video vault

video vault


Narrow Margin

NARROW MARGIN (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Remakes that equal, much less surpass, the original films are rare indeed – but Peter Hyams's 1990 take on Richard Fleischer's classic 1952 film noir is often overlooked. It may not be as good (and was not a hit), but it delivers solid entertainment on its own.

First and foremost: Gene Hackman in a star turn as an assistant D.A. charged with locating murder witness Anne Archer. He does, and after a violent – but undeniably exciting – mountain chase, they board a train hurtling across the Canadian wilderness. This being the days before cell-phones or the Internet, they have no way to contact the authorities.

Complicating things considerably are sleek killers-for-hire James B. Sikking and Nigel Bennett, who are also aboard and know what Hackman looks like (but not Archer). Hackman and Sikking's verbal sparring crackles with sardonic tension, further enhancing the suspense, and a solid cast includes M. Emmet Walsh, J.T. Walsh, Susan Hogan, J.A. Preston, and an unbilled Harris Yulin.

One-man band Hyams scripted, directed, and served as his own cinematographer, while Bruce Broughton provides a moody, menacing score that, like the film itself, deserved more attention. (Truth in disclosure: Were Gene Hackman not my favorite actor, I wouldn't like this as much, but I'd probably still like it.)

 The special-edition Blu-ray ($29.99 retail) includes audio commentaries, featurette, trailers, and retrospective interview. Rated R. ***½ 




BITTER YEARS (TLA Releasing): Writer/director Adrian Adriatico's 2019 biographical drama (originally titled Gli anni amari) chronicles the brief, complex, emotionally turbulent life of Mario Mieli (1952-'83), one of the founders of the Italian Homosexual Liberation Movement and a life-long proponent of gay rights, as portrayed by Nicola De Benedetto (in his feature debut). In Italian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.99 retail).


BLOOD TIDE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A belated – and none-too-successful – entry in the Jaws sweepstakes,this 1982 shocker (filmed in 1980), which marked the feature debut of director/co-screenwriter Richard Jefferies, sees an ancient sea monster terrorizing the superstitious denizens of a Greek island. What, you may ask, are James Earl Jones, Jose Ferrer, and Lila Kedrova doing here? Getting paid, visiting Greece, and adding a modicum of misplaced class, while the attractive supporting cast includes Deborah Shelton, Mary Louise Weller, Lydia Cornell, and Martin Kove. The monster effects are laughable but the scenery's nice, and this does have its followers. The collector's-edition (!) Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) includes audio commentary, retrospective interview, collectible booklet, and more. Rated R. *½ 


CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY  (Kino Lorber): Based on economist Thomas Piketty's non-fiction best-seller, writer/director Justin Pemberton's feature documentary explores contemporary society as defined by wealth, featuring interviews with historians and financial experts (including Piketty himself), available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail), each replete with bonus features including interviews, theatrical trailer, and more.


“CAROLE LOMBARD COLLECTION I” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The title tells all in this three-disc Blu-ray collection ($49.95 retail) of vintage, pre-Code features showcasing the talents of actress Carole Lombard (1908-'42): Fast and Loose (1930) co-starring Miriam Hopkins and Frank Morgan, based on the play The Best People; Man of the World (1931) opposite William Powell, who became her first husband; and No Man of Her Own (1932), the only film teaming her and future husband Clark Gable. Bonus features include audio commentaries and trailers.


CODE OF THE FREAKS (Kino Lorber): Producer/director Salome Chasnoff's feature documentary details how disabled characters have been portrayed in film over the years, featuring interviews with advocates, observers, and actual disabled performers, who (not surprisingly) offer the most cogent perspectives. The topic is seemingly long overdue for examination, but this rambling effort never quite takes full advantage of the opportunity despite its good intentions. The DVD ($19.95 retail) includes additional interviews. **½ 


“FILM NOIR: THE DARK SIDE OF CINEMA VI” (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The latest installment of the self-explanatory three-disc Blu-ray selection ($49.95 retail) of vintage crime dramas, replete with bonus features including audio commentaries: Calcutta (1947), directed by John Farrow, starring Alan Ladd, Gail Russell, and William Bendix; 1948's An Act of Murder (also released as Live Today for Tomorrow and I Stand Accused), based on an Ernst Lothar novel, starring Fredric March and real-life wife Florence Eldridge; and Six Bridges to Cross (1955), based on the infamous Brink's robbery in Boston, starring Tony Curtis, Julie Adams, George Nader, and Sal Mineo (in his screen debut). 


HAVEN (MVD Entertainment Group): Frank E. Flowers made his feature debut as writer/director of this R-rated 2004 thriller following a disparate group of characters whose lives intersect – with unforeseen consequences – in the Cayman Islands on a fateful Friday the 13th, with an all-star ensemble including Orlando Bloom (also an executive producer), Bill Paxton, Zoe Saldana, Agnes Bruckner, Joy Bryant, Stephen Dillane, Anthony Mackie, Bobby Cannavale, and Robert Wisdom. Both the “MVD Rewind” DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail) include featurette and theatrical trailer.


HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD (Well Go USA Entertainment): Writer/producer/director Bora Kim's award-winning debut feature (originally titled Beol-sae) is set in bustling Seoul, circa 1994, with Ji-hu Park as an aimless, abused teenager seeking love and companionship in this coming-of-age parable. In Korean with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.98 retail).


INFERNO OF TORTURE (Arrow Academy/MVD Entertainment Group): A collector's-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of writer/director Teruo Ishii's controversial 1969 psycho-sexual thriller (originally titled Tokugawa irezumi-shi: Seme jigoku) starring Yumika Katayama as an impoverished young woman who endures the titular ordeal when sold into servitude at a Tokyo brothel. In Japanese with English subtitles, bonus features include audio commentary, theatrical trailer, and more.


MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Historical accuracy takes a backseat to period pageantry in this long-winded, overblown, but undeniably entertaining melodrama starring Vanessa Redgrave in the title role and Glenda Jackson as her cousin and nemesis, Elizabeth I. The star-studded cast includes Patrick McGoohan, Trevor Howard, Nigel Davenport, Timothy Dalton, Daniel Massey, Ian Holm, and Andrew Keir. The penultimate film of producer Hal B. Wallis, this earned Academy Award nominations for Best Actress (Redgrave), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Sound, and Best Original Score (John Barry). The special-edition Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes audio commentaries and theatrical trailer. Rated PG-13. ***


“NCIS”: THE SEVENTEENTH SEASON (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Mark Harmon and his crack team from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are back in action in all 20 episodes from the 2019-'20 season of the award-winning, long-running  CBS mystery series, which has spawned a veritable spate of spin-offs in its wake, now available on DVD ($55.98 retail) – replete with special features.


NOTHING STAYS THE SAME: THE STORY OF THE SAXON PUB (MVD Visual/MVD Entertainment Group: Filmmaker Jeff Sandmann's award-winning feature documentary debut takes an affectionate, wistful look at the Saxon Pub, one of the most popular music venues in Austin, TX, as it celebrates 30 years while trying to survive in the contemporary economic climate. Loose, laid-back, and a must for music mavens, available on DVD ($19.95 retail). ***


POSSESSION (MVD Entertainment Group): Joel Bergvall and Simon Sandquist co-directed this 2009 PG-13-rated remake of the 2002 Korean shocker Addicted, starring Sarah Michelle Gellar as a young wife whose world comes undone when her husband (Michael Landes) and brother-in-law (Lee Pace) are critically injured in a car accident, only to see the latter recover, claiming to be her husband. Filmed in 2007, the film languished on the shelf as a result of The Yari Group's financial collapse before premiering direct-to-video. Both the “MVD Rewind” DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($19.95 retail) include featurette, deleted and alternate scenes, theatrical trailer, and more.


SHANGHAI TRIAD (Film Movement Classics): Steeped in highly stylized period detail, Zhang Yimou's award-winning 1995 gangster saga (originally titled Yao a yao, yao dao wai po qiao), based on Li Xiao's novel Rules of a Clan, takes place in the '30s-era Chinese underworld and follows Wang Xiaoxiao (in his final feature to date), a naïve teenager who becomes transfixed with nightclub chanteuse and femme fatale Gong Li (at her most glamorous) – with inevitable consequences. A triumph of style over substance, with Lu Yue earning an Oscar nomination for Best Cinematography. In Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail), each boasting bonus features. Rated R. ***


THE SOUND BARRIER (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): David Lean produced and directed this impressive, absorbing 1952 drama (also released as Breaking the Sound Barrier) depicting the efforts of British aeronautical engineers and pilots to achieve supersonic flight. Ralph Richardson is excellent as the obsessively determined project supervisor, with Ann Todd (Lean's then-wife), Nigel Patrick, John Justin, Dinah Sheridan, and Denholm Elliott in support. Oscar winner for Best Sound Recording, with an additional nomination for Terrence Rattigan's original screenplay. Both the DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) include audio commentary and trailers. ***½ 


“TOM CLANCY'S JACK RYAN”: SEASON ONE (Paramount Home Entertainment): Executive producer John Krasinski steps into the shoes of Tom Clancy's eponymous (and fearless) CIA analyst, in all eight episodes from the 2019-'20 season of the award-winning Amazon Studios action series based on Clancy's character, with Wendell Pierce as Ryan's mentor James Greer and Abbie Cornish as Ryan's girlfriend, Cathy Mueller, joined this season by Noomi Rapace, Michael Kelly, Jordi Molla, and Cristina Umana, available on DVD ($25.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($33.99 retail).  


ZOMBIE FOR SALE (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A collector's-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) of director Lee Min-jae's feature debut (originally titled Gimyohan gajok), an irreverent horror spoof in which the greedy members of a dysfunctional family attempt to cash in when they discover an actual zombie (Jung Ga-ram) in their midst. In Korean with English subtitles, replete with bonus features including audio commentary, behind-the-scenes footage, making-of featurette, theatrical trailer, and more. 


(Copyright 2020, Mark Burger) 

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