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.
Bartosz Bielenia in Corpus Christi (Photo: Film Movement)
(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.)
CANNERY ROW (1982). Debra Winger’s first film after making her mark in 1980’s Urban Cowboy (recently reviewed here) was this adaptation of John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row and its sequel, Sweet Thursday. Winger plays Suzy DeSoto, a hard-luck story who arrives in the titular seaside district looking for work. Unable to find any, she elects to become a prostitute at the bordello run by the kind-hearted Fauna (Audra Lindley, Mrs. Roper on Three’s Company). Considering most of the area’s residents are derelicts (albeit lovable ones), the local catch is clearly a marine biologist known only as Doc (Nick Nolte); he and Suzy are clearly attracted to each other, but it’s going to take the assistance of their friends to bring them together. Featuring characters with such names as “The Seer” (Sunshine Parker) and “Joseph and Mary” (Santos Morales) and an impressive backlot set that never looks like anything but a backlot set, Cannery Row leans heavily into the artifice and the whimsy — it’s a strategy that’s occasionally charming but more often distancing. Nolte and Winger are both fine even if they don’t exactly strike sparks together; they would reunite eight years later for Everybody Wins, an Arthur Miller adaptation which proved to be an even bigger box office bomb than this one.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
CORPUS CHRISTI (2019). An Academy Award nominee for Best International Feature Film, Poland’s Corpus Christi is a provocative piece that examines both spiritual devotion and religious hypocrisy. Young Daniel (Bartosz Bielenia) would like to become a priest, but that will never happen since he killed a man and is serving time in a juvenile facility. Released from prison on parole, he is sent to a small town to work in its sawmill factory, but upon arrival, he convinces the locals that he is in fact their new priest. Daniel’s enthusiasm for the post calms his inner demons and allows him to bond with the townspeople, even offering them helpful if unconventional advice. But (shades of The Sweet Hereafter) a fatal car crash that killed several teenagers hangs over the town like a fog, and it’s here where Daniel sees that the teachings of Christ are being discarded. Daniel is a fascinating character brought to vivid life by Bielenia, and the movie forsakes the usual pious clichés in order to fully dig into the themes of faith and forgiveness. Even the ending rings true, despite not being one that audiences might expect or desire.
Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette; director Jan Komasa’s 2004 short film Nice to See You; and trailers for other titles available on the Film Movement label.
L’IMPORTANT C’EST D’AIMER (1975). Considering the number of great films France has produced since the beginning of cinema itself — 1902’s A Trip to the Moon, 1937’s Grand Illusion, 1946’s The Wages of Fear, plus Truffaut, Melville and much, much more — it’s startling to learn that the country’s version of the Oscars, the César Awards, only came into existence as late as the mid-1970s. The winner of the very first Best Actress award, besting fellow French icons Catherine Deneuve, Isabelle Adjani and Delphine Seyrig, was Romy Schneider, who co-starred in the first Best Film winner, The Old Gun, but won her prize for her performance in this edgy endeavor. Titled That Most Important Thing: Love stateside, this casts Schneider as a struggling actress who finds herself torn between her husband (an excellent Jacques Dutronc) and a photographer (Fabio Testi) who attempts to help her make the break from softcore romps into Shakespearean productions. The central love triangle isn’t as interesting as the array of colorful supporting characters, including a bisexual stage actor played by the singular Klaus Kinski.
Blu-ray extras consist of an interview with director Andrzej Ζulawski and the theatrical trailer.
Incidentally, fans of Schneider will be interested to learn that, in addition to this standalone title, Film Movement has also released a double-feature Blu-ray containing two collaborations between the actress and director Claude Sautet: 1972’s Les Choses de la vie and 1972’s César et Rosalie. Each film is accompanied by a retrospective featurette.
NARROW MARGIN (1990). The 1952 film noir effort The Narrow Margin is rightly considered a classic; the 1990 remake Narrow Margin is rightly not. Yet that’s not to say there isn’t much to enjoy in this breezy thriller in which Gene Hackman’s typically strong performance and Peter Hyams’ typically robust direction overpower some character deficiencies in the screenplay (also by Hyams). Hackman portrays a district attorney who tries to protect an eyewitness (Anne Archer) to a murder from the assassins sent to terminate her; finding themselves aboard a train snaking through the Canadian wilds, the pair must somehow elude their pursuers in particularly cramped quarters. Some dumdum decisions made by Hackman’s brainy character don’t really make sense, but these and other plotholes will be forgiven by those who respond to the film’s clever catch (the killers know what he looks like but not what she looks like), its memorable villains, and its exciting climax. If nothing else, this is the only movie whose cast includes both M. Emmet Walsh and J.T. Walsh, two beloved character actors whose names often led to viewer confusion during their overlapping stretch. (For the record, M. plays the folksy but ill-fated detective while J.T. plays the charming but ill-fated lawyer.)
