View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Agathe Rousselle in Titane (Photo: NEON)
(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.)
EXPRESSO BONGO (1959). Based on a 1958 London stage show that starred Paul Scofield, Expresso Bongo is more successful as a satire about show biz sleaze than as a bouncy musical. Laurence Harvey (in the Scofield role) plays Johnny Jackson, an aggressive, small-time agent constantly prowling the Soho streets in search of The Next Big Thing. He believes he has found it in Bert Rudge (singing star Cliff Richards), a bongo-banging singer he discovers in an espresso bar. Changing the kid’s name to Bongo Herbert, Johnny tries to secure a contract with a savvy record-company bigwig (Meier Tzelniker), all the while ignoring his girlfriend (and only other client) Maisie King (Sylvia Syms), a strip-club dancer hoping for her own big break. It’s only when fading American star Dixie Collins (Yolande Donlan) takes an interest in Bongo that it appears as if his career might really take off. Because it was made in England rather than Hollywood, Expresso Bongo has a risqué aspect about it that was largely missing from American movies at the time — this is most apparent not only in the strip-club sequences (where the pasties leave nothing to the imagination except the nipples) but also in the frank relationship between Johnny and Maisie and in the potential Oedipal vibes between Bongo and Dixie. Harvey delivers a zesty performance; Donlan (wife of the film’s director, the versatile Val Guest) is also good, although it’s peculiar how she’s made the marginal villain of the piece even though she’s no less scrupulous than the male characters. Then again, it might just be the patriarchal prerogative of the period.
In an effort to cash in on Richards’ exploding popularity, Expresso Bongo was rereleased in 1962 minus the musical numbers that did not showcase the singer. This Blu-ray edition offers the original, complete 111-minute version. The only extras are theatrical trailers.
HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021). Halloween Kills is the follow-up to the 2018 Halloween, a belated and alternate-universe sequel to the 1978 classic even though both sport the same name. As I noted in my review of the ’18 edition, “This is what happens when a valuable franchise is entrusted to the guys who foisted Your Highness upon an unsuspecting world.” (Go here for the review.) But while fratboy filmmakers David Gordon Green and Danny McBride (the former serving as writer-director, the latter as co-scripter) made a rampaging mediocrity four year ago, they’ve created an out-and-out turkey this time around. It turns out that Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) survived the fire seen at the end of Halloween, so he continues his killing spree around his Haddonfield hometown. The mother-daughter-granddaughter tag team of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), Karen Nelson (Judy Greer) and Allyson Nelson (Andi Matichak) is again determined to stop him — so, too, is citizen Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), who leads a mob of unquestioning sheep who repeatedly bleat, “Make Haddonfield great again!” — I mean, “Evil dies tonight!” Halloween Kills is a depressing disaster, with the filmmakers as mechanical as their hulking hero in finding groovy new ways to slay people. There are several new characters who promise to bring amusement and originality to the series, but, nope, they’re merely there as cinematic cannon fodder. Green and McBride laughably try to inject real-world meaning into the film, but they bungle the assignment: For instance, the movie is anti-vigilante until it suddenly decides to become pro-vigilante. And just when it seems like this can’t go any lower, along comes those final, cynical shots.
The 4K + Blu-ray edition contains both the theatrical version and an extended cut with an alternate ending. Extras include audio commentary by Green, Curtis and Greer; making-of featurettes; a gag reel; and a Kill Count that tracks all 31 slayings in the film.
LIAR LIAR (1997). My main memory of Liar Liar, which I first caught upon its initial release, rests with Jim Carrey’s appearance on the 1997 Academy Awards ceremony. Taking the stage the Monday after the film’s opening weekend, when it raked in a sizable $31 million, a grinning Carrey (there to present the Best Visual Effects Oscar) coyly asked the audience, “So how was your weekend?” He had the right to gloat, as he delivered an appropriately manic performance in a comedy that would have amounted to little without his dynamic presence. Carrey stars as Fletcher Reede, a self-absorbed lawyer who never has enough time to spend with his young son Max (Justin Cooper). When the kid’s fifth birthday rolls around, Fletcher assures his son he’ll be at his party but then doesn’t show up — frustrated by this latest broken promise, Fletcher makes a wish as he blows out the candles that his dad will stop lying for 24 hours. As a result, Fletcher finds himself being brutally honest with everyone around him, a condition that gets him into hot water on both the professional and personal fronts. Often insufferable when unchained (Dumb and Dumber and the Ace Ventura pair), Carrey works best when he’s able to ground his humor within the confines of a relatively normal character. As with The Mask, that proves to be the case here as well, and there are several moments of inspired lunacy on full display. But the script isn’t always as sharp as its leading man, and the film stumbles to a close with a lengthy and laugh-free climax set on an airstrip. For a superior comedy with the same premise, check out the hilarious 1941 Bob Hope vehicle Nothing But the Truth (reviewed here).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Tom Shadyac; a vintage making-of piece; new interviews with co-stars Jennifer Tilly and Swoosie Kurtz; a deleted scene; and outtakes.
