View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Treat Williams in Prince of the City (Photo: Warner Archive)
(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.)
ASHES AND DIAMONDS (1958). The first three films in Polish director Andrzej Wajda’s 60-odd-year career comprised what was known as his “war trilogy.” Closing out the trio that began with 1954’s A Generation and continued with 1956’s Kanal, Ashes and Diamonds is set at the end of World War II, as Poland seeks to determine its identity moving forward. As the struggles continue between the country’s Soviet-backed Communist coalitions and the anti-Commie Polish underground, a member of the latter, Maciek Chelmicki (Zbigniew Cybulski), is ordered to assassinate a newly appointed official (Waclaw Zastrzezinski). He thinks nothing of carrying out his assignment until he falls for a barmaid (Ewa Krzyzewska) and begins to question his decisions. A favorite of both Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese — each included it on his list of the 10 greatest movies of all time for the 2012 edition of the decennial Sight & Sound poll — Ashes and Diamonds employs some striking imagery while relating its richly textured tale of a nation in turmoil. Maciek is an anachronistic character — his leather clothes and sunglasses are of 1958 vintage, not 1945 — but that was a deliberate choice on Wajda’s part, as he wanted to push his leading actor as “the Polish James Dean.” It worked both off-screen, as the movie made Cybulski a superstar, and on-screen, as it’s impossible to ignore his swagger and style. Tragically, Cybulski died nine years later at the age of 39, when he slipped under the wheels of a train.
Blu-ray extras include film scholar audio commentary; a 2005 piece in which Wajda, first assistant director Janusz Morgenstern, and film critic Jerzy Plazewski discuss the movie; and archival newsreel footage on the making of the film.
THE CANNIBAL MAN (1972). Between that title, the poster art of a face split in half by a meat cleaver, and its standing as one of England’s notorious “video nasties,” Spain’s The Cannibal Man sounds like pure exploitation sleaze. Don’t you believe it. That misleading moniker was used in most markets to draw in the gorehounds (the original Spanish title, The Week of the Killer, is more accurate), its inclusion on the “video nasties” list was probably due to the expectations raised by its title as well as by actual footage shot inside a meat-processing plant, and its bloody moments are relatively sparse and play directly into the narrative. Vincente Parra delivers an appropriately anguished performance as Marcos, a slaughterhouse butcher with a well-to-do girlfriend (Emma Cohen). Upon being accosted by a bad-tempered cab driver, Marcos clobbers him with a rock and only later learns that he killed the man. Aware of how the police treat his lower-class kind (the film was made during the fascistic Franco era), he feels he has no choice but to murder his girlfriend when she states that she’s going to the authorities. From there, he kills anyone who shows up at his house looking for someone he just offed (his brother, his brother’s fiancée, and so on). During this period, he’s also befriended by a wealthy neighbor (Eusebio Poncela) who clearly has homosexual designs on him. Written and directed by Eloy de la Iglesia, The Cannibal Man is often more art house than grind house, with an emphasis on innovative cinematography and sound, a complicated protagonist, and some sly sociopolitical jabs.
Severin’s Blu-ray edition contains both the 98-minute international version and the 107-minute extended cut. Extras consist of discussions about de la Iglesia; deleted scenes; and the trailer.
THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT (2021). Just as it’s always important to separate the art from the artist (Exhibit A: the astonishing Chinatown and the odious Roman Polanski), it’s equally crucial to separate the films from the phonies. I’ve never allowed my utter disdain for money-grubbing charlatans Ed and Lorraine Warren to interfere with my feelings for the Conjuring films, and while I thought the 2013 original was vastly overrated (if still a fairly decent watch), I was quite taken by its 2016 sequel (reviewed here). The third chapter in the primary franchise (not including all those spin-offs like Annabelle and The Nun) represents a steep drop in quality, focusing on a particularly nonsensical “Warren case file” that only a complete moron would accept as fact. This one begins with a scene hoping to draw comparisons to The Exorcist (complete with a photocopied shot of the iconic image of Max von Sydow’s priest staring at the house) before focusing on what was the first U.S. court case in which the defendant pleaded not guilty of murder by reason of demonic possession. Paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) are on the scene, hoping to
dupe the rubes for an easy score prove that Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) is innocent of killing his landlord and that the real culprit was a demon whose possession of Arne was enabled by a figure known as The Occultist (Eugenie Bondurant). I wish I could say that this film was as imaginative and unsettling as those Hell paintings by Hieronymus Bosch, but that would be a load of bosh. Instead, this is about as terrifying as a Casper the Friendly Ghost comic book.
Extras in the 4K edition include a look at The Occultist; a featurette on the opening exorcism scene; and a video comic.
