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 Cruise in Top Gun (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.)
APACHE (1954) / ATTACK (1956). The Kino Lorber label has already released several films from director Robert Aldrich (including Ulzana’s Raid, reviewed here, and The Grissom Gang, reviewed here), and here are two more to add to the growing stack.
Burt Lancaster was an unlikely choice to play a historic Native American, and yet he did so … twice. Following his turn as the title character in 1951’s Jim Thorpe — All-American, he starred as Massai, one of Geronimo’s warriors, in Aldrich’s Apache. Lancaster lends his usual intensity to the role, fuming and fighting even after Geronimo and the other Apaches have peaceably surrendered to the U.S. Cavalry. Massai’s hatred of the white man informs most of his moves, but he begins to reconsider his violent path, first after meeting a Native American (Morris Ankrum) who lives side by side with whites and then after settling down with the loyal Nalinle (Jean Peters). Massai covers a lot of ground in his crusade (via plains and trains), and so does the movie — perhaps too much, since there are some abrupt shifts in both message and characterization. The happy ending has been much criticized (it was added by the studio at the last minute, against Aldrich’s wishes), but what’s interesting to me is that Hays Code flunkies, mindful of an eye for an eye in all circumstances, allowed it to stand.
The World War II drama Attack is more tightly scripted, with James Poe adapting the Norman Brooks play Fragile Fox. Despite its stage origins, the piece opens with a furious, screen-filling battle, one in which the Americans are pinned down by the Germans while the cowardly Captain Cooney (Eddie Albert) won’t provide any reinforcements. Lieutenant Costa (Jack Palance) is disgusted by the fact that the inept Cooney only landed his position because of his father’s political clout, and appeals for his dismissal are quickly rejected by a savvy superior officer (Lee Marvin) with his own ambitions. Palance is so intense, you almost expect your own blood vessels to burst; nicely contrasting him are William Smithers and Buddy Ebsen as soldiers who approach the Cooney dilemma in a more diplomatic manner than the seething Costa. Despite the trimmings, Attack doesn’t feel foremost like a war flick as much as it registers as a cautionary tale about the perils of enabling a pampered, privileged, and incompetent man-boy simply for one’s own personal gain (a timely lesson for the sycophantic GOP of 2016-2020).
The only Blu-ray extras for both films (sold separately) are theatrical trailers.
COLLATERAL (2004). The notion of Tom Cruise playing a hardened killer may have sounded like a gimmick — yet another bald attempt to score that Oscar that still eludes him — but as Michael Mann’s Collateral demonstrated upon its release, it was a gamble that paid off. Cruise didn’t win any awards, but his performance is nevertheless a fine one, nicely seasoned with just the right touch of piquantness. Sporting salt-and-pepper hair that suits him rather well, Cruise stars as Vincent, a contract killer who forces a cab driver named Max (Jamie Foxx) to ferry him around nocturnal Los Angeles so he can carry out his assignment. Vincent’s been paid to bump off five individuals who can help the law clamp down on an international drug cartel, but along the way he has to contend with his driver-hostage, who’s none too happy with his latest fare and repeatedly tries to escape. Scripter Stuart Beattie creates some interesting give-and-take dynamics between Vincent and Max, yet he and Mann seem to be equally interested in the peripheral elements: a relaxed soliloquy by a jazz musician (Barry Shabaka Henley) who’s still marveling over his brush with greatness; a dialogue between Max and one of his passengers, a self-doubting prosecuter (Jada Pinkett Smith), that feels real because neither character knows exactly where it’s heading; and the reflective headlight glare captured in the eyes of a wayward coyote that’s silently padding its way through an urban — and decidedly untamed — jungle. In the same year that he took home the Best Actor Oscar for Ray, Foxx earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination for Collateral, with the movie scoring an additional nod for Best Film Editing.
Extras on the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital release include audio commentary by Mann; a making-of featurette; and a deleted scene.
