View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. (Photo: Mill Creek)
(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.)
MAGNUM P.I.: THE COMPLETE SERIES (1980-1988). The best thing about this long-running series is that its shooting schedule prevented star Tom Selleck from taking the role of Indiana Jones, thus allowing Harrison Ford to land the part. That’s not really meant as a dig against Selleck — it’s just that, unlike Ford, his talents are much more suited for the small screen than the large one, as evidenced by Magnum, P.I., The Sacketts, and Blue Bloods versus Runaway, Folks!, and Christopher Columbus: The Discovery. Selleck was never better than in this breezy series in which he plays Thomas Magnum, a private investigator living in Hawaii. Like many detective shows of its era, this one offsets the drama inherent in the plots by leaning on its leading man’s natural charm and comedic abilities. Selleck and co-star John Hillerman (as prickly majordomo Higgins) both earned Emmy Awards for their portrayals, and the show landed in the Nielsen Top 20 for the first five of its eight seasons, peaking at #3 in its third season.
Mill Creek has just released a beautifully designed Blu-ray box set that contains all eight seasons / 158 episodes spread out over 30 discs. As an added bonus, there are the two episodes of the James Garner series The Rockford Files in which a pre-Magnum Selleck guest-stars as hunky private eye Lance White; not included are the episodes (one apiece) of Simon & Simon and Murder, She Wrote in which Selleck guest-stars as Magnum. Extras include audio commentaries and interviews with various series directors, writers, and producers; an interview with Mike Post, the excellent composer responsible for the classic themes from Magnum, P.I., Hill Street Blues, The Rockford Files, Silk Stalkings, Law & Order, and countless others; and a countdown of TV’s top 10 sleuths (with Magnum absurdly beating Peter Falk’s Columbo).
MAN’S FAVORITE SPORT? (1964). Howard Hawks directed some classic screwball comedies in his day — His Girl Friday and Bringing Up Baby among them — but this late-career attempt to recapture that magic comes up short. Still, this offers plenty of fun, with Rock Hudson cast as Roger Willoughby, a renowned fishing expert and author who actually has never fished a day in his life. Employed in the fishing equipment department at Abercrombie & Fitch, he’s entered into a fishing tournament by hyperactive press agent Abigail Page (Paula Prentiss), and she helps him learn the sport after discovering his secret. Naturally, there are complications, including a bear with a bike (the movie’s worst scene), the presence of Roger’s boss (John McGiver) at the lodge holding the tournament, and a fiancée (Charlene Holt) who always arrives on the scene when Roger is in a seemingly compromising position. Hawks and screenwriters John Fenton Murray and Steve McNeil (working from Pat Frank’s story “The Girl Who Almost Got Away”) lean a bit too heavily into the Bringing Up Baby shenanigans, but Hudson is game, Prentiss is great, and there are a pair of bright supporting turns by Maria Perschy as “Easy” Mueller, Abigail’s best friend, and Norman Alden as John Screaming Eagle, a wily Native American guide.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary (with select remarks by Prentiss and her husband, actor-director Richard Benjamin); the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.
MARRY ME (2022). The premise of Marry Me is moronic beyond compare. Two pop superstars, Kat Valdez (Jennifer Lopez) and Bastian (Maluma), have written and recorded a hit song titled “Marry Me.” They decide to get hitched at one of Kat’s concerts, streaming the ceremony to millions of fans all across the globe. But minutes before saying, “I do,” Kat learns that Bastian has been having an affair (with her assistant, no less), so she decides to instead marry a random stranger in the crowd. She settles on Charlie Gilbert (Owen Wilson), a divorced math teacher who had been reluctantly dragged to the show. Like I said, moronic. But then a funny thing happened on the way to the 10 Worst forums. Kat and Charlie get to know each other in an “opposites attract” kind of way, and it’s surprising how believable they make this relationship and how acceptable they make this absurd premise. As long as the film centers on Kat and Charlie just talking, it works. But then here come the usual dopey contrivances, including (but not limited to) a breakup that never feels real for a nanosecond, a mad dash across states to attend a crucial function, and the climactic tournament (in this case, a Mathalon) where one character has to beat the buzzer with the correct answer and other characters must declare their love all over again. Lopez and Wilson are fine in their tailor-made roles, but the new J-Lo songs that dominate the film are flagrantly mediocre, and so much attention is paid to the worst aspects of social media that one will want to take a shower post-viewing.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Kat Coiro and producer Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; a piece on the movie’s music; a lyric video for “On My Way”; and a gag reel.
