Video Vault – Jan 22, 2020
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
PROPHECY (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Great directors don’t always make great movies, such as this 1979 ecological shocker helmed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, The Train), this critic’s favorite filmmaker.
The Environmental Protection Agency sends intrepid physician Robert Foxworth and wife Talia Shire to Maine to look into some strange goings-on, and the goings-on are certainly strange, as they soon discover.
Mercury contamination from a large paper mill is poisoning the inhabitants, both human and otherwise, spawning a mutant bear that’s rampaging through the countryside. Add to this ongoing tensions between the paper mill and the indigenous population (Native Americans), and you’ve got a horror movie with a social and ecological bent.
The cast, which includes such stalwarts as Armand Assante and Richard Dysart, play their stock roles with earnest conviction, and although the special effects run hot and cold there are some undeniably unsettling moments throughout, including a knockout opening sequence that kicks things off in ferocious fashion. Despite being cut for a more audience-friendly PG rating – much to Frankenheimer’s disappointment – Prophecy delivers the scares. It may be junk, but it’s well-made junk.
The 40th-anniversary special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) includes retrospective interviews, original trailer, and more. Rated PG. **
BETTY: THEY SAY I’M DIFFERENT (MVD Visual/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/cinematographer/director Phil Cox’s illuminating feature documentary traces the life of Betty Davis – not the actress, but Durham-born Betty Mabry – a renowned funk performer and one-time wife Miles Davis, whose meteoric (and influential) career was shrouded in mystery when she suddenly retreated from the limelight in the 1970s. Colorful, fast-moving (running under 60 minutes), and neatly augmented by vintage audio and video footage, available on DVD ($19.95 retail), replete with bonus features. ***
THE BIG TRIP (LionsGate): Drake Bell and Pauly Shore lend their vocal talents to this G-rated, family-friendly, animated comedy wherein a goofy stork mistakenly delivers a baby panda to the wrong place, prompting other critters to seek his proper home, available on DVD ($14.98 retail), replete with behind-the-scenes featurette.
COME ON FEEL THE NOIZE: THE STORY OF HOW ROCK BECAME METAL (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): Director Jorg Sontagg makes his feature directorial debut with this self-explanatory documentary, detailing the inexorable transition from traditional rock ‘n’ roll to heavy metal, boasting vintage footage and interviews with such stars as Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ian Gillan, Nikki Sixx, James Hetfield, Michael Monroe, and Dee Snider, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
THE COURIER (LionsGate): Executive producer/writer/director Zackary Adler’s R-rated action thriller stars Olga Kurylenko in the title role, a motorcycle courier hired by crime boss Gary Oldman for a delivery, which turns out to be a bomb. Dermot Mulroney, William Moseley, Amit Shah, and Alicia Agneson also star, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($21.99 retail), each featuring audio commentary and trailer gallery.
COUSINS (TLA Releasing): First-time writer Thiago Cazado and first-time cinematographer Mauro Carvalho co-directed this comedy/drama (originally titled Primos) starring newcomer Paulo Sousa as a sensitive, sheltered teen living with his doting aunt (Juliana Zancanaro in her feature debut) who is drawn to a brash cousin (Cazado) recently paroled from prison. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).
“DAVID SUSSKIND ARCHIVE: INTERVIEW WITH NIKITA KRUSCHCHEV” (MVD Visual/MVD Entertainment Group): The title tells all in this two-hour conversation between the Emmy-winning television host and producer David Susskind and then-Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschchev, which aired on Susskind’s Open End series on New York’s WNTA-TV on Oct. 9, 1960, shortly before John F. Kennedy was elected President, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
FAST & FURIOUS PRESENTS: HOBBS & SHAW (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Producers Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham go solo from the Fast and the Furious franchise in this PG-13-rated, action-packed spin-off, pitting them against super-powered terrorist Idris Elba and his minions, available on DVD ($34.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.98 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.99 retail) – each replete with bonus features for the Fast/Furious faithful, including audio commentary, deleted/extended/alternate scenes, behind-the-scenes featurettes, and more.
FUNAN (GKIDS/Shout! Factory): Filmmaker Denis Do’s award-winning, autobiographical, animated debut feature dramatizes his own family’s experience in 1970s Cambodia, living under the cruel regime of the Khmer Rouge, featuring the voices of Berenice Bejo, Louis Garrel, Colette Kieffer, Aude-Laurence Clermont Biver, and Brice Montagne, available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.99 retail) that includes both English-language and French (with English subtitles) audio options and bonus features.
