Poster artwork for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Photo: Kino & MGM)

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.)

Jane Fonda and James Caan in Comes a Horseman (Photo: Sandpiper)

COMES A HORSEMAN (1978). In the same year that she delivered an Academy Award-winning performance in Coming Home (her second Best Actress win, following 1971’s Klute), Jane Fonda offered a different type of heroine in Comes a Horseman, an unusual Western set in the mid-1940’s. She plays Ella Connors, a no-nonsense rancher who tries to protect her territory from rival landowner J.W. Ewing (Jason Robards) as well as from businessmen eager to drill for oil. In danger of losing her property, she comes to rely not only on her trusty cowhand Dodger (Richard Farnsworth) but also on Frank Athearn (James Caan), recently returned from WWII and hoping to make a fresh start. Fonda and Robards, who just the previous year had co-starred as tempestuous lovers Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett in Julia, here portray characters with an even knottier history, and their shared scenes are suitably prickly. Farnsworth delivers a lovely performance as the folksy and philosophical old-timer — he nabbed a Best Supporting Actor nomination, the film’s sole Oscar bid. Trivial pursuit: One of ruthless cattle baron J.W. Ewing’s flunkies is played by Jim Davis, who that same year became famous for playing a Ewing himself — ruthless cattle baron Jock Ewing on TV’s instant hit series Dallas.

There are no Blu-ray extras.

Movie: ★★★

John Heard and Jeff Bridges in Cutter’s Way (Photo: Fun City)

CUTTER’S WAY (1981). Cutter and Bone opened to dismal reviews and nonexistent box office, but a second wave of critical evaluations — a positive batch this time — led to a title change, a theatrical rerelease, and, if not financial riches, the start of a sustained standing as a cult flick. Cutter’s Way is at once an American film of its time and for all ensuing times, an ugly-truth endeavor examining a nation in which the rich and powerful literally get away with murder while the poor and pitiful barely exist at all. So when slacker and part-time gigolo Richard Bone (Jeff Bridges) suspects that the filthy-rich industrialist J.J. Cord (Stephen Elliott) was the man he saw cramming a teenage cheerleader’s corpse into a dumpster, his best friend (John Heard), damaged Vietnam vet Alex Cutter, decides that enough is enough. Bone has major reservations about the scheme concocted by Cutter, while Cutter’s wife, the long-suffering Mo (Lisa Eichhorn), is simply tired of his shenanigans. What follows is a three-pronged character study about down-and-outers who are by turns cynical, moral, unlikable, tragic, philosophical, shallow, and, ultimately, heroic. Heard is excellent in the showiest role, while Eichhorn matches him with a lived-in performance that’s often painful to watch. As for Bridges, he doubtless saw how much fun Heard had playing an eyepatch-wearing, raspy-voiced outsider sporting his own brand of justice — maybe that’s why, decades later, he accepted the role of Rooster Cogburn in the Coens’ True Grit remake?

There are no Blu-ray extras.

Movie: ★★★½

Invaders From Mars (Photo: Ignite Films)

INVADERS FROM MARS (1953). Once considered one of the defining “alien invasion” flicks of the 1950s, Invaders from Mars is rarely accorded the lofty status that still greets cinematic stablemates like 1951’s The Thing From Another World, 1953’s The War of the Worlds, and 1956’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. No matter: While it’s not as consistently potent as those pictures, it was certainly as influential, and even today it retains its kicky charm. Jimmy Hunt is appealing as David MacLean, a young boy trying to convince the adults around him that a spaceship has landed in his backyard and its extra-terrestrial inhabitants are taking control of all humans. David’s parents (Leif Erickson and Hilary Brooke) are among the first to fall victim, so his only potential allies are a health official (Helena Carter) and an astronomer (Arthur Franz). The first stretch of the film is the best, with audiences sharing in the fears and frustrations of a kid who just can’t get adults to listen to him. The midsection turns repetitive with its military fetishism, but the picture recovers in time for the thrilling climax set in the aliens’ underground lair. William Cameron Menzies not only directed the picture but, as production designer, was also responsible for its unique look. A terrible remake followed in 1986.

Invaders From Mars is the first release from Ignite Films, and the label is off to an impressive start. Available on 4K UHD and Blu-ray, this features a restored version of the movie that makes it pop as never before. Extras include an interview with Hunt; a discussion of the film by John Landis, Joe Dante, and others; the alternate international ending; and a before & after restoration featurette.

