CHOICE OF THE WEEK
MASSACRE AT UP CENTRAL (Synapse Films/MVD Entertainment Group): Dutch filmmaker Renee Daalder (1944-2019) made her English language debut with this intriguing and subversive sociological treatise from 1976 in the guise of an exploitation film.
A trio of tough teenagers rule Central High School, berate and bully their classmates with vicious abandon. New student David (Derrel Maury) is disgusted by their behavior and encourages the students to fight back, much to the annoyance of his best friend Mark (Andrew Stevens). Inevitably, David’s rebellion puts him in danger and he is thus permanently injured.
He then methodically plots the demise of his tormentors, but once they’re taken down, he realizes that the students he thought he was helping are completely out of control, and if anything worse than those who terrorized them. The cycle of violence continues and expands, forcing David to take even more drastic measures.
The “massacre”, such as it is, is a series of so-called “accidents”. It didn’t necessarily endear the movie to drive-in/grindhouse viewers who were expecting a full-scale slasher movie bloodbath, but it surprised those who were expecting it as well – including Roger. Ebert, who rated it favorably on Previews (guess how yours truly first heard about it?).
The film may be preachy, and it’s no doubt ragged around the edges, but it remains believable and effective, and the talented young cast also includes Robert Carradine, Kimberly Beck, Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith, Steve Bond (later from general hospital), and Lani O’Grady (of eight is enough celebrity),
Blu-ray Special Edition ($34.95 retail) includes the retrospective documentary Hell in the Halls: Behind the Scenes of “Massacre at Central High” retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer, and more. Rated R. **½
VICTORY LIGHT (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Arthur Kennedy earned five Oscar nominations in the 1950s — with no wins — and he got his single for Best Actor portraying an embittered, blind World War II veteran struggling to come to terms with his infirmity and his racial prejudice in director Mark Robson’s 1951 adaptation of Baynard Kendrick’s 1945 novel Curfew. Dated and even hokey in many ways, but well-meaning and well-acted by a cast including James Edwards, Peggy Dow, Julie Adams, Will Geer, Jim Backus, Richard Egan, Murray Hamilton and Rock Hudson, this also received a nomination for the Oscars for Best Sound Recording, available on Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), packed with audio commentary and trailers. ***
CANADIAN BACON (MVD Entertainment Group): The “MVD Rewind Collection” Blu-ray arc ($19.98 retail) of writer/director Michael Moore’s only narrative feature to date, a sparse 1995 comedy in which the U.S. President by Alan Alda declares war on Canada to improve his public approval rating. No wonder Moore rushed into documentaries, which is undeniably his specialty. A poor farce that wastes the talents of cinematographer Haskell Wexler (!) and a star-studded cast including John Candy (to whom the film is dedicated), Rhea Perlman, Rip Torn, Kevin Pollak, Steven Wright, Jim Belushi, Bill Nunn, GD Spradlin, Kevin J. O’Connor, Brad Sullivan, Wallace Shawn and an unbilled Dan Aykroyd. Look for Moore in a cameo. Rated PG. *½
“CHILD’S PLAY COMBINED 4K ULTRA HD COLLECTOR’S EDITIONS” (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): An explicit collection of the first three Child’s play films, each featuring the voice of Brad Dourif as the possessed “Good Guy” doll now available in 4K Ultra HD Combos, each offering a host of bonus features (including audio commentary, retrospective featurettes and interviews, objects collection, etc.): Child’s play (1988) with Catherine Hicks, Chris Sarandon and newcomer Alex Vincent; child’s play 2 (1990), which sees Vincent reprise his role; and child’s play 3 (1991), in which Justin Whalin took on the role of Vincent. Every movie is rated R – for obvious reasons.
THE COP (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Originally released as A countdirector/co-writer Yves Boisset’s R-rated 1970 adaptation of Pierre Lesou’s novel The death of a count stars Michel Bouquet as a veteran police inspector who wages war against a French narcotics syndicate after the murder of his partner, with Françoise Fabian, Michel Constantin, Bernard Fresson, Gianni Garko, Rufus and Adolfo Celi caught in the middle lights. In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), each featuring audio commentary and a theatrical trailer.
“THE ELI ROTH HORROR STORY”: SEASON 3 (AMC Studios/RLJ Entertainment): The title says it all as award-winning filmmaker/genre fan/executive producer Eli Roth explores horror and fantasy with an array of star-studded guests – including Jamie Lee Curtis, Cate Blanchett, Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Rob Zombie, Geena Davis, Joe Dante, Leonard Maltin and more – in all six episodes of the 2021 (and final) season of the award-winning AMC documentary series, available on DVD and Blu-ray (34 each $.97 retail), both offering bonuses.
