Video Vault – Jan 29, 2020
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
FAIL SAFE (The Criterion Collection): Producer/director Sidney Lumet’s 1964 adaptation of the best-selling 1962 novel by Eugene Burdick and Harvey Wheeler was overshadowed that year by Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, with both films having been distributed by Columbia Pictures. (Guess which film the studio put its muscle behind?)
Still one of the best cautionary Cold War parables, Lumet’s approach is far more stark and sobering than Kubrick’s satirical one, but scarcely less effective. A computer error sends an Air Force bomber squadron on its way to bomb its target: Moscow.
Despite numerous attempts by both the United States and the Soviet Union to recall or thwart the bombers, the contingency plans become more desperate – and more futile — as the clock ticks down. The story seems to unfold in real time, and the lack of music further enhances the tension.
Lumet draws excellent performances from his ensemble cast, several of whom never appear in the same scene: Henry Fonda, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders as the President; Walter Matthau, in an effective dramatic role as a cold-blooded nuclear strategist; Larry Hagman as Fonda’s interpreter, Dan O’Herlihy, Edward Binns, Frank Overton, Russell Collins, and the screen debuts of Fritz Weaver, Dana Elcar, and Dom DeLuise.
Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include retrospective interview and the documentary short Fail Safe Revisited (2000). ***½
COMPLICITY (Film Movement): Writer/producer/director Kei Chikaura’s award-winning debut feature follows an illegal Chinese immigrant (Lu Yulai) who attempts to assimilate into Japanese culture by assuming a different identity. In Japanese and Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), which includes Dezhou Lou’s 2019 short About Bintou.
THE DRIVER (LionsGate): Wych Kaosayananda (“Kaos”) produced, directed, shot, and penned the story for this apocalyptic shocker starring producer Mark Dacascos in the title role, a former assassin trying to protect his young daughter (real-life daughter Noelani Dacascos) from a slobbering army of zombies. Filmed in Thailand on a low budget and tight schedule (reportedly nine days), this is familiar fare boosted by warm chemistry between the leads. Dacascos’s wife and Noelani’s mother, Julie Condra, plays that role here, albeit briefly. Rated R. **
HOLIDAY (The Criterion Collection): Two years before The Philadelphia Story, director George Cukor, screenwriter Donald Ogden Stewart, and stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn collaborated on this frothy 1938 comedy – also based on Philip Barry’s play – starring Grant as a free spirit who becomes engaged to wealthy heiress Doris Nolan, only to find himself attracted to her vivacious sister (Hepburn), with Lew Ayres, Henry Kolker, Binnie Barnes, Henry Daniell, Doris Seaton (in her final film), and the always welcome Edward Everett Horton rounding out a charming cast. Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration. Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include the earlier 1930 film Holiday (which starred Mary Astor, Ann Harding, and Horton in the same role), vintage audio interviews with Cukor, and more. ***
THE KNIGHT OF SHADOWS (Well Go USA Entertainment): The indomitable Jackie Chan (also an executive producer) headlines this martial-arts fantasy (originally titled Shen tan Pu Song Ling and subtitled The Yin and the Yang) as an illustrious demon hunter who pursues creatures that infiltrate the human dimension. In Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
“KRYPTON”: THE COMPLETE SECOND & FINAL SEASON (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): The fate of the titular planet is up for grabs in all 10 episodes from the 2019 (and final) season of the Syfy fantasy series, inspired by and featuring DC Comics characters, which explores the Superman mythos before his birth, featuring Cameron Cuffe as the Man of Steel’s grandfather, Colin Salmon as the villainous General Zod, Georigina Campbell, Shaun Sipos, Ann Ognomo, Aaron Pierre, Blake Ritson, and Ian McElhinney. Both the DVD ($24.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail) include bonus features for DC devotees.
