(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
BASIC INSTINCT 2 (2006). After earning notice for her supporting stint in Paul Verhoeven’s 1990 sci-fi flick Total Recall, Sharon Stone found herself delivering a star-making performance as the icepick-wielding author Catherine Tramell in Verhoeven’s 1992 smash hit Basic Instinct. But what Hollywood giveth, Hollywood taketh away, meaning that the role that initially made her an A-lister later was the same role that effectively killed her free-falling career. In Basic Instinct 2, Stone is simply awful, replacing the sexy insouciance from the first film with a beady stare that would seem more appropriate coming from a dead codfish than a calculating nympho adept at playing twisted mind games. This needless sequel — badly photographed, flatly directed, indifferently acted, wretchedly scripted — finds Catherine mentally sparring with a psychiatrist (David Morrissey) she’s planning to both screw and screw over. There’s plenty of raunchy sex talk, but the only thing truly shocking about Basic Instinct 2 is that its two-hour span feels like 20. In short, this movie’s about as erotic as the dry heaves.
The new Blu-ray edition contains both the theatrical cut and an unrated version that runs an additional two minutes. Extras consist of audio commentary by director Michael Caton-Jones (or Michael Canton-Jones, as it’s curiously spelled thrice on the back cover); a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted scenes; an alternate ending; and the theatrical trailer.
BOGART & BACALL: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION (1944-1948). Hollywood power couple Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made a total of four movies together, and while all have already been released individually on Blu-ray, this tantalizing set, arriving just in time for Christmas, handily brings them all together.
A reworking of Ernest Hemingway’s novel (with a script co-written by William Faulkner and Rio Bravo‘s Jules Furthman), To Have and Have Not (1944) marked the first of the four screen teamings of Bogart and Bacall. Not surprisingly, this picture has Casablanca coursing through its veins, what with its World War II time period, its bustling bar setting, a couple (Dolores Moran and Walter Molnar) on the run from Nazis, a laidback piano player (Hoagy Carmichael), and Bogart as an apolitical smoothie who sticks his neck out for nobody — indeed, about all that’s missing are those illusive letters of transit. Bogart’s cast as Harry Morgan, an expatriate who runs a charter-boat service in Martinique with the soused assistance of his friend Eddie (Walter Brennan). He strikes up a heated relationship with an American drifter named Marie (19-year-old Bacall in her film debut), but their wooing gets frequently interrupted by skirmishes between French resistance fighters and pro-German Vichy officers. The dialogue crackles (including the legendary “whistle / blow” line), Bacall sizzles, and Bogart captivates.
To Have and Have Not was helmed by Howard Hawks, still the most underrated of all great American directors. While that film was a gem, Hawks’ The Big Sleep (1946) remains simply one of the all-time greats. Author Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe comes to electrifying life in the hands of Bogart, whose gumshoe keeps busy flirting with the ladies when he isn’t whipping off snappy comebacks (my fave: “I don’t like your manners.” “I don’t like them myself. They’re pretty bad… I grieve over them on long winter evenings.”). The action kicks off when Marlowe is hired by the elderly and wealthy General Sternwood (Charles Waldron) to investigate a blackmail scheme; what the sleuth uncovers instead is a labyrinthine plot that involves murder and threatens to ensnare the millionaire’s two daughters, the sultry Vivian Rutledge (Bacall) and the volatile Carmen (Martha Vickers). For all the story’s narrative intricacies, many of the best moments come when Marlowe is revealing his human side, including his jokey rapport with a book-store owner (Bogart and Dorothy Malone are electric together) and his touching respect for a mousy guy (who else but Elisha Cook Jr.?) whose final gesture is a noble one. Faulkner and Furthman co-wrote this one as well, joined by Leigh Brackett (Rio Bravo, The Empire Strikes Back).
Just because Dark Passage (1947) is considered the runt of the Bogart- Bacall litter doesn’t mean it lacks its own measure of shaggy-dog charm. If nothing else, it features a unique technical slant that at the time hadn’t been seen since — well, since Lady in the Lake seven months earlier. Like that film noir gem, this one also employs (at least for a while) the camera as the protagonist’s POV, so that viewers see events through his eyes. The viewpoint is that of Vincent Parry (Bogart), an escaped con who had been serving time for murdering his wife. Vincent has always maintained his innocence, and at least one person believes him: Irene Jansen (Bacall), who shelters him after his great escape. Bogart’s face actually isn’t seen until the movie is half over (a fact that reportedly distressed studio head Jack Warner as he envisioned box office losses), but the picture never loses its edge, with Vincent’s plight (his run-ins with various suspicious characters never hurt for suspense), Bacall’s anchoring performance, and the San Francisco location shooting overcoming a rather slender mystery.
