Poster art for Aliens, Clowns & Geeks (Photo: MVD)

By Matt Brunson

(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.)

Bodhi Elfman and Rebecca Forsythe in Aliens, Clowns & Geeks (Photo: MVD)

ALIENS, CLOWNS & GEEKS (2022). Writer-director Richard Elfman’s 1980 Forbidden Zone is one of those movies that simply must be seen once in a lifetime. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, David Lynchian works, old-school musicals, and any naughty John Waters film. In most ways, it’s a complete original, and it’s no wonder it became a midnight-movie staple — where else can one see Fantasy Island’s Hervé Villechaize as the king of another dimension, an Oscar nominee (Fat City’s Susan Tyrrell) as his wife, and Batman / Spider-Man composer, Oingo Boingo lead, and Richard’s brother Danny Elfman as Satan? Aliens, Clowns & Geeks, Richard’s latest gonzo gathering, isn’t quite as delightfully demented as Forbidden Zone (most likely because it has more plot than its predecessor), but those seeking something different will want to check it out. Like another ‘80s oddity, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, it finds intergalactic bozos descending upon Earth, in this case to obtain a mysterious obelisk that’s in the hands of unemployed actor Eddy Pine (Bodhi Elfman, Richard’s son). The clowns’ leader is Emperor Beezel-Chugg (the late Verne Troyer, Austin Powers’ Mini-Me) and their sworn enemy is the race of green-skinned aliens who have to go through corporate whenever they require anything. The movie also offers a score by Danny Elfman and Ego Plum, a pair of grouchy Men in Black, an all-in performance by Rebecca Forsythe as the animated Swedish scientist Helga, and even Cheers’ George Wendt as a priest, because why not.

Blu-ray extras include interviews with cast and crew members; a separate interview with Richard Elfman; and the music video for the infectious “Mambo Diabolico.” MVD has also re-released Forbidden Zone on Blu-ray; that review is forthcoming.

Movie: ★★★

Jake Gyllenhaal in Ambulance (Photo: Universal)

AMBULANCE (2022). The infinite monkey theorem posits that a monkey banging away at a typewriter will almost certainly produce any given novel at some point in time. The infinite monkey theorem is far more limiting on solely the film front, as it posits that a monkey screeching orders from the director’s chair will almost certainly create a Michael Bay movie at some point in time. I kid, but for those not on the filmmaker’s frequency, the vast majority of his pictures (including those insufferable Transformers sequels) do seem to be exercises in frenetic chattering and exaggerated chest-thumping. The need for speed is never more evident than in his works, as his Red Bull brand of moviemaking is employed to whiz past any deficiencies in plot, character or other cinematic niceties. It’s a ruse that rarely works, with Ambulance as the latest example. A punishing 137-minute remake of an 80-minute Danish film from 2005, this stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as adoptive brothers Danny and Will. A former G.I., Will needs money for his wife’s surgery but is stonewalled at every turn by the nation’s bureaucratic system — desperate, he seeks help from Danny, who talks him into taking part in a massive bank heist. The heist is a success until it’s not, and the pair are forced to hijack an ambulance occupied by an EMT (Eiza Gonzalez) and an injured cop (Jackson White). Bay’s action (and car chase) scenes still suffer from a lack of clear spacial relations (thus minimizing the suspense), and a game Gyllenhaal is defeated by a character that doesn’t make much sense.

Extras in the 4K edition consist of various making-of featurettes on the project’s genesis, the L.A. location shooting, and more.

