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.
Harvey Keitel, Mekhi Phifer and John Turturro in Clockers (Photo: Kino)
(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.)
CLOCKERS (1995). Spike Lee’s film version of Richard Price’s novel (with the famed director and the famed author sharing script credit) is a meaty and absorbing affair that goes deeper than most movies centering on black-on-black crime. The plot — about a sharp detective (Harvey Keitel) circling around the drug dealer (Mekhi Phifer) he suspects may have committed a cold-blooded killing — may not sound blazingly original, but Lee and Price make sure the piece sufficiently addresses such issues as the devastating effect that criminals have on their own communities and the roles that both cops and crooks can play in tandem with each other. Second-billed John Turturro is wasted in an insignificant role as a fellow detective, but there are powerful performances from Phifer (in his film debut) as the in-over-his-head dealer, Delroy Lindo as a drug lord whose Mr. Rogers demeanor masks a vicious soul, and Keitel as the crusading cop whose racist wisecracks belie the generous heart that beats beneath his badge. Incidentally, the Kino label has just released five Spike Lee flicks on Blu-ray; the others are Mo’ Better Blues, Jungle Fever, Crooklyn and Summer of Sam.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film critic Kameron Austin Collins and the theatrical trailer.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981). Part of the glut of early-‘80s slasher flicks that erupted in the wake of 1978’s Halloween, My Bloody Valentine also remains one of the best known of all Canadian horror films. But Black Christmas it ain’t, even though, like that rousing 1974 chiller, its gruesome exploits also center around a beloved holiday. Twenty years ago, a mining accident in the town of Valentine Bluffs left several dead, with the lone survivor, Harry Warden (Peter Cowper), gorily killing the two supervisors he blamed for the mishap. Now the townspeople have decided to resurrect the annual Valentine’s Day party, a decision that leads to a man in a miner’s mask cutting the hearts out of various locals. Could Harry Warden have returned after all this time? Don’t hold your breath: Even at the age of 15 (when I first caught it on HBO), the identity of the killer was head-smackingly obvious. Lacking even an ounce of imagination, this is no better and maybe just a little bit worse than most of the era’s like-minded fare.
The Blu-ray edition from Shout! Factory contains both the theatrical and uncut versions. Extras include audio commentary by director George Mihalka and new interviews with various cast members.
THE NIGHTINGALE (2019). Jennifer Kent’s sophomore feature (following her worthy debut with 2014’s The Babadook) opens with a woman getting repeatedly raped while her husband is shot dead and her newborn baby gets smashed against the wall — from there, the grim tone never wavers. Set in 1825 Australia, this looks at the awful treatment of both women (repped by Aisling Franciosi as an Irish servant) and indigenous people (repped by Baykali Ganambarr as an Aboriginal tracker) by the colonizing Brits (primarily repped by Sam Claflin as an officer so evil, he makes Schindler’s List’s Amon Goth seem as threatening as Little Lulu by comparison). Over the course of the film, more women are raped, more kids are murdered, and so on. Kent’s movie is expertly staged and well-intentioned, but its unrelenting (and repetitive) brutality is tough to stomach and, for some, will stumble over into exploitation territory (at heart, this is a revenge thriller from the 1970s). Even the expected catharsis amounts to too little, too late. Still, YMMV, as the film has its ardent supporters. Franciosi and Ganambarr are excellent, and their unorthodox friendship is the picture’s strongest component.
Blu-ray extras consist of a pair of making-of featurettes; an image gallery; and the theatrical trailer.
RABID (2019). David Cronenberg’s 1977 Rabid, starring porn star Marilyn Chambers in her first non-XXX feature, isn’t a great movie as much as it’s a great cult film. Nevertheless, on the heels of 1975’s Shivers (aka They Came from Within and The Parasite Murders), the picture allowed the writer-director to continue to explore themes that would be central to his career: the different forms that sexual perversity can take, as well as the various ways in which humans are often betrayed by their own bodies. This remake, in which a woman (Laura Vandervoort) involved in a vehicular accident undergoes an operation that leads her to crave blood while simultaneously spreading her disease, retains the (very) basic outline of Cronenberg’s original but never really develops its own voice. Still, it would be passable if the third act didn’t completely go off the rails with its risible developments and a tendency to show off its icky effects just because it can.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by directors Jen and Sylvia Soska; a behind-the-scenes piece; an interview with Vandervoort; and the theatrical trailer.
ROMA (2018). In the previous year’s Oscar race, Alfonso Cuaron’s Roma stood a great chance of becoming the first foreign language film to win the Best Picture Academy Award. Unfortunately, Steven Spielberg and co. threw a hissy fit at a Netflix title being in contention and campaigned for the utterly undeserving Green Book to win (which it did). Luckily for Parasite, it was not a Netflix production, and so it instead just became the first foreign title to win the industry’s top honor. But don’t shed any tears for Roma, which still won three major Oscars (Best Director for Cuaron, Best Cinematography for Cuaron, and Best Foreign Language Film) out of 10 nominations and — despite Spielberg’s sputtering protests — helped transform Netflix into an awards behemoth (this year, the streaming company nabbed a leading 24 nominations). As for the film, it finds Cuaron loosely drawing from his own childhood experiences to fashion a leisurely and loving look at a family living in Mexico City in the early 1970s.
Blu-ray extras consist of a new making-of documentary; four new featurettes examining the film’s sound work, marketing campaign, and more; and trailers.
THE STING II (1983). Spoiler alert: Butch and Sundance die at the end of 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. So despite the film’s resounding success and the popularity of Paul Newman and Robert Redford, there simply could be no sequel. The 1973 smash The Sting, with Newman and Redford cast as a pair of wily con men, was another matter. Winner of seven Oscars (including Best Picture), it certainly presented the opportunity for a sequel. But a Sting movie without Newman and Redford would be as daft as an Indiana Jones flick without Harrison Ford, and once it was obvious the actors were no-shows for The Sting II, the project should have been axed. Instead, it was made with Redford replaced by Mac Davis(!) and Newman replaced by Jackie Gleason(!!), and the result was a gargantuan bomb. The film isn’t awful, just ordinary, as the duo find themselves taking part in another convoluted scheme. Teri Garr is appealing as a new team player, and there’s one amusing early sequence involving the comeuppance of a pompous racketeer (Karl Malden); otherwise, that’s about it for this superfluous sequel.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director Jeremy Kagan and the theatrical trailer.
TRANSYLVANIA 6-5000 (1985). The anti-Young Frankenstein, Transylvania 6-5000 might be the worst horror-comedy ever made. Jeff Goldblum and Ed Begley Jr. play a pair of tabloid reporters who are sent by their boss (Norman Fell) to Transylvania to investigate the sighting of a potentially real Frankenstein monster. Writer-director Rudy De Luca may have worked alongside the likes of Mel Brooks and Carol Burnett, but out on his own, he displays none of the skill associated with those comic legends. For his part, Begley throws himself fully into his role — at one point, he even channels his inner Lou Costello — but nobody else makes any sort of right impression. Goldblum remains aloof (then again, he was probably distracted by co-star Geena Davis, whom he later married … and divorced); Joseph Bologna embarrasses himself as a mad scientist, Carol Kane and John Byner engage in a lengthy routine that falls dismally flat; De Luca himself turns up as Lawrence Malbot (Lon Chaney Jr. must still be spinning in his grave); and, worst of all, Michael Richards is absolutely painful to watch as a clumsy servant.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by De Luca and visual consultant Steve Haberman; TV spots; and theatrical trailers.