(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon in The Hundred-Foot Journey (Photo: Disney)
THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY (2014). Films that place more of an emphasis on lovingly photographing culinary treats over anything else are often tagged "food porn," and The Hundred-Foot Journey is the latest example of this mouth-watering sub-genre. But if towering works like Babette's Feast and Eat Drink Man Woman register as the James Deen and Jenna Jameson equivalents, then this picture comes across more like the category's Ron Jeremy, clumsily getting the job done but best ignored in the long run. The veteran Indian actor Om Puri plays Papa, who, following the death of his wife, relocates his family from Mumbai to Europe, finally settling on a small village in France. There, he opens an Indian eatery, ignoring the fact that it's directly across the street from a Michelin-starred restaurant run by the fussy Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren). Naturally, these two will squabble until the plot requires them to soften up, and just as naturally, there's a budding romance between one of Papa's sons (adorable Manish Dayal) and one of Madame Mallory's cooks (equally adorable Charlotte Le Bon). It's all very predictable but also all very pleasant, at least until the movie makes a wrong turn by shuttling a character off to Paris, where he learns (just like Dorothy!) that there's no place like home. The clunky Parisian sequences disturb the heretofore graceful flow of the piece (a guest appearance by Ratatouille's Remy might have helped), but all is not lost. Even at the very end, director Lasse Hallström never stops arousing our taste buds with succulent shots of orgasmic eats.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; a piece in which producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey discuss the movie; footage from an on-set visit by Winfrey; and a demonstration of how to make coconut chicken.
(Photo: Shout! Factory)
MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000: VOLUME XXXI (2014). Who's ready for Thanksgiving leftovers? If you didn't purchase the most recent MST3K set (Volume XXXI, aka The Turkey Day Collection) in time for T-Day, have no fear. It will make a great present for yourself when December 25 rolls around, although no one would blame you for tearing into your own gift a few weeks ahead of time.
The most interesting aspect of Jungle Goddess (movie made in 1948, featured on MST3K in 1990) is that it co-stars George Reeves, who would become famous for playing the Man of Steel for six years on TV's Adventures of Superman during the 1950s, and Ralph Byrd, famous for portraying Dick Tracy in movies, serials and on TV over a 15-year stretch (both actors would also die tragically young, Reeves at 45 and Byrd at 43). Otherwise, this cheapie about a blonde beauty (Wanda McKay) who improbably becomes the leader of an African tribe is memorable only for providing the Satellite of Love crew with ample fodder. The episode's best SOL skit finds Joel showing the Bots the different types of "scopes" employed in movies, including the periscope, the Scopes Monkey Trial scope and even a Driving Miss Daisy scope.
The universally adored Lassie at the receiving end of MST3K wisecracks? Say it ain't so! And yet here's the popular canine star appearing in The Painted Hills (movie made in 1951, featured on MST3K in 1993). The film plays like a cut-rate version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as an old prospector (Paul Kelly), with his faithful dog Shep at his side, has to contend with greed and murder after striking it rich. The pop-culture references come fast and furious (That Girl, Carnival of Souls, and everything in between), and, as usual, our SOL hosts teach us a bit of history in the process. Did you know that President Rutherford B. Hayes was one of the original members of ZZ Top?
The marquee attraction may be the feature film The Screaming Skull (movie made in 1958, featured on MST3K in 1998), but it's the preceding short that makes this episode. The 1957 cartoon Robot Rumpus finds Gumby and Pokey (yes, of course that Gumby and Pokey) panicking as their robot servants end up destroying the entire household. Crow and Servo are naturally scarred from watching the gruesome ways in which the robots are brought down. As for The Screaming Skull, it's a listless horror yarn about a bride (Peggy Webber) haunted by the title terror. Any episode in which Mike and co. manage to name-drop Benny Hill and the team of Wallace and Gromit has plenty going for it, and this one doesn't disappoint. Trivia note: In Creative Loafing's 2011 Halloween cover story in which noteworthy Charlotteans revealed which horror films terrified them the most, this was the pick of former CL editor Mark Kemp, who had seen it at the impressionable age of 7.
Squirm (movie made in 1976, featured on MST3K in 1999) marks the second time in mere weeks that a version of this film was released on disc, as the original (snark-free) version hit the streets just before Halloween (and also from Shout! Factory). As I wrote in that review, "Squirm is one of those above-average films that didn't really deserve to be skewered by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang," and that assertion still stands. In this penultimate episode of MST3K before its demise, the film is mercilessly edited for length and for gore (thus removing Rick Baker's impressive makeup effects), resulting in a final edit that renders the picture choppy and full of plotholes. Still, the gang gets off some zingers (Eraserhead and Deliverance cracks among them), and the material surrounding the opening short, 1940's A Case of Spring Fever (starring Coily the spring sprite), is especially choice.