Finally, Key Largo (1948) finds the pair joined in the above-the-title billing by the great Edward G. Robinson. This loose adaptation of Maxwell Anderson’s play, written and directed by John Huston (with Richard Brooks serving as co-scripter), casts Bogart as Frank McCloud, a WWII veteran who arrives in Key Largo, Florida, to pay his respects to James and Nora Temple (Lionel Barrymore and Bacall), the father and widow of one of his friends killed in action. But Frank soon learns that the hotel run by the Temples is being commandeered by gangster Johnny Rocco (Robinson) and his underlings. This is surprisingly staid for a Huston film, with the central plot (a hoodlum holding hostages) executed more memorably in two other Bogart titles, 1936’s The Petrified Forest and 1955’s The Desperate Hours (both with Bogie as the villain instead of the hero). Still, the top-notch cast punches this across, and the swirling storm raging outside the hotel provides an interesting backdrop. Claire Trevor earned the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance as Rocco’s boozy moll; Huston, meanwhile, won Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars for his other 1948 release starring Bogart, the all-time masterpiece The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Blu-ray extras on the various films include making-of featurettes; classic cartoons (one co-starring Bugs Bunny and an animated Bogie); and theatrical trailers.
To Have and Have Not: ***1/2
The Big Sleep: ****
Dark Passage: ***
Key Largo: ***
CANDYMAN (1992). Give Candyman hosannas for offering an intriguing premise, but then give it hell for not following through on its initial promise. Virginia Madsen delivers a strong performance as Helen Lyle, a graduate student gathering material for her thesis on urban mythology. Helen is especially fascinated by the story of Candyman, who in the late 19th century was a black artist who was tortured and murdered by racists after he dared to fall in love with a white woman. Cut to the present, and Candyman is rumored to be a hook-handed specter who haunts Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project. Helen is skeptical of his existence but soon becomes a believer after Candyman (Tony Todd) materializes and commences with the killing. The film initially gets its hooks (pun intended) into viewers with its unique setting as well as its subtext regarding the horrors of the ghetto potentially being rationalized by mythmaking. But it’s after Candyman makes his first appearance that the movie ironically loses its potency by tossing aside its uneasy ambience and largely devolving into a typical gorefest. The clumsy climax is especially pitiful, as is the tacked-on shock ending. Adapted by writer-director Bernard Rose from Clive Barker’s story “The Forbidden,” Candyman was followed by the 1995 theatrical release Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh and the 1999 straight-to-video effort Candyman: Day of the Dead.
The new two-disc Blu-ray edition from Shout! Factory contains both the theatrical cut as well as an unrated version. Extras include audio commentary by Rose and Todd; separate audio commentary by Rose, Barker, Madsen, Todd, producer Alan Poul, and co-star Kasi Lemmons; interviews with Barker, Madsen and Todd; storyboards; and the theatrical trailer.
GOSFORD PARK (2001). One of director Robert Altman’s final films before his death in 2006 (only 2003’s tepid The Company and 2006’s excellent A Prairie Home Companion would follow), Gosford Park found the maverick director coming up with the idea for a murder-mystery with fellow filmmaker Bob Balaban and then entrusting the project to Julian Fellowes, an actor-turned-writer who would later achieve formidable success as the creator of Downton Abbey. Set at an English estate in 1932, the film examines the events occurring both upstairs and downstairs as they relate to the elites gathered for a hunting party and the servants assembled to provide for them. Gosford Park expertly melds comedy and drama, eventually adding a pinch of intrigue with a second-act slaying (cue the entrance of Stephen Fry’s daft inspector, decidedly more Clouseau than Columbo). A stronger opening would have elevated the film even more: After all, when a movie attempts to juggle 30 characters, it’s imperative that the filmmakers establish each and every one of them from the get-go. As it stands, some initially fuzzy relationships and obscure identities lead to some early stumbling blocks, and it’s only after a half-hour that everything falls into place. Altman is renowned for his all-star casts, and here he has assembled one of his best: Helen Mirren, Emily Watson, Maggie Smith, Kelly Macdonald, and Clive Owen are just a few of the crack thespians flourishing under the director’s steady command. Nominated for seven Academy Awards, including bids for Best Picture, Best Director, and two for Best Supporting Actress (Mirren and Smith), this won for Fellowes’ original screenplay.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Altman; separate audio commentary by Fellowes; an archival making-of piece; deleted scenes; and a Q&A with key cast and crew members.
