View from the Couch: The Mitchells vs. the Machines, No Time to Die, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Daniel Craig and Ana de Armas in No Time to Die (Photo: MGM & Universal)
(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.)
GIALLO ESSENTIALS (1973-1975). Back in October, Arrow Video released Giallo Essentials (reviewed here), featuring three films from that popular Italian genre. The outfit is now offering another box set titled Giallo Essentials — it’s confusing, since this could easily have been called Giallo Essentials 2 or More Giallo Essentials or Giallo 2: Electric Boogaloo. (Because of the box color, company promos have subtitled the set “Yellow Edition”; since the first edition was red, that’s how you tell the difference.)
Torso (1973), aka The Bodies Show Traces of Carnal Violence, is the best film in the set, with Suzy Kendall cast as one of a group of nubile college students being stalked by a psychopath. Writer-director Sergio Martino (whose recent box set was reviewed here) and his frequent scripting collaborator Ernesto Gastaldi offer a vast number of suspects, but it’s pretty obvious who’s responsible almost from the beginning. Nevertheless, this manages to be both stylish and suspenseful.
What Have They Done to Your Daughters? (1974), aka The Coed Murders, is as much a police procedural as a giallo, with a detective (Claudio Cassinelli) and an assistant district attorney (Giovanna Ralli) investigating the apparent hanging suicide of a 15-year-old girl. They quickly deduce that she was murdered, and further sleuthing reveals the existence of a teenage prostitution ring enjoyed by many prominent citizens. The sociopolitical criticism doesn’t always jibe with the piece’s more sensational elements (such as the cleaver-swinging motorcycle rider), resulting in an erratic if earnest watch. Mario Adorf is particularly good as a police inspector who learns his own daughter has been recruited for sleazy sextracurricular activities.
Strip Nude for Your Killer (1975) also features a killer hiding his (or her) identity behind a motorcycle helmet. In this film, the assailant slaughters the doctor responsible for a botched abortion that kills the patient and then proceeds to murder the victim’s co-workers at a modeling agency. There’s not much sense or sizzle in this one, and it’s hard to get behind the so-called “hero” (Nino Castelnuovo), a brutish, opportunistic and womanizing photographer, when one is actively hoping he’ll become the next victim.
The Blu-ray set contains both the Italian and English cuts of Torso; extras include both a video interview and a Q&A session with Martino. Extras on What Have They Done to Your Daughters? include a video essay and unused hardcore footage shot for the film. Extras on Strip Nude for Your Killer include two versions of the opening scene and an image gallery. All three movies come with film scholar audio commentary.
What Have They Done to Your Daughters?: ★★½
Strip Nude for Your Killer: ★★
MANIAC COP 2 (1990) / MANIAC COP 3: BADGE OF SILENCE (1993). The two sequels to 1988’s Maniac Cop have received 4K upgrades through the Blue Underground label, and if you’re wondering why the same treatment hasn’t been given to the original, that’s because it’s under the jurisdiction of a different company.
The first Maniac Cop (★★½, for those keeping score), released on Blu back in 2011 by Synapse Films, is the best of the bunch, with reliable Tom Atkins in good form as a cop determined to nail a police officer who’s going around killing the innocent rather than the guilty. Atkins’ Frank McCrae knows that the prime suspect, Jack Forrest (Bruce Campbell), is merely a scapegoat — the real maniac cop turns out to be Matt Cordell (Robert Z’Dar), who has seemingly returned from the grave after being betrayed by his superiors and sent to prison, where he was killed by some of those he had put away. A stronger director than William Lustig could have made this a real winner — as it stands, it’s a fairly involving “B” programmer that unfortunately fades in the stretch.
Maniac Cop 2 finds Matt Cordell (Z’Dar) killing the few survivors from the first film and then moving on to new business. He teams up with a serial killer (Leo Rossi), meaning good cop Sean McKinney (Robert Davi) and police psychologist Susan Riley (Claudia Christian) have their hands full dealing with two psychopaths. This only rates so high because of the formidable stuntwork and exciting action sequences seen throughout the picture — it’s weakened by the performances from Davi, who has about as much personality as a wet cardboard box, and Rossi, who never met a scene he couldn’t overact to an unbearable degree. Hang around for the song playing over the closing credits: “Maniac Cop Rap,” with lyrics like “Set him on fire, shoot him with an uzi, but he’ll show up in your jacuzzi” and “You won’t get a ticket or pay a fine, you might as well be dealin’ with Frankenstein!”
The fact that Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence was directed by Alan Smithee — that’s the name placed in the credits when the real director disowns the film — pretty much reveals how this one will go down. Davi returns as Sean McKinney, which immediately knocks it down a couple of pegs. Add to that some nonsensical plotlines about a voodoo priest (Julius Harris, who made for a better villain as Tee Hee in the 007 entry Live and Let Die), a comatose cop (Gretchen Becker), and McKinney’s habit of sliming a pretty doctor (Caitlin Dulany) with his kisses, and it makes the scenes that actually include the maniac cop (Z’Dar yet again) more welcome than ever. This one’s rather dreary, although props for that death-by-defibrillator moment.