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Hyams; separate audio commentary by film historian Peter Tonguette; a making-of featurette; and the theatrical trailer.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION (1984). Paul Bartel, the writer-director of the cult fave Eating Raoul and the helmer of the Divine-driven Western Lust in the Dust, brings his offbeat sensibilities to this flailing attempt at a screwball comedy. Winsome Nancy Allen stars as Lois Thornedyke, a journalist who reluctantly works for a scandal sheet under the direction of sleazy editor Troppogrosso (Richard Paul). Taking novice photographer Barry Denver (colorless David Naughton) under her wing, she becomes an aide to NYC Mayor Franklin (Laurence Luckinbill) even as she seeks to expose government corruption. Along the way, an asinine pimp named Señor Wopperico (Barry Dennen) and an orgy in which all the participants are dressed like animals figure into the proceedings. Not for Publication isn’t as outrageous as it believes, although Dennen (the original Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar) goes so over the top that his emoting feels like some sort of avant-garde performance art. The rest is rather toothless, with banal dialogue between Lois and Barry and a tiresome turn by Alice Ghostley as Barry’s wacky mother contributing to viewer torpidity.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by filmmaker Allan Arkush (who as director had worked with Bartel on 1979’s Rock ‘n’ Roll High School) and film historian Daniel Kremer; the theatrical trailer; and the theatrical trailer for Bartel’s 1989 comedy Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills.
ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948). It may not be as celebrated a film debut as those by, say, Julie Andrews in Mary Poppins, Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not, and even Alan Rickman in Die Hard, but Doris Day certainly grabbed everyone’s attention when she premiered with a peppy performance in this effervescent musical comedy. From Top Hat to North by Northwest, vintage pictures often relied on “mistaken identity” plots, and that’s because filmmakers usually knew how to make them successful. This one’s no exception, with Elvira and Michael Kent (Janis Page and Don DeFore) only a few years married and already not trusting each other when it comes to dallying with members of the opposite sex. To stay in town to catch her husband cheating, Elvira pretends to go away on a cruise, instead sending struggling singer Georgia Garrett (Day) in her place. Convinced that his wife has embarked on a journey with a lover, Michael sends private investigator Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) on the same voyage. Peter of course believes Georgia to be Elvira, and the shenanigans become even more complicated when Georgia’s lovelorn friend (Oscar Levant) comes on board in order to woo her. Doris sings four songs, although the best musical number finds Broadway star Avon Long (Porgy and Bess) performing “The Tourist Trade.” This earned a pair of Oscar nominations for Best Scoring of a Musical and Best Original Song (“It’s Magic,” which became a huge hit for Day).
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1948 musical short Let’s Sing a Song from the Movies; the 1948 Bug Bunny cartoon Hare Splitter; and the theatrical trailer.
TEN LITTLE INDIANS (1989). Although its ingenious plot has served as the inspiration for countless movies, there have only been four straightforward big-screen adaptations of Agatha Christie’s novel and play And Then There Were None (aka Ten Little Indians), each one progressively weaker than the previous incarnation. The 1945 version starring Walter Huston and Barry Fitzgerald is excellent (★★★★ and reviewed here); the 1965 version with Hugh O’Brien and Shirley Eaton is good (★★★); the 1974 version featuring Oliver Reed and Richard Attenborough is fair (★★); and this 1989 version starring Donald Pleasence and Herbert Lom is downright awful. The plot remains the same: Ten people are invited to gather at a desolate location, only to find themselves being murdered one by one. The daftness begins with the very setting: Whereas the previous editions took place in secluded spots (an island, a mountaintop castle, a deserted hotel), this takes place in a bunch of tents occupied by the members of an African safari. Tents in close proximity aren’t exactly soundproof (a requirement, one would think, when committing murder), but never mind: This movie immediately signals its barrel-bottom credentials by casting Frank Stallone as the hero. Normally reliable actors like Pleasence and Brenda Vaccaro overact outrageously, while some of the lesser known performers are downright terrible (neither here nor there is Lom, who had appeared in the 1974 version in a different role). Alan Birkinshaw’s ham-fisted direction is another demerit in a movie full of them.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.