(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 APPALOOSA (1966) / TELL THEM WILLIE BOY IS HERE (1969). Two superstars find themselves delivering disappointing performances in two ’60s Westerns newly arrived on Blu-ray.
Marlon Brando owned the 1950s and made a monumental comeback in the early 1970s, but, with few exceptions (namely, One-Eyed Jacks), the 1960s found him alternately coasting or camping it up in a string of middling movies. It’s the former mode that applies in the case of The Appaloosa, a mediocre oater in which he plays Matt Fletcher, a cowboy who wants to put his violent past behind him and settle down on a ranch with his horse (the titular breed). But after the notorious bandit Chuy Medina (John Saxon) steals his prized possession, Fletcher follows him down into Mexico in an attempt to retrieve the Appaloosa. An arm-wrestling bout involving scorpions is mildly intriguing, but this is otherwise a routine Western dragged down by a sleepy Brando turn.
In addition to The Appaloosa, 1966 also found Brando appearing in The Chase, a drama in which both he and co-star Robert Redford were miscast. The errant role-playing also affected Redford three years later in the neo-Western Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, in which he is utterly unconvincing as a callous sheriff who, when he’s not busy treating his doctor girlfriend (Susan Clark) like dirt, spends his time in pursuit of Willie Boy (Robert Blake), a Native American hothead who killed the father of his bride (Katharine Ross) in self-defense. Conrad Hall’s cinematography is an asset, but for a superior Western about a fugitive coping with racism and wrongful persecution, check out 1982’s The Ballad of Gregorio Cortez (reviewed here).
Blu-ray extras on The Appaloosa consist of audio commentary by film historian Lee Pfeiffer and the theatrical trailer. Blu-ray extras on Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here consist of audio commentary by film historian Jim Healy and his brother, actor Pat Healy (Cheap Thrills), and the theatrical trailer.
The Appaloosa: **
Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here: **1/2
THE BOUNTY (1984). It’s further proof of the celluloid potency of 1984 that a picture as worthy as The Bounty didn’t even earn so much as a footnote in my article (found here) on that bountiful 12-month period in cinema (or, more tellingly, a mention in the accompanying list of the best films of 1984). While no match for the revered classic that earned the Best Picture Academy Award for 1935 (Mutiny on the Bounty, starring Clark Gable and Charles Laughton), this is an intelligent retelling that relates the historic mutiny through an altered prism. While most adaptations (including the bloated ’60s take with Marlon Brando and Trevor Howard) have painted Captain Bligh as an unrepentant sadist and Fletcher Christian as a wholesome hero, The Bounty, reportedly the most accurate of all screen versions, elects to muddy the waters. Here, Bligh (Anthony Hopkins) isn’t inherently cruel but does allow his strict notions of nautical justice to often overwhelm any common sense. And Christian (Mel Gibson) retains his core of decency but is also revealed to be both petulant and naïve. Scripter Robert Bolt (Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All Seasons) allows all sides to have their say, Vangelis (Chariots of Fire, Blade Runner) contributes a fine score, and the legendary Laurence Olivier pops up in one of his final theatrical turns as Admiral Hood, seen presiding over Bligh’s court martial. The Bounty also features early performances by two of today’s most reliable actors, Daniel Day-Lewis (as a despised officer) and Liam Neeson (as a quarrelsome crew member).
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director Roger Donaldson, producer Bernard Williams and production designer John Graysmark; separate audio commentary by Stephen Walters, who served as the film’s historical consultant; and the trailer.
