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.
Taron Egerton as Elton John in Rocketman (Photo: Paramount)
(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 BUSTER KEATON COLLECTION: VOLUME 3 (1925-1926). The third set of Buster Keaton classics released by Cohen Media Group (following Volume 1, released in May and reviewed here, and Volume 2, released in July and reviewed here) serves up two more titles featuring the funnyman during his silent-cinema reign. If the awesome technical prowess that informed such efforts as Sherlock Jr. and The General is less on display in these two, the impressive stuntwork and the attention to elaborately staged gags remain.
Seven Chances (1925) is the better of the pair, with Keaton playing a stockbroker who will inherit seven million dollars if he gets married that very day. (If that plotline sounds familiar to fans of The Three Stooges, it’s because the knuckleheads employed it in not one but two of their shorts.) Attitudes at the time result in a few uncomfortable moments (particularly those involving black characters), but the final third of the picture constitutes one of Keaton’s defining set-pieces, as his hapless groom-to-be is chased by countless wanna-be brides and soon finds himself also dodging dozens of rolling rocks.
Battling Butler (1926) isn’t nearly as uproarious as other Keaton classics, although it’s sturdy enough to qualify as a good time. The comedian plays a pampered millionaire who falls for a mountain girl (Sally O’Neil); when he’s dismissed as being too soft to marry into her family, his faithful valet (Snitz Edwards, also in Seven Chances) convinces her clan that he’s actually the boxing champion of the same name. The cumbersome plot occasionally gets in the way of the breezy laughs, although the early scenes in which the milquetoast goes on a camping trip in an attempt to toughen up (instead, his posh tent is bigger than some people’s apartments!) offers some choice moments.
Blu-ray extras consist of appreciations of Keaton by various folks as well as trailers for both movies.
Seven Chances: ★★★½
Battling Butler: ★★★
GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019). If nothing else, the 2014 Godzilla was superior to 1998’s terrible Godzilla vs. Ferris Bueller, in which the oversized lizard was no match for Matthew Broderick’s incessant schtick. Still, the ’14 version was only mildly enjoyable and offered no compelling reason for a second viewing — and that’s the same reaction that greets this latest entry. Employed by the monster-watch outfit Monarch, Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) is kidnapped by eco-terrorist Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), leading her ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to fashion a rescue attempt. An imbecilic plot pirouette largely sets in motion the critter skirmishes that involve Godzilla and other kaiju such as Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. The CGI work on display in this picture is particularly robust, with all of the monsters rendered in stunning fashion. And when they get ready to rumble, there’s enough body-slamming, head-biting, and limb-twisting to satisfy all kaiju buffs (and, presumably, wrestling devotees as well). Indeed, fans of Godzilla: King of the Monsters will praise the picture for its monster-on-monster action, and they’ll be correct. But detractors will condemn it for its human interludes, and they’ll be equally right. A bingo card of clichés would quickly be filled with such soggy lines as “We opened Pandora’s box, and there’s no way to shut it” and “It sounds like you admire these monsters,” and drab characters like a stammering scientist (Thomas Middleditch) and a wisecracking scientist (Bradley Whitford) add nothing to the proceedings. When it focuses on the marquee attractions, Godzilla: King of the Monsters roars to life. At all other times, it’s merely Godzilla with a zzzz.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Michael Dougherty, executive producer Zach Shields and co-star O’Shea Jackson Jr.; a making-of featurette; a look at the film’s various monsters; and deleted scenes.
THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO (2019). Beginning life as a scrappy Kickstarter project and eventually blooming into a motion picture executive-produced by Brad Pitt, The Last Black Man in San Francisco serves as an impressive debut feature for writer-director Joe Talbot and writer-actor Jimmie Fails. Since some of this story was inspired by his real-life experiences, it only makes sense that Jimmie Fails would elect to call his character Jimmie Fails, seen here as a San Franciscan who’s forced to live under the roof of his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors) and Mont’s ailing father (Danny Glover). Jimmie dreams of one day being able to again occupy the home that his grandfather built in the post-WWII 1940s, and he gets his chance when the white owners (who don’t bother with its upkeep) vacate the premises due to a legal battle. This leaves the house empty for Jimmie and Mont, and their efforts to make it their own meet with all manner of resistance. Gentrification and toxic masculinity are just two of the various subjects addressed by Talbot and Fails, and the pair keep all the balls juggling in the air until a grueling and obvious sequence (a play staged within the house) leads to a tumble in the third act. Nevertheless, The Last Black Man in San Francisco remains one of the year’s more unusual and unlikely efforts, and, even if Talbot’s direction is occasionally too self-conscious for its own good, the performances by Fails and Majors never disappoint.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Talbot and a behind-the-scenes piece.
ROCKETMAN (2019). A recent Oscar miscue — Rami Malek was quite good as Queen frontsman Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, but that was not an award-worthy turn — becomes even more pronounced alongside this biopic about Elton John. As the legendary pop star, Taron Egerton is sensational … and he does his own singing, to boot (Malek mostly only did his own lip-syncing). It isn’t just Egerton who outshines the competition: Even if it doesn’t soar as high as one would like, Rocketman is still a better movie than Bohemian Rhapsody, which suffered in part from its PG-13 designation. Rocketman is a solid R, which is more in line for this sort of warts-and-all picture. For starters, it’s more honest with its protagonist’s sexual orientation, and while it isn’t quite Brokeback Rocketman, it doesn’t shy away from following Elton as he grapples with his homosexual longings. The film also cannily protects itself from the usual accusations of distorting history by unspooling as a musical fantasy. One scene presents Elton as a young boy (and still going by his real name of Reginald Dwight) suddenly busting out into song, treating a barroom full of people to “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” Another finds him and writing partner Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) testing out material toward the start of their career in 1967, with one of the sampled tunes being “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” (which of course wasn’t even created until 1983). This fanciful approach does more than allow the filmmakers greater freedom in bending facts — it also takes the movie out of the stodgy realm of the usual biopic focusing on the rise and fall and comeback of an enduring artist. When it’s all over, Elton is still standing, and, thanks to its inventive approach and a dazzling performance by Egerton, so is the movie itself.
