View From the Couch: Alligator, Hester Street, The Matrix Resurrections, 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.
Alligator (Photo: Shout! Factory)
(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.)
ALLIGATOR (1980). Among the countless Jaws rip-offs that appeared over the ensuing years — efforts like Orca, Grizzly, Tentacles, and even an X-rated spoof called Gums (in which the Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw characters were respectively named Sy Smegma and Carl Clitoris) — it’s no surprise that the two best were scripted by future Oscar nominee and indie king John Sayles. After working with director Joe Dante on 1978’s Piranha, Sayles teamed with helmer Lewis Teague for Alligator, a monster movie blessed with a light touch and a knowing wink. After a baby alligator gets flushed down a toilet, it ends up in Chicago’s sewer system, where over the years it grows to enormous proportions due to illegal dumping by a shady conglomerate. Cop David Madison (Robert Forster) is almost eaten by the critter, but nobody believes his outrageous story until the rowdy reptile decides to make its presence known to the city at large. The film could have used a little more of Henry Silva as an arrogant big-game hunter, but Forster is wonderfully appealing and the picture moves at the proper brisk pace. As with 1981’s The Howling (scripted by Sayles and directed by Dante), there are a handful of in-jokes for film buffs — the reference to The Third Man (via wall graffiti) is a stroke of genius.
Alligator has been released by Shout! Factory in a glorious edition containing the theatrical version in 4K and the theatrical and television cuts on Blu-ray. The most unexpected extra is an interview with Bryan Cranston, who had worked as an assistant on the film. Other extras include audio commentary by Forster and Teague, and interviews with Teague and Sayles.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981). Until it derails at the end, John Landis’ tongue-in-bloody-cheek thriller does a nice job of mixing its horror with humor. Yankee tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking across the English moors when they’re attacked by a frightful man-beast; Jack is killed, but David is only injured and shipped off to London to recuperate. A lovely nurse (Jenny Agutter) takes him under her wing, but David begins to doubt his own sanity after he’s confronted by a decomposing Jack, who informs him that he’ll turn into a werewolf during the next full moon. Landis goes with the flow here, referencing classic lycanthrope flicks through the dialogue, cramming the soundtrack with appropriately titled oldies (“Blue Moon,” “Bad Moon Rising”), and even taking some good-natured digs at English mores and manners. Unfortunately, he runs out of steam just before the finish line, as the film ends with the sort of chaos (crashing cars, falling bodies) that was appropriate in the director’s previous hits (National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers) but proves to be embarrassing and insufficient here. For his excellent work, Rick Baker won the Best Makeup Academy Award in its first year as an annual (rather than occasional) award.
Extras in the terrific new 4K edition from Arrow Video include audio commentary by Naughton and Dunne; two feature-length documentaries, one about the Universal werewolf flicks and one specifically about this picture; interviews with Landis and Baker; and outtakes. The set also comes with a 60-page booklet, a mini-poster, and postcards.
DEADLY GAMES (1982). Wow, did Leonard Maltin really rate this celluloid roadkill a whole star higher than Blade Runner, Memento, and The Thing? But I’m already digressing. Jo Ann Harris (Clint Eastwood’s temptress in The Beguiled) plays Keegan, a perpetually perky reporter who behaves like a cross between The Flying Nun and a chipmunk. Returning to her hometown after her sister is murdered, she mourns for about 2.4 seconds before batting eyes at detective Roger Lane (Sam Groom), a married womanizer who’s coveted by all the town’s womenfolk (probably because of his lovable habit of creeping into their houses at night and surprising them in the dark). These citizens act like Peyton Place rejects as they gossip and tattle before becoming the slasher’s next victims. The killer could only be one of two people: Roger or his best buddy and fellow Vietnam vet, Billy Owens (Steve Railsback). Since writer-director Scott Mansfield keeps shoving one suspect at the audience, you know the killer has to be the other guy. Aside from the eclecticism of the cast (it finds room for Lassie and Lost in Space star June Lockhart and Chicago Bear Dick Butkus) and a really cool board game (created for the film, alas) shown throughout, there’s nothing of value here. Released under the titles Deadly Games and The Eliminator, it was originally supposed to be called Who Fell Asleep? Sometimes they make it too easy.
Blu-ray extras include an interview with co-star Jere Rae-Mansfield; an interview with special effects and stunt coordinator John Eggett; and a still gallery.
