View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Meet Jason (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.)
THE FORTUNE COOKIE (1966). Over the course of 32 years, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau made 10 films together (11 if one includes JFK, in which they shared no scenes). The 1968 smash The Odd Couple might be the most popular — and I’ve always had a soft spot for 1981’s underrated Buddy Buddy — but, line for line, their first joint effort might be the funniest. Yet because the movie springs from the curdled minds of writer-director Billy Wilder and his frequent script collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, it offers plenty of cynicism to go along with the guffaws — to paraphrase a line from 1957’s Sweet Smell of Success, it’s a Cookie full of arsenic. Lemmon plays Harry Hinkle, a CBS-TV cameraman who gets injured when Cleveland Brown player Luther “Boom Boom” Jackson (Ron Rich) accidentally plows into him on the sidelines. Harry recovers immediately from his injury and is ready to be discharged from the hospital — not so fast, counters Willie Gingrich (Matthau), Harry’s brother-in-law as well as a shyster lawyer known as “Whiplash Willie.” Willie urges Harry to fake a more severe injury in order to make the insurance company pay a fortune — fundamentally an honest guy, Harry agrees to the scheme only because he thinks it will bring back his gold-digging ex-wife (Judi West). Matthau is so unrelentingly hilarious that it’s initially easy to overlook the drama, which comes in the touching relationship between Boom Boom and Harry. Matthau deservedly copped the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his dynamite performance, with the film receiving additional nominations for Best Original Screenplay, Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Black-and-White Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the Trailers from Hell segment; and the theatrical trailer.
FRIDAY THE 13TH 8-MOVIE COLLECTION (1980-1989). In revisiting Parts 1-5 for the first time in decades and viewing Parts 6-8 for the first time ever, I opted to tackle all eight entries in the slasher series over four consecutive nights — two each evening. What’s interesting is that I remember which movie had which plot, but, with only a few exceptions, I cannot recall which movie had which particular murders. Then again, with this much death and dismemberment going on — usually through the aid of an ax, a machete, a knife, or a strong pair of hands — that’s probably understandable. (An aside: For those wondering why this doesn’t include all the franchise entries, meaning Jason Goes to Hell: The Final Friday, Jason X, Freddy vs. Jason, and the 2009 remake of the original, that’s because those were made by New Line after Paramount was done with the series; anyone desiring the whole enchilada should obtain Warner’s 2013 box set or Shout! Factory’s 2020 box set.)
I do know that everyone involved with any of the sequels just loved that kid in the wheelchair (from Part 2) having a machete planted in his face and then rolling backward down the stairs — of all the flashback clips used throughout the series, I’m willing to bet that’s the one that gets the most play. The ending is pretty much the same in each installment: A lone woman survives, occasionally accompanied by a boyfriend and/or a young kid. And it’s rather amusing how Jason’s scarred face changes between pictures, to say nothing of his body frame.
Watching these films at this point in time, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi that perhaps wasn’t there in earlier years. I wouldn’t say that these movies have been rendered quaint by the passage of time — on the contrary, they’re still mindless, mean-spirited junk — but they do seem less worthy of controversy in the wake of the truly sadistic torture-porn cycle that has erupted over the course of the 21st century.
Friday the 13th (1980; ★★), the one that started it all (well, 1978’s Halloween actually started it all, but that’s another matter), is one of the better entries in the series, with the concept fairly fresh, Tom Savini contributing suitably gruesome makeup effects, and Harry Manfredini introducing a score that soon became instantly recognizable. Kevin Bacon appears as one of the ill-fated counselors at Camp Crystal Lake, while Betsy Palmer, cast as Mrs. Voorhees, delivers the most embarrassing performance found in any film in the franchise.
Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981; ★½) is basically a lazy retread of the first film, with the notable difference being that Jason takes over from his mom as the franchise’s killing machine. He sports a burlap sack to hide his ghastly features, a dull visual that would be rectified in the next entry.
Originally released theatrically in 3-D, Friday the 13th Part III (1982; ★½) is notable for being the first film to show Jason donning his signature hockey mask. Otherwise, it’s just more of the same, reaching a new low by making one of Jason’s victims a pregnant woman.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (1984; ★★) is the first of the sequels that tries to do something, anything, different, and it features a better-than-usual cast whose members include Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover, and The Last American Virgin’s Lawrence Monoson. The teens in this entry are slightly more developed than usual, Feldman is introduced as the key character of Tommy, and the final act mostly delivers the goods.
Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985; ★½) casts John Shepherd as the adult Tommy, now staying at a rural home for psychiatric patients. This one registers more as a whodunit, since it seems that the killer isn’t Jason but rather someone inspired by Jason. This one had potential but largely blows it, numbering among its flaws a redneck mom and son straight out of Central Yahoo Casting, an obvious villain, and a disappointing final shot.
Shepherd played Tommy as a soulful and fragile type; with the replacement casting of Thom Mathews (The Return of the Living Dead) in the role for Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives (1986; ★★), he’s suddenly a cocky, macho guy. He’s also the one who accidentally brings Jason back from the grave, with the slasher now given supernatural and superhuman characteristics. Despite the ludicrous changes, this is actually an OK entry in the series, with some welcome humor and a bravura finale.
Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1988; ★½) was pitched as Jason Meets Carrie, resulting in a yarn in which Jason (played for the first time by Kane Hodder, who went on to portray him thrice more) meets his match in a telekinetic woman (Lar Park Lincoln). This one’s simply silly.
Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989; ★) is the worst of the initial eight films, with budgetary restraints rendering the subtitle a lie. Jason in the Big Apple sounds like a promising premise, but instead he spends all but the final portion of the picture on a cruise ship, killing off teenagers more mechanically than ever. And once he reaches NYC, does he go the Mick “Crocodile” Dundee route and end up in various interesting locales? Nope; he strictly hangs out in back alleys.
As with Weird Wisconsin: The Bill Rebane Collection (reviewed here), an overall rating for the collection seems logical, as those who plan to purchase are most likely already hardcore fans. The first four films have been newly remastered, the set comes with digital codes for all eight movies, and there are plenty of Blu-ray bonus features, including audio commentaries, making-of featurettes, cast and crew interviews, and deleted scenes.
HITMAN’S WIFE’S BODYGUARD (2021). Some movies you just want loud. Whether it’s a Star Wars or a Lord of the Rings or an MCU entry, there’s satisfaction in watching the film in the comfort of your local multiplex — or, in this case, your living room — and listening to the award-worthy sound via the audio component of your choice. Here’s the thing about Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard: It’s loud. Very loud. And not loud in an appreciable way, with cool lightsaber zaps or T-Rex roars coming at you from all directions. It’s loud because the actors spend the vast majority of the running time screaming at each other. And it doesn’t need to be channeled through a grade-A sound system — the yelling is so intense that I expect it would manage to come through even if this were a silent film. A sequel to 2017’s The Hitman’s Bodyguard (reviewed here), this finds bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), hitman Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson) and hitman’s wife Sonia (Salma Hayek) attempting to prevent the megalomaniacal Aristotle Papadopolous (Antonio Banderas) from destroying Europe. Papadopolous is basically a combination of Aristotle Onassis, Liberace, and a Bond villain — while that mash-up sounds promising in theory, he’s actually a dullard as a bad guy. At any rate, Bryce and the Kincaids do their best to stop him, yelling at each other along the way. Jackson, so vibrant in the first film, is this time overshadowed by Reynolds, who milks his character’s sad-sack status for all it’s worth. Hayek also notches a few choice moments here and there, and she plays well off both Jackson and Reynolds. Overall, though, this is a tedious picture, and we can only hope we’ll be spared another sequel in The Hitman’s Wife’s Baby’s Bodyguard or, conversely, The Hitman’s Wife’s Divorce Lawyer’s Bodyguard.
Blu-ray extras include cast interviews; a look at the film’s stunts; a gag reel; and theatrical trailers.
NASHVILLE (1975). Many will cite M*A*S*H or The Player or Gosford Park, but it’s Nashville that’s generally considered to be the pinnacle of Robert Altman’s career, as well as one of the best films of the 1970s. Certainly, it proved to be the most influential movie to both himself and others, offering pointers for his peers while cementing elements that became common in many of his own works (overlapping dialogue, all-star cast, improvisational shooting style). In 160 minutes, Altman and scripter Joan Tewkesbury tag along behind 24 characters as they make their way through a crowded country-music landscape over a fateful few days. Some characters — country kingpin Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), British reporter Opal (Geraldine Chaplin), womanizing singer-songwriter Tom Frank (Keith Carradine), heartless groupie L.A. Joan (Shelley Duvall) — are odious while others — emotionally fragile superstar Barbara Jean (Ronee Blakley), sensitive soldier Glenn Kelly (Scott Glenn), grieving husband Mr. Green (Keenan Wynn) — are sympathetic, but every last one manages to provide contrast and depth to Altman’s view of an America in which the boundaries between politics and entertainment are all but nonexistent. Singling out MVPs in such a tight ensemble is a daunting task, but I was most taken by the soulful turn from Blakley, a real-life singer-songwriter who parlayed her Nashville breakthrough into a film and TV career; others deserving special mention include Gibson, Lily Tomlin as a sensible housewife pursued by Tom, and Karen Black as Barbara Jean’s ruthless rival. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Supporting Actress for both Blakley and Tomlin, this won Best Original Song for Carradine’s “I’m Easy.”