GALLAN INDIES (Distrib Films/Icarus Films Home Video): Philippe Beziat directed this immersive and almost too detailed 2020 documentary feature (originally titled gallant indies) explores Opéra Bastille’s modern interpretation of Rameau’s classic opera The gallant Indies from conception to rehearsal to performance. Visually stunning and a must-have for music lovers. In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($26.98 retail). ***
“LONDON KILLS”: SERIES 3 (Acorn TV/RLJ Entertainment): Executive producer Paul Marquess created this crime series featuring the efforts of an elite police unit led by Hugo Speer and Sharon Speer as they tackle the toughest cases. tough from the titular city, with Bailey Patrick and Tori Allen-Martin as fellow detectives. All five feature films from the 2022 season — plus the behind-the-scenes featurette — are available on DVD ($39.99 retail).
“MAGNUM PI”: THE FOURTH SEASON (CBS Home Entertainment/Paramount Home Entertainment): Jay Hernandez steps into Tom Selleck’s shoes as a Hawaii-based private detective, in all 20 episodes of the 2021-22 season of CBS’ award-winning remake/reboot of the popular ’80s Crime series updated to the present day, starring Magnum an Afghanistan veteran, backed by Perdita Weeks (as Higgins), Stephen Hill and Zachary Knighton. The series is heading to NBC for at least two more seasons, and the five-disc DVD collection ($41.99 retail) includes bonus features.
CERTAIN GIRLS (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): Director Michael Hoffman’s 1988 mid-level romantic comedy, made under the auspices of executive producer Robert Redford, stars Patrick Dempsey as Jennifer Connelly’s goofy beau, who visits his family at the Quebec for the Christmas holidays and get carried away in their eccentricities. Despite a zealous cast including Sheila Kelley (in her feature debut), Ashley Greenfield (in her feature debut), Andre Gregory, Florinda Bolkan and Lila Kedrova, it tries too hard to be quirky and ends in a dud. The Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) includes audio commentary, a retrospective featurette, and a theatrical trailer. Rated R. *½
SNIPER: THE WHITE RAVEN (Well Go USA Entertainment): The fact-based, R-rated action-thriller from writer/director Marian Bushan stars Aldoshyn Pavlo as a former physics teacher who swears revenge on Russian soldiers who murdered his family in the Donbass region of Ukraine, training as a sniper to achieve his goal. In Russian and Ukrainian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
SPITFIRE ABOVE BERLIN (Shout! Studios/Shout! Factory): Callum Burn edited, produced, co-wrote, directed and co-starred in this factual World War II saga detailing the efforts of intrepid officer Kris Saddler to carry out a perilous mission Berlin in an unarmed Spitfire to collect photographic evidence before an Allied attack on Berlin in August 1944, available on DVD ($19.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.98 retail), each with a audio commentary and a theatrical trailer.
TERRORIST SQUAD (Code Red/Kino Lorber): Peter Maris produced and directed this low-budget 1987 shoot-’em-up filmed on location in Kokomo, IN, in which Libyan terrorists whose attempt to blow up a nuclear power plant fails, after which they take a group of high school students hostage, starring Chuck Connors as the local police chief, available on Blu-ray ($29.95 retail), loaded with bonus features.
WAITING: THE VAN DUREN STORY (MVD Entertainment Group): In their first feature-length documentary in 2018, writer/producer Greg Carey and writer/producer Wade Jackson co-directed this chronicle of Memphis musician Van Duren (formerly of Big Star), who rubbed shoulders with solo stardom in the late 1970s before sinking into undeserved obscurity remembered only by die-hard fans. The filmmakers are actually part of his effort to get his music rights back and revive his career in the present day. A bit tattered at first, it improves dramatically in the third act and offers an engaging and upbeat look at Van Duren’s talent and stamina, while shedding light on the Memphis music scene of yesterday and today. available today on DVD ($19.95 retail), packed with behind-the-scenes footage and bonus interviews. ***
WE ARE GODS (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): Jason Sossberg and cinematographer David Aldarado wrote, produced and co-directed this feature-length documentary chronicling the life and career of Stewart Brand, counterculture icon, environmental activist, member of Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters, and best-selling author Whole Earth Catalog. Engaging and relevant but stalled in the second half, available on DVD ($19.95 retail). **½
THE WOLF AND THE LION (Breaking Glass Pictures): When her grandfather dies, aspiring concert pianist Molly Kunz moves to her remote cabin in the mountains, where she comes to care for a wolf cub and a lion cub, in the producer/director/screenwriter Gilles de Maistre. loosely factual, award-winning, family-friendly melodrama (originally titled The wolf and the lion). Andrew Simpson’s exemplary animal training and beautiful locations are somewhat hampered by a cheesy, contrived storyline, available on DVD ($24.99 retail), filled with bonus features. **
(Copyright 2022, Mark Burger)