View From the Couch: Ant-Man Quantumania, Shazam Fury, 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.
Paul Rudd in Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania and Zachary Levi in Shazam! Fury of the Gods (Photos: Ant-Man, Disney/Marvel; Shazam, 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.)
ANT-MAN AND THE WASP: QUANTUMANIA (2023). The Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase Ho-Hum ended with the release of Black Panther: Wakanda Forever, and Phase Shoulder Shrug kicked off with the theatrical bow of Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania. Like the majority of the entries following the Avengers’ ultimate triumph over Thanos, A-MatW:Q is a middling effort marked by bright performances and a few unique ideas but bogged down by cluttered visuals, cutesy humor, and a rigid adherence to formula. It amuses me that this is only the second out of 32(!) MCU titles to earn a Rotten grade from the RT-approved critics (Eternals was the first), since it’s comparable to quite a few (e.g. Iron Man 3, Thor: Love and Thunder, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings) and actually superior to a couple (including last year’s Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness). Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, and the other series stars are back, Kathryn Newton joins the good guys as the now grown Cassie Lang, and Jonathan Majors is the villainous Kang the Conqueror. There’s some trippy CGI, several insufferable supporting characters, and Bill Murray.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Peyton Reed and writer Jeff Loveness; featurettes on the film’s heroes and villains; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
THE LONGEST YARD (1974) / HUSTLE (1975). Director Robert Aldrich was responsible for so many movies that fall under the “macho” heading (The Dirty Dozen, Emperor of the North, Attack) that it’s no surprise he eventually made a couple of films with that most macho of ‘70s actors, Burt Reynolds. Both titles are newly arrived (and sold separately) on the Kino label, with The Longest Yard available in a 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition and Hustle available as a Blu-ray.
While 1974’s Top 10 Moneymakers list was dominated by disaster flicks (The Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Airport ’75) and Mel Brooks (Blazing Saddles, Young Frankenstein), Reynolds held down the #8 spot with The Longest Yard, which remains one of the best and brightest films on his resume. He stars as Paul “Wrecking” Crewe, a former football star and newly anointed convict who’s pressured by the sadistic Warden Hazen (Eddie Albert) into putting together a team of prisoners to play against the semi-pro guards’ squad. The laughs are plentiful, the gridiron action is hard-hitting, and the few instances of heavy drama make their mark. A Golden Globe winner for Best Motion Picture — Comedy or Musical, this earned Michael Luciano an Academy Award nomination for Best Film Editing. A mediocre remake followed in 2005, with Adam Sandler miscast in Reynolds’ old role and Burt himself appearing in a supporting slot (there was also a 2001 British adaptation, Mean Machine, with soccer substituting for American football).
The next collaboration between Aldrich and Reynolds also proved to be a hit, although nothing like The Longest Yard in terms of either profitability or quality. It’s certainly a bleaker affair, with the actor cast as Phil Gaines, a Los Angeles detective assigned to look into the fatal OD of a young woman (porn star Colleen Brennan). Gaines plans to dismiss the case as a suicide, but the girl’s father (Ben Johnson) conducts his own investigation and learns that she was a hooker who kept company with a corrupt attorney (Eddie Albert again) who, as it happens, is also involved with Phil’s girlfriend, a high-class French prostitute (Catherine Deneuve). The film’s structure is interesting in theory — it’s a murder-mystery where there may have been no murder and thus no mystery — but with nothing fresh to replace the expected genre trappings, what remains is a mopey movie with unconvincing developments, flashes of forced humor, and a truly terrible denouement (a character dies only to complete the story’s existentialist bingo card). Coincidentally, Sandler also starred in a movie called Hustle but, unlike The Longest Yard, this 2022 release has nothing in common with Burt’s same-named predecessor.
Both titles offer audio commentary by authors Alain Silver and James Ursini (What Ever Happened to Robert Aldrich?: His Life and His Films); the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other Reynolds flicks on the Kino label. The Longest Yard also includes audio commentary by Reynolds and producer Albert S. Ruddy and a pair of behind-the-scenes pieces, while Hustle includes TV spots.
