View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Sam Richardson in Werewolves Within (Photo: IFC Films)
(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.)
ANGELS WITH DIRTY FACES (1938). This scorching gangster flick centers on Rocky Sullivan and Jerry Connolly, two street toughs who grow up to become, respectively, a criminal (James Cagney) and a priest (Pat O’Brien). Back in his old neighborhood after his latest stint in prison, Rocky renews his friendship with Jerry, although the priest does worry about the future of the boys (The Dead End Kids) who idolize and emulate Jerry. Cagney is fantastic in one of his best roles, with Humphrey Bogart offering support as Rocky’s crooked lawyer. The ambiguous “death row” finale packs a wallop, and the weighty closing line triggers haunting reflections on chance, destiny, and the capricious nature of the universe. This earned Oscar nominations for Best Actor (Cagney), Best Director (Michael Curtiz), and Best Original Story (Rowland Brown). Curtiz (later to win for Casablanca) would earn a second Best Director nomination for Four Daughters (also 1938), making him one of only two directors to fill two of the five category slots in the same year (the other is Steven Soderbergh for Erin Brockovich and Traffic, winning for the latter).
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary; a retrospective making-of piece; and the 1938 cartoon Porky & Daffy.
BEAVIS AND BUTT-HEAD DO AMERICA (1996). This big-screen outing for MTV’s idiotic duo predictably plays like the TV series, with some undeniably funny bits spread out over a show that’s otherwise juvenile and redundant. After their beloved television set is stolen, the teenage dimwits are forced to leave the house, thus embarking on a cross-country odyssey that features an assassination attempt, a missing nuclear device, and (they hope) lots of opportunities to score with chicks. Even with an 80-minute run time, the film eventually wears out its welcome, with a lengthy stretch in which Beavis wanders around the White House in alter ego Cornholio mode proving to be particularly punishing. Nevertheless, there are a handful of clever visual gags and quips to be found — after receiving a rectal search from a female government agent, Butt-head wonders aloud, “Did I just score?”
Blu-ray extras on the 25th anniversary edition include audio commentary by writer, director, and B&B creator Mike Judge and animation director Yvette Kaplan; a retrospective making-of featurette; a piece in which Judge and composer John Frizzell discuss the use of music in the film; and theatrical trailers.
CRY MACHO (2021). Clint Eastwood announced his retirement from acting after 2008’s Gran Torino, and what a way to go. A major commercial and minor critical hit, the film brought Clint’s career ruminations on violence to its logical conclusion. Rather than ride off into the cinematic sunset, though, Eastwood returned for the forgettable Trouble with the Curve before scoring another hit with 2018’s The Mule. Again, here was a film whose themes (this time concerning a stoic figure in a changing world) would have made the film a proper adieu. Not so with his latest, a feeble drama in which Eastwood, clearly too old for his role (since The Mule, he looks like he’s aged 13 rather than three years), plays a retired rodeo star who’s asked by his former boss (Dwight Yoakam) to travel to Mexico to retrieve his son Rafo (Eduardo Minett) from the clutches of his irresponsible ex-wife (Fernanda Urrejola). There’s not much dramatic urgency to the proceedings, and the wrap-up is particularly weak. With a rooster rather than an orangutan as a sidekick and Clint throwing a few feeble punches here and there, just tag this one every which way but interesting.
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette and a piece on the horses used in the movie.
HARD TARGET (1993). With the exception of 1997’s socko Face/Off, Hong Kong director John Woo’s Hollywood output was underwhelming — no wonder he hightailed it back to his homeland after only a decade in the U.S. His first American picture was Hard Target, a loose reworking of Richard Connell’s story “The Most Dangerous Game.” In New Orleans, the ruthless Fouchon (a hammy Lance Henriksen) offers wealthy businessmen the opportunity to hunt and kill homeless veterans for sport. Binder (Chuck Pfarrer, who also scripted) is one such vet, and, after he goes MIA, his daughter Nat (Yancy Butler) hires former Marine Chance Boudreaux (Jean-Claude Van Damme, as wooden as ever) to help find him. Hard Target begins promisingly before growing increasingly dopey, with Woo’s signature stylistics sorely out of place in a film as simplistic, campy, and badly acted as this one. Good stuntwork, though. Wilford Brimley pops up as Uncle Douvee; he’s supposed to be Cajun, but he sounds more like Maurice Chevalier shot full of Novocain.
The Blu-ray contains the unrated international cut. Extras consist of film historian audio commentary; interviews with Woo, Henriksen, Butler, and stunt coordinator Bill Burton; and the theatrical trailer.
KRAMPUS: THE NAUGHTY CUT (2015). Not to be confused with Krampus: The Reckoning, Krampus: Origins or Mother Krampus 2: Slay Ride, Krampus: The Naughty Cut is simply the 2015 Krampus with some deleted scenes reinstated. The film stars Adam Scott and Toni Collette as Tom and Sarah Engel, a well-to-do couple dreading the obnoxious relatives coming for Christmas. Their son Max (Emjay Anthony) has always embraced the spirit of the season but loses it after witnessing one too many scuffles between his parents and his redneck right-wing relatives; his dismissal of Christmas thus summons the demonic anti-Santa known as Krampus to spread holiday fear. The set-up and midsection are so wonderfully rich with character and incident that it’s shocking how much the film falls apart once Krampus and his minions invade the house — it morphs into a charmless Gremlins rip-off and proceeds to obliterate all goodwill with its noisy and chaotic third act. For a better horror yarn from writer-director Michael Dougherty, go with 2007’s Trick ‘r Treat (reviewed here).
