View From the Couch: House of Gucci, Remo Williams, Surf Nazis Must 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.
Lady Gaga in House of Gucci (Photo: Universal & MGM)
(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.)
THE FINAL OPTION (1982). As a kid who was raised Republican, I enjoyed The Final Option upon its initial release for its gung-ho action and chest-beating jingoism; as an adult who saw the liberal light while in college, I now “enjoy” the film for its dum-dum politics and inane plotting. Admired by Ronald Reagan (and, presumably, Margaret Thatcher), this casts Lewis Collins as Peter Skellen, a member of Britain’s military unit the SAS (Special Air Service). Skellen is chucked out of the SAS for being a bloody sadist and subsequently joins the anti-nuclear terrorist group the People’s Lobby. But wait! Skellen hasn’t really been thrown out of the SAS — this is actually a fib so that he may infiltrate the People’s Lobby and discover what nefarious deeds its members have planned. Placing queen and country over wife and baby, he shacks up with group leader Frankie Leith (Judy Davis) and learns that the outfit plans to hold hostage a number of American diplomats. These anti-nuke nitwits hope to illustrate the evils of nuclear power by forcing those in charge to, uh, launch a nuclear missile at Scotland. It’s quite daft, but no more so than the fact that every terrorist aside from the swooning Frankie knows that Skellen is a spy but lets him hang around anyway (maybe because he’s revealed to be a terrible and ineffectual spy?). Released in the U.K. as Who Dares Wins, The Final Option was expected to make a movie star out of Collins, who was a hit on the TV show The Professionals and considered to be a leading candidate to replace Roger Moore as the next James Bond. But while fine on The Professionals, he’s a humorless bore here, overshadowed by former Hammer actress Ingrid Pitt as a terrorist harpy and Richard Widmark as a sarcastic U.S. Secretary of State. The action is still aces, though.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Ian Sharp and producer Euan Lloyd, and a featurette on Lloyd’s career.
HOUSE OF GUCCI (2021). One of the major cinematic disappointments of 2021, Ridley Scott’s House of Gucci is a film that wildly careens between a dour biopic and a rowdy camp fest without slowing down to take the curves. Based on Sara Gay Forden’s novel The House of Gucci: A Sensational Story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed, it stars Lady Gaga as Patrizia Regiani, a social climber who marries into the Gucci family and finds herself frequently combating its various members, including her mousy husband Maurizio (Adam Driver), his cold-hearted father Rodolfo (Jeremy Irons), his garrulous uncle Aldo (Al Pacino), and his dim-witted cousin Paolo (Jared Leto). Patrizia’s opportunistic zeal eventually leads to her asking her friend and psychic adviser Pina (Salma Hayek) to help arrange an assassination of one of the men in the clan. House of Gucci might have worked as a bombastic pseudo-morality tale (like Pacino’s Scarface) or an eccentric black comedy (like Irons’ Reversal of Fortune, reviewed here), but Scott and scripters Becky Johnston and Roberto Bentivegna opt instead for an unsavory gumbo of conflicting tones, styles and attitudes. Leto’s performance is utterly ridiculous, and it’s astonishing that he’s been nominated for various awards (only that Razzie nod for Worst Supporting Actor seems appropriate). Buried under pounds of latex, he’s a buffoonish caricature, whether he’s whining about his sorry lot in life, discussing his “small peaches,” or worrying that his imprisoned father will “bend over to pick up the soap.” House of Gucci was expected to be a major Oscar contender, but its sole nomination was for Best Makeup and Hairstyling.
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette; an examination of Lady Gaga’s performance; and a piece on the film’s visual look.
THE HURT LOCKER (2009). Kathryn Bigelow made history when she became the first woman to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Her victory lap came with this Iraq War drama in which the three members of a bomb squad ply their trade during the last six weeks of their tour of duty in 2004. Staff Sergeant William James (Jeremy Renner) is the leader of the outfit, a man as reckless as he is efficient when it comes to defusing bombs. Sergeant J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) is the most professional — that is to say, most stable — member of the team, anxious to get away from a job he despises. And Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) is the young pup of the outfit, a clean-cut kid terrified that his life will soon get snuffed out. Scripter Mark Boal focuses all of his attention on the soldiers who are placed in the line of fire, never allowing any political discourse to enter the conversation — it’s an acceptable decision in that it pays sincere tribute to Americans willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country. The movie works best when its storytelling remains shaggy; it gets into real trouble when it introduces a forced subplot in which James sets out to avenge the death of a friend. But never does Bigelow falter in her direction, which, by adroitly alternating between muscular and sensitive, reapplies a recognizable face to a conflict that has largely slipped from the American public conscious with all the wispiness of a bad dream. Nominated for nine Academy Awards (including a Best Actor bid for Renner), this earned six, including Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, and the aforementioned Best Director.
