CHOICE OF THE WEEK
DEAD HEAT (Vinegar Syndrome): There never was much love for this 1988 horror/comedy mash-up, which marked the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated editor Mark Goldblatt and boasted the buddy duo -not-so-dynamic cop by Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo. Both a critical and financial fiasco, it nevertheless found an echo on cable television.
Los Angeles cops Roger Mortis (Williams) and Doug Bigelow (Piscopo) have stumbled upon a bizarre phenomenon in the recent rise in street crime in that the culprits are already dead. Their investigation leads them to a high-tech covert operation in which the dead are raised – but for only 24 hours. When Roger is killed, Doug resurrects him and the pair fight their way through the underworld in search of answers as Roger gradually decays.
First-time screenwriter Terry Black (brother of lethal weapon scribe Shane Black, who appears in a cameo) pays tribute to the 1949 dark movie classic DO A (he plays on TV in one scene), while Steve Johnson’s macabre imaginative special effects – which had to be cut to secure an R rating – scroll across the screen. The hardworking Williams has better chemistry with leading ladies Lindsay Frost (in her feature debut) and Claire Kirkconnell (in her only feature to date) than she does with Piscopo, then in her early bodybuilding phase.
Also on hand: Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Mel Stewart, former pro wrestler, Professor Toru Tanaka, Monica Lewis (in her latest feature), MTV vee-jay Martha Quinn, genre icon Vincent Price (in as the project’s mysterious benefactor) and, best of all, Darren McGavin, clearly having fun as the gleefully corrupt coroner Dr. Ernest McNab.
The 4K Ultra HD combo ($49.98 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interviews, deleted scenes, theatrical trailer and TV spot, and more. To classify. **
“ALFRED HITCHCOCK SPECIAL EDITIONS” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): A Pair of Works by Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980), the Acclaimed “Master of Suspense”: The 1931 Comedy Rich and weird (also published as East of Shanghai), adapted from the novel Dale Collins by Hitchcock and his wife Alma Reville, starring Henry Kendall and Joan Barry; and 1932 number seventeen (also published as Number 17), adapted from the play by Joseph Jefferson Farjeon by Hitchcock and Reville, starring Leon M. Lion and Anne Gray. Each film is available on DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), each offering bonus material including audio commentary.
AMERICAN UNDERDOG (LionsGate): Zachary Levi portrays the NFL superstar quarterback in this faith-based, fact-based, PG-rated adaptation of Warner’s best-selling memoir All things possiblewith Anna Paquin as Warner’s Supporting Wife and Dennis Quaid as Coach Dick Vermeil, starring Adam Baldwin, Bruce McGill, Ser’Darius Blain and Beau Hart (as young Kurt), available on DVD (29 $.96 retail), DVD/Blu-ray combo ($39.99 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($39.99 retail), each offering bonus features including audio commentary, behind-the-scenes features , deleted scenes, etc.
DEADLY GAMES (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A special Blu-ray edition ($39.95 retail) of writer/director Scott Mansfield’s 1982 feature debut (originally filmed in 1980 as who fell asleep and also published as The Eliminator), starring Jo Ann Harris as a young woman who survives a violent assault and tries to track down the culprit while the bodies pile up. An uneven but not uninteresting combination of slasher and thriller film, with an eclectic cast including Steve Railsback, Sam Groom, Colleen Camp, June Lockhart and Dick Butkus. Bonus features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, collectible booklet, image gallery, and more. To classify. **
JULIA (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Julie Cohen and Betsy West produced and co-directed this heartwarming, well-rendered documentary feature based on executive producer Bob Spitz’s nonfiction bestseller Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child, which celebrates the life and career of best-selling author and Emmy-winning television host Julia Child (1912-2004), how she revolutionized gourmet cooking, and her relationship with her husband Paul. Rachel Portman contributes an animated score and there’s plenty of mouth-watering fare on display, available on DVD ($25.99 retail). Rated PG-13. ***
MASTER OF THE WORLD (Vinegar Syndrome): a limited-edition Blu-ray ($39.98 retail) of writer/editor/director Alberto Cavallone’s penultimate feature (originally titled Il padrone del mondo), a fantasy from 1983 – clearly “inspired” by the novel by Jean-Jacques Annaud fire quest (1982) — set in the early days of mankind, when primitive tribes go to war, starring Sven Kruger (in his feature debut) as a young warrior determined to lead his people. Bonus features include a retrospective featurette and interview, theatrical trailer, and more.