As the title hints, this 4K + Blu-ray edition contains scenes that had been removed to secure the film a PG-13 during its theatrical run. Extras include a five-part making-of featurette; new interviews with Dougherty and Anthony; and a gag reel.
MALIGNANT (2021). Playing like James Wan’s salute to David Cronenberg’s “body horror” collection from the 20th century, this casts Annabelle Wallis as Madison Lake, an abused wife who has endured several miscarriages. Madison experiences a series of visions in which various people — specifically, her husband (Jake Abels) and a trio of scientists — are killed by what appears to be the Winter Soldier in silhouette. Madison becomes the prime suspect even though she suggests to the police that the murderer might be her childhood imaginary friend. The freaky twist deep into the story will elicit delighted gasps from some viewers and involuntary giggles from other audience members — indeed, much of the movie operates on this tightrope of reactionary uncertainty, although it ultimately doesn’t matter if the humor is intentional or not since it falls flat either way. Wallis delivers a shaky performance in the lead role; Maddie Hasson as her cute-as-a-button sister and George Young as a sensitive and dreamy detective seem to have stepped out of a chaste beach party movie; and Michole Briana White as a caustic cop appears to be channeling her inner Wanda Sykes. Malignant is always hopping and never boring, but it isn’t as radical as Wan apparently believes.
The only Blu-ray extra is a behind-the-scenes featurette.
MR. MAJESTYK (1974). Opening one week before Death Wish transformed Charles Bronson from movie star to superstar, Mr. Majestyk finds the actor working from a script penned by no less than Elmore Leonard. Bronson plays Vince Majestyk, an amiable but no-nonsense farmer trying to get his watermelons picked. But corrupt rubes, particularly the grinning Bobby Kopas (Paul Koslo), arrange it so that no one will help out, leaving Vince to depend on a handful of Mexican immigrants to get the work done. Matters only get worse, though, when Vince irks a Mafia hitman (Al Lettieri) who has just escaped from prison; this leads to the unique scene in which gun-wielding thugs shoot a barn full of watermelons to death. Leonard’s brusque dialogue, Bronson’s stabilizing presence, and director Richard Fleischer’s able handling of action set-pieces combine to make this a breezy watch. It’s also nice to see, given today’s political climate, a movie that treats undocumented immigrants with sympathy and respect.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; interviews with co-star Lee Purcell and director of photography Richard H. Kline; a TV spot; and the theatrical trailer.
NUMBER SEVENTEEN (1932). In Donald Spoto’s book The Art of Alfred Hitchcock, Number Seventeen rates mention on only one single, solitary page out of 444. Hitch himself described the film as “a terrible picture” and “a disaster.” It was a project that was foisted upon him by the studio, so his attitude was understandable. And by most measurable standards, it’s not a very good movie: The storyline involving various folks stumbling into a house shrouded in mystery is occasionally impenetrable, the broad comic relief provided by top-billed Leon M. Lion (as a Cockney bum) is poured on with approximately 12 ladles, and the heroine (Ann Casson) disappears about two-thirds through the film (and not in a Janet-Leigh-in-Psycho way; she’s just removed completely from the plot!). But fans will want to take a peek, as there’s a smattering of inventive shot selections that reveal The Master’s hand at work, the appearance of what might be the very first MacGuffin in a Hitchcock flick (in this case, a necklace), and a breathless climax that involves a runaway train, a speeding bus, and an innocent ferry (the fact that it’s obvious model work takes away none of the excitement).
Blu-ray extras include the 1999 featurette Hitchcock: The Early Years and an audio excerpt from the Hitchcock/Truffaut interviews.
OCTOBER (1928) / ALEXANDER NEVSKY (1938). Those folks who are interested in both history and film history will want to catch these two films from Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein, whose 1925 Battleship Potemkin routinely shows up on lists of the greatest films of all time. October is Eisenstein’s you-are-there reenactment of the October Revolution, one of the early uprisings of the Russian Revolution that brought the Bolsheviks to power. Its subtitle is Ten Days That Shook the World, since the events were also covered by John Reed in his book of the same name. And John Reed was the protagonist in Warren Beatty’s magnificent 1981 epic Reds, which, as coincidence would have it, was reviewed here last week. October is more interesting as education (albeit with a heavy dose of Russian propaganda) than entertainment; faring better as a mix of the two is Alexander Nevsky, which includes a superb battle sequence, an excellent Prokofiev score, and pointed allusions to Nazi Germany in its story about the 13th century Prince Alexander.
The separate DVDs of October and Alexander Nevsky have been helpfully packaged as one double feature, with an illustrated paper band keeping both cases together. There are no extras on either DVD.
Alexander Nevsky: ★★★½
WEREWOLVES WITHIN (2021). And just like that, we have a good video game movie. After spending decades suffering through awful VG adaptations like Super Mario Bros., Max Payne, Assassin’s Creed, and worst-of-the-worst Alone in the Dark — and watching such mediocrities as The Angry Birds Movie 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog get overpraised merely because they displayed a basic level of competence — Werewolves Within turns up ready to eviscerate all puny pretenders to the throne. In the same manner as The Beast Must Die, a 1974 Amicus production starring Peter Cushing, this one isolates a small group of people at a remote location and reveals that one of them is a werewolf. In this picture, the locale is a small town whose conservative members welcome a potential gas pipeline while its progressive citizens oppose it. While the humans bicker, a lycanthrope starts picking them off — or is it merely someone pretending to be a werewolf? This is at once a horror film, a whodunit, a comedy, and a commentary on today’s MAGA-infected and -infested nation (i.e. rednecks toting guns are scarier than any monster), and it’s fronted by a lovable performance by Sam Richardson as the forest ranger newly arrived on the scene.
There are no Blu-ray extras.