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.
Heartbeeps (Photo: Kino)
(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.)
ANOTHER DAY OF LIFE (2018) / WHITE SNAKE (2019). Two foreign features released by GKIDS through the Shout! Factory label offer contrasting styles in eye-popping animation.
Another Day of Life contains the sturdier story, a real-life drama based on the book by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski. This historical yarn centers on the reporter’s coverage of the beginning of the Angolan Civil War that began in 1975 and only ended in 2002, after half a million people had been killed. A true international production (a half-dozen countries, including Hungary, Poland and Spain, had a hand in its making), this primarily employs motion-capture animation and rotoscoping but also periodically breaks for live-action sequences featuring actual participants of the conflict as well as scenes of life in Angola.
While Another Day of Life is based on fact, White Snake is based on legend. A Chinese export that draws from one of the country’s ancient fables, this follows a snake demon whose memory loss, combined with her taking the appearance of a lovely young woman, allows her to fall for a charming snake hunter. The animation technique saddles the characters with a waxy sheen, but the backdrops surrounding them are often spectacular to behold. The story as presented, however, could use a bit more oomph.
Blu-ray extras on Another Day of Life consist of a making-of featurette; a piece on creating the animated characters; and theatrical trailers. Blu-ray extras on White Snake include a pair of interviews with co-director Ji Zhao; storyboards; a music video; and theatrical trailers.
Another Day of Life: ★★★
White Snake: ★★½
THE DAY OF THE DOLPHIN (1973). After working together on 1967’s The Graduate and 1970’s Catch-22, director Mike Nichols and screenwriter Buck Henry (who passed away in January at the age of 89) paired up again for this much-discussed oddity that was a box office underachiever but became a marginal cult favorite. A strange hybrid of family film and adult drama, this ends up playing like Flipper Meets The Parallax View. George C. Scott stars as Jake Terrell, a scientist who, with his wife Maggie (Trish Van Devere, Scott’s real-life spouse from 1972 until his death in 1999) at his side, teaches dolphins how to speak, only to learn that a shady group of businessmen hopes to use them in an assassination attempt. The political subplot is sloppily crammed into the second half, while the talking dolphins will annoy those who have an aversion to all things Pokémon (they sound like Pikachu). But the movie offers several pluses, including Paul Sorvino’s supporting turn as an unpredictable government flunky, Georges Delerue’s effective (and Oscar-nominated) score, and, of course, the irresistible antics of the various dolphin stars. Incidentally, this was the movie that Roman Polanski was preparing to film in 1969 when he learned of Sharon Tate’s murder at the hands of the Manson Family.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger and Nathaniel Thompson; interviews with Henry and co-stars Leslie Charleson and Edward Herrmann; a radio spot; and the theatrical trailer.
HEARTBEEPS (1981). It’s common knowledge among film fans that the first picture to win the Best Makeup Academy Award once it became a competitive category was 1981’s An American Werewolf in London, with the wolfman creation courtesy of Rick Baker. But what was the other movie nominated that year for the award? That would be the monumental bomb Heartbeeps, which may contain exceptional makeup designs by Stan Winston (who would go on to win four Oscars for such hits as Aliens and Jurassic Park) but otherwise makes for a wretched viewing experience. The story goes that Andy Kaufman wanted to make a movie based on his character Tony Clifton, but Universal wanted to first test his viability as a marquee attraction. To be fair to Kaufman, the project they chose — this here abomination being reviewed — would have deep-sixed the careers of even Olivier or Brando. Set in the futuristic world of 1995, Heartbeeps finds Kaufman playing ValCom 17485, a robot servant who falls for another domestic robot, AquaCom 89045 (Bernadette Peters). Together, they escape from a factory to explore the world outside; they’re joined in their journey by a robotic standup comic named Catskil 55602 (voiced by Jack Carter) and pursued by a mechanical behemoth known as Crimebuster (voiced by Ron Gans). They even take time out to build a son they name Phil (whose bleeps are provided by the Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia!). It’s hard to ascertain what’s more torturous: the deadening pace that makes this 78-minute movie feel like it’s 178 minutes, or having to listen to the actors’ insufferable robotic inflections for 178 minutes — excuse me, 78 minutes.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by director Allan Arkush and film historian Daniel Kremer, and the theatrical trailer.
JOJO RABBIT (2019). As was the case with Ernst Lubitsch’s 1942 To Be or Not to Be (reviewed here) and Mel Brooks’ 1968 The Producers, there were those who objected to writer-director Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit employing the Nazi threat as fertile ground for comedy. There is potentially objectionable content in the film, but it has nothing to do with treating Nazis in humorous fashion. Rather, it has to do with treating one particular Nazi (played by Sam Rockwell) in a sympathetic manner, with the character ultimately revealing a selfless and even heroic side. In Trump’s AmeriKKKa, this smacks a bit too much of the “good people on both sides” comment that the presidential putz lovingly directed at his fellow white supremacists. Aside from this misstep, though, the comedy in Jojo Rabbit is good to go, with Waititi (who won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and earned a Best Picture nomination as a co-producer) using humor in the same way as Lubitsch and Brooks before him. The plot centers on Jojo (Roman Griffin Davis), a young boy hoping to become a good little Nazi. He accepts the concept of Jews as horned demons, and his imaginary friend is an imbecilic version of Adolf Hitler (Waititi). But his distorted worldview starts to crumble after he learns that his mother (Oscar-nominated Scarlett Johansson), a German who despises the Nazis, is hiding a young Jewish girl named Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their attic. As Jojo gets to know Elsa and realizes she’s a normal and decent person, he begins to question everything he’s been taught, particularly by his own personal Adolf. With its inclination to bolt from comedy to drama and back again at whiplash speed, it’s easy to see why Jojo Rabbit would upset many. Yet those inclined to dig movies with a dark comic bent should find it to be a rather savory stew.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Waititi; a behind-the-scenes featurette; deleted scenes; outtakes; and trailers.
