View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD.
Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark (Photo: Paramount)
(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.)
BODY SLAM (1986). Body Slam is occasionally labeled the final theatrical release of stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham (Smokey and the Bandit, Stroker Ace), but that’s not quite accurate. While it was meant to play theaters, bad blood between Needham and the film’s writer-producers, Shel Lytton and Steve Burkow, resulted in the film missing multiplexes altogether and emerging as a straight-to-video title. It’s hard to imagine it would have mustered much box office business, as it’s a mediocre comedy that will appeal to wrestling fans far more than anyone else. The A-Team regular Dirk Benedict plays Harry Smilac, a struggling agent whose career is revitalized once he decides to mix professional wrestling with rock ‘n’ roll by featuring both on the same tour (the film was inspired by the rock ‘n’ wrestling boom in the 1980s). Benedict and Charlie’s Angels one-and-done Tanya Roberts are drab leads, with wrestler Roddy Piper stealing the show in his film debut.
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with co-star Barry Gordon and two theatrical trailers.
CAREER OPPORTUNITIES (1991). Among all the John Hughes joints, this is one of the worst. Written by Hughes but directed by Bryan Gordon, this is yet another Hughes male-fantasy-wish-fulfillment film in which a beautiful girl falls in love with the biggest dork around. Riiiiight. Frank Whaley is absolutely insufferable as Jim Dodge, a loser-of-all-trades who’s hired to work as the cleanup boy at the local Target. It’s during his first night on the job that he bonds with unhappy rich girl Josie McClellan (Jennifer Connelly), who happens to be camped out in the store, and fights off two bumbling criminals (real-life brothers Dermot and Kieran Mulroney). The fact that Hughes tried (and failed) to have his name removed from this movie tells you pretty much everything you need to know. Only a funny, uncredited turn by John Candy and Connelly’s ethereal beauty save this from a one-star rating.
Blu-ray extras consist of film critic audio commentary and the theatrical trailer.
THE COURIER (2021). The best Cold War thrillers are the ones that were made during the actual conflict, with such pictures as The Manchurian Candidate and The Spy Who Came In from the Cold possessing a grittiness and urgency that are, perhaps naturally, missing from the vast majority of post-1991 yarns of this nature. Like 2015’s Bridge of Spies, The Courier often feels like the celluloid equivalent of a history book, with the true-life tale unfolding in measured, respectful beats. Benedict Cumberbatch plays Greville Wynne, a British businessman who’s tapped by MI6 and the CIA to develop an association with Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), a Soviet officer passing along state secrets in an effort to cool the East-West tensions that culminated with the Cuban Missile Crisis. By focusing so intently on Wynne and his relationship not only with Penkovsky but also his own wife (Jessie Buckley), the movie works on a small scale but never quite conveys the enormity or sheer terror of the global situation (for that, watch 2000’s Thirteen Days).
The only Blu-ray extra is a making-of featurette.
GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021). The four films released thus far in the so-called MonsterVerse ably demonstrate that King Kong still reigns supreme. The 2017 Kong: Skull Island (reviewed here) is superior to all three Godzilla films, and that includes this latest one, which finds both behemoths sharing marquee billing. Decidedly more complicated (if not necessarily more engaging) than 1962’s Toho-produced King Kong vs. Godzilla (see King Kong: Ranking the Giant Ape Films here), this finds the big fellas squaring off against each other before ultimately teaming up to battle Mechagodzilla. As with the two previous Godzilla flicks (2014’s Godzilla and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters), the creature-on-creature action is often invigorating and always executed with excellent CGI, but the human characters (particularly the one played by Millie Bobby Brown) couldn’t be drippier.
Extras on the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital Code set consist of audio commentary by director Adam Wingard and 10 making-of pieces covering the titans’ histories, the visual effects, and more.