The Hurt Locker has just been released on 4K UHD in a steelbook edition currently only available at Best Buy. Extras consist of audio commentary by Bigelow and Boal; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and an image gallery.
LIAR’S MOON (1982). Fans of 1985’s Clue might be surprised to learn that the board-game adaptation wasn’t the first movie to be released to theaters with different endings. Apparently, the same thing happened earlier with Liar’s Moon, an inert indie melodrama that, depending on where one saw it, ended with either a happy fade-out or a tragic denouement. Alas, the film is such a grueling watch that the proper reaction to either ending is a well-timed raspberry. In one of his earliest appearances, Matt Dillon stars as Jack Duncan, a farmer’s son living in the small town of Noble, Texas, in the late 1940s. Jack falls in love with Ginny Peterson (Cindy Fisher), the daughter of respected banker Alex Peterson (Christopher Connelly) — while Jack’s own father (Hoyt Axton) sees nothing wrong with this budding relationship, his mother Babs (Maggie Blye) and Ginny’s dad are both determined to see it not flourish. But the kids won’t be deterred, and they move to Louisiana since it’s a state where 17-year-olds (like Ginny) can get married without parental approval. The reason Alex and Babs are against this union isn’t revealed until the final stretch, but it’s remarkably easy to guess within the first 15 minutes. Of course, there’s a late-inning twist that upends what has already transpired, but it’s both bathetic and pathetic. Dillon and Fisher are fine, while Oscar winner Broderick Crawford (All the King’s Men) is wasted as a Peterson family member who wanders in and out of a couple of scenes for little apparent reason. And what’s with Jack’s horny best friends, both seeming to have been teleported over from the same year’s Porky’s?
Liar’s Moon is the latest title being released on Blu-ray as part of the MVD label’s Rewind Collection (with the case designed to look like that of a VHS rental). Extras include a retrospective making-of featurette; a piece on the film’s music; and an alternate ending (i.e. the theatrical one not used for the feature presentation on this disc).
REMO WILLIAMS: THE ADVENTURE BEGINS… (1985). The sequelitis that gripped many a film during the mid-1980s — even sorry efforts like Hardbodies (1984) and Angel (ditto) received follow-ups, for Pete’s sake — didn’t quite spread to every project released during this time frame. The makers of 1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension (reviewed here) envisioned several screen sagas for their unique hero, but the franchise was aborted after just one. The same fate befell this takeoff of The Destroyer book series, a missed-opportunity exercise that might as well have been called Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins… and Ends. The problem with the picture starts with the casting of the lead role: Fred Ward is a damn fine actor — check out his dramatic chops in The Right Stuff and his comedic ones in Big Business — but even with the filmmakers’ desire to build a series around a working-class James Bond, he’s ill-suited for the task, coming across as that proverbial bull in a china shop. His character is a cop who’s transformed into an elite operative for an American outfit that spies on all citizens for their own good (a pre-Patriot Act in all its implicit creepiness); this snooping leads the clandestine group to uncover corruption that’s affecting the U.S. Army. The story is drab in the extreme, although there’s one nicely staged set-piece largely filmed on the Statue of Liberty (the rest of the scene was shot on a partial replica). Joel Grey co-stars as Remo’s mentor, the martial arts master Chiun, and Carl Fullerton earned a Best Makeup Oscar nomination for his ability to turn a 53-year-old Caucasian into an 80-year-old Korean.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by producer Larry Spiegel and co-producer Judy Goldstein; behind-the-scenes pieces on the music score and the production design; and the theatrical trailer.
SURF NAZIS MUST DIE (1987). It’s always amusing when a studio takes a critic’s blurb and edits it down to provide a different meaning. As one example, Pauline Kael called 1983’s The Makioka Sisters “the most pleasurable movie I have seen in months.” Despite being a rapturous pull quote, the distributor nevertheless chopped it down in some ads to read, “The most pleasurable movie I have seen!” (Like, ever?) Another critic who rightly trashed the 1985 Al Pacino howler Revolution made the mistake of using the word “magnificent” in her review (if memory serves, to describe the cinematography); I’m sure she was shocked to open a newspaper and find herself declaring the movie “Magnificent!” at the top of the ad. And now here’s the new Blu-ray for Surf Nazis Must Die, which has Variety breathlessly declaring on its back cover, “A Clockwork Orange meets Mad Max on the beach.” Sounds like exciting stuff, until one learns that the entire sentence is, “A sort of A Clockwork Orange meets Mad Max on the beach, pic hasn’t one redeeming feature.” I suppose there is one redeeming feature in that it runs under 90 minutes, but even that isn’t much of a blessing since there’s more padding here than in 200 mattresses. Troma Entertainment is known for its gloriously cheesy entertainment — everyone from popes to presidents loves The Toxic Avenger — so maybe it’s telling that this title was a distribution pickup rather than created in-house. The main problem with this awful film, in which a gun-toting granny (Gail Neely) seeks revenge on the neo-Nazis who murdered her son (Robert Harden), is that it isn’t nearly outrageous or offensive enough — instead, it’s just cheap and dull.
