Video Vault – May 23, 2018
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
DVD PICK OF THE WEEK
THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (Lightyear Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): As unnecessary sequels go, this belated 1989 follow-up to Wes Craven’s 1981 DC Comics adaptation is better than most – thanks to a cheerfully camp sensibility and zippy direction by B-movie maestro Jim Wynorski.
Dick Durock reprises his role as the titular superhero, splashing through the swamps as he continues his vendetta against likewise encoring Louis Jourdan as nefarious scientist Dr. Anton Arcane – although it’s never made clear how the character was resurrected from his fate in the first film.
Heather Locklear adds a touch of (misplaced?) glamor as Arcane’s stepdaughter Abby, who becomes the object of Swamp Thing’s affections and Arcane’s sinister plans, which are abetted by alluring, if somewhat inept, femme fatales Sarah Douglas and Monique Gabrielle. Newcomers RonReaco Lee and Daniel Taylor provide a pint-sized Greek chorus as a pair of kids who continually find themselves swept up in the action.
Played more for laughs than scares, the irreverent tone might irk die-hard Swamp Thing purists, but this goofy, good-natured throwback to ’50s monster movies (right down to the rubber costumes) is a fond remembrance of the good old drive-in daze.
The “MVD Rewind Collection” DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.95 retail) include audio commentaries, retrospective interviews, original trailer and TV spots, vintage promotional reel, and more. Rated PG-13. **½
ACORN AND THE FIRESTORM (First Run Features): Producer/directors Reuben Atlas and Sam Pollard’s timely, award-winning documentary feature chronicles the 40-year history and ignominious downfall of the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) after a spurious scandal. Thorough and ultimately depressing, but not without a glimmer of hope at the end. ***
ARE WE NOT CATS (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Xander Robin’s award-winning debut feature, expanded from his 2013 short, is a bizarre, quirky character study teaming Michael Patrick Nicholson and Chelsea Lopez as lost souls drawn together by a common fetish of eating their own hair. Not for all tastes (obviously!) but acted with conviction, surprisingly compassionate, and well-shot by cinematographer Matt Clegg (making his feature debut). A definite cult contender. ***
BLACK VENUS (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): A special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of Abdellatif Keniche’s award-winning, fact-based 2010 drama (originally titled Venus noire), detailing the tumultuous life of Saartjes Baartman (played by Yahima Torres in her screen debut), a South African domestic who was exhibited – and exploited – throughout 19th-century Europe as a freak-show attraction called “Hottentot Venus.” In Afrikaans, Dutch and French with English subtitles.
DAYVEON (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Writer/producer/director/composer Amman Abbasi’s award-winning debut feature is an atmospheric, brooding, rambling coming-of-age/slice-of-life drama, following the title, teenaged character (played by newcomer Devin Blackmon) drifts into delinquency in his small Arkansas town. Fellow newcomer Dontrell Bright is a standout as the concerned boyfriend of Dayveon’s sister (Chasity Moore, also in her screen debut). Beautifully shot by cinematographer Dustin Lane (another feature debut). Amman has collaborated with executive producer and UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate David Gordon Green, and this recalls some of his work. Fellow UNCSA grads Jody Hill and Danny McBride also served as executive producers. **½
DEATH SMILES ON A MURDERER (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment): A special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of the 1973 giallo shocker (originally titled La morte ha sorriso all’assassino), directed and co-scripted by Aristide Massaccesi (AKA Joe D’Amato), starring Ewa Aulin as the resurrected spirit of a wronged woman in the early 20th century, bent on wreaking bloody vengeance upon those who destroyed her. Also on hand: Giacomo Rossi-Stuart, Luciano Rossi, and the inimitable Klaus Kinski as a sinister scientist. Special features include audio commentary, archival and retrospective featurettes, original trailers, and more.
DESOLATION (IFC Midnight/Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Producer/director Sam Patton’s debut feature stars Jaimi Paige as a grief-stricken widow whose decision to scatter her husband’s ashes in a remote forest turns into a fight for survival when she, her son (Toby Nichols) and best friend (Alyshia Ochse) are stalked by the mysterious, malevolent “Hiker” (Claude Duhamel), available on DVD ($16.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.97 retail).
FIFTY SHADES FREED (Universal Studios Home Entertainment): The sensual saga of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) comes to a close in the final installment of the big-screen trilogy based on producer E.L. James’ series of best-selling novels and scripted by James’ husband, Niall Leonard. The DVD ($29.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.98 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($37.98 retail) include both the R-rated theatrical and unrated versions of the film, featurettes, interviews, deleted scenes and more.
