View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Tom Cruise in Edge of Tomorrow (Photo: Warner)
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.)
EDGE OF SANITY (1989). To date, there have been over 50 film and television productions involving Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (including the definitive 1931 version featuring an Oscar-winning Fredric March, a 1941 adaptation starring Spencer Tracy, and 1953’s Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) and over 40 features based in whole or in part on Jack the Ripper (numbering among them Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent flick The Lodger, 1959’s underrated Jack the Ripper, Hammer’s 1971 Hands of the Ripper, and 1979’s Sherlock-Holmes-meets-Jack-the-Ripper caper Murder by Decree). The opening credits of Edge of Sanity state that Anthony Perkins is starring as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but the ensuing story suggests that Mr. Hyde is also Jack the Ripper, thus making this one of the worst Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde movies and one of the worst Jack the Ripper films. Perkins’ formidable performance in 1960’s Psycho led to him often being typecast in twitchy roles for the rest of his life — a real shame, since he was actually a versatile actor (he had nabbed a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for Friendly Persuasion as well as two Tony Award nominations, all acquired before Psycho). By the time he starred in Edge of Sanity, there was doubtless no novelty left in playing such characters, and the result was one of the worst performances of his career in a bottom-feeder of a horror flick. In this version, Jekyll becomes Hyde after inventing crack cocaine, leading to many murders and a few S&M romps. Ineptly made by porn director Gérard Kikoïne, this is an ugly and unappetizing movie for hardcore slasher devotees only.
Blu-ray extras include separate interviews with Kikoïne, producer Edward Simons, and author Dr. Clare Smith (Jack the Ripper in Film and Culture), and an image gallery. A booklet is also included.
EDGE OF TOMORROW (2014). Endlessly entertaining and ceaselessly innovative, this futuristic saga, an adaptation of a Japanese novel with the groovy name All You Need Is Kill, finds Tom Cruise cast in the role of Major William Cage, the military’s leading p.r. flack and a wiz at selling the ongoing war against invading alien forces nicknamed “Mimics.” But when a general (Brendan Gleeson) orders him to accompany the first wave of troops set to fight the e.t.s along the French coast, he refuses, only to be arrested as a deserter and shipped to the front as a soldier. Once on the battlefield, Cage proves to be utterly worthless — he’s a far cry from Rita Vrataski (Emily Blunt), a kick-ass combatant who has become the face of humanity’s stand against its evil attackers. Cage is so incompetent, in fact, that he’s quickly killed … only to then find himself waking up back at the barracks on the day before the beachfront battle commences. Cage dies repeatedly, but rather than forge a rapport with Groundhog Day‘s Punxsutawney Phil, he becomes acquainted with Rita, the one person who understands why he seems stuck in an endless loop. Complexity and ingenuity clearly aren’t in short supply, but what’s unexpected is the high level of humor coursing through the film, much of it in a darkly comic vein. As for the effects work, it’s nothing short of superb, with the Mimics proving to be expertly designed — and genuinely frightening — creatures. If Edge of Tomorrow unfortunately turns a bit conventional as it enters its final stretch, that’s a small price to pay for what’s overall a socko motion picture.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray set include a making-of featurette; pieces on the weaponry and the aliens; and deleted scenes.
GIANT (1956). Perhaps as a nod to the lack of subtlety in its title, Giant is often acknowledged as one of the finest motion pictures to ever emerge from Hollywood. Don’t you believe it. This ambitious adaptation of the Edna Ferber novel is often touched by greatness, yet it’s ultimately too scattershot to satisfactorily maintain its bloated 200-minute running time. James Dean’s role of Jett Rink, a simple cowhand who becomes a conniving oil tycoon, is really a supporting one, although the actor’s own quirks effectively fill out a rather sketchily drawn character. The real stars are Rock Hudson (never better) and Elizabeth Taylor; he’s a racist cattle baron who’s the ultimate word in Texas excess and success, while she’s the level-headed wife who (somewhat) tames his Southern vulgarities with her Eastern civility. Incidentally, director George Stevens had considered John Wayne, Gregory Peck, and Clark Gable for the Hudson role, Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn for Taylor’s part, and Robert Mitchum and William Holden for Dean’s character. Truth be told, he couldn’t have gone wrong with any of that mixing and matching. Nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor (both Hudson and Dean), and Best Supporting Actress (Mercedes McCambridge as Hudson’s sister), this won only for Stevens as Best Director (it lost Best Picture to Around the World in 80 Days, still one of the least deserving of all 94 winners to date).
Alas, the 4K edition leaves behind all but one of the extras found in 2013’s superb Blu-ray box set James Dean Ultimate Collector’s Edition. The only extra is audio commentary by George Stevens Jr. (who worked on the film alongside his dad as an uncredited production assistant), scripter Ivan Moffat (who co-wrote the Oscar-nominated screenplay with Fred Guiol), and film critic Stephen Farber.
THE INITIATION OF SARAH (1978). During the 1970s, ABC dominated the TV-movie scene with its slate of terror tales, including Duel, The Night Stalker, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, Trilogy of Terror, Bad Ronald, The Bermuda Depths, Killdozer, Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, and many, many, many more. Add to this expansive list The Initiation of Sarah, a blatant rip-off of Carrie but a decent film when one isn’t making direct comparisons to Brian De Palma’s 1976 adaptation of the Stephen King novel. Kay Lenz, the Emmy-winning actress who first made her mark as the title character in Clint Eastwood’s 1973 Breezy — and who inspired my boyhood crush thanks to her work as Nick Nolte’s wife in the 1976 miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man and as Thursday in the same year’s The Great Scout & Cathouse Thursday — stars as Sarah, a withdrawn girl who heads off to college alongside her more outgoing sister Patty (Morgan Brittany, sadly now a deranged right-wing columnist for the extremist and “fake news”-peddling website WorldNetDaily). While Patty is accepted by a popular sorority ruled by the hateful Jennifer (Morgan Fairchild), Sarah joins a sorority of societal misfits overseen by a den mother (Shelley Winters) who dabbles in the occult and recognizes that Sarah possesses telekinetic abilities. Tom Holland earned his first writing credit on this film — he would go on to script or co-script such worthy horror flicks as Child’s Play and Fright Night but also the occasional clunker like Scream for Help — and it’s a shame he and his co-writers couldn’t find a way around the constraints of the small screen, as a solid set-up and a compelling midsection eventually give way to a sloppy and rushed conclusion that replaces tension with timidity.
