(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.)
- Beauty and the Beast (Photo: Disney)
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (1991). After approximately a quarter-century of middling animated fare that failed to match Walt Disney Pictures' earlier classics — let's face it, the likes of Robin Hood and The Aristocats can hardly compare to such masterpieces as Pinocchio and Lady and the Tramp — it took the release of The Little Mermaid in 1989 for the studio to finally be able to resurrect its fortunes and spearhead a new renaissance in animation. This was especially evident with its next release, the superb Beauty and the Beast. The first animated film to ever earn a Best Picture Oscar nomination, this is as good as anything ever produced by the studio — beautifully drawn and lavishly scored (it earned Oscars for Best Original Score and Best Original Song), it's an enchanting rendition of the timeless fairy tale about a cursed prince whose beastly visage can only be dissolved by the love of a woman. Belle (voiced by Paige O'Hara) remains one of the great heroines of modern cinema; Lumiere (Jerry Orbach) and Cogsworth (David Ogden Stiers) prove to be a great comedic duo; and I never grow tired of watching the boorish Gaston (Richard White) swagger across the screen.
The 25th Anniversary Edition contains three versions of the film: the original theatrical cut, the Special Edition (with a deleted musical sequence integrated back into the picture), and a sing-along version. Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes; a discussion between Beauty and the Beast composer Alan Menken and fellow Disney composers Stephen Schwartz (Pocahontas), Kristen Anderson-Lopez (Frozen), Robert Lopez (ditto) and Hamilton's Lin-Manuel Miranda (the upcoming Moana); a piece exploring Walt Disney's previous attempts to bring Beauty and the Beast to the screen; and an interview with O'Hara.
- Simone Simon in Cat People (Photo: Criterion)
CAT PEOPLE (1942). The first of producer Val Lewton's series of acclaimed horror films from the 1940s, Cat People remains a masterpiece of the genre: No less than Martin Scorsese has stated that the movie is "as important as Citizen Kane in the maturation of the American cinema." It was a commercial bonanza for RKO, earning a then-whopping $4 million return on its $134,000 shooting budget and paving the way for Lewton to retain creative control on his follow-up pictures. The alluring Simone Simon stars as Irena, an Eastern European immigrant who meets and marries an American architect (Kent Smith). Forced to remain celibate because of an ancestral curse that will turn her into a panther if her emotions are aroused, she grows jealous of her frustrated husband's attention toward a co-worker (Jane Randolph); this in turn leads to the movie's two classic set pieces, one involving Randolph's walk down a dark city street, the other focusing on her nocturnal swim at an indoor pool that's surrounded by menacing shadows and an even more menacing growl. Simon's Irena makes for one of the most tragic heroines ever seen on screen — a woman who, through no fault of her own, is deprived of the love she hungrily seeks. The movie's strong sexual currents and adult subject matter (when you get down to it, this is a film about impotence), amplified by ace director Jacques Tourneur and scripter DeWitt Bodeen, further lift it above the realm of the usual spook show. Cat People was followed two years later by the unusual but worthwhile The Curse of the Cat People; don't bother with the dopey 1982 remake, notable mainly for David Bowie's terrific song "Putting Out Fire."
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by film historian Gregory Mank; a 1977 interview with Tourneur; and the documentary Val Lewton: The Man in the Shadows.
- Matthew McConaughey in Free State of Jones (Photo: Universal & STX)
FREE STATE OF JONES (2016). Just as much history can be found in the eight minutes required to listen to Guns N' Roses' "Civil War" as can be derived from the 140 minutes necessary to watch this period effort which could easily have been named 2 Hours a Slog. Always earnest but only intermittently interesting, it suffers from ineffectual staging, a screenplay that's both cluttered and incomplete, and too many examples betraying the maxim of "show, don't tell." "I don't need your Civil War," warbled Axl Rose. "It feeds the rich while it buries the poor." That, in a nutshell, defines the mindset of Newton Knight (Matthew McConaughey), a Southern farmer who fights in the Confederate Army but soon comes to the realization that he and his fellow grunts are basically only spilling blood to protect the interests of the fat-cat slave owners. Thus, he opts to desert his outfit, emerging over time as Mississippi's own Robin Hood and fighting for the rights of the region's poor whites and enslaved blacks. This has the makings of an engrossing and important movie, more so since it neatly ties into today's troubles with the entitled one percent, with Trump's army of misguided yahoos, and with crushing racial prejudices. But the film is so poorly paced and constructed that its themes never take root in any significant manner, with too much scrolling text and a clumsily integrated subplot (involving a trial over miscegenation, taking place 85 years after the war) serving as but two of the culprits. McConaughey delivers a strong performance, but his character is one-note, with no flaws but plenty of didactic speeches — including a tone-deaf one in which he states that he and other poor whites are just as much "n*****s" as any black person (yes, because living in a dilapidated shack is absolutely no worse than being routinely chained, beaten, raped, castrated and lynched).