Movie: ★★★

NOBODY'S FOOL, Paul Newman, 1994. (c) Paramount Pictures/ Courtesy: Everett Collection.
Paul Newman in Nobody’s Fool (Photo: Kino & Paramount)

NOBODY’S FOOL (1994). From Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Hustler to The Verdict and The Color of Money, Paul Newman had already delivered so many terrific turns in his lifetime that he hardly needed to continue past retirement age in 1990 to cement his legendary status. Yet here he’s found giving one of the best performances of his career in writer-director Robert Benton’s adaptation of Richard Russo’s novel. Newman stars as Sully, a struggling construction worker living in a small New York town. Sully walked out on his family decades ago, so he doesn’t quite know how to act when his now-grown son (Dylan Walsh) hits town with his combative wife (Catherine Dent) and small boys in tow. The family dysfunction is this seriocomedy’s most familiar — and thus weakest — element, and Walsh’s bland turn doesn’t help sell it. Of greater interest is Sully’s relationship with the colorful townspeople, including his tart-tongued landlady (Jessica Tandy, who passed away three months before the picture’s release), his infuriating sometime employer (Bruce Willis), and the latter’s neglected wife (a subtle, sensitive turn by Melanie Griffith). Look for Philip Seymour Hoffman (in only his second year in movies) as the cop frustrated by Sully’s antics. This earned a pair of Oscar nominations for Best Actor and Best Adapted Screenplay. Newman and Benton reunited four years later for Twilight, helpfully reviewed below.

Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; an interview with Russo; an interview with Dent; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.

Movie: ★★★

Ralph Fiennes in Spider (Photo: Sony)

SPIDER (2002). Despite a title that suggests David Cronenberg had returned to his icky ways — this is, after all, the man who gave us a bloodsucking armpit in Rabid and exploding heads in ScannersSpider actually turns out to be one of the most subdued pictures the Canadian filmmaker has ever made. Working from Patrick McGrath’s novel, Cronenberg spins a psychological tale about a mentally disturbed man (Ralph Fiennes) who, having just been released from an insane asylum, sets up residence in a halfway house run by an unfeeling landlady (Lynn Redgrave). He quickly becomes lost in the tangled memories of his youth, agonizing over a past in which he witnessed his loutish father (Gabriel Byrne) neglecting his demure mother (Miranda Richardson) in order to pursue the town tart (also played by Richardson). There’s a twist ending that’s absurdly easy to figure out almost from the start, so it’s best not to approach this as a conventional drama — instead, view it as a knotty character study about a warped individual so traumatized by his inability as a child to get a grip on his burgeoning sexuality (the Oedipal complex and Madonna/whore syndrome both come into play) that he’s never able to reconcile his own tainted memories with the reality of his childhood. As the muttering, fidgety protagonist, Fiennes delivers an extraordinary performance that, above all else, is surprisingly sympathetic.

There are no Blu-ray extras.

Movie: ★★★

Walter Matthau in The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (Photo: Kino & MGM)

THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE (1974). Considering the infinite number of motion pictures that have been filmed on New York locations over the decades, it’s meant as a compliment of the highest order when I state that few Big Apple flicks exude as tangible an NYC ambience as The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Shot in that gritty ‘70s style that helped accentuate the city’s grungy ordinariness, this exceptional thriller finds four men — Mr. Blue (Robert Shaw), Mr. Green (Martin Balsam), Mr. Grey (Hector Elizondo), and Mr. Brown (Earl Hindman) — hijacking a subway car and holding it for ransom. Their directive: Pay us a million dollars or we start killing passengers. The Transit Authority suits, fronted by Lt. Zachary Garber (a wonderful Walter Matthau), and the weak-willed mayor (Lee Wallace), keenly aware of poll numbers, assess how best to tackle the situation. Filled with distinctive characters and crackling dialogue — and always with another surprise up its sleeve — this exemplary adaptation (by Charade and Mirage scribe Peter Stone) of John Godey’s novel not only inspired the naming of the central criminals in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs after colors but also led to that misguided and mediocre 2009 remake with Denzel Washington and John Travolta. P.S. This is one of Patton Oswalt’s favorite films, and who can argue with that?

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include a pair of film historian audio commentaries; a vintage making-of featurette; interviews with Elizondo, composer David Shire, and editor Jerry Greenberg; and an image gallery.