Movie: ★★

Felicity Jones in Breathe In (Photo: Cohen)

BREATHE IN (2013). Writer-director Drake Doremus’ 2011 effort Like Crazy won the Grand Jury Prize at that year’s Sundance Film Festival, even though it was (as I wrote in my original review) “three-quarters twee and one quarter Glee.” Breathe In, which Doremus co-scripted with Ben York Jones (as he had Like Crazy), isn’t much of an improvement: A film about a May-December romance, it would be laborious to sit through any time of year. The Reynolds family — dad Keith (Guy Pearce), mom Megan (Amy Ryan), and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) — has opened its upstate New York home to Sophie (Felicity Jones), a British exchange student in the U.S. for one semester. A music teacher by trade, Keith is nothing but moody around Sophie, and she in turn acts distant toward him. While some might understandably think they’re just perpetually sleepy, it’s actually a smoldering passion that’s developing between them. The next step is to consummate their relationship, but will the pesky wife and meddlesome daughter interfere with Keith’s attempts to recapture his long-gone youth? It’s really hard to care, since Keith is painted not as a middle-aged man suffering from a real existential crisis but merely a guy hoping to score some teenage nookie. Pearce and Jones, while fine individually, have absolutely no chemistry together. The majority of the film is merely a languid affair, but then it adds a series of head-smacking developments (a chance sighting, a car crash) that are as transparent as one’s breath in subzero weather.

Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette; an interview with Doremus; and theatrical trailers.

Movie: ★½

Seidi Haarla in Compartment No. 6 (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

COMPARTMENT NO. 6 (2021). Compartment No. 6, to borrow Maxwell Smart’s immortal line on TV’s Get Smart, missed it by that much. An award winner (Grand Prix) at Cannes last year, this Finnish flick made the Academy’s shortlist of the 15 finalists to compete for the five Best International Feature Film slots but ultimately failed to be nominated. (At least it fared better than Cannes’ big winner: France’s Palme d’Or recipient Titane, which didn’t even make the shortlist.) As far as films set on a train go, it’s a far cry from the recently reviewed action yarn Last Passenger — the closest this one gets to an action scene is when a character strums his guitar. The plot would seemingly come from the “opposites attract” branch of storytelling, as a Finnish student, Laura (Seidi Haarla), is forced to share a cramped compartment with a Russian miner, Lyokha (Yuri Borisov), on a train heading from Moscow to Murmansk. But the only sparks that fly are the ones coming from the train’s wheels, since Laura is a lesbian mulling over her relationship with an older woman (Dinara Drukarova) who remained in Moscow while Lyokha is a boor who’s even cruder when drunk. What’s refreshing about the picture is how writer-director Juho Kuosmanen only softens the character of Lyokha around the edges and in subtle ways — if that makes the rapidly growing friendship between the pair occasionally tough to swallow, it also ensures that there won’t be any falsely sentimental or manipulative moments lying in ambush somewhere down the line.

Blu-ray extras consist of trailers for other art-house titles available on the Sony Pictures Classics label.

Movie: ★★★

Mark Wahlberg and Mel Gibson in Father Stu (Photo: Columbia)

FATHER STU (2022). Is Father Stu only the second faith-based movie (after Mel Gibson’s snuff film The Passion of the Christ) to earn an R rating? I can’t say for sure, but this one earns its restrictive stripes solely for language. That makes sense, since it relates the true-life tale of Stuart Long (Mark Wahlberg), an amateur boxer who swears a lot, drinks a lot, and fights a lot. After setting his eyes on the beautiful Carmen (Teresa Ruiz), a devout Catholic, he becomes involved in church activities merely to be close to her and eventually agrees to be baptized. But his devotion to the church becomes complete after he survives a motorcycle crash that should have killed him; he decides to become a priest, a decision frowned upon not only by Carmen but also by his divorced — and decidedly secular — parents (Mel Gibson and Jacki Weaver). Yet life isn’t through throwing curveballs at Stuart, and he ends up developing a degenerative disorder that slowly shuts down his body. Wahlberg and Gibson have engaged in some truly heinous acts of bigotry in the past, and it would be nice to believe that their involvement here signals true atonement on their parts. Of course, that’s probably wishful thinking, but it should be noted that both men are quite good in the film — Wahlberg would seem to be miscast as a man of the cloth, but considering the trajectory of the actual Stuart Long’s life, his awkwardness is actually appropriate for the role. It’s just too bad that Rosalind Ross, making her feature writing and directing debuts, doesn’t offer a smoother or deeper ride — then again, she’s Gibson’s real-life companion (and mother of one of his kids), so that probably explains an amateur landing this plum assignment.

