CHOICE OF THE WEEK
THE FLIGHT OF THE PHOENIX (The Criterion Collection): Producer/director Robert Aldrich’s sprawling 1965 adaptation of the best-selling novel was destined to be a big hit. It wasn’t, but it’s one of Aldrich’s most enduring efforts and a moving portrayal of courage in the face of impossible odds – a theme not uncommon in the Aldrich’s work (The dirty dozen, the longest yard).
A cargo plane crashes in the Sahara desert following a devastating sandstorm, and the survivors must deal with heat, exhaustion, injuries, lack of water, deadly Arab nomads and their increasingly frayed temperaments. The decision is made to salvage parts of the plane to build a smaller plane – the titular “Phoenix” – in a last ditch effort to escape.
James Stewart is top-notch as pilot Frank Towns, giving an unusually tough ride reminiscent of his work in Anthony Mann’s westerns a decade before, backed by a stellar ensemble cast: Richard Attenborough, Peter Finch, Hardy Kruger , Ernest Borgnine, Dan Duryea, George Kennedy, Ian Bannen, Christian Marquand and Ronald Fraser. Frank DeVol’s score and Joseph Biroc’s cinematography are also terrific. The film earned Oscar nominations for Best Editing and, surprisingly, Bannen for Best Supporting Actor. It’s not a bad performance, but not particularly showy.
Admittedly, the film sags somewhat in the middle, and the inclusion of the Connie Francis song “Senza Fine”, which only serves to excuse a meaningless cameo from Barrie Chase (the only female cast) is useless to say the least. The last thing this movie needs is a theme song, let alone a Connie Francis song. However, The Flight of the Phoenix is an admittedly imperfect but irresistible classic.
The Blu-ray Special Edition ($39.95 retail) includes a retrospective conversation and interview, theatrical trailer and more. ***½
616 WILFORD WAY (Indican Pictures): Producer/screenwriter Mark S. Allen and editor/screenwriter Dante Yore co-directed this shaky clash in which recently widowed John Littlefield and his lovely daughters (Alyson Gorske and gorgeous Jessica Chancellor) move into a new home in an expensive California neighborhood and become convinced it’s haunted. Skillfully done but poorly paced, and entirely sabotaged by a late-stage plot twist that defies belief, followed by another that doesn’t help. Eric Roberts and his real-life wife Eliza bring humor to their roles as local mayor and his wife. The DVD sells for $24.95. *½
CAUTION: CHILDREN PLAY (Vinegar Syndrome): Former actor-turned-sound-mixer Mik Cribben made his debut as an editor/director in this low-budget, R-rated 1989 clash in which small-town kids fall under the influence of a teenage psychopath with cannibalistic tendencies (Danny McClaughlin in his only feature), leading – quite predictably – to mayhem and murder. The Blu-ray Special Edition ($39.98 retail) includes audio commentary, a retrospective documentary and more.
THE GOOD ONES (Indican Pictures): Stupid campers fall prey to cackling inbred cannibals in writer/producer/editor/director Lance Parkin’s uninspired debut feature, essentially a Charles Kaufman remake Mothers’ Day (1980). More schlock than shock, and a waste of time for all but the most hardcore of the genre, available on DVD ($24.99 retail). ½
COMING 2 AMERICA (Amazon Studios/Paramount Home Entertainment): Eddie Murphy produced and starred in this belated sequel to the hit 1988 comedy, in which he reprises his role as Zamunda’s Prince Akeem, who returns to New York to reunite with his bastard son ( Jermaine Fowler), who will inherit his crown and his kingdom. Arsenio Hall, James Earl Jones, Shari Headley, John Amos, Vanessa Bell Calloway and Louie Anderson (in his latest feature) also encore, joined by Wesley Snipes, Tracy Morgan and Leslie Jones, plus a host of cameo appearances (Morgan Freeman, Trevor Noah, Gladys Knight, En Vogue, Colin Jost, et al). It’s still fun to see Murphy and Hall in multiple roles, but like the first film, the main storyline and characters are bland, and the colorful pageantry tends to interrupt the momentum and overwhelm the comedy. Both DVD ($13.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($17.99 retail) include audio commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette. Rated PG-13. **
INVINCIBLE (LionsGate): Writer/producer/director Daniel Zirilli’s sci-fi action stars writer/composer Johnny Strong as a brooding security guard who tracks down escaped soldier Marko Zaror in Thailand after he undergone experimental surgery that gives him super-strength. When Strong is brutally beaten by Zaror, he undergoes the same procedure himself. Michael Paré and Sally Kirkland (in arguably her worst role) are wasted in this dismal counterfeit of universal soldier (1992) which is heavy on padding and light on creativity and ingenuity, available on DVD ($19.98 retail). ½
CRAZY (Vinegar Syndrome): A limited-edition 4K Ultra HD combo ($49.98 retail) of writer/director Joe Giannone’s only feature, a low-budget 1981 slasher opus detailing the bloodthirsty antics of a murderous urban legend in series called “Madman Marz” (played by Paul Ehlers in his first feature film) as he devastates an isolated summer camp. Sound familiar? Hardly the worst of the genre (which, admittedly, isn’t saying much), and die-hard devotees have made it a cult favorite. A host of bonus features includes audio commentary, a retrospective documentary, featurettes and interviews, an original trailer and more. Rated R. *½
MAN ON THE MOON (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): A special Blu-ray edition ($29.95 retail) of director Milos Forman’s award-winning 1999 biographical comedy/drama chronicling the enigmatic life and career of comedian Andy Kaufman, starkly acted by Jim Carrey (in one of his best performances). Entertaining and intriguing, but inevitably episodic and Kaufman tends to remain as mysterious at the end as at the beginning. A fine cast includes Courtney Love, Paul Giamatti and producer Danny DeVito, as well as numerous cameo appearances. Bonus features include audio commentary, behind-the-scenes featurettes, REM music videos (“Man on the Moon” and “The Great Beyond”), and a theatrical trailer. To classify. ***
MONKEY KUNG FU (88 Films/MVD Entertainment Group): Mar Lo wrote and directed this R-rated 1979 martial arts extravaganza (originally titled Chu long ma liu and also published as death blow and drunk monkey) stars Siu-Tung Ching as an escaped convict in possession of a sacred ornament whose quest to determine its purpose is fraught with peril. The Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes original Cantonese (with English subtitles) and English audio options, audio commentary, original trailer, and more.
