View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Sook-Yin Lee and Raphael Barker in Shortbus (Photo: Oscilloscope)
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.)
BATTLE OF THE WORLDS (1961). One of the 10 best actors never to win an Oscar (thereby rubbing shoulders with the likes of Cary Grant and Edward G. Robinson), Claude Rains spent the last decade of his career appearing in supporting roles in such big-budget epics like 1962’s Lawrence of Arabia and 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told and guest-starring on such hit TV series as Rawhide and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Tucked among all those high-profile projects was Italy’s Battle of the Worlds, one of those foreign productions that snagged an American name actor to provide it with some semblance of star power. Rains is cast as Professor Benson, a bellowing “Get off my lawn!” type who tries to convince the inferior humans around him that the planet that’s seemingly on a collision course with Earth will in fact miss our world completely. He’s proven correct, but a new threat emerges when it appears that the wayward orb is controlled by malevolent aliens. Director Antonio Margheriti (billed as Anthony Dawson) does what he can with a low budget — some of the visuals catch and hold the eye — but poor pacing and too many stagnant scenes drain much of the life out of this one. Incidentally, scripter Ennio De Concini (billing himself as Vassilij Petrov) took that year’s Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay — no, not for Battle of the Worlds, nor for Sergio Leone’s The Colossus of Rhodes (another of the 10 screenplays De Concini wrote in ’61 alone), but for the delicious dark comedy Divorce Italian Style, starring Marcello Mastroianni.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary and a piece on Margheriti. A 12-page booklet is also included.
CRIMES OF THE FUTURE (2022). Thanks to such titles as Rabid, The Fly, and eXistenZ, David Cronenberg’s 20th century output consisted largely of “body horror” exercises, with the writer-director repeatedly returning to the same themes: the loss of identity, the betrayal by one’s own body, the symbiosis between man and machine, and the draw of sexual perversities. Cronenberg has spent this present century using other people’s scripts to test-drive other types of features (Eastern Promises, A Dangerous Method, etc.), but he returns to his favorite obsessions with Crimes of the Future. Set in a time when humankind has evolved in unique ways, it centers on Saul Tenser (an excellent Viggo Mortensen), whose body is able to regularly produce new and previously unimaginable organs. Saul works as a performance artist, staging shows in which his partner Caprice (Léa Seydoux) surgically removes his new body parts in front of a live audience. The pair’s act captures the attention of various interested parties, including two National Organ Registry officials (Kristen Stewart and Don McKellar) and a revolutionary (Scott Speedman) attempting to expose governmental overreach. “Flesh for Fantasy” isn’t just the name of a Billy Idol song but also the rallying cry of this movie. Yet while Cronenberg ambitiously tackles multiple topical topics (including the extent to which creatives suffer for their art as well as the right of people to choose what to do with their own bodies), there’s little sense of clarity or closure when it comes to the characters and the ideas they’re espousing, resulting in a fascinating film that often feels oddly unformed and uninformed.
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of piece and theatrical trailers.
EVENT HORIZON (1997). Considering the overall wretchedness of director Paul W.S. Anderson’s output (credits include the 1995 Mortal Kombat, Pompeii, and four entries in the Resident Evil franchise), it should be noted that this critical and commercial underachiever has over time emerged as the best of his films. (Faint praise, I know.) Set in 2047, it finds the members of a rescue team sent deep into space to scope out the Event Horizon, a spaceship that’s been missing for seven years. Leading the mission is Captain Miller (Laurence Fishburne), with Lieutenant Starck (Joely Richardson) ably serving as his second-in-command; joining the seven-person team is Dr. Weir (Sam Neill), the designer of the AWOL ship. With the Event Horizon aping the Overlook Hotel by housing an evil force within its walls, it’s understandable that scripter Philip Eisner’s studio pitch was “The Shining in space”; what he failed to mention was that it also owes allegiance to Alien and Hellraiser. Still, its derivative nature and a handful of risible moments are often forgotten in the wake of its impressive production design and its solid cast.
Event Horizon has been reissued by Paramount in a 25th Anniversary 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Code steelbook edition. Extras include audio commentary by Anderson and producer Jeremy Bolt; a five-part making-of documentary; deleted and extended scenes; and conceptual art for a sequence that was planned but never filmed.
SHORTBUS (2006). A multi-layered film featuring a multi-character ensemble, Shortbus pushes the envelope of what’s allowed on screen further than just about any other non-porn flick that comes to mind. But the result isn’t distasteful or juvenile; instead, it’s a celebration of sex that, in turn, morphs into a celebration of those most inalienable of American rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In focusing on a handful of NYC residents struggling with relationship woes — a sex therapist (Sook-Yin Lee) and her husband (Raphael Barker), a gay couple (Paul Dawson and Jamie PJ DeBoy), and a dominatrix (Lindsay Beamish) — writer-director John Cameron Mitchell (whose Hedwig and the Angry Inch made my list of the 10 Best Films of the 2000s) isn’t so Pollyanna that he’s suggesting everyone’s difficulties will be solved by one good bout of sexual acrobatics — indeed, many of the characters’ problems and hang-ups are directly hardwired into their own opinions on the subject. But what makes this unusual for an American movie is that it isn’t frightened of sex, it doesn’t reduce the act to insensitive frat boy gyrations, and it doesn’t employ it as a bludgeoning weapon. As a movie, Shortbus is a turn-on, but not in the sense people might imagine. The picture isn’t physically stimulating so much as it’s mentally and emotionally arousing — it considers the brain and the heart the true erogenous zones, a viewpoint that ultimately turns out to be the movie’s most startling declaration.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Mitchell and producer Howard Gertler; a making-of featurette; a conversation between Mitchell and John Waters; and deleted scenes.