LEGAL EAGLES (1986). Legal Eagles was director Ivan Reitman’s first film after the gargantuan box office smash Ghostbusters, star Robert Redford’s first film after the Best Picture Oscar winner Out of Africa, and co-star Debra Winger’s first film after the Best Picture Oscar winner Terms of Endearment (the barely seen Mike’s Murder was released after ToE but actually made before it). To say that it was a disappointing follow-up for all concerned is putting it mildly. The sort of project that gives off vibes of being a carefully packaged studio deal, this stars Redford and Winger as Tom Logan and Laura Kelly, bickering lawyers who team up to defend kooky client Chelsea Deardon (Darryl Hannah), a performance artist who’s accused of theft and, later, murder. As they dig deeper, the two attorneys uncover a decades-in-the-making scheme involving unscrupulous art dealers. Legal Eagles has the basic outline of a delightful romantic comedy but, aside from a likable lead performance by Redford, fills it with very little of interest. The identity of the killer is almost immediately obvious (look for the character who drops by long enough to offer some relevant exposition and then disappears for most of the movie), and too many dull scenes feel like filler to stretch out the running time (these include Tom’s methods of fighting insomnia and Chelsea’s performance piece). Worst of all, though, is the chemistry between Redford and Winger. Romantic comedies work best when the potential lovers are created as equals, but here, Laura spends the entire film gazing adoringly at Tom and immediately forgives him every indiscretion (even sleeping with their client!).
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette and the theatrical trailer.
THE OSCAR (1966). It’s almost inconceivable that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences allowed itself to be associated with a movie as tacky and irrelevant as The Oscar; then again, this is the outfit that gave a Best Picture award to Around the World in 80 Days and a Best Picture nomination to the 1967 version of Doctor Dolittle, so I suppose anything’s possible. Co-written by no less than sci-fi great Harlan Ellison, The Oscar is a melodrama whose seriousness is so overbearing that it’s long been hailed as a kitsch classic in some circles. Stephen Boyd, generally a decent actor (particularly as Messala in 1959’s Ben-Hur), overplays the role of Frankie Fane, an obnoxious lout who steps on everyone as he claws his way to the top of the Hollywood food chain. If that outline sounds familiar, it also powered 1952’s far more accomplished The Bad and the Beautiful (reviewed here). While that picture had Kirk Douglas (RIP) playing a producer, this one finds Boyd cast as an actor who unexpectedly receives an Academy Award nomination and will do anything to secure the win. Boyd’s pouty performance results in many involuntary chuckles, but co-stars Elke Sommer and Tony Bennett (the beloved singer in his only fictional role in a motion picture) aren’t any better; taking top acting honors is Milton Berle in a rare dramatic turn as Frankie’s agent, with Edie Adams also impressive as the vivacious ex-wife of a sleazy private investigator (Ernest Borgnine). The Oscar did earn two actual Oscar nominations, for Best Costume Design (Edith Head, who’s also one of the many celebrity cameos dotting the film) and Best Color Art Direction-Set Decoration.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by comedian Patton Oswalt, screenwriter Josh Olson and documentarian Erik Nelson; separate audio commentary by film historians Howard S. Berger, Steve Mitchell and Nathaniel Thompson; and trailers.
21 BRIDGES (2019). I daresay that a movie about the daily routines of Jeff Bridges’ extended family would be more interesting than what we actually get in 21 Bridges, a stylish yet unimaginative cop thriller with plot twists so obvious that they could be spotted as far back as the Cretaceous Period. Chadwick Boseman, whose filmography already includes excellent turns as Jackie Robinson, James Brown, Thurgood Marshall and T’Challa, here gets saddled with his most simplistic role yet: the cop who cares. Boseman brings all the professionalism he can muster to the part of Andre Davis, a police officer who, as the films opens, is being dragged before Internal Affairs for the umpteenth time since he’s known for being trigger-happy out in the field. This intro is meant to set up Davis as a macho detective in the Dirty Harry vein, but the filmmakers quickly remember that it’s the 2010s, not the 1970s, and so Davis immediately morphs into a sensitive policeman who repeatedly holsters his weapon in order to patiently listen to the perps as they explain the plot to him. It’s a ridiculous reversal of character that occurs at the same speed as the drivers heading toward the finish line in Ford v Ferrari. The action gets underway as two small-time crooks, rational Michael (Stephan James) and rabid Ray (Taylor Kitsch), attempt to rob a stash of 30 kilos of cocaine, only to be confronted with 300 kilos of the powder. Several corrupt cops show up on the scene, and the pair manage to kill all of them. Now branded as cop killers, the criminals are being pursued not only by other crooked law officers who want to silence them but also by the dedicated Davis. As a movie, 21 Bridges is a bridge to nowhere — or at least nowhere interesting.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Brian Kirk and editor Tim Murrell; deleted scenes; and trailers.