LEAVE IT TO LEVI (TLA Releasing): Writer/director Jake Jaxson’s documentary feature traces the life and career of Luke Kemmerle, who went from being a video blogger to the star of gay porn, then adopted the drag persona of “Sassy Frass.” Too frenetic at the outset but always sympathetic to its subject, and once the film settles down – drawing Kemmerle’s mother Anne into the story – it becomes affecting, if explicit, coming-of-age tale, as Kemmerle becomes more comfortable in his life. The DVD ($24.99 retail) includes bonus features. **½
MADIGAN (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of director Don Siegel’s well-realized 1968 adaptation of Richard Dougherty’s 1962 novel The Commissioner, starring Richard Widmark in the title role of a hard-boiled New York detective whose obsession with work threatens to consume him. Despite all-too-familiar locations from Universal’s backlot, this is a credible and realistic precursor of the grittier police thrillers that followed (including Siegel’s own Dirty Harry), with a first-rate cast: Henry Fonda (he’s the police commissioner), Inger Stevens, Harry Guardino, James Whitmore, Steve Ihnat, Susan Clark, Don Stroud, Harry Bellaver, Raymond St. Jacques, Bert Freed, Sheree North, Warren Stevens, and Michael Dunn. Special features include audio commentary, theatrical trailer, and TV spots. ***½
MEN OF HARD SKIN (TLA Releasing): Writer/producer/director Jose Celestino Campusano’s drama (originally titled Hombres de piel dura) stars Wall Javier (in his screen debut) as an Argentinian teenager struggling to come to terms with the sexual abuse he has suffered and how it has affected both his life and his sexuality. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail)
OFFICIAL SECRETS (Paramount Home Entertainment): Director/screenwriter Gavin Hood’s award-winning adaptation of the non-fiction best-seller The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion stars Keira Knightly as the real-life British intelligence operative who uncovered – and revealed – surreptitious efforts to coerce the UN Security Council into sanctioning the Iraq invasion in 2003. Effective and absorbing, with a fine cast including Ralph Fiennes, Matthew Goode, Rhys Ifans, Matt Smith, MyAnna Buring, Jeremy Northam, Tamsin Grieg, Hattie Morahan, Kenneth Cranham, and Conleth Hill. Rated R. ***
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Quentin Tarantino’s ode to 1969 Hollywood – just prior to the Manson Murders – rewrites history (considerably) as it focuses on struggling Western star Leonardo DiCaprio and faithful stand-in/best bud Brad Pitt as they navigate that nutty netherworld known as Tinseltown, with Margot Robbie as starlet Sharon Tate and a star-studded cast. Exuberant, flashy, and extremely well-made, this also bears the Tarantino trademarks of overindulgence, and an excessive running time, but is still a dazzler, thanks in part to Robert Richardson’s superb cinematography and plenty of in-jokes. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (DiCaprio), Best Supporting Actor (Pitt), Best Original Screenplay, Best Cinematography, Best Production Design, Best Costume Design, Best Sound Editing, and Best Sound Mixing. The DVD ($30.99 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($38.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($45.99 retail) each boast bonus features. Rated R. ***
PASSPORT TO PIMLICO (Film Movement Classics): This snappy 1949 farce from Britain’s Ealing Studios, which marked the feature debut of director Henry Cornelius, is set in the titular district, where an unexploded bomb from World War II sparks a national uproar when a hidden 15th-century royal charter indicates the region is actually the Duchy of Burgundy, prompting the citizenry to declare independence. A zesty ensemble cast includes Stanley Holloway, Betty Warren, Barbara Murray, Raymond Huntley, Paul Dupuis, Hermione Baddeley, Charles Hawtrey, the Naunton Wayne/Basil Radford duo, and perennial scene-stealer Margaret Rutherford. T.E.B. Clarke’s original screenplay earned an Academy Award nomination. The special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes retrospective interview, locations featurette, and more. ***
PIRANHAS (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Claudio Giovanessi’s award-winning adaptation of Roberto Saviano’s best-selling novel (originally titled La paranza dei bambini) focuses on a group of teenagers in Naples who embark on a life of crime, believing it to be their only way of escaping their perilous environment – unaware that they’re contributing to it, featuring an ensemble cast of screen newcomers including Francesco Di Napoli, Viviana Aprea, Mattia Piano Del Bazo, Ciro Vecchione, and Ciro Pellechia. In Italian and Neopolitan with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail), each boasting bonus features.
“STRAIGHT FORWARD” (Acorn TV): Cecilie Stenspil portrays a Danish con artist whose attempts to avenge her father’s murder at the hands of crime boss Mark Mitchinson go awry, forcing her to flee to New Zealand and adopt a new identity … fully aware it’s only a matter of time before her past catches up with her. All eight episodes from the inaugural 2019 season of the first Danish/New Zealand television co-production, are available in a two-DVD collection ($49.99 retail).
TERMINATOR: DARK FATE (Paramount Home Entertainment): Producer/co-story writer James Cameron and leading lady Linda Hamilton (formerly married to Cameron) rejoin the Terminator franchise in director Tim Miller’s effects-laden, R-rated installment – the sixth in the series – with Arnold Schwarzenegger also encoring as the titular cyborg and newcomers Mackenzie Davis, Natalia Reyes, Gabriel Luna, and Diego Boneta joining the fray, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.99 retail), the latter two boasting bonus features.
ULYSSES & MONA (Film Movement): Writer/director Sebastien Betbeder’s award-winning, bittersweet drama (originally titled Ulysse & Mona) details the relationship between a reclusive, embittered artist (Eric Cantona’s Ulysses) and an admiring art student (Manal Issa’s Mona). Well-paced and well-acted. In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), including Asino Suni’s 2011 short Wolf Carver. ***
(Copyright 2020, Mark Burger)