Video Vault – Jan 2, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
THE GRISSOM GANG (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): How better to start the New Year off with a bang … and there’s plenty of bang in Robert Aldrich’s deliriously sleazy, violent and unapologetic 1971 adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s scandalous 1939 novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish, previously filmed in 1948 (to much controversy itself).
Set during the Depression, the film follows the titular clan as it looks to make its biggest score yet – by holding spoiled heiress Mary Blandish (Kim Darby) hostage for $1 million. There are, however, complications: John P. Blandish (Wesley Addy), Mary’s father, has no intention of paying the ransom; the widespread media coverage threatens to expose them; and young Slim Grissom (Scott Wilson) falls in love with her. Romeo and Juliet it’s not … but not too far off.
There’s a zesty cast on hand, including Irene Dailey (as the monstrous Ma Grissom), Tony Musante, Ralph Waite, Don Keefer, comedian Joey Faye (as a cackling cohort called “Woppy”), and Connie Stevens, as an opportunistic showgirl whose greed leads to her shockingly abrupt exit. The single voice of reason in this cacophany of craziness, comparatively speaking, belongs to Dave Fenner (Robert Lansing), a sleazy private investigator on Barbara’s trail.
With the cast operating at full steam – and full tilt – Aldrich delivers the action goods, while also incorporating a broad satire to the proceedings that might have turned off mainstream audiences and critics but has made The Grissom Gang a cult classic. Count this critic a member.
Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective interview with Scott Wilson (who died last October), and trailer. Rated R. ***
ABSURD (Severin Films/CAV Distributing): A collector’s-edition Blu-ray/CD ($34.98 retail) of the gore-soaked 1981 shocker (originally titled Rosso sangue and also released as Horrible – which perhaps speaks for itself – and The Monster Hunter) from Italian schlockmeister Aristide Massaccessi (directing under the pseudonym “Peter Newton”) starring Luigi Montefiore (billed as “George Eastman” and scripting under the pseudonym “John Cart”) as a sadistic, seemingly indestructible psychopath on the rampage, pursued by priest Edmund Purdom and chain-smoking cop Charles Borromel. Unintentionally hilarious at times, with the townspeople so consumed by a Steelers/Rams football game (which appears to be footage from the 1979 Super Bowl!) that they’re oblivious to the maniac in their midst. Special features include an alternate Italian cut, retrospective and vintage interviews, and trailer. *½
A DRY WHITE SEASON (The Criterion Collection): Director/screenwriter Euzhan Palcy’s 1989 adaptation of Andre P. Brink’s novel stars Donald Sutherland as an idealistic teacher who clashes with the oppressive corruption of the South African government when he seeks justice on behalf of his gardener (Winston Ntshona), whose son was killed in a police action. Occasionally preachy and melodramatic, but its sincerity and good intentions carry the day – although this never found its audience. A solid cast includes Janet Suzman, Jurgen Prochnow, Susan Sarandon, Zakes Mokae, Michael Gambon, John Kani, and Marlon Brando in a well-publicized, showy comeback role as an anti-apartheid lawyer, which earned him an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include retrospective and vintage interviews, and more. Rated R. ***
“INSTINCT”: SEASON ONE (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Media Distribution): Alan Cumming portrays a former CIA agent-turned-college professor who consents to assist New York detective Bojana Novakovic and his former partner Naveen Andrews track down a serial killer, in all 13 episodes from the inaugural 2018 season of the CBS mystery series based on James Patterson’s best-seller Murder Games, available in a four-DVD collection ($39.98 retail) including bonus features.
LASSO (Epic Pictures): Tourists at a rodeo are summarily stalked and slaughtered by the staff – evidently because they’re strung out on horse steroids (!) – in producer/director/story writer Evan Cecil’s underwhelming shocker, with Sean Patrick Flannery (as a one-armed cowboy), Karen Grassle (a long way from “Little House on the Prairie”), and the late Don DeMico (in his only feature, to whom it’s dedicated) on hand. The sort of dopey horror film in which the potential victims stand in shock and awe while their friends are being murdered, without trying to help them. For undiscriminating gorehounds only, available on DVD ($9.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.98), each replete with special features. *
THE LAST COMMAND (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Sterling Hayden’s buckskin-clad Jim Bowie tops the bill in director/associate producer Frank Lloyd’s final feature, an episodic but entertaining 1955 re-telling of the 1836 siege at the Alamo in Texas, backed by a slew of familiar faces: Ernest Borgnine, Richard Carlson (as Col. Travis), Arthur Hunnicutt (as Davy Crockett), J. Carrol Naish (as a ruthless but recognizably human Santa Ana), Jim Davis, Ben Cooper, John Russell, Otto Kruger, Morris Ankrum, Roy Roberts, Slim Pickens and Eduard Franz, with Anna Maria Alberghetti the unnecessary love interest and Gordon MacRae warbling the theme song “Jim Bowie” on the soundtrack. Less spectacular than John Wayne’s subsequent epic but also less bloated, although historical accuracy isn’t a priority. Who knew that Santa Ana was so friendly with Bowie that he called him “Jimmy”? Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary and bonus trailers. **½