MONSTER FROM GREEN HELL (1957). Animals, insects, and arachnids all had a lot of growing up to do during the 1950s. The Universal era of vampires, mummies, and other monsters was winding down (only that Black Lagoon creature remained), and the horror film began mating with the science fiction film, resulting in countless movies in which humans (usually scientists) foolishly create giant killing machines. Some of these films are very good and boast impressive visual effects — see Them! and Tarantula! — and some of them are very bad and feature terrible effects. The Giant Claw is an example of the latter, and so is Monster from Green Hell. Yet a laughable monster isn’t the problem with this low-budget picture — heck, those are often part of the charm — but rather the scenes that do not include the creatures. And they are legion. Two scientists (Jim Davis and Robert Griffin) shoot various critters into outer space, and their experiment includes a rocket containing wasps. After it’s been exposed to radiation up yonder, that rocket suffers a glitch and ends up crash-landing in a remote area of Africa. The scientists head there after they hear reports of something pretty big terrorizing the locals. Monster from Green Hell borrows heavily from an earlier picture — 1939’s Stanley and Livingstone, starring Spencer Tracy — by serving up reams and reams of stock footage shot in Africa. These are interspersed with scenes in which the characters do a lot of walking, talking, balking, and stalking. Every once in a while, a giant wasp turns up.
The black-and-white Monster from Green Hell originally included a climax that was filmed in color, and this Blu-ray edition reinstates it. Extras consist of film historian audio commentary and a look at Davis’ career, including a mention of his starring role as part of the ensemble on TV’s Dallas. A booklet is also included.
ORDINARY PEOPLE (1980). Robert Redford nailed his directorial debut with this sensitive and stunningly acted drama about a family in crisis. Teenager Conrad Jarrett (Timothy Hutton), recuperating from a suicide attempt, still feels guilt over the boating accident that killed his older brother. His father Calvin (Donald Sutherland, the quiet heart of the film) is friendly and supportive toward his son, but his mother Beth (Mary Tyler Moore), who enjoyed a close bond with the deceased brother, is prickly and aloof. Conrad reluctantly sees a psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (Judd Hirsch); initially hostile, he soon warms up to the doctor, eventually learning how to unravel and understand his pain. Ordinary People could easily have been a facile movie that lapses into manipulative melodrama, but Redford, working from a superlative script by Alvin Sargent (adapting Judith Guest’s novel), never betrays the integrity of the material, choosing instead to stand back and allow the story to breathe on its own. The supporting cast is peppered with familiar faces, some of them belonging to performers still on the rise: Elizabeth McGovern (excellent in her film debut), Dinah Manoff, Adam Baldwin, M. Emmet Walsh, and James B. Sikking. Nominated for six Oscars, including a Best Actress bid for Moore and a Best Supporting Actor nod for Hirsch (Academy members had to go waaaay out of their way not to give Sutherland a Best Actor nomination), this won four: Best Picture, Director, Supporting Actor (Hutton), and Adapted Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with Hutton; an interview with Guest; and the theatrical trailer.
SCREAM (2022). Back in 1996, there were maybe 12 people who thought Wes Craven’s Scream was overhyped and overrated — as one of that small group, I was shocked that People Magazine never did a feature on us. But as I wrote in my review at the time, Craven knew he wouldn’t receive any critical kudos for making yet another standard slasher flick, so he borrowed the shaky genre deconstruction he employed in 1994’s Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and turned the whole movie into a meta affair. That led to exchanges like “This is life. This isn’t a movie.” “Sure it is. It’s all a movie” and such lines as “It’s like right out of a horror movie or something” and “Not in my movie!” Audiences unsurprisingly lapped it up, most critics surprisingly took the bait, and we’re now at the fifth film in the series. As expected, it’s more of the same, only now with the franchise stars (Neve Campbell, Courteney Cox, and a show-stealing David Arquette) as the responsible adults and a younger set of actors as the potential fresh meat. As before, it’s a meta movie that’s now commenting on a meta movie with the same title, which means that its meta-ness is, depending on one’s opinion of the series, either expanded or compromised. There are still teenagers being gutted, this time by a new Ghostface. There are still characters who apply the rules of slasher films to their predicament. [Spoiler] There are still not one but two killers. [End Spoiler] The film adds to its self-reverential (and self-congratulatory) tone by bringing Internet message boards and obnoxious fans into the conversation. Ultimately, though, a bottle of Metamucil holds more meta than this whimper of a movie.
Extras in the 4K + Digital Code edition include audio commentary by key behind-the-camera personnel; a pair of making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; and a piece on Craven.
