View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
The gang’s all here in Zack Snyder’s Justice League (Photo: Warner & DC)
(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.)
FOR RICHER OR POORER (1997). Despite its Amish setting, this laborious comedy proves to be witless rather than Witness. Brad and Caroline Sexton (Tim Allen and Kirstie Alley), unhappily married Manhattanites with a passion for expensive material possessions, find themselves on the run from the IRS after their accountant (Wayne Knight) pilfers five million dollars in their name. Their flight leads them to an Amish community near Intercourse, Pennsylvania, where they pose as distant relatives of a local family in an effort to blend in. Although the strenuous farm chores make them initially regret their decision, they soon discover the simple pleasures of life and in the process revitalize their marriage. Sluggishly directed by Brian Spicer (Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie, reviewed here), For Richer or Poorer takes the shopworn theme of conflicting cultures and adds nothing new to the mix save for some limp, farm-related one-liners (“It’s been a long time since she opened her barn for me” is how Brad describes his marriage to Caroline). Allen pours on the shtick to no avail — his most creative acting decision seems to be inspired by Beavis, as he balls his fists and shakes all over whenever his character gets frustrated or angry. Even worse is Alley, whose shrill line deliveries suggest the collective wail of a dozen cats copulating in unison. Jay O. Sanders adds dignity as the head of an actual Amish farm family, and the second half of the movie is marginally more tolerable than the first. Overall, though, For Richer or Poorer is as bankrupt as they come.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
A LIFE AT STAKE (1955). Viewers who only know Angela Lansbury for her work as the endearing Jessica Fletcher on TV’s Murder, She Wrote — or as the voice of the lovable Mrs. Potts in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast — should certainly check out her earlier, Oscar-nominated turns in 1944’s Gaslight (her film debut at the age of 18, although 17 when filming), in which she played a scheming maid, and 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate, in which she portrayed a political zealot manipulating her own son. It’s initially not clear where her character in A Life at Stake falls on this line of moral extremes, as she plays the role of a woman who may or may not be involved in a murder plot. Doris Hillman, the wife of wealthy L.A. businessman Gus Hillman (Douglass Dumbrille), approaches struggling architect Edward Shaw (Keith Andes) with a proposal approved by her husband, one that would earn them all plenty of dough in the real estate market. However, the Hillmans raise Shaw’s suspicions when they insist he take out a key man insurance policy, which declares that the partners would be compensated were something unfortunate to happen to the principal player — in this case, Shaw. Are Shaw’s suspicions well-founded, or is he merely being paranoid? Alternately known as Key Man, A Life at Stake is a moderately entertaining film that features many film noir elements yet is too passive to ever really belong to that dangerous, smoke-choked world. Claudia Barrett, who plays Doris’ naïve sister Madge, is best known for her starring role in the 1953 all-time turkey Robot Monster; she passed away approximately four months ago at the age of 91.
Blu-ray extras consist of film scholar audio commentary and a featurette on the company behind the film. A booklet is also included.
NO ONE HEARD THE SCREAM (1973). A year after making waves with the arthouse-meets-grindhouse effort The Cannibal Man (recently reviewed here), Spain’s Eloy de la Iglesia co-wrote (with Antonio Fos and Moreno Burgos) and directed No One Heard the Scream, which according to distributor Severin Films is only now making its American disc debut. De la Iglesia’s films were often tagged gialli, but this feels less like one of those fanciful slasher flicks and more like a normal thriller with a killer twist at the end. The Cannibal Man star Vicente Parra plays Miguel, who has just murdered his wife Nuria (María Asquerino) and is dumping her body down an elevator shaft when he’s caught by Elisa (Carmen Sevilla), the neighbor in the accompanying apartment. Rather than kill the only witness to his crime, Miguel forces Elisa to become his accomplice, so that if he goes down, so does she. Miguel decides that the corpse needs a better burial ground, so he and Elisa embark on a road trip to dump the body in a lake. What follows is a series of mishaps lightly doused in dark humor, as the police on more than one occasion come close to discovering the body in the trunk. Elisa, who makes her living as the pampered plaything of an older man, is initially frightened of Miguel but soon finds herself a willing participant in his scheme — it isn’t so much a Stockholm Syndrome situation as it’s a restless person finally locating some excitement in her life. While some might be able to guess the ending, others will be walloped by its delirious, delicious twist.
The only Blu-ray extra is an interview with film scholar Dr. Andy Willis about de la Iglesia and the giallo genre.
STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL 4-MOVIE COLLECTION (1979-1986). I don’t know if it was a five-year mission on the part of Paramount, but the original Star Trek movies are finally hitting 4K — or at least some of them. Completists will be disappointed that this box set only contains the first four of the six feature films starring the original gang, although word is the final two (as well as some/all of the Next Generation movies) will be released on 4K in 2022.
