CHOICE OF THE WEEK
THE RED STAR (Kino Lorber): Even those familiar with Argentina’s ties to Nazi Germany during World War II may not know Laila Samana, the lead character in co-writer/director Gabriel Lichtmann’s intriguing and inventive film , originally titled La estella roja.
Argentine Jew, Samana (played by Thelma Fardin) was a beautiful and popular actress, subject of a tango (called “The Red Star”), an undercover spy who was supposedly the mistress of Marshal Erwin Rommel, later a worked with Israel’s Mossad to help capture war criminal Adolf Eichmann, and perished in the same plane crash in 1961 that killed United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold in Rhodesia. Her story becomes an obsession for a documentary filmmaker named Gabriel Lichtmann (played by Hector Diaz).
There’s just one catch: Laila Samana never existed. She is completely and utterly fictional. Yet that doesn’t diminish the impact of this clever and imaginative mockumentary that doesn’t so much blur the lines between fact and fiction as it deftly walks a tightrope. Diego Voloschin contributes a propelling score that heightens the action, and special mention should be made of Marcelo Lavintman’s cinematography, which seamlessly combines vintage newsreel footage with footage shot for the film.
Even though the film telegraphs its final twist, The red star is of this generation Zelig (1983), and despite the serious subject matter, there are a few humorous moments, including the running gag that people keep mispronouncing Lichtmann’s name. In English, German and Spanish with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.95 retail). ***
6:45 (Well Go USA Entertainment): Producer/director Craig Singer’s award-winning, R-rated fantasy thriller stars Michael Reed and Augie Dyke as a young couple whose weekend getaway on a remote island turns into a a fight for survival when they encounter a time warp that forces them to relive the same day over and over again, available on DVD ($19.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
“ALAIN RESNAIS: FIVE SHORT FILMS” (Icarus Films Home Video): The title says it all in this selection of acclaimed short documentaries directed by the famous French author Alain Resnais (1922-2014): 1949 Van Gogh, which won the Oscar for Best Short Film; 1949 Guernica, which Resnais co-directed with Robert Hessens; 1950s Paul Gaugin (also published as Gauguin); 1956 All the Memory of the World (All the Memory of the World); and 1957 The Song of Styrene (The Song of Styrene). In French with English subtitles, available on DVD ($29.98 retail) and Blu-ray ($34.98 retail).
BRIAN LOVES YOU (JAL Smithtown LLC/MVD Entertainment Group): A “collector’s edition” Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) of Seth Landau’s supposedly “fact-based” 2008 feature debut, in which he also made his debut starring as a psychotherapist who investigates a mysterious cult – known as “The Bryans” – that is slowly taking over a small town in Arizona. An eclectic cast includes George Wendt, Tony Todd, Tiffany Shepis, Daniel Roebuck, Brinke Stevens, Bobby Slayton, Chuck Williams and Troma Films founder Lloyd Kaufman. Bonus features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, and more.
SINCE WE LOVE (Cheng Cheng Films): Director/screenwriter Li Yu’s 2015 award-winning comedy-drama (originally titled wan wu sheng zhang), based on Feng Tang’s 2005 novel everything grows, details the misadventures — romantic and otherwise — of medical student Geng Han, particularly his attraction to an older woman (the ethereal Fan Bingbing). Some absurdist comedy doesn’t necessarily translate, but the brash, highly stylized presentation makes it a surefire cult item. In Mandarin with English subtitles, available on DVD ($24.95 retail), packed with bonus features. **½
THE GIRL FROM THE SWAMP CROFT/THE FINAL AGREEMENT (DOUGLAS SIRK DOUBLE NET) (Kino Classics): An explicit Blu-ray double bill ($29.95 retail) of early feature films made by Douglas Sirk (1897-1987) under his real name, Detlef Sierck, before emigrating to the United States: 1935 The Girl from the Swamp Croft (Das Madchen vom Moorhof), based on a novel by Selma Lagerlof; and winner of 1936 The Final Agreement (Schlussakkord), with Lil Dagover and Willy Birgel. In German with English subtitles, each film is accompanied by an audio commentary.