GUNS FOR SAN SEBASTIAN (1968). One doesn’t need to read the credits for Guns for San Sebastian to instantly peg the music as a Morricone. Contributing to a Western that is not of the Spaghetti strain, Ennio provides a lesser if still engaging score that works for this yarn focusing on Leon Alastray (Anthony Quinn), a Mexican outlaw who’s befriended by an elderly priest (Sam Jaffe). They journey together to the remote village of San Sebastian, but after the priest is fatally shot, Alastray is himself mistaken for a clergyman by the locals. Keeping up the ruse, he eventually becomes attached to the community and helps protect it from attacking Yaqui Indians. Charles Bronson co-stars as the thorn in Alastray’s side; although he generally excelled in his pre-stardom supporting roles, he’s underwhelming here, a condition shared by many of the characters and plot developments. The climax is rousing, but it’s Quinn who makes this worth a peek.
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette and the theatrical trailer.
INDIANA JONES 4-MOVIE COLLECTION (1981-2008). The Indiana Jones adventures have finally been released in a 4K Ultra HD edition (digital codes also included), and the results — in both the video and audio departments — are absolutely mesmerizing. As for the movies themselves, they hardly need any introduction.
A dream project between Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) is simply one of the all-time greats, a delightful thrill-a-minute flick in the grand swashbuckling and movie serial traditions. Harrison Ford is perfection-plus as Indiana Jones, so iconic a character that the AFI cited him as the second greatest movie hero of all time (just under Atticus Finch and just above James Bond) in its 2003 “100 Heroes & Villains” list. Every character is richly brought to life, particularly Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood, Paul Freeman’s Belloq (a frequently underrated villain), and, oh, yeah, that treacherous capuchin monkey. Nominated for eight Academy Awards (including Best Picture and Best Director for Spielberg), it nabbed four statues for its film editing, visual effects, sets, and sound, as well as a Special Achievement Award for sound effects editing.
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) is easily the most underrated film in the franchise, with its dark tone working perfectly in the context of its often macabre tale. Still, the comparatively bleak material and gross-out bits of this PG endeavor worked in tandem with the icky elements of that same summer’s Gremlins to lead to the creation of the PG-13 rating (reportedly at the suggestion of Spielberg himself). Kate Capshaw’s Willie Scott is a weak character when compared to the previous film’s Marion Ravenwood, but Short Round (Ke Huy Quan) is an engaging sidekick, and the action and atmospherics are tops. This earned an Oscar for its visual effects (beating 2010 and, perhaps surprisingly, Ghostbusters).
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989) closed the decade in style, with Sean Connery an inspired choice to play Indy’s dad and River Phoenix (who died four years later) an equally sensible selection to play the teenage Indiana Jones. Alison Doody’s Elsa Schneider is a better bet than Willie Scott (due largely to her duplicitous nature), and it’s wonderful to see Indy’s friends from Raiders, Marcus Brody (Denholm Elliott) and Sallah (John Rhys-Davies), returning to again help out our hero. This nabbed an Oscar for its sound effects editing.
The belated installment Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) is the runt of the litter, although there’s still plenty to enjoy. Karen Allen returns as Marion Ravenwood, and, even at 65, Ford still excels as the intrepid archaeologist-professor-adventurer. Despite more hiccups than usual (dry villains, a protracted third act), Spielberg keeps the film loose and limber. P.S. I will never understand the hatred for the refrigerator scene — it’s a marvelous set-piece and very much in the spirit of the whole franchise. You want a low point? How about Shia LaBeouf’s brash greaser Mutt Williams swinging through the trees alongside a bunch of CGI monkeys? (Honestly, LaBeoufing the Monkeys would have been a more accurate diss than Nuking the Fridge.)
The bonus features are all carried over from the previous 2012 Blu-ray box set, with a total running time of over seven hours. Extras include making-of featurettes and theatrical trailers for all four films; on-set footage from Raiders of the Lost Ark; a joint discussion with leading ladies Allen, Capshaw, and Doody; and various pieces on the series’ stunts, music, visual effects, sound effects, and more.
