Video Vault – Jan 8, 2020
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
THE LAVENDER HILL MOB (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Arguably the quintessential screen comedy from Britain’s Ealing Studios, this delightful 1951 farce was a smash in its native land and a surprise hit in the United States, winning the Oscar for T.E.B. Clarke’s original screenplay and earning a Best Actor nomination for Alec Guinness.
Henry Holland (Guinness) is a London bank clerk charged with overseeing shipments of gold bullion. The meticulous, mild-mannered Holland has always dreamed about pulling off the perfect heist, but how to smuggle the gold out of the country?
Enter Alfred Pendlebury (Stanley Holloway), a new tenant at Holland’s boarding house, who runs a foundry that manufactures tourist souvenirs. Melting down the gold into miniature Eiffel Tower statues seems like a very enticing possibility, but who will actually commit the robbery? Enter Lackery Wood (Sid James) and Shorty Fisher (Alfie Bass), a pair of petty crooks looking for a big payday …
Directed with zesty, fast-paced abandon by Charles Crichton, The Lavender Hill Mob is beautifully acted, subtly seasoned with a touch of pathos, and loaded with laughs, especially in its uproarious chase climax through the streets of London. Never has the children’s ditty “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” been used to funnier effect (!).
Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentaries, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer, and more. ***½
AD ASTRA (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): Brad Pitt produced and stars in co-writer/producer/director James Gray’s PG-13-rated science-fiction drama as an astronaut who embarks on a perilous mission to locate his missing father (Tommy Lee Jones), whose similar mission years before may be the cause of inter-stellar disturbances that threaten the Earth. Donald Sutherland, Ruth Negga, Liv Tyler, Loren Dean, Natasha Lyonne, Kimberly Elise, John Ortiz, and LisaGay Hamilton round out a star-studded supporting cast, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($37.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($45.99 retail), each boasting bonus features.
ADOPT A HIGHWAY (RLJE Films): Ethan Hawke produced and stars in writer/director Logan Marshall-Green’s modest but affecting debut feature, portraying a brooding, bearded ex-convict whose struggle to readjust to society is complicated when he discovers an abandoned infant in a dumpster, available on DVD ($29.96 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.97 retail). **½
“BONANZA”: THE OFFICIAL TENTH SEASON (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Life continues on the Ponderosa Ranch for tough but fair patriarch Lorne Greene and equally hearty sons Michael Landon and Dan Blocker, in all 30 episodes from the 1968-’69 season of the long-running, award-winning NBC Western series, featuring guest appearances by Yaphet Kotto, Slim Pickens, Tom Bosley, Jack Kruschen, John Marley, and many others. “Volume One” ($45.98 retail) includes the first 15 episodes of the season, “Volume Two” ($45.98 retail) the remaining 15.
CAMILLE CLAUDEL (Kino Classics): Bruno Nuttyen’s award-winning 1988 adaptation of the best-selling book by Reine-Marie Paris, details the passionate and complex relationship between the title character (executive producer Isabelle Adjani), the real-life art student who became the muse and mistress of noted sculptor Auguste Rodin (Gerard Depardieu). Long but worthwhile, with superb performances by the two leads and glorious cinematography by Pierre Lhomme, this swept the Cesar Awards (France’s equivalent of the Academy Awards), and earned Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Actress (Adjani). In French with English subtitles, both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary. Rated R. ***
THE CHAMBERMAID (Kino Lorber): Noted theater director Lila Aviles makes her award-winning feature debut as writer/producer/director of this drama (originally titled La camarista) following the work day of the title character (Gabriela Cartol) as she goes about her duties at an elegant Mexico City hotel. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail).
THE CRY (RLJ Entertainment/Acorn): Jenna Coleman headlines this award-winning, four-part 2018 mini-series based on Helen FitzGerald’s best-selling mystery novel, as a distraught young mother whose infant son vanishes when she and fiancee Ewen Leslie travel from Scotland to Australia, igniting a firestorm of controversy. Asher Keddie, Stella Gonet, Alex Dimitriades, Sophie Kennedy, Markella Kavenagh, and Katie Dickie also star under the direction of Glendyn Ivin. Coleman earned an International Emmy Award nomination as Best Performance by an Actress. The two-disc DVD retails for $34.99.
THE DUNES (Breaking Glass Pictures): Producer Grant Mohrman makes his feature debut as writer/director of this downbeat psychological thriller starring Barton Bund (ironically playing a domestic counselor) who goes to increasingly extreme lengths to prevent ex-wife Kathryn Thomsen from taking their son (newcomer Aidan Callahan) to California with her new boyfriend (Ele Bardha). Brent Mata’s evocative cinematography and a pounding score by Klayton (of Celldweller) enhance this moody melodrama, with Danielle Cochran and Anton Bassey in support. **½
GOOD BOYS (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Co-writer Gene Stupnitsky’s feature directorial debut with this raunchy R-rated comedy focusing on three sixth-graders (Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams, and newcomer Brady Noon) and their misadventures as they prepare to attend their first “kissing party” – despite having no experience in the field. Both the DVD ($29.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.98 retail) boast bonus features including audio commentary, featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, alternate unrated ending, and more.