THE HILLS HAVE EYES (Arrow Video/MVD Entertainment Group): A 4K UHD limited edition ($59.95 retail) from acclaimed writer/director Wes Craven, the award-winning 1977 clash in which a family’s motorhome breaks down in the desert, followed by violent assaults by a group of raised and irradiated mutants. Raw but occasionally effective, this played drive-ins for years and remains one of Craven’s most enduring cult classics (though hardly his best), with a cast including Dee Wallace, Martin Speer, Janus Blythe , Michael Berryman, James Whitworth, Janus Blythe, Virginia Vincent, Susan Lanier and Robert Houston (in his feature debut). Bonus features include three (!) audio commentaries, a retrospective documentary and interviews, a collector’s book, posters and postcards, trailers and TV spots, an alternate ending, excerpts, and more. To classify. **
TRIP TO SHILOH (Kino Lorber Studio Classics): This routine 1968 Western, based on Heck Allen’s novel about Texans crossing the country to join the Confederate Army, is at least a showcase for up-and-coming talent like James Caan, Michael Sarrazin , Harrison Ford, Don Stroud , Jan-Michael Vincent, Brenda Scott, Michael Burns, Tisha Sterling and Paul Petersen – but it’s not a very good movie. The DVD ($14.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($24.95 retail) include audio commentary, a retrospective interview (with Stroud), and a theatrical trailer. *½
LET ME BE ME (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorber): For their feature debut, writer Dan Crane and Katie Taber co-directed this touching feature documentary chronicling the life of Kyle Westphal, who was diagnosed with autism as a child but , through the unwavering love of his family and various treatments and therapies, overcome his condition to become an internationally renowned fashion designer. The use of vintage video footage and striking visual touches add an extra layer to the hopeful and ultimately heartening proceedings, available on DVD ($19.95 retail). ***
“THE MYSTERIES OF MADAME BLANC”: SERIES 1 (Acorn): Executive Producer Sally Hawkins and Sue Vincent wrote and created this light-hearted mystery series starring Hawkins as a middle-aged antique dealer suddenly widowed and penniless, who moves to France to get away to zero and becomes an amateur detective. Steve Edge, Alex Gaumond, Narayan David Hecter and Vincent round out the regular cast. All six feature films from the 2021 inaugural season are available on DVD ($49.99 retail).
THE RESURRECTION MATRIX (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment): Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss reunite with co-writer/producer/director Lana Wachowski for this long-awaited, award-winning sequel to the popular sci-fi movie franchise, once again blurring the lines. borders between fantasy and reality in a futuristic landscape. Jada Pinkett Smith and Lambert Wilson also reminisce about previous episodes, with Yahya Abdul Mateen II, Jessica Henwick, Jonathan Groff, Neil Patrick Harris and Priyanka Chopra Jonas jumping into the fray, available on DVD ($19.99 retail), DVD/ Blu-ray combo ($24.99 retail) and 4K Ultra HD combo ($29.99 retail), each offering bonus features.
MAU (Greenwich Entertainment/Kino Lorner): Benji and Jono Bergmann produced and co-directed this feature-length animated documentary chronicling the life and career of Canadian-born artist, designer and visionary Bruce Mau, and how he entered the sustainability in his work, which has included Guatemala and Mecca. Mau’s gregarious personality shines throughout this informative and entertaining column, available on DVD ($19.95 retail). ***
NIGHTMARE (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory): A “collector’s edition” Blu-ray ($34.98 retail) of Hammer Films’ 1965 psychological thriller, written by Jimmy Sangster and (brilliantly) directed by Freddie Francis, starring Jennie Linden (in her feature debut) as a young woman plagued by nightmares so terrifying and vivid that she fears for her sanity. Not among Hammer classics, but pleasantly atmospheric and spooky, and well worth a look for genre enthusiasts. Bonus features include audio commentary, retrospective interviews, theatrical trailer, and stills gallery. **½
GEMINI PROJECT (Well Go USA Entertainment): Originally titled Project Gemini, editor Serik Beyseu’s feature debut is set in a future ravaged by a virulent plague, after which an international space expedition is tasked with creating a safe haven for Earthlings on a distant planet – only to encounter a malevolent alien force. who was waiting for them. The ensemble cast includes Egor Koreshkov, Alyona Konstantova, Dimitriy Frid and Petr Romanov. In Russian with English subtitles, available on DVD ($19.99 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.98 retail).
RENALDO & THE BREAD: 23DR GIANTS OF THE CENTURY (Well Dang! Productions/MVD Entertainment Group): Alex Wroten edited, produced and directed this explicit documentary feature chronicling the long, sometimes turbulent musical friendship and collaboration between British architect Brian Poole and British scientist David Janssen , who formed the titular duo and became legends of avant-garde musical composition and performance, available on Blu-ray ($24.95 retail), packed with bonus features including extended interviews and deleted scenes, video clips, etc.
THRILLER – A CRUEL IMAGE (Synapse Films/CAV Distributing): The iconic image of leggy, eyepatch-wielding Christina Lindberg wielding a shotgun emanated from this 1973 revenge melodrama (originally titled Thriller – En Grym Film), written, produced and directed by Bo A. Vibenius, in which she plays a heroin-addicted prostitute who embarks on a violent campaign of revenge against those who kidnapped and enslaved her. There’s no doubt that it delivers the exploitation goods, and it’s no surprise that Quentin Tarantino reveres this movie, but the haters be warned. The Special Edition DVD ($19.95 retail) and Blu-ray ($29.95 retail) includes both the original Swedish (with English subtitles) and English dubbed audio options, the tapes -ads, previews, the 1975 R-rated US theatrical version They call it an eye, and more. **
(Copyright 2022, Mark Burger)