(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.)
THE ADVENTURES OF HAJJI BABA (1954). Given its status as a movie that time forgot, it’s easy to believe that The Adventures of Hajji Baba never penetrated the public consciousness even upon its original release. It has never been available on DVD; it sports no reviews on either IMDb or Rotten Tomatoes; and even most of the vintage movie guides — those that offered capsule reviews for up to 20,000 films — opted to ignore its existence. Yet back in 1954, it was most certainly a known commodity: It earned a small profit at the box office; it was based on a popular book that had been making the rounds for over a century; and, most ignominiously, it was chosen as the worst picture of 1954 by the Harvard Lampoon for its long-running (30-plus years) “Movie Worsts” awards (fret not, fans; that 10 Worst list for ’54 also included, umm, William Wellman’s The High and the Mighty and Douglas Sirk’s Magnificent Obsession). The Twilight Time label has seen fit to rescue this title from continued obscurity, and while the newfound spotlight reveals that it’s hardly an undiscovered masterpiece, it’s also not a bad picture in its own right. John Derek — yes, the same John Derek who later became a director and made such atrocities as Bolero and Tarzan the Ape Man with his wife Bo Derek — essays the title role, portraying a Persian barber who ends up falling for a bratty princess (Elaine Stewart) who fully plans to marry a ruthless prince (Paul Picerni). The leads are only adequate, but the movie is full of incident and intrigue, and it’s fascinating to see Amanda Blake, a year away from starring as Miss Kitty on TV’s long-running Gunsmoke, cast as the leader of a tribe of warrior women who would be right at home fighting alongside Xena or Wonder Woman.
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and an isolated track of Dimitri Tiomkin’s score.
CHRISTOPHER ROBIN (2018). A.A. Milne may have been the one who invented Winnie the Pooh, but it’s actually the spirit of Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie that hovers around the margins of this Disney yarn. Like Steven Spielberg’s 1991 Hook, a look at how the adult Peter Pan (Robin Williams) managed to reclaim his childhood innocence and exuberance, this picture posits that the adult Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor), formerly Winnie the Pooh’s human companion, has become so busy with grown-up responsibilities that he has forgotten how to stop and smell the honey. Certainly, the wee ones will thrill at the sight of Pooh (voiced by Jim Cummings, who’s been essaying the role for approximately 30 years), Tigger (also Cummings), Eeyore (Brad Garrett) and the rest of the Hundred Acre Wood gang being brought to life as living plush toys. Yet will they care to watch McGregor’s Christopher fret over having to fire his fellow employees, or seeing his wife (Hayley Atwell) frowning over the fact that her workaholic husband is never home? Forget the kids: Even adults might balk at these uninspired interludes, dutifully set up so the movie’s overworked theme of reclaiming childhood innocence can knock them over like a bowling ball slamming into carefully arranged pins. In fact, much of Christopher Robin feels rote and routine, with the antics of the animals only providing brief respites from the overall drudgery on display. It would be unfair not to acknowledge that those who reserve a special place in their heart for Pooh Bear will in all likelihood adore this movie. Others, however, might not quite understand all the fuss. Like honey, Christopher Robin is very sweet. Unlike honey, it doesn’t really stick.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette and a piece examining the visual effects.
THE MEG (2018). The Meg is largely everything you would expect from a movie in which Jason Statham elects to deliver an upper cut to Mother Nature. It’s ridiculous to compare any movie of this ilk to the masterpiece that is Jaws, yet the movie is ballsy enough to openly invite such comparisons. Pippin the pooch, the Kintner kid, the tracking devices (now electronic gizmos instead of big ole barrels, because progress!) – they’re all here in barely disguised facsimiles. All that’s missing is Robert Shaw raking his fingernails across a blackboard – then again, the mere presence of Rainn Wilson will strike many as a nails-across-the-blackboard equivalent, so there’s that. Wilson plays the gazillionaire funding an underwater science facility whose employees get terrorized by a 70-foot prehistoric shark (Carcharocles Megalodon) — naturally, it’s up to Statham (as a former rescue diver) to save the day. Adapted from Steve Alten’s book, The Meg offers a few interesting developments in its narrative, and it’s nice to see Statham once again headlining the sort of picture that automatically gets handed to Dwayne Johnson these days. But even beyond its PG-13 bloodlessness, the movie is surprisingly subdued in its pacing, its characterizations, and its go-for-broke sensibilities. That’s largely due to Jon Turteltaub, the helmer of such bland hits as Phenomenon and the National Treasure twofer — say what you will about director Renny Harlin, but he at least kept his dopey shark film, Deep Blue Sea, moving at mach speed. The Meg isn’t any worse than Deep Blue Sea — they’re both passable, undemanding entertainment — but it’s certainly more toothless. Luckily, the scrappy Statham is on hand to provide it with some bite.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of piece and a discussion on the title critter.
SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD (2018). The Scotty at the center of this documentary is Scotty Bowers, whose employment at a Hollywood Boulevard gas station ended up becoming just a cover for his true calling: to hook up industry celebrities with an endless stream of male and female lovers. Between the mid-1940s through the early 1980s (when AIDS crashed the party), Scotty was the go-to guy for gays, lesbians and bisexuals who wanted some action away from the carefully manufactured (and stridently heterosexual) personas created by the studio system – thus, Scotty was friends with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott (whom everyone outside of Hollywood believed to be just roommates), helped a young Rock Hudson score some tricks, and even engaged himself in a threesome with Ava Gardner and Lana Turner. Refusing no one, Scotty even helped straight stars like William Holden procure female companionship. It’s all outrageous — and all apparently true, as absolutely no one has refuted Scotty’s claims and the man himself comes off as completely genuine. Scotty’s a complex individual, to be sure — his own code of honor prohibited him from ever naming names back in the day (it was only after all these stars were deceased that he released his 2012 tell-all book, Full Service), and his only purpose in life has always been to make other people happy. Conversely, his anything-goes attitude makes him insensitive to the suffering of others — while he himself enjoyed being sexually active with relatives and priests at a young age (starting around 11), he disturbingly scoffs at the notion that anybody else could ever be traumatized by such encounters. Aside from a revelation about the Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn relationship that deviates from the usual stance, there’s not much here that will surprise anyone, but it remains a breezy watch.
The only DVD extra is the theatrical trailer.
SINGLE WHITE FEMALE (1992). During the 1980s, cinema was particularly worried about aliens invading our planet or terrorists invading our country, but in the early 1990s, the “invasion” theme became much more focused: Suddenly, it was the fear of psychopaths invading our living rooms. In 1992 alone, the multiplex opened its doors to no less than three titles in this vein, with The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Unlawful Entry and Single White Female all emerging as box office hits. Of the trio, Single White Female arguably boasted the toniest pedigree, since Barbet Schroeder was coming off a well-deserved Best Director Academy Award nomination for his offbeat handling of 1990’s scintillating Reversal of Fortune, for which Jeremy Irons won a Best Actor Oscar. Yet the style that Schroeder lathered on the earlier picture is completely missing from Single White Female, which ultimately goes easy on the psychological character studies and heavy on the slasher-film stylistics. Bridget Fonda plays Ally, who opts to get a roommate after dumping her cheating fiancé Sam (Steven Weber). She ends up with Hedra (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a mousy sort who soon reveals that she’s misplaced some of her mental marbles. Don Roos’ script turns the tables by initially making Hedra far more sympathetic than Ally, but this decision encounters narrative turbulence once the brakes are halted and audiences are suddenly expected to rally behind Ally while shunning Hedra. Sloppy plotting (e.g. the fate of the upstairs neighbor played by Peter Friedman) also takes its toll by the end.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Schroeder, editor Lee Percy and associate producer Susan Hoffman; interviews with Schroeder, Weber, Friedman and Roos; and the theatrical trailer.
SWORD OF SHERWOOD FOREST (1960). The Adventures of Robin Hood, starring Richard Greene as the dashing outlaw who stole from the … well, you know the routine … debuted as a TV series in 1955. A British production, it premiered almost simultaneously in both its homeland and in the U.S. — and it proved to be an instant hit on both sides of the Atlantic (stateside, where it aired on CBS, it cracked the Nielsen Top 20 in its initial two seasons). Shortly after the show ended, Greene was brought back to essay the role again in Sword of Sherwood Forest, a stand-alone Robin Hood film that replaced the supporting actors from the series with other performers. Since the cinematic version arrived courtesy of Hammer Films, that meant a juicy role for Peter Cushing (although, alas, no Christopher Lee). Cushing plays a particularly animated Prince of Nottingham, doing everything in his power to not only take down Robin Hood and his Band of Merry Men but also orchestrate the assassination of the Archbishop of Canterberry (Jack Gwillim). As a fan of Hammer, as a fan of Cushing, as a fan of director Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula), and as a fan of Robin Hood, this one should have easily clicked for me — instead, it’s a rather tired rendition of the saga, with Greene aging out of the role and Sarah Branch proving to be a rather negligible Maid Marian (although the movie followed the TV series, this one even details the first meeting between Robin and Marian). Aside from Cushing, everything feels overly familiar — basically, there’s little here that significantly distinguishes it from its small-screen counterpart.
Blu-ray extras consist of the theatrical trailer and an isolated track of the score by Alun Hoddinott – incidentally, the only film score produced by the highly revered Welsh classical composer.
Short And Sweet:
PIXAR SHORT FILMS COLLECTION: VOLUME 3 (2018). The third compilation of Pixar animated shorts (following the sets from 2007 and 2012) offers 11 more brief films, although the overall quality is more spotty than that found in the previous two installments. Among the gems are the charming The Blue Umbrella, the lovely and ambitious Lava, the Inside Out spin-off Riley’s First Date?, and, to a lesser degree, the Oscar-winning Piper. Among the disappointments are Sanjay’s Super Team, the Cars spin-off The Radiator Springs 500-1/2, and the cringe-worthy Bao.
Blu-ray extras include bonus mini-movies and audio commentary on Bao by director Domee Shi.
SHORT NIGHT OF GLASS DOLLS (1971). This giallo finds Jean Sorel cast as a journalist whose paralyzed state leads everyone to believe he’s dead. As doctors prepare to perform an autopsy on his body, his mind races to solve the mystery behind his present state, a startling development that began with the recent disappearance of his girlfriend (Barbara Bach, six years before becoming a Bond girl and 10 years before becoming Mrs. Ringo Starr). In the current climate, this ragged effort works better as an expose of the evil machinations of aging, wealthy and power-hungry conservatives than as either a murder-mystery or a horror yarn.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Matteo Molinari; theatrical trailers; and an isolated track of Ennio Morricone’s score.