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.
Valerie Perrine, Steve Guttenberg (far right), Bruce Jenner (third from right) and the Village People in Can’t Stop the Music (Photo: Shout! Factory & StudioCanal)
(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.)
BETWEEN THE LINES (1977). As alternative newsweeklies continue to disappear at an alarming rate thanks to the Internet, soon to become as extinct as dinosaurs, Between the Lines takes on an even greater nostalgic vibe than ever before. Written by Fred Barron and directed by Joan Micklin Silver, it focuses on the staffers at the fictional Back Bay Mainline, an alternative publication in Boston. Worried that they might be bought out by a mainstream publishing company (plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose), the employees nevertheless continue to put out a paper even as they cope with personal problems. Often episodic in structure, the film features a who’s-who of actors then on the ascendancy: Jeff Goldblum as the music critic who divides his time between hitting on women and selling his promo albums at a local record store; John Heard as a prickly news writer whose best days might be behind him; Lindsay Crouse as a photographer more interested in perfecting her craft than in seeking glory; Stephen Collins as a self-centered writer hoping to cement a book deal; Bruno Kirby as a fledgling newshound; Jill Eikenberry as the loyal receptionist; Marilu Henner as a local stripper; and character actor Michael J. Pollard as the oddball who sleeps at the office and sells the papers car-to-car on the streets. Between the Lines occasionally hits a narrative lull (particularly in detailing the roller coaster relationship between the characters played by Heard and Crouse), but it’s quite accurate when tackling life around an indie newspaper office.
Blu-ray extras consist of a new interview with Silver; the theatrical trailer; and the 2018 re-release trailer.
CAN’T STOP THE MUSIC (1980). Reportedly the movie that, along with Xanadu, inspired the creation of the Golden Raspberry Awards (and, true to form, it was the group’s first winner for Worst Picture), this notorious megabomb was released moments after the disco era had effectively ended (at least in the hearts and minds of the general public). Opening a couple of years earlier might have helped it from a commercial standpoint but not a critical one, as its campiness and awkwardness would grate in any era. With “The Sound of the City” pulsating on the soundtrack, the film opens with a lovely aural and visual tribute to New York City, after which it immediately goes downhill. A fictionalized look at the career of French producer Jacques Morali (Americanized here in the form of Steve Guttenberg) and his creation of the Village People, the film includes very few highlights, among them the perky Valerie Perrine (as den mother to all) and the “Y.M.C.A.” number, about the only time this picture doesn’t try to hide its deep homosexual roots. The remainder is pretty poor, starting with the abysmal performances by Bruce (now Caitlyn) Jenner as a close-minded lunkhead and Marilyn Sokol as a horny assistant (“That Indian is hot! Tell him I’ll make up for the indignities his people suffered in Roots.”). Still, the enjoyable level of kitsch places it above the other musical turkeys of the era, all of which are far more painful to endure (Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Xanadu, The Apple).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by filmmaker Jeffrey Schwarz and comedy writer Bruce Vilanch; a pair of interviews with Randy Jones (The Cowboy); TV spots; and the theatrical trailer.
DOUBLE IMPACT (1991). It’s double the Van Damme-age with Double Impact, which finds martial arts star Jean-Claude Van Damme tackling the time-honored cinematic tradition also essayed by the likes of Bette Davis, Bette Midler, Jeremy Irons and Leonardo DiCaprio. In other words — and in the words of Tony Roberts in Annie Hall — “Twins, Max!” Van Damme attempts to show off his (limited) range as Chad and Alex Wagner, who were separated at the age of 6 months when their parents were gunned down by scores of Hong Kong assassins under orders from Dad’s duplicitous business partner (Alan Scarfe) and a local crime kingpin (Philip Chan). Cut to 25 years later and Chad has been raised in California by the family’s former bodyguard, Frank Avery (Geoffrey Lewis), while Alex grew up in Hong Kong. The main difference between them is that Chad, a physical instructor, wears pink pants while Alex, a black-market operative, chomps on a cigar — otherwise, both are quick with the quips and with the martial arts moves. And both are reunited by Frank in an effort to finally take revenge on the men responsible for their parents’ deaths. This is packed with the sort of material one would expect from a middling JCVD programmer: some decent hand-to-hand (or, rather, foot-to-foot) combat, too many dull shootouts, and dopey dialogue that sounds even dopier coming from Van Damme. Incidentally, the actor would again tackle dual roles in 1996’s Maximum Risk and 2001’s Replicant.
