Nicolas Cage in Color Out of Space (Photo: RLJE Films)

(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.)

Tom Hanks (Finalized)
Tom Hanks in A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Photo: TriStar)

A BEAUTIFUL DAY IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD (2019). The title promises a biopic about the gentle and soft-spoken children’s television host Mr. Rogers. Instead, it turns out that Mr. Rogers isn’t even the star of his own movie — rather, he only appears every now and then, since the film isn’t about him as much as it’s about Tom Junod, the reporter who wrote a piece on Mr. Rogers for Esquire. I get it: Director Marielle Heller and scripters Micah Fitzerman-Blue and Noah Harpster have made a movie that’s less about Mr. Rogers and more about his influence on the cynical world surrounding him. As Exhibit A, we get a story about a mopey man (Junod, renamed as Lloyd Vogel and played by Matthew Rhys) who, despite having a loving wife (Susan Kelechi Watson) and a new baby, can’t let go of the distant past and continues to resent his estranged father (Chris Cooper). But whenever matters get too difficult for Lloyd, along comes Mr. Rogers (Oscar-nominated Tom Hanks), periodically swooping in like Lou Ferrigno in The Incredible Hulk to save the day. We certainly need a comforting movie in these uncomfortable times, but that movie was the 2018 documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, which showed that Fred Rogers was a complicated individual who nevertheless practiced what he preached. Morgan Neville’s film never allowed the myth to eclipse the man, which isn’t the case here. Hanks is excellent as the saintly icon, and whenever he’s off the screen (which is a lot), we miss him fiercely and are forced to resign ourselves to yet another standard drama about a guy with daddy issues. Fred Rogers ultimately remains a cypher, as untouchable and out of reach as those three ghosts that turned Ebenezer Scrooge into a better person.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Heller; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and bloopers.

Movie: ★★½

Madeleine Arthur in Color Out of Space (Photo: RLJE Films)

COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2020). If Nicolas Cage’s performance feels like a black hole in the center of Color Out of Space’s heart of darkness, that’s only because the actor has played variations on this wild-and-crazy-guy theme so many times that it’s probably impossible for him to ever catch us off guard again. Still, our resigned familiarity with the patented method to his madness doesn’t distract from the uniqueness of this freakish sci-fi flick. Dropping the “The” from the title of H.P. Lovecraft’s celebrated short story, Color Out of Space centers on the Gardners, a big-city family recently relocated to a rural community. The dysfunction among the various members — anxious dad Nathan (Cage), depressed mom Theresa (Joely Richardson),  surly daughter Lavinia (an impressive Madeleine Arthur), pothead son Benny (Brendan Meyer), and quiet little Jack (Julian Hilliard) — is brought to the forefront by writer-director Richard Stanley (co-scripting with Scarlett Amaris), adding an additional level of intensity to the tale once a meteorite lands on their property and its mere presence begins to take its toll on animal, vegetable and mineraloid alike. The latest of several adaptations of this story to hit the screen — the first was 1965’s Die, Monster, Die! starring Boris Karloff, and it’s safe to say that some of Lovecraft’s DNA even ended up in 2018’s Annihilation (reviewed here) — Color Out of Space unfortunately allows gross-out effects to temporarily overtake the story toward the end. Aside from this misstep, though, the film is endlessly imaginative and, as suits its title, showcases a vibrant visual palette.

Extras on the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray edition consist of a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a photo gallery.

Movie: ★★★

Frozen II (Photo: Disney)

FROZEN II (2019). Disney’s 2013 gem Frozen grossed over one billion dollars worldwide and earned a pair of Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song. Would that the makers of that film heeded the advice of its award-winning song and just let it go. But when a movie makes that kind of loot, a sequel is only slightly less guaranteed than a seasonal snowfall in Anchorage or Albany. Frozen II continues the saga of Elsa (voiced by Idina Menzel), who wields ice-forming powers like a wayward X-Man, and her supportive sister Anna (Kristen Bell). Everyone is happy in their village until Elsa starts hearing a mysterious voice that compels her to leave the village and discover its source. What she unearths is a terrible family secret that must be corrected before everyone can live happily ever after (or at least until the next sequel). Even though Elsa and Anna remain two of Disney’s finest heroines of the modern era, this sequel loses much of the inventiveness of its predecessor, with a plot that’s too complicated for the kids and too cumbersome for the adults. It often doesn’t feel like a movie as much as a chess match, with the characters being shoved all around the board with studied precision. Among the high points are a pair of delightful musical numbers: An Elsa solo is staged like a Broadway spectacular, while a ballad featuring the likable lug Kristoff (Jonathan Groff) is amusingly shot like a vintage music video. Frozen II offers spotty entertainment value, but it’s missing much of the magic that informed the first film. In other words, the thrill is gone, only to be replaced with a big chill.

