Video Vault – Jul 4, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
THE DEATH OF STALIN (Paramount): Writer/director Armando Iannuci’s award-winning political satire, which puts a bright, biting spin on the events surrounding the 1953 death of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, is a bit of hysterical historical speculation, a paranoid comedy of errors populated by a stellar, star-studded cast operating at full throttle.
Adrian McLoughlin plays the fallen leader, whose demise throws the entire government into an uproar. While his ambitious underlings jockey for position and decide how to proceed with a state funeral, the general population is left to languish and suffer … not that anybody in charge seems to care. This may not be exactly the way it happened, but it’s persuasive nevertheless – and was incendiary enough for Russia to ban the film’s theatrical release.
Steve Buscemi’s blistering portrayal of Nikita Khrushchev is only one of many delightfully distinctive characterizations of historical figures not renowned for engendering humor or sympathy, among them Lavrentiy Beria (Simon Russell Beale), Georgy Zhukov (Jason Isaacs), Vyacheslav Molotov (Michael Palin), Georgy Malenkov (Jeffrey Tambor), and Stalin’s hard-drinking, hot-tempered son Vasily (Rupert Friend). Andrea Riseborough plays Stalin’s disenchanted daughter Svetlana, and Olga Kurylenko the renowned pianist Maria Yudina, whose hatred of Stalin is not tempered – and, perhaps, fueled — by her illicit relationship with Khrushchev.
The DVD ($22.98 retail) includes deleted scenes and featurette. Rated R. ***½
ANTARCTICA: IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF THE EMPEROR (MHz Networks): A two-DVD collection ($24.95 retail) of three documentaries by Luc Jacquet, Oscar winner for the blockbuster 2005 documentary March of the Penguins, continuing his expedition into the title region: In the Footsteps of the Emperor, Living on the Edge, and Antarctica’s Secrets, in English and French with English subtitles.
ASCENT OF EVIL: THE STORY OF MEIN KAMPF (EPF Media/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/director Frederic Monteil’s concise documentary (originally made for television) explores the history, impact, and legacy of Adolf Hitler’s incendiary 1925 treatise. Engrossing and thought-provoking, but slightly rushed given its 60-minute running time. **½
BACK TO BURGUNDY (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Cedric Klapisch’s comedy/drama (originally titled Ce qui nous lie) stars Pio Marmai, Ana Girardot and Francois Civil as siblings struggling to repair family grudges when reunited after a 10-year estrangement. In French and Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.95 retail).
THE BANISHMENT (Kino Lorber): Director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s award-winning 2007 domestic drama (originally titled Izgnanie) is based on William Saroyan’s novel The Laughing Matter dramatizes decaying relationship between husband Konstantin Lavronenko and wife Maria Bonnevie after they move their family from the city to the country. In Russian with English subtitles, both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include bonus features.
BRUCE’S DEADLY FINGERS (VCI Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): Bruce Le (AKA Kin Lung Huang) headlines writer/director Joseph Kong’s 1976 “Brucespoitation” schlock favorite (originally titled Lung men bei chi and also released as Bruce’s Fingers and The Young Dragon), in which he battles baddies bent on possessing Bruce Lee’s mythical “Kung Fu Finger Book.” Martial-arts mayhem at its goofiest, replete with hokey dubbing and clumsy fight scenes that inspire unintentional laughs, available in a DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.95 retail), boasting bonus features including audio commentary, photo and poster gallery, and more. Rated R. *½
CHINA SALESMAN (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/director Tan Bing’s purportedly fact-based action saga stars Dong-xue Li in the title role of a Chinese engineer embroiled in a North African civil war pitting tribal elder Mike Tyson against mercenary Steven Seagal, available on DVD ($24.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail).
THE CURED (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Ellen Page and Sam Keeley headline writer/director David Freyn’s R-rated debut feature, which puts a spin on the zombie genre by depicting a world where an undead plague has been cured and proves a difficult adjustment for the survivors, available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail).
“DELICIOUS”: SERIES 2 (Acorn TV): Master chef and irrepressible philander Iain Glen ruminates on his past from beyond the grave, while ex-wife Dawn French and widow Emilia Fox have together made a success of the failing hotel he left behind, in all four feature-length episodes from the inaugural 2017-’18 season of the darkly humorous British series, available on DVD ($34.99 retail).