The only Blu-ray extra is a featurette on the history of Jones County.
- Gary Cooper in High Noon (Photo: Olive Films)
HIGH NOON (1952). A favorite of many U.S. presidents (including Bill Clinton) yet detested by (among others) John Wayne, Francois Truffaut and critic Andrew Sarris, High Noon has long been considered one of the greatest Westerns ever produced by Hollywood. Yet as several film scholars have noted, it's a movie disliked by many cineastes who otherwise love Westerns, with a primary gripe being that it's a social drama only masquerading as a dusty oater. I've always enjoyed the picture but also find it overrated, though the social drama isn't the reason: In fact, the film's standing as an allegory for the Communist witch hunts paralyzing Hollywood at the time is one of the most interesting things about it. Writer Carl Foreman, who would shortly become a victim of the blacklist, teamed with director Fred Zinnemann to craft this tight (85 minutes) tale about sheriff Will Kane (Gary Cooper), who, minutes after his wedding and retirement, learns that an old enemy has just been released from jail and is returning to town to join three others in gunning him down. Since the town owes Kane for cleaning up its lawlessness years earlier, he figures rounding up a posse won't be a problem; unfortunately, no one is willing to stand by his side. High Noon unfolds largely in real time, but it's the film's brevity that prevents it from soaring, since the stripped-down narrative generally allows only the widest of brush strokes when it comes to painting the characters and their situations. Cooper's performance is masterful, however, as is cinematographer Floyd Crosby's stark compositions. Nominated for seven Academy Awards (including Best Picture), this won four: Best Actor, Film Editing, Original Score, and Original Song for "High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darlin')."
Blu-ray extras on this Olive Signature (a new line from Olive Films) edition of High Noon include a visual essay on the film's production; a piece on the blacklist; and a look at producer Stanley Kramer.
- Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron in The Huntsman: Winter’s War (Photo: Universal)
THE HUNTSMAN: WINTER'S WAR (2016). The Huntsman: Winter's War is, of course, the follow-up to the 2012 sort-of-kind-of-maybe-a-hit Snow White and the Huntsman. While superior to that same year's other Snow White saga, the torturous Mirror Mirror, SW&TH was only so-so, a Tolkien wannabe that succeeded partially on its interesting interpretation of Snow White (effectively, if occasionally awkwardly, played by Kristen Stewart) and primarily on a terrific performance by Charlize Theron as the evil Queen Ravenna. With Stewart punished and booted out of the franchise for having an affair with the married director (showing we really haven't come that far since the shunning of Ingrid Bergman in the late 1940s/early '50s), the focus has shifted solely to the Huntsman, aka Eric (Chris Hemsworth), who, let's face it, was the dullest character in that first film. Here, we follow the hunk through what's initially a prequel before it settles into being a sequel. Eric is paired with Sara (Jessica Chastain), a fierce huntswoman and his one true love, as they battle Ravenna's sister Freya (Emily Blunt as a wicked version of Frozen's Elsa) and, eventually, a Ravenna who's been resurrected from the dead. As before, Theron dominates the proceedings; unfortunately, she has about as much screen time as the Jawas in Star Wars. Blunt's frigid queen is the only character who goes through anything resembling a character arc, but she's also sidelined for much of the film. The bulk instead focuses on the woodland adventures of Eric and Sara, and it makes for an exceedingly snoozy experience — narrative inertia sets in as these two bicker, battle a fakey CGI critter, bicker some more, team up with some spunky dwarfs, and finally make out a little bit.