LISBON (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Ray Milland was associate producer (as “R.A. Milland”), directed (as “R. Milland”), and stars in this average 1956 thriller filmed on location, as an expatriate smuggler who tangles with femme fatale Maureen O’Hara (in a rare villainous role) and dapper crime boss Claude Rains (delightful as always) as he tries to spirit the former’s husband (Percy Marmount) out of Communist territory. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary and bonus trailers. **
LITTLE ITALY (LionsGate): Faint, feeble echoes of Romeo and Juliet and Moonstruck (1987) abound in this bland, predictable romantic comedy set in the titular Toronto district, pairing Emma Roberts and Hayden Christensen as childhood friends reunited years after their respective pizza-making families have waged a long feud, with sparks – and stereotypes – predictably flying. Alyssa Milano (as Roberts’ mother!), Andrea Martin, Danny Aiello, Gary Basaraba, Adam Ferrara and Jane Seymour wage an uphill battle against flimsy material, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($21.99 retail). Rated R. *
MARTYR (Breaking Glass Pictures): Writer/director Mazen Khaled’s award-winning drama stars Hamza Mekdad (in his screen debut) as a disillusioned youth whose tragic drowning death in Beirut forces his grief-stricken friends to confront their own mortality and re-examine their priorities. In Arabic with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail)
MOSS (Breaking Glass Pictures): Winston-Salem’s own Daniel Peddle wrote, produced and directed this wistful, assured, and award-winning modern-day coming-of-age parable, following the titular small-town teen Mitchell Slaggert (in his screen debut) as he celebrates his 18th birthday. Peddle coaxes fine performances from the mostly-unkown cast, particularly Christine Marzano as a free spirit who tempts Moss and Billy Ray Suggs (in his screen debut) as the boy’s gruff but loving father, and first-timer Juri Beythien’s cinematography is superb. The DVD ($19.99 retail) includes behind-the-scenes documentary. Rated PG-13. ***
MY BEST FRIEND (Breaking Glass Pictures): Martin Deus wrote and directed this award-winning drama (originally titled Mi mejor amigo) which details the unlikely but tight friendship that develops between bookish teenager Angelo Mutti Spinetta and rebellious runaway Laurato Rodriguez in a small Argentinian town. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail).
“THE OUTER LIMITS”: SEASON 2 (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): A self-explanatory collection of all 17 episodes from the 1964-’65 (and final) season of the award-winning ABC science-fiction anthology series created by Leslie Stevens, featuring a star-studded line-up of guest stars including Robert Duvall, Eddie Albert, William Shatner, Lloyd Nolan, Robert Webber, Leonard Nimoy, Patrick O’Neal, Dabney Coleman, Robert Culp, Michael Ansara, Mary Murphy, and many others. Both the DVD ($49.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($69.95 retail) boast a bevy of bonus features including audio commentaries, retrospective interviews, and more.
SLEEPOVER (MVD Entertainment Group): Director Joe Nussbaum’s breezy, award-winning 2004 debut feature details an all-night, all-girl scavenger hunt between opposing eighth-grade cliques, with an appealing cast including Alexa Vega, Sara Paxton, Brie Larson, Scout Taylor-Compton, Mika Boorem, Evan Peters, and Sam Huntington, while the grown-ups include Steve Carell, Jane Lynch, and Jeff Garlin. Nothing earth-shattering, but refreshingly good-natured and raunch-free. The “MVD Marquee Collection” Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes audio commentary, vintage featurettes, gag and wrap-party reels, original trailer, and more. Rated PG. **½
TOPPER RETURNS (VCI Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): Roland Young is back for his third-go-’round as the titular banker Cosmo Topper, enlisted this time by glamorous ghost Joan Blondell to catch her killer, in this enjoyable 1941 farce boasting the quintessential “old-dark-house” trappings of secret passages, trap doors and cloaked killers, and an enthusiastic cast including Billie Burke (also encoring as Topper’s dithery wife), Carole Landis, Dennis O’Keefe, Patsy Kelly, H.B. Warner, George Zucco, Donald MacBride (hilarious as an inept police sergeant), and the irresistible Eddie “Rochester” Anderson as Topper’s bumbling chauffeur (whom Burke always, delightfully refers to as “Edward”), although some of his antics are very dated in these more enlightened times. Oscar nominations for Best Sound Recording and Best Special Effects, available on Blu-ray ($29.95 retail). ***
“YELLOWSTONE”: SEASON ONE (Paramount Home Media Distribution): Executive producer Kevin Costner portrays the proud patriarch of modern-day Montana ranching dynasty in all 10 episodes from the inaugural 2018 season of the Paramount Network drama series, featuring a star-studded ensemble cast including Wes Bentley, Cole Hauser, Kelly Reilly, Luke Grimes, Danny Huston, Josh Lucas, Gil Birmingham, Kelsey Asbille, Brecken Merrill, Michael Nouri, Fredric Lehne, Gretchen Mol, Brecken Merill and Jefferson White, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.99 retail), each replete with bonus features.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)