Blu-ray extras on the Paramount Presents edition consist of audio commentary by Altman (recorded in 2000); a new making-of piece; and theatrical trailers.
ONE CRAZY SUMMER (1986). Fresh off 1985’s Better Off Dead, writer-director Savage Steve Holland and star John Cusack reunited for One Crazy Summer, which is basically more of the same minus that great “Two dollars!” running gag. In both films, Holland takes the ‘80s template for a typical teen flick and packs it with a number of outrageous and occasionally surreal sequences that often hit and just as often miss. In this one, Cusack plays Hoops McCann, a high school graduate and aspiring cartoonist who spends the summer in Nantucket. He hangs out with such oddball friends as Ack Ack (Curtis Armstrong) and siblings Egg and Clay Stork (Bobcat Goldthwait and Tom Villard) before finding romance with up-and-coming singer Cassandra Eldridge (Demi Moore). Naturally, there are some sneer-worthy rich kids who bully our heroes before the tables are turned during a climactic sporting event — in this case, an annual regatta. Whether he’s playing Doug Neidermeyer in National Lampoon’s Animal House or the spittle-spraying teacher in the Twisted Sister music video “I Wanna Rock,” it’s always fun to watch Mark Metcalf menacingly over enunciate, and he does so here as a wealthy land developer who covets the property owned by Cassandra’s grandfather. Demi is dull, Cusack is cute, and the animated sequences (drawn by Holland himself) are cleverly integrated into the story. As for Goldthwait, while he’s an acquired taste and a little of him can go a long way, he does command center stage during the movie’s best gag (it involves a rampaging Godzilla).
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Holland, Goldthwait, and Armstrong, and the theatrical trailer.
ORIGINAL CAST ALBUM: COMPANY (1970). The plan was to make a series of Original Cast Album specials highlighting various Broadway hits, but circumstances prevented the idea from ever blooming. As a result, Original Cast Album: Company became a one-and-done. As a historical document, this work from documentary filmmaker D.A. Pennebaker (whose Town Bloody Hall is reviewed here) is invaluable, offering behind-the-scenes peeks as the cast and creative crew gather in a recording studio to cut the album for the Tony Award-winning smash. Much of the footage centers on the singing, but there’s also material featuring composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, librettist George Furth, director Harold Prince, and other backstage players. Hardcore theater aficionados will take to this, but, at 53 minutes, it’s too short to really make its mark. What’s more, it’s awfully jumbled, with no flow to the sequence of events or even to the sequences themselves, and those who know nothing about the plot of the actual show will remain in the dark. Another debit: While the key backstage personnel is identified, it would have been helpful to tag the performers as well — not that Elaine Stritch (mainly seen while exhausted and struggling to record “The Ladies Who Lunch”) needs any IDing, and Beth Howland is immediately recognizable from her role as Vera on the hit TV sitcom Alice. Ultimately, this is a reasonably entertaining piece that just doesn’t go far enough.
Blu-ray extras include new audio commentary by Sondheim; audio commentary (from 2001) by Pennebaker, Stritch, and Prince; a new conversation between Sondheim, orchestrator Jonathan Tunick, and critic and TV producer Frank Rich; and “Original Cast Album: Co-op,” a 2019 episode (written by and starring John Mulaney) of the spoof series Documentary Now! that parodies this film.