Blu-ray extras include a two-hour retrospective making-of documentary; deleted and extended scenes; a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; and the theatrical trailer.
KIDNAPPED (1971) / THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (1971). Two catalog titles recently released on the Kino Lorber label may not initially seem to have much in common, but the similarities are there. Both Kidnapped and They Might Be Giants were released in 1971, both have their roots in classic literature, and (here’s the rub) both are vastly entertaining until running out of steam during the third act.
Kidnapped is based on Robert Louis Stevenson’s same-named novel as well as its sequel David Balfour (aka Catriona). Lawrence Douglas plays young David, who’s sold to a dishonorable sea captain (Jack Hawkins) by his conniving uncle (Donald Pleasence) before hooking up with adventurer Alan Breck (Michael Caine) to aid the Scotsman in his fight against the British. They Might Be Giants, meanwhile, borrows Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth for a modern-day tale about a former judge (George C. Scott) who believes he’s actually Sherlock Holmes, only to become even more convinced once he meets a psychiatrist named Dr. Watson (Joanne Woodward). Both movies benefit greatly from stellar performances (Caine, Pleasence and Trevor Howard in the former, Scott, Woodward and Jack Gilford in the latter), with Kidnapped also charged by energetic action sequences and Giants powered by its offbeat sensibilities. But Kidnapped struggles with its cumbersome storyline as it tries to wrap up, while Giants eventually gets smothered by its ever-escalating whimsy.
The only Blu-ray extras on Kidnapped are trailers for the film and for other Michael Caine titles being offered through Kino. Blu-ray extras on They Might Be Giants consist of audio commentary by director Anthony Harvey and film archivist Robert A. Harris; a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; and theatrical trailers.
They Might Be Giants: ★★½
MISSISSIPPI BURNING (1988). Perhaps second only to The Last Temptation of Christ as the 1988 release to appear the most frequently on newspaper op-ed pages, this firebrand of a film starts from historical tragedy and then spins off in its own direction, the most dubious sidestep being its treatment of J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI as a pivotal and heroic ingredient of the Civil Rights Movement. Yet as cinema, this is an electrifying watch, and its fudging of the facts never gets in the way of its sturdy liberal politics — or the simple cathartic pleasure of watching Gene Hackman deal with racist “shit-kickers.” Hackman delivers what might be his greatest performance as Rupert Anderson, an FBI agent who’s sent to a backward Mississippi town in 1964 to investigate the disappearance of three civil rights workers. While Anderson is OK with bending the law to achieve results, his partner Alan Ward (Willem Dafoe) prefers to do everything by the book. Their methods are radically different, but they’re united in their desire to nail everyone responsible, from complicit cops to Ku Klux Klan evildoers. Dafoe’s performance comes into sharper relief when one realizes his other role in 1988 was as Jesus in The Last Temptation of Christ, but this is Hackman’s picture all the way — he’s terrific, whether squaring off against the most brutal of the racists (Michael Rooker), annoying Ward with his folksy humor, or tenderly striking up a friendship with the unhappy wife (an excellent Frances McDormand) of a despicable deputy (Brad Dourif). Nominated for seven Oscars — in addition to Hackman, other nods included Best Picture, Best Director (Alan Parker) and Best Supporting Actress (McDormand) — it won for Best Cinematography (Peter Biziou).
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Parker and the theatrical trailer.
