CHOICE OF THE WEEK
THE USUAL SUSPECTS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): One of the best films of 1995 and one of the best modern films-black thrillers ever, director Bryan Singler’s dazzling Byzantine crime thriller remains a classic example of the genre.
Oscar-winning Best Supporting Actor Oscar-winning Kevin Spacey plays Verbal Kint, a disabled con man and one of the few survivors of a fiery shooting in the Port of Los Angeles. In flashback, he tells FBI agent Chazz Palminteri and local cop Dan Hedaya how he and his fellow thieves (Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Pollak and the boisterous Benicio Del Toro) met in a queue. police weeks before and were recruited for a heist by the enigmatic and elusive Keyser Soze – a criminal so notorious some don’t believe he exists.
But indeed, he does exist and indeed he is deadly, as the gang soon discovers. To reveal more would spoil the beautifully executed twists of the narrative. Christopher McQuarrie’s screenplay – his first – won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay, and the top-notch cast also includes Pete Postlethwaite, Giancarlo Esposito, Suzy Amis and Peter Greene.
It’s a major understatement to say that Singer and Spacey have each had controversies in recent years, but if that can be ignored, it’s a superb, almost flawless film.
Blu-ray Special Edition ($29.95 retail) and 4K Ultra HD Combo ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective and vintage interviews, deleted scenes and gag reels, tapes -ads and TV spots, and more. To note. ****
ASHTRAY (Cranked Up Films/Kino Lorber): The award-winning drama from writer/producer/editor/director Jeremy LaLonde stars executive producer/writer Amanda Brugel and writer/producer Jonas Chernick as a couple trying to salvage their relationship during a global pandemic. Low-key but mournful, this ambitious and timely attempt to expand the genre’s parameters fails, and Ian LaFeuvre’s sappy ballads don’t help – but there’s a nice endgame twist. Both DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include behind-the-scenes features. **
“BACKSTROM”: SERIES 2 (Acorn TV): Kjell Bergqvist returns in the title role of a selfish but brilliant homicide detective investigating the mysterious death of a high profile lawyer (Jens Hulten), which puts his career and life in jeopardy, in all six episodes of the 2022 season of the Swedish mystery series based on the best-selling novels by Leif GW Persson, with Agnes Lindstrom Bolmgren, Pekka Strong, Peshang Rad and Rolf Lydahl rounding out the regular cast. In Swedish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($39.99 retail).
BURIED: THE 1982 ALPINE PRAIRIES AVALANCHE (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): The title says it all in this award-winning 2022 documentary co-written, produced and co-directed by Jared Drake and first-timer Steven Siig, detailing the circumstances surrounding the massive avalanche that devastated the Alpine Meadows Ski Resort in Lake Tahoe, which remains the third deadliest avalanche in American history and left a lasting legacy 40 years later, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
CAGED BIRDS (Corinth Films): Oliver Rihs co-wrote and directed this award-winning 2020 fact-based legal drama (originally titled Bis wir tot sind oder frei) sees crusading lawyer Marie Leuenberger form an unorthodox alliance with the nation’s most wanted criminal (Joel Basman) – known as “The Jailbreak King” – to effect an overhaul of the corrupt criminal justice system in the 1980s in Swiss. In German and Swiss-English with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail).
« AT GEORGES SIMENON MAIGRET“: SEASON 2 (Kino Classics): Rupert Davies has established himself as the definitive embodiment of relentless French commissioner Jules Maigret in the popular BBC mystery series based on the best-selling novel series by Georges Simenon, who was so pleased with the cast of Davies that he declares “Finally, I have found the perfect Maigret”. All 13 episodes from the 1961-62 season are available in a three-disc Blu-ray collection ($49.95 retail), many of which have never been seen since the original broadcast.
MONDAY GHOSTS (Cleopatra Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): Apparently the first horror film filmed in Cyprus, writer/director Francesco Cinquemani’s animated film is based on Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and the brilliant (1980) as it follows a TV crew documenting supernatural phenomena at the Grand Hotel Gula, with Mark Huberman (who looks like William L. Petersen) as the nervous director and Julian Sands as the drunken host. Cinquemani sets an appropriately spooky vibe, augmented by Christina Georgiou’s score, but despite some effective moments, it bogs down in bizarre twists and ends in a gory mess. Sadly, Sands recently disappeared while hiking in California, and this might just be one of his last films. The DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail) include bonus features. *½
GLORIOUS (Shudder/RLJE Films): Rebekah McKendry directed this macabre, award-winning black comedy starring Ryan Kwanten (also executive producer) who finds himself trapped in a bathroom with an invisible companion (delightfully voiced by JK Simmons) in the booth next, whose casual conversation masks ulterior motives that will directly affect Kwanten — and possibly the universe. The edgy Kwanten gives it its all, David Simmons contributes flashy cinematography, and the Lovecraftian nods are fun, but it doesn’t quite equal the sum of its parts. Still, cult status is likely, available on DVD ($27.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($28.96 retail). **½
IN THE HEART OF DARKNESS (Visual Vengeance/MVD Entertainment Group): A “collector’s edition” Blu-ray ($34.95 retail) from writer/director Eric Swelstad, the 1992 R-rated supernatural clash starring Dino Tripodus (in its feature debut) in as a reporter who buys a local Ohio newspaper and soon finds himself entangled in disastrous actions that lead him to believe the town is populated by Satanists. Original title Fallen Angel and then blood church, this was filmed in 1989 but then lost to obscurity, despite the presence of the popular “Scream Queen” Linnea Quigley. Bonus features include audio commentary, retrospective and vintage interviews, the documentary Deeper in the darknessa collectible mini-poster, trailers and TV spots, and more.
