Dwayne Johnson in Black Adam (Photo: Warner & DC)

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.)

BLACK ADAM
Dwayne Johnson and Aldis Hodge in Black Adam (Photo: Warner & DC)

BLACK ADAM (2022). While DC might have produced the best superhero saga of 2022 with The Batman (take that, Marvel!), it was also responsible for the worst with Black Adam (take that, DC!). Dwayne Johnson plays the titular character, a god-like figure who is awakened from his 5,000-year slumber and finds himself in the modern world. Since his demeanor and destructive ways make him appear to be a villain rather than a hero, the members of the Justice Society, including Hawkman (Aldis Hodge) and Doctor Fate (Pierce Brosnan), are determined to bring him down. There was chatter that, thanks largely to an anti-hero at its center, this 11th entry in the DCEU (DC Extended Universe) was going to mark a departure and possibly a new direction for the franchise, but where’s the evidence? Black Adam is as boring as Man of Steel, as overstuffed as Justice League (both cuts), as visually clunky as Aquaman, and (almost) as stupid as Suicide Squad. It feels much longer than its 125 minutes, and it manages what I previously believed to be impossible: It takes the perennially appealing Dwayne Johnson and strips him of all charisma and personality, transforming him from a dynamic screen presence into a celluloid eunuch.

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Code edition include pieces on the histories of Black Adam and the Justice Society; featurettes focusing on the visual effects, sets, and costume designs; and a look at the character of Black Adam.

Movie: ★½

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Dean Stockwell in The Dunwich Horror (Photo: Arrow)

THE DUNWICH HORROR (1970). This adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft story proves to be a great disappointment, its reputation as a minor cult item notwithstanding. In the town of Arkham, Massachusetts, the mysterious Wilbur Whateley (Dean Stockwell, two parts dull, one part hammy) enlists the unwitting aid of college student Nancy Wagner (Sandra Dee, two parts dull, one part befuddled) in his plan to call forth cosmic demons. Meanwhile, who (or what) is lurking behind a locked door at the Whateley estate? The animated opening credits sequence is arguably the liveliest part of a leadenly paced picture that grows less gripping as it moseys along. At least the supporting cast is capable: Ed Begley (an Oscar winner for Sweet Bird of Youth) as a professor well-versed in the occult, veteran character actor Sam Jaffe (The Scarlet Empress, The Asphalt Jungle) as Wilbur’s panicky grandfather, and Rocky‘s Talia Shire (here billed under her maiden name, Talia Coppola) as an ill-fated nurse. One of the scripters was future L.A. Confidential Oscar winner Curtis Hanson — this marked his first screen credit.

Blu-ray extras include a two-hour conversation about the film and Lovecraft between film historian Stephen R. Bissette and horror author Stephen Laws; a look at Les Baxter’s score for the movie; an image gallery; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★

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Bill Murray in Groundhog Day (Photo: Sony)

GROUNDHOG DAY (1993). Upon its original release, Washington Post film critic Desson Howe wrote, “Groundhog Day will never be designated a national film treasure by the Library of Congress. But, in terms of vehicle selection, this is one of the better ones [Bill] Murray has hitched himself to.” Indeed, while critical response was positive and box office was fairly strong ($70 million), nothing suggested that this comedy from writer-director Harold Ramis and co-scripter Danny Rubin would gather steam over time and emerge as one of the most respected comedies of the past 30 years. Yet at the end of the 1990s, the movie found itself on several critics’ lists of the best films of the decade, and, despite Howe’s understandable assertion to the contrary, the Library of Congress’ National Film Preservation Board did add the picture to its prestigious National Film Registry in 2006. Murray is once again cast in the sort of role at which he excels: the lewd, self-centered lout. He’s Phil Connors, a TV weatherman who inexplicably finds himself living the same day over and over again, trapped in a small town during its Groundhog Day celebration. The film offers some cosmic ruminations beneath its comic exterior, and Murray and Andie MacDowell (rarely so relaxed on film) make a surprisingly compatible screen couple.

Extras in this 30th Anniversary 4K Edition include audio commentary by Ramis; deleted scenes; and a study of groundhogs.

Movie: ★★★½

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Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert in Highlander (Photo: Lionsgate)

HIGHLANDER (1986). Critically dismissed upon its initial release and failing to recoup its production costs, Highlander found renewed life in the home-video market, resulting in a series of limp sequels, a popular TV series, and guaranteed cult status. Christopher Lambert plays Connor MacLeod, a 16th century Scottish warrior who learns he’s immortal and can only be killed by having his head lopped off. He survives through the centuries, receiving early tutoring from a garrulous Immortal (Sean Connery) and repeatedly butting heads with the most vicious of all Immortals (Clancy Brown). It’s easy to see why many love this picture (great premise, fine action scenes, a score by Queen, a charismatic Connery) but just as easy to see why many despise it (chintzy production values, stone-faced Lambert, ludicrous supporting characters, thudding dialogue).

The 4K UHD edition contains the Director’s Cut that runs approximately five minutes longer than the theatrical version. Extras include audio commentary by director Russell Mulcahy; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; interviews with Mulcahy, Lambert, and Brown; and a piece on the soundtrack.

Movie: ★★½

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Chuck Norris in Missing in Action (Photos: Kino & MGM)

MISSING IN ACTION TRILOGY (1984-1988). For those so inclined, here’s a new box set containing all three Vietnam War yarns produced by Cannon Films and starring Chuck “Missing in Acting” Norris.