GOING CLEAR: SCIENTOLOGY AND THE PRISON OF BELIEF (FilmRise/MVD Entertainment Group): Alex Gibney’s much-debated HBO documentary, based on producer Lawrence Wright’s non-fiction best-seller, offers an absorbing and unsettling exploration into the history the Church of Scientology, its founder L. Ron Hubbard, and the ongoing controversy surrounding its practices. Nominated for seven Emmy Awards, winning three: Outstanding Documentary or Non-Fiction Special, Outstanding Directing for Non-Fiction Programming, and Outstanding Writing for Non-Fiction Programming. ***
THE MONKEY KING 3 (Well Go USA Entertainment): The third installment of the popular martial-arts/fantasy franchise (originally titled Xi you ji zhi nu er guo), based on Wu Cheng’en’s classic novel Journey to the West, reunites director Cheang Pou-soi with leading man Aaron Kwok, reprising his titular role as the magical primate, who embarks on a perilous mission to locate sacred texts, with Feng Shaofend, Gigi Leung, Xiao Shenyang and Chung Him Law also back for another round. In Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.98 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray combo ($29.98 retail).
MOON CHILD (Cult Epics/CAV Distributing): A special-edition DVD/Blu-ray combo ($34.95 retail) of Agusti Villaronga’s award-winning 1989 chiller (originally titled El nino de la luna), inspired by Aleister Crowley’s 1923 novel, starring Enrique Saldana (in his first and only feature) as a wide-eyed boy whose astonishing mental powers are coveted by a diabolical scientific cult bent on creating an anti-Christ. Stylized, suspenseful and a deserved cult classic, although the second half slows considerably. Maribel Martin, Lisa Gerrard, Lucia Bose and Gunter Meisner contribute strong supporting work. Special features include retrospective interview, isolated score by Dead Can’t Dance, lobby-card photo gallery, and original trailers. In Spanish with English subtitles. **½
MOONRISE (The Criterion Collection): Director Frank Borzage’s brooding, noir-ish 1948 adaptation of Theodore Strauss’ novel stars Dane Clark as a tormented, guilt-riddled Southerner who goes on the lam after killing Lloyd Bridges, the cruel ex-boyfriend of current lover Gail Russell, in self-defense. Ethel Barrymore, Rex Ingram, Allyn Joslin, Harry Morgan and Harry Carey Jr. round out the cast, and the film earned an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Recording. Both the DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) include retrospective interview and critical essay. ***
“MIDSOMER MURDERS: COUNTY CASE FILES” (Acorn TV): An eight-DVD collection ($79.99 retail) of 15 feature-length episodes from the 2013-’16 seasons (including the 100th episode) from the long-running, award-winning British mystery series based on the best-selling Chief Inspector Barnaby novels by Caroline Graham, with Neil Dudgeon as the tenacious DCI John Barnaby and Gwilym Lee as his new assistant, DS Charlie Nelson, as they investigate dire doings in the cozy villages of Midsomer County, featuring guest appearances by Claire Bloom, Clarke Peters, Hayley Mills, Michael Jayston, Una Stubbs, Amanda Burton, Diana Quick, Claudie Blakley, Julia Sawalha and others – plus bonus features.
NIGHT ZERO (Conquest Pictures/MVD Entertainment Griuo): Low-budget auteur Mark Cantu’s derivative, low-budget sci-fi shocker (in the Cloverfield vein) sees a dinner party near Pittsburgh interrupted by a chemical leak – used to combat an alien invasion – that turns humans into ravenous cannibals. A few genre nods and creepy moments can’t compensate for sub-standard performances and dialogue. *½
OF UNKNOWN ORIGIN (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A collector’s-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) of director George P. Cosmatos’ 1982 Canadian-made adaptation of Chauncey G. Parker III’s novel The Visitor, pitting increasingly-panicked Yuppie businessman Peter Weller against a monstrous rat that has invaded his Manhattan townhouse. A box-office flop that found its cult following on cable-TV and home-video, with Weller’s intense but amusing performance some compensation for an uneven, only intermittently engrossing, narrative. Special features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailers, and more. Rated R. **
A VIOLENT LIFE (Distrib Films/Icarus Films Home Video): Screenwriter/director Thierry de Peretti’s award-winning drama (originally titled Une vie violente) stars Jean Michelangeli as a self-exiled political activist who confronts his past – and jeopardizes his future – when he returns to Corsica years later to attend a former comrade’s funeral. In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($26.98 retail).
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2018, Mark Burger)