And a footnote for those keeping score: With the release of this set, 90 episodes have now been released on DVD by Shout! Factory. Since the number of shows totals 176, that now puts us a sliver past the halfway mark. The first Shout! set was released in November 2008, so if this pace continues, we can expect to have the whole series (barring any legal holdups) come November 2020.
DVD extras include Turkey Day introductions by Joel Hodgson; a look at Turkey Day through the years; a making-of piece on The Screaming Skull; and an interview with Squirm star Don Scardino.
Warren Oates in The Shooting (Photo: Criterion)
THE SHOOTING (1966) / RIDE IN THE WHIRLWIND (1966). Like so many other filmmakers, actor Jack Nicholson and director Monte Hellman cut their teeth making movies for Roger Corman, and here are a pair that were filmed simultaneously in just a span of six weeks. Atypical for Corman productions — they wallowed in existential angst rather than genre thrills — these two Westerns had a troubled release history but eventually became cult items, of a piece with Hellman's 1971 Two-Lane Blacktop (like this twofer, a Criterion Collection release).
Produced by Hellman and Nicholson and written by Carole Eastman (Five Easy Pieces), The Shooting is a cryptic, almost dreamlike (nightmarish?) drama in which a pair of cowboys, the sharp Gashade (Warren Oates) and the dimwitted Coley (Will Hutchins), agree to escort an unnamed woman (Millie Perkins) in her quest to, as Gashade figures, "kill someone." Frequently cruel and always manipulative, the woman seems cut from the finest femme fatale/film noir cloth, yet even she's saintly when compared to Billy Spear (Nicholson), the sneering hired gun who joins the outfit. Oates and Perkins are excellent in this unusual oater with an abrupt ending certain to thrill some viewers while infuriating others.
Jack Nicholson in Ride in the Whirlwind (Photo: Criterion)
In addition to his acting and producing duties, Nicholson also wrote the screenplay for Ride in the Whirlwind, which isn't as surreal as The Shooting but retains that picture's gritty feel and downbeat demeanor. Nicholson, Cameron Mitchell and Tom Filer star as three honest cowhands who become poster children for the "wrong place, wrong time" axiom when they spend the night on the property of a gang of thieves led by Blind Dick (Harry Dean Stanton, billed here as Dean Stanton). When a bloodthirsty vigilante mob swoops down in the morning, the innocent cowpokes get lumped in with the guilty criminals, and suddenly the trio finds itself on the lam. Perkins also turns up here, playing a young woman whose family gets swept up in the sordid ordeal.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary on both films by Hellman and film historians Bill Krohn and Blake Lucas; separate conversations between Hellman and others involved with the films, including Corman, Perkins, Stanton and assistant director Gary Kurtz (who would go on to produce American Graffiti and the first two Star Wars flicks); an interview with Hutchins; and a video appreciation of Oates.
Both Movies: ***
Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 22 Jump Street (Photo: Sony & CBS Films)
22 JUMP STREET (2014). There really wasn't any reason to expect good things from 22 Jump Street, since a sequel to the 2012 hit (itself based on the 80s TV show) would doubtless be just a repeat of what had gone on before. Well, yes and no. The film does follow the pattern of its predecessor, but the film's four writers (including co-star Jonah Hill) work overtime to ensure that the majority of the gags are fresh and that the recycled ones are given enough of an extra spin to make viewers laugh all over again. Hill and Channing Tatum return as undercover cops Schmidt and Jenko, only now they're too old to successfully pass themselves off as high school students as they search for the makers of a deadly drug that's causing kids to OD. The solution? They must successfully pass themselves off as college students as they search for the makers of another deadly drug that's causing kids to OD. It sounds like Lazy Screenwriting 101, and the potential for the self-referential humor to fall drastically flat is huge (see: Seth MacFarlane's A Million Ways to Die in the West). Yet from the start, with a "Previously on 21 Jump Street" tease, Hill and his co-writers find ways to perk up the predictable. Ice Cube, the first picture's stealth weapon of wit, is just as hilarious here, reprising his role as the grouchy Captain Dickson, while The Lucas Brothers, aka stand-up comedians Kenny and Keith, quietly steal scenes as pothead siblings who finish each other's sentences. After two funny flicks, the prospect of a 23 Jump Street seems more like a favor than a threat.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Hill, Tatum and directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller; a making-of piece; deleted and extended scenes (22 of them; coincidence or not?); a look at the casting; the humorous "dramatic interpretation of 22 Jump Street" (basically, the film with all the comedy cut out!); and the ever-popular Line-O-Ramas.