Missing in Action (1984) seems like such a blatant rip-off of Rambo: First Blood Part II that it’s easy to forget that the Norris vehicle actually came first. But it’s also easy to overlook the fact that Missing in Action was inspired by the Rambo script that had been making the rounds, and it was indeed hustled into production and into theaters in an effort to beat the Stallone starrer (which kicked off the summer of 1985). Not surprisingly, both films are of equal value: mindless mediocrities in which one lone American soldier returns to Vietnam years after the war in an effort to rescue the POWs still being held captive. In MiA, it’s Colonel James Braddock, who had himself escaped from one of these illicit camps and now seeks to expose the Vietnamese government’s cover-up by producing more illegally detained prisoners. Norris devotees rank this one highly; others might not be as charitable.

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Chuck Norris and Soon-tek Oh in Missing in Action 2: The Beginning

The following year found Norris headlining one of his better pictures — unfortunately for Missing in Action 2: The Beginning (1985), that would be Code of Silence. The second MiA flick is actually the first in a chronological sense, a prequel illustrating the events that transpired while Braddock was still a POW and how he subsequently managed his great escape. While still falling squarely in the average category, I do prefer this one by a smidgen over its predecessor, due to Norris being supported by actual characters among the POWs and not just cardboard stand-ups. And while all the Vietnamese villains in this trilogy are one-note caricatures, Soon-tek Oh makes his memorably sadistic. Plus, ya gotta love the “Chuck Norris meme”-worthy scene in which a rat employed for torture gets tortured itself by our hero.

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Chuck Norris in Braddock: Missing in Action III

Showing no shame, Norris and Cannon Films blatantly copied Rambo: First Blood Part II by giving the third film a similarly styled title with Braddock: Missing in Action III (1988) — yes, they even shifted from the numerical 2 to the Roman III to make the steal complete. Yet the end result is so wretched, it makes the Stallone flick look as accomplished as The Bridge on the River Kwai by comparison. Co-written by Chucky and directed by his brother Aaron (the Frank to his Sylvester), this one finds America’s greatest export returning to Vietnam to rescue the wife (Miki Kim) he didn’t realize was still alive and the son (Roland Harrah III) he didn’t know he had sired. Chuck Norris movies generally weren’t kind to female characters (or black characters, for that matter) — the death of the most sympathetic (and most brutalized) person is a tasteless sequence that stands out in the midst of all this juvenile jingoism, but the whole movie operates at a junky level. Hilariously, the primary villain (Aki Aleong) seemingly screams “Braddock!” even more often than the Skipper bellowed “Gilligan!” over the three-season run of Gilligan’s Island and Ricky howled “Lucy!” over I Love Lucy’s six seasons.

Each movie in this Blu-ray box set includes audio commentary (director Joseph Zito on the first, director Lance Hool on the second, and film historians on the third) and the theatrical trailer; the original MiA also offers an interview with scripter James Bruner.

Missing in Action: ★★

Missing in Action 2: The Beginning: ★★

Braddock: Missing in Action III:

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Matthew Broderick in WarGames (Photo: Shout! Factory & MGM)

WARGAMES (1983). The summer of ’83 provided director John Badham a couple of opportunities to score, as he had two high-profile films opening within three weeks of each other. Blue Thunder earned only moderately good reviews and a middling box office take of $42 million (a shame, as it’s quite entertaining), but WarGames opened to rave reviews and enjoyed a robust $79 million gross. Matthew Broderick (in only his second movie in only his first year in film) stars as a teenage computer hacker who believes he’s playing a game called Global Thermonuclear War when in actuality he has tapped into the U.S. Department of Defense and is about to inadvertently start World War III. WarGames was a relevant picture not only in the manner in which it largely introduced the bold new world of computers to the masses but also because it led to politicians drafting legislation inspired by its cautionary warnings. It’s a clever if occasionally far-fetched adventure-thriller, buoyed by winning turns from Broderick and fellow newbie Ally Sheedy. One of the top grossing films of 1983 — it was #5 for the year, just under the Eddie Murphy comedy Trading Places and just above the 007 entry Octopussy — it grabbed Oscar nominations for Best Original Screenplay (Lawrence Lasker and Walter F. Parkes), Best Cinematography, and Best Sound.

4K extras include audio commentary by Badham, Lasker, and Parkes; a making-of featurette; and a piece on computer hackers.

Movie: ★★★

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David Janssen in Warning Shot (Photo: Kino & Paramount)

WARNING SHOT (1967). David Janssen’s greatest claim to fame was playing Dr. Richard Kimble in the hit TV series The Fugitive (1963-1967). It’s therefore amusing that Warning Shot, a movie he made while still active with the show, was promoted with the tagline, “…the shot that made him a fugitive.” Here he plays Tom Valens, an LA cop forced to fatally shoot a man in self-defense. The stranger turns out to be a highly respected doctor and philanthropist, and, even more damning, no gun is found on the scene. Valens is therefore brought up on manslaughter charges, meaning he has to locate and thereby prove the existence of said revolver. Like 1964’s The Killers (aka Ronald Reagan’s final film), Warning Shot was made for television (one telltale sign being that the production company, Bob Banner Associates, worked exclusively on boob-tube fare) but was instead released theatrically due to its violence. It’s great fun in any medium, with a mystery that only grows too obvious in the second half. Adding to the merriment — and the TV Land roots — is the army of “guest stars” who appear throughout: All About Eve Oscar winner George Sanders, silent-screen legend Lilian Gish, Ed Begley (see also The Dunwich Horror, above), Joan Collins, a pre-Archie Bunker Carroll O’Connor, and more.

Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary and trailers for nine other thrillers on the Kino label.

Movie: ★★★

========================================

Review links for movies referenced in this column:
All About Eve
Aquaman
The Batman
The Bridge on the River Kwai
Code of Silence
Justice League
Octopussy
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Rocky
The Scarlet Empress
Suicide Squad
Sweet Bird of Youth
Trading Places
Zack Snyder’s Justice League

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