A PLACE IN THE SUN (1951). This adaptation of Theodore Dreiser’s novel An American Tragedy (itself inspired by a real-life crime) is a first-rate motion picture that ably mixes romance and murder against a backdrop of social jockeying among the classes. Montgomery Clift is superb as George Eastman, related to a wealthy and influential family but only given a job on the assembly line at the Eastman factory. There, he and another lonely soul, Alice Tripp (Shelley Winters), begin a clandestine affair, a relationship that begins to sour once George is accepted into the upper ranks and falls for the beautiful socialite Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). With Alice now pregnant and threatening to expose George and destroy his romance and his career, he begins to consider murder as the only way out. As the source material notes, this truly is a tragedy for all concerned, with Alice knowing she can’t hold onto her man, George meeting the love of his life too late, and Angela always on the cusp of learning sordid details that will destroy her future happiness. Additionally, making the prosecuting attorney (Raymond Burr) so thoroughly unpleasant (and clearly envious of the upper class) serves only to cloud audience sympathies even further. Nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor, and Best Actress (Winters), this won a total of six: Best Director for George Stevens, Best Screenplay for Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, and nods for its cinematography, film editing, costume design, and original score.
Blu-ray extras on the Paramount Presents edition include audio commentary by Stevens’ son, George Stevens Jr., and associate producer Ivan Moffat; a new discussion of the film with critic Leonard Maltin; the 2001 feature George Stevens: The Filmmakers Who Knew Him, featuring interviews (some archival) with Warren Beatty, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Robert Wise, and more; and theatrical trailers.
SHADOW OF THE THIN MAN (1941). The fourth in the six-flick Thin Man series (the first three are reviewed here, here, and here) switches the action to the racetrack, where Nick and Nora Charles (William Powell and Myrna Loy) investigate the murder of a crooked jockey. Soon, a second murder is committed, and the detective duo search high and low for clues that will unmask the killer from a group that includes an amiable reporter (Barry Nelson), his supportive girlfriend (Donna Reed), a couple of mobsters (Loring Smith and Joseph Anthony), a gangster’s moll (Stella Adler), and various other suspects. The comedy quotient and mystery angle are as strong as ever, and it’s a kick to see Adler, the legendary acting coach, tackling a rare screen role (she only appeared in three movies). Still, the best element of the entire series remains the love between Nick and Nora Charles — the actors’ chemistry is intoxicating, and their flirtatious banter never fails to delight. Among the countless highlights is a sequence set at a wrestling match, and if the wrestler known as Jack the Ripper looks familiar, that’s because it’s a bewigged Tor Johnson, later to gain fame for his work with Ed Wood (including the immortal Plan 9 from Outer Space). This would be the final film in the series directed by W.S. Van Dyke II, who also helmed the three previous entries and earned a Best Director Oscar nomination for his work on the 4-star original.
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1941 live-action short The Tell-Tale Heart, based on the Edgar Allan Poe story and directed by Jules Dassin (Brute Force, The Naked City, both reviewed here); the 1941 Hanna-Barbera cartoon The Goose Goes South; and the theatrical trailer.
Short And Sweet:
DREAMBUILDERS (2020). This Danish animated effort is likely to quell the little ones but won’t do much for any attendant adults. Young Minna lives with her dad John after her mother leaves them to become a music star. John finds a new lady love and invites her to move into their home, bringing along her bratty daughter Jenny. Jenny is as cruel as Minna is sensitive, and after Minna discovers a way to enter not only her own dreams but those of the people around her, she plots a revenge that gets out of hand. The animation is more serviceable than inspired, and while there’s some imagination shown in creating the dream world, the characters are strictly subpar Pixar and Illumination wannabes (particularly the blue minions who inhabit the dreamscape). The tension between the two girls is nicely set up, but the resolution is rushed, and the picture ends just when it seems it should be taking off.
The only extra in the Blu-ray + DVD release is the theatrical trailer.
IN THE GOOD OLD SUMMERTIME (1949). The 1998 Tom Hanks-Meg Ryan romantic comedy You’ve Got Mail might be the most famous remake of the 1940 classic The Shop Around the Corner (reviewed here), but it’s not the only one. In 1949, this so-so musical version (set in Chicago rather than the original’s Budapest) appeared on the scene, with Judy Garland and Van Johnson in the Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart roles of two bickering co-workers who don’t realize they’re lovestruck pen pals. Garland is fine even if this isn’t the best movie to showcase her remarkable talents, but Johnson proves to be an uninspiring and uncharismatic leading man opposite the singing dynamo. Buster Keaton is amusing as the bumbling nephew of the shop owner (S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall), and it’s a shame he isn’t in more scenes.
Blu-ray extras consist of an introduction by Garland biographer John Fricke; the 1948 Traveltalks shorts Chicago the Beautiful and Night Life in Chicago; and theatrical trailers.