Video Vault – Jun 26, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): Michael Crichton’s first best-seller formed the basis for producer/director Robert Wise’s fascinating, still-relevant 1971 techno-thriller, ostensibly “science fiction” but certainly more rooted in scientific possibility, if not outright fact. The film also earned Oscar nominations for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration and Best Editing.
A satellite crashes in rural New Mexico, killing the entire population of a small town, prompting the U.S. military to immediately assemble a crack scientific team in a massive underground facility in Nevada to investigate and isolate what they believe is an infectious alien organism. Of course, should the organism – code named “Andromeda” – somehow escape, the facility has a nuclear destruct system that will obliterate … well, everything, including any evidence that the organism ever existed.
Opting not to cast big stars, Wise settled on reliable characters actors: Arthur Hill, James Olson, David Wayne, and Kate Reid – all in fine form. Nelson Gidding’s screenplay is rife (perhaps overly so) with philosophical debates regarding the implications at hand, but Wise maintains slow-simmering (if somewhat slowly paced) suspense, augmented by Gil Melle’s wonderfully weird score and complete tone of credibility throughout.
The special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective documentary and interviews, and more. Rated G. ***
ANOTE’S ARK (First Run Features): Filmmaker Matthew Rytz’s timely documentary feature focuses on Anote Tong, president of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, and his efforts to alert the world to the possibility that Kiribati will literally cease to exist should sea-level change continue at the present level. Rytz’s spectacular cinematography serves to enhance the film’s plea for better understanding of climate change. ***
CHERRY GROVE STORIES (Breaking Glass Pictures): This wistful and affectionate documentary delves into the history of Cherry Grove, the region on New York’s Fire Island that became a haven for homosexuals in the 1940s until the present day, as recalled by long-time residents and first-time director/executive producer Michael Fisher (also a Cherry Grove resident). The DVD ($19.99 retail) includes bonus features. ***
CIELO (Juno Films/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/producer/director Alison McAlpine’s award-winning documentary feature debut explores the glorious night skies above the Alacama Desert in Chile, which is far more interesting than interviews with those who live in the region. In English, French, and Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail). **½
DARK SENSE (Breaking Glass Pictures): Producer/director Magnus Wake’s highly stylized debut feature, based on Peter A. Flannery’s best-seller First and Only, stars Shane O’Meara as troubled psychic who foresees his own murder at the hands of serial killer James Robinson, which prompts him to hire disillusioned ex-solder Jim Sturgeon as a bodyguard – but also attracts the attention of the authorities. Gimmicky but interesting, although the third act descends into melodrama. The DVD ($24.99 retail) includes audio commentary. **½
GAME GIRLS (Breaking Glass Pictures): Billed as “a Skid Row love story,” Alina Skrzeszewska’s documentary feature follows two black homeless lesbians – Teri and Tiahna – as they wend their way through the mean streets of Los Angeles, each attempting to maintain a semblance of dignity under such circumstances, available on DVD ($19.99 retail), with bonus features.
GLASS (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): M. Night Shymalan follows Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2016) with this gloomy, convoluted “continuation” that pits Unbreakable‘s hero Bruce Willis against Split‘s schizophrenic serial killer James McAvoy, while Unbreakable‘s resident wacko Samuel L. Jackson waits in the wings. Shymalan’s bloated riff on the superhero genre falls prey to his overpowering – and underwhelming – self-indulgence, which has reached critical proportions, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.98 retail) – each replete with special features. Rated PG-13. *
THE GREASY STRANGLER (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): A special “director’s edition” Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) of writer/director Jim Hosking’s award-winning 2016 debut feature, a truly bizarre black comedy set in Los Angeles, where demented disco tour guide Michael St. Michaels and misfit son Sky Elobar compete for the affections of comely Elizabeth De Razzo – a situation complicated by St. Michaels’s penchant for consuming greasy food and then strangling people. Definitely not for all tastes but an instant cult classic – for those who can take it. Comparisons to John Waters and/or Troma Films are not unwarranted. Special features include audio commentary, cast and crew interviews, and trailer. Rated R. **
HOLMES & WATSON (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): What would seem to be an inspired screen reunion of producer Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly spoofing Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal crime-solving duo Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson instead is a disastrous missed opportunity, with the slapstick and bawdy buffoonery wearing thin quickly. There are a few inspired gags, but far too many misfires – thereby stranding a talented cast including Ralph Fiennes (who would have been a perfect Prof. Moriarty under other circumstances), Rebecca Hall, Rob Brydon, Kelly Macdonald, Stephen Fry, Lauren Lapkus, Billy Zane, and an unbilled Steve Coogan. Both the DVD ($30.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.99 retail) boast bonus features including deleted scenes, featurettes, and more. Rated PG-13. *
THE ILLUSIONIST (MVD Entertainment Group): Director/screenwriter Neil Burger’s award-winning 2006 adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story Eisenheim the Illusionist stars Edward Norton in the title role of an early 20th-century magician who uses his skills to win back his beloved (a miscast Jessica Biel) from her fiancee (Rufus Sewell), the Crown Prince of Austria. Ornate and atmospheric, with Oscar-nominated cinematography, but also talky and static, despite a polished cast including Paul Giamatti, Eddie Marsan, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The “MVD Marquee Collection” Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) includes audio commentary, featurettes, original trailer, and more. Rated PG-13. **
ISN’T IT ROMANTIC (New Line Cinema/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): New York architect Rebel Wilson (also an executive producer) finds herself in the midst of every romantic-comedy cliché after being knocked out during a mugging in this PG-13-rated comedy/fantasy co-starring Liam Hemsworth, Adam Devine, Priyanka Chopra, Betty Gilpin, and Jennifer Saunders, available on DVD ($28.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray conmbo ($35.99 retail).