STARFLIGHT ONE (1983). Created for inclusion on The ABC Sunday Night Movie, Starflight One (aka Starflight: The Plane That Couldn’t Land) was, like many American made-for-TV films, distributed theatrically in its overseas showings. Although it’s not mentioned anywhere on the case or in any promo material, the new Blu-ray from Code Red offers the international cut, not the network version. I came to this Sherlock-worthy conclusion since the running time is 115 minutes (the TV version was 155 minutes), the logo at the beginning is for a movie studio (Orion) rather than the network, and the synopsis on Wikipedia mentions a whole subplot not found anywhere in this shorter edit. Starflight One concerns itself with a supersonic transport (SST) airplane that’s expected to revolutionize commercial flying. (Incidentally, despite the presence of an SST, this film shouldn’t be confused with an earlier TV movie, 1977’s SST: Death Flight, or, while we’re at it, with any STDs). But something invariably goes wrong with the inaugural flight and the plane ends up in outer space — naturally, it’s up to pilot Cody Briggs (Lee Majors) to return it to our atmosphere and then to terra firma. A silly premise is handled fairly well, with a capable cast (Hal Linden, Ray Milland, Tess Harper, Robert Webber, etc.), a couple of tense sequences to offset all the dubious science, and decent effects by Star Wars Oscar winner John Dykstra. Starflight One (produced by Henry Winkler!) has absolutely nothing to do with the Airport series, but that didn’t stop opportunistic studio handlers from titling it Airport ’84, Airport ’85, and Airport 2000 in various countries. Certainly, it’s superior to the limp Airport 1975 and the godawful The Concorde … Airport ’79.
The only Blu-ray extra is the trailer.
TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY (2011). John le Carre’s 1974 novel required a seven-part miniseries that ran over five hours when it premiered on the BBC back in 1979, yet here’s an attempt to compress all this intel into two hours. The early stretch of this chilly Cold War drama might indeed be tough going for some, but those willing to pay attention will be rewarded with a film of various small pleasures. Tackling the role that Alec Guinness owned in the miniseries, Gary Oldman (in an Oscar-nominated performance) is quietly effective as George Smiley, a key member of the British Secret Intelligence Service (aka MI6, aka “The Circus”). It’s up to Smiley to take control once it’s revealed that one of the outfit’s top men is a mole working for the Russians. The material concerning the four suspects (Colin Firth, Toby Jones, David Dencik, and recent Belfast Oscar nominee Ciarán Hinds) proves to be the least compelling part of the picture, and that includes the unmasking of the traitor. What makes the movie cling to our senses are the soulful transgressions of other key characters: the maverick agent (a wired Tom Hardy) who falls in love at the wrong time; the assistant (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose personal life proves to be as dependent on secrets as his professional one; the bureau’s discarded expert on Russia (Kathy Burke), wistfully drawing on nostalgia-tinged memories; and the field agent (Mark Strong) silently shattered by betrayal. As far as le Carre adaptations go, I much prefer 1965’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold and 2005’s The Constant Gardener, although it should be noted that the author himself (who passed away in 2020) considered this the best film version of one of his works. In addition to Oldman’s citation, the film earned Oscar nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay (Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan) and Best Original Score (Alberto Iglesias).
Extras on Kino’s 4K + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary by Oldman and director Tomas Alfredson; deleted scenes; a behind-the-scenes featurette; and interviews with le Carre and Oldman.
TOUCH OF EVIL (1958). A genuine masterpiece, Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil opens with one of the longest (and most celebrated) tracking shots in film history: a crossing at the Mexican-American border, culminating with the detonation of a car bomb. Thus the groundwork is set for this fascinating and frequently lurid thriller in which an honest Mexican narcotics agent (Charlton Heston) butts heads with a corrupt American cop (Welles) while unwittingly leaving his wife (Janet Leigh) at the mercy of the lowlife inhabitants of a decrepit bordertown. A shrewd look at issues of morality, loyalty, and casual racism, this dazzling achievement has the rare good fortune of being one of those films that somehow seems to improve with each subsequent viewing — the highest compliment indeed, given that it only takes one showing to evaluate its substantial worth. Welles’ performance is a stunning tour de force, with the actor-director enhancing the cop’s moral decay by working under extra padding and a false nose — film scholar Danny Peary once wrote that the character “looks like something the cat refused to drag in,” as perfect a description as can be imagined.
As with Universal’s previous Blu-ray edition, this 4K edition from Kino contains three versions of the film: the 96-minute original theatrical print, a 109-minute preview version, and the 111-minute reconstructed version from 1998, tagged the “definitive cut” since it’s based on Welles’ 58-page memo in which he detailed his preferences to the studio (which had taken the picture out of his hands and imposed their own changes). Unlike the Universal set, this Kino release does not include a booklet reproduction of that memo. Extras include separate audio commentaries (both new and old) for each cut of the film (participants include Heston and Leigh); a retrospective making-of featurette; and a piece on the restoration.