MAMIE VAN DOREN FILM NOIR COLLECTION (1957-1959). If Jayne Mansfield could be described as the poor man’s Marilyn Monroe, then Mamie Van Doren could be tagged the poor man’s Jayne Mansfield. More intelligent in real life than the marketing and the movie roles would suggest, Van Doren nevertheless was best known for appearing in scores of awful films, two of which were showcased on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (Untamed Youth and Girls Town). Other movies, however, were of the “B” variety, dependable if unexceptional fare that rarely strayed far from formula. That designation largely describes the trio of films captured in this box set.
The Girl in Black Stockings (1957) is easily the best of the three films, even if it’s the only one in which Van Doren is a supporting player rather than the star. The corpse of a young woman is discovered next to a Utah motel, and everyone becomes a suspect. The killer surely can’t be the motel owner (Ron Randell) since he’s paralyzed from the neck down, but what about his doting sister (Marie Windsor)? Or the vacationing lawyer (Lex Barker) who’s become smitten with the owner’s assistant (Anne Bancroft)? Or the washed-up actor (John Holland) with the requisite blonde starlet (Van Doren) in tow? Solid performances and an unexpected ending raise this above the level of a standard programmer.
The other two films in the set are more routine, exactly the sort of fodder one could have expected to find on the bottom half of a double bill. Guns, Girls and Gangsters (1959) finds Van Doren cast as a woman who agrees to take part in an armored car robbery alongside her ex-con boyfriend (Gerald Mohr) and a nightclub owner (Grant Richards); all seems to be going along as planned until her jealous husband (Lee Van Cleef) escapes from prison with revenge on his mind. And Vice Raid (1959), the weakest of the trio, is a silly if watchable drama about a call girl (Van Doren) who helps frame a straight-arrow cop (Richard Coogan) before deciding to help him take down a New York crime lord (Brad Dexter).
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with Van Doren and theatrical trailers for all three films.
The Girl in Black Stockings: **1/2
Guns, Girls and Gangsters: **
Vice Raid: **
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE — FALLOUT (2018). When it comes to the Mission: Impossible film franchise, there’s the John Woo installment and then there’s all the rest. That is to say, there’s Mission: Impossible II, the sole bad entry in the series, and then there are the other chapters, all of which have been remarkably consistent in delivering high-caliber thrills. Tom Cruise has spent this series playing Superman rather than Everyman, but here he takes it a step further: His character of Impossible Mission Force agent Ethan Hunt is now basically God, lording over his domain, bestowing his blessings on the worshipful mortals around him, and remaining indestructible no matter how hard the Satanic emissaries in his midst try to bring him down. In this entry, Hunt has his hands full trying to retrieve three plutonium cores that were stolen from right under his nose (hey, even God makes mistakes). Even as far back as Brian De Palma’s original film from 1996, many of the muscular action set-pieces showcased in this series defy belief, and the ones featured in this latest picture dutifully follow suit. Yet the exhilaration they inspire provides them with a free pass — the same can’t always be said for the vehicular chases, and this movie offers back-to-back dashes that eventually prove wearying. Then there’s the case of Henry Cavill — his character of a mysterious CIA agent is intriguing, but he remains such a stiff performer that some of the life is drained from the scenes in which he’s required to convey ambiguity. Ultimately, though, these are minor quibbles when compared to the energy and exuberance flowing through the majority of the picture.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Cruise and director Christopher McQuarrie; a series of making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; and storyboards.
