DVD PICK OF THE WEEK: THEY LIVE (Scream Factory/Shout! Factory)
John Carpenter’s exciting, fun-filled 1988 cult classic is an ingenious mash-up of sci-fi and political allegory, and offers “Rowdy” Roddy Piper in undoubtedly his greatest performance ever.
As the aptly-named everyman John Nada, Piper drifts into Los Angeles and stumbles across a sinister alien plot to enslave mankind. It’s already begun, with the lower classes sliding into poverty and homelessness while the upper class blithely sells out its own human species for wealth and power. The analogy to what was commonly known as the Reagan Era is unmistakable, and perhaps even more valid today. They Live’s slyly subversive observations are masked in the guise of a sci-fi thriller, yet it works on that level, too.
There’s plenty of action, including a memorable brawl between Piper and co-star Keith David that’s the quintessential big-screen example of a knock-down, drag-out fight. In addition to David, as fellow hero Frank, a fine cast includes Meg Foster, Peter Jason, George “Buck” Flower and Raymond St. Jacques.
The collector’s-edition DVD retails for $19.93, the Blu-ray for $29.93. Special features include documentaries, interviews and a Carpenter/Piper audio commentary. Rated R.
THE AUTOMOBILE (RaroVideo): In one of her final performances, the mercurial Anna Magnani stars in writer/director Alfredo Giannetti’s 1971 drama (originally titled L’Automobile) as an aging prostitute whose new car becomes a symbol of freedom. Originally filmed as part of the mini-series Tre Donne, wherein Magnani played three women named Anna. Now available for the first time on DVD ($29.98 retail). In Italian with English subtitles.
BAD KARMA (Anchor Bay Entertainment): Executive producer Ray Liotta plays a former criminal whose past comes back to haunt him in the form of vengeful ex-cohort Dominic Purcell in this standard-issue shoot- ’em-up filmed in Australia. Rated R.
THE CLINTONS: AN AMERICAN ODYS- SEY (Image Entertainment): A self-explanatory DVD documentary ($19.98 retail) exploring the lives and careers of former US President Bill Clinton and his wife, current Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“CSI: NY”: THE EIGHTH SEASON (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Gary Sinise, Sela Ward and their tenacious team of crime-solvers are back on the case(s), in all 18 episodes from the 2011-’12 season of the popular, award-winning CBS crime drama. Emmy nomination for Outstanding Sound Editing for a Series. The DVD boxed set retails for $64.99.
DL HUGHLEY: RESET! (Image Entertainment): Hot on the heels of his book I Want You to Shut the F#ck Up: How the Audacity of Dopes is Ruining America, the actor and funnyman offers his take on politics, culture and a myriad of other topics in this stand-up comedy special ($14.98 retail) recorded in New Jersey.
“GUNSMOKE”: THE SIXTH SEASON, VOLUME 2 (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): The action continues for Marshal Matt Dillon (James Arness) of Dodge City, in the second 19 episodes from the 1960-’61 season of the award-winning, long-running CBS Western series. The supporting cast includes Amanda Blake, Milburn Stone, Ken Curtis and Dennis Weaver as faithful deputy Chester Goode. The DVD boxed set retails for $39.99.
THE HUNTER (Magnolia Home Entertainment): Willem Dafoe plays the title role in this award-winning adaptation of Julia Leigh’s best-seller, as a mercenary who tracks down a rare tiger in the Tasmanian wilderness, but gets more than he bargained for when he befriends a lonely woman (Frances O’Connor) and her children (Morgana Davies and Finn Woodlock). Beautifully filmed on location and well-acted — Sam Neill also appears and the youngsters are terrific — but rendered anti-climactic by an ending that doesn’t ring true. Rated R.
“KOJAK”: THE COMPLETE FIFTH AND FINAL SEASON (Shout! Factory): Telly Savalas turns in his badge, but not before clocking in another 22 episodes from the 1977-’78 season of the award-winning CBS police drama. Guest stars include Shelley Winters, Armand Assante, Sally Kirkland, Cristina Raines and even Liberace (!). Savalas occasionally directed episodes, too. The six-DVD boxed set retails for $44.99.
“MAGIC CITY”: THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The mob comes to 1959 Miami in all eight episodes from the premiere 2012 season of the STARZ Original crime drama created by Mitch Glazer and starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Danny Huston, Olga Kurylenko, Kelly Lynch and Michael Rispoli. Emmy nomination for Outstanding Main Title Design. The DVD boxed set retails for $44.98, the Blu-ray boxed set for $54.99.
MARINA ABRAMOVIC: THE ARTIST IS PRESENT (Music Box Films Home Entertainment): An award-winning documentary ($29.95 retail) that explores the life and career of the Belgrade-born performance artist as she prepares for a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art.
MAXIMUM CONVICTION (Anchor Bay Entertainment): The long-awaited(?) teaming of Steven Seagal and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin is a predictably brawny, brainless, bullet-riddled saga in which they try to prevent Michael Pare and his goons from procuring a federal prisoner from an old penitentiary. Given the propensity of producer/star Seagal (sporting a Southernfried accent) to seemingly barely appear in his own movies, Austin (also an executive producer) comes off better of the two, but the real scene-stealer is Tae Kwon Do champ Bren Foster. Rated R.
THE SCENESTERS (Monterey Media): Writer Todd Berger makes his feature directorial debut and co-stars in this amusingly laid-back, award-winning comedy thriller about filmmakers whose attempt to make a documentary about LA’s independent music scene is complicated by the presence of a serial killer known as “the Soloist.” Blaise Miller, Sherilyn Fenn, Suzanne May, Jeff Grace (also a producer) and John Landis (as a judge) round out the cast. Rated R.
SOMETHING BIG (CBS DVD/Paramount Home Entertainment): Bandit Dean Martin matches wits with cavalry colonel Brian Keith when the former kidnaps the latter’s wife (Honor Blackman) to trade for a Gatling gun(!), in Andrew V McLaglen’s 1971 Western comedy misfire. Keith’s customary bluster can’t make up for one of Dino’s laziest performances, and a great supporting cast is wasted: Ben Johnson, Albert Salmi, Carol White, Denver Pyle, Harry Carey Jr., Robert Donner, Merlin Olsen, David Huddleston, Joyce Van Patten, Paul Fix and Bob Steele. Marvin Hamlisch composed the score (not one of his best) and the theme song is by Burt Bacharach and Hal Davis, but Butch Cassidy this isn’t. Rated PG-13.
STEALING SUMMERS (Monarch Home Entertainment): James Jagger (Mick’s son), Wilson Bethal and Sophie Auster play three partying expatriates in Buenos Aires who decide to commit a robbery. Talky, unconvincing, artsy melodrama that feels longer than its 75 minutes.
“TRIAL & RETRIBUTION”: SET 5 (Acorn Media): A DVD collection ($49.99 retail) of four feature-length mysteries from the longrunning British crime series starring David Hayman, Victoria Smurfit and Dorian Lough, created by Lynda La Plante (of “Prime Suspect” renown).
WHAT HAPPENED TO KEROUAC? (Shout! Factory): A two-DVD deluxe edition ($19.93 retail) of the 1986 documentary tribute to the legendary and notorious novelist, poet and Beat Generation pioneer Jack Kerouac (1922-’69), featuring interviews/ footage with Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs, Neal and Carolyn Cassady, William F. Buckley and others. Special features include the 2011 follow-up The Beat Goes On.
MARK BURGER can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92. © 2012, Mark Burger.