The Blu-ray contains both the theatrical version and an extended cut that runs six minutes longer. Extras include audio commentary by director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
- Adam Baldwin in My Bodyguard (Photo: Kino)
MY BODYGUARD (1980) / GRANDVIEW, U.S.A. (1984). The Kino Lorber label serves up two '80s flicks centering on the travails of a teen protagonist, but while one is a genuine sleeper, the other is only a snoozer.
Opening during the summer of 1980, when most moviegoers were flocking to see the high-profile likes of The Empire Strikes Back, Airplane! and The Blues Brothers, My Bodyguard — a 90-pound cinematic weakling by comparison — nevertheless managed to ride a limited-release pattern and the attendant wave of fawning reviews to a decent box office score. Chris Makepeace plays Clifford, the new kid at a Chicago public school and a frequent target of the bullying Moody (Matt Dillon) and his sycophants. Clifford eventually acquires the services of hulking fellow student Ricky Linderman (Adam Baldwin) to protect him, but as their relationship develops, Clifford soon learns about the dark secret from his new friend's past. The script by Alan Ormsby (better known as the writer-star of Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things) never decides whether violence is the problem or the solution, but his teen protagonists feel real, and there's some additional interesting material focusing on Clifford's life as the son of a hotel manager (Martin Mull). Joan Cusack makes her film debut as Shelley, and look for future Cheers fixture George Wendt as a hotel handyman (and although she's unbilled, that's clearly future Flashdance star Jennifer Beals as one of the high school teens).
- C. Thomas Howell in Grandview, U.S.A. (Photo: Kino & CBS)
Unlike My Bodyguard, Grandview, U.S.A. was met with moviegoer disinterest and ended up flopping in theaters. C. Thomas Howell plays high school senior Tim Pearson, who develops a crush on the older Mike Cody (Jamie Lee Curtis), the owner of a local speedway where demolition derby smashups take place. The best driver competing in these events is Slam Webster (Patrick Swayze), who's married to the unfaithful Candy (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and still yearns for Mike after all these years. In addition to her guy problems, Mike also has to contend with the fact that Tim's father (Ramon Bieri), a local businessman and county commissioner, wants to swipe her land for his own capitalist ventures. Swayze manages to create some sympathy for his character, a hick struggling with marital and alcoholic woes, but everything else about this picture, from the tepid romantic triangle to the awkward music-video segments, barely rises above silly. Real-life siblings Joan and John Cusack appear as reel-life siblings, while former heartthrob Troy Donahue turns up as Candy's obnoxious lover.
Blu-ray extras on My Bodyguard consist of audio commentary by director Tony Bill and film programmer Jim Healy; the theatrical trailer; and TV spots. There are no extras on Grandview, U.S.A.
My Bodyguard: ***
Grandview, U.S.A.: **
- Seth Rogen in Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (Photo: Universal)
NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING (2016). The law of diminishing returns comes down with Mjölnir force on Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising, a needless sequel that feels even more needless than the usual needless sequel. The 2014 hit Neighbors found married couple and new parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne) having to contend with rowdy fraternity brothers who move in next door. This sequel ingeniously finds Mac and Kelly now having to contend with rowdy sorority sisters who move in next door. The leader of the college clique is Shelby (Chloë Grace Moretz), who understandably is upset with the sexist double standards that exist within the university Greek system and elects to create her own sorority house off campus. Mac and Kelly are initially losing the battle since the sisters are being aided by Teddy Sanders (Zac Efron), the frat rat who gave the Radners so much trouble the first time around. But once Teddy is forced to switch his allegiance, the battle lines are more clearly drawn and the sides more evenly matched. The notion of making a college-set comedy that tackles patriarchal norms among students sounds intriguing until one realizes that this film is even less progressive than such similar efforts as 2007's Sydney White and 2008's The House Bunny. Shelby and her friends are all painted as unreasonable and disloyal, and director Nicholas Stoller and his five (all-male) scripters believe that having the sorority sisters throw bloody tampons at a neighbor's window and rip the clothes off a middle-aged man are sterling examples of feminist empowerment. There are a few chuckles tossed like birdseed along the way, though not nearly enough.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by co-writer/director Nicholas Stoller and producer James Weaver; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
- Andy Samberg in Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (Photo: Universal)
POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (2016). When setting one's sights on a large and easy target that lends itself to ridicule — say, sleazy evangelists or Tea Party nutjobs or flash-in-the-pan boy bands — the satire has to be particularly sharp and the commentary especially astute; otherwise, it's all too unchallenging, all too facile, and all too forgettable. This mockumentary immediately falls victim to the obviousness and thereafter only works in small bursts of wit and wisdom. Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer (all three also sharing scripting credit) play the members of Style Boyz, a promising boy band that almost immediately gets derailed due to internal squabbles. Conner (Samberg), the group leader, is able to advance and become a superstar known as Conner4Real; as for the other Style Boyz, Owen (Taccone) becomes Conner's underutilized concert DJ while Lawrence (Schaffer) opts to quit show business altogether and try his hand at farming. Coming off a smash debut album, Conner expects equally great things from his sophomore effort; alas, it proves to be a critical and commercial bomb, and every p.r. stunt he performs in an effort to boost sales backfires spectacularly. A handful of bright spots are sprinkled throughout Popstar, but few have sticking power, and certainly nothing compares to the knowing laughs offered in Christopher Guest's string of celebrated mockumentaries. Samberg, Taccone and Schaffer are all earnest if not especially funny, but Tim Meadows has some nice moments as the lads' manager. Some susceptible scribes described Popstar as "the new This is Spinal Tap," but don't believe it for one second. Spinal Tap was able to turn the knob up to 11 — with Popstar, 4 on the dial is the best one can reasonably expect.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone; deleted scenes; a gag reel; and several music videos.
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Photo: Paramount)
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (2016). When I covered this film for its theatrical premiere, my entire review consisted of only one line: "It is what it is." I was able to muster a few more words in my Summer Wrap article looking at the highs and lows of the season, handing it, uh, honors for Worst Lame-Ass Heroine (April O'Neil, played by Megan Fox), Least Dynamic Duo (Rocksteady and Bebop, respectively portrayed by Sheamus and Gary Anthony Williams), and Worst Film, Wide Release. Beyond that, what else is there to say about this turtle-shelled turkey, a movie that couldn't even excite enough people stateside to recoup its budget? (Costing $135 million, it grossed $81 million, though it was rescued from being a complete disaster via international box office.) A sequel to 2014's equally dismal Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, this headache-inducing inanity again finds the four pizza-loving misfits — Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) — joining with April, Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) and new kid on the block Casey Jones (dull Stephen Amell) to combat arch-nemesis Shredder (Brian Tee) and new threat Krang (Brad Garrett). Michael Bay (who produced) has become as much of a brand name as, say, Starbucks or Ikea, and those expecting sound and fury signifying nothing will receive exactly that.
The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack comes with reversible turtle masks featuring all four colors. Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; a piece on the visual effects; and a look inside the Turtles' van.
- Sherilyn Fenn and Kyle MacLachlan in Twin Peaks (Photo: Paramount & CBS)
TWIN PEAKS (1990-1991). Basically prime-time television for people who don't like prime-time television, Twin Peaks was one of the most heavily hyped shows of its decade (of all time?), and for the first season, it lived up to the advance buzz. Not since "Who shot J.R.?" had TV asked a question as compelling as "Who killed Laura Palmer?" David Lynch's startling series brought big-screen innovation (and the director's patented eccentricities) to the boob tube with a murder-mystery that found FBI Agent Dale Cooper (an excellent Kyle MacLachlan) sleuthing in the title town, a place as notable for its oddball citizenry as its killer cherry pie. The first season was far more focused than the second, which meandered after Laura's murderer was IDed; as a result of plummeting ratings, the show was abruptly canceled with countless plotlines still unresolved. But rather than doing the right thing for the fans and providing a two-hour flick (either theatrical or TV) to wrap up the show, Lynch instead elected to film the ungainly and unnecessary prequel, 1992's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Now, of course, all should (hopefully) be answered with the new series arriving on Showtime in 2017. That first season was nominated for a generous 14 Emmy Awards, though when it came time to cast their ballots, timid voters predictably shied away from it, awarding it only two technical prizes (and neither for Angelo Badalamenti's haunting score; ridiculous). MacLachlan, Piper Laurie (as Catherine Martell) and Sherilyn Fenn (Audrey Horne) were the only actors receiving Emmy nods, although other cast standouts include Richard Beymer (Ben Horne) and Ray Wise (Leland Palmer).
