Video Vault – Sep 11, 2019
MARK BURGER’S VIDEO VAULT
PICK OF THE WEEK
DEATH TAKES A HOLIDAY (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Fredric March gives one of his best-remembered performances in the title role of director Mitchell Leisen’s 1934 fantasy, based on the 1929 Broadway play, itself based on Alberto Casella’s 1924 Italian play La Morte in Vacanzia.
In an effort to determine why people fear him, Death takes the human form of “Prince Sirki” to gain a better understanding of humanity, but in doing so he finds himself susceptible to human emotions – including love. Yet the only way he can truly possess the lovely Grazia (Evelyn Venable) is for her to die. This adds a fascinating existential undertone to the proceedings, deftly handled by Leisen and a capable cast including Guy Standing, Henry Travers, Gail Patrick, and Kent Taylor.
Death Takes a Holiday is a little creaky at times, as befits a film over 80 years old, but it retains a dramatic resonance and off-kilter charm, thanks largely to March’s subtly impassioned turn. Running a mere 80 minutes, it’s also less than half the length of Martin Brest’s bloated 1998 version Meet Joe Black, which boasted nice performances by Brad Pitt (as Death) and Anthony Hopkins, but was trampled by maudlin heavy-handedness.
The Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes audio commentary and theatrical trailer. ***½
BACK OF THE NET (Monarch Home Entertainment): Sofia Wylie makes her feature debut in this mild comedy, originally shown on The Disney Channel, in which she plays an American teenager who mistakenly enrolls in an Australian soccer academy. Predictable in the extreme, despite a fresh young cast. *½
BAUHAUS SPIRIT: 100 YEARS OF BAUHAUS (Dedalus Films/Icarus Films Home Video): Cinematographer Niels Bolbrinker and Thomas Tielsch co-wrote, co-edited, and co-directed this informative documentary feature (originally titled Vom Bauen der Zukunft: 100 Jahre Bauhaus) celebrating the revolutionary artistic movement founded in 1919 by Walter Gropius, which unites different forms of art into a combined discipline. In English, French, and German with English subtitles, available on DVD ($26.98 retail). ***
THE BEATLES: MADE ON MERSEYSIDE (Omnibus Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Alan Byron’s affectionate documentary traces the origins of the Fab Four during their early days in Liverpool, on the verge of their inexorable ascent to super-stardom, featuring interviews with friends and colleagues, including original drummer Pete Best. No major revelations, but Beatles buffs certainly won’t mind. **½
“THE BEST OF THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW”: 50TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION (Time Life): The title tells all in this 21-DVD collection ($249.95 retail) boasting 60 hand-picked episodes – plus bonus features – from the entire 1967-’78 run of the Emmy-winning CBS comedy/variety series hosted by Carol Burnett, featuring Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, Harvey Korman, and Lyle Waggoner, along with guest appearances by Burt Reynolds, Rock Hudson, Sammy Davis Jr., Lucille Ball, Rita Hayworth, Ella Fitzgerald, Bob Newhart, Bernadette Peters, Carl Reiner, Lily Tomlin, Don Rickles, Flip Wilson, Ben Vereen, Andy Griffith, and many others.
“BLAZE AND THE MONSTER MACHINES: NINJA BLAZE” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of five episodes from the animated Nickelodeon children’s series following the high-octane adventures of the titular monster truck (voiced by Nolan North) and his speed-wheeling pals.
CHILD’S PLAY (Juno Films Selects/MVD Entertainment Group): Not to be confused with the “Chucky” horror franchise, documentary filmmaker Margaret Thomson’s only narrative feature, which she adapted from Don Sharp’s story, is a 1954 comedy following a gang of English children (billed as “the Holy Terrors”) that use a chemistry set to split the atom and create a new form of popcorn – as well as an international incident. Painless family fluff in the Our Gang tradition, with the grown-ups including Mona Washbourne, Ballard Berkeley, Peter Sallis, Dorothy Alison, and Peter Martyn as the kids’ nemesis, bumbling Constable Parker. **
CURIOUS GEORGE: ROYAL MONKEY (Imagine Entertainment/Universal 1440 Entertainment/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): The fun-loving simian (voiced by Frank Welker) trades places with his double (also voiced by Welker) in this G-rated animated musical/comedy clearly inspired by Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper, and based on the beloved character created by Margret and H.A. Rey, available on DVD ($16.98 retail)
EASY LIVING (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of Mitchell Leisen’s engaging 1937 screwball comedy, scripted by Preston Sturges from Vera Caspary’s story, in which a discarded mink coat accidentally lands on poor stenographer Jean Arthur, leading people to assume she’s the mistress of wealthy banker Edward Arnold, whose son (Ray Milland) actually falls for her. Vintage breezy fun, populated by such pros as William Demarest, Mary Nash, Luis Alberni, Esther Dale, Andrew Tombes, and the ever-flustered Franklin Pangborn. Special features include audio commentary. ***
LONG GONE WILD (Vision Films): Writer/producer/director Bill Neal’s feature documentary debut, a follow-up to the award-winning Blackfish (2013), examines international efforts (including those of The Whale Sanctuary Project) to prevent marine mammals from being exploited in captivity, available on DVD ($12.99 retail).