The other five films have long settled into their general-consensus spots in the series, but debate continues on the merits of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). Although it was a sizable hit at the box office — with $82 million in the bank, it was #5 on the list of that year’s top moneymakers, just under Apocalypse Now and just above Alien — it’s long been considered a dull disappointment even by many Trekkies. Yet what many people overlook is the fact that, perhaps more than any other genre, science fiction is about ideas as much as about action, which is why I find this talky drama to be a worthy entry. The dynamic relationship between Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) picks up right where the original series left off, while the storyline incorporates two durable themes from sci-fi lore: man vs. machine, and the neverending search for one’s creator. This nabbed a trio of Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects (losing to Alien), and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration — and it should have won for Jerry Goldsmith’s music, so superb that it became the opening theme for TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation (incidentally, Goldsmith also scored Alien, marking a tremendous one-two punch).
Financially, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) proved to be almost as successful as its predecessor (it was #6 for its year, with a $78 million gross), but critically, it was far preferred by most critics and audiences. A sequel-of-sorts to the 1967 “Space Seed” episode from the TV series, this finds that show’s villain Khan (Ricardo Montalban) still seeking revenge against Kirk 15 years later. The Wrath of Khan manages to be both pensive and action-packed, and a lot is absorbed into its running time: Kirk’s restlessness at his “desk job”; the presence of Kirk’s former lover, Dr. Carol Marcus (Bibi Besch), and their son David (Merritt Butrick); the top-secret Project Genesis; the chess-board maneuvering between Kirk and Khan during the thrilling climax; and, of course, the death of an iconic character.
Another film, another hit ($76 million in the till and #9 on the year-end list). Yet for all it does right, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock (1984) doesn’t represent the series at its best. With Spock having died at the end of Khan, this entry builds toward his resurrection, with plenty of time-outs while Kirk and co. square off against a gang of Klingons. Nimoy made his directorial debut with this picture, and a career spent primarily in television ofttimes informs his static approach (he would fare much better with his next ST film). As Lieutenant Saavik, Robin Curtis is as colorless as Kirstie Alley had been while essaying the part in Khan, while Christopher Lloyd was a ludicrous choice to play a Klingon leader. That’s Dame Judith Anderson, the wicked Mrs. Danvers in Hitchcock’s Rebecca, portraying the Vulcan High Priestess.
Until the 2009 reboot, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) was the only Star Trek film (TOS or TNG) to clear $100 million at the box office — $109 million, to be precise, and a #5 landing among the year’s top moneymakers. With Nimoy again in the director’s chair (and also sharing story credit), it’s arguably the most beloved of the franchise, with Kirk and the other chief crew members journeying to 1986 Earth to pull off a tricky mission involving a pair of whales. The comedy in this entry is so broad that the movie often doesn’t even feel like a Star Trek project (which of course explains its wide popularity), but it excels largely because it allows practically every cast member a chance to shine. This earned four Oscar nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Original Score, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing.
The only extras on the 4K discs are audio commentaries, as all other bonus features (all previously released) are found on the accompanying Blu-rays (the set also contains digital codes). Extras include making-of featurettes; vintage cast interviews; deleted scenes; storyboards; and much more.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture: ★★★
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan: ★★★½
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: ★★½
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home: ★★★
VINCENT PRICE MOVIES (1961-1973). Is it Halloween already? Or Christmas? Fans of the great Vincent Price will be ecstatic to learn that the Kino Lorber label has just released six of his movies (each sold separately) on Blu-ray in handsome slipcover-encased editions. Others who appear frequently throughout this sextet include producer-director Roger Corman, screenwriter Richard Matheson, American International Pictures founders James H. Nicholson and Samuel Z. Arkoff, and composer Lex Baxter (who also scored A Life at Stake, above).
Master of the World (1961) finds Matheson mashing together two Jules Verne novels to produce an entertaining tale that often plays like a “B” version of Disney’s 1954 Verne adaptation 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Price stars as the Nemo-like Robur, who commands a massive airship from which he orders the countries of the world to cease their warmongering ways or else face his wrath. He holds four prisoners aboard his vessel, one of them (Charles Bronson) a U.S. government agent determined to stop Robur from dropping any more bombs. Master of the World isn’t a complete success, but it’s perfect Saturday-afternoon couch fare, and it’s nice to see Bronson (who had previously appeared with Price in 1953’s House of Wax) in an atypical early role as a hero willing to bend the rules of civility to bring down his target.
One of the celebrated septet of Edgar Allan Poe adaptations made by Corman and starring Price, The Raven (1963) finds Matheson altering the immortal poem by fleshing it out into a full-scale comedy in which meek sorcerer Erasmus Craven (Price) and obnoxious magician Adolphus Bedlo (Peter Lorre) team up to take on the powerful wizard Scarabus (Boris Karloff). In other words, Price is the Good, Karloff is the Bad, and Lorre is the Ugly, dishonorably switching loyalties as he sees fit and turned into a raven whenever he misbehaves. This is camp of the highest order — the climactic battle is a hoot — but what other motion picture in history allows viewers the opportunity to see a young and awkward Jack Nicholson cast as Peter Lorre’s son?