Movie: ★★★★

Paul Newman and Reese Witherspoon in Twilight (Photo: Kino & Paramount)

TWILIGHT (1998). In this throwback detective yarn written (with Richard Russo) and directed by Robert Benton, Paul Newman plays Harry Ross, a former private eye who has decided to spend his remaining years doing odd jobs for retired movie stars Jack and Catherine Ames (Gene Hackman and Susan Sarandon) in exchange for room and board at the swank Hollywood estate they share with their precocious teenage daughter (Reese Witherspoon). But Harry’s latest errand for Jack lands him in the middle of a tangled plot that involves blackmail, a 20-year-old mystery (the disappearance of Catherine’s first husband), and a fresh set of corpses. Twilight works in spite of its lack of any real mystery: This is the sort of film where practically everyone is guilty of something, so it’s not too hard to match up the culprits with the crimes. But what makes the movie pleasurable — along with its caustic dialogue and powerhouse cast (including Stockard Channing and Giancarlo Esposito) — is the novel way it marries its old-school plot with characters who are keenly aware that they’re also from another age and, as such, find themselves constantly reflecting on their own health and, consequently, mortality. “Your prostate acting up yet?” asks Harry’s longtime friend Raymond Hope (forever reliable James Garner). “Not yet,” replies Harry. “Something to look forward to,” shoots back Raymond.

Blu-ray extras consist of film critic audio commentary; TV spots; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.

Movie: ★★★

Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in Wayne’s World (Photo: Paramount)

WAYNE’S WORLD (1992). Prior to 1992, director Penelope Spheeris was best known for the 1981 documentary The Decline of Western Civilization. It would be inaccurate to state that Wayne’s World marked another decline in said civilization, but its presence did the world no favors (although it did Paramount plenty of favors at the box office). There was an odd tendency in the early-to-mid-1990s to produce ample movies and television shows that celebrated stupidity and condemned intelligence — this output included Dumb and Dumber, The Stupids, Beavis and Butt-Head, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, Fox News (which launched in 1996), anything starring Pauly Shore, and one of the few good works in this vein, the Best Picture Oscar winner Forrest Gump. Wayne’s World also belongs to this grouping, thanks to the doofus nature of Saturday Night Live party dudes Wayne (Mike Myers) and Garth (Dana Carvey). In this soufflé-light outing, the pair must contend with the efforts of a duplicitous TV producer (Rob Lowe) to commercialize their no-budget cable access show. There are a few worthy laughs scattered throughout the film (the “Stairway to Heaven” and Grey Poupon bits are keepers), but getting to each one requires wading through too much puerile mugging by the leads and sticking with a meandering screenplay that eventually runs aground. Wayne’s World 2 followed the very next year; it was basically more of the same.

Extras in the 4K edition include audio commentary by Spheeris and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★

Barbara Hershey and David Carradine in Boxcar Bertha (Photo: Sandpiper)

Short and Sweet:

BOXCAR BERTHA (1972). Martin Scorsese’s coming-out party was 1973’s Mean Streets, but before that, he made his directorial debut with 1968’s deeply personal Who’s That Knocking at My Door and followed up with this obligatory Roger Corman training-ground effort. Displaying little of the bravura filmmaking style long associated with the legendary helmer, this still makes for sound cinema, with Barbara Hershey a refreshing presence as a woman hopping the rails in Depression-era America. She hangs out with a card shark (Barry Primus) even though her heart belongs to a union organizer (David Carradine) — along with a fourth friend (Bernie Casey), they all embark on a series of robberies meant to stick it to the establishment (particularly the profitable railroad industry).

There are no Blu-ray extras.

Movie: ★★★

Goodbye, Don Glees! (Photo: Shout! Factory & GKIDS)

GOODBYE, DON GLEES! (2022). Roma and Toto, two kids who collectively call themselves the Don Glees, welcome new boy in town Drop into their ranks; the three set off on an adventure deep into the mountains in search of Roma’s missing drone, and in the process learn valuable lessons about themselves and each other. There isn’t much here that isn’t familiar from past movies — it might as well have been called Stand by Don Glees — and many of its elements even recall another recently released anime, Summer Ghost. Overall, though, it’s acceptable coming-of-age fare, with the tensions between the friends nicely developed and the color schemes providing some visual vigor.

The Blu-ray offers both Japanese and English audio. Extras consist of an interview with writer-director Atsuko Ishizuka and trailers.

Movie: ★★½


Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956)
Summer Ghost
The Thing From Another World
The War of the Worlds

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s