THE OUTER LIMITS: SEASON TWO (1964-1965). The moniker The Outer Limits is so instantly recognizable that one would be forgiven for believing the show lasted almost as long as such other television anthology series as The Twilight Zone (five seasons) and Tales from the Crypt (seven seasons). Instead, the show only ran for two seasons — actually, a season and a half, since its second-year shift to a deadly slot opposite the popular The Jackie Gleason Show (aka American Scene Magazine) resulted in its cancellation after only 17 episodes. MGM and the Kino Lorber label, which jointly released all 32 episodes from Season One in a handsome box set this past March, have blessedly allowed fans to complete their collection by offering the aborted second season in all its glory. Admittedly, these episodes aren’t overall as potent as those from the knockout first season, although there are a few gems in the gathering. “Keeper of the Purple Twilight,” for instance, offers a gripping storyline as well as some eye-catching aliens, while noted sci-fi author Harlan Ellison penned the scripts for both “Soldier” (the Season Two premiere episode) and “Demon with a Glass Hand” (winning a Writers Guild award for the latter). Guest stars this time around include Robert Duvall (in the series’ only two-part episode), Adam West, Eddie Albert, and Leonard Nimoy. And speaking of Nimoy, it’s amusing to note that his future Star Trek co-star William Shatner, in the episode “Cold Hands, Warm Heart,” portrays an astronaut whose mission is named “Project Vulcan”!
Blu-ray extras include audio commentaries on 15 of the 17 episodes by various film historians, as well as promo spots and interviews from the show’s run on TNT’s MonsterVision in 1993. The set also includes a 20-page booklet featuring an episode guide and an essay by David J. Schow (The Outer Limits Companion).
SEARCHING (2018). One of the movie year’s most pleasant out-of-left-field surprises, Searching is an utterly riveting thriller that refuses to merely coast on the back of its potentially gimmicky setup. John Cho stars as David Kim, a widower who enjoys a close-knit relationship with his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La). After Margot disappears without a trace, a frantic David turns to social media to ascertain her movements and determine her location; his odyssey finds him partnering with a determined police detective (Debra Messing), interrogating his daughter’s schoolmates, and analyzing all of her online texts and photos. What’s unique about this effort from writer-producer Sev Ohanian and debuting writer-director Aneesh Chaganty is that the entire story takes place via social media devices — there isn’t a single scene that isn’t filmed from the POV of a computer monitor or a cellphone camera. The logistics of creating such a movie were doubtless daunting (and are well-documented in the extra features), and yet the filmmakers pull it off at every turn. Of course, it would all count for naught if the story being told was unworthy. Thankfully, that’s not the case, as Chaganty and Ohanian have managed to concoct a thriller that even without the unusual filmmaking MO would be able to stand on its own.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Chaganty and Ohanian; a making-of featurette; and a compelling piece in which Chaganty and Ohanian reveal many of the Easter Eggs scattered throughout the film (including one that largely reveals the ending!).
THE WIZARD OF GORE (1970). With such notorious drive-in hits as Blood Feast and Two Thousand Maniacs! to his name, it’s no wonder writer-director-producer-cinematographer Herschell Gordon Lewis long ago earned the nickname “The Godfather of Gore.” But while his fondness for excessive bloodletting marked him as a trailblazer during the early 1960s, it turned out that other filmmakers — often ones far more talented — would eventually catch up with him by the late ‘60s and into the 1970s. Consequently, The Wizard of Gore inspires shrugs more than shudders, relying heavily on Lewis’ “shocking” gore but coming off as utterly inept. Montag the Magnificent (an awful performance by Ray Sager, who’s also clearly too young for the role) is a stage magician whose act involves the apparent bloody dismemberment of female volunteers from the audience — the women seem fine until hours later, when they die in a manner that mimics the on-stage trick. It’s up to Sherry Carson (Judy Cler), the host of the TV show Housewives’ Coffee Break, and her dullard boyfriend Jack (Wayne Ratay) to solve the mind-boggling mystery. Gorehounds should add an extra star or three to the rating, but even they might be bored with the interminable pacing of the rest of the picture. At least the plot twist at the end is unexpected. Moronic, yes, but also unexpected.
Arrow’s Blu-ray edition of The Wizard of Gore generously houses another H.G. Lewis feature: 1968’s How to Make a Doll, about a scientist who builds female robots for sexual purposes. Other extras include audio commentary on The Wizard of Gore by Lewis and Something Weird Video founder Mike Vraney; an interview with Sager; the 1988 episode of The Incredibly Strange Film Show that centers on the films of Lewis; and an interview with Jeremy Kasten, director of the 2007 remake starring Crispin Glover as Montag.