Video Vault – Mar 6, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
THE STANDOFF AT SPARROW CREEK (RLJE Films): For his auspicious debut feature, writer/director Henry Dunham has carefully crafted an entertaining and intense thriller that’s timely and topical, to boot.
The action is confined to a single night in essentially one setting, a remote lumber mill in Michigan which is actually a stronghold for a secret militia. Reports of a shooting at a nearby police funeral spark the action, as militia members congregate to ascertain precisely what happened and who’s responsible. As suspicions mount, fueled by ex-cop James Badge Dale’s interrogation, further reports indicate that this was not an isolated incident, with shootings occurring throughout the nation.
As befits the story, it’s an all-male, all-white ensemble cast, and solid down the line. In addition to Dale (who’s rarely been better), there’s strong work from Chris Mulkey, Brian Geraghty, Patrick Fischler, Robert Aramayo, Happy Anderson and Eugene Jones. These are not likable characters, but they are believable ones – especially in today’s political climate. There are some violent moments, but it’s the ongoing, palpable threat of violence that sustains the suspense.
Comparisons to Quentin Tarantino’s 1992 debut Reservoir Dogs are not unwarranted, and there’s even a twist that would do Orson Welles proud. Meticulous, methodical and cold-blooded at times, The Standoff at Sparrow Creek is a winner.
Both DVD ($27.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($28.97 retail) include bonus features. ***½
“ACKLEY BRIDGE”: SERIES 2 (Acorn TV): A three-DVD collection ($59.99 retail) of all 12 episodes – plus bonus content – from the 2018 season of the award-winning series dramatizing the adjustments made at a newly integrated academy school in Northern England, featuring an ensemble cast including Jo Joyner, Paul Nicholls, Liz White, Sunetra Sarker, Samuel Bottomley, Poppy Lee Friar, Adil Ray, Arsher Ali and Amy-Leigh Hickman.
AFTER DARKNESS (LionsGate): An affluent but dysfunctional family faces an impending apocalypse in this stiff, pretentious sci-fi melodrama that echoes Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) – itself a pretentious sci-fi melodrama (although better). The ensemble cast is saddled with playing obnoxious, unlikable characters whom it’s hard to empathize with: Kyra Sedgwick, Tim Daly, Valori Curry, John Patrick Amedori, Natalia Dyer, and Daly’s real-life son Sam. Rated R. *
“AMERICAN VANDAL”: SEASON ONE (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Media Distribution): Aspiring documentary filmmakers Tyler Alvarez and Griffin Gluck team up to determine the guilt or innocence of an expelled classmate (Jimmy Tatro) accused of vandalizing the faculty parking lot of their high school, in all eight episodes from the inaugural 2017 season of the award-winning Netflix mock-documentary series, which earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Writing for a Limited Series, Movie or Dramatic Special, available on DVD ($29.98 retail), replete with bonus features.
“BANG”: SERIES 1 (Acorn TV): Catrin Stewart and Jacob Ifan star in this award-winning Welsh drama series as siblings – she a cop, he a criminal – who operate on different sides of the law, which places them on an inevitable collision course, in all eight episodes from the inaugural 2017 season, available in a three-DVD collection ($49.99 retail).
THE CLOVEHITCH KILLER (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Duncan Skiles produced and directed this award-winning psychological thriller in which teenager Charlie Plummer begins to suspect his father (Dylan McDermott) of being the titular fiend who terrorized their Kentucky community years before. Meticulously paced, well-acted, and credible – with more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Nice work also from Samantha Mathis as McDermott’s husband and especially Madisen Beaty as a local teen with a vested interest in the case. Both the DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail) include bonus features. ***
COLOR ME BLOOD RED (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) of the notorious 1966 black comedy from writer/director/cinematographer Herschell Gordon Lewis – an admitted pioneered in screen gore – starring Don Joseph (AKA Gordon Oas Heim) as a deranged painter who embarks on a killing spree to procure human blood for his paintings. Nor for all tastes (definitely), but it boasts a cult following. Special features include audio commentaries, trailers, outtakes, introductions, Lewis’s 1967 fantasy Something Weird, and more. **
CUBAN FOOD STORIES (First Run Features): Asori Soto directed this self-explanatory documentary feature in which he returns to his birthplace of Cuba to explore and document its history, culture and cuisine. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), which includes bonus cookbook.
DOUBLE DRAGON (MVD Entertainment Group): Mark Dacascos and Scott Wolf play brothers who battle evil tycoon Robert Patrick in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles in this PG-13-rated 1994 adaptation of the popular video game, with Alyssa Milano, Julia Nickson-Soul, Kristina Wagner (in her feature debut), Jeff Imada, Al Leong, Michael Berryman, Vanna White (as herself), and Alyssa’s kid brother Cory Milano along for the ride. The “MVD Rewind Collection” collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes full-length documentary, interviews, featurettes, original theatrical trailer, TV spots, and more.