“MARTIN CLUNES: ISLANDS OF AMERICA” (Acorn TV): Following the success of Islands of Britain (2009) and Islands of Australia (2016), award-winning actor Martin Clunes embarks on a journey to America to explore its surrounding islands in this four-part documentary mini-series, available on DVD ($34.99 retail).
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth don the dark shades and suits in director F. Gary Gray’s PG-13-rated spin-off of the highly profitable Men in Black sci-fi franchise, in which the world is (again) threatened by an extra-terrestrial menace, with star-studded support from Emma Thompson, Liam Neeson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rebecca Ferguson, and Rafe Spall. The DVD ($19.96 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($24.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($29.99 retail) each include a plethora of bonus features.
THE OLD MAN AND THE SEA (S’more Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): A perfectly cast Anthony Quinn brings an earthy dignity to the role of the elderly Cuban fisherman Santiago, whose limits are tested when he hooks an enormous marlin, in this engrossing 1990 adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, originally broadcast on NBC. Gary Cole plays a struggling writer (not unlike Hemingway), Patricia Clarkson his wife, and Alexis Cruz (in his debut) plays Santiago’s adoring acolyte, with Quinn’s real-life daughter Valentina as Santiago’s worried daughter and real-life son Francesco playing young Santiago. Bruce Broughton’s fine score earned an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Music Composition for a Mini-series or Special (Dramatic Underscore), with additional nominations for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Mini-series or Special and Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Mini-series or Special. ***
“PAW PATROL: READY, RACE, RESCUE” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A feature-length special episode spun off from the award-winning, animated Nickelodeon children’s series created by Keith Chapman, detailing the adventures of a young boy named Ryder (voiced by Jaxon Mercey) and six heroic rescue dogs, available on DVD ($14.96 retail).
PENNY POINTS TO PARADISE (Juno Films Selects/MVD Entertainment Group): The stars of the hugely popular English radio series The Goon Show (Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Harry Secombe) made their big-screen bows in this scattershot 1951 farce in which gamblers Milligan and Secombe enjoy a summer vacation while tangling with swindler Alfred Marks (in his film debut). Milligan had a hand in the score, Sellers plays two roles (a harbinger of things to come), and the frenetic slapstick is clearly influenced by the comedies of Hal Roach and Mack Sennett. The DVD ($19.95 retail) includes the 1951 comedy short Let’s Go Crazy, written by and starring Sellers and Milligan, showcasing various nightclub acts, including the Kay Kyser-esque Freddie Mirfield and His Garbage Men. **½
POKEMON DETECTIVE PIKACHU (Legendary Pictures/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Ryan Reynolds provides the voice for the title character, who teams with teenager Justice Smith to battle the forces of evil in this PG-rated fantasy based on the popular Pokemon franchise, with Kathryn Newton, Ken Watanabe, Bill Nighy, Rita Ora, and Suki Waterhouse in support. The DVD ($28.98 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($35.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($44.95 retail) each include bonus features.
“SHIMMER AND SHINE: LEGEND OF THE DRAGON TREASURE” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of six dragon-themed episodes from the popular, animated Nickelodeon children’s series detailing the misadventures of the titular twin genies (voiced by Eva Bella and Isabella Crovetti).
“SUNNY DAY: WELCOME TO THE PET PARLOR” (Nickelodeon/Paramount): A self-explanatory DVD collection ($10.99 retail) of four pet-themed episodes from the popular, animated Nickelodeon children’s series detailing the misadventures of the titular 10-year-old master hairstylist (voiced by Lilla Crawford).
SWEET CHARITY (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Shirley MacLaine dances up a storm in the title role of choreographer Bob Fosse’s 1969 feature directorial debut, based on the hit Broadway play (which Fosse also choreographed and directed), depicting the trials and tribulations of a lovelorn dance-hall girl, inspired by Fellini’s Oscar-winning 1957 classic Nights of Cabiria, with John McMartin (reprising his stage role), Chita Rivera (who played Charity on stage, in her screen debut), Ricardo Montalban, Stubby Kaye, Barbara Bouchet, Ben Vereen (in his screen debut), and Sammy Davis Jr. Splashy and enjoyable, and Oscar-nominated for Best Musical Score, Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, and Best Costume Design (Edith Head), but a box-office flop for Universal. The special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes both the theatrical and roadshow versions, audio commentary, retrospective featurettes, and more. Rated G. ***
UGLYDOLLS (STXfilms/Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): The popular plush toys make their big-screen bow in this family-friendly, PG-rated animated musical/comedy boasting a star-studded voice-over cast including Kelly Clarkson, Nick Jonas, Emma Roberts, Janelle Monae, Blake Shelton, Gabriel Iglesias, Wanda Sykes, Charli XCX, Ice-T, Jane Lynch, Pitbull, Rob Wriggle, and director Kelly Asbury, available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and DVD/Blu-ray ($34.95 retail), each replete with bonus features.
See Mark Burger’s reviews of current movies on Burgervideo.com. (Copyright 2019, Mark Burger)