THE EQUALIZER 2 (2018). Released in 2014, The Equalizer (itself based on the popular 1980s TV series starring Edward Woodward) was a satisfying action yarn in which former CIA operative Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) protected a battered teen prostitute (Chloë Grace Moretz) against a gang of murderous, misogynistic Russians (or, as they will now alternately be known until the end of time, Trump’s overlords and Trump’s BFFs). Watching McCall deal with all manner of evildoers (not just Trump’s buddies but also corrupt cops and petty crooks) over the course of the film was a cathartic experience, but the movie also worked because of its kinetic action scenes as well as a gradual reveal of the layers of Washington’s character. The Equalizer 2 offers no such pleasures. This is a particularly dreary movie, one which makes no attempt to freshen up or even disguise its rote storyline. As in many an unimaginative sequel, This Time It’s Personal™, meaning that McCall’s CIA pal Susan (Melissa Leo) gets killed once she gets too close to the truth regarding a faked murder/suicide (that truth is so fleetingly and haphazardly explained that it scarcely matters; Susan might as well have been slain for trying to steal a neighbor’s cherished pie recipe). A subplot involving McCall’s mentoring relationship with a young kid (Ashton Sanders) seems to have been imported from a lesser ABC Afterschool Special from the 1970s. And while The Equalizer was excessively brutal because the plot demanded it, The Equalizer 2 is excessively brutal because the filmmakers demanded it. It all culminates with a lengthy battle royale in which McCall faces down the baddies while a storm rages all around them. It’s laughably absurd, and just one more reason why The Equalizer 2 is less than the sum of its slickly oiled parts.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of piece and deleted scenes.
NIGHT SCHOOL (2018). A movie that unites Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish sounds like it can’t miss, but Night School squanders their talents in a limp endeavor that’s anemic even by contemporary comedy standards. Hart stars as Teddy Walker, whose lack of a high school diploma means he can’t accept a lucrative job available in the financial sector. In order to receive his GED, he therefore has no choice but to attend night school, where he and various other late-bloomers — a doofus dad (Rob Riggle), an anti-tech eccentric (Romany Malco), an unappreciated housewife (Mary Lynn Rajskub), and so on — find themselves under the watchful eye of Carrie (Haddish), the stern but fair instructor who refuses to put up with her students’ nonsense. After a promising beginning, Night School devolves into a series of gags that are more desperate than funny. With a pathological zeal, the movie repeatedly bypasses clever gags relating to its setup in favor of juvenile jokes involving bodily injuries, perpetual puking, and pubic hairs in cheesecake. And with a script credited to no less than six writers (including Hart), it’s perhaps no surprise that the pacing is clumsy and the narrative is sloppy (can someone explain to me how they all got off that roof?). Perhaps the picture’s greatest flaw, however, rests in the mismatch between its stars. An ideal movie starring Hart and Haddish would make them comedic equals along the lines of Cheech & Chong or Laurel & Hardy. Instead, they’re more like Martin & Lewis, Abbott & Costello and Groucho/Chico/Harpo & Zeppo, with Hart receiving the lion’s share of the humorous interludes and Haddish mostly relegated to playing straight man (or straight woman, in this case).
The Blu-ray contains both the theatrical version and an extended cut that runs an additional five minutes. Extras include an alternate opening; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
SAWDUST AND TINSEL (1953). Although it wasn’t until 1955 that Ingmar Bergman first enjoyed international success with Smiles of a Summer Night — and soon after vaulted into the pantheon of world-class filmmakers with 1957’s one-two punch of The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries — he had already helmed 15 movies over a 10-year period. Toward the tail end of that burgeoning period came Sawdust and Tinsel, which was titled The Evening of the Jesters in its Swedish homeland and dubbed The Naked Night on its first pass through the U.S. Under any name, it’s primarily a primer on humiliation. The opening act focuses on the embarrassment felt by a circus troupe’s clown (Anders Ek) and his flirtatious wife (Gudron Brost), while the story proper centers on the squirmy relationship between the circus owner (Åke Grönberg), who’s considering returning to the wife (Annika Tretow) and children he abandoned, and his young girlfriend (Harriet Andersson), who responds to his possible rejection by cavorting with an insufferable actor (Hasse Ekman). Sawdust and Tinsel is an often painful watch, but it’s historically significant in that it marked the first of numerous collaborations between Bergman and influential cinematographer Sven Nykvist, who would go on to win both of his Oscars for Bergman titles.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary (from 2007) by Ingmar Bergman scholar Peter Cowie and a 2003 introduction by Bergman. In addition to being offered individually, Sawdust and Tinsel is also included in the Criterion box set Ingmar Bergman’s Cinema. Bergman fans with deep pockets will want to spring for this collection, since it houses a whopping 39 movies, including such classics as 1982’s Fanny and Alexander, 1972’s Cries and Whispers, 1966’s Persona, Wild Strawberries, and my own all-time favorite foreign-language film, The Seventh Seal.