MY STEPMOM IS AN ALIEN (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): The best thing that can be said about director Richard Benjamin’s 1988 explicit comedy is that it’s not as bad as it could have been. to be, with the seductive Kim Basinger (in the title role) displaying her comic abilities as she woos astrophysicist Dan Aykroyd, much to the dismay of her daughter (a seductive Alyson Hannigan). It was heavily hyped as a big Christmas box office attraction, but it didn’t quite end that way. Jon Lovitz, Seth Green, Joseph Maher, Earl Boen, Juliette Lewis (in her feature debut) and Harry Shearer (as the voice of Carl Sagan) also appear. Bonus features include audio commentary, retrospective interview with Benjamin, original trailer, and more. Rated PG-13. **
THE PILOT (Well Go USA Entertainment): Writer/director Renat Davletyarov’s fact-based World War II saga (originally titled Letchik and also published as The Pilot: A Battle for Survival) stars Pyotr Fyodorov as a Soviet pilot shot down behind enemy lines, battling the elements and escaping German forces as he attempts to return to his unit. The DVD ($19.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail) include both original Russian (with English subtitles) and English dubbed audio options.
PRESIDENT (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): Director Camilla Nielsson’s award-winning feature documentary (originally titled President) follows idealistic lawyer and activist Nelson Chamisa’s presidential campaign in Zimbabwe in 2018, the controversial outcome of which was seen by many as a quintessential example of political corruption. In English and Shona with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail).
PRINCESS TAM TAM/ZOU-ZOU (Kino Classics): Unable to find suitable big-screen opportunities here in America, legendary actress and singer Josephine Baker (1906-’75) traveled overseas to Europe where she became a sensation, topping poster of this pair of French feature films: Princess Tam Tam (1935), starring Albert Prejain and directed by Edmond T. Greville; and Zou-Zou (1934), with Jean Gabin, directed by Marc Allegret, and based on the novel by G. Abatino. In French with English subtitles, available on Blu-ray ($29.95 retail), packed with bonus features including three documentary shorts about Baker, the 1928 short The Folies-Bergere firefighterin which she appears, and more.
PRIVILEGE (Code Red/Kino Lorber): The Blu-ray arc ($29.95 retail) of director Peter Watkins’ 1967 feature debut, starring newcomer Paul Jones (of chart-topping UK band Manfred Mann) as a rock superstar entangled in political intrigue in a futuristic, totalitarian England, with model Jean Shrimpton (in his feature debut) as his love interest. Interesting but extremely uneven, this one enjoys a small cult following. Bonus features including audio commentary, theatrical teaser and trailer. **
SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The “Troubles” of Northern Ireland are dramatically brought to life in director Michael Anderson’s bold 1959 adaptation of Rearden Conner’s bestselling novel, set in 1921 Dublin, with Don Murray, an idealistic medical student embroiled in the growing conflict between the Irish Republican Army – represented by the late Professor James Cagney (at his best) – and the occupying British forces, known as the “Black and Tans”. The serious Murray is somewhat struggling with a basic role, but a tasty cast includes Glynis Johns, Dana Wynter, Michael Redgrave, Sybil Thorndike, Cyril Cusack, Ray McAnally, Donal Donnelly, Harry H. Corbett, Niall MacGinnis, William Hartnell and Richard Harris (in a leading on-screen role). The DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) include a retrospective interview with Murray and a theatrical trailer. ***
BURSTS (LionsGate): Luis Prieto produced and directed this R-rated suspense thriller starring Cameron Monaghan as a divorced and vulnerable millionaire whose passionate affair with seductive Lilly Krug turns into a battle for survival when she reveals her ulterior motives – and dangerously psychotic ones –. John Malkovich (also producer) and Frank Grillo (also executive producer) add star power to procedurals, available on DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($21.99 retail), each offering bonus features .
SLEEP (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A limited edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of the first feature (originally titled Schlaf) by co-writer/director Michael Venus, starring Gro Swantje Kohlhof as a young woman follows in the footsteps of her mother (Sandra Huller), who suffered a nervous breakdown after visiting the village of Stainbach, a market town apparently idyllic haunted by the secrets of the past. In German with English subtitles, bonus features include audio commentary, a collectible booklet and mini-poster, featurettes and interviews, deleted scenes, trailer, and more.
VENOM: LET IT BE CARNAGE (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment): Producer/co-writer Tom Hardy returns as the titular superhero in this PG-13 rated fantasy sequel to the 2018 blockbuster, directed by Andy Serkis and based on the popular Marvel Comics character, this time is pitted against Carnage, the murder-turned-symbiote of Woody Harrelson. Michelle Williams and Reid Scott also recalled the first film, available on DVD ($30.99 retail), Blu-ray ($38.99 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($45.99 retail), each filled with bonuses.
A WALK IN HIS SHOES (IndiePix Films): Director/cinematographer Selina Garcia’s feature-length documentary debut follows author and personal trainer Metra Lundy as she traces the nearly 700-mile journey Harriet Tubman undertook to 19th century Underground Railroad eraand century, sharing its experiences and stories with authors, historians and teachers along the way. Undeniably well-meaning on all fronts, but often tattered and sketchy. There’s too much talking and not enough walking, although some of the interviews are quite interesting. The DVD retails for $24.95. **
(Copyright 2022, Mark Burger)