View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition (Photo: Paramount)
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.)
BLOW OUT (1981). Director Brian De Palma’s first picture following the success of 1980’s excellent Dressed to Kill proved to be a box office bust, and one can’t help but speculate that it might have fared better had it been made during the 1970s. After all, the previous Watergate-soiled decade was known for a plethora of “paranoia thrillers” on the order of The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, and, of course, All the President’s Men, and this downbeat conspiracy yarn would have been right at home next to those classics. John Travolta is excellent as Jack Terry, a movie sound effects man who (shades of Chappaquiddick) witnesses a car plunge off a bridge into the waters below. He manages to rescue the trapped woman (Nancy Allen) but not the man, who turns out to have been a governor pegged to become the next U.S. president. Everyone believes the tire blowing out was an accident and tells Jack to forget about it, but his own intuition — to say nothing of the sounds recorded that night on his equipment — convinces him that it was an assassination. Blow Out might seem like little more than a cross between Antonioni’s Blow-Up and Coppola’s The Conversation, but as is often the case with De Palma, his rich sense of film history allows him to use other works as jumping-off points, not the sum total. Blow Out is very much its own film, with the narrative levity and technical grandstanding inherent throughout much of the first half eventually disappearing altogether during the tightening distress of the second hour.
Blu-ray extras include an interview with De Palma (conducted by Noah Baumbach, who co-directed the 2016 documentary De Palma); an interview with Allen; on-set photographs; and 1968’s Murder à la Mod, which was De Palma’s feature debut (not Greetings, as often reported).
THE FUNHOUSE (1981). Director Tobe Hooper was behind 1974’s classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and he brings some of that film’s sense of dread to this piece about two young couples — virginal Amy (Elizabeth Berridge), tough Buzz (Cooper Huckabee), opportunistic Richie (Miles Chapin), and vivacious Liz (Largo Woodruff) — who dare themselves to spend the night inside a visiting carnival’s spooky funhouse. Once inside, they run afoul of the barker (Kevin Conway) and his misshapen, murderous offspring (Wayne Doba). The creature’s face (hidden underneath a Frankenstein mask during the early going) is genuinely unnerving, yet another brilliant creation from seven-time Oscar-winning makeup artist Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Men in Black). The characters are thinly drawn — that includes Amy’s horror-loving little brother Joey (Shawn Carson), who’s an integral part of the movie until he’s suddenly not — but the imaginatively designed funhouse, oddball characters along the periphery, and a masterfully staged climax allow this to stand out. The Funhouse was released during the glut of countless Friday the 13th and Halloween slasher rip-offs (e.g. My Bloody Valentine, The Burning, Hell Night, all also 1981), and it was unfairly dismissed as more of the same. Don’t you believe it.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary by Hooper; new interviews with Chapin, Woodruff, Doba, and special effects artist Craig Reardon; archival interviews with Conway, composer John Beal, and executive producer Mark L. Lester; an audio interview with actor William Frawley (amusing in his one scene as Marco the Magnificent); and additional scenes that were added for the network television version.
RACHEL, RACHEL (1968). Paul Newman made an assured directorial debut with this lovely and deeply moving drama starring his wife, Joanne Woodward. Woodward plays Rachel Cameron, a lonely schoolteacher wasting away in a small Connecticut town. Still a virgin at 35, she sees few opportunities for happiness — she only has a single friend in a fellow teacher (Estelle Parsons), and she still lives at home with her unctuous and overbearing mother (Kate Harrington). When Nick Kazlik (James Olson, who passed away five months ago at 91), a childhood friend, returns for a visit, he and Rachel hook up, and this in turn helps her discover some new doors to open. A box office sleeper, this modest movie might be low of budget (less than $800,000), but it’s enormous in its emotional pull — thanks to Woodward’s phenomenal performance, Newman’s sensitive helming, and a perceptive script by Stewart Stern (working from Margaret Laurence’s novel A Jest of God), Rachel Cameron is a richly textured character very much worth following, supporting, and loving. Incidentally, there’s a reason Nell Potts, who plays Rachel as a child, looks like a pint-sized Joanne Woodward: She’s the daughter of Woodward and Newman. Four years later, she would play Woodward’s daughter in another picture directed by Newman, The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds — these were her only two film credits, as she grew up to become an environmentalist and entrepreneur. Rachel, Rachel earned four Academy Award nominations: Best Picture (with the nod going to Newman as producer), Best Actress (Woodward), Best Supporting Actress (Parsons, who had won this category the previous year for Bonnie and Clyde), and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Blu-ray extras consist of behind-the-scenes promo footage and the theatrical trailer.
STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE – THE DIRECTOR’S EDITION (1979) / STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) / STAR TREK VI: THE UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY (1991). A year ago this month, Paramount released Star Trek: The Original 4-Movie Collection on 4K, which struck many as odd since the run of the ST:TOS films numbered six, not four. Perhaps even more disappointing for diehards was the fact that the director’s cut of 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture was still not available on Blu-ray, let alone on 4K — fans had to continue to hold onto their DVD copy from 2001. But on both accounts, the faithful have been rewarded, with the fifth and sixth films hitting 4K and the director’s cut of the first flick now available in both Blu-ray and 4K versions. And whereas the first four films in 4K were only available as part of last year’s box set, all six titles are now available separately — though in the case of the first film, only the director’s cut, not the theatrical version. Yes, it can get confusing, more so since there’s also a 15-disc Limited Edition Complete Adventure Collection that contains the director’s cut, the theatrical version, and the “longer cut,” which is what they’re calling the version that was cobbled together for television airings way back when. Finally, there’s a box set of all six films, with the theatrical versions of all as well as director’s cuts for the first, fourth, and sixth films. Whew!
