View From the Couch: The Exorcist III, M3GAN, Missing, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Violet McGraw and Allison Williams in M3GAN (Photo: Universal)
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 SUNDAY (1977). A five-month stretch in 1976-1977 gave rise to not one but two movies in which a psychopath chooses the Super Bowl as the site for a killing spree. Unfortunately, the junky Two-Minute Warning, in which Charlton Heston squares off against a lone sniper, arrived first, which largely doomed the box office chances of the far more complicated — and far superior — Black Sunday. Adapted by the powerhouse team of Ernest Lehman (North by Northwest), Kenneth Ross (The Day of the Jackal), and Ivan Moffat (Giant) from the novel by The Silence of the Lambs author Thomas Harris, this finds the members of the Palestinian terrorist outfit Black September plotting to use the Goodyear blimp as their murder weapon by spraying all 80,000 spectators in attendance at Super Bowl X (including the U.S. President) with metal darts. Doing their dirty work is blimp pilot Michael Lander (Bruce Dern), a crazed Vietnam veteran, while seeking to stop them is Israeli commando David Kabakov (Robert Shaw). Few directors were as adept at maximizing the thrills inherent in politically charged scenarios as John Frankenheimer, and while this may not quite match such 1960s triumphs as The Manchurian Candidate, Seven Days in May, and The Train, it does find the helmer effectively keeping all balls in the air as the story routinely pivots from Kabakov to Lander to the Black September operatives without ever losing momentum over its 143 minutes. The exciting climax is enhanced by impeccable editing and camerawork (the filmmakers were allowed to shoot during the actual Super Bowl between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys), while John Williams provides the picture’s score.
Blu-ray extras consist of film scholar audio commentary; a visual essay; the 2003 episode of the AFI series The Directors, “The Films of John Frankenheimer”; and an image gallery.
BROADWAY DANNY ROSE (1984). Woody Allen made two of his greatest pictures back to back during the 1980s — 1985’s The Purple Rose of Cairo and 1986’s Hannah and Her Sisters — but immediately before that one-two punch, the auteur fashioned this comparatively low-key but nevertheless irresistible bauble that showcases perhaps the best of the 13 performances Mia Farrow delivered in an Allen production. Allen himself plays the title character, a talent agent who’s too sweet for his own good. He takes on the most dubious of acts (a blind xylophonist, a one-legged tap dancer, a penguin who’s dresses like a rabbi, etc.), and when one of them miraculously makes it big, they invariably leave poor Danny for more successful agents. Danny’s latest shot at a breakout client is Lou Canova (Nick Apollo Forte), a singer who was briefly popular decades earlier and is now desperately trying for a comeback. Danny lands him a spot on a Milton Berle television special (Uncle Miltie pops up in a cameo), but the married Lou feels that he can only perform if his mistress, a tough-talking cookie named Tina Vitale (Farrow), is there to cheer him on. Danny dutifully agrees to bring her to the show, but a case of mistaken identity (with the Mob, no less) finds Danny and Tina on the run and getting on each other’s nerves. Allen’s Danny Rose is naturally hilarious (“Take my Aunt Rose. Not a beautiful woman at all; she looked like something you would buy at a live bait store.”), while Forte is aptly cast as a lunk-headed loser in his one and only movie appearance. As for Farrow, she’s a treat in a role that’s a far cry from the fragile women she usually portrayed in Allen’s films. Even in this great year for movies, Allen managed to snag Oscar nominations for both Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
DEAD SILENCE (2007) / M3GAN (2022). Did a G.I. Joe or a Barbie somehow hurt James Wan when he was a child? The prolific filmmaker, whose career was launched when he directed and co-wrote (with Leigh Whannell) the first Saw flick back in 2004, has often had a hand in horror movies involving demonic dolls. With the possible exception of the Saw puppet, his most famous achievement in this vein is the Annabelle doll, as he produced all three pictures in that franchise and provided the story for the third entry, 2019’s Annabelle Comes Home. As for his other terror-toy stories, Wan had a rare flop with Dead Silence, making its 4K debut this week, but a recent hit with M3GAN, which made its Blu-ray bow last week.
Bearing a likeness to those creepy Vincent dolls that later harassed Woody in Toy Story 4, a ventriloquist dummy named Billy is at the center of the horrors committed in the wan Wan offering Dead Silence. Billy is just one of the many dolls once owned by deceased Ravens Fair resident Mary Shaw (Judith Roberts), who has seemingly returned from the grave to murder the wife (Laura Regan) of young Jamie Ashen (Ryan Kwanten). Because the investigating detective (Donnie Wahlberg) believes Jamie killed his own spouse, the distraught husband returns to his hometown to solve the mystery; there, he learns more about the legend of Mary Shaw and how it connects to his own family. Directed by Wan and scripted by Whannell (from a story they concocted together), this benefits from some imaginative set designs (The Guignol Theater in its dilapidated state is particularly impressive) but is compromised by drab characters, sleepy performances (particularly from Kwanten), and sloppy plotting. Plus, the identity of the (human) villain is obvious from the get-go. Incidentally, among the set’s bonus features are deleted scenes which introduce another character and, when combined with the provided alternate ending, change the trajectory and resolution of the story (for the better, methinks).
