View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell in In Bruges (Photo: Kino)
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.)
ACE HIGH (1968). The second of the 17 movies featuring the enormously popular team of Bud Spencer and Terence Hill — and the second of a trilogy that also includes 1967’s God Forgives… I Don’t! and 1969’s Boot Hill — this agreeable if unexceptional Spaghetti Western (known in its Italian homeland as The Four of the Hail Mary) finds the pair again cast as ornery cowboys Hutch Bessy and Cat Stevens(!). In this one, they get robbed by an outlaw named Cacopoulos (top-billed Eli Wallach, two years after playing the Ugly in Sergio Leone’s Spaghetti Western classic), only to later join forces with him in a mission of revenge. Brock Peters co-stars as an acrobat who turns their trio of antiheroes into a quartet, while Kevin McCarthy appears late in the game as the dignified heavy. While writer-director Giuseppe Colizzi lacks the visual style and the narrative mythmaking that Leone brought to his films, he knows how to effectively utilize his actors, and his three stars all play to their strengths in this overlong oater.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by filmmaker Alex Cox (Walker, Sid & Nancy) and the theatrical trailer.
CANADIAN BACON (1995). Michael Moore certainly knows his way around a documentary, but fictional features were clearly not meant to be. As an actor, he had a sizable supporting role in Nora Ephron’s 2000 Lucky Numbers, a critical and commercial disaster in which he played a compulsive masturbator opposite John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow. And as writer and director, the Oscar-winning helmer of Bowling for Columbine and Roger & Me struck out with Canadian Bacon, which takes a promising idea and mostly surrounds it with dull characters and insipid scenarios. Alan Alda plays the U.S. President whose plummeting approval ratings convince him that he needs a war to make him popular. Backed by a weaselly advisor (Kevin Pollak) and a gung-ho general (Rip Torn, the only performer here who consistently made me chuckle), he decides to start a new Cold War with Canada. There are a number of funny gags and lines strewn throughout the film, but they can’t overcome the hot-and-cold sequences that center on the politicos and the ofttimes awful scenes involving a patriotic American sheriff (John Candy in his final film appearance) and his equally zealous buddies.
The only Blu-ray extras are theatrical trailers.
THE CHOCOLATE WAR (1988). Known for playing teenagers in such films as Fosse’s All That Jazz, De Palma’s Dressed to Kill, and Carpenter’s Christine, Keith Gordon decided in his twenties that he would much rather direct. He made his debut in that capacity with The Chocolate War, also serving as the writer of this adaptation of Robert Cornier’s novel (which in 2004 was named the book most frequently banned by this nation’s right-wing slugs). Gordon’s direction is unhurried and understated, and the film is all the stronger because of it. Set at a Catholic boy’s school, it studies the fallout that occurs when a fundraiser backed by the unctuous Brother Leon (John Glover) threatens to get derailed when one lone student, Jerry Renault (Weird Science’s Ilan Mitchell-Smith), refuses to take part. Thus, Jerry finds himself being targeted not only by Brother Leon but also by the members of a fascistic group of students known as The Vigils. Although the ending has been softened (in fact, it’s a complete reversal of the novel’s denouement), this is still a forceful look at the petty politics and crushing conformities that often define the adolescent experience.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Gordon; an interview with Gordon; and trailers. A mini-poster is also included.
HUDSON HAWK (1991). Here’s a bomb so enormous, it could level Rhode Island in a second. A ghastly vanity project for Bruce Willis — he also co-wrote the story, thankfully his only such attempt for the big screen — this employs grotesque acting, muddled writing, and confused direction to relate the story of a cat burglar (Willis) roped into searching for Leonardo da Vinci’s gold-making machine (because why not?). An occasional good line somehow finds its way into this mess, but most of it is agonizing: terrible performances by Andie MacDowell as an undercover nun and Sandra Bernhard and Richard E. Grant as the villains; henchmen named after candy bars (Kat Kat, Almond Joy, etc.); Willis and Danny Aiello (as Hawk’s BFF) breaking into song whenever they pull a heist; MacDowell’s dolphin impersonation; Willis’ ever-present smirk; and so on. In just about any other year, this likely would have emerged as the worst movie of the 12-month stretch; instead, it was arguably, uh, bested in 1991 by the Chevy Chase comedy Nothing But Trouble and the Vanilla Ice vehicle Cool As Ice.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Michael Lehmann; deleted scenes; and the music video for Dr. John’s “Hudson Hawk Theme.”
IN BRUGES (2008). Irish hit men Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are sent to Bruges, Belgium, to await further instructions from their short-tempered boss Harry Waters (Ralph Fiennes). Ken enjoys playing the role of tourist while Ray, tormented by a recent tragedy, can’t wait to leave the place; unfortunately for both of them, Harry has an unpleasant surprise in store. Yes, it’s yet one more violent, hipper-than-thou crime flick in love with its own dialogue. Yet for once, I’m not complaining, since writer-director Martin McDonagh, the acclaimed playwright making his feature-film debut, and his trio of stars (all superb) keep up their end of the bargain by delivering a smart movie full of coffee-black humor and finely honed twists. McDonagh earned an Oscar nomination for his original screenplay; nine years later, he would fare even better on the awards circuit with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Extras on the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include a making-of featurette; deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel; a scenic boat tour around Bruges that’s backed by historical text; and a 96-second piece comprised solely of the film’s foul language.