“MARCELLA”: SEASON 2 (Acorn): Anna Friel stars in the title role of an ailing London detective attempting to track down a serial killer despite her deteriorating mental state, in all eight episodes from the 2018 season of the award-winning crime series created by Nicola Larder and Hans Rosenfeldt, with Jamie Bamber, Jason Hughes, Victoria Smurfit, Ray Panthaki, and Peter Sullivan rounding out the regular cast, available in a two-DVD collection ($49.99 retail).
THE MISEDUCATION OF CAMERON POST (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Executive producer/screenwriter/director Desiree Akhavan’s award-winning adaptation of Emily M. Danforth’s best-seller stars Chloe Grace Moritz in the title role of a ’90s teen sent to conversion therapy. The drama’s not deep enough, the satire not sharp enough, and the overall tone is strangely detached, but this is helped immeasurably by a strong cast including Jennifer Ehle, Marin Ireland, John Gallagher Jr., Sasha Lane, and Forrest Goodluck. The special-edition Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) includes audio commentary and trailer. **½
THE RUNNING MAN (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): Not to be confused with the Arnold Schwarzenegger film, Carol Reed’s noir-ish 1963 adaptation of Shelley Smith’s The Ballad of the Running Man (scripted by John Mortimer, no less) stars Laurence Harvey as a man who fakes his own death to collect the insurance, then waits in Malaga for wife Lee Remick to bring the money – only to discover insurance investigator Alan Bates snooping around. Such stalwarts as Felix Aylmer, Eddie Byrne, Allan Cuthbertson, Noel Purcell, and John Meillon, and Fernando Rey round out the cast. The collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, featurette, and more.
SLAUGHTERHOUSE RULEZ (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): This broad, scattershot monster mash from story writer/co-screenwriter/director Crispian Mills is set at the titular English boarding school, which is attacked by subterranean monsters. The in-jokes and nods (Tremors, Harry Potter, Attack the Block, et al) come fast and furious, and an enthusiastic cast includes Asa Butterfield, Finn Cole, Hermoine Corfield, Michael Sheen (as the headmaster), executive producers Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, and an unrecognizable Margot Robbie, but this aspires a little too hard to attain cult status and winds up overly shrill. Rated R. **
US (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Jordan Peele follows his Oscar-winning triumph Get Out (2017) with this enjoyable, if overly indulgent, chiller following an all-American family on the summer vacation, where they encounter exact doubles of themselves, albeit murderously inclined doubles. The satirical elements range from the sublime to the ridiculous, but Peele writes sharp dialogue, creates likable characters, and clearly revels operating on a grander scale and with a bigger budget. The solid cast includes Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke, Elisabeth Moss, Tim Heidecker, and impressive screen newcomers Shahadi Wright Joseph and Evan Alex. The DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.98 retail) all include bonus features. Rated R. ***
VENGEANCE: A LOVE STORY (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Nicolas Cage produced and stars in this modest yet effective adaptation of the Joyce Carol Oates novel Rape: A Love Story, as a Niagara Falls detective determined to exact revenge from the local toughs who raped local woman Anna Hutchison. Cage is remarkably restrained, and a good cast includes Don Johnson (as a slick defense attorney), Deborah Kara Unger, Talitha Bateman, and Charlene Tilton. **½
“WOODY GUTHRIE ALL-STAR TRIBUTE CONCERT 1970” (MVD Visual/MVD Entertainment Group): The title tells all in this star-studded concert celebrating the life and legacy of folk legend Woody Guthrie (1912-’67) and to benefit the California Chapter of the Committee to Combat Huntington’s Disease, which ultimately killed him, featuring narration by Peter Fonda and Will Geer and performances by such luminaries as Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Richie Havens, Odetta, Country Joe McDonald, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and Woody’s son Arlo Guthrie, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)