Blu-ray extras include a trivia piece; deleted scenes and songs; outtakes; and, recalling one of the best sequences from this year’s Oscar ceremony, the opportunity to hear the song “Into the Unknown” in 29 different languages.

Movie: ★★½

Octavia St. Laurent in Paris Is Burning (Photo: Criterion)

PARIS IS BURNING (1991). Long before there was Madonna and “Vogue,” there was Harlem and voguing. Although this particular terminology wouldn’t be coined until years later, the art form was around decades before the Material Girl brought it into the mainstream. While Madonna was accused by many of cultural appropriation and of downplaying the minority origins, director Jennie Livingston’s documentary makes sure everyone has their day in the sun. Both entertaining and informative, Paris Is Burning spends much of its time explaining in laymen terms the various expressions employed on the ball circuit, wherein black and Latino members of the gay and transgender communities compete in a multitude of shows. The contests are broken down into a wide variety of categories with such designations as “Executive Realness” (being able to pass as a straight businessman), “Banjee Boy Realness” (posing as a macho man), and “Luscious Body” (for femme queens over 300 pounds). The movie also takes a brief look at the history of the ball, tracing the evolvement over the years from participants looking like Vegas showgirls to Marilyn Monroe to magazine models (the term “vogue” was taken from the periodical of the same name) to the modern format where anything goes. Many of the participants prove to be fascinating individuals, among them The Legendary Dorian Corey, a veteran ball-walker who’s full of keen observations, and Venus Xtravaganza, a lithe drag queen who dreams of having a sex change and getting married but tragically ends up murdered a couple of years before the film’s release.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary (from 2005) by Livingston; never-before-seen outtakes; a new interview with Livingston; a 1991 episode of The Joan Rivers Show with Livingston and various ball community members; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★

Edward Furlong and Jason McGuire in Pet Sematary II (Photo: Shout! Factory)

PET SEMATARY II (1992). Despite its ample shortcomings, the 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary (reviewed here) proved to be a box office hit, leading to the we-might-as-well creation of this useless sequel. King, who usually doesn’t mind his name attached to any form of cinematic garbage, had it successfully removed from the credits of this picture, which should alert any potential viewer to tread carefully. Set in Ludlow, Maine, the same town as in the original picture, this finds veterinarian Chase Matthews (Anthony Edwards) and his teenage son Jeff (Edward Furlong) moving there following the ghastly on-set death of Chase’s ex-wife, horror-movie actress Renee Hallow (Darlanne Fluegel). Jeff befriends Drew (Jason McGuire), the stepson of tyrannical sheriff Gus Gilbert (Clancy Brown), and it isn’t long before both kids have reason to make use of the pet cemetery that rests over the remains of a former Indian burial ground. As before, both humans and animals are brought back from the dead, but no similar signs of life can be detected anywhere in Richard Outten’s rancid screenplay. Mary Lambert returns as director, but the inadvertent cheesiness she provided for the first Pet Sematary has now been replaced with an intentional comedic edge that rubs uneasily against the film’s overarching mean-spiritedness. Fred Gwynne, whose supporting performance as the kindly neighbor Jud was the one excellent aspect of the original, is sorely missed here; the acting on tap runs the gamut from the undercooked (Furlong) to the overbaked (Brown).

