Renée Zellweger in Chicago (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.)

Taylor Russell and Timothée Chalamet in Bones and All (Photo: Warner & MGM)

BONES AND ALL (2022). A Badlands with ample bloodletting, Bones and All is an adaptation of the popular YA novel about teenage cannibals traveling through the American heartland during the 1980s. Taylor Russell is Maren, who’s abandoned by her father (André Holland) once she turns 18 because he can no longer deal with the fact that she’s an “eater,” someone who feels compelled to consume human flesh to survive. On her lengthy road trip to find the mother she never knew, she first encounters Sully (Mark Rylance), an older eater who wants to serve as her mentor, her father figure, and perhaps something more. Finding him kind but also kind of creepy, Maren leaves Sully behind and eventually meets Lee (Timothée Chamalet), an eater who’s her age. They fall in love and travel together, but his ruthlessness and her naivete often make them incompatible. Bones and All is the sort of moody melodrama that can be absorbed straight up or metaphorically, with potential themes including the disaffection of the LGBTQ community during the Reagan ‘n’ AIDS eighties, the lure of Americana as a means for self-discovery and reinvention, and the rejection of an older generation by the younger one (there’s a reason the most disturbing characters are the leering, middle-aged men played by Rylance, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Halloween helmer David Gordon Green). Each passing performance by Chalamet increasingly suggests that his turn in Call Me by My Name was a fluke, and this one is no exception — amusingly, there’s a moment when Lee should be experiencing a complete emotional breakdown, and Chalamet remains so passive and stone-faced that Maren helpfully suggests that Lee must be in shock.

Blu-ray extras consist of short pieces focused primarily on director Luca Guadagnino and the characters of Maren and Lee.

Movie: ★★★

Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley and Ossie Davis as JFK in Bubba Ho-Tep (Photo: Shout! Factory)

BUBBA HO-TEP (2003). A mere plot synopsis is all that’s required to show that writer-director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) was shooting for instant cult status with Bubba Ho-Tep: Tucked away incognito in a nursing home, an elderly Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell) partners with a black man claiming to be John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) to take down a resurrected mummy who stomps around sporting a cowboy hat and sucking the souls out of the facility’s senior residents. The premise is loopy enough to offer some diversion, and Campbell has one of his best roles as a crotchety Elvis whose quickness with the quips does little to mask his concerns about his advancing age. Indeed, the most surprising element of this picture isn’t its outrageousness — honestly, it could stand being a bit more wild and crazy — but rather its occasionally wistful, even poignant, approach to the subjects of memories, mortality, and the best manner in which to sum up the totality of one’s own existence. The end credits promise a sequel called Bubba Nosferatu: Curse of the She-Vampires — it was originally meant as a joke, but for approximately 20 years now, Coscarelli has been trying to bring such a film to the screen.

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition from Shout! Factory include audio commentary by Coscarelli and Campbell; audio commentary by author Joe R. Lansdale (who penned the source short story); a making-of featurette; interviews with Coscarelli, Campbell, and makeup effects supervisor Robert Kurtzman (Vampires, Doctor Sleep); deleted scenes; pieces on the music, costumes, and visual effects; a look at the filming locations then and now; and even more archival interviews with Campbell.

Movie: ★★★

Renée Zellweger and Richard Gere in Chicago (Photo: Paramount & Miramax)

CHICAGO (2002). Not only for theater aficionados, Chicago is a musical for people who don’t even like musicals, weaving its deliriously dark tale with enough cyanide-laced cynicism to win over folks who wouldn’t know Oklahoma! from Oh! Calcutta! Director-choreographer Rob Marshall and scripter Bill Condon keep the proceedings both lively and lacerating, and if, after years of overexposure, the story’s themes relating to the cult of celebrity have all the bite of a toothless gerbil, at least they’re presented in an irresistibly engaging fashion. Renée Zellweger handles the role of Roxie Hart, a wanna-be starlet in Prohibition-era Chicago who, like fellow singer-dancer Velma Kelly (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is behind bars for murder. Both women’s public images are carefully handled by slick lawyer Billy Flynn (Richard Gere), and all three work the angles to ensure they each land on top. Also thrown into the mix are the corrupt prison warden (Queen Latifah), Roxie’s hapless husband (John C. Reilly), and a complacent media headed by reporter Mary Sunshine (Christine Baranski). Visually, Chicago might rank among the more claustrophobic musicals — most of the numbers are performed in dark interiors — but the actors’ energy and Marshall’s imaginative staging are strong enough that they make the entire picture seem as open-aired as Julie Andrews’ hilltop warbling in The Sound of Music. Nominated for 13 Academy Awards (among them nods for Zellweger, Reilly, and Latifah), this nabbed six, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Zeta-Jones).