ONE SINGS, THE OTHER DOESN’T (1977). The theatrical trailer for this largely forgotten film from French national treasure Agnès Varda (who passed away this past March at the age of 90) declares that it’s about “the struggle of two women to do with their bodies as they please.” Clearly, with this nation’s right-wing monsters doing everything in their power to steer women toward a Handmaid’s Tale type of future, this picture’s themes couldn’t possibly be more relevant. Spanning several years, it’s a look at the lives of two dissimilar women who nevertheless become the best of friends, even though they’re usually separated by distance. Pauline (Valérie Mairesse) is a student who rebels against her parents and longs to become a singer. Suzanne (Thérèse Liotard) is a wife and mother whose difficult life has worn her down. Pauline helps Suzanne acquire an abortion (illegal at the time in France), and from there, their friendship grows, with Suzanne coping with a photographer husband (Robert Dadiès) with suicidal tendencies and Pauline eventually falling for an Iranian (Ali Rafie) who decides they should live in his homeland. One Sings, the Other Doesn’t is a richly textured and deeply humanistic picture, further strengthened by Varda’s strong feminist slant.
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1977 documentary Women Are Naturally Creative: Agnès Varda, featuring interviews with Varda, Liotard and Mairesse; Varda’s 1975 documentary short Women Reply: Our Bodies, Our Sex; Varda’s 1976 documentary short The Pleasure of Love in Iran (featuring Mairesse, Rafie and Liotard); and the theatrical trailer.
A PATCH OF BLUE (1965). Adapted by writer-director-producer Guy Green from Elizabeth Kata’s novel Be Ready with Bells and Drums, A Patch of Blue is an enormously moving drama featuring a remarkable debut by 21-year-old Elizabeth Hartman. Hartman stars as Selina, who was accidentally blinded at the age of 5 by her trashy mother (Shelley Winters). Now a young woman and living with her mom and her perpetually drunk grandfather (veteran Wallace Ford in his final film appearance), Selina pines for those moments when she’s allowed outside the apartment for afternoon visits to the park. There, she encounters Gordon Ralfe (Sidney Poitier), a stranger who takes pity on the girl and eventually becomes her close friend. Selina doesn’t realize that Gordon is black, although it wouldn’t matter to her either way; alas, the same viewpoint isn’t shared by her bigoted mother. Hartman is superb as Selina, delivering an absolutely heartbreaking performance, while Poitier expertly adds additional dimensions to what could have been a slender Good Samaritan role. As for Winters, she delivers the same blowsy performance found in too many of her movies; nevertheless, she won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar. Far more worthy of recognition were those nominated in four other categories: Best Actress (Hartman), Best Original Score (a memorable effort by the great Jerry Goldsmith), Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Set Decoration. Hartman, also known for her role opposite Clint Eastwood in 1971’s The Beguiled, tragically committed suicide in 1987, at the age of 43.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Green; a vintage behind-the-scenes piece focusing on Hartman; and the theatrical trailer.
UNIVERSAL HORROR COLLECTION VOLUME 1 (1934-1940). Back in 2005, Universal’s home-video branch released the DVD set The Bela Lugosi Collection, poorly named since four of the five pictures co-starred Boris Karloff. This superb new box set from Shout! Factory jettisons the solo Lugosi title from that offering (1932’s creaky Murders in the Rue Morgue) and showcases the four Karloff-Lugosi features in all their atmospheric glory.
The Black Cat (1934) finds the Karloff-Lugosi series getting off to a roaring start. Taking the title of the Edgar Allan Poe tale, this one casts a menacing Karloff as Hjalmar Poelzig, a Satan worshipper who lives in a fabulous mansion in a remote area not far from Budapest. He receives an unexpected visit from Dr. Vitus Verdegast (Lugosi), a former army comrade seeking revenge for Poelzig’s twin sins of betraying their outfit and stealing Verdegast’s wife. Director Edgar G. Ulmer ably creates and sustains a spellbinding mood — he would later establish himself as a key helmer of film noirs — and the interplay between Karloff and Lugosi is mesmerizing.