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Lambert; new interviews with Furlong, Brown, McGuire, special makeup effects creator Steve Johnson, and composer Mark Governor; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★

The Point (Photo: MVD)

THE POINT (1971). A pop-culture staple of the early 1970s, The Point is exceptional enough in its charm, its whimsy, its animated style, and its musical lyricism to draw favorable comparisons to The Beatles’ classic Yellow Submarine as well as the earliest of the beloved Peanuts TV specials. Initially airing as an ABC Movie of the Week, The Point was also a companion piece to Harry Nilsson’s same-named album, which had debuted a few weeks earlier at the tail end of 1970. Both relate the story of Oblio, a boy who lives in The Land of the Point. Everyone and everything there has a point — pointy heads on the people, pointed tops on the buildings, pointy objects in all paintings (when an artist submits a portrait of a circle, he’s tossed out of the museum), and so on. It’s only little Oblio who doesn’t have a point —his head is round like ours — and although most townspeople like him, the machinations of the evil Count result in the child being banished (along with his pointy-headed dog Arrow) to the Pointless Forest. A pointed (ahem) look at prejudice, this delightful yarn includes wonderful characters (my fave: The Rock Man) and trippy visuals. Oblio is voiced by Mike Lookinland, then popular for playing youngest son Bobby on The Brady Bunch; others lending their pipes are voice-actor legends Paul Frees (who had tackled everyone from John Lennon and Franklin D. Roosevelt to Rocky & Bullwinkle’s Boris Badenov and Fantastic Four’s The Thing) and Lennie Weinrib (H.R. Pufnstuf and Scrappy-Doo, among others). Dustin Hoffman was hired to provide the narration for only the original airing; Alan Barzman and Alan Thicke took over for subsequent broadcasts, although it’s Ringo Starr who’s the most popular of the replacements — and the one featured on this Blu-ray from the MVD label.

Blu-ray extras include a making-of piece; a look at Nilsson’s screen credits; and interviews with Lookinland and scripter Norm Lenzer.

Movie: ★★★½

Laura Betti and Terence Stamp in Teorema (Photo: Criterion)

TEOREMA (1968). Everyone’s favorite atheistic-Communist-homosexual filmmaker is behind Teorema, a film that will strike many as enigmatic and others as merely absurd. Pier Paolo Pasolini opens his picture with a discussion about how the capitalist class is always wrong even when it tries to do right. From here, the story proper moves to the home of a bourgeoisie family and the events that transpire when a character known only as The Visitor (Terence Stamp) appears on the scene. He inspires lust (love?) in the household inhabitants and, one by one, has carnal relationships with all of them: the capitalist father (Massimo Girotti), the frigid mother (Silvana Mangano), the emotionally flailing son (Andrés José Cruz Soublette), the naïve daughter (Anne Wiazemsky), and the religiously devout maid (Laura Betti). And then, at exactly the movie’s midpoint, he abruptly departs, leaving each person to come to terms with the newfound emptiness in their lives. Most react in radical and often self-destructive ways — the mom, for instance, cruises the streets for young men to pick up and screw — although the maid, the only working-class member of the household, returns to her village and begins performing miracles. Teorema was targeted by the Vatican, and that’s hardly surprising — in addition to its thematic content, the film features almost as many close-ups of Stamp’s crotch as Lawrence of Arabia contains scenes featuring sand. But those with a proclivity toward ambiguity will find the movie interesting to ponder and then either accept or reject.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary (from 2007) by author Robert S.C. Gordon (Pasolini: Forms of Subjectivity); a 1969 introduction to the film by Pasolini; a 2007 interview with Stamp; and an interview with author John David Rhodes (Stupendous, Miserable City: Pasolini’s Rome).

Movie: ★★★



  1. It shows you how out of touch I am that, upon reading your Color Out of Space review, I decided I’d go catch it over the weekend at my favourite down-at-heel multiplex. I was told (online… I’m not a complete fool) that it’s only currently showing in one theatre apiece in Toronto and London (ON, that is). I’m still used to a period of a few months between a film’s theatrical run and its home video release. Oh well.

    p.s. I do believe you should have used “detract” where you used “distract”.

    • Nah, I meant “distract” (as Nicolas Cage in Looney Tunes mode can frequently drive one to distraction), but “detract” definitely works as well!

      And, yeah, the panes in the theatrical window have been totally smashed at this point.

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