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.
Molly Ringwald, Andrew McCarthy and Jon Cryer in Pretty in Pink (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.)
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS (1971). A royal flush of a different sort can be found in this gripping period piece in which two queens try to sweep each other out of power. After the death of her French husband, the Catholic Mary Stuart (Vanessa Redgrave) returns to Scotland to reclaim her throne; this action in turn worries England’s Protestant ruler Elizabeth I (Glenda Jackson), who suspects that Mary’s ambitions might eventually interfere with her own affairs. But as Elizabeth notes, she’s a monarch first and a woman second while Mary is the opposite — this allows her to play political games with her more naïve rival, one of which is duping Mary into marrying the sexist and immature Lord Darnley (Timothy Dalton). While playing loose with some facts — Mary and Elizabeth never met in person, although they do here (this fabrication was repeated in 2018’s Mary Queen of Scots, with Saoirse Ronan as Mary and Margot Robbie as Elizabeth; see review here) — the film nevertheless offers plenty of courtside intrigue as well as a stellar turn by Nigel Davenport as Mary’s trusted friend Lord Bothwell. Redgrave is up to the demands of her emotionally fluctuating character, while Jackson is a marvel as the shrewd Elizabeth (a role she had played earlier that year in the TV miniseries Elizabeth R). Mary, Queen of Scots earned five Academy Award nominations, including a Best Actress nod for Redgrave (Jackson, meanwhile, was nominated in the same category for her other 1971 release, Sunday Bloody Sunday).
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Sergio Mims; an isolated music track with commentary by films historians Jon Berlingame and the late Nick Redman; and the theatrical trailer.
PRETTY IN PINK (1986). Sixteen Candles and especially The Breakfast Club are better films, but in many ways, Pretty in Pink feels like the quintessential John Hughes movie. Hughes’ muse Molly Ringwald stars as Andie Walsh, a teenager who lives on the wrong side of the tracks (literally, as we see a train choo-chooing next to her neighborhood). Her best female friend is the sprightly Inoa (Annie Potts), her boss at a local record store; her best male friend is the obnoxious Duckie (Jon Cryer), who’s hopelessly in love with her. But Andie is interested in Blane (Andrew McCarthy), a “richie” who, unlike his similarly wealthy friends such as Steff (James Spader), treats the lower-class kids with respect. Andie and Blane start dating, but will their socioeconomic differences doom their romance? Hughes’ utterly formulaic screenplay (much of the story foundation is cribbed from Sixteen Candles) is largely saved by the bright ‘80s aesthetics as well as most of the cast: Ringwald is sympathetic, McCarthy is charming, Spader is unctuous, Potts is lovable, and Harry Dean Stanton (as Andie’s unemployed dad) is touching. The litmus test is Cryer as Duckie — you either find his antics amusing and adorable or maddening and moronic. (I fall into the latter camp, though I did chuckle at his “candy machine” quip in the girls’ bathroom.) Among the up-and-comers in small roles are Kristy Swanson (as the dream girl who shows up in that ridiculous finale), Gina Gershon, Margaret Colin, and Andrew Dice Clay.
Side note: Back in the 1980s, Paramount would graciously send college newspaper critics to LA and NYC on film junkets. Among those I attended was the one for Pretty in Pink, and interviewees included Hughes, Ringwald, McCarthy, Cryer, Potts, and Spader. Above are the articles I ran in my college newspaper: an interview with Molly Ringwald and a piece on the star-studded LA premiere for the movie.
Blu-ray extras consist of a new interview with director Howard Deutch (Hughes only wrote and produced this one); a piece on the original ending (before test audiences had their say); an isolated track of the music; and the theatrical trailer.
SCORSESE SHORTS (1963-1978). Just what the title says: a handful of the various shorts made by Martin Scorsese, including two of his student films and two documentaries made after he had broken through with 1973’s Mean Streets. These five pieces certainly don’t rank among his greatest achievements — if they were shown anonymously, I suspect most viewers would find them entertaining but hardly revelatory — but each does contain at least one element familiar from his overall canon, whether it be assured technical prowess, the characters’ rat-tat-tat cadence, or a fascination with violent men in violent circumstances. The oddball effort What’s a Nice Girl Like You Doing in a Place Like This? (1963; 10 minutes) centers on a writer who becomes obsessed with a particular painting; the amusing It’s Not Just You, Murray! (1964; 16 minutes) follows an aging gangster as he reflects on his life; the startling The Big Shave (1967; 5 minutes) is Scorsese’s comment on the Vietnam War, told through the metaphor of a man shaving himself before beginning to slice his face with the razor; the gentle Italianamerican (1975; 49 minutes) finds the director interviewing his own parents, Charles and Catherine Scorsese; and the wired American Boy: A Profile of Steven Prince (1978; 55 minutes) is a conversation with a wild man who’s not only Scorsese’s friend but also Neil Diamond’s former road manager, a former drug addict, and the real-life inspiration for the adrenaline-shot-in-the-heart scene in Pulp Fiction (which Prince had performed on an o.d.ing woman).