Extras on the Blu-ray steelbook edition consist of audio commentary by Marshall and Condon; a retrospective piece with cast and crew; and extended musical performances.

Movie: ★★★½

Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball in The Long, Long Trailer (Photo: Warner Archive)

THE LONG, LONG TRAILER (1954). With one of Hollywood’s top filmmakers in the director’s chair, a celebrated husband-and-wife team handling scripting duties, a pair of popular character actors on hand for big-screen cred, luscious Technicolor vistas, and widescreen lensing (introduced just the year before), MGM wasn’t taking any chances with The Long, Long Trailer, a studio release designed as a, ahem, vehicle for Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz while they were still involved with their top-rated television series. It proved to be a box office hit and remains a beloved picture today, although I daresay it isn’t as funny as several dozen classic episodes of I Love Lucy. Directed by Vincente Minnelli (An American in Paris, The Bad and the Beautiful) and adapted from Clinton Twiss’ bestselling novel by Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich (The Thin Man, It’s a Wonderful Life), this casts TV’s Lucy and Ricky as Tacy and Nicky (subtle, huh?), a happy couple whose purchase of a gargantuan trailer to serve as their home leads to all manner of complications. Surprisingly, it’s Arnaz, not Ball, who receives most of the best comedic material: His “Trailer brakes!” panic attacks and his attempt to back the trailer into a tight driveway arguably constitute the film’s two funniest segments. The picture can’t sustain itself over the long haul — some of the material is repetitious, and the story doesn’t end so much as peter out — but there’s still plenty to enjoy in this road-tested romp. Marjorie Main and Keenan Wynn appear in support (helpful neighbor and frustrated traffic cop, respectively) and receive prominent third and fourth billing, but their combined screen time amounts to approximately a mere four minutes.

Blu-ray extras consist of the 1954 short Ain’t It Aggravatin’; the 1954 cartoon Dixieland Droopy; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★½

Peter Falk, Jack Lemmon and Elaine May in Luv (Photos: Mill Creek)

PETER FALK 4-FILM COMEDY COLLECTION (1967-1987). Had television and Columbo not taken Peter Falk away from the silver screen, it’s almost certain he would have been a major movie star. As it stands, he still managed to nab two pre-Columbo Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominations (1960’s Murder, Inc. and 1961’s Pocketful of Miracles) and post-Columbo (the ‘70s run, anyway) appear in such hits as The In-Laws, The Princess Bride, and Wings of Desire. This Blu-ray set contains four of his films, although only one of them made any waves at the box office.

Falk isn’t the lead in Luv (1967); instead, the above-the-title star is Jack Lemmon. Lemmon is cast as Harry Berlin, a depressed man who’s about to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge when he’s stopped by former school chum Milt Manville (Falk). As Milt hopes to start a new life with his blonde girlfriend (Nina Wayne), he tries to set up Harry with his own wife (Elaine May) — the plan initially works until everyone’s neuroses eventually get the better of them. Luv was adapted from a Tony Award-winning play helmed by Mike Nichols, but under the ponderous direction of Clive Donner and featuring one of Lemmon’s most annoyingly overwrought performances, this film version is pretentious prattle. In only his second film appearance, Harrison Ford appears for a few seconds as an angry beatnik who punches Lemmon’s character in the face.

Peter Falk in The Cheap Detective

In 1976, writer Neil Simon, director Robert Moore, and an all-star cast that included Falk gathered to make Murder by Death, an amusing spoof of murder-mysteries. Falk played Sam Diamond, an American gumshoe based on Sam Spade. The film was a hit, so Simon, Moore, and Falk reunited for The Cheap Detective (1978), a similarly diverting takeoff of such Humphrey Bogart classics as The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Falk is Lou Peckinpaugh, a private investigator whose partner has been murdered. As he’s been framed for the crime, he tries to sort out the mystery, along the way bumping into shady hoodlums and intriguing femme fatales. Like Murder by Death, this one also features an all-star cast, with Sid Caesar, Dom DeLuise, John Houseman, and Paul Williams among the scoundrels and Ann-Margret, Eileen Brennan, Stockard Channing, and Marsha Mason among the dames. The gags are nonstop, and the hit-to-miss ratio is acceptable enough to give this a hearty recommendation.

Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in Big Trouble

Over the years, director John Cassavetes had employed Falk as one of his go-to actors (A Woman Under the Influence, Husbands, etc.). And Falk had a sizable hit opposite Alan Arkin in The In-Laws, scripted by Andrew Bergman. So a film bringing together Falk, Cassavetes, Arkin, and Bergman held ample promise. Unfortunately, Big Trouble (1986) is merely a big mess, and Bergman was so disgusted with the end result that he took his name off the project and replaced it with the pseudonym Warren Bogle. Arkin plays a hapless family man who gets involved with a purring beauty (Beverly D’Angelo) who wants to murder her husband (Falk) to take advantage of the insurance policy’s double indemnity clause. Yes, it’s a send-up of the Billy Wilder masterpiece, but the laughs are few and far between. Incidentally, to gain approval from Universal to spoof Double Indemnity, Columbia had to hand the rival studio its script for a promising sci-fi flick called Back to the Future. Ouch.

The three faces of Peter Falk in Happy New Year

A remake of Claude Lelouch’s 1973 French hit La bonne année, Happy New Year (1987) is a low-key comedy that features a wonderful performance — make that performances — by Falk. He stars as Nick, a small-time thief whose plan to rob a jewelry store alongside his friend Charlie (Charles Durning, also in Big Trouble) encounters some turbulence after he falls for the owner (Wendy Hughes) of the adjoining antique shop. As part of the scheme, Nick dons the latex to play both an elderly man and his Mrs. Doubtfire-like sister, a ploy that allows him to gain the trust of the jewelry store manager (Tom Courtenay). Robert Laden deservedly earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Makeup Design but unfairly lost to the other nominee: Rick Baker, the seven-time winner serving up one of his least interesting creations for Harry and the Hendersons. Trivial tidbit: Eight years later, Laden would earn another Oscar nod for again turning Falk into a senior citizen, this time in Roommates.

Someone at Mill Creek forgot to add the name Peter Falk to either the cover or the spine, meaning the title of the set is actually the generic 4-Film Comedy Collection. There are no extras for any of the films.

Luv: ★½

The Cheap Detective: ★★★

Big Trouble: ★★

Happy New Year: ★★½

Marlene Dietrich in Rancho Notorious (Photo: Warner Archive)

RANCHO NOTORIOUS (1952). The great director Fritz Lang (M, The Woman in the Window) combines the German Expressionism of his earlier years with the film noir style of his American run to produce this offbeat Western. Unjustly forgotten Arthur Kennedy, one of the best actors of the 1950s (five Oscar nominations in a 10-year span, including those for the superb Some Came Running and the recently reviewed Bright Victory), stars as Vern Haskell, an honest rancher whose mind turns to revenge after his fiancée (Gloria Henry, Dennis the Menace’s TV mom) is raped and murdered by an outlaw named Kinch (Lloyd Gough). With only one clue to guide him, Haskell eventually ends up at Chuck-a-Luck, the criminal hideout run by former showgirl Altar Keane (Marlene Dietrich) — there, he tries to figure out if the killer is Kinch, Altar’s charismatic lover Frenchy Fairmont (Mel Ferrer), oily skirt chaser Wilson (George Reeves, TV’s Superman), or one of the other varmints on hand. William Frawley, already a living-room fixture as I Love Lucy’s Fred Mertz, appears as an ornery saloon owner, while the always-welcome Jack Elam plays one of the Chuck-a-Luck desperadoes. Ken Darby’s heavy-handed theme song (“Legend of Chuck-a-Luck”) is a distraction, but the film itself is lean and mean. In case any viewer is wondering why Gough doesn’t receive screen credit for his significant role, that’s because he was on the wrong side of the House Un-American Activities Committee and was blacklisted for years, only reappearing on television in 1964 and on the big screen in 1967 — since this film was already completed, the best RKO could do was strip him of his billing.

There are no extras on the new Blu-ray edition from the Warner Archive Collection.