THE INCREDIBLE MELTING MAN (1977). “Oh, my God, it’s his ear!” And so it goes with The Incredible Melting Man, a piece of cinematic cheese so pungent that it was honored with its very own Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode. A tacky terror tale initially penned by writer-director William Sachs under the name The Ghoul from Outer Space, it finds an astronaut (Alex Rebar) surviving a botched space odyssey and returning to Earth as a murderous creature who can’t take a step without part of him oozing off. An embarrassment in terms of its dialogue, performances, and direction, it finds its only redemption in the excellent makeup effects created by Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Gorillas in the Mist). And, yes, that’s The Silence of the Lambs director Jonathan Demme as the mustachioed guy who ignores the glop on his front doorknob and enters the house anyway.
4K extras include audio commentary by Sachs; interviews with Sachs and Baker (with the latter making no bones about the fact that the movie stinks on ice); and theatrical trailers.
THE OBLONG BOX (1969). Perhaps because it came a few years later, perhaps because it was a British production rather than an American one, or perhaps because Roger Corman wasn’t involved despite it being an American International Pictures title — whatever the reason, The Oblong Box isn’t considered part of the Edgar Allan Poe-Vincent Price-Roger Corman cycle that included such hits as House of Usher and The Raven. And that’s OK, since it’s weaker than any of the seven films in that prolific series (eight if one includes the Price-less The Premature Burial, starring Ray Milland). More AIP than E.A.P., this thudding drama stars Price as an Englishman whose brother (Alister Williamson) has been facially scarred through an African voodoo ritual. Surviving a premature burial, the masked sibling embarks on a killing spree, reluctantly assisted by an unscrupulous doctor (Christopher Lee). The unmasking is a disappointment — the brother looks like he merely has a really bad case of acne — and too many scenes are protracted beyond the breaking point.
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary; the 1969 short film Annabel Lee, with Price providing the narration for this version of the Poe poem; and the theatrical trailer.
STARDUST MEMORIES (1980). Patronized by most critics at the time of its release, Woody Allen’s version of Federico Fellini’s 8½ has seen its reputation expand during the intervening years. Certainly, it’s one of his most bilious works, but it’s largely this unbridled furiosity that makes the film such an intriguing watch. Allen plays Sandy Bates, a self-absorbed filmmaker who’s constantly being badgered by fans to sign autographs, aid them in their careers, and go back to making movies more like his “early, funny” ones. Amidst all this chaos, Sandy finds himself torn between two women (Jessica Harper and Marie-Christine Barrault) even as his thoughts drift back in time to his former lover (Charlotte Rampling). Cinematographer Gordon Willis respectfully shoots the three women in full luminosity, but Allen has him photograph all the grasping extras as grotesqueries filling every inch of the screen — such a treatment led to many viewers and reviewers crying foul, but it’s undeniably the proper approach for a tale as insulated and navel-gazing as this one. Sharon Stone makes her film debut as the glamorous blonde Sandy spies in the first scene.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953) / WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE (1951). Beginning with 1950’s Destination Moon, George Pal spent the next two decades producing (and occasionally directing) a string of celebrated fantasy flicks, including the definitive version of The Time Machine in 1960 and the Cinerama spectacular The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm in 1962. Among his earliest efforts were When Worlds Collide and The War of the Worlds, both box office hits as well as the recipients of Academy Awards for Best Special Effects. Paramount’s home entertainment division has just released the films as a Double Feature 2-disc set, with The War of the Worlds making its 4K UHD debut and When Worlds Collide debuting on Blu-ray (The War of the Worlds is already available on Blu-ray via a 2020 Criterion edition).
The War of the Worlds stands alongside 1932’s Island of Lost Souls and 1933’s The Invisible Man as one of the best adaptations of an H.G. Wells novel, as invaders from Mars descend upon Earth bent on destruction and domination. The technical merits (including the vibrant color scheme and the aural assaults) all rate an A+, and, while humanity eventually comes together to combat the menace, the scenes of people panicking and rioting are jolting. Along with its win for its visual effects, the movie also received additional Oscar nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Sound. Trivia note: MST3K’s Dr. Clayton Forrester was named after the scientist portrayed by Gene Barry in this film.
Released two years earlier, When Worlds Collide is likewise an example of superior sci-fi cinema. In this one, several scientists predict that a planet named Zyra will just miss Earth, but the accompanying star dubbed Bellus will hit and destroy our world. While most scoff at these warnings of doom, others set about building a spaceship whose passengers will attempt to begin a new life on Zyra. The film only blasts off into outer space in the last act — the majority is dedicated to scenes detailing the efforts to construct the craft, with a few sequences showing the destructive power of the earthquakes and tidal waves that threaten to wipe out humankind. Its Oscar victory for Best Special Effects was accompanied by a nomination for Best Color Cinematography.
Extras on The War of the Worlds consist of audio commentary by Barry and co-star Ann Robinson; audio commentary by filmmaker Joe Dante (Gremlins, The ‘Burbs), film historian Bob Burns, and author Bill Warren (Keep Watching the Skies!); a 2005 making-of featurette; a piece on H.G. Wells; Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast; and the theatrical trailer. The only extra for When Worlds Collide is the theatrical trailer.
The War of the Worlds: ★★★½
When Worlds Collide: ★★★
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
An American Werewolf in London
Bowling for Columbine
Cool As Ice
Dressed to Kill
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gorillas in the Mist
Mystery Science Theater 3000
Sid & Nancy
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
The Wonderful World of the Brothers Grimm