(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.)
GOLD (1974). A far better bet than 2016’s moribund Matthew McConaughey vehicle Gold, this one is an adaptation of bestselling author Wilbur Smith’s novel Gold Mine. Sandwiched between the releases of Roger Moore’s initial two outings as 007 (1973’s Live and Let Die and 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun), Gold finds the actor cast as Rod Slater, the most respected onsite manager working at a renowned South African mine owned by industrialist Hurry Hirschfeld (Ray Milland). Unbeknownst to either Slater or Hirschfeld, company director Manfred Steiner (Bradford Dillman), who also happens to be married to Hirschfeld’s daughter Terry (Susannah York), is plotting with a shadowy cabal of financiers (cue a purring John Gielgud as the head honcho) to destroy the mine in order to drive global gold prices upward and thus fatten the wallets of all involved. They decide that Slater will serve as their unsuspecting fall guy, a sound scheme since he’s generally MIA as he embarks on an affair with Terry. A bigger hit in Europe than the US (where it was barely released theatrically), this benefits from director Peter Hunt’s able handling of the tense mining sequences as well as engaging performances from the entire cast (including South African actor Simon Sabela as the courageous miner affectionately known as “Big King”). The Elmer Bernstein-Don Black composition “Wherever Love Takes Me” (warbled by Maureen McGovern) earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Song, but it’s not very good – more memorable (certainly more robust) is the title tune (sung by Jimmy Helms), also penned by Bernstein-Black.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson, and the theatrical trailer.
JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM (2018). Given the general slipshod quality of the franchise since the excellent original, it’s not saying much to note that this entry is arguably the best of the four follow-ups to date. Dinosaurs became extinct once before — should we allow them to do so again, or should we strive to save them? It’s an interesting question that’s posed from the start of the film, as Isla Nublar, the island that houses the dinosaurs (as well as the now-abandoned Jurassic theme park), is about to be demolished by an erupting volcano. Claire Dearing (returning Bryce Dallas Howard) wants the animals rescued and is thrilled when wealthy industrialist Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell) contacts her with an offer to save them by transporting them off the island to a secluded new home. Lockwood has his reasons and means well, but the same can’t be said of his underlings, who instead have decided to make money off the creatures. For her part, Dearing recruits former flame Owen Grady (returning Chris Pratt) to aid in the rescue operation, but with double-crosses the order of the day, nothing goes as planned. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is a picture that operates in fits and starts, with draggy interludes repeatedly and reluctantly giving way to more energized sequences. Certainly, the opening half-hour is one of the most lumbering stretches, with so much time spent on overstuffed exposition that one suspects the filmmakers had a four-part miniseries in mind when putting this together. The movie roars to life once the duplicity of the villains overtakes the nobility of the heroes, and the second half resembles nothing so much as a haunted house opus, with dinosaurs instead of ghosts primed to leap out from the dark shadows.
Blu-ray extras include over an hour of making-of featurettes, including pieces on the characters and the visual effects.
MY MAN GODFREY (1936). Trivial Pursuit Department: William Powell starred in both 1936’s Libeled Lady, which received an Oscar nomination for Best Picture and absolutely nothing else, and the same year’s My Man Godfrey, which earned six major nominations for Best Director, Best Screenplay and all four acting categories but, absurdly, failed to earn a nod for Best Picture. Honestly, both movies deserved to be competing for the Academy’s top prize — in the case of My Man Godfrey, its merits mainly come from watching its splendid cast at work. Powell plays Godfrey, a “forgotten man” (i.e. homeless person) who’s snatched up from the ramshackle shacks at the city dump by flighty socialite Irene Bullock (Carole Lombard) and given a position as the butler for her wealthy family. Godfrey soon becomes acquainted with all the members of the household: gruff patriarch Alexander Bullock (Eugene Pallette), his nattering wife Angelica (Alice Brady), their casually cruel daughter (and Irene’s older sister) Cornelia (Gail Patrick), Angelica’s freeloading protegee Carlo (Mischa Auer), and the Bullocks’ sensible maid Molly (Jean Dixon). Naturally, Godfrey isn’t quite what he seems, and, just as naturally, he ends up teaching the Bullocks some valuable life lessons along the way. This scintillating comedy was the first film to be Oscar-nominated in all four acting categories, with Powell and Lombard in the leading slots and Brady and Auer in the supporting classifications — sadly missing out was Pallette, who’s an absolute riot as the comparatively most “normal” member of the Bullock family.