Blu-ray extras consist of a piece on Father Stu and deleted scenes.

Movie: ★★½

Richard Roundtree in Shaft (Photo: Criterion)

SHAFT (1971). One of the best of all blaxploitation flicks — a select group that also includes 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, 1972’s Across 110th Street, 1972’s Blacula, and 1973’s Cleopatra JonesShaft stars Richard Roundtree as John Shaft, “the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks.” Cocky, confident, and rarely caught off guard, the dapper private investigator reluctantly agrees to find the missing daughter of Harlem mob boss Bumpy Jonas (Moses Gunn). As he sets about his sleuthing, he must figure out whether the culprits are black militants or white gangsters. Directed by Gordon Parks Jr. and co-scripted by Ernest Tidyman from his own novel (Tidyman had a stellar ’71, winning an Oscar for penning The French Connection), Shaft was polished enough to enjoy crossover appeal as well as nab an Academy Award for Best Original Song for Isaac Hayes’ irresistible “Theme from Shaft” (Hayes also landed a second nomination, this one for Best Original Score). In addition to two sequels, 1972’s Shaft’s Big Score! (also directed by Parks) and 1973’s Shaft in Africa (directed by John Guillermin), Shaft was followed by a short-lived 1973 television series (with Roundtree reprising his role) that lasted all of seven episodes, 2000’s Shaft, an update with Samuel L. Jackson in the title role, and 2019’s Shaft, a sequel of sorts to the 2000 film and also starring Jackson. Got all that?

The Criterion Blu-ray edition of Shaft also contains Shaft’s Big Score! (but not Shaft in Africa). Extras include a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; a discussion of the movie among film scholars; and archival interviews with Parks, Roundtree, and Hayes.

Movie: ★★★

Yang Kuei-mei in Vive L’Amour (Photo: Film Movement)

VIVE L’AMOUR (1994). The first 25 minutes of this Taiwanese feature from writer-director Tsai Ming-liang contain no dialogue. The final 10 minutes find a character walking quietly, then sitting quietly, then crying quietly. Clearly, those averse to silence and stillness in cinema will want to avoid Vive L’Amour like the plague, but those who don’t mind introspection in their moviegoing diet should find much to appreciate. Yet while I’m generally a sucker for movies about the connections made (or missed) by lonely people — monumental works like Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries (1957), Lawrence Kasdan’s The Accidental Tourist (1988), Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Three Colors: Blue (1993), and Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (2003) — this one left me a bit chilly. That’s of course perfectly in line with the three characters at the center of this picture, all of whom occupy space in a modern Tapei without really living in it. The premise sounds like it’s straight out of a ‘70s sitcom: Three people reside in the same apartment but are mostly unaware of each other’s presence. May Lin (Yang Kuei-mei) is a realtor trying to sell the unit; she uses the empty pad for a one-night stand with a stranger named Ah-jung (Chen Chao-jung). Ah-jung decides to surreptitiously stay in the apartment whenever May Lin isn’t around — it becomes complicated since another squatter, an insecure and possibly gay man named Hsiao-kang (Lee Kang-sheng), has had the exact same idea. Tsai’s insights into a soulless society would be even more effective were the characters not kept at such a dizzying distance.

Blu-ray extras include an interview with Tsai and the trailer.

Movie: ★★½


Review links for movies referenced in this column:
The Accidental Tourist
Cleopatra Jones
Killer Klowns from Outer Space
Last Passenger
Multiple Maniacs
The Passion of the Christ
Shaft’s Big Score! / Shaft in Africa
Transformers: The Last Knight

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