Movie: ★★★

Heather Locklear and Dick Durock in The Return of Swamp Thing (Photo: Lightyear)

THE RETURN OF SWAMP THING (1989). There are bad movies like, say, 2018’s Red Sparrow or last year’s Firestarter — unpleasant, uninspired, and largely unwatchable — and then there are bad movies like Santa Claus Conquers the Martians or The Return of Swamp Thing — oafish, innocent, and almost adorable in their obliviousness. (In short, always rent this type of poor picture over that type of poor picture.) A follow-up to 1982’s Swamp Thing, this campfest rarely approaches anything resembling quality, and yet its general bungling is part of its charm. Louis Jourdan, whose mad-scientist character was turned into a monster and perished at the end of the first flick, nevertheless returns, not only alive but back in human form. He’s continuing to create Dr. Moreau-like mutations in his laboratory, and he believes his naïve stepdaughter Abby (Heather Locklear) would make a perfect test subject. Enter Swamp Thing (Dick Durock), whose constant rescuing of Abby results in her falling in love with our mossy hero — she believes the relationship can work because, as she chirps, “I’m a vegetarian!” If nothing else, The Return of Swamp Thing deserves credit for featuring one of the all-time worst child performances in film history, that of Daniel Taylor as pudgy Darryl. Other elements are easier to take (if not much more polished), and some of the monster makeup designs work in spurts. Thanks to the participation of Jourdan, expect a verbal nod in the direction of Gigi, and thanks to the presence of Locklear, listen out for quips involving T.J. Hooker and Mötley Crüe.

Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary (from 2008) by director Jim Wynorski, composer Chuck Cirino, and editor Leslie Rosenthal; audio commentary (from 2003) by Wynorski; two Greenpeace PSAs featuring Swamp Thing; and TV spots.

Movie: ★½

Ida Lupino in The Food of the Gods (Photo: AIP)


THE FOOD OF THE GODS (1976). This adaptation of the H.G. Wells novel is one of the greats — and by greats, I mean so unspeakably awful that it needs to be witnessed at least once in a lifetime. On a remote island, a white substance bubbling out of the ground is eaten by various animals and insects, and soon the area is overrun with giant rats, wasps, chickens, and worms. If there are 10 consecutive seconds of quality in this film, I must have rubbed my eyes and missed them. Except for a few scenes featuring mechanized heads and actors in costumes, the giant rats are actually normal-sized rodents seen swarming around toy cars and dollhouses, the wasps are black smudges apparently drawn directly onto the film stock, and the chickens (and one mad rooster) look about as real as Burt Reynolds’ late-career toupees. Depressingly, Ida Lupino, a 1940s movie star and one of the first major female directors, wraps up her career by playing a Bible-thumping rube who screams, “God! Oh, God! Aaaaaahhhh!” while watching bloodthirsty worms snack on her hand.


Charles Maze and Will Lupardus in Day9 (Photo: Alliance of Light)


DAY9 The rich and powerful J.D. Dobroth (Charles Maze) is so awful a person that in comparison he makes J.R. Ewing look like Little Orphan Annie and Donald Trump look like, well, Donald Trump. Dobroth has hired four people — three men (Will Lupardus, Eric McIntire, and Kelcey Watson) and one woman (Johanna Watts) — for his mysterious excavation, ordering all four to dig until they find what he claims is great riches. Each individual has some sort of tie to Dobroth — and two even saved his life on different occasions in the past — but this matters not, as he treats all of them like dirt (he dismisses the men as imbecilic ass-kissers and informs the woman, a doctor, that she’ll never amount to more than a piece of ass). If ever someone deserved to be murdered, it’s this guy, but mindful that this job will result in a generous paycheck, all four do their damnedest to keep their anger and emotions in check. Directed by Dastan Khalili and written by Damion Stephens, this 20-minute short is a tasty morsel of a movie, employing a slightly off-kilter color palette to contrast the ugliness of the situation with the gorgeousness of the desert backdrop (shooting took place at the Trona Pinnacles in California). The characters are about as delineated as possible given the story’s 20-minute span, and the will-they-or-won’t-they angle maintains interest as the film heads toward a “gotcha” conclusion. (Day9 will be available for viewing later in 2023.)


Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in a new window):
The Bad and the Beautiful
Bright Victory
Call Me by Your Name
Doctor Sleep
Double Indemnity
Firestarter (2022)
Halloween (2018)
Halloween Kills
Halloween Ends
The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977)
It’s a Wonderful Life
Red Sparrow
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
Some Came Running
The Thin Man
T.J. Hooker
The Woman in the Window

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