THE GALLOWS ACT II (LionsGate): Writer/producer/directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing encore with this jumbled follow-up to their 2015 horror hit, with Ema Horvath as a terminally perky high-school thespian who becomes enmeshed in the cursed stage play The Gallows. The original film was pretty bad, albeit a box-office hit, but this dim-witted, twist-laden sequel is worse, reportedly shelved after its completion. Unlike fine wine, movies on the shelf generally do not age well, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.99 retail), each boasting bonus features including audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, and deleted scenes. Rated R. ½
GRETA (Breaking Glass Pictures): Writer/producer/director Armando Praca’s award-winning debut feature stars Marco Nanini as a gay nurse (and Greta Garbo aficionado, hence the title) who becomes enmeshed in a turbulent relationship with a criminal (Demick Lopes) he helped escape from custody. In Portuguese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail), replete with bonus features.
JOKER (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Joaquin Phoenix gives an unforgettable performance as Arthur Fleck, a delusional, tormented, would-be stand-up comic in Gotham City who, through a series of circumstances – not all of his own doing – descends into madness to ultimately become the titular DC Comics villain, in co-screenwriter/producer/director Todd Phillips’s hard-hitting, sometimes shocking psychological character study that goes well beyond its comic-book origins to make keen observantions about contemporary society and humanity. Nominated for 11 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay (Phillips and Scott Silver), Best Cinematography, Best Makeup and Hairstyling, Best Editing, Best Original Score, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. One of 2019’s best films, available on DVD ($28.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.95 retail), each replete with special features. Rated R. ***½
JUST VISITING (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director/screenwriter Jean-Marie Poiré (as Jean-Marie Gaubert) unsuccessfully remade his award-winning 1993 French comedy/fantasy smash Les Visiteurs as this woeful 2001 American farce, with Jeno Reno and screenwriter Christian Clavier reprising their earlier roles as a medieval knight and his bumbling sidekick, who find themselves transported to the 21st century. Something was clearly lost in the translation, despite John Hughes having a hand in the screenplay and a cast including Christina Applegate, Tara Reid, Bridgette Wilson, George Plimpton, Kelsey Grammer (who narrates), and Malcolm McDowell (typecast as the heavy). Both the DVD ($11.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail) include audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, and theatrical trailer. Rated PG-13. *
MARTIN BARRE – LIVE IN NYC (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): The legendary guitarist of Jethro Tull takes the Big Apple by storm, live in concert performing such hits as “Skating Away,” “Thick as a Brick,” “Eleanor Rigby,” “To Cry You a Song,” “Crossroads,” and many others, available in a DVD/CD combo ($24.99 retail).
MILLENNIUM ACTRESS (ELEVEN ARTS Anime Studio/Shout! Factory): Satoshi Kon’s award-winning, PG-rated animated feature (originally titled Sennen joyu) sees a documentary film crew transported into the glorious but tumultuous past of a legendary, reclusive actress as they interview her, available in a special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.99 retail) including both English-language and Japanese (with English subtitles) audio options and retrospective interviews.
QUEEN OF HEARTS (Breaking Glass Pictures): Writer/director May el-Toukhy’s award-winning drama (originally titled Dronningan) stars Trine Dyrholm as a successful attorney whose passionate affair with stepson Gustav Lindh has devastating consequences for all concerned. Overlong and explicit, this is nevertheless a chilling parable about desire and deception. In Danish and Swedish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail). ***
ROJO (Distrib Films/Icarus Films Home Video): Writer/director Benjamin Naishtat’s award-winning political drama stars Dario Grandinetti as a successful Argentinian lawyer in the 1970s who’s swept up in corruption and paranoia as the nation draws closer to the military coup that toppled the government. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($17.99 retail).
SHIRAZ: A ROMANCE OF INDIA (Juno Films/MVD Entertainment Group): Director Fran Osten’s silent 1928 adaptation of Niranjan Pal’s play dramatizes the forbidden romance between the titular character (Himansu Rai) and the princess (Enakshi Rama Rao in her screen debut) who was raised as his sister, for whom the Taj Mahal was later constructed in her honor by her husband, the emperor (Charu Roy in his screen debut). The collector’s-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) includes bonus featurette.
SPRINTER (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Will and Jada Pinkett Smith produced writer/director Storm Saulter’s award-winning sports drama stars newcomer Dale Elliott as a Jamaican teenager whose rise as a track-and-field star and possible Olympic contender is compromised by domestic difficulties. David Alan Grier, Lorraine Toussaint, Shantol Jackson, Kadeem Wilson, Dennis Titus, and Usain Bolt (as himself) also appear, available on Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), replete with bonus features.
TOBRUK (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Rock Hudson and George Peppard team up in director Arthur Hiller’s routine 1967 World War II saga, dramatizing the efforts to destroy Field Marshal Rommel’s fuel depot in the titular African region by Allied forces. Nigel Green, Guy Stockwell, Jack Watson, Percy Herbert, and screenwriter Leo V. Gordon also star, available on Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) boasting audio commentary and theatrical trailer. **
(Copyright 2020, Mark Burger)