The other five films have long settled into their general-consensus spots in the series, but debate continues on the merits of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, even in its altered form as Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Edition. Although it was a sizable hit at the box office — with $82 million in the bank, it was #5 on the list of that year’s top moneymakers, just under Apocalypse Now and just above Alien — it’s long been considered a dull disappointment even by many Trekkies. Yet what many people overlook is the fact that, perhaps more than any other genre, science fiction is about ideas as much as about action, which is why I find this talky drama to be a worthy entry. The dynamic relationship between Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and McCoy (DeForest Kelley) picks up right where the original series left off, while the storyline incorporates two durable themes from sci-fi lore: man vs. machine, and the neverending search for one’s creator. This nabbed a trio of Oscar nominations for Best Original Score, Best Visual Effects (losing to Alien), and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration — and it should have won for Jerry Goldsmith’s music, so superb that it became the opening theme for TV’s Star Trek: The Next Generation (incidentally, Goldsmith also scored Alien, marking a tremendous one-two punch that year). The value of the Director’s Edition isn’t the tinkering with scenes as much as it’s the more robust presentation courtesy of enhanced video and audio.
After Nimoy scored beaucoup bank for Paramount as the director of 1984’s Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and 1986’s Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the studio handed the next film in the series to Shatner. In an interview with college journalists (including yours truly) at the time, the actor behind Captain Kirk quipped, “They think I’m going to spend $23 million to make the movie. I’ll take it and not make the movie! Wouldn’t that be the biggest joke?” Considering the savage reviews and disappointing box office that greeted Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Paramount in hindsight probably did wish that Shatner had just pocketed the dough. Easily the weakest of all 13 Star Trek feature films to date, this flat-footed endeavor finds Spock’s Vulcan half-brother Sybok (Laurence Luckinbill) drawing the Enterprise crew into his obsessive search for God. Shatner (who also co-wrote the screenplay) seems to have forgotten that a similar plotline was already employed by Star Trek: The Motion Picture with that film’s V’ger, and that similarity coupled with a dreary presentation resulted in this picture getting hammered at the summer ’89 box office by such superior entertainment as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Batman, and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier would have been a sorry way to end the big-screen series featuring the original crew — luckily, such a conclusion was avoided with the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. In this exciting entry, Kirk and crew are ordered to commence peace negotiations with the dreaded Klingons, only to discover that there are those on both sides who wish to prevent disarmament. The thinly veiled parables are about racism as much as U.S.-Soviet relations (the film arrived two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and, coincidentally, during the same month as the dissolving of the Soviet Union), and Christopher Plummer is excellent as a Klingon general who’s fond of quoting that famous Klingon William Shakespeare (as David Warner’s Chancellor Gorkon states, “You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon”). This nabbed Oscar nominations for Best Makeup and Best Sound Effects Editing.
Extras accompanying the various titles include audio commentaries, making-of featurettes, deleted scenes, and more.
Star Trek: The Motion Picture – The Director’s Cut: ★★★
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier: ★★
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: ★★★
STATE OF GRACE (1990). State of Grace probably was going to struggle at the box office no matter how the cards were dealt, but its fortunes certainly weren’t helped by the fact that it opened within a week of GoodFellas, a seminal gangster flick that stole practically all of the genre’s thunder that year (the Coens’ superlative Miller’s Crossing, which opened a couple of weeks after the Martin Scorsese masterwork, also got lost in the shuffle). It’s a shame, because this crime meller, inspired by a real-life gang that operated in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan, packs a punch thanks to its suitably pulpy plot as well as several powerhouse performances. Sean Penn headlines as Terry Noonan, who returns to his Hell’s Kitchen stomping ground after approximately a decade away. He instantly reconnects with his best friend Jackie Flannery (Gary Oldman), tentatively attempts to jump-start a long-dormant relationship with Jackie’s sister Kathleen (Robin Wright), and cautiously hopes to join the neighborhood mob gang ruled by Jackie’s older brother Frankie (Ed Harris). It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Terry is not quite what he seems — the tip-off is an early scene opposite the fine John Turturro — and his crisis of conscience is what provides the picture with its narrative intrigue. The rest of the time, it’s (mob) business as usual, elevated by some deft plotting and sharp dialogue from scripter Dennis McIntyre (who passed away approximately seven months before the movie’s premiere) as well as forceful turns by all the principals, particularly Oldman as a twitchy live wire who’s fiercely loyal to friends and family. Only the finale, a slo-mo showdown awash in stylistic clichés, proves to be a letdown.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
An American Werewolf in London
The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds
Friday the 13th
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
My Bloody Valentine
The Parallax View
Star Trek: The Original 4-Movie Collection