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.
The B-52s: Live at US Festival (Photo: Shout! Factory)
(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.)
THE B-52S: LIVE AT US FESTIVAL (2020). At the inaugural US Festival in 1982, the mouthwatering lineup on the show’s first day included The Ramones, The Police, and Talking Heads. Also on the bill for that opening salvo were The B-52s, whose appearance has now been placed on DVD by the Shout! Factory label. For longtime fans like me (shimmying to “Rock Lobster” since my high school era 40 years ago!), this is a valuable time-capsule piece, capturing the ultimate party band while it was still in its relative infancy. (And apparently we kids weren’t the only fans back in the day: In 1980, the same year as his assassination, John Lennon heard “Rock Lobster” in a dance club and was so excited by it that he ended his five-year hiatus to create Double Fantasy.) With two albums and one EP already under their belt, band members Fred Schneider, Kate Pierson, Cindy Wilson, Ricky Wilson (who died of AIDS in 1985), and Keith Strickland weren’t lacking for material, and they light up the stage with dazzling performances of such gems as “Private Idaho,” “Give Me Back My Man,” “52 Girls,” “Dance This Mess Around,” “Mesopotamia,” and eight other songs. Interspersed throughout the concert (which lasts about an hour) are snippets from a new interview with Fred, Kate and Cindy.
There are no extras on the DVD.
BRUTE FORCE (1947). It’s an apt title, as “brutal” and “forceful” are the first words that come to mind when describing this punishing prison picture. In his sophomore stint in front of the cameras — his debut film, 1946’s The Killers, instantly made him a star — Burt Lancaster is sinewy and slow-burning as Joe Collins, a convict who’s tired of the abuse doled out on a daily basis by Munsey, the sadistic captain of the guards (an excellent Hume Cronyn). Along with his cellmates (look for Howard Duff making his movie debut as “Soldier”), Joe plans a great escape, a go-for-broke gamble that looks even more risky considering that the fascistic Munsey seemingly has informants planted throughout the jailhouse. Directed by Jules Dassin from a hard-hitting script by Richard Brooks, Brute Force breaks out of the parameters established by the prison flick in order to borrow liberally from film noir, WWII tales, and socially progressive melodramas. Dassin’s next film was The Naked City, reviewed below.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 2007) by film noir specialists Alain Silver and James Ursini; a 2007 interview with Paul Mason, editor of the book Captured by the Media: Prison Discourse in Popular Culture; and a stills gallery.
CARO DIARIO (1993). A movie that’s part factual and part fictionalized also turns out to be a film that’s part all-embracing and part self-indulgent. Italian writer-director-star Nanni Moretti has fashioned Caro Diario (Dear Diary) as three entries in his personal cinematic notebook, with the two first segments housing some charming interludes amidst the meandering framework and the final segment largely falling flat despite being the most weighty section. “On My Vespa” centers on Moretti zipping around Rome on his scooter, singing the praises of Flashdance and its star Jennifer Beals (who appears briefly as herself), getting depressed after watching the acclaimed Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (“I wander around the city for hours, trying to remember who said good things about this film”), and visiting the gravesite of murdered filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini. “Islands” shows Moretti and his friend Gerardo (Renato Carpentieri) seeking a secluded place to work, with Gerardo despising TV (he hasn’t watched it in 30 years) before amusingly becoming addicted to soap operas. And “Doctors” finds Moretti disillusioned with the medical profession after his malady is misdiagnosed numerous times before it’s finally revealed to be cancer.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette and a deleted scene.
DR. WHO AND THE DALEKS (1965) / DALEKS’ INVASION EARTH 2150 A.D. (1966). To date, there have been 13 versions of The Doctor since Doctor Who first premiered on the BBC in 1963, but there had only been one (played by William Hartnell) when an attempt was made to create a trio of corresponding theatrical films. But while the first picture was a modest success, the second was a flop, and plans for a third entry were abandoned. There are several notable differences between the movie and TV versions, with the main discrepancy being that the small-screen Doctor is an extra-terrestrial Time Lord while the theatrical one is a kindly human inventor. Peter Cushing portrays the cinematic scientist, seen in Dr. Who and the Daleks traveling with his granddaughters Susan (Roberta Tovey) and Barbara (Jennie Linden) and Barbara’s klutzy boyfriend Ian (Roy Castle) to a distant planet where he becomes involved in a centuries-long skirmish between the brutal Daleks and the peaceful Thals. Cushing is back for more doctor duty in Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D., this time journeying to the future alongside Susan (Tovey), his niece Louise (Jill Curzon), and an affable constable (Bernard Cribbins) and finding our planet overrun with destructive Daleks. The first film is pitched directly at small children, but it works on that level, and it further benefits from a vibrant color scheme that’s easy on — and engaging to — the eyes. The sequel is more adult-oriented but less interesting, with a clutter of characters and less overall emphasis on the Doctor and the Daleks.
Both Blu-ray editions (sold separately) contain the same extras: audio commentary by film historians Kim Newman and Robert Shearman and filmmaker Mark Gatiss (Sherlock); the 1995 documentary Dalekmania; an interview with author Gareth Owen (The Pinewood Story); a restoration piece; and the theatrical trailer. Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D. also contains an interview with Cribbins.
Dr. Who and the Daleks: ★★½
Daleks’ Invasion Earth 2150 A.D.: ★★
KENTUCKY KERNELS (1934). Although they were never as famous or beloved as such comedy duos as Laurel and Hardy or Abbott and Costello, Wheeler and Woolsey were popular enough throughout the 1930s to find themselves cast as a team in 21 features. One such effort was Kentucky Kernels, directed by future two-time Oscar winner George Stevens (Giant, A Place in the Sun) from a story by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, both fresh off a trio of Marx Brothers flicks (including the immortal Duck Soup). Through a convoluted scenario, struggling magicians Elmer the Great and Company — a.k.a. Elmer (Robert Woolsey) and Willie (Bert Wheeler) — find themselves looking after a kid named Spanky (Our Gang’s George “Spanky” McFarland). Despite Spanky’s proclivity to break every glass window he can find (wait till he catches sight of a greenhouse!), the guys are fond of him, even more so once they learn that he has come into a sizable inheritance in Kentucky. The trio head down South, not realizing they’re about to step into a Hatfield & McCoy-styled feud between two rival families. Aside from the racist material involving Willie Best (once again billed in the credits as Sleep ‘n Eat), there are enough bright bits in this throwaway comedy to make it worthwhile.
The only Blu-ray extras are three 1934 cartoons (two with Popeye).
THE NAKED CITY (1948). New York City itself is the real star of director Jules Dassin’s influential crime flick that broke from the established norm by being filmed on actual locations rather than on a Hollywood studio lot. Conceived by producer and former journalist Mark Hellinger as a fictional piece punched across in docudrama style (also a fairly original concept at the time), this focuses on a single murder case plaguing members of New York’s finest: the drowning of a beautiful (and social-climbing) woman in her own bathtub. Wily vet Dan Muldoon (reliable Barry Fitzgerald) heads the investigation, with eager young Jimmy Halloran (Don Taylor) doing most of the legwork; their tireless efforts eventually lead them to the killer, who’s hunted down in an expertly shot climax. “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them,” states the narrator (also Hellinger) at the end of the film, a tagline that was subsequently used in the TV spin-off that ran for several years (1958-1963) on ABC. Both cinematographer William Daniels and film editor Paul Weatherwax won Oscars for their work on the picture, with scripter Malvin Wald earning a nomination for Best Motion Picture Story.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary (from 1996) by Wald; a 2006 interview with film scholar Dana Polan; and a stills gallery.