(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what's new on Blu-ray, DVD and Streaming. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)
BAMBI (1942). Is it absolutely monstrous not to consider the beloved Bambi one of the very best of Disney's 50-plus animated features? Arriving in the first wave of the studio's cherished big-screen output, this saga about a young deer's maturation contains neither the dark complexity of Pinocchio nor the perfect humor-heartbreak mix of Dumbo — though it definitely deserves some sort of mention for the emotional devastation caused when "Man" takes out Bambi's mom, a seminal cinematic moment for children that surpasses even the fate of Old Yeller (or, for younger viewers, Marley). Where the picture most triumphs is in its vision of nature and the inevitability of change, growth, and the cycle beginning anew each season. Walt Disney elected to use real children to provide the voices of the youthful characters (as opposed to the usual course of adults pretending to be kids), and this decision makes the oversized "acting" often difficult to take. But the characters are all genuinely likable, from Friend Owl to Flower the skunk to the scene-stealing Thumper the rabbit. Bambi earned a trio of Oscar nominations for Best Music Score, Best Song (“Love Is a Song”) and Best Sound Recording.
Blu-ray extras — some brought over from the previous Blu-ray incarnation, some new for this Walt Disney Signature Collection edition — include a making-of featurette; an interactive exploration of Walt's story meetings for Bambi (featuring interviews, voice reenactments, cartoons and more); deleted scenes; the deleted song “Twitterpated”; a piece on the film’s influence on subsequent animated productions; facts about various forest animals; and the animated shorts Africa Before Dark (starring Oswald the Lucky Rabbit) and The Old Mill.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (2017). Admittedly, a live-action version of 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, one of Disney’s all-time great animated features, sounded like nothing more than a cash-grab, an easy way for the studio to make a mint off of gift-wrapped nostalgia. What’s truly wondrous is that this new Beauty and the Beast is a powerful piece in its own right, with everyone involved shedding copious amounts of blood, sweat and candle wax to produce a picture that illuminates rather than tarnishes the legacy. The plot remains fundamentally unchanged from the ’91 model, and the narrative diversions that have been added along the way are acceptable and sometimes even manage to enhance particular points from its predecessor. While some great individual moments don’t survive the transition — I particularly missed the “If it’s not baroque, don’t fix it” line, which never fails to amuse me — what is transferred unencumbered is a true sense of enchantment and an even truer sense of romance. Starting with Emma Watson, who proves to be absolutely luminous as Belle, the cast is top-flight straight down the line. If there’s a complaint to be lodged against the film, it’s that the new songs — doubtless added to snag an Oscar nomination or two — don’t compare to the original tunes and occasionally slow down the proceedings. But in most other respects, from the vibrant visual sheen to the enormous emotional pull, this picture doesn’t disappoint. To be sure, it’s no match for the animated take, which belongs in a special class all by itself. Yet on its own terms, it manages to return a splash of magic to the movies, even if only momentarily.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; a sing-along version of the film; deleted scenes; and the “Beauty and the Beast” music video by Ariana Grande and John Legend.
DARK HARVEST (1990) / ESCAPES (1986). The Intervision label serves up two SOV cheapies on one DVD disc, but I daresay it buried the lead. The showcase title is Dark Harvest, while Escapes is relegated to a bonus banner on the bottom of the cover. But the former only has murderous scarecrows, while the latter includes the great Vincent Price.
Admittedly, Price is barely in Escapes, but then again, the same can be said about the scarecrows in Dark Harvest. The majority of the film centers on a bunch of bickering couples partaking in an outdoor excursion – it’s only after they’re lost that they encounter a pitchfork-wielding scarecrow, a wimpy scarecrow who gets taken out as easily as a barroom drunk, a “gay scarecrow” (as per the closing credits), a scarecrow who cracks wise like Freddy Krueger, and so on. The local rednecks who pop up occasionally are more frightening than the supernatural scarecrows, but the wretched acting is scariest of all.
Escapes, meanwhile, is an anthology film in which Price serves as the host for the opening and closing segments. Price’s lair in these bookend scenes is imaginatively designed, but the shorts themselves aren’t particularly memorable. Among the yarns: A small boy contends with the hobgoblin living under a bridge; a fisherman has the tables turned on him; and a portly jogger experiences a close encounter in the woods.
Neither film approaches anything resembling quality, but Dark Harvest receives credit for being the sort of movie that’s fun to watch with inebriated friends while Escapes gets bonus points for stirring those nostalgic juices by featuring one of those top-loader VCR players that were roughly the size of Buicks.