BIG MOUTH (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): Writer/producer/director Josh Alexander’s feature-length documentary shines the spotlight on the controversial Reverend Al Sharpton, chairman of the National Action Network (NAN) and tireless civil rights advocate, though his methodology has often proved polarizing for the masses. Seen by some as a hero and others as an opportunistic provocateur, it causes Sharpton to reflect on his life and legacy, but discloses remarkably little about his personal life, undermining its overall impact. The DVD retails for $19.95. **½
MARCO POLO (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Rory Calhoun is wildly (but amusingly) miscast as the legendary Italian explorer in writer/director Piero Pierotti’s 1962 ‘spaghetti epic’, dramatizing his exploits when he tries to open trade with China on the 13the century and battles an infamous warlord, starring Yoko Tani as the seductive Chinese princess who captures her fantasy. Hugo Fregonese directed additional scenes for the US release, available on DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), each with audio commentary and theatrical trailer. *½
“MISSING IN ACTION TRILOGY” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Chuck Norris teamed up with producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus at Cannon Films for this trilogy of Vietnam War thrillers in which the former martial arts champion played the heroic Colonel James Braddock: 1984’s Missing in action1985 Disappeared in Action 2: The Beginningand 1988 Braddock: Missing in Action III. Every movie is rated R (for obvious reasons) and each includes audio commentaries and trailers. The Blu-ray triple feature retails for $59.95, and each movie is available individually on Blu-ray (each retails $24.95).
ONE HUNDRED STEPS (RaroVideo/Kino Lorber): The Blu-ray arc ($29.95 retail) of writer/director Marco Tullio Giordana’s award-winning 2000 crime drama (originally titled I cento passi) dramatizing the life of Giuseppe Impastatos (portrayed by Luigi Lo Cascio in a first feature film), left-wing activist and radio host whose condemnation of the Cosa Nostra in 1970s Italy made him the target of Gaetano Badalamenti (Tony Sperandeo), a mobster boss who lived literally 100 paces from him. In Italian with English subtitles, complete with audio commentary.
“THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS”: SEASON 2 (Sundance Now): Laura Carmichael and Jessica De Gouw portray young mothers whose chance meeting in a Sydney suburb had unintended consequences for both, in the six episodes of the 2022 season of the award-winning BBC1 drama series based About the Fact of Michael Robotham- based on the best-selling novel, available on DVD ($39.99 retail), packed with behind-the-scenes featurettes.
SERGEANT RYKER (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The Blu-ray arc ($24.95 retail) of director Buzz Kulik’s 1968 military melodrama starring Lee Marvin in the title role, a Korean War veteran translated into court-martialed for collaborating with the enemy, Vera Miles as his ex-wife, and Bradford Dillman the officer defending him. This originally aired as the two-part episode “The Case Against Paul Ryker” on Kraft Suspense Theater in 1963, then re-edited and released theatrically to capitalize on Marvin’s big-screen stardom. Dillman and Peter Graves (as Superior) reprized their roles in the 1966 British series Court martial broadcast on ABC. Lloyd Nolan, Murray Hamilton, Norman Fell, Walter Brooke, Charles Aidman and Don Marshall round out a familiar cast in this standard courtroom opus. Bonus features include audio commentary and a theatrical trailer. **
VESPERS (IFC Films): Co-writers Bruno Samper and first producer Kristina Buozyte have made their co-directing debut with the award-winning sci-fi saga starring Raffiella Chapman in the lead role, a teenage girl navigating the perilous, post-apocalyptic landscape of a dystopian future, starring Eddie Marsan, Rosy McEwen and Richard Brake in support, available on DVD ($27.97 retail) and Blu-ray ($28.96 retail), each filled of bonuses.
A WORLD APART (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Oscar-winning cinematographer Chris Menges made his directorial debut with this persuasive, award-winning 1988 drama set in 1960s South Africa, starring Barbara Hershey as the actor. ‘a staunch anti-apartheid campaigner whose dedication to the cause sparks conflict with her teenage daughter (Jodhi May), who bears the responsibility of looking after the family. Hershey and May (in her feature debut) are in top form, with David Suchet, Paul Freeman, Tim Roth, Rosalie Crutchley, Adrian Dunbar and Jeroen Krabbé supporting, available on Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) filled audio commentary, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated PG. ***
(Copyright 2023, Mark Burger)