Keanu Reeves in Replicas (Photo: Lionsgate)
(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.)
BEND OF THE RIVER (1952). One of the five Westerns made by director Anthony Mann and star James Stewart between 1950 and 1955, Bend of the River may not be the best of the bunch (Winchester ’73 and The Naked Spur are both superior), but it’s certainly of a piece with the others. Part of the growing breed of oaters that added psychological underpinnings to the usual shoot-‘em-up antics (many scribes insist that this development began in the 1950s, but ‘40s-era Westerns like My Darling Clementine and Red River clearly reveal that this wasn’t the case), the Mann-Stewart sagas often allowed the actor to play soiled versions of the squeaky-clean heroes he essayed earlier in his career and similarly portrayed the landscape not as wasted territory ready to blossom under the care of Caucasian crusaders but as terrain as ambiguous as the characters who were coming to settle it. In Bend of the River, Stewart is Glyn McLyntock, whose willingness to lead a wagon train through dangerous conditions might be masking a dark past. Along the way, he meets the equally enigmatic Emerson Cole (Arthur Kennedy), and they form a testy if mutually appreciative partnership (with more than a hint of homoeroticism not unlike that witnessed between Montgomery Clift and John Ireland in Red River). The McLyntock-Cole dynamic is the most interesting part of the picture, and it’s lamentable (though expected) that the third act severs that bond for the sake of more conventional thrills. Rock Hudson co-stars as a cheerful gambler who joins the men on their adventures, although his role is sketchy and often feels like an afterthought.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other Westerns released on the Kino Lorber label.
FRANKENSTEIN 1970 (1958). The 1931 version of Frankenstein is the movie that made Boris Karloff a star — unfortunately, Frankenstein 1970 has no connection whatsoever to that classic. Previously playing the monster, the actor here switches roles to play the doctor himself — or, rather, the last of his descendants. Planning to use a nuclear reactor to bring his creature to life, the heavily scarred Baron Frankenstein obtains the necessary body parts by murdering those foolish enough to hang around his castle, including the members of a film crew shooting a horror flick on location. Frankenstein 1970 does take the rare route of killing off the most sympathetic characters and allowing the most obnoxious ones to live, but beyond that, there’s little worth noting in this mediocre monster movie. The creature (portrayed by Mike Lane, a former wrestler who would again play the Frankenstein monster on the short-lived ‘70s TV series Monster Squad as well as on an episode of The Monkees) looks more like a mummy with a head as square as Spongebob’s, while Karloff is forced to spend too much time just shambling around his supposedly futuristic (note the title) laboratory. A director of numerous “B” flicks (including 1955’s nifty Big House U.S.A., featuring Charles Bronson and Lon Chaney Jr. in supporting roles), Howard W. Koch would later produce such works as The Odd Couple and The Manchurian Candidate and serve for two years as president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Alas, Karloff himself did not make it to 1970, as the great actor passed away in 1969 (his final pictures, however, saw release in 1971).
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Charlotte Austin, Bob Burns and Tom Weaver, and the theatrical trailer.
GLASS (2019). Glass is a misfire, a muddle, and a missed opportunity, but mostly it’s a vessel for shattered expectations. It’s the third part in the trilogy that began with 2000’s Unbreakable, an interesting achievement that functioned as a comic-book movie but also operated outside the genre’s parameters. I’m dubious that writer-director M. Night Shyamalan really intended to make a trilogy all along; the feeling from watching 2017’s insufferable Split was that it was a self-contained story to which he added (more like forced) a last-second twist to ensnare impressionable moviegoers. Nevertheless, enough people bit hard enough that we now have Glass, which brings together the characters from the previous two films in a rank gumbo that grows progressively worse as it ambles along. Split star James McAvoy returns as Kevin Wendell Crumb, the psychopath wielding 24 distinct personalities; Unbreakable star Bruce Willis is back as the heroic David Dunn; and Unbreakable co-star Samuel L. Jackson reenters the scene as the villainous Mr. Glass. All three find themselves confined to a mental institution wherein Dr. Ellie Staple (Sarah Paulson) tries to analyze them while Kevin teases the staffers, Glass plots his next master plan, and David pouts a lot. The majority of this pretentious and self-important picture is merely average and thus innocuous, marked by the sort of obvious developments, stagnant set-pieces and unremarkable dialogue we’ve come to expect from most M. Night endeavors. It’s when Glass reaches the third act that it completely falls apart. The final showdown is not only anti-climactic but represents some of the worst directing and the worst writing in Shyamalan’s career, with the spatial relationships poorly staged and the timing of events ultimately feeling as prolonged as any fond farewell between Hobbits. And the less said about that daft twist ending, the better.
Blu-ray extras include a chat with Shyamalan and McAvoy; deleted scenes; an alternate opening; and various making-of pieces.