FEMALE TROUBLE (The Criterion Collection): John Waters’ typically outrageous 1974 showcases the one and only Divine as Dawn Davenport, runaway juvenile delinquent-turned-single mother and murderous performance artist, filmed in Waters’ beautiful Baltimore, with regulars Edith Massey, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, Cookie Mueller, and David Lochary (in his final film). If that weren’t enough, Divine also plays the role of a lascivious lout who impregnates Dawn – thereby achieving the “distinction” of having the same actor simulating sex with each other. Definitely not for all tastes, but an absolute must for Waters aficionados. Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include audio commentary, vintage and retrospective interviews, deleted scenes and alternate takes, and more. Rated NC-17. ***
THE GOOD POSTMAN (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/editor/director Tonislav Hristov’s award-winning documentary feature (originally titled Hyva postimies) focuses on middle-aged postman Ivan Fransusov as he decides to run for mayor and rejuvenate his ailing village by welcoming political refugees – much to the consternation of his opponents. In Bulgarian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
INFLAME (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/director/co-producer Ceylan Ozgun Ozcelik’s award-winning debut feature (originally titled Kaygi) is a brooding psychological drama, vaguely reminiscent of Polanski’s Repulsion (1965), starring Algi Eke as a disillusioned news editor who delves into her own past in the midst of political turmoil and urban sprawl. Eerie cinematography (by Radek Ladczuk) and score (by Ekin Fil), but overly talky and frequently frustrating in its vagueness. In Turkish with English subtitles. **
“JERRY LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION” (Paramount): The title tells all in this 10-DVD selection ($26.98 retail) of feature films – plus bonus features – showcasing the inimitable Jerry Lewis (1926-2017), some of which he also wrote, produced and directed: The Stooge (1951) opposite Dean Martin, The Delicate Delinquent (1956), The Bellboy (1960), Cinderfella (1961), The Errand Boy (also ’61), The Ladies Man (also ’61), The Nutty Professor (1963), The Disorderly Orderly (1964), The Patsy (also ’64), and The Family Jewels (1965).
KEEP THE CHANGE (Kino Lorber): Writer/director Rachel Israel’s feature debut, expanded from her 2014 short, is an award-winning romantic comedy detailing unlikely relationship that blossoms between aspiring filmmaker Brandon Polansky and bubbly Samantha Elisofon — both making their feature debuts reprising their short-film roles — who meet at a court-mandated autism support group. Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) include the short film, theatrical trailer, and more.
THE MAIDS (Kino Classics): Glenda Jackson and Susannah York bring heat and heft to the titular characters in American Film Theatre’s 1975 adaptation of Jean Genet’s play, scripted by producer Robert Enders and director Christopher Miles, playing sibling servants whose complicated relationship with each other and their sadistic employer (Vivien Merchant in her final film) ultimately comes to an ironic, intense climax. Highly theatrical (obviously) but eminently watchable. The director and cast had previously presented the play on the London stage, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.95 retail), each boasting retrospective interviews and more. Rated PG. ***
“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE 1-5” (Paramount): In anticipation of Mission: Impossible – Fallout, Paramount has released the earlier installments of the big-screen franchise based on the award-winning CBS espionage series created by Bruce Geller, produced by and starring Tom Cruise as super-agent Ethan Hunt, each newly available in 4K Ultra HD combos (each $31.99 retail): Mission: Impossible (1996), Mission: Impossible 2 (2000), Mission: Impossible III (2006), Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol (2011), and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015). Each film is rated PG-13 and each disc includes special features.
THE REINCARNATION OF PETER PROUD (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director J. Lee Thompson’s 1975 adaptation of Max Ehrlich’s best-selling novel (scripted by the author) stars Michael Sarrazin in the title role of a college professor tormented and obsessed by nightmares that lead him to believe he is the reincarnation of a man murdered in Massachusetts years before. Intriguing but not entirely satisfying, despite Jerry Goldsmith’s customarily solid score, a neat twist ending, and a supporting cast including Margot Kidder, Jennifer O’Neill, Cornelia Sharpe, Paul Hecht, Norman Burton, Steve Franken, and Debralee Scott. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, original trailer, TV and radio spots, and more. Rated R. **½
SMASH PALACE (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment): Roger Donaldson’s raw, hard-hitting 1981 portrait of a marriage gone wrong stars Bruno Lawrence and Anna Jemison (in her screen debut) as a blue-collar New Zealand couple whose painful, protracted break-up comes to a boil, with Greer Robson (in her screen debut) as the daughter caught in the middle. The special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective documentary, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated R. ***
THE SWAP (Monarch Home Entertainment): Peyton List and Jacob Bertrand bring a likable zest to this fluffy adaptation of Megan Shull’s novel, originally aired on the Disney Channel, as teenagers who swap bodies after being zapped by their respective cell-phones. **½
TURTLE TALE (LionsGate): Ambyr Childers, Tom Arnold, Lydia Hull and Mikey Bolts lend their voices to this award-winning, family-friendly, PG-rated comedy following the misadventures of talking turtles during summertime in Florida, available on DVD ($14.98 retail).
UNDER CAPRICORN (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Ingrid Bergman, Joseph Cotten and Michael Wilding form a turbulent romantic triangle in Alfred Hitchcock’s uneven 1948 historical mystery, set in 19th-century Australia, based on Helen Simpson’s novel and John Colton’s subsequent stage play, which Hitchcock himself – correctly – considered one of his weakest films, as well as a box-office flop, – despite Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor cinematography and a polished cast that also includes Margaret Leighton (who later married Wilding) and Cecil Parker. Even Hitchcock at his worst is worthy of interest. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary, vintage interviews, and original trailer. **
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)