View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD.
The Railway Children (Photo: Kino & 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.)
BRUCE WILLIS 8-MOVIE COLLECTION (1988-2007). During his A-list days, Bruce Willis was remarkably lucky in that he would periodically appear in a string of duds before reviving his career with a Pulp Fiction or a 12 Monkeys or a Sixth Sense. Sadly, this collection of Willis vehicles contains none of his finest films; the best one can hope for is a modestly entertaining effort like 2000’s The Whole Nine Yards (★★½). The earliest picture in the set is 1988’s Sunset (★½), the Blake Edwards misfire in which cinematic cowboy star Tom Mix (Willis) teams up with Wyatt Earp (James Garner) to solve a murder; the most recent is 2007’s ludicrous Perfect Stranger (★½), in which a reporter (Halle Berry) suspects a businessman (Willis) of murder. The worst film is easily 1991’s Hudson Hawk (★), a ghastly vanity piece that became one of the biggest celluloid jokes of the early 1990s.
There are no extras in this three-disc DVD set from Mill Creek Entertainment. The label has also released Jean-Claude Van Damme 8-Movie Collection; with such titles as 1994’s Street Fighter and 1997’s Double Team, it’s even lamer than the Bruce Willis set.
CB4 (1993). In this rap variation on This Is Spinal Tap, Chris Rock, Allen Payne and Deezer D play three amiable, middle-class kids who decide to launch a successful recording career by passing themselves off as genuine gangsta rappers with such names as MC Gusto, Dead Mike, and Stab Master Arson. The hit songs “Sweat of My Balls” and “Straight Out of Locash” turn them into stars, but their fame is tempered by interference from both a right-wing politician (Phil Hartman) and a hardcore mobster (Charlie Murphy). Editing room cuts help explain some of the narrative haphazardness (Hartman’s character disappears halfway through, although the trailer features him in an apparently major scene not found in the finished product), but the main problem is that the scripters (including Rock) possess neither the temerity nor the tenacity to turn this softball comedy into a cutting-edge satire.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; interviews with director Tamra Davis and co-writer Nelson George; and theatrical trailers.
CHAIN LIGHTNING (1950). Over the course of 20 years, Humphrey Bogart made so many great films at Warner Bros. (if I start naming them, we’ll be here all day) that it’s disappointing his final collaboration with the studio turned out to be one of his weaker efforts during that stretch. Indeed, Bogie isn’t entirely convincing in the role of Matt Brennan, a former WWII ace who agrees to be the lead test pilot for an aircraft company working on an experimental jet. Eleanor Parker plays the love interest who, like Casablanca’s Ilsa, unexpectedly reenters Matt’s life, Raymond Massey is the owner of the aircraft company, and Richard Whorf portrays the jet’s designer. The aerial sequences deliver the goods, but, despite a decent performance by Whorf, the scenes set on terra firma have a tendency to drag.
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1949 cartoon Bear Feet; the 1949 live-action short So You Want to Be an Actor; and the theatrical trailer.
IT HAPPENED AT THE WORLD’S FAIR (1963). Between starring in good movies at the beginning of his film career (among them Jailhouse Rock, King Creole, and Kid Galahad, the latter reviewed here) and bad ones at the end (Speedway, Change of Habit, etc.), Elvis Presley headlined a number of agreeable if unexceptional vehicles during that middle stretch. That would include It Happened at the World’s Fair, in which he plays a pilot (of the crop duster variety) who divides his time between coping with his irresponsible partner (a pre-2001: A Space Odyssey’s Gary Lockwood), wooing a cautious nurse (Joan O’Brien), and babysitting a little Chinese girl (Vicky Tiu) after her uncle (Kam Tong) goes missing. Oh, yeah, it all happens at the world’s fair. An 11-year-old Kurt Russell makes his film debut as the kid who kicks Elvis in the shin. It’s all pleasant enough, but even Elvis aficionados might agree that packing 10 songs (none top-tier) into one movie might be a bit much.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (1970). This beloved British release is a wondrous family film that should captivate the young’uns — or at least those capable of responding to a motion picture that doesn’t move at the locomotive speed of a superhero saga. Based on E. Nesbit’s turn-of-the-century novel, this lovely and leisurely movie centers on the Waterbury family and the circumstances that arise after the father (Iain Cuthbertson) is falsely accused of treason and his now-impoverished wife (Dinah Sheridan) and children (Jenny Agutter, Sally Thomsett and Gary Warren) are forced to move from their London mansion to a Yorkshire cottage. The bulk of the film follows the three kids as they make an impression on the locals, including the alternately sweet and sour porter Albert Perks (a splendid Bernard Cribbins). This is a feel-good movie in the best sense of the term, with lovable characters and desirable outcomes.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other movies on the Kino label.