The Longest Yard: ★★★½
MIDNIGHT RUN (1988). As someone notes in one of the interviews included in this 4K edition of Midnight Run, the movie opened on the same day (July 20, 1988) as the sleeper smash Die Hard, and that helped cement the film’s doom at the box office. That’s a shame, because this is an extremely satisfying action-comedy, one that still hasn’t fully received its due. Director Martin Brest, coming off the red-hot Beverly Hills Cop (and with the odious trio of Scent of a Woman, Meet Joe Black, and Gigli still to come), and scripter George Gallo fire on all cylinders in presenting this uproarious tale in which bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) tries to keep accountant Jonathan Mardukas (Charles Grodin) alive long enough to deliver him to a sleazy bail bondsman (Joe Pantoliano) — a near-impossible assignment since Mardukas was daft enough to embezzle from ruthless mob kingpin Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina). De Niro has rarely been this loose and likable on screen, while Grodin, cast in a role for which the studio wanted either Robin Williams or Cher, is brilliant as his constant foil. Danny Elfman’s excellent score is another asset.
4K UHD extras include a vintage making-of featurette; interviews with De Niro, Grodin, Pantoliano, and Gallo; and the theatrical trailer.
SHAZAM! FURY OF THE GODS (2023). My overall indifference to the superhero cinema of recent vintage continued with 2019’s Shazam!, which impressed most crix to the tune of a generous 90% RT score while only earning a mixed review from me. We’re on the same page with this sorry sequel, whose 49% Rotten seems fairly accurate. Helen Mirren is the latest Oscar-Winning Legend™ who figured she could make more moolah from one superhero saga than 10 prestige projects combined, so she’s on board as the goddess Hespera — along with her sisters Kalypso (Lucy Liu) and Anthea (it would be a spoiler to tell, although any reasonably bright 10-year-old will figure it out), she hopes to replant the Tree of Life (no word if Terrence Malick was a special consultant). So it’s up to foster kid Billy Batson (Asher Angel) to again call upon his adult alter ego Shazam (Zachary Levi) to save the day, joined by all the other foster kids and their heroic counterparts. Jack Dylan Grazer again amuses as wisecracking Freddy Freeman, and his scenes with the grouchy wizard (returning Djimon Hounsou) are the movie’s best. Everything else is overstuffed and overbearing, and this year’s award for Most Blatant Product Placement has already been claimed by Skittles (who knew unicorns loved them so?).
Extras in the 4K edition include audio commentary by director David F. Sandberg; deleted scenes; and scene deconstructions.
TARGETS (1968). Under the auspices of Roger Corman (serving as producer), Peter Bogdanovich made his sure-footed directorial debut with this tense drama and long-time cult favorite he co-wrote with his then-wife, production designer Polly Platt. Boris Karloff stars as Byron Orlok, an aging horror film star who wants to retire from the business because he feels that his movies can no longer compete with the terrors of everyday life. Proving his point, the picture tackles a second storyline that finds a clean-cut, all-American youth (Tim O’Kelly, whom Matt Damon eerily resembles) casually going on a shooting spree that leaves a number of innocent people dead. The movie’s focus on gun control (or lack thereof) makes it as timely today as it was 55 years ago — the sniper gets his hands on a whole arsenal of weapons about as easily as you or I can snag a pack of Dentyne — yet for film buffs, Targets‘ primary power derives from seeing Karloff in his last great role (he passed away the following year).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 2003) by Bogdanovich; a 2003 introduction to the film by Bogdanovich; and excerpts from a 1983 interview with Platt.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN (2003). In this largely fictionalized adaptation of Frances Mayes’ memoir, Diane Lane is wonderful as our heroine, who, on the heels of a nasty divorce, heads to Italy on a vacation arranged by her best friend (Sandra Oh, playing a character more suited to a network sitcom). There, she falls in love with the Tuscan countryside and on a whim purchases a dilapidated villa in need of dire restoration. But as she works on the house and becomes acquainted with the locals, she realizes there’s still one thing missing from her rapidly improving lot in life: amore. Under the Tuscan Sun largely plays out as one might expect, although the journey is so enjoyable that many viewers won’t mind being led down this familiar path once more. Lane’s heartfelt performance provides pools of depth to her character’s plight, and the supporting players are for the most part a finely drawn bunch, especially Vincent Riotta as a sympathetic realtor whose married status forces him to suppress his attraction to Frances and Lindsay Duncan as a flamboyant actress constantly rhapsodizing about the brief time she worked with Fellini. A warm and luminous film, Under the Tuscan Sun is perfect for a romantic summer night on the couch.
Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Beverly Hills Cop
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Thor: Love and Thunder
The Tree of Life
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