Blu-ray extras include an introduction by Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman; interviews with director Peter George and producer Robin Tinell; and deleted scenes.
THE THREE MUSKETEERS (1948). To date, there have been well over two dozen screen adaptations of the Alexandre Dumas classic — it would be logical to assume that the Warner Bros. version from the 1940s would be the champ, given the quality of the studios’ productions during that particular decade. Yet that’s not the case, with Richard Lester’s excellent 1973 version (the one with Michael York, Oliver Reed and Raquel Welch) besting the 1948 edition in practically every respect. From a visual standpoint, the WB interpretation can’t be faulted, what with its lavish sets, colorful costumes, and Oscar-nominated cinematography. But George Sidney, a director best known for such zippy musicals as The Harvey Girls (reviewed here) and Bye Bye Birdie, rarely finds a consistent rhythm for his picture — the 1973 version does a far better job of effortlessly switching between heavy drama and swashbuckling shenanigans — and most of the cast members were hired for their marquee value rather than their appropriateness for the roles (which at least worked from a financial standpoint, as the film was one of the top grossers of its year). Aside from his remarkable physical prowess, Gene Kelly is all wrong as the youthful wanna-be musketeer D’Artagnan, while others who fail to convince include Van Heflin as a rigid Athos, June Allyson as a bland Constance, Angela Lansbury as a nondescript Queen Anne, and Keenan Wynn as a modern Planchett. Faring better are those cast as the villains of the piece: Lana Turner is all purring menace as Lady de Winter while Vincent Price is all slippery charm as Richelieu.
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1946 live-action short Looking at London; the 1948 cartoon What Price Fleadom; an audio-only radio promo; and the theatrical trailer.
Short And Sweet:
ETERNALS (2021). It’s not surprising that many viewers are citing Eternals as one of the worst of the MCU films — I’ve seen numerous incels online slamming the picture (women! gays!) alongside Captain Marvel (women!), Black Widow (women!) and Black Panther (blacks!) — but it’s mind-blowing that it’s the first MCU offering to earn a Rotten rather than a Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Mind you, it is one of the weaker MCU outings, but is it really inferior to some of the Iron Man and Thor entries? In its favor is a willingness to break away from the established Marvel formula as well as an ofttimes artful visual scheme orchestrated by Nomadland’s Oscar-winning director Chloé Zhao. Working against it are the usual soul-sapping CGI slugfests and a roster of performers who are competent without commanding attention in the manner of, say, Robert Downey Jr. or Scarlett Johansson.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Zhao; a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
MURPHY’S LAW (1986). Here’s one of those junky Cannon flicks made by Charles Bronson as his career lamentably winded down. He plays Jack Murphy, a hard-drinking cop who’s targeted by a psychopath (Carrie Snodgress) he once arrested. After she frames him for murder, he’s forced to take it on the lam, finding himself (shades of The Defiant Ones) handcuffed to an obnoxious street urchin (Kathleen Wilhoite) he previously had busted for theft. Rancid even by Golan and Globus standards, this mainly suffers from the irksome performance by Wilhoite, whose character spends the entire picture hurling insults like “dildo-nose,” “jism-breath,” and “snot-licking donkey fart.” Where’s a script rewrite by Robert Towne when you need one?
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Wilhoite and film historian Nick Redman; an interview with co-star Robert F. Lyons; radio spots; and the theatrical trailer.
Love Remo Williams, such good hokey fun!!! Still need to see The Final Option, aka Who Dares Win as I became a Lewis Collins fan after seeing uploads of the ITV game show drama Cludeo on YouTube where he played Col. Mustard in Season 3. I’m a big Charles Bronson fan, and have actually heard some good things about Murphy’s Law, I’ll pick the 88 Films edition up as I’m boycotting Kino Lorber (a long story there). Nice mixed round-up.
I’ve never seen CLUEDO, but I did enjoy Lewis Collins on THE PROFESSIONALS decades ago. And I’ve been a huge Bronson fan since I was a wee lad (and not only because our names are similar, ha). After so many great supporting performances in classic films and so many great leading roles in ’70s hits, I hated that his career had to end with Cannon. I always felt like he still had plenty to offer than just DEATH WISH 37.