Blu-ray extras include a handful of making-of featurettes; deleted and extended scenes; and extended musical sequences.
WAGON MASTER (1950). Lacking a marquee star like John Wayne and functioning more as an ensemble piece, Wagon Master is reportedly John Ford’s favorite among all his own Westerns. While the majority of cineastes might not agree (after all, Ford also gave us Stagecoach, The Searchers, and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, among countless others), it’s certainly of a piece with his more celebrated efforts. The action centers around a wagon train populated by Mormons — the leader is Elder Wiggs (Ward Bond), who manages to talk seasoned cowpokes Travis (Ben Johnson) and Sandy (Harry Carey Jr.) into guiding them across dangerous terrain. Also joining the train are the members of an acting troupe, among them the bombastic A. Locksley Hall (Alan Mowbray) and the alluring Denver (Joanne Dru), and the murderous Clegg clan, fronted by Uncle Shiloh (Charles Kemper) and including the brutish Floyd (a pre-Gunsmoke James Arness) and the simple-minded Luke (Ford regular Hank Worden, familiar to Twin Peaks fans as Season Two’s befuddled waiter). Cinematographer Bert Glennon comes up with a number of impressive artistic compositions, although the film’s biggest treat is seeing top-billed Johnson given the opportunity to show off his sly charm and easygoing demeanor. Although the film wasn’t a sizable success, it did lead to the creation of Wagon Train, the hit TV series than ran for eight seasons (1957-1965) and, until his death in 1960, starred Bond as the wagon master.
The only Blu-ray extra is audio commentary by Carey and writer-director Peter Bogdanovich (The Last Picture Show, for which Johnson won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), with archival content from Ford.
Short And Sweet:
ALL IS TRUE (2019). No stranger to transferring Shakespeare to the screen, Kenneth Branagh has now opted to bring the Bard himself to life in this slight drama. After the Globe Theatre goes up in flames, Shakespeare vows never to write again, choosing instead to return to his family in Stratford-upon-Avon. There, he mourns over the long-ago loss of his son while attempting to reconcile with his wife (Judi Dench) and two daughters (Lydia Wilson and Kathryn Wider). With scripter Ben Elton mostly interested in muddled melodrama and shouty bouts of familial dysfunction, All Is True ultimately has more in common with The Real Housewives of Atlanta than with The Merry Wives of Windsor. Ian McKellen appears briefly as the Earl of Southampton.
DVD extras include a Q&A session with Branagh; behind-the-scenes featurettes; and a piece on the film’s accuracy.
GET OUT YOUR HANDKERCHIEFS (1978). Winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, this French import finds Gérard Depardieu (still impossibly young and impossibly thin) cast as Raoul, who loves his wife Solange (Carole Laure) but fears she has grown bored with him. Since he only wants her to be happy, he foists her upon another man (Patrick Dewaere), but she proves to be just as lifeless in his company. It’s only when she gets romantically involved with a 13-year-old boy (Riton) that she is able to rediscover her laugh. A critical and commercial hit despite its controversial content, writer-director Bertrand Blier’s film is often problematic (particularly during the second half) but also marked by scintillating dialogue and splendid performances. Tragically, Dewaere committed suicide by shotgun blast in 1982; he was 35 years old.
Blu-ray extras consist of an introduction by film scholar Richard Peña; the original trailer; and the re-release trailer.
THE INLAND SEA (1991). The Inland Sea was a 1971 travelogue penned by film historian and Japanophile Donald Richie, who over the years had written several books (and recorded several audio commentaries) related to such filmmakers as Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu (Richie passed away in 2013). It was 20 years later that filmmaker Lucille Cara elected to make a documentary based on Richie’s writing, using the movie to further capture the people and places noted by Richie. Like Perry Henzell’s Jamaican-set (and long-lost) No Place Like Home (recently reviewed here), this offers intriguing peeks at hidden or vanishing cultures, with invaluable assistance from cinematographer Hiro Narita (Never Cry Wolf) and composer Tôru Takemitsu (Ran).
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with Cara; a 1991 interview with Richie; and interviews with filmmaker Paul Schrader (Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters) and cultural critic Ian Buruma.
MOONFLEET (1955). A rare misfire for the great Fritz Lang (M, The Big Heat), this period romp plays like a dreary cross between a Charles Dickens tale and Hitchcock’s adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. It’s also the film that led Lang to famously crack that CinemaScope was only good for filming “snakes and funerals.” The scenes set in empty cemeteries and nocturnal tombs benefit most from the noirish tendencies of Lang, but the main story, about a dashing scoundrel (Stewart Granger) and his adventures with an orphan boy (Jon Whiteley), is hopelessly pedestrian. Even George Sanders, appearing in a supporting role, is cast adrift.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.