Price found himself reunited with Lorre, Karloff, and Matheson for The Comedy of Terrors (1964), a giddy romp directed by the perpetually underrated Jacques Tourneur (Cat People). Price delivers a wondrous comic performances as Waldo Trumbull, an unscrupulous undertaker making life miserable for his wife Amaryllis (Joyce Jameson), his partner Felix Gillie (Lorre), and the clueless father-in-law (Karloff) he’s always trying to poison. Repetitive material involving a persnickety landlord (Basil Rathbone) slackens the pace in the second half, but Lorre’s pratfalls and the delicious verbiage written for Price and Karloff (the latter’s eulogy for Rathbone’s character is hilarious) make this a real treat.
Will there ever be a truly fine adaptation of Matheson’s novel I Am Legend? For now, the best would be The Last Man on Earth (1964), an Italian-American co-production that edges out Will Smith’s fairly interesting I Am Legend and far outpaces Charlton Heston’s terrible The Omega Man. After a deadly disease wipes out much of the planet (presumably, the imbecilic anti-maskers were the first to go), scientist Robert Morgan (Price) finds himself all alone and battling hordes of the undead (although described as vampires, their look and movement better resemble the zombies later popularized by George Romero). A feeble and rushed ending hurts the overall project. Matheson adapted his own book (co-scripting with William F. Leicester) but was so disappointed with the end result that he opted to be billed as Logan Swanson in the credits.
The final Poe-Price-Corman film in the successful series was The Tomb of Ligeia (1965), a lush period tale in which widower Verden Fell (Price) is still haunted by his late wife Ligeia, who believed that a strong will could ward off death. Eventually, Fell falls for and marries Rowena, even though he suspects that Ligeia still resides in his mansion — certainly, the black cat that stalks the premises acts just as Ligeia might, repeatedly assaulting and injuring Rowena and even attempting to lure her to her doom. Price delivers a properly anguished performance, while Elizabeth Shepherd is excellent (and looks completely different) as both Rowena and Ligeia. The literate script, based on Poe’s short story “Ligeia,” was penned by future Oscar winner Robert Towne (Chinatown).
As the star ratings below suggest, the quality is largely consistent throughout these offerings, although if I had to cite one as the best, it would likely be Theater of Blood (1973). Many actors would kill for the opportunity to perform Shakespeare on screen — here, Price gets to have his soliloquy and devour it, too. As Edward Lionheart, a hammy thespian who has devoted his life to all things Bard, Price gets to recite select scenes from the Shakespeare classics — usually during the act of murdering London’s most distinguished critics. Because while Lionheart may have considered himself the world’s greatest living actor, nine British scribes thought otherwise, with their harsh words and refusal to award him their illustrious annual prize leading to his suicide. Of course, Lionheart’s not really dead — instead, with the help of his devoted daughter Edwina (Diana Rigg), he steps out of the shadows to off the reviewers in bloody fashion, with famous set-pieces from Shakespeare’s plays serving as inspiration. The screenplay by Anthony Greville Bell is wickedly clever, and Price’s emoting smoothly alternates between towering and touching.
The Blu-rays for all six films contain audio commentaries, including separate ones by Corman and Shepherd on The Tomb of Ligeia. Other extras on select discs include interviews with Matheson; Trailers from Hell segments; and theatrical trailers.
Master of the World: ★★★
The Raven: ★★★
The Comedy of Terrors: ★★★
The Last Man on Earth: ★★½
The Tomb of Ligeia: ★★★
Theater of Blood: ★★★
ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE (2021). Is this the ultimate example of The Emperor Has No Clothes? The word was that Zack Snyder, egged on by demanding devotees, was taking 2017’s heavily lambasted Justice League and refashioning it (complete with newly shot footage) into something definitive and amazing. Those who live and die by the hype took the bait, but more discerning viewers will instantly recognize that the replacement scenes aren’t particularly better; they’re just different. And while the original ran two hours, this one unwinds to the tune of a bloated and unnecessary four hours. The general plot remains the same: A towering CGI entity known as Steppenwolf (voiced by Ciarán Hinds) plots to conquer Earth with the aid of demonic insects and three Tesseracts — excuse me, Mother Boxes. Naturally, such a threat can’t be handled by just one hero, so Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) assemble a crime-fighting outfit whose members consist of The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa), and Cyborg (Ray Fisher). And, yes, Superman (Henry Cavill) returns from the dead. The brawl between an angry and confused Superman and the other heroes is the highlight of the picture; added footage elsewhere either lessens or sours the experience, such as Wonder Woman’s more brutal bank battle (bloodless before, bashed-in heads now) and The Flash tastelessly taking time out to admire a terrified woman’s beauty even though she’s thinking she’s about to suffer a horrific death. The visual effects are often shaky, and while Affleck is again fine as Bruce Wayne, his bulky hero outfit still makes him look like somebody’s drunk uncle cosplaying as Batman. Let’s just pray that allowing fanboys to make executive studio decisions isn’t the wave of the future, or we’re all in real trouble.
The only extra in the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray edition is a discussion with Snyder about his DC films.