DVD extras consist of interviews with Dark Harvest co-stars Patti Negri and Dan Weiss, and a discussion of Escapes writer-director David Steensland by distributor Tom Naygrow.
Both Movies: *1/2
LAND OF MINE (2016). An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, the Danish import Land of Mine is a movie that affects the stomach even more than the heart or the head. Set in the immediate aftermath of World War II, it centers on a group of German soldiers tasked with removing all 45,000 mines that were buried along a Danish coastline in anticipation of an allied invasion that ended up not occurring there. Since the Germans were the ones who placed the bombs there in the first place, it stands to reason that they should be the ones risking their lives to remove it (“Better them than us,” notes one Danish officer nodding in the direction of the lads). In a just world, it would be members of the German high command who would have to manually defuse and dispose of all the mines – of course, this isn’t such a world, so those assigned the unenviable task are teenage boys who had nothing to do with the sickening strategy and who only want to return home to their moms. Indeed, that’s the deal given to these POWs (who number less than a dozen): Rid the beach of all 45,000 mines — a task that will take about three months — and they’re free to return to Germany. Land of Mine targets the head with its messy morality. Certainly, someone has to clean the beaches, and if not these Germans, then who? The heart, meanwhile, is targeted through the various characters — specifically, Carl Rasmussen (Roland Møller), the Danish sergeant in charge of supervising the prisoners, and Sebastian Schumann (Louis Hofmann), the natural leader among the kids. As for the stomach, it’s affected for practically all of the film’s 100 minutes. The gut knots up every time one of these kids puts his hands on one of the land mines, since director Martin Zandvliet doesn’t shy away from showing the gruesome results of an activated bomb.
The only extra on the DVD is a discussion with Zandvliet.
THE MAN IN THE MOON (1991). Robert Mulligan, best known for directing the 1962 masterpiece To Kill a Mockingbird (and who later examined further coming-of-age capers with 1971’s Summer of ’42), ended his career with another period tale centering on the hardships of growing up. Here, it’s 1957 Louisiana, and two teenage girls — 14-year-old Dani Trant (Reese Witherspoon) and her 17-year-old sister Maureen (Emily Warfield) — encounter sibling strife once they both fall for their new neighbor, 17-year-old Court Foster (Jason London). Witherspoon’s film debut is one for the ages, with the future A-lister and Oscar winner delivering a terrific performance as an intelligent but awkward girl coming to terms with her own burgeoning feelings – there isn’t a single second when viewers aren’t acutely attuned to her thoughts and emotions. Jenny Wingfield’s screenplay is so strong at developing Witherspoon’s character as well as Dani’s relationships with the other family members (Warfield plus Sam Waterston as Dad and Tess Harper as Mom) that it’s easy to forgive the heavy-handed developments that occasionally knock the film off its track during the second half (including a ferocious storm that suggests Dorothy and Miss Gulch might soon be making cameo appearances). The shimmering cinematography is by two-time Oscar winner Freddie Francis (Glory, Sons and Lovers), while the score by eight-time Oscar nominee James Newton Howard (The Prince of Tides, The Fugitive) nicely captures the sun-dappled scenario.
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and an isolated track of Howard’s score.
YEAR OF THE COMET (1992). When Year of the Comet was initially released, the publicity surrounding the film focused on the fact that it marked William Goldman’s first original screenplay since his Oscar-winning one for 1969’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (in the interim, he wrote approximately a dozen adaptations, among them The Stepford Wives, Misery and All the President’s Men, the latter for which he won a second Academy Award). Yet such a ballyhooed distinction failed to impress either the critics or the moviegoing public, leading Goldman to frequently complain that the picture failed because no one out there cared about red wine. Sounds like sour (and pressed?) grapes to me – having caught the advance screening back in the day and revisiting it now on Blu-ray, the film remains what it has always been: a harmless but hopelessly bland romantic comedy with a few tepid thriller elements thrown in for good measure. Two vanilla performers, Penelope Ann Miller and Tim Daly, are likable if lackadaisical as a pair of gently combative Americans in pursuit of a priceless bottle of wine that once belonged to Napoleon. Also giving chase is a Scottish ex-con (Nick Brimble), a suave Greek henchman (Art Malik), and a diabolical Frenchman (Louis Jourdan) who, despite his Gallic background, admits to preferring beer over wine. Jourdan, in his final film (his first, The Paradine Case, was reviewed in this column just last week), is at the center of a half-baked subplot (it involves a youth serum) that leads directly into the wince-inducing climax. For a far superior movie about wine – and one that did have people caring – stick with Sideways instead.
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and an isolated track of Hummie Mann’s score.