OVERBOARD (1987). This popular piece of piffle from director Garry Marshall (who made his career in piffle) mainly stays afloat thanks to the presence of real-life couple Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Hawn stars as Joanna Stayton, an heiress who treats everyone around her with contempt. When her clownish husband Grant Stayton III (Edward Herrmann) pulls their yacht into an Oregon port for repairs, Joanna decides to hire local handyman Dean Proffitt (Russell) to build her a new closet. Failing to provide proper instructions, she then refuses to pay Dean for his hard work and instead throws him off the boat. After Joanna herself falls overboard and develops amnesia, Dean sees it as a perfect opportunity for revenge and recoupment: He will convince Joanna that she’s his wife and the mother of his four bratty boys, and he will keep her in this arrangement until she has paid off her debt. Of course, the rich woman soon learns to love being a domestic housewife devoted to dirty dishes and dirty drawers, while the slovenly carpenter learns to love residing in a clean home. The screenplay by the often reliable Leslie Dixon (Outrageous Fortune, Mrs. Doubtfire) rarely amounts to much more than feeble quips and expected complications, but Hawn has a ball in the early sequences as the impossibly haughty socialite, and Russell exudes rakish charm throughout. Herrmann is amusing as well, playing a millionaire who’s so thrilled that his overbearing wife has amnesia that he abandons her for the comfort of giggly party girls. Overboard was remade in 2018 with Anna Faris and Eugenio Derbez (read the review here).
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with Dixon and the theatrical trailer.
PRINCE OF THE CITY (1981). In 1973, Sidney Lumet directed Serpico, a based-on-fact film about an honest New York cop (played by Al Pacino) who stands tall in the face of police corruption. Eight years later, Lumet returned to the territory with another true-life story about an NYC cop who testifies against police corruption; only this time, the waters are more muddied. Treat Williams delivers an intense performance as Danny Ciello (based on narcotics cop Robert Leuci), a detective who for various reasons (including a crisis of conscience) decides to turn informant and expose the corruption that exists within the NYPD. Ciello agrees to help the D.A.’s office nail anyone except his trusted partners, but when it’s exposed that Ciello himself isn’t that clean, the rules of engagement change on all sides. Even with a running time approaching three hours, Prince of the City never experiences any lulls, as Lumet and his co-scripter Jay Presson Allen (adapting Robert Daley’s book) keep up with Ciello as he bobs and weaves his way through scores of ancillary characters: cops, lawyers, mobsters, drug addicts, and even family members. Jerry Orbach is excellent as the most no-nonsense of Ciello’s partners; other familiar faces include Lance Henriksen (as a defense attorney), Bob Balaban (as a smarmy federal prosecutor), and Sex and the City’s Cynthia Nixon (appearing in one scene as a junkie). Released during a strong year for cinema, this turned out to be a box office bust, and its sole Oscar nomination was for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras consist of a featurette covering both the film and the real story, and the theatrical trailer.
RAD (1986). Stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham began his partnership with Burt Reynolds with the smash hit Smokey and the Bandit, but by the time they got to the disastrous duo of Stroker Ace and Cannonball Run II, their collaboration was running on fumes. Needham’s first post-Burt effort was the dopey Rad, which flopped in theaters but picked up a sizable following on video. With a plot swiped from The Karate Kid, this finds amateur BMX biker Cru (Bill Allen) thrilled that a major racing event will be held in his town. Cru’s skills nab him a slot alongside the BMX pros, but promoter Duke Best (Jack Weston), fearful of an upset victory against reigning champ Bart Taylor (Bart Conner), does everything he can do block his participation. There’s no Mr. Miyagi, but you do get Ray Walston as a local bigwig who responds to Best’s meddling by giving him the finger. There’s also a cheesy musical interlude wherein Cru and his new girlfriend (Lori Loughlin; you might recall her scandalous behavior in recent years) “dance” atop their bikes at a high school party to the beat of “Send Me an Angel.”
Mill Creek Entertainment released a Blu-ray steelbook version of Rad back in March and has now followed up with a regular and less expensive edition. Surprisingly, this contains more extras than the steelbook, including a behind-the-scenes featurette; an interview with Needham; a Q&A session with Allen, Conner, co-star Talia Shire, and co-writer Sam Bernard; and the music video for John Farnham’s “Break the Ice.”
THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (1967). Not every movie composer can be a John Williams and win an excess number of Oscars; most of the greats have had to suffice with merely one statue. The case involving Elmer Bernstein is particularly vexing: Here’s the genius who gave us such immortal and instantly recognizable scores as The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and To Kill a Mockingbird, and he wins his only Academy Award for a mostly overlooked incidental theme from a musical? Thoroughly Modern Millie was the link between Julie Andrews’ smash hit musicals Mary Poppins (1964) and The Sound of Music (1965) and her musical bombs Star! (1968) and Darling Lili (1970), as it fared nicely at the box office but never attained the mass appeal of her two blockbusters. It’s certainly an acquired taste, played in the broadest manner possible as a Roaring Twenties romp in which two naïve small-town women (Andrews and Mary Tyler Moore) seek love in New York City but inadvertently get mixed up with a white-slavery ring. It’s fatally overlong at 152 minutes and the comic bits are embarrassing rather than amusing. In addition to its solitary victory for Bernstein’s score, the film also nabbed six other Oscar nominations, including one for Best Supporting Actress (Carol Channing as a wacky millionairess).
The Kino Blu-ray offers the Roadshow Edition, which runs 152 instead of 138 minutes by restoring the overture, intermission, entr’acte, and exit music. Extras consist of film historian audio commentary and the theatrical trailer.