HESTER STREET (1975). As noted in (among other places) the book Inside Oscar, the 1975 slate of Best Actress possibilities was so thin that a New York Times article suggested that the actual nominee list could be “downright embarrassing,” Ellen Burstyn (the previous year’s winner) took to the airwaves to complain about the dearth of meaty roles for women, and, once announced, not one of the five nominees appeared in a movie made by a major Hollywood studio (all were either foreign or independent). Carol Kane’s performance in Hester Street was one of the five selected, yet she didn’t have to worry about bringing up the rear in the category: Hers is a strong performance, as she plays Gitl, a Jewish immigrant who arrives in New York at the turn of the century with her young son (Stephen Strimpell) in tow. She’s there to join her husband Yankel (Steven Keats), and she’s shocked to see that he’s become so Americanized that he now goes by the name Jake and expects her to similarly assimilate. In adapting Abraham Cahan’s novel Yekl: A Tale of the New York Ghetto, writer-director Joan Micklin Silver has fashioned a richly detailed film that’s as forceful in its feminist ideals as it is in its championing of Jewish identity and heritage. Although filmed in black and white and with much of the dialogue in Yiddish (with English subtitles), this proved to be a hit on the art-house circuit.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Joan Micklin Silver and producer Raphael Silver; new interviews with Joan Micklin Silver; archival interviews with various cast and crew members; and outtakes.
THE MATRIX RESURRECTIONS (2021). Red pill or blue pill? When it comes to The Matrix Resurrections, might as well take a sleeping pill. Like Bill & Ted Face the Music, here’s another unnecessary 2021 sequel to a vintage Keanu Reeves franchise. Writer-director Lana Wachowski (series co-creator Lilly Wachowski sat this one out) offers a tired meta approach, with Mr. Anderson (Reeves) a video game developer who has created a popular series called … you guessed it … The Matrix. Anderson doesn’t recall his adventures as Neo, just as a wife and mother named Tiffany (Carrie-Anne Moss) doesn’t remember her exploits as Trinity. But once a new generation of gamer mavericks discover a glitch in The Matrix, Neo and Trinity come roaring back to life; so too does Morpheus (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), and the three are once again pitted against their arch-enemy Agent Smith (Jonathan Groff). It’s understandable that Hugo Weaving isn’t back as Agent Smith because the actor had a conflicting commitment; it’s inexcusable that Laurence Fishburne isn’t back as Morpheus because the actor was never asked to reprise his role, a slap in the face to the performer, the character, and the character’s fans. The nostalgic callbacks to the original trilogy are as grasping as those in Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and, given the revolutionary nature of the effects and the stunts in the 1999 original, it’s shocking how pedestrian they prove to be in this exhausted — and exhausting — entry.
Extras on the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital edition include interviews with Wachowski, Reeves, and Moss; reflections on the original trilogy; a piece on the fight sequences; and select-scene breakdowns.
NIGHTMARE (1964). Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 masterpiece Psycho wasn’t the only film from its era to inspire a barrage of imitators — there was also Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1955 Les Diaboliques, the French classic with the shocking twist ending that’s been endlessly mimicked over the ensuing decades. Director Freddie Francis and scripter Jimmy Sangster were obviously fans of both films, as they provided Hammer Films with a handful of pictures that borrowed from one or the other (or both). So whereas their 1963 offering Paranoiac! (like Nightmare, recently released by Shout! Factory and reviewed here) took most of its cues from Psycho, Nightmare leans more toward the Les Diaboliques end of the scale. Jennie Linden plays Janet, a young student who suffers from nightmares involving her mother, a woman who fatally stabbed her husband in front of Jennie several years earlier. Jennie believes she might go insane like her mom, so it’s not an ideal situation when she leaves school to return to the home where the appalling deed occurred. Even though she’s surrounded by people who seemingly care for her — her suave guardian (David Knight), a kindly teacher (Brenda Bruce), the family’s housekeeper (Irene Richmond) and chauffeur (George A. Cooper), and a nurse (Moira Redmond) hired to look after her — Jennie still can’t shake the nightmares, which only intensify with the appearance of a mysterious woman roaming the hallways. The plot abruptly changes direction midway through the movie, leading to a denouement that’s mostly predictable but nevertheless satisfying.
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary; a retrospective making-of piece; and an interview with Linden.
