrecognizably grizzled), Quinn Lord and Richard Riehle also on hand. A little slow in starting out, but picks up steam in the second half. Rated R. **
“GUNSMOKE”: THE FOURTEENTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount): James Arness saddles up again as Dodge City’s marshal Matt Dillon, in all 29 episodes from the 1968-’69 season of the long-running, award-winning CBS Western series created by Charles Marquis Warren: “Volume One” ($45.98 retail) contains the first 15 episodes on DVD and “Volume Two” ($45.98 retail) the remaining 11. Emmy Award winner for Outstanding Achievement in Film Sound Editing.
HERE AND NOW (Paramount Home Media Distribution): Documentary filmmaker Fabien Constant’s narrative directorial debut (originally titled Blue Night) stars producer Sarah Jessica Parker as a depressed torch singer who confronts her own mortality on the eve of a three-day 25th-anniversary gig at Birdland, backed by an ensemble cast including Jacqueline Bisset (as Parker’s French mother), Simon Baker, Common, Renee Zellweger, Taylor Kinney, Waleed Zuaiter, Gus Birney, and Mary Beth Peil, with Malcolm Jamieson’s mournful score (heavy on the strings) adding to the woe. Everyone tries hard, and Parker carries a tune nicely, but this remains firmly mired in melodrama. The DVD ($22.98 retail) includes bonus features. Rated R. **
JACK THE RIPPER (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): The Robert S. Berman/Monty Baker team produced, directed and photographed this highly sensationalized – and historically dodgy – 1959 account of the infamous murders that rocked London’s Whitechapel district in 1888, with Eddie Byrne a Scotland Yard inspector who enlists visiting American detective Lee Patterson to help track down the killer, backed by a sturdy cast of British familiars including Ewen Solon, George Rose, Betty McDowall, George Woodbridge, and John Le Mesurier. Infrequently seen since its theatrical release, this was something of a “holy grail” for cult enthusiasts. The low-budget seams show, but this is worth a look – particularly for genre fans. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include both the American and English theatrical versions, audio commentary, featurettes, original trailer, and more. **½
“KIDDING”: SEASON ONE (Showtime Entertainment/CBS DVD/Paramount): Executive producer Jim Carrey stars as a much-beloved kiddie TV host whose disintegrating family life begins to disrupt the successful run of his top-rated series “Mr. Pickles’ Puppet Time,” in all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2018 season of the critically acclaimed Showtime comedy series, also starring Frank Langella, Judy Greer, Catherine Keener, Juliet Morris and Cole Allen, with guest appearances by Conan O’Brien, Danny Trejo, Betty Thomas, Justin Kirk, Tara Lipinski, Ginger Gozanga and others. The two-DVD collection ($29.98 retail) includes bonus features.
THE PUPPET MASTERS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director Stuart Orme made his feature debut with this watchable, if predictable, 1994 science-fiction thriller based on Robert Heinlein’s 1951 novel, in which alien parasites invade Earth and use humans as hosts, prompting government agent Donald Sutherland (who starred in the 1978 version of the similarly themed Invasion of the Body Snatchers) to launch counter-measures, backed by Julie Warner, Eric Thal, Keith David, Yaphet Kotto, Richard Belzer, Marshall Bell, Tom Mason, and Will Patton (very amusing as a quirky scientist). Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) boast a slew of special features including audio commentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer and more. Rated R. **
THE SUNDAY SESSIONS (First Run Features): Producer/director Richard Yeagley turns his documentary cameras on Nathan Gniewek, a young man who attempts to reconcile his religious values with his sexual identity via regular sessions of conversion therapy. This unobtrusive, quietly observant, and very timely chronicle doesn’t condemn or condone – nor does it come to a tangible conclusion – yet one can’t help but feel for the earnest (and likable) Gniewek and his plight. ***
WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO AUNT ALICE? (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Producer Robert Aldrich follows up What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) and Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964) with this equally high-strung 1969 adaptation of the Ursula Curtiss novel The Forbidden Garden, starring Geraldine Page as a wacky widow with a penchant for murdering her housekeepers for their money – only to meet her match in her latest hire (Ruth Gordon). Not as successful as Aldrich’s earlier attempts, but there’s no denying the pleasure in watching its two leads chew the scenery with gleeful abandon, and the twist ending is a scream. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary and theatrical trailer. Rated PG. ***
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)