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.
Gary Busey (foreground), Megan Follows and Corey Haim in Silver Bullet (Photo: Shout! Factory)
(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.)
ABOMINABLE (2019). The ads for this animated feature trumpet that it’s from “the studio that brought you How to Train Your Dragon,” but it doesn’t take a genius to make that connection. Everest, the Yeti at the center of this new film, is basically Toothless reconfigured: silent, sympathetic, and perpetually eager to please. But while the movie is as affable as its central creature, it lacks the invention and emotional reach that fired up the Dragon series. Everest is the name that’s given to the baby Yeti by Yi (voiced by Chloe Bennet), a teenage girl who discovers the critter hiding out on the rooftop of the Shanghai apartment she shares with her mother (Michelle Wong) and grandmother (Tsai Chin). It turns out that Everest has escaped from a facility owned by a wealthy animal collector named Burnish (Eddie Izzard) and overseen by the zoologist Dr. Zara (Sarah Paulson), and his only desire is to return to his home in the Himalayas. Yi makes it her mission to reunite Everest with his family, and she’s joined in her adventure by the self-absorbed Jin (Tenzing Norgay Trainor) and the rambunctious Peng (Albert Tsai). Abominable is certainly preferable to Smallfoot, last year’s animated offering about a friendly Yeti — the earlier film offered a small measure of subtext for the adults in its message about the need to reject “alternative facts” spouted by fear-mongering leaders, but it was otherwise hampered by mediocre music and uninspired animation. Abominable benefits from a more interesting visual style, even if its storyline never breaks away from rigid formula. Everest has far less purpose or personality than Toothless, and the creature’s mystical powers are never clearly defined. But the kids at the center of the story are engaging, and, in a movie aimed at children, that might be what matters the most.
Blu-ray extras include making-of featurettes and deleted scenes.
RAMBO: LAST BLOOD (2019). There’s a scene in Rambo: Last Blood in which teenage Gabrielle (Yvette Monreal), who views John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) as a surrogate father, informs him that she plans to journey from their Arizona home down to Mexico. “Why would you want to do that?” he asks incredulously. Given his reaction, one would think she had just stated, “I want to push elderly women in front of speeding trucks” or “I want to shoot newborn puppies in the head with a staple gun.” Despite Rambo’s objection, Gabrielle heads down to Mexico, where she’s betrayed and sold to a cartel for use in its whorehouse. Rambo goes to rescue her but ends up getting beaten to a pulp by various cartel thugs. But like The Terminator, he’ll be back, and that’s when things will get really messy. Aside from the original film in the series, 1982’s First Blood (based on David Morrell’s novel and co-scripted by Stallone), the sequels, all also co-written by Stallone, have been mindless, jingoistic junk, and that holds true for this one as well. In style, tone, and characterization, this doesn’t even feel like a Rambo flick as much as a generic action film starring any Tom, Dick or Liam. Any nuances found in the character of John Rambo in First Blood were immediately stripped for the follow-ups, with the character thereafter nothing more than a one-man killing machine. There’s little wit, inventiveness or originality to be found anywhere in this tedious picture — even the gruesome action sequences at the end feel rote and mechanical. Morrell’s novel First Blood ended with Rambo getting killed, but Stallone would have none of that. If ever a film should have been a one-and-done, First Blood was it. Instead, Stallone has now been trying to draw blood from this stone for 37 years, but it’s proven to be a particularly rocky endeavor.
Blu-ray extras include a behind-the-scenes piece and the theatrical trailer.
THE REMAINS OF THE DAY (1993). Unorthodox love stories were prominent during the movie year of 1993, as witnessed by the releases of three exceptional efforts: Jane Campion’s The Piano (the year’s best picture), Martin Scorsese’s The Age of Innocence, and this adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel. Another in the string of acclaimed features by the tony team of director James Ivory, producer Ismail Merchant and scripter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (the folks who also gave us Howards End and A Room with a View), The Remains of the Day stars Anthony Hopkins (in one of his very best performances) as James Stevens, an English butler who spends every waking hour dutifully serving his master, Lord Darlington (James Fox). But his complete devotion leads him to turn a blind eye to political matters — his employer is a Nazi sympathizer — and, more importantly, to his own suppressed feelings for the estate’s warmhearted housekeeper, Miss Kenton (Emma Thompson). Like the aforementioned The Age of Innocence, here’s another handsome period piece about a man who foolishly ignores the dictates of his heart, and the scene where Miss Kenton confronts Stevens in his darkened chamber was second only to Innocence‘s carriage ride sequence between Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer as the most subtly passionate of its year. Peter Vaughn is excellent as Stevens’ father, a butler even more stiff-lipped than his son, and look for memorable appearances by Christopher Reeve and Hugh Grant as visitors to the Darlington estate. This earned eight Academy Award nominations, including ones for Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Actress.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Ivory, Merchant and Thompson; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
SILVER BULLET (1985). Stephen King adapted his own novella Cycle of the Werewolf, but the end result is nothing to howl about. A werewolf is running loose in a small town, and the only ones seemingly able to stop it are a wheelchair-bound young boy (Corey Haim), his older sister (Megan Follows), and their boozy Uncle Red (Gary Busey). Everett McGill, Twin Peaks’ Big Ed Hurley, co-stars as the local reverend, while Terry O’Quinn, Lost’s John Locke, appears as the town sheriff. Daniel Attias, directing his first and last feature film (he would then enjoy a successful career on television, helming multiple episodes of such hits as Alias, The Wire and Homeland), tries his best to milk suspense out of the premise, but the problem is King’s often daft screenplay. Not only is the identity of the werewolf immediately obvious, but his motives are muddled and never really make sense. A talented cast does its best to survive King’s often clunky dialogue, with Haim and Follows both highly appealing and Busey enlivening the proceedings as the animated uncle whose drinking problem never interferes with his bond with his paraplegic nephew. As was common in the 1970s and ‘80s, the two most despicable characters emerge unscathed, with nary a werewolf scratch on them; while this denies viewers some much-needed catharsis, it does make the victim list slightly more unpredictable.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Attias; separate audio commentary by producer Martha De Laurentiis; interviews with McGill, supporting actor Kent Broadhurst (who plays the father of a teenage victim), editor Daniel Loewenthal, and special effects artists Matthew Mungle and Michael McCracken; a still gallery; and the theatrical trailer.