THE SWORD AND THE SORCERER (1982). Sword and sorcery flicks were all the rage during the 1980s, with the first half of the decade alone seeing the releases of over 30 movies in this vein. Nothing could top John Boorman’s superb 1981 achievement Excalibur, but say this about The Sword and the Sorcerer: It’s a helluva lot more fun than the lumbering Conan the Barbarian, which opened three weeks later (and, for all its fame, grossed the exact same amount, $39 million). Lee Horsley, a TV actor best known for the minor early-‘80s hit Matt Houston, landed a rare theatrical role as Talon, a warrior seeking revenge against the man who killed his father a decade earlier. That would be King Cromwell (Richard Lynch), who’s also being sought by Xusia (Richard Moll), a gruesome sorcerer who was used and then betrayed by the bloodthirsty ruler. Writer-director Albert Pyun and his two co-scripters take an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach, piling on the characters and the plotlines and seeing what sticks. The dialogue is silly and most of the actors are too contemporary to convince, but the action is inspired and the effects are admirable. The best elements are indeed reflected in the title: The sword is an awesome weapon — it has three blades, two of which shoot off like crossbow arrows — and the sorcerer makes for a fascinating villain.
Blu-ray extras in the 4K + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary by Pyun; an interview with co-star Kathleen Beller; an interview with sci-fi wizards the Chiodo Brothers (who created the wall of souls seen at the beginning of the movie); and a tribute to stuntman Jack Tyree, who was tragically killed while performing a stunt for this film.
THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1974). Banned in its Swedish homeland, Thriller: A Cruel Picture centers on Madeleine, who as a little girl becomes mute after getting raped by an elderly pedophile. Growing up on a farm under the care of her loving parents, Madeleine (Christina Lindberg) one day accepts a ride from Tony (Heinz Hopf), who, wouldn’t you know, turns out to be a pimp who gets her hooked on heroin and forces her into a life of prostitution. Her initial rebellion leads Tony to blind her in one eye, after which she plots her revenge against Tony and her regular customers (a nerd, a lesbian, and a guy who likes to take photos) by secretly learning martial arts and how to shoot a gun. Written, directed, and produced by Bo Arne Vibenius, Thriller includes some hardcore porn shots that were clearly (and clumsily) inserted into the film without the participation of the actors (they’re all extreme closeups of private parts going about their business). When the film hit the U.S., these sequences (and a few others) were removed and the film was released as They Call Her One Eye. Either version is mostly rubbish. Vibenius’ arty direction prevents this from feeling as exploitative as titles like The Last House on the Left and I Spit on Your Grave, but the plotting is poor and the picture sloppily edited.
Synapse Films’ new release contains both the Blu-ray for Thriller: A Cruel Picture and the DVD for They Call Her One Eye. Extras include an unused fight sequence; nude photos of Lindberg posing on set; and theatrical trailers, including one where the film is called Hooker’s Revenge and paired with The Photographer’s Models (an alternate title for Pete Walker’s House of Whipcord).
Short And Sweet:
COMING 2 AMERICA (2021). This belated sequel to the 1988 hit finds Eddie Murphy reprising his role as Akeem Joffer, now the freshly crowned king of the African nation of Zamunda. When he learns that he has an illegitimate son (Jermaine Fowler) living in Queens, Akeem returns to the U.S., again with panicky assistant Semmi (Arsenio Hall) at his side. There are lots of familiar faces dotting C2A (James Earl Jones, Shari Headley, and the late Louie Anderson are among the returnees), but the problem is that there’s a lot of familiar plotting as well, with much of the movie operating as a weak retread of the original. Murphy and Hall are game — they again play a number of different characters — but the laughs simply aren’t there. Like its predecessor, this earned an Oscar nomination for its makeup design.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director Craig Brewer; a making-of featurette; and trailers.
A JOURNAL FOR JORDAN (2021). Denzel Washington may have picked up his ninth acting Oscar nomination for The Tragedy of Macbeth, but acclaim for his directorial achievement with A Journal for Jordan has been mostly nonexistent. That’s because the potency and passion he brought to his three previous assignments in the director’s chair (Antwone Fisher, The Great Debaters, and Fences) is largely missing from this based-on-fact tale about the relationship between New York Times writer Dana Canedy (Chanté Adams) and First Sergeant Charles King (Michael B. Jordan), and the developments that occur when Charles decides to keep a diary for their infant son after he’s deployed to Iraq. Adams’ excellent performance would be the reason to even consider seeing this, as the lack of energy in both Denzel’s direction and Jordan’s emoting prevent this from reaching its full potential as a grade-A weepie.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
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