Blu-ray extras include TV historian audio commentary; an interview with Holland; a visual essay; and an image gallery.
KILLER’S KISS (1955). Stanley Kubrick’s filmography basically starts with 1956’s The Killing, since he had always dismissed his first two features. In fact, Kubrick so hated his debut effort, 1953’s Fear and Desire, that he disowned the picture and tried to have it destroyed — it was MIA for decades, only rediscovered in the 1990s and only making it to home video when Kino released it on Blu-ray and DVD in 2012. Kubrick’s dislike of Killer’s Kiss wasn’t that pronounced, but he still considered it an inferior effort, and he was mostly right. His direction is better than his script (he also served as producer, cinematographer, and editor), with some artful shots and inspired mise-en-scènes not quite able to compensate for a draggy, noirish story. Davey Gordon (Jamie Smith) is a boxer who never made it big, while Vincent Rapallo (Frank Silvera) is the owner of a fairly successful nightclub where the male customers pay to dance with the female employees. One of the dancers is Gloria Price (Irene Kane), who’s desired by Vincent but enters into a relationship with Frank. Vincent’s jealous behavior results in a murder, and the film culminates with a showdown in a factory filled with mannequins. Killer’s Kiss is one of those low-budget efforts where the lack of funds often results in a more naturalistic style, meaning that Kubrick relies heavily on the NYC ambience to provide his picture with its personality. Certainly, the sounds of the city are more exciting than the speeches of these characters, none of whom are very interesting — for starters, compare the two-dimensional boxer played by Smith with the complex one played by Robert Ryan in Robert Wise’s thrilling 1949 noir The Set-Up. Kubrick completists will want to see this once, but, unlike his later pictures, its replay value is almost nil.
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary and the theatrical trailer.
MOTHERING SUNDAY (2022). This adaptation of Graham Swift’s novel features tasteful direction by Eva Husson and tasteful scripting by Alice Birch, but their stolid efforts result in a rigid movie without much flavor. Mother’s Day in 1924 England finds maid Jane Fairchild (Odessa Young) at play while her employers are away. She spends time with her illicit lover Paul Sheringham (Josh O’Connor), a wealthy young man engaged to the equally prosperous Emma Hobday (Emma D’Arcy), but an afternoon tragedy will alter the lives of all involved. Subsequent events are so rich in import and emotion that it’s rather shocking how the movie is unable to generate much in the way of any fealty or feeling toward these characters. At any rate, the big news regarding Mothering Sunday isn’t that the cast includes Oscar winners Colin Firth and Olivia Colman (as Jane’s employers), or that Young startlingly spends half the movie walking around starkers (O’Connor similarly frees willy much of the time), or that the polished production values aren’t enough to overcome the choppy narrative or the distancing effect placed (unintentionally, one assumes) between character and viewer. No, the big news is the participation of two-time Academy Award winner Glenda Jackson (Women in Love, A Touch of Class), appearing in her first theatrical feature in 32 years (she took time off to become a politician). Now 86, she essays the tiny role of Jane as an elderly woman, and it’s nice to see her back on the big screen where she belongs.
The only Blu-ray extras are theatrical trailers.
VAMPIRE’S KISS (1989). Even by the standards of loony Nicolas Cage performances, Vampire’s Kiss features one of the looniest. Cage pulls out all the stops — even some you didn’t know exist — in his portrayal of Peter Loew, a smug yuppie who works as a literary agent and is constantly cruel to secretary Alva Restrepo (Maria Conchita Alonso). He brings home a woman (flashdancer Jennifer Beals) he meets at a nightclub, only to discover she’s a vampire. But is she really a creature of the night or did Peter only imagine the bloodsucking? Peter’s convinced he’s been turned into a vampire, even though he walks around in daylight, casts a reflection in the mirror, resorts to flipping over his couch to create a coffin, and buys plastic fangs since he can’t sprout his own. Yet even his newfound existence as a would-be nosferatu doesn’t prevent him from continuing to engage in irksome office politics. Scripter Joseph Minion had previously written Martin Scorsese’s excellent 1986 offering After Hours, and the works are similar in that they’re both satires involving the late-night insanity that can be unleashed in a major metropolitan city. But for all its mirth, Vampire’s Kiss isn’t nearly as accomplished as After Hours: Whereas that earlier effort succeeded not only because of the storyline but because of innovative direction and an impressive number of quirky supporting characters, this one truly is The Nicolas Cage Show, as his whirlwind performance destroys everything else surrounding him. And, yes, when Peter munches down on a cockroach, that’s really Cage eating an actual cockroach — more than once, in fact, since the scene required multiple takes. I daresay he deserved his Oscar more for that single act than for all his emoting in Leaving Las Vegas.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Cage and director Robert Bierman; a photo gallery; the theatrical trailer; and TV spots.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
The Bermuda Depths
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941)
Hands of the Ripper
Jack the Ripper (1959)
The Lodger: A Story of the London Fog
Murder by Decree
The Night Stalker
Scream for Help
Trilogy of Terror
Women in Love