HOLLY NEAR: SINGING FOR OUR LIVES (Omnibus Entertainment): Producer/director Jim Brown’s engaging, even uplifting documentary chronicling the life and career of singer/songwriter/sometime-actress and social activist Holly Near features interviews with Kevin Bacon (Near’s nephew), Jane Fonda, Gloria Steinem, the late Ronnie Gilbert, and the late Tom Hayden. Originally broadcast on the PBS series American Masters , the DVD ($24.95 retail) includes bonus footage and additional interviews. ***
HUSTLERS (STIXfilms/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Writer/co-producer/director Lorene Scafaria’s award-winning, episodic adaptation of the New York Magazine article “The Hustlers at Scores” stars Constance Wu as a stripper who joins mentor Jennifer Lopez (also a producer) in drugging and ripping off customers in the wake of the 2008 Wall Street collapse. Flashy and slick, but it’s hard to work up sympathy for the protagonists, sexy though they are. The cast includes Julia Stiles (wasted), Cardi B (in her screen debut), Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer, Mercedes Ruehl, Madeline Brewer, Frank Whaley, Usher (as himself) and Lizzo (in her screen debut), available on DVD ($17.96 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($27.65 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($21.79 retail), each boasting bonus features. Rated R. **
IMPRISONED (Cinema Libre Studio): A glowering Laurence Fishburne headlines writer/producer/director Paul Krampf’s hackneyed drama as a corrupt prison warden who frames ex-con Juana Acosta, who’d earlier killed the warden’s wife, for a murder he didn’t commit in order to re-incarcerate him. Ostensibly a timely, well-intentioned plea for prison reform, this is rife with melodramatic plot contrivances that strain credibility and heavy-handed symbolism that crush its aspirations. Edward James Olmos, Esai Morales, and the late John Heard (to whom the film is dedicated) are wasted in small roles. This was the last film shot in Puerto Rico prior to Hurricane Maria, so at least the scenery’s nice. Both the DVD ($24.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) boast bonus features. Rated R. *
INFERNUM (Indican Pictures): Writer/producer/editor/director Dutch Marich’s low-budget sci-fi shocker stars Suziey Block as an artist traumatized by her parents’ disappearance during a UFO sighting when she was a child, then encounters further supernatural phenomena years later as an adult. Despite spooky cinematography (courtesy Daniel Valle), this is dreary, dull, and almost incomprehensible. Rated R. ½
MIKE WALLACE IS HERE (Magnolia Home Entertainment): Producer/director Avi Belkin’s award-winning documentary feature offers an entertaining, in-depth portrait of the esteemed, not uncomplicated, television journalist Mike Wallace (1918-2012), featuring interviews with Wallace, friends and colleagues, and an excellent selection of vintage clips from his long and illustrious career. A worthy tribute to a pioneer in his field. Rated PG-13. ***½
THE NUDE BOMB (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Don Adams reprises his Emmy-winning small-screen role as secret agent Maxwell Smart (Agent 86) in director Clive Donner’s scattershot 1980 comedy, in which he attempts to foil a nefarious plot to destroy the world’s clothing with the titular device. Some critics bemoaned the lack of participation by series creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, but series fans ought to enjoy it. The zesty cast includes Vittorio Gassman (hilarious as the one-armed, one-eyed, Bond-like baddie), Dana Elcar (the new “Chief”), Sylvia Kristel, Rhonda Fleming, Andrea Howard, Norman Lloyd, Pamela Hensley, Vito Scotti, series regular Robert Karvelas (encoring as Larabee), and co-screenwriter Bill Dana (as fashion impresario “Jonathan Levinson Seigle” … get it?), available on Blu-ray ($29.95 retail), replete with bonus features including audio commentary, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated PG. **½
“THE ORVILLE”: THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON (Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment): The titular spaceship of the 25th century soars again, in all 14 episodes from the 2018-’19 season of the award-winning Fox Network sci-fi/comedy series created by executive producer, sometime-director, and leading man Seth MacFarlane, who plays the intrepid, if frequently ineffectual, captain Ed Mercer, with Adrianne Palicki (as Mercer’s ex-wife and first officer), Seth Grimes, Penny Johnson Jerald, Peter Macon, and Mark Jackson rounding out the regular cast. Emmy nomination for Outstanding Special Visual Effects. The four-DVD collection ($29.98 retail) includes deleted scenes, character recaps, gag reel, and more.
TWIN FLOWER (Film Movement): Writer/director Laura Luchetti’s thoughtful, compassionate drama (originally titled Fiore Gemello) stars newcomers Anastasiya Bogach and Kallil Kane as, respectively, a traumatized teenager and an undocumented African immigrant who forge a relationship as they travel through Sardinia, pursued by a murderous human trafficker (Aniello Arena). Beautifully shot by cinematographer Ferran Paredes, with a mournful score by Francesco Cerasi. In French and Italian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), which also includes writer/director Carlota Pereda’s short film Cerdita. ***
(Copyright 2020, Mark Burger)