Livelier doll dramatics can be found in M3GAN, for which scripters Wan and Akela Cooper and director Gerard Johnstone recycle elements from Child’s Play, Deadly Friend, and (gulp) The Terminator to create something that’s ferocious and funny (if not entirely fresh). After the parents of her 9-year-old niece Cady (Violet McGraw, who played Florence Pugh’s Yelena as a child in Black Widow) are killed in an automobile accident, her aunt Gemma (Get Out’s Allison Williams), a roboticist at a toy company owned by the temperamental David Lin (Ronny Chieng, a treat), gifts her a life-sized AI doll known as M3GAN (“Model 3 Generative Android”). M3GAN in effect becomes Cady’s best friend, sister, and parent, and the bond between the pair means that the droid will eliminate anything she views as a threat to Cady or to their relationship. Needless subplots and superfluous characters tend to distract — a thread about a corporate spy doesn’t really go anywhere, and Gemma’s lab mates (Jen Van Epps and Brian Jordan Alvarez) and Cady’s therapist (Amy Usherwood) are potentially interesting characters underserved by the script — but when the malevolent AI is front and center, the movie really hums. The means of bringing M3GAN to life — voice by Jenna Davis, stunts by Amie Donald, bodywork by Mattel, excuse me, by CGI and animatronics — result in a completely credible little monster.
Shout! Factory’s new edition of Dead Silence contains the R-rated theatrical cut on 4K UHD and the theatrical and unrated cuts on Blu-ray. Extras include new interviews with Wan, Whannell, and ventriloquist dummy creator Tim Selberg; a making-of featurette; an alternate opening; and the aforementioned alternate ending and deleted scenes. Universal’s Blu-ray edition of M3GAN offers both the theatrical PG-13 version and an unrated cut that runs approximately the same length. Extras include a making-of featurette and a look at the visual effects (and acting) that bring M3GAN to life.
Dead Silence: ★★
THE EXORCIST III (1990). One can’t blame William Peter Blatty, who wrote both the bestselling book The Exorcist and the 1973 film adaptation (for which he won the Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar), for wanting to reclaim the property after the laughable 1977 debacle Exorcist II: The Heretic. The Exorcist III, based on his novel Legion, isn’t in the same league as the classic original, but it at least returns the franchise to a state of sobriety and seriousness. Lee J. Cobb passed away in 1976, so George C. Scott takes over the role of Detective Kinderman, who in the earlier picture was friends with Father Karras (Jason Miller), the priest who died while performing the successful exorcism. In this film, Kinderman investigates a string of gruesome murders, all of which appear to have been committed by the Gemini Killer (Brad Dourif). But the Gemini Killer died 15 years ago in the electric chair, around the same time that Karras took his fateful tumble down those imposing Georgetown steps — Kinderman realizes that the events are connected, and only the patient being held in Cell 11 at a psychiatric ward holds the key to the mystery. The film is excessive in many spots — did we really need a lavish dream sequence, or cameos by the likes of Larry King, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, and Fabio? — and Scott’s emoting is occasionally overripe, but Blatty (also serving as director) offers some interesting ideas amidst a suitably somber atmosphere. Ed Flanders is excellent as Father Dyer, and look for Samuel L. Jackson and Kevin Corrigan (both also appearing that year in GoodFellas) as, respectively, a blind man and an altar boy.
The 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition contains the theatrical version and a director’s cut (titled Legion). Extras include an audio interview with Blatty; a feature-length making-of documentary from 2016; a deleted prologue; bloopers; and photo galleries.
