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.
Alexei Kravchenko in Come and See (Photo: Criterion)
(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.)
COME AND SEE (1985). Most will tag Come and See as an anti-war film; some will prefer merely to tag it as an anti-entertainment film. Certainly, this World War II saga from Soviet director Elem Klimov is one of the most devastating depictions of conflict ever placed on screen, with the central set-piece almost unwatchable due to the atrocities being staged. Alexei Kravchenko is remarkable as Flyora, a teenage boy who is as excited about finding glory on the battlefield as was Paul Bäumer in All Quiet on the Western Front. But, as with Paul, that optimism quickly turns to anguish as Flyora gets a front-row seat to witness the true consequences of war. The aforementioned sequence, as the Germans cheerfully obliterate an entire village, is as haunting as the sequence that soon follows it — a surreal, Hitler-related segment that’s even more audacious than Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds stunt.
Blu-ray extras include the 1985 short The Story of the Film Come and See; a 2001 interview with Klimov; a new interview with Klimov’s brother and frequent collaborator, German Klimov; a new interview in which two-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Roger Deakins (Blade Runner 2049, 1917) discusses the film; and a 2001 interview with Kravchenko.
DARK FORTUNE (2016). Hidden behind a vague title on both sides of the Atlantic — Dark Fortune translates to Finsteres Glück, the film’s original Swiss title — this is an engrossing drama that’s about loss and guilt and perhaps something more. Teasingly suggesting that there are supernatural or otherworldly forces at work (no fair revealing the truth), this finds child psychologist Eliane Hess (Eleni Haupt) summoned to help Yves (Noé Ricklin), an 8-year-old boy who lost his entire family in a car crash. As Eliane spends time with the child, she hears conflicting stories from others about the father, who some describe as a good man and others paint as an abusive and possibly suicidal brute. Eliane grows attached to the boy and is reluctant to hand him over to an aunt (Alice Flotron) he clearly does not like. She considers bringing him into her home, where she’s already having to contend with two troubled teenage daughters (Elisa Plüss and Chiara Carla Bär) from two previous marriages. Working from a novel by Lukas Hartmann, writer-director Stefan Haupt (husband of the lead actress) has created a nicely textured film that’s particularly strong in delineating the various characters and how these people relate not only to others but to themselves.
There are no extras on the DVD.
THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE (1961). End-of-the-world sagas are a dime-a-dozen, but here’s one that’s worth at least a few bills. Director Val Guest, who had already demonstrated that he could manufacture buckets of suspense with the first two Quatermass flicks (reviewed here), again ratchets up the tension with this dynamic British drama that he co-wrote with Wolf Mankowitz. Earth has the misfortune of having the Americans and the Russians unwittingly testing their nuclear bombs at the same moment; the twin explosions at each pole results in the planet being knocked off its axis. As the staffers at London’s Daily Express try to stay on top of the story, global weather goes haywire as the earth starts moving toward the sun. Yes, it’s slightly similar to Michael Bay’s Armageddon, only done intelligently rather than idiotically. The demeanor of the newspapermen is authentic (Leo McKern and Edward Judd play the writers covering the unfolding tragedy), the romance (between Judd’s journo and Janet Munro’s office worker) is sturdy, and the effects showing a battered London are excellent.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Guest; separate audio commentary by film historian Richard Harland Smith; TV and radio spots; and the theatrical trailers for this and other Kino titles.
THE FLESH AND THE FIENDS (1960). This grisly British chiller is but one of a handful of films based on the real-life exploits of those grave-robbing ghouls Burke and Hare, who in 19th century Scotland murdered over a dozen people and sold their corpses to Dr. Robert Knox for use in his medical research. Peter Cushing plays the desensitized doctor, asking no questions and looking the other way as Burke (George Rose) and Hare (Donald Pleasence) bring him a steady supply of cadavers at a rapid clip. Released stateside under the various monikers The Fiendish Ghouls, Psycho Killers, and Mania, The Flesh and the Fiends finds its seedy storyline further goosed by the gallows humor that (appropriately enough) informs all the scenes involving the diabolical duo. Pleasence is particularly good as the relatively more intelligent of the two killers. For another worthy Burke and Hare telling, check out 1985’s The Doctor and the Devils, produced by Mel Brooks’ company and based on a 40-year-old screenplay by Dylan Thomas.
