(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.)
THE APARTMENT (1960). A year after collaborating on the immortal Some Like It Hot (recently reviewed here), writer-director-producer Billy Wilder, co-writer I.A.L. Diamond and star Jack Lemmon re-teamed for The Apartment, another screen gem that attained classic status in about as much time as it takes to comb one’s hair. Yet such instant accolades were nothing more than a work of art receiving its proper due, and even 58 years later, this brilliant comedy has lost none of its luster. Lemmon stars as C.C. Baxter, an office underling who finds himself on a career trajectory toward executive status thanks to his compliance in allowing his apartment to be used by company superiors looking for a secluded place to take their mistresses. A bachelor with no friends or lovers, Baxter takes a liking to elevator operator Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine) and is understandably upset when he discovers that she’s the latest conquest of company bigwig and married man Jeff Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray). A tender, tentative romance that’s also a scathing look at office politics, The Apartment primarily works because of the achingly heartfelt performances by Lemmon and MacLaine. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, it won five, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film historian Bruce Block; a 2007 making-of featurette; a piece on the collaborations between Wilder and Lemmon; and an archival interview with Wilder.
BREWSTER MCCLOUD (1970). M*A*S*H opened in January 1970, and fans of that smash hit didn’t even have to wait until a new calendar year to see what else director Robert Altman had up his sleeve. Altman’s Brewster McCloud debuted in December 1970, and while it was nowhere near the commercial, critical or social success as its predecessor, its offbeat sensibilities have allowed it to emerge as a modest cult offering over the ensuing years. Altman imported seven of his M*A*S*H players to appear in this experimental effort — most prominent among these was Bud Cort, who tackles the title character of a young oddball who decides to build a pair of wings so he can fly through the Houston Astrodome. Two other M*A*S*H alumni, Sally Kellerman and Michael Murphy, tackle the other central roles of, respectively, Brewster’s guardian angel and a hotshot cop (clearly patterned after Steve McQueen’s Bullitt), while Shelley Duvall makes her film debut as the mysterious figure who might bring about Brewster’s downfall (Duvall’s subsequent four movies were also Altman projects). The off-kilter humor on display during the first half is terrific, but the film can’t maintain its momentum and meanders during the second hour. Margaret Hamilton, The Wizard of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West, appears in a small role (and, yes, there’s a gag involving red slippers), while Stacy Keach, unrecognizable under pounds of old-man makeup, looks eerily like Freakshow of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle infamy.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
THE CRITTERS COLLECTION (1986-1992). Packed somewhere among all the Gremlins and Ghoulies and Munchies are the Crites, the puppet-sized stars of two theatrical releases and two straight-to-video titles. All four flicks in the Critters franchise have now been brought together in an impressive box set from the Shout! Factory label.
Critters (1986) introduces the Crites as pint-sized alien criminals who escape from an intergalactic prison and end up on the outskirts of a small US farming town. A local sheriff (M. Emmet Walsh) and a grinning rich kid (Billy Zane) are among those who encounter the porcupine-like extra-terrestrials, but it’s the members of the Brown family — mom (Dee Wallace), dad (Billy Green Bush), son (Scott Grimes) and daughter (Nadine Van Der Velde) — who must make the final stand against the ferocious furballs. Luckily, two shape-changing bounty hunters, one of whom adopts the looks of rock star Johnny Steele (Terrence Mann), have arrived on Earth to help out. Wallace, so great as the mom in both E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial and Cujo, is a tad too overwrought in this setting, but amusing effects by the Chiodo Brothers, the script’s infectious sense of humor, and a highly appealing performance by Grimes as the teenage hero help disguise the familiarity of it all. A little of Don Opper as village idiot Charlie goes a long way, so naturally, his role gets larger as the series continues.
Opper, Mann and Grimes are among those who return for Critters 2: The Main Course (1988), which isn’t quite as adept at balancing the yuks and nyuks as the first film. Since the last picture, Charlie has joined the space bounty hunters, and the trio return to our planet to help Grimes’ Brad Brown combat more pesky Crites.
The claim to fame of Critters 3 (1991) is that it marked Leonardo DiCaprio’s film debut, but aside from that Trivial Pursuit tidbit, there’s not much to recommend this subpar entry. Here, the action has moved from Hicksville to the big city, as the Crites invade a decrepit apartment building and Charlie finally shows up to try to save the day.
Critters 4 (1992) is a step up from Critters 3, even if the Crites often register as an afterthought. This one centers on Charlie hooking up with the members of a salvage ship in space in order to ward off the occasional critter attack. The ugly and unbelievable transformation of one of the series’ best characters is a massive negative, but a handsome production design (especially on a minuscule budget) and the presence of Angela Bassett and Brad Dourif marginally compensate. But those expecting ample critter action will be sorely disappointed.
This Blu-ray box set comes with a generous amount of extras, including audio commentaries by key personnel on all four films; making-of featurettes for all movies; behind-the-scenes footage on the first two titles; and trailers.
