View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Jason Lee and Billy Crudup in Almost Famous (Photo: Paramount)
(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
ALMOST FAMOUS (2000). Perhaps the most flat-out entertaining movie of its year, Almost Famous was based on writer-director Cameron Crowe’s own experiences when he began writing for Rolling Stone at the age of 15. Set in 1973, this follows the Crowe surrogate William Miller (appealing Patrick Fugit) as he hangs out with the members of an up-and-coming band named Stillwater. Assigned by Rolling Stone to pen a cover story on the band, he tags along with the musicians and their groupies as they tour city to city. It’s a heady experience for the young lad, and his objectivity threatens to get compromised by the fact that he’s becoming chummy with the band members (including ones played by Billy Crudup and Jason Lee). Rarely a false step is taken in this rich and vibrant picture that features scintillating dialogue by Crowe and original tunes by Crowe and Heart members (and Crowe’s then-wife and sister-in-law) Nancy and Ann Wilson. The cast is uniformly excellent, with Frances McDormand as William’s worried mother and Philip Seymour Hoffman as influential rock critic Lester Bangs as the standouts. Crowe took the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, with three additional nominations for Best Supporting Actress (McDormand and Kate Hudson) and Best Film Editing.
The 4K Steelbook Edition from Paramount is a beaut, packed with old and new extras and containing both the theatrical version and the lengthier Bootleg Cut. The only extra on the Bootleg Cut is audio commentary by Crowe. Extras on the theatrical version include an intro by Crowe; a new conversation with Crowe; a making-of featurette; extended scenes; a vintage interview with Lester Bangs; a look at Crowe’s “Top Albums of 1973”; and the music video for Stillwater’s “Fever Dog.” Paramount has also newly released the film on Blu-ray as part of its “Paramount Presents” line.
HOUSE OF WAX (2005). For less money, film fans can pick up the Blu-ray of either the classic 1953 House of Wax with Vincent Price or its predecessor, 1933’s Mystery of the Wax Museum (reviewed here). You won’t get that kind of deal if you drop dough on this version, which somehow manages to be even worse than the 21st century renditions of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and The Amityville Horror (the mind boggles). This follows a group of dim-witted college-age kids as they find themselves lost in the Louisiana wilds. They stumble across a backwoods burg and quickly become slasher fodder for the town’s resident madmen, twin brothers (played by Brian Van Holt) who subdue their victims and then encase them in wax. It takes an eternity of running time for the kids to reach the town, and even after the slaughter begins, director Jaume Collet-Serra (who fared better with such subsequent releases as Non-Stop and The Shallows and has Jungle Cruise and Black Adam upcoming) and scripters Chad and Carey Hayes still take time out for an obligatory interlude that allows Paris Hilton (terrible, needless to say) a chance to striptease down to her undies. Sadistic in the same manner as High Tension and Wolf Creek — for starters, the heroine (24‘s Elisha Cuthbert) has her index finger sliced off by pliers and her lips glued shut — this House has been constructed by mercenaries, not moviemakers.
If nothing else, the new Blu-ray from Shout! Factory arrives with a generous amount of special features. Extras include separate interviews with Hilton, co-star Robert Ri’chard, composer John Ottman, and makeup effects artist Jason Baird; vintage cast and crew interviews; a vintage piece with producer Joel Silver plugging the movie; featurettes on the film’s visual effects and set design; an alternate opening; and a gag reel.
MORTAL KOMBAT (2021). The usual comment of a movie being overwhelmed by its visual effects doesn’t hold water here, since there’s not really much of a movie to overwhelm. Instead, the CGI is the show, the whole show, and nothing but the show in a film that should satisfy the video-game connoisseurs but holds limited appeal to anyone else. Even if it’s not always convincing, the FX work is unique enough to give the picture some punch — this is especially true since, unlike the PG-13 Mortal Kombat from 1995, this one’s rated R, opening the floodgates for all manner of inventive gore. Throats are sliced, appendages are chopped off, and one airborne character meets her demise in particularly spectacular — and gruesome — fashion. Beyond the visual razzmatazz, though, there lies only dull characters and lifeless exposition. The Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsung (Chin Han) needs only one more Mortal Kombat tournament victory in order to conquer Earthrealm (i.e. our planet), but Earth’s mightiest heroes have no intention of letting this happen. This assemblage includes the boring Cole Young (Lewis Tan), the boring Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), the boring Liu Kang (Ludi Lin), and the slightly more interesting yet still nothing-to-write-home-about Kung Lao (Max Huang). They’re pitted against such snarling villains as Sub-Zero (Joe Taslim) and a fearsome creature known as Goro (a four-armed giant who looks as if he escaped from the Ray Harryhausen stable). And then there’s the Aussie hothead Kano (Josh Lawson), whose loyalty blows with the wind. Kano’s an overbearing character, but he at least offers a respite from the dullards surrounding him.
Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital release from Warner Bros. includes a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; a look at the various characters; and a piece on the fight sequences.
OBJECTIVE, BURMA! (1945). Most of the World War II films that were produced and released during the conflict understandably leaned heavy on the propaganda, which makes Objective, Burma! seem all the more unusual and remarkable. It often has more in common with such modern-day WWII flicks as Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan and Eastwood’s Letters from Iwo Jima, as the jingoism is kept to a minimum in exchange for more time spent on the grueling horrors of war. Errol Flynn delivers one of his finest performances as Captain Nelson, who leads a group of paratroopers into Burma in order to destroy a strategically placed Japanese radio station. They succeed with no casualties, but after Japanese forces prevent them from flying out as planned, they must hoof it through hundreds of miles of enemy-infested terrain. The action is exciting, the suspense is palpable, and the story pulls no punches in depicting the brutality of war. A hit stateside, this was banned in England for seven years, as the British were outraged that the movie ignored their massive contributions during the Burma Campaign and made it seem as if the Americans were the only heroes to be found anywhere. Objective, Burma! earned a trio of Academy Award nominations for Best Original Story (Alvah Bessie, later one of the blacklisted “Hollywood 10” during the HUAC / McCarthy era), Best Film Editing, and Best Music Score.
Blu-ray extras consist of 1941’s The Tanks Are Coming, an Academy Award nominee for Best Short Subject and starring George Tobias (also in Objective, Burma!) and Gig Young; the 1943 live-action short The Rear Gunner, starring Burgess Meredith and Ronald Reagan; and the theatrical trailer.
THE WEB (1947) / ALIAS NICK BEAL (1949). Both of these ‘40s features now available through Kino Lorber are routinely tagged as film noirs. They certainly possess enough elements to qualify as such, even if they’re not wholly steeped in the genre like such mainstays as Double Indemnity and Out of the Past.
With The Web, a weak title disguises a cracking good drama that serves as yet another reminder that Vincent Price was an excellent dramatic actor before he became almost exclusively known as a horror star. Price plays Andrew Colby, a wealthy industrialist whose lawyer-cum-bodyguard, Bob Regan (Edmond O’Brien), fatally shoots a former employee (Fritz Leiber) in what appears to be self-defense. But Regan soon comes to wonder whether he was set up by Colby to gun down an innocent man; the problem remains, though, that since he was the one to pull the trigger, he would be the one arrested for murder. Ella Raines co-stars as Colby’s personal assistant, who finds herself increasingly drawn to Regan, while William Bendix lands a juicy role as the crafty cop on the case.
A dash of the supernatural weaves its way through Alias Nick Beal, a clever variation on the Faust legend. After upright district attorney Joseph Foster (Thomas Mitchell) states that he would sell his soul in exchange for putting a dent in the local gangster trade, the mysterious Nick Beal (Ray Milland) turns up and offers to help him clean up. Beal further assists Foster in his run for the governorship, but the unsavory tasks that Foster must undertake leaves him feeling as if he has indeed agreed to a Faustian bargain. Luckily, his best friend (George MacReady) is a reverend, his wife (Geraldine Wall) is a fighter, and even the prostitute (Audrey Totter) that Beal employs to tempt the honest politician considers switching sides. Milland, generally cast as heroes during this period, excels in a change-of-pace role.
Blu-ray extras on both The Web and Alias Nick Beal (sold separately) consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.
The Web: ★★★
Alias Nick Beal: ★★★
WRATH OF MAN (2021). It doesn’t offer as many twists or thrills as the last Guy Ritchie exercise in style and swagger (The Gentlemen, reviewed here), but as an action yarn serving up the usual cold dish of revenge, Wrath of Man gets the job done in efficient fashion. Jason Statham, in his fourth collaboration with Ritchie but his first in 16 years (their early team-ups consisted of 1998’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, 2000’s Snatch, and 2005’s Revolver), stars as “H,” a taciturn type who takes a job as a security guard for an armored-truck outfit responsible for hauling sizable amounts of cash. “H” gets along with some co-workers (Holt McCallany as “Bullet”) better than others (Josh Hartnett as “Boy Sweat Dave”), but, for reasons initially known only to him, he keeps a watchful eye on everyone surrounding him. As the opening scene centers on a heist in which three innocent people are killed, we know that all roads will lead to linking “H” to this intro, so the mystery is in seeing how it all ties together. It does so nicely, as Ritchie (adapting the 2004 French film Le convoyeur alongside co-scripters Ivan Atkinson and Marn Davies) offers a measured pace that allows the more frenetic interludes to really pop. Statham is in his element as a macho dude with a soft heart, McCallany offers a gruff, lived-in performance, the formerly vapid Hartnett shows signs of morphing into an older, wiser, and more acceptable actor, and Scott Eastwood, still looking more like Clint’s clone than his son, turns up as a particular nasty baddie.
Surprisingly, there are zero Blu-ray extras.