PICK OF THE WEEK
THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (The Criterion Collection): Terry Gilliam envisioned this 1988 fantasy epic as his magnum opus, but it didn’t quite out that way. Production problems, a skyrocketing budget, and a regime change at Columbia Pictures dealt it a triple-whammy, yet there’s much to enjoy and savor in Gilliam’s customarily self-indulgent spectacle. Like his previous (and superior) Brazil (1985), Munchausen achieved cult status almost immediately.
This grand-scale flight of fancy stars John Neville as the title character, the fearless and boastful Baron Munchausen, who recounts his heroic accomplishments with immodest and irresistible relish, backed by an eclectic cast including the ethereal Uma Thurman as Venus, the immortal Oliver Reed as the glowering Vulcan, a typically animated Robin Williams (pseudonymously billed as “Ray D. Toto”) as the Moon King, Gilliam’s fellow Monty Python alumnus Eric Idle, Sarah Polley, Valentina Cortese, Jonathan Pryce, Alison Steadman, co-screenwriter Charles McKeown, Bill Paterson, and (briefly) Sting.
The episodic structure and bumpy narrative sometimes hamper the film’s overall momentum, but its sense of imagination and playfulness go a long, long way. Despite mixed reviews, the film earned four (deserved) Oscar nominations: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Costume Design, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects. The Adventures of Baron Munchausen may not be the epic Gilliam envisioned, but it is undoubtedly the work of a uniquely gifted visionary. Like Munchausen himself, Gilliam is always reaching for the dream – and sometimes he does.
Both the special-edition Blu-ray ($39.95 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($49.95 retail) include audio commentary, behind-the-scenes documentary, deleted scenes, Gilliam’s 1974 short film Miracle of Flight, and more. Rated PG. ***
ALMA’S RAINBOW (Milestone Film & Video/Kino Lorber): A two-disc special-edition of writer/producer/director Ayoka Chenzira’s award-winning 1994 feature debut, a coming-of-age parable for the titular teenager (Victoria Gabriella Pratt), who is torn between the rules established by her domineering mother (Kim Weston-Moran) and the free-spirited sensibilities of her aunt (Mizan Nunes), available on DVD ($29.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($39.95 retail), each replete with bonus features.
CLOVERFIELD (Paramount Home Entertainment): A limited-edition, 15th-anniversary 4K Ultra HD combo ($30.99 retail) of the award-winning sci-fi blowout directed by Matt Reeves, in which New York City becomes the target of an alien invasion, featuring an ensemble cast including Lizzy Caplan, Jessica Miller, Odette Yustman, Mike Vogel and T.J. Miller (in his feature debut). Well-made and reasonably engrossing, but also repetitious and ambiguous. Bonus features include audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted scenes, alternate endings, and more. Rated PG-13. **
FATHER OF THE BRIDE (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Executive producer Andy Garcia follows in the footsteps of Spencer Tracy and Steve Martin in the latest, PG-13-rated adaptation of Edward Streeter’s 1949 novel in which he contends with daughter Adria Arjona’s impending marriage to Diego Boneta while surreptitiously planning his divorce from wife Gloria Estefan. This bypassed theatrical release and premiered on HBO Max and is now available on DVD ($19.99 retail).
THE GIRL ON A MOTORCYCLE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): The sight of Marianne Faithful wearing a skin-tight black leather outfit certainly sent pulses racing in Jack Cardiff’s stylish 1969 adaptation of the Andre Pieyre de Mandiargues novel La Motocyclette, in which she places a sexy housewife who hops aboard her Harley Davidson for an illicit rendezvous with paramour Alain Delon. Very much steeped in the “swinging ‘60s” groove, this was one of the first films to receive an X rating (!) but seems rather tame in retrospect, although Faithfull and Delon certainly make a sexy duo. The Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes audio commentaries and theatrical trailer. **
HALLOWEEN ENDS (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment): Executive producer/writer/director (and UNCSA School of Filmmaking graduate) David Gordon Green completes his contemporary horror trilogy based on executive producer/composer John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 horror classic, with executive producer Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her signature “scream queen” role as Laurie Strode, once again tasked with eliminating her supernatural nemesis Michael Myers (again played by James Jude Courtney), with Andi Matichak and Will Patton also back for another round. Some ideas work better than others, but Green’s affection for the franchise is evident throughout, and his technical expertise sustains the suspense to its definitive (or so it would appear) denouement. The DVD ($19.98 retail), Blu-ray ($22.98 retail), and 4K Ultra HD combo ($33.99 retail) each boast such bonus features as audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, deleted and extended scenes, and more. Rated R. **½
A HAUNTED TURKISH BATHHOUSE (Mondo Macabro/CAV Distributing): The worldwide Blu-ray bow ($29.98 retail) of director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi’s 1975 shocker (originally titled Bakeneko Toruko furo) starring Naomi Tani as a young wife sold into servitude at a Tokyo bathhouse by her sadistic husband (Hideo Murato), only to return as an avenging spirit after she is brutally murdered. In Japanese with English subtitles, bonus features include audio commentary, trailers, and more.