ON THE 3DR DAYTIME (Shudder/Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): Writer/editor/director Daniel de la Vega’s Argentinian clash (originally titled Al Tercer Dia) stars Mariana Anghileri as a young mother who suffers from amnesia after a car accident and is unable to locate her missing son, until she begins having hallucinations and visions that lead her to a mysterious religious figure who may hold the key to his disappearance. The DVD ($19.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($22.98 retail) include the English dubbed version.
“PARAMOUNT 4K ULTRA HD HANDSETS” (Paramount Home Entertainment): The latest Paramount titles to get the “4K treatment”: The 25and-anniversary edition of John Carpenter’s 1997 R-rated sci-fi explosion Escape from LA ($19.99 retail), which sees Kurt Russell (also writer/producer) reprise his iconic role as Snake Plissken in this belated 1981 sequel Escape from New York; and the limited edition 15and-anniversary edition of the 2007 R-rated political thriller Shooter ($30.99 retail), based on the best-selling novel by Stephen Hunter, starring Mark Wahlberg and Danny Glover, and featuring bonus features including deleted scenes and behind-the-scenes featurettes.
PINOCCHIO: A TRUE STORY (LionsGate): Pauly Shore provides the voice of the beloved puppet in this family-friendly, PG-rated animated feature, written, produced and directed by Vasily Rovenskly, detailing the main character’s misadventures when he leaves Geppetto (voiced by Sponge Bob SquarePants veteran Tom Kenny) to join the circus, with Jon Heder providing the voice of the wise horse of Pinocchio and his sidekick Tybalt, available on DVD ($19.98 retail).
PROSECUTION (LionsGate): Director/co-writer Brian Skiba’s R-rated shoot-’em-up duos stars Emile Hirsch as a hacker forced to team up with New York City cop Jake Manley in a desperate effort to save the kidnapped wife of the first of a drug cartel, starring John Cusack, William Katt, Elizabeth Ludlow and producer/co-writer Andrew Stevens caught in the crossfire, available on DVD ($19.98 retail ) and Blu-ray ($21.99 retail), each with a behind-the-scenes featurette and trailer.
“RICK & MORTY”: SEASONS 1-5 (Adult Swim/Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): The misadventures of mad scientist Rick and shy grandson Morty (both voiced by Justin Roiland) continue in all 51 episodes — plus a host of bonus features — from the 2013-2021 seasons from the Emmy Award-winning Adult Swim animated fantasy series created by executive producers Dan Harmon and Roiland, available in this Explicit DVD Collection ($79.99 retail) and Blu-ray Collection ($89.98 retail). detail).
ROYALTY-FREE: THE MUSIC OF KEVIN MacLEOD (First Run Features): Producer/director/cinematographer Ryan Camarda’s award-winning feature documentary chronicles the life and career of prolific Wisconsin-born digital composer Kevin MacLeod, whose expertise in synthesizer composition made him an international sensation. Like its subject matter, it’s quirky and jovial, though it loses focus and gets repetitive in the later stages, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), packed full of bonus features, including audio commentary. **½
SISTER, SISTER (Vinegar Syndrome): A limited-edition Blu-ray ($39.98 retail) of writer Bill Condon’s 1987 feature debut, a Modern Southern Gothic set in Louisiana, starring Jennifer Jason Leigh and Judith Ivey (both top notch) as sisters whose tenuous grip on reality comes undone with the arrival of handsome young congressional aide Eric Stoltz when he romances Leigh. Drenched in atmosphere and ambience, with a bit of sleek erotica thrown in for good measure, this suffered post-production tweaking that further muddied the melodramatic narrative. Still, it has its moments, Dennis Lipscomb is a good Ivey-loving local lawyer, and the cast includes Anne Pitoniak, Natalija Nogulich and Bobby “Boris” Pickett (of “Monster Mash” fame). Bonus features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, collectible booklet, trailer, and more. To classify. **
(Copyright 2022, Mark Burger)