THE KID WHO WOULD BE KING (2019). It seems that every generation finds itself saddled with the sorts of parents who constantly complain that there are never any quality films for kids to see, and then when a quality movie for the whole family does come along, they predictably ignore it in favor of some brain-rotting rubbish like Alvin and the Chipmunks or Garfield. (This was especially true in the mid-1990s, when the theaters were packed with outstanding gems like A Little Princess, The Secret Garden and The Jungle Book — none of which exactly dazzled at the box office.) The latest example is The Kid Who Would Be King, which cost $60 million and grossed only $30 million — and not $30 million stateside but $30 million worldwide. That’s a shame, since this remains one of this year’s few genuine surprises. Written and directed by Joe Cornish, whose only previous credit is 2011’s excellent sci-fi yarn Attack the Block (the film that showcased both future Star Wars hero John Boyega and future Doctor Who Jodie Whitaker), this centers on young Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Andy’s son), a bullied kid who improbably stumbles across King Arthur’s fabled sword Excalibur in a London construction site. This acquisition results not only in a visit from Merlin (Angus Imrie), who, in Benjamin Button fashion, grows younger in appearance as he ages, but also the awakening of Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), who schemes to snag the sword for her own nefarious purposes. The plotting is clever (love the use of Stonehenge), the side drama involving Alex’s AWOL dad doesn’t overwhelm the proceedings, and Imrie is flat-out terrific as the hyperactive Merlin. As an added treat, the older Merlin is played by Patrick Stewart — a nice tie to cinema’s past, since Stewart previously appeared in 1981’s Excalibur (as Leondegrance).
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and various behind-the-scenes featurettes.
THE MANITOU (1978). San Francisco resident Karen Tandy (Susan Strasberg) goes to the doctor to find out if that rapidly expanding lump on her neck is a tumor — imagine her surprise (to put it mildly) when she discovers it’s actually the reincarnation of Misquamacus (Joe Gieb), a 400-year-old Native American medicine man! She relays this information to her ex-boyfriend Harry Erskine (Tony Curtis), a phony fortune teller who, not unlike The Producers’ Max Bialystock, makes a living swindling susceptible older women out of their dough; he in turn contacts a real psychic (Stella Stevens), an ornery anthropologist (Burgess Meredith), and, finally, John Singing Rock (Michael Ansara), a modern-day shaman who agrees to serve as an exorcist by attempting to rid Karen of her peculiar ailment. It all ends with a topless woman floating on a bed in outer space while shooting beams from her fingers at a cackling dwarf while the hospital’s blinking and bleeping computers rally to offer her support. No, really. Clearly, The Manitou is absurd, insane, and, yeah, kind of awful, but there’s nevertheless a high watchability factor in checking out all these thespians intensely furrowing their brows and delivering their dialogue without breaking out in laughter (honestly, I never thought Curtis had this much professionalism in him). Composer Lalo Schifrin (Mission: Impossible) contributes a typically hard-charging score, while the makeup effects by Tom Burman (Scrooged) manage to impress more often than not.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Troy Howarth; interviews with author Graham Masterson (upon whose book the film is based) and executive producer David Sheldon; a still gallery; the theatrical trailer; and TV spots.
REPLICAS (2019). Everyone knows about The Matrix, of course, but many have forgotten that, before he struck it huge with that property, Keanu Reeves previously tackled techno-talk with Johnny Mnemonic, a heady dud so lacking that at least one scribe felt compelled to nickname it Johnny Moronic. Alas, Replicas tilts far more toward that end of the sci-fi scale, featuring a story that doesn’t seem to have been scripted as much as scooped up and patched together with the weakest glue on the market. Reeves, who even at this late stage in his career swings with alarming regularity between “convincing” and “unconvincing” in his various screen roles, is on the “un” side of the equation here — he’s cast as Will Foster, a brilliant scientist who is this close to successfully placing human consciousness into robotic shells. But failure is no longer an option once Will’s wife (Alice Eve) and three children are all killed in a car crash — with his reluctant assistant (Thomas Middleditch) by his side, Will has to find a way to place the essence of his family members not into his test subject robots but into exact clones. The suspension of disbelief necessary to swallow this premise is sizable to consider but not impossible to achieve — or at least that’s the case until the movie keeps throwing nonsensical developments into the mix right up to and including the very last shot. There’s actually a nugget of a good idea buried in here somewhere, but a scattershot approach and a bland third act (a car chase?) prevent it from ever making its presence known. As Bill and Ted would opine, this one’s totally bogus.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director Jeffrey Nachmanoff and executive producer James Dodson; a making-of featurette; and deleted scenes.
SUPERSTITION (1982). Although completed in 1982, Superstition wasn’t released in the U.S. until 1985, and even then it barely played theaters before being tossed onto VHS. In England, it fared even worse, landing on the notorious “video nasty” list and being banned outright due to its gruesome content (it was eventually OKed by the British authorities and released there under the title The Witch). The bloody effects are indeed impressive and should satisfy gorehounds — everyone else, though, is advised to steer clear of this barrel-bottom-scraping endeavor. It’s the familiar story of a 17th-century witch who swears to continue wreaking havoc long after she’s executed by puritans. Cut to the present, and two teens are killed in the house that she haunts, one by being cut in half, the other by having his head severed and then popped in a microwave oven. Such grisliness does nothing to deter the Leahy family from moving into this inviting abode, but further supernatural mischief leads to the involvement of the area’s new priest (James Houghton, best known at the time for his recurring role on TV’s Knots Landing) and a veteran cop (character actor Albert Salmi, who in 1990 would fatally shoot himself and his wife in a murder-suicide). This one’s the pits on every level — even the final shot/twist can be predicted by even the most thickheaded of viewers (and would be repeated almost verbatim a few years later in the equally dismal Creepshow 2). Perhaps as penance, scripter Donald G. Thompson would spend the remainder of his career writing nothing but shoddy Chuck Norris vehicles.
Blu-ray extras consist of interviews with Houghton and director James Roberson; the theatrical trailer; and a TV spot.