Raiders of the Lost Ark: ★★★★
Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom: ★★★½
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: ★★★½
Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: ★★★
LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL (1959). Reuniting many of the key players from 1957’s Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (including director and star) but more similar in tale and tone to 1957’s 3:10 to Yuma, John Sturges’ Last Train from Gun Hill casts Kirk Douglas as Matt Morgan, a marshal seeking the two men who raped and murdered his Native American wife (Ziva Rodann). He discovers that one of them is Rick Belden (Earl Holliman), the son of his friend and former partner Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn). Morgan is determined to bring the killers to justice, while Belden, now a powerful cattle baron, is equally hellbent on protecting his son. The unique situation provides the scenes between Douglas and Quinn with additional subtext that in turn expands the actors’ performances, with Carolyn Jones offering fine support as the woman caught between the pair.
Blu-ray extras in this latest installment in the Paramount Presents line consist of a discussion of the film with film critic Leonard Maltin and theatrical trailers.
THERE WAS A CROOKED MAN… (1970). The penultimate film of director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (All About Eve) is a tart-tongued Western written by the same gents (David Newman and Robert Benton) who had penned Bonnie and Clyde three years earlier. Kirk Douglas is excellent in the complex role of Paris Pitman Jr., a bank robber who’s captured and sent to an Arizona prison that’s soon run by reform-minded warden Woodward Lopeman (yet another nicely understated turn by Henry Fonda). Lopeman hopes that Pitman will be a model prisoner; for his part, the outlaw is plotting a great escape with the help of his cellmates. The heavy pre-release cutting hurts (blink and you might miss Lee Grant’s entire performance), but the marvelous cast helps — among Pitman’s cohorts in crime are Burgess Meredith as the once fearsome, now decrepit Missouri Kid, Warren Oates as a dim-witted cowboy, and Hume Cronyn (particularly wonderful) and John Randolph as a bickering homosexual couple.
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage featurette and the trailer.
VOYAGERS (2021). The pitch meeting for Voyagers must have been the shortest in history. “It’s Lord of the Flies in space! Now where should we go for lunch?” Yet it’s the faithfulness to the plot put forth by William Golding that prevents the film from exploring various other themes that perpetually remain on the margins. The early going is the best part, with Colin Farrell as a scientist who accompanies a group of children heading to a habitable planet 86 years away, knowing that it will actually be these kids’ grandchildren who will set foot on the brave new world in the future. Medicated to remain docile, the now-teenagers on the craft rebel by discontinuing their treatments; newly awakened, these formerly well-behaved kids grow horny and violent. Complex issues are tossed aside in favor of obvious action beats, and the breakdown of wicked and complacent kids vs. good kids is absurdly one-sided in favor of the former (approximately 80%-20%; even in the last election, the evil Trump only garnered 47% of the vote) and then summarily dismissed for the wrap-up.
Blu-ray extras include cast interviews and a look at the visual style.
ZIEGFELD FOLLIES (1946). Ziegfeld Follies opens with showman Flo Ziegfeld (William Powell, reprising his role from 1936’s The Great Ziegfeld) in Heaven, looking down and wishing that he could put together one final production packed with songs and stars. This setup leads to a compendium of musical numbers and comedy skits featuring approximately two dozen celebrities, including two future I Love Lucy actors in Lucille Ball and William Frawley. The quality between sketches is inconsistent — respectively taking the gold, silver and bronze are Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly (in their historic first teaming) performing “The Babbitt and the Bromide,” a smokin’ Lena Horne crooning “Love,” and Judy Garland getting into the spirit of “The Interview.”
Blu-ray extras consist of a retrospective featurette; audio-only outtakes; the Oscar-nominated 1947 short The Luckiest Guy in the World; the 1946 Tom & Jerry cartoon Solid Serenade; the 1946 cartoon The Hick Chick; and the theatrical trailer.