The pair were reunited the very next year for The Raven (1935), an equally impressive horror yarn that likewise borrowed a Poe title but then headed off in its own direction. Here, Lugosi is the one oozing evil from every pore: He’s cast as Dr. Vollin, a madman whose Poe fetish extends to the fact that his basement contains all manner of torture devices, including that ever-swinging pendulum. Karloff eventually turns up as Bateman, an escaped killer whose plan to repent and lead a good life is shot to hell once the sadistic doctor horribly mutilates his face and forces him to serve as his henchman. Like The Black Cat, this was considered potent in its day; certainly, it made an impression on me during my youth, as one of my earliest movie memories is the scene in which the young hero (Lester Matthews) dashes into a bedroom to save his fiancée (Irene Ware), only to discover that the room has disappeared and only a firm grip on the doorknob saves him from plummeting into the blackness below.
Taking a break from Poe, The Invisible Ray (1936) is a nifty blend of horror and science fiction, with Karloff as a dedicated scientist who discovers an otherworldly substance (Radium X) that causes him to glow and allows him to kill people just by touching them. His colleague (Lugosi, looking quite dapper with a beard) supplies an antidote, but the side effects lead the scientist to lose his mind and go on a murderous rampage. Lugosi enjoys a rare sympathetic role in this film, and my older daughter — a huge Lugosi fan and all of 14 when she first watched this with me back in the day — was on the edge of her seat waiting to see if he would actually make it out of this one alive (no fair telling).
Black Friday (1940) was the beginning of the end: While Karloff would continue to prominently appear in horror flicks for the remainder of his life, Lugosi found himself already being relegated to inconsequential bit parts. Karloff stars as a kindly doctor who tries to save the life of a dying professor (Stanley Ridges) by giving him the brain of an injured gangster. But once the patient begins to exhibit Jekyll and Hyde tendencies by switching back and forth between gentle teacher and ruthless mobster, the doctor devises a scheme that will benefit him financially. Lugosi, already looking haggardly, appears in a supporting role as a rival gangster.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentaries on all four films by various film historians; new retrospective pieces on the movies; the featurette Dreams Within a Dream: The Classic Cinema of Edgar Allan Poe; separate audio recordings of both Karloff and Lugosi reading Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart”; and photo galleries.
The Black Cat: ★★★½
The Raven: ★★★½
The Invisible Ray: ★★★
Black Friday: ★★½
Short And Sweet:
JEFFREY (1995). In this screen version of Paul Rudnik’s stage hit, Steven Weber portrays a gay man whose decision to swear off sex in the age of AIDS leads to all sorts of inner turmoil when he falls in love with an HIV-positive stud (Michael T. Weiss). The first act provides ample fun — even when director Christopher Ashley’s gimmick-laden approach falls flat, there are enough imaginative visual touches and clever lines to compensate. But the energy level drains away once the picture turns serious, and what remains is a somber plotline that was handled far more effectively in such works as And the Band Played On and Longtime Companion. Patrick Stewart easily takes top acting honors as a gay interior decorator with a sharp wit and a sharp wardrobe, but cameos by such stars as Sigourney Weaver, Nathan Lane and Olympia Dukakis add little.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Weber; interviews with Weber and producer Mark Balsam; and the theatrical trailer.
THE KID (2019). For his sophomore effort as director (following the 2010 horror musical Don’t Go in the Woods), actor Vincent D’Onofrio turns to the Western, working from Andrew Lanham’s script to fashion a respectable entry in the storied genre. D’Onofrio and Lanham find a way to take the saga of Billy the Kid (Dane DeHaan) and Sheriff Pat Garrett (Ethan Hawke) and add it as a framework for a sturdy coming-of-age tale. Jake Schur plays Rio Cutler, a young boy who kills his abusive father and, along with his sister (Leila George), is forced to flee from his dad’s equally cruel brother (Chris Pratt in a rare villainous role). The siblings end up in the company of both Billy and Garrett, with Rio admiring the outlaw more than the lawman. Excellent performances and a suitably hard-edged ambience propel this above-average oater.
The only Blu-ray extra is a making-of piece.