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with Scorsese; a discussion about these shorts with filmmakers Ari Aster (Hereditary) and Josh and Benny Safdie (Uncut Gems); and a 1970 public-radio interview with Scorsese.
UNIVERSAL HORROR COLLECTION VOLUME 5 (1941-1945). It would give me great pleasure to report that it’s worth going ape over Shout! Factory’s fifth compendium of horror flicks from the Universal archives. Alas, this latest set, consisting solely of movies about menacing monkeys with murder and mayhem on their minds, is by far the weakest of the bunch.
Ironically, the best film in the collection is the one that wasn’t made by Universal. Instead, The Monster and the Girl (1941) was a Paramount production that was later sold to Universal as part of a television package. What makes this one interesting is that it doesn’t even turn into a horror film until midway through. The first half concerns itself with the trial of small-town guy Scot Webster (Philip Terry), who’s been framed for a murder he didn’t commit. Scot came to the big city to rescue his sister (Ellen Drew), a trusting soul who was forced into prostitution in quite an elaborate manner. After the innocent Scot is sent to the electric chair, a mad scientist (it’s either gonna be Lionel Atwill or George Zucco; in this case, it’s Zucco) takes his brain and places it inside the body of a gorilla. But like a hirsute RoboCop, the ape recalls his past life and begins slaughtering the gangsters who set him up. Some nice touches (like the faithful dog who senses his master somewhere inside that gorilla’s hulking frame) compensate for a second half that grows increasingly silly.
The other three films in the collection comprise a trilogy that doesn’t exactly compare to the studio’s other monster franchises. This is basically a beauty and the beast scenario where the beauty is the beast. Captive Wild Woman (1943) introduces Cheela, a gorilla who’s stolen from the circus by a crazed scientist (John Carradine, another “mad doc” regular) and transformed into a beautiful woman he names Paula Dupree (Acquanetta). But Paula becomes jealous of the relationship between the animal trainer (Milburn Stone) who was kind to her and his girlfriend (Evelyn Ankers), and she has trouble keeping her animalistic instincts at bay. Captive Wild Woman employs far too much stock footage of trainers whipping lions in various circus acts, and, as portrayed by the stiff Acquanetta, Paula Depree / The Ape Woman is a dull character in either form. Jungle Woman (1944) finds Paula (again played by a wooden Acquanetta) being placed in the care of a kindly doctor (J. Carroll Naish) before again going on a rampage. Ankers and Stone also return from the first film, as do an absurd amount of recycled footage and a general air of tedium. The series closes with Jungle Captive (1945), with Paula (now played by Vicky Lane) again falling into the clutches of an ill-meaning scientist (Otto Kruger). Rondo Hatton, who suffered from acromegaly and was always cast as hulking monsters and murderers, here portrays Moloch the Brute; he’s the best thing in this lackluster effort.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentaries with various film historians on all four titles; still galleries for two of the films; and theatrical trailers for two of the movies. The set also contains a booklet of photos and film credits.
The Monster and the Girl: ★★½
Captive Wild Woman: ★★
Jungle Woman: ★★
Jungle Captive: ★★
WILDLIFE (2018). Better known as an actor, Paul Dano (Little Miss Sunshine, There Will Be Blood) made his writing and directing debuts with this superlative drama that at once feels both specific to its time and universal in its concerns. Adapting (with his longtime partner, actress Zoe Kazan) the novel by Richard Ford, Dano has fashioned a family saga set in the early 1960s, where dysfunction becomes the order of the day. Recently arrived in a small Montana town, Jerry Brinson (Jake Gyllenhaal) lands a job at a prestigious golf club while his wife Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) stays at home to raise their teenage son Joe (Ed Oxenbould). But Jerry is soon fired for being too chummy with the clients, and although club management quickly realizes its error and offers him his job back, his pride won’t let him accept it. His refusal to work doesn’t sit well with Jeanette, and she becomes even more infuriated once Jerry decides to temporarily abandon his family to head into the mountains and help combat the forest fires devastating the region. Seeing Jerry become a bad parent doesn’t bring out the best in Jeanette; on the contrary, she likewise ignores her son as she considers entering into a relationship with a decidedly older — and wealthier — man (Bill Camp) who owns a local car dealership. This is an emotionally devastating and morally complicated film, examining how adults may have a right to embark on a journey of self-discovery but not at the expense of their offspring. Gyllenhaal is prickly and Oxenbould is heartbreaking, but it’s Mulligan who commands center stage. So excellent in her Oscar-nominated turn in 2009’s An Education, she’s equally mesmerizing here, portraying a strong woman who’s too often betrayed by her own paralysis and self-pity.
Blu-ray extras include new interviews with Dano, Kazan, Mulligan, and Gyllenhaal, and a 2018 conversation between Dano and Ford.