SONIC THE HEDGEHOG 2 (2022). Perhaps the only thing less surprising than the fact that 2020’s rampaging mediocrity Sonic the Hedgehog became the top-grossing video-game adaptation of all time (“all time” meaning “since 1993”) is the fact that its inferior sequel has surpassed it for that rather ignoble title. In this inane outing, Sonic (again voiced by Ben Schwartz), the most famous hedgehog since Ron Jeremy, finds himself teaming up with another CGI furry, Tails (voiced by Colleen O’Shaughnessey), to stop the dastardly Dr. Robotnik (returning Jim Carrey) and yet another computerized critter, Knuckles (voiced by Idris Elba), from acquiring a powerful bauble known as the Master Emerald. It would be tempting to say that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 represents more of the same except it doesn’t, as the few modest strengths of the first film have been surgically excised. Sonic, rather charming in the original, is more of a screen irritant here, and the sliver of thematic weight evident in the 2020 take — namely, Sonic coping with crushing loneliness — has been replaced with imbecilic scenes focused on various minor characters (including an absolutely unnecessary subplot involving a wedding). As Sonic’s best (human) buddy, James Marsden is again given precious little to do, and one can imagine the former Cyclops desperately wishing he would receive a Marvel callback as Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield did for the recent Spider-Man smash.
Extras in the 4K edition include audio commentary by director Jeff Fowler and Schwartz; a making-of featurette; the new animated short Sonic Drone Home; deleted scenes; bloopers; and the music video for Kid Cudi’s “Stars in the Sky.”
THE TRIALS OF OSCAR WILDE (1960). Just as 1992 saw two competing Christopher Columbus yarns, 1965 witnessed two dueling Jean Harlow biopics, and a 10-month stretch in 1939-1940 produced two battling Abraham Lincoln tales, 1960 showcased a grudge match between two dramas about Oscar Wilde. Opening within a week of each other, neither film was successful, although that was as much due to the difficulties of booking a movie about a homosexual as to the likelihood of each cannibalizing the other. Oscar Wilde, starring Robert Morley, was the more modestly budgeted of the pair, although it was The Trials of Oscar Wilde that blinked first, quickly changing its name to The Man with the Green Carnation to avert marquee confusion. Peter Finch is excellent as Wilde, seen at that point in his life when his decision to have the Marquess of Queensberry (Lionel Jeffries) prosecuted for libel backfires and leads to his own arrest for sodomy. In most regards, the movie doesn’t stray far from the historical record, and, given the period in which it was made, the manner in which it exposes Wilde’s indiscretions while remaining wholly sympathetic to the poet-playwright is impressive. Producer Albert R. Broccoli would later become famous for spearheading the James Bond franchise, which kicked off two years after this film; therefore, I couldn’t help but chuckle when noticing the name of Ian Fleming in the cast list, although this was of course a different Ian Fleming than the celebrated author (for the record, this one played Wilde’s butler Arthur).
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and trailers for other films available on the Kino label.
YELLOWBRICKROAD (2010). Given the plotline of young filmmakers lost in the woods and confronting an unimaginable evil, it’s not surprising that YellowBrickRoad has frequently been compared to the 1999 indie sensation The Blair Witch Project. But the main difference between the two is that YellowBrickRoad is not filmed in the “found footage” format, the quasi-documentary style that once propelled movies both good ([REC], The Last Exorcism) and bad (Willow Creek, the 2016 Blair Witch) but has long overstayed its welcome. This film posits that, in 1940, the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire, upped and marched off into the surrounding woods, with half the citizens later found dead and the other half forever MIA. Cut to modern times, and a group of documentarians has decided to follow the same path in an attempt to solve the mystery. But it soon becomes apparent that not only are they hopelessly lost (thanks to the landscape continuously shifting around them) but many of them are succumbing to murderous madness. The performances are believable, the dialogue is natural, and the aura of unease established by writer-directors Andy Mitton and Jesse Holland is effective. What hurts the picture is its insistence on dragging The Wizard of Oz into its thematic DNA — the film’s title, select imagery, and a terrible ending are among the ingredients trying to marry the material to the L. Frank Baum classic, but it becomes the celluloid equivalent of forcing a square peg into a round hole.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Mitton and Holland; cast and crew interviews; and a piece on the gore effects.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
The Colossus of Rhodes
The Fly (1986)
The Greatest Story Ever Told
Hedwig and the Angry Inch
James Bond Franchise
Lawrence of Arabia
Sonic the Hedgehog
Young Mr. Lincoln