HOUSE OF TERRORS (Mondo Macabro/CAV Distributing): Never released in the United States, this is the worldwide Blu-ray bow ($29.95 retail) of director Hajime Soto’s 1965 chiller (originally titled Kaidan semushi otoko) starring Yuko Kusunoki as a young widow who, after her husband dies in a mental hospital, inherits a spooky mansion – replete with hunchbacked servant (Akira Nishimura) – that is beset by supernatural forces. One of the very few Gothic horror films made in Japan, this may seem a bit vague to Western audiences unfamiliar with Japanese lore, but it’s certainly an interesting curio. In Japanese with English subtitles, bonus features include audio commentary, trailers, and more. **
MAD GOD (Shudder/RLJ Entertainment): Oscar-winning stop-motion animator and producer Phil Tippett makes his feature debut as writer/director of this award-winning stop-motion science-fiction saga is set in a post-apocalyptic, dystopian landscape during the last days of civilization. This was a labor of love for Tippett, who worked on the project on and off for three decades, available on DVD ($27.97 retail), Blu-ray ($28.96 retail), and limited-edition 4K Ultra HD Steelbook combo ($35.97 retail), each replete with bonus features.
MEMORIES OF MY FATHER (Cohen Media Group/Kino Lorber): Fernando Trueba directed this award-winning 2020 adaptation of Hector Abad Faciolince’s best-selling, semi-autobiographical novel (originally titled El olvido que seremos) – scripted by Trueba’s younger brother David -- detailing the life of his father, noted doctor and human rights activist Hector Abad Gomez (Javier Camara), who put his career and family in jeopardy as he battled corruption in 1970s Colombia. In Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail), each replete with bonus features.
“NIGHT GALLERY”: SEASON THREE (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): A two-disc Blu-ray collection ($49.95 retail) of all 18 episodes – plus bonus features -- from the 1972-’73 (and final) season of the award-winning NBC anthology series created and hosted by Rod Serling, featuring a star-studded line-up of guest stars including Sally Field, Vincent Price, Burgess Meredith, Chuck Connors, John Astin, Raymond Massey, Dean Stockwell, Geraldine Page, Susan Strasberg, Joanna Pettet, Mickey Rooney, Sandra Dee, Fernando Lamas, Cameron Mitchell, Gary Lockwood, Joan Van Ark, Leonard Nimoy (who also directed), and many others.
NOBODY’S FOOL (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Paul Newman gives one of his best performances – and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor – portraying a free-wheeling, small-town handyman forced to confront his past transgressions lest he be consumed by them, in screenwriter/director Robert Benton’s beautifully rendered, bittersweet 1994 adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel, with dazzling support from the immortal Jessica Tandy (in her final feature), Melanie Griffith, Dylan Walsh, Josef Sommer, Gene Saks, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Philip Bosco, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Jay Patterson, Margo Martindale, and an unbilled Bruce Willis. Benton also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. Both the Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($39.95 retail) include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated R. ***½
PROGRAMMED TO KILL (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Originally titled The Retaliator, this dullish, derivative 1987 sci-fi blow-out (clearly “inspired” by The Terminator) stars Sandahl Bergman as an international terrorist who is turned into a cyborg and – surprise, surprise – goes on a rampage, with ex-government agent Robert Ginty charged with pulling her plug. This troubled production went through two directors before producer Allan Holzman assumed the reins, but the end result is a mess. Look for a young Paul Walker in an early role as Ginty’s son. Both the DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), each featuring audio commentary, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated R. *
RAIN (VCI Entertainment/MVD Entertainment Group): A 90th-anniversary special-edition Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) of Lewis Milestone’s 1932 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham’s classic story “Miss Thompson,” set against the backdrop of a South Seas monsoon, starring Joan Crawford as a cynical prostitute and Walter Huston the minister bent on reforming her – with tragic results. Bonus features include the 76-minute version reissued in 1938, audio commentaries, original theatrical trailer, collectible booklet, and more.
SIN EATER (Indican Pictures): Screenwriter/producer/director Carmelo Chimera’s feature debut stars Jessie Nerud as a traumatized young woman who is tended by small-town sheriff Danny Bohnen (also an executive producer) and his minister father (Scott Moore) after a devastating car accident, but begins to suspect – correctly, as it turns out – that they have ulterior motives. This slow-burning but obvious shocker, clearly inspired by the works of Ari Aster (Hereditary), benefits immeasurably from Nerud’s strong performance, all the more so because her mouth is wired shut most of the time. Genre veteran Bill Moseley appears briefly in a cameo role. The DVD ($26.98 retail) includes audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurette, and more. **
(Copyright 2023, Mark Burger)