MISSING (2023). Written by Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Onahian, directed by Chaganty, and edited by Nick Johnson and Will Merrick, 2018’s Searching was a nifty thriller wherein every single nanosecond was related from the POV of computer monitors, cellphone IMs, security cameras, and the like. It was a dubious gimmick that delivered, thanks to the filmmakers’ ingenuity and the strength of their plot. Chaganty and Onahian are back with Missing, receiving story and producer credits while handing the scripting and directing duties over to Johnson and Merrick. It’s more of the same, only not nearly as cleverly constructed — still, it’s catchy enough to make it a reasonably diverting techno-thriller. Whereas Searching focused on a parent (John Cho) looking for his missing teenage daughter (Michelle La), this one centers on a teenage daughter looking for her missing parent. Storm Reid plays June, whose mother Grace (Nia Long) heads to Colombia with her new boyfriend (Ken Leung). When Grace fails to return stateside, an increasingly frantic June uses her computer to access her mom’s account, communicate with an FBI agent (Daniel Henney), and employ a Colombian local (Joaquim de Almeida) to physically follow the trail of clues. Whereas the mystery in Searching was tightly constructed and remained plausible within the parameters of the film, this one begins well but grows more outlandish as it progresses. The shooting MO remains stimulating, however, and de Almeida, best known as the villains to Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan in 1994’s Clear and Present Danger and Antonio Banderas’ El Mariachi in 1995’s Desperado, steals the show as the lovable and loyal Javi.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Merrick and Johnson and producer Natalie Qasabian; behind-the-scenes featurettes; deleted scenes; and a piece on the film’s Easter Eggs.
THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON (1973). As writer-director Milton Moses Ginsberg helpfully explains in the foreword pasted onto the front of The Werewolf of Washington, “When I was a child I was traumatized by a movie called The Wolf Man. Years later I was traumatized by a president named Richard Nixon. So I made a movie exorcising both.” Mixing a Hollywood monster with a political monster is a promising idea, but Ginsberg’s low-budget lycanthrope yarn plays like amateur hour nearly every step of the way. Dean Stockwell stars as Jack Whittier, a political reporter who’s bitten by a werewolf while working in the Budapest bureau. Upon arriving back in D.C., he accepts a job as press secretary for the incompetent U.S. President (Biff McGuire), but it’s hard to keep his mind on his work when every full moon finds him turning into a werewolf. As a horror flick, this is pretty feeble (the werewolf lunges at his victims as if he plans to playfully tickle them, not disembowel them), but the comedic material is even worse. Except for Whittier amusingly confusing the words “pentagram” and “Pentagon,” there are precious few laughs to be located, and the political satire is particularly painful. What passes for cutting-edge content at the expense of the Nixon administration are insults directed at hippies and the Black Panthers, the Prez repeating Tricky Dick’s “Let me make one thing perfectly clear,” and a diminutive mad scientist named Kissinger — excuse me, Dr. Kiss (Michael Dunn) working in the White House basement. Woof.
The new Blu-ray edition contains both the 89-minte theatrical version and a 74-minute director’s cut assembled by Ginsberg before his death in 2021. Extras include an interview with Ginsberg; the theatrical trailer; and a TV spot.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
ERASERHEAD (1977). David Lynch’s feature-film debut is one of those seminal movies — like Welles’ Citizen Kane, Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and De Sica’s The Bicycle Thief — that alerted me at a young age as to the infinite possibilities that cinema had to offer. This one-of-a-kind picture doesn’t push the envelope — it shreds it entirely. One of the defining “midnight movie” cult flicks and a favorite of filmmakers as varied as Mel Brooks, Gaspar Noé, and the long-gone Stanley Kubrick, Eraserhead defies easy analysis, with even Lynch himself refusing to elaborate on the story as he prefers to let viewers work it out for themselves (the most he generally allows is that it’s “a dream of dark and troubling things”). Jack Nance, a Lynch regular until he died following a street brawl in 1996, plays Henry, a spooky man who’s forced to marry his girlfriend, Mary X (Charlotte Stewart), after she gives birth to their baby, a hairless grotesquerie that remains swaddled on the dresser top and cries incessantly. Henry must look after the baby by himself after Mary X walks out, but he’s frequently distracted by visions of the Lady in the Radiator (Laurel Near), an unsightly woman who sings that “In Heaven, everything is fine” while crushing sperm-like creatures under her heels. And what to make of the Man in the Planet (Jack Fisk), a horribly scarred individual who sits quietly by a window pulling a large lever? Seeped in sexual imagery, Eraserhead appears to examine the difficulties of both relationships and parenthood, but that’s merely skimming the surface of this strange work that excels in contradictions: It’s equally hideous and beautiful, at once inviting and repellent, both sympathetic and derisive toward its characters. Industrial sounds, a mainstay in the Lynch canon, play a prominent role, with the aural assault courtesy of future Oscar-winning sound editor Alan Splet (The Black Stallion). Trivia aside: Sissy Spacek, Fisk’s wife, helped out on the set and receives a “special thanks” during the closing credits.
Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
Annabelle Comes Home
The Day of the Jackal
Exorcist II: The Heretic
Film 1984: A Look Back
The Purple Rose of Cairo
Seven Days in May
The Silence of the Lambs
Toy Story 4
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