Blu-ray extras consist of outtakes; a piece on the movie by critic Gary Giddins; an interview with critic Nick Pinkerton on director Gregory La Cava; the 1938 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of the film; newsreel footage from the Great Depression; and the theatrical trailer.
SID CAESAR: THE WORKS (2018). Sid Caesar was not only one of the first stars who made his mark in television, he was such a permanent fixture on the boob tube that it’s rare to find a year from the first half-century of the medium when he wasn’t appearing somewhere on the small screen. But it was the earliest years that found the legendary comedian hosting a number of hit variety series, the most popular of which remains Your Show of Shows (1950-1954). Over the years, on that program and beyond, Caesar worked alongside such up-and-coming wordsmiths as Mel Brooks, Neil Simon and Woody Allen, and his brand of humor and his fondness for skits, satires and movie parodies remain influential even today. This invaluable box set from Shout! Factory brings together much of his most enduring and endearing material from his lengthy career – too much, in fact, to list here. But let’s hit some of the highlights, shall we? There’s the 1973 theatrical feature Ten from Your Show of Shows, which brought together several classic sketches from the legendary series that showcased the talents of Caesar and co-stars Carl Reiner, Imogene Coca and Howard Morris. There are additional skits from not only Your Show of Shows but also Caesar’s other hit programs, The Admiral Broadway Revue (1949, and reportedly only cancelled because enough TV sets couldn’t be manufactured fast enough for everyone to be able to see the show!) and Caesar’s Hour (1954-1957). There are several tributes featuring Brooks and Reiner. There’s even a celebrity roast celebrating Caesar’s 50th anniversary in television (veteran writer Hal Kanter kills it with the wisecracks). All in all, this is an essential purchase for anyone interested in early television history or who’s simply a fan of the great Caesar.
With 14 hours of total material on the 5-disc DVD set, who needs extras? However, the set does include a 24-page booklet.
SOLO: A STAR WARS STORY (2018). For the vast majority of my life, Han Solo has been — along with Atticus Finch, Indiana Jones, James Bond, and a few others — one of my defining cinematic heroes, which is why it pains me to see the character’s iconic dimensions reduced so drastically and dramatically in this so-so Solo endeavor. Obviously, those folks who love all things Star Wars regardless of quality will adore it, but those of us who grew up with the franchise (I first saw the original when it opened in ’77, as a mere lad of 11) and find it still rooted in our DNA deserved something better than what director Ron Howard and screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Jonathan Kasdan deliver. The biggest hurdle was finding an actor who could do both Han Solo and Harrison Ford justice, and Alden Ehrenreich probably does as well as just about anyone else who might have been cast. But he doesn't vanish into the character like Ewan McGregor did with Obi-Wan Kenobi. As for L3-37, a droid who comes across like a conservative's caricatured version of a feminist, she’s one of the worst characters to ever appear in a Star Wars film, ranking alongside Jar Jar Binks, little Annie Skywalker, and Jabba the Hutt’s belching baby. The story proper – a caper plot involving the theft of valuable coaxium fuel — offers little in the way of surprises and adds nothing to the saga’s mythology; it’s basically an Ocean’s film with a sci-fi sheen. Where this film mainly succeeds is in its ability to offer satisfying scenarios that loop back to stories we heard in the original films — these sequences are infinitely amusing even if they’re ultimately unnecessary. After all, part of the mystique of Han Solo emanated from his lack of a backstory, and filling in the gaps diminishes rather than enhances his legacy. In retrospect, Sy Snootles: A Star Wars Story or Porkins: A Star Wars Story would have been more appreciated, thus leaving the larger-than-life character of Han Solo to remain unblemished in our memory banks from a long time ago.
Blu-ray extras include a roundtable discussion with Howard and the cast; deleted scenes; and a piece on the Millennium Falcon.