SHE DONE HIM WRONG (1933) / I’M NO ANGEL (1933) / MY LITTLE CHICKADEE (1940). Excluding the two mega-bombs she made toward the end of her life (1970’s Myra Breckinridge and 1978’s Sextette), Mae West only starred in a total of 10 movies before tapping out of the film industry. Kino Lorber has now brought nine of those 10 titles to Blu-ray (all sold separately). The only one missing is the final one in that stretch: 1942’s The Heat’s On, a flop that convinced West to leave Hollywood and instead enjoy success on both Broadway and Las Vegas stages. Considering her brief filmography, her superstar status is even more impressive. At one point, she was the highest paid female star in the world, and the American Film Institute placed her #15 among the 25 greatest screen actresses in its 1999 “100 Years… 100 Stars” list. The three movies covered here are arguably her most famous.
After a scene-stealing supporting turn in her debut feature, 1932’s Night After Night, West became an overnight sensation by turning her Broadway hit Diamond Lil into the movie She Done Him Wrong. An Academy Award nominee for Best Picture, this pre-Code gem finds West cast as an 1890s saloon singer who catches the eye of every single male who enters her orbit. Yet it’s the dashing young man (Cary Grant) who works at the mission next door who receives the invitation, “Why don’t you come up sometime and see me?”
Like She Done Him Wrong, I’m No Angel works so well because its pre-Code status meant that West could get away with so many sexual double entendres. Another enormous hit featuring an up-and-coming Grant, this stars West as a circus entertainer with an eye out for rich men. This one’s packed with classic quips — “When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better” is first among equals, although I’m personally always amused by “Peel me a grape.”
The Western spoof My Little Chickadee benefits from the superstar teaming of West and W.C. Fields, both also earning credit for the screenplay. She’s (what else?) a woman of loose morals who ends up romancing a masked bandit sought by the law; he’s (what else?) a shyster who gets no respect yet still manages to wiggle out of several sticky situations. The plot is sloppy and at least one major storyline is never resolved, but the stars nevertheless shine — Fields is particularly funny and commands most of the best scenes.
Each Blu-ray includes a film historian audio commentary and various trailers. She Done Him Wrong also offers an introduction by the late TCM host Robert Osborne and the 1933 cartoon She Done Him Right.
She Done Him Wrong: ★★★½
I’m No Angel: ★★★½
My Little Chickadee: ★★★
STREETWISE (1984). An Academy Award nominee for Best Documentary Feature, this collaboration between director Martin Bell, photographer Mary Ellen Frank, and writer Cheryl McCall is a penetrating examination of homeless teenagers trying to survive on the Seattle streets. Girls as young as 13 are working as prostitutes while some of the guys are figuring out ways to rob people. One featured teen commits suicide before the end of the movie, while subsequent news articles have revealed that three others have been murdered over the years. It’s a grim world, and a grim film. The documentary’s most compelling figure is Erin Blackwell (aka Tiny), a 14-year-old who’s revealed to have already caught several STDs even before she had her first period.
Criterion’s Blu-ray edition also contains 2016’s follow-up film Tiny: The Life of Erin Blackwell, which catches up with Blackwell at approximately 46 years of age and now the mother of 10 children. Extras include audio commentary on Streetwise by Bell; an interview with Bell about Mark (Bell’s wife as well as collaborator, she passed away in 2015); and four short films by Bell.
TAKE THIS JOB AND SHOVE IT (1981). Far from being the worst movie named after a hit song — that would probably be Sam Peckinpah’s inane Convoy — Take This Job and Shove It still amounts to nothing more than a mere mediocrity. Nabbing its title from the Johnny Paycheck song, it stars Airplane!‘s Robert Hays as Frank Macklin, a slick company executive who’s sent back to his Iowa hometown to make some changes to the area’s economic lifeline, the Pickett Brewery. His former best friends (David Keith and Tim Thomerson) are happy to see him but also wary of his corporate decree; the same goes for his ex-girlfriend (Barbara Hershey) and the brewery owner (Art Carney). A good supporting cast helps, but the film is ultimately undone by too many sops to the redneck crowd (monster trucks, barroom brawls, slapstick shenanigans involving beer) and not enough zing to its labor vs. management angle.
Blu-ray extras consist of an image gallery; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other movies available through Kino.
VISIONS OF EIGHT (1973). The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich will forever be known primarily for the Palestinian terrorist attack that left 11 Israeli athletes and one German police officer dead. Although it briefly touches upon this tragedy, Visions of Eight is more interested in focusing on the games themselves, with eight renowned international directors offering their own takes on the event. It’s a fascinating exercise in artistry, as such filmmakers as Czechoslovakia’s Milos Forman, Great Britain’s John Schlesinger, Sweden’s Mai Zettterling, and France’s Claude Lelouch all offer lovingly crafted segments featuring winners, losers, and everyone in between. Best of all the chapters is the one helmed by the U.S.’s Arthur Penn, who captures pole vaulters in striking slow motion.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by various podcasters; a new retrospective documentary that includes interviews and outtakes; a vintage promotional piece; and the trailer.