The 10-disc set from two years ago has now been shed of one disc, repackaged, and offered at a lower price. The new set contains the entire original series (with both the U.S. and international pilots) and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Blu-ray extras include various making-of pieces; cast and crew interviews; and deleted scenes.
- Van Johnson, Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball in Yours, Mine and Ours (Photo: Olive Films & MGM)
YOURS, MINE AND OURS (1968). Forget the 2005 version starring Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo, as that 1-star debacle was awful enough to land on my 10 Worst list for that year (sharing space with the likes of Uwe Boll's Alone in the Dark and that dreadful Paris Hilton remake of House of Wax). For the real deal, check out the 1968 original, one of its year's biggest hits and, incredibly, based on a true story. Lucille Ball stars as Helen North, a widow with eight children, while Henry Fonda plays Frank Beardsley, a widower with 10 children. Immediately attracted to each other, they begin dating, each reluctant to let the other know just how many rugrats are residing under their respective roofs. Despite initial resistance from most of the kids, they do eventually get married, and they try to best ascertain how to smoothly run a household that contains a whopping 18 children. Ball and Fonda are perfectly cast in this delightful family film, and Tom Bosley (later Mr. Cunningham on TV's Happy Days) amuses in a small role as the wry family doctor. The young actors are well-chosen as well, with a few headed toward sustained careers in film and television — these include National Lampoon's Animal House's Tim Matheson (billed as Tim Matthieson), Father Dowling Mysteries' Tracy Nelson, Dallas' Morgan Brittany (billed as Suzanne Cupito), and Gary Goetzman, who subsequently turned to producing and won Emmy Awards for Game Change, Band of Brothers, and more.
The only extra on the Blu-ray is the theatrical trailer.
- Blood Simple (Photo: Criterion)
Short and Sweet:
BLOOD SIMPLE (1985). Not just noteworthy as the first picture written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, this excellent neo-noir also stands as an important film in the development of the American independent cinema during the 1980s. Frances McDormand also makes her debut here, playing the wife of a sleazy bar owner (Dan Hedaya), while character actor M. Emmet Walsh lands the role of his career as an immoral private detective working his own agenda after he's hired by the aforementioned bar owner to murder his wife and her lover (John Getz).
Blu-ray extras include a conversation between the Coens and cinematographer Barry Sonnenfeld (who would graduate to becoming a director in his own right, with the likes of Get Shorty and Men in Black under his belt); a conversation between the Coens and author Dave Eggers; and interviews with McDormand, Walsh, composer Carter Burwell and sound mixer Skip Lievsay.
- Lon Chaney Jr. in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (Photo: Universal)
FRANKENSTEIN: THE COMPLETE LEGACY COLLECTION (1931-1948) / THE WOLF MAN: THE COMPLETE LEGACY COLLECTION (1935-1948). Universal is finally bringing more of its classic monster movies to Blu-ray, always a worthy undertaking. The Frankenstein set contains all eight pictures involving Mary Shelley's monstrous creation, including 1931's Frankenstein and 1935's The Bride of Frankenstein (both starring Boris Karloff), while The Wolf Man edition contains all seven lycanthrope yarns, including 1941's The Wolf Man (starring Lon Chaney Jr.). Be warned, though, that unlike the previous DVD sets, these contain several overlapping films that feature both creatures (such as 1948's Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentaries; making-of featurettes; and theatrical trailers.
Movies: Various ratings, topping out at **** for The Bride of Frankenstein and The Wolf Man
- Jeanne Carmen and John Harmon in The Monster of Piedras Blancas (Photo: Olive Films & Paramount)
THE MONSTER OF PIEDRAS BLANCAS (1958). Inspired by 1954's Creature from the Black Lagoon, this low-budget chiller similarly finds a murderous sea dweller making life miserable for the hapless humans who cross his path. In this case, it's the residents of a small coastal town, including the grumpy lighthouse keeper (John Harmon), his grown daughter (Jeanne Carmen), her boyfriend (Don Sullivan), and the local doctor (Les Tremayne) and sheriff (Forrest Lewis). A couple of gory moments are particularly shocking for the time, and I personally found the monster design more impressive than did the film's many detractors. Still, some clumsy plotting (especially toward the end) and an overly familiar template render this no more than average. Spoiler Alert: The dog dies, for those who want to steel themselves ahead of time.
There are no extras on the Blu-ray.