FRANTZ FANON: BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASK (Film Movement Classics): Producer Mark Nash and director Isaac Julien co-scripted this illuminating, award-winning 1995 documentary about the renowned psychiatrist, author, political and social activist Frantz Fanon (1925-’61), whose best-known work was the 1951 book Black Skin, White Masks (Peau noire masques blancs), with Colin Salmon offering a charismatic interpretation of Frantz. This works as both a biography and an analysis of Frantz’s life and work. In English, Arabic and French with English subtitles, available as a special-edition DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail). ***
THE GROUP (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director Sidney Lumet’s star-studded 1966 adaptation of Mary McCarthy’s best-seller follows the lives of eight female graduates following college, as played by Candice Bergen (in her screen debut), Joan Hackett (in her screen debut), Elizabeth Hartman, Jessica Walter, Shirley Knight, Joanna Pettet (in her screen debut), Mary-Robin Redd (in her screen debut) and Kathleen Widdoes (in her screen debut), with Hal Holbrook (in his screen debut), Larry Hagman, James Broderick, James Congdon and Richard Mulligan (who was married to Hackett), available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail).
HAUNTED HOSPITAL: HEILSTATTEN (Well Go USA Entertainment): Pascal Schmit’s cinematography is the best thing about screenwriter/director/editor Michael David Pate’s predictable found-footage chiller, in which an obnoxious group of social-media vloggers (including Maxine Kazis, who croons the theme song) break into the long-abandoned Beelitz Heilstatten military hospital – and soon wish they hadn’t. A few jolts and twists, but the paranormal activity on display is nothing new. Both the DVD ($24.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail) include the original German audio soundtrack and the English-dubbed soundtrack (which is not without its laughs). *½
ICEMAN: THE TIME TRAVELER (Well Go USA Entertainment): Donnie Yen returns in this sequel (originally titled Bing feng: Yong heng zhi men) to the 2014 hit as a warrior from the Ming Dynasty who is frozen in an avalanche during a battle four centuries ago, only to be revived in the present day. In Catonese with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail).
INSTANT FAMILY (Paramount Home Media Distribution): Mark Wahlberg (also a producer) and Rose Byrne portray a couple who adopt three Hispanic foster children (Isabela Moner, Gustavo Quiroz and Julianna Gamiz) in this PG-13-rated comedy inspired by the experiences of co-writer/producer/director Sean Anders, with Octavia Spencer, Isabela Moner, Joan Cusack, Michael O’Keefe, Margo Martindale and Julie Hagerty also on hand, available on DVD ($26.99 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail).
“THE LEGALLY BLONDE COLLECTION” (Shout! Factory): A self-explanatory “Shout Select” Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) containing both the award-winning 2001 comedy Legally Blonde (based on Amanda Brown’s best-selling novel) and its award-winning 2003 follow-up Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde, both starring Reese Witherspoon (who served as executive producer on the sequel) as the inimitably perky and plucky Elle Woods. Each film is rated PG-13 and each film boasts bonus features for Blonde buffs. Both films: **½
MAQUIA: WHEN THE PROMISED FLOWER BLOOMS (ELEVEN ARTS Anime Studio/Shout! Factory): Screenwriter Mari Okada’s award-winning debut feature (originally titled Sayonara no asa ni yakusoku no hana o kazaro) details the relationship between the titular mystic (voiced by Manaka Iwami) and the mortal boy (voiced by Yuuki Sakurai) she raises as her son. Both the DVD ($16.97 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($26.99 retail) include both the original Japanese and English-dubbed soundtracks, as well as bonus features.
THE MIDNIGHT MAN (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Burt Lancaster and long-time collaborator Roland Kibbee co-scripted, co-produced and co-directed this leisurely paced 1974 adaptation of David Anthony’s novel The Midnight Man and the Mourning Lady, with Lancaster (in a subdued performance) as an ex-cop and ex-con hired as a security guard at a small college who investigates the murder of comely co-ed Catherine Bach (in an early role). Engrossing but leisurely paced, with a stellar line-up of potential suspects and red herrings: Susan Clark, Cameron Mitchell, Ed Lauter, Morgan Woodward, Robert Quarry, Mills Watson, Charles Tyner, Lawrence Dobkin, Quinn Redeker, Burt’s son William Lancaster, and reliable Harris Yulin as a dim but dogged sheriff. Yvonne Elliman croons the theme song, a lot of cigars are smoked, and the location shoot was in and around Clemson University. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary and trailers. Rated R. **½
NARCISSISTER ORGAN PLAYER (Film Movement): The titular mixed-media and performance artist (who chooses to keep her true identity a secret) makes her feature debut as producer and director of this documentary that examines her life and often controversial work, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).
THE ODDSOCKEATERS (Omnibus Entertainment): Director/screenwriter Galina Miklinova’s feature debut is an animated, family-friendly adaptation (originally titled Lichozrouti) of the international best-selling children’s books written by Pavel Srut and illustrated by Miklinova, following the misadventures of crazy creatures who eat missing socks, available on DVD ($24.95 retail) in an English-dubbed version.
OLANCHO (First Run Features): Chris Valdes and Ted Griswold make their feature debuts as co-writer/co-directors of this feature documentary which follows the members of Los Plebes de Olancho, the Honduran group whose songs (called “narco-ballards”) are inspired by the powerful drug cartels there – which gives them both popularity and notoriety, and occasionally puts them in jeopardy. Interesting, timely and trim, but the underlying tension in the early scenes tends to loosen later. In Spanish with English subtitles. **½
ROAD HOUSE 2 (MVD Entertainment Group): Johnathon Schaech co-scripted and headlines this belated, R-rated follow-up to the 1989 action opus, playing an undercover DEA agent (and the son of Patrick Swayze’s character from the original film) out to nail local baddie Jake Busey, with Will Patton, Ellen Hollman (in her feature debut), Richard Norton and William Ragsdale along for the ride. The “MVD Marquee Collection” Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) includes original trailer.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)