SHOCK (1977). If Ovidio G. Assonitis’ 1974 Beyond the Door was a hybrid rip-off of The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby, then Mario Bava’s 1977 Beyond the Door II might be considered a combo steal of The Exorcist and The Omen (with some Polanski Repulsion tossed into the mix). But Beyond the Door II isn’t really a sequel to Beyond the Door — instead, it was merely the title American distributors slapped onto Bava’s Shock in an attempt to draw more interest (and more box office dollars) to this Italian import. This was the final film directed by Bava, who would die of a heart attack three years later — if it’s not up to the standards of such past winners as 1960’s Black Sunday, 1963’s Black Sabbath, and 1966’s Kill, Baby … Kill! (reviewed here), it’s still unlikely to disappoint his fans. Daria Nicolodi offers an intense performance as Dora Baldini, who suffered a nervous breakdown and was subjected to shock treatment following the apparent suicide of her husband Carlo, a violent drug addict. At the insistence of second husband Bruno (John Steiner), Dora moves back into the house she occupied with Carlo, with Bruno and Marco (David Colin Jr.), her son from her previous marriage, by her side. But it’s not long before disturbing things begin to happen around the homestead, including her loving little boy turning surly and threatening to kill her. Is Dora suffering from hallucinations, or is her son possessed by the spirit of the abusive Carlo? Shock opens in tedious fashion, and the awful emoting by Colin remains a constant problem. But there are some nifty visual touches (the boy-into-man moment is startling), and the story strengthens as it heads toward a memorable conclusion.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film historian and Bava expert Tim Lucas; an interview with co-writer Lamberto Bava, Mario’s son; a video essay; and Beyond the Door II TV spots.
TITANE (2021). Think of Titane as the anti-Halloween Kills. Both movies are equally violent, gory, and disturbing, but while Halloween Kills is generic garbage, Titane is a unique achievement. With 1993’s The Piano (newly released on Criterion and reviewed in this column next week), writer-director Jane Campion became the first and, until now, only woman to have her picture win the top prize, the Palme d’Or, at the Cannes Film Festival. With Titane, writer-director Julia Ducournau has now provided her with company. While Titane doesn’t quite deserve that exalted honor, it is the sort of movie that one doesn’t forget easily (that is, if one hasn’t turned it off in disgust somewhere along the way). Like David Cronenberg’s 1996 wreck Crash (reviewed here), it brings new meaning to the word autoerotic, focusing on a woman who survived a car crash as a child, received a titanium plate in her skull, and now finds herself aroused by vehicles. And after Alexia (Agathe Rousselle) suddenly kills a smitten man who comes on too strong, it appears we’re in Promising Young Woman territory, with a damaged female fighting back against suffocating misogyny. But, nope, Alexia is merely a serial killer, murdering men and women alike. On the run from the law, she tapes down her figure and disguises herself as Adrien, the long-missing son of a gruff firefighter (Vincent Lindon) who’s overjoyed that his kid has finally come home. Ducournau’s efforts to humanize her protagonist rarely take hold, resulting in an emotional vacuum at the film’s center. Yet everything else clicks: Lindon’s excellent performance, Ducournau’s haunting visuals, and meaty themes and symbolic strokes tied to identity, parentage, fetishism, and autonomy (or should that be “auto”nomy?).
Blu-ray extras consist of a Q&A session with Ducournau, Lindon and Rousselle, and the theatrical trailer.
TROG (1970). Joan Crawford’s unfortunate swan song in this celluloid dud puts her in the same company as Errol Flynn (Cuban Rebel Girls), Bette Davis (Wicked Stepmother), Veronica Lake (Flesh Feast), and other Golden Age legends who ended glorious careers in desultory fashion. Mommie Dearest stars as Dr. Brockton, an anthropologist involved in the discovery of a troglodyte (Joe Cornelius) living in a nearby cave. Believing him to be the missing link, she names him Trog and treats him like a slow-witted child by teaching him to play with dolls, roll a ball, and refrain from mauling the locals. But the resident grouch (Michael Gough, overacting outrageously by playing to Heaven’s rafters) wants to see him destroyed, so he does what he can to insure that the scientist’s pet project comes to a tragic end. During shooting, Crawford was reportedly chugging vodka like NFL players down Gatorade, which makes her performance even more dispiriting. Director Freddie Francis fared much better with his horror flicks for Hammer and Amicus, as this one’s the pits.
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary and interview; the Trailers from Hell segment; a photo gallery; and the theatrical trailer.