Critters 2: **
Critters 3: *1/2
Critters 4: **
THE GRISSOM GANG (1971). Even as a huge fan of director Robert Aldrich — a jack-of-all-trades helmer whose credits range from The Dirty Dozen to What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? to The Big Knife — here’s one effort that leaves me atypically cold. An adaptation of James Hadley Chase’s novel No Orchids for Miss Blandish, this stars True Grit’s Kim Darby as Barbara Blandish, a 1930s socialite who gets kidnapped by one gang of moronic criminals and then held for ransom by a second gang of dim-witted rubes after the latter outfit murders the members of the former group. Now under the control of the Grissoms, Barbara must endure beatings from matriarch Ma Grissom (Irene Dailey) and lascivious come-ons from slick Eddie (Tony Musante) and childlike Slim (Scott Wilson), the latter of whom genuinely falls in love with her. Meanwhile, a private eye (Robert Lansing) has been hired by her wealthy father (Wesley Addy) to find her, an assignment that leads the gumshoe to the dressing room of a brassy nightclub singer (Connie Stevens). Not even one milligram of subtlety can be found anywhere in this picture, with the over-the-top violence and especially the over-the-top performances (why exhibit one facial tic when 100 are readily available?) resulting in a grueling watch.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson; an interview with Wilson (who passed away just two months ago); and the theatrical trailer.
SUPPORT THE GIRLS (2018). Two weeks ago, Support the Girls star Regina Hall won the Best Actress prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, becoming the first African-American to ever snag that award. She remains a long shot for an Oscar nomination — the film barely registered with anyone outside of critics, only grossing $129,000 off a puny release that stopped at 35 theaters — but it’s easy to see the appeal of both her performance and her character. Hall stars as Lisa Conroy, the harried manager at a Hooters-like sports bar whose clientele comes for the large-screen TVs, the cold beer, and the ample cleavage — and not necessarily in that order. The film is of the day-in-the-life variety, as Lisa, who’s both infinitely patient and infinitely kind, spends a lengthy shift contending with an obnoxious boss (James Le Gros), sexist customers, and a waitstaff whose members alternately amuse and exasperate her. Her two best employees are Maci (Haley Lu Richardson), whose endless exuberance puts the Energizer Bunny to shame, and Danyelle (a take-notice film debut by Shayna McHayle, aka rapper Junglepussy), whose sardonic demeanor never takes a day off. Writer-director Andrew Bujalski has crafted an often hilarious and occasionally insightful film, yet while it’s a shame more people haven’t seen it, the silver lining is that its lack of financial success means it won’t be turned into a torturous network sitcom that marginalizes the characters and flattens the humor.
There are no extras on the Blu-ray.
THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951). Christian Nyby may be credited as director, but it’s long been established that Howard Hawks (billed here as producer) was the one calling most of the shots on this horror/sci-fi hybrid. Certainly, the film fits right into his compendium of classics: Like Rio Bravo, The Big Sleep and oh-so-many-others, it features crackling dialogue, deliciously subversive humor, confident and competent heroes, and a healthy air of sexual playfulness between its romantic leads. Featuring James Arness (before Gunsmoke) as the deadly e.t. who makes life difficult for a group of soldiers and scientists huddled together at a North Pole research facility, this has endured largely because of all the top talent Hawks corralled for the project: ace cinematographer Russell Harlan (the sequence in which the men use fire to fight the alien is a standout of lighting and composition), top composer Dimitri Tiomkin (employing the theremin to great effect in his score) and revered screenwriter Charles Lederer. Equally recommended is John Carpenter’s excellent 1982 version (simply called The Thing), featuring Rob Bottin’s imaginative makeup effects and Ennio Morricone’s beautifully minimalist score. Best, however, to skip the 2011 prequel (also called The Thing).
The only Blu-ray extras are the theatrical trailer and a reissue trailer.
Short And Sweet:
THE LITTLE STRANGER (2018). Director Lenny Abrahamson followed his Oscar-nominated work on 2015’s Room with this little-seen adaptation of Sarah Waters’ period novel. It’s an interesting if aloof drama about a country doctor (Domhnall Gleeson) who becomes involved with the residents of a gloomy mansion that’s possibly haunted. The matriarch (Charlotte Rampling) might be resentful, the war-ravaged son (Will Poulter) might be cracked, and the daughter (Ruth Wilson) might be emotionally unavailable to the attentive physician. The slow yet steady pace is an asset, but the story only feels half-formed and the ending hits with all the force of a wet tissue.
Blu-ray extras consist of a pair of behind-the-scenes featurettes.
NOTHING SACRED (1937). Carole Lombard delivers one of her best performances in this engaging screwball comedy about a small-town woman who’s told by her quack doctor (Charles Winninger) that she’s dying of radiation poisoning. She quickly learns it’s a misdiagnosis but elects to keep up the charade after a New York reporter (Fredric March) sees her as a human interest story and introduces her to the swanky Big Apple scene. The perpetual digs against journalists are especially amusing, as when someone cracks that even “the hand of God reaching down into the mire couldn’t elevate one of them to the depths of degradation!”
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by William Wellman Jr. (the son of the film’s director, William Wellman) and the theatrical trailer.
SMALLFOOT (2018). This animated adventure finds Channing Tatum providing the voice of Migo, a Yeti who claims he’s seen a “smallfoot” (a human) even though his village’s ancient texts insist that no such creature exists. Because of his supposed heresy, Migo is banned by the tribe’s spiritual leader (Common), thus forcing the not-very-abominable snowman to seek out physical proof of his claim. Kids will enjoy the colorful antics without understanding the story’s deeper implications, while alert adults will at least appreciate the message about the need to reject “alternative facts” spouted by fear-mongering leaders. No one, however, will get too excited over the mediocre music or the uninspired animation.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; a “Yeti Set Go” sing-along option; an animated Smallfoot short; and a trio of music videos.