Short And Sweet:
FUTURE SHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD (2014). The turbulent history of 2000 AD, the upstart British comic that began in 1977 and continues today, is detailed in this highly entertaining, hugely informative but occasionally repetitive documentary. Neil Gaiman and Grant Morrison are among those interviewed, and subjects of discussion include the controversial publication’s rise during the Thatcher era (one strip even showed the vile P.M. being summarily executed), the exodus of many talented writers and artists to Marvel and DC, the screen versions of the comic’s popular Judge Dredd (obvious conclusion: Stallone’s Judge Dredd sucked, Karl Urban’s Dredd rocked), the struggle for female representation, and the temper of co-founder and former editor Pat Mills.
Blu-ray extras include extended sequences; extended interviews with Gaiman and others; a blooper reel; and trailers.
MAN OF LA MANCHA (1972). One of the notorious bombs that helped to weaken the movie musical in the early 1970s (others included Lost Horizon, Mame and At Long Last Love), this cinematic version of the Broadway sensation is an ugly and unseemly adaptation that primarily suffers from Arthur Hiller’s typically ham-fisted directorial style. As Miguel de Cervantes and his literary creation Don Quixote, Peter O’Toole produces buckets of flop sweat to wavering returns, while Sophia Loren is miscast as Dulcinea and James Coco underwhelms in the part of Sancho Panza. The set design is commendable (particularly in the dungeon scenes) but also points out the difficulty in successfully expanding such a claustrophobic stage piece into a widescreen splendor.
Blu-ray extras consist of a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette; a photo montage; and the theatrical trailer.
TOUGH GUYS (1986). Frequent screen co-stars Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are delightful in their final picture together, portraying two pals just released from prison after serving a 30-year stretch for robbing a train. Under the sympathetic eye of their parole officer (Dana Carvey), they attempt to ease back into the world with grace and dignity, only to find that society has little use or respect for men their age. Douglas is especially entertaining as the two tough guys contend with ‘80s-era oddities, and the script makes some strong points about this nation’s awful treatment of its elders. But after an engaging hour, the movie drastically loses it way, culminating in a final act that solves nothing and ends abruptly.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director Jeff Kanew and theatrical trailers for several other films starring Lancaster and/or Douglas, including Run Silent, Run Deep (Burt), The Vikings (Kirk), and The Devil’s Disciple (both).
WHO’LL STOP THE RAIN (1978). Like the same year’s more celebrated Vietnam War endeavors The Deer Hunter and Coming Home, this assured adaptation of Robert Stone’s Dog Soldiers similarly examines the effects of the war on not only those who served but also those remained stateside. Nick Nolte, only two years removed from his formidable, star-making turn on the landmark TV miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, is excellent as Ray Hicks, a returning vet who agrees to help his buddy John (the always-interesting Michael Moriarty) smuggle heroin from Saigon to San Francisco. It’s supposed to be a smooth hand-off from Ray to John’s wife Marge (Tuesday Weld); instead, Ray and Marge find themselves being pursued by a crooked DEA officer (Anthony Zerbe) and his two twitchy stooges (Richard Masur and Ray Sharkey).
Blu-ray extras include an interview with supervising editor John Bloom and an isolated track of Laurence Rosenthal’s score.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
(Recommended films currently available on streaming services)
AND THEN THERE WERE NONE (1945). This early adaptation of Agatha Christie's classic play, itself based on the author's celebrated novel Ten Little Indians, is the best of the numerous screen versions that have made their way to movie theaters over the years (including a 1989 production so threadbare, the makers had to cast Frank Stallone — Frank Stallone, for God's sake — as the hero). The plot is familiar to practically everyone who has ever held a book in their hands: Ten people are invited by a mysterious host to gather on a secluded island, where they're then murdered one by one. Before long, it's suspected that one of the guests is also the killer, but which one? There's the dashing adventurer Philip Lombard (Louis Hayward), the soft-spoken beauty Vera Claythorne (June Duprez), the suspicious detective Blore (Roland Young), the sagacious Judge Quinncannon (Barry Fitzgerald), the hard-drinking Dr. Armstrong (Walter Huston), the religious spinster Emily Brent (Judith Anderson), the elderly General Mandrake (Sir C. Aubrey Smith), the reckless playboy Prince Starloff (Mischa Auer) and, as befits any good old-fashioned mystery, the butler (Richard Haydn) and his wife (Queenie Leonard). Thanks to director René Clair and scripter Dudley Nichols, this version contains more humor than any other adaptation, but that never detracts from the story's inherent suspense or the superb twists initially concocted by Christie. All of the performers do fine work, although it's top-billed stars Fitzgerald and Huston who expectedly dominate the proceedings. (Amazon Prime)