Extras on Maniac Cop 2 include audio commentary by Lustig and Drive director Nicolas Winding Refn (who’s attempting to get a Maniac Cop series off the ground); a making-of piece; a Q&A with Lustig; and a deleted scene. 4K extras on Maniac Cop 3 include audio commentary by Alan Smithee (actually Lustig, joined by producer Joel Soisson); a making-of featurette; and deleted and extended scenes.
Maniac Cop 2: ★★½
Maniac Cop 3: Badge of Silence: ★½
THE MITCHELLS VS. THE MACHINES (2021). For those who thought The Incredibles was the final word on family dysfunction in animated films, think again. Here’s a delightful confection that takes premises both iffy and old-hat and makes them sing with renewed purpose. Teenager Katie Mitchell (voiced by Abbi Jacobson) is eager to leave her Michigan home and begin film school in California — while she’s close to her mother Linda (Maya Rudolph) and younger brother Aaron (Rianda), it’s been a long time since she’s gotten along with her father Rick (Danny McBride). Rick decides that a road trip to Katie’s new college will bring the entire family together again — it does so in unpredictable fashion, as robots created by a Big Tech wizard (Eric André) go rogue under the command of an obsolete IPA (Olivia Colman) and take out the entire human population save for the Mitchells. The filmmakers frequently think outside the box when it comes to the animation, and the LGBT representation is understated and appreciated. The movie’s major scene stealer is Monchi, the Mitchells’ slobbery dog (grunts and snores courtesy of Internet fave Doug the Pug), while the sequence involving those accursed Furbies is pure genius.
The Blu-ray contains the theatrical version as well as the longer Katie’s Extended Cinematic Bonanza Cut. Extras include filmmaker audio commentary; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and the animated short Dog Cop 7: The Final Chapter.
MY STEPMOTHER IS AN ALIEN (1988). The 1958 gem I Married a Monster from Outer Space is a movie whose quality far exceeds its dopey title; alas, the same cannot be said for My Stepmother Is an Alien, a limp comedy that could easily have been tagged E.T. The Extremely Tedious. Kim Basinger’s all-in comic performance is the only redeeming quality in this picture, as she plays an outer-space being who journeys to our planet hoping to save her own. Taking the form of a beautiful woman and calling herself Celeste, she woos and eventually marries clueless scientist Steve Mills (Dan Aykroyd), a widower she believes can assist her in her mission. Steve’s daughter Jessie (Alyson Hannigan) likes Celeste but worries when she sees her drinking acid out of a car battery for sustenance, while his brother Ron (Jon Lovitz doing that whole Jon Lovitz thing) is an obnoxious horndog loser who’s jealous that his sibling landed such a hottie. Richard Benjamin was always a better actor (The Sunshine Boys, The Last of Sheila, reviewed here) than director (Made in America, Marci X), and his lack of any discernible style or energy further flattens a flavorless script credited to four writers. Aykroyd is miscast as the male romantic lead and has zero chemistry with Basinger, who’s required to carry the entire picture with a vibrant turn that shows off her physical prowess as a comedienne. It’s a textbook example of a performer being better than the material.
Blu-ray extras consist of film critic audio commentary; a new interview with Benjamin; an image gallery; and the theatrical trailer.
NO TIME TO DIE (2021). More than any other stretch of films featuring other actors as James Bond, the Daniel Craig titles offer a self-contained arc — it’s a point hammered home by the release of this excellent achievement, the fifth and final movie starring the worthiest 007 since Sean Connery. The underrated Quantum of Solace and the overextended Spectre (solid until that ridiculous third act) are the runts of the quintet, but No Time to Die joins Casino Royale and Skyfall as not only the best of the Craigs but also as among the dozen or so best in the 25-film series (go here for a ranking of all previous Bond flicks and here for related 007 lists). This entry finds the agent with a licence to kill breaking up with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) after a perceived betrayal and retiring to Jamaica until talked back into service. He teams up with a new 007 (Lashana Lynch) and eventually squares off against master villain Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek). Malek’s baddie doesn’t rank among the series’ greatest, but other character dynamics are well established, including the return of CIA agent Felix Leitner (Jeffrey Wright), a brief appearance by Spectre head Ernst Stavros Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), and a bright new heroine in the form of CIA agent Paloma (Ana de Armas, doing the most with her disappointingly small role). The nods to past films in the franchise are inspired, none more so than the use of Louis Armstrong’s gorgeous “We Have All the Time in the World” (the theme song from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). The action is as invigorating as ever, and the powerhouse finale is steeped in poignancy and reflection.
Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital Code release consist of four behind-the-scenes featurettes examining the stunts, sets, location shooting and more, plus (exclusive to the 4K) a 45-minute piece in which Craig shares memories from his time in the role.
THE RED SHOES (1948). Yet another winner from the filmmaking team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (whose 1946 A Matter of Life and Death is reviewed here), The Red Shoes is one of the premier films to ever examine the personal sacrifices an individual must make to excel at their art. Moira Shearer plays Victoria Page, who ultimately must decide whether to become the world’s greatest ballet dancer under the tutelage of impresario Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) or toss it all away to become the wife of ambitious composer Julian Craster (Marius Goring). With its fantastical and inventive staging, the lengthy set-piece The Ballet of the Red Shoes doesn’t fit thematically but is staggering to behold, and the film’s ending is a knockout. The movie makes spectacular use of Technicolor, and Jack Cardiff’s lensing is routinely included on lists of the all-time best cinematography. Walbrook and Shearer (a professional ballerina making her film debut) deliver emotional and committed performances, and there’s a strong supporting turn by Russian choreographer and dancer Léonide Massine as the cheerful Grischa Ljubov. Nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Motion Picture Story (Pressburger), and Best Film Editing, it won for Best Color Art Direction-Set Decoration and Best Original Score.
4K Blu-ray extras include film scholar audio commentary; a restoration demonstration featuring Martin Scorsese; the 2000 documentary short A Profile of The Red Shoes; and a gallery of The Red Shoes memorabilia from Scorsese’s personal collection.
THE SEDUCTION OF JOE TYNAN (1979) / THE FOUR SEASONS (1981). Alan Alda had already written and directed several episodes of M*A*S*H when he decided to take his juggling act to the big screen.
First up was The Seduction of Joe Tynan, which he wrote but did not direct (Jerry Schatzberg sat in the personalized chair). It’s a bright but pointed look at American politics, with Alda cast as a liberal senator who opposes the Supreme Court preferential pick of a conservative colleague (Melvyn Douglas). His research into the potential judge’s racist background puts him into close contact with a Southern labor lawyer (Meryl Streep), and they end up having an affair. Alda as writer can’t decide whether Joe Tynan is ultimately a conscientious man or a compromised one, making it difficult to understand the character. But Alda’s dialogue often sparkles, and grade-A performances dominate the film. Streep and Douglas are both fine in supporting stints, and they would both win Oscars that year for their other movies (Kramer vs. Kramer and Being There, respectively). The best work comes from Barbara Harris — she’s excellent as Joe’s wife, a woman who grows tired of the spotlight that always envelops her husband and occasionally catches her as well.
In addition to serving as writer and star, Alda made his directorial debut with The Four Seasons, a sleeper that surprisingly became one of the top 10 grossing films of its year. Using Vivaldi’s titular concertos as chapter switches, it centers on three middle-age couples — Alda and Carol Burnett as Jack and Kate, Len Cariou and Sandy Dennis as Nick and Anne, and Jack Weston and Rita Moreno as Danny and Claudia — who are so close-knit that they spend all their vacations together. But when Nick divorces Anne and brings his young girlfriend Ginny (Bess Armstrong) on subsequent trips, it creates tension among all the vacationers and leads to suspicion, paranoia and backbiting. Some scenes operate on a sitcom level and the concluding segment on an icy lake is unfortunately a weak way to wrap this up. But when the movie is in its groove, it’s a delight, with some suitably caustic dialogue and superlative performances from the ensemble.
Blu-ray extras on both films (sold separately) consist of entertainment journalist audio commentary; radio spots; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other titles on the Kino label.
The Seduction of Joe Tynan: ★★★
The Four Seasons: ★★★
TWO EVIL EYES (1990). Horror masters George Romero and Dario Argento go the Poe route with this two-parter adapted from various works by Mr. Edgar Allan. Romero’s “The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar,” based on the same-named story, finds a trophy wife (Adrienne Barbeau) and her doctor-lover (Ramy Zada) concocting an elaborate scheme to obtain all of her dying husband’s (Bingo O’Malley) wealth; when he passes away before their plan completely takes root, they’re forced to use hypnosis to keep him perched between life and death. “The Black Cat,” combining elements from several Poe projects (including “The Pit and the Pendulum” and “The Fall of the House of Usher”) stars Harvey Keitel as a crime-scene photographer (channeling a wee bit of Weegee; see The Public Eye, reviewed here) whose hatred of a black cat leads to murder. The word on the street — Rue Morgue or otherwise — is that the Argento segment far outshines the Romero tale, but I found them of comparable quality, each with unhurried exposition, silly yet satisfactory endings, and fine contributions by makeup effects artist Tom Savini.
4K extras include interviews with Romero, Argento, and Savini; a look at the makeup effects; and a tour of Savini’s home.
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