The new Blu-ray edition from Kino Studio Classics contains both the 95-minute European version and the butchered, 74-minute US cut. Extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas and trailers for four other Cushing titles on the Kino label.
A GOOD WOMAN IS HARD TO FIND (2020). Lately, there’s been a string of movies in which ordinary women, seeking to either avenge or protect loved ones, transform themselves into formidable fighting machines and ruthlessly take down murderous males (Peppermint, A Vigilante, The Rhythm Section). A Good Woman Is Hard to Find is different in that its protagonist never undergoes arduous training before emerging as a superwoman; instead, she remains an average citizen throughout, eventually elevating her game only through her own volition. The primary strength of the picture is Sarah Bolger’s performance as a single mother who inadvertently gets mixed up with drug dealers even as she continuously attempts to find out who murdered her husband. The best scenes in the movie are the more realistic and personal ones, as our harried heroine, beaten down by life, finds herself also having to contend with condescending cops, a lecherous grocery clerk (Sean Sloan), and a well-meaning but misguided mother (Jane Brennan). Unfortunately, the film is compromised by too many moldy and recycled components seen in numerous mob movies, among them the dismemberment and disposal of a corpse and the psychotic crime boss (Edward Hogg) who speaks eloquently and at length before beating someone to death.
DVD extras include audio commentary by director Abner Pastoli; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and an alternate opening.
TOKYO OLYMPIAD (1965). Second only to Leni Riefenstahl’s 1938 Olympia as the most famous of all Olympic documentaries, director Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad is, needless to say, a more humanistic look at the international sporting event than Riefenstahl’s Nazi propaganda piece. This 3-hour film isn’t the same as watching an afternoon of Olympic activity on American television, since Ichikawa isn’t particularly interested in winners or stats or medal counts by country. Instead, the maverick helmer treats the 1964 Summer Games as his own personal art project, employing all manner of methods (from panoramic shots to extreme close-ups) to focus on the winners and the losers. Yet even here, Ichikawa doesn’t always separate the two camps, since he rarely bothers to capture any one sporting event in its entirety. Instead, everyone is depicted as the underdog — sweaty, focused, frightened, anxious, and whatever else can be glimpsed across their faces. The Olympics are often about individual achievement, but Tokyo Olympiad prefers instead to celebrate the commonalities.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 2001) by film historian Peter Cowie; over 80 minutes of additional footage from the Tokyo Games; and archival interviews with Ichikawa.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
THE DRAGONFLY CONSPIRACY The opening minutes of The Dragonfly Conspiracy suggest that here’s a no-budget effort that will be enhanced by its seat-of-the-pants approach, as a car chase is brought up close and personal through the “found footage” method. It’s the sort of no-frills shooting normally associated with home movies, and it provides the chase with a crisp immediacy. But the scene goes on and on and on, eventually turning the initial excitement into ennui. It’s a pattern that’s repeated throughout this plodding picture, which takes a promising premise and destroys it through uninspired (and seemingly improvised) dialogue and amateurish acting. The film follows a couple (Brian Neil Hoff, who also wrote and directed, and Carolina Liechenstein, who scripted with Hoff) who have escaped from an evil institution (Scientology?) with plans to expose the outfit’s nefarious dealings. To continue to elude the organization’s henchmen (played by what seem to be bored Starbucks baristas), they accept help offered by various strangers; eventually, a clone subplot comes into hazy focus. The Dragonfly Conspiracy might have been acceptable as a 15-minute short, but as a feature film, it’s quite the chore — just try to get through the interminable “What happened to Koon?” scene without screaming and bolting from the house. (The Dragonfly Conspiracy can currently be viewed on YouTube; go here.)