THE GODFATHER CODA: THE DEATH OF MICHAEL CORLEONE (1990). After 1972’s The Godfather and 1974’s The Godfather: Part II, there was no need for any more entries in the cinematic saga created on the page by Mario Puzo and brought to life by director Francis Ford Coppola. So it was clearly a cash grab when Coppola, Puzo, and Paramount elected to add a third installment well over a decade later. The Godfather: Part III was greeted with mild reviews, and its seven Oscar nominations seemed more like a knee-jerk overreaction by the Academy, particularly those Best Picture and Best Director nods (other nominations made more sense, such as Gordon Willis for Best Cinematography and Andy Garcia for Best Supporting Actor). Thirty years later, Coppola, already known for tinkering with Apocalypse Now, The Cotton Club, and the first two Godfather flicks, has released a new cut of The Godfather: Part III, now titled The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone. But those expecting new scenes or a radical reworking will be disappointed: The opening is vastly different, the ending is slightly different, and … that’s about it, save for unnoticeable tweaks here and there. The end result is pretty much the same as before: It’s a mixed bag of a movie, with some strong sequences and several potent performances (particularly by Al Pacino and Garcia) competing against a meandering storyline and the absence of Robert Duvall and Winona Ryder. Duvall, so superb in I and II, does not return, and George Hamilton in a similar role is a weak substitute. And Ryder would have been formidable as the daughter of Michael Corleone (Pacino), but her bailing due to exhaustion led to Coppola casting his inexperienced daughter Sofia in this critical role, and we all know how that ended up.
The only Blu-ray extra is an introduction by Francis Ford Coppola.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (1946). Forget the Christmas connection: This all-timer can be watched any time of the year. It has the power to move viewers to tears, and it does so not by blatant button-pushing but by honestly showing how an individual’s life is truly something to celebrate. James Stewart delivers his greatest performance as decent George Bailey, and he receives wonderful support from Donna Reed as his loving wife Mary, Lionel Barrymore as the Scrooge-like Potter, and, of course, Henry Travers as Clarence, the angel determined to earn his wings by helping George through his dark night of the soul. The movie grabs your emotional lapels from the get-go, and by the time it reaches the moment when George whispers, “I want to live. Please, God, let me live,” it’s best to have those hankies ready. Yet what’s interesting about the picture is that, for all its uplift, there’s real darkness found around the edges: Unlike Scrooge, Potter never gets bitten by the Christmas bug, nor is he ever punished for his multitude of sins; the bar owner’s assistant (Sheldon Leonard) turns out to be a truly odious man in the alternate world Clarence shows George; and even George himself displays an ugly side, as the pressures force him to practically get (with apologies to Pulp Fiction) medieval on poor Uncle Billy (Thomas Mitchell). This American classic earned five Academy Award nominations, including bids for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor.
While It’s a Wonderful Life was released in a 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital edition last year, Paramount is now offering the same package as a steelbook. The justly controversial color version remains in Blu-ray only, while the UHD contains the black-and-white version, a retrospective making-of piece, a look at the film’s restoration, and footage from the movie’s wrap party.
RIO GRANDE (1950). The first two pictures in John Ford’s unofficial “Cavalry Trilogy,” 1948’s Fort Apache and 1949’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, are already available on Blu-ray, and here comes the rousing Rio Grande to complete the set. John Wayne plays the same character he essayed in Fort Apache (but not She Wore a Yellow Ribbon): Kirby Yorke, promoted from Captain to Lieutenant Colonel and contending with crises on both the professional and personal fronts. Tasked with taking care of an Apache uprising, he also has to deal with the fact that his greenhorn son Jefferson (Claude Jarman Jr.) has ended up under his command. Journeying to the fort in an effort to protect her son is the senior Yorke’s estranged wife Kathleen (Maureen O’Hara, in the first of five pairings with Wayne). Fort Apache is the best of the trio largely because it finds Ford tackling themes that were still relatively fresh in Westerns: the prickly aspects of manifest destiny, the expected racism required to conquer the West (it was one of the first films to treat Native Americans sympathetically), and the thin line between fact and legend. Ford would continue to explore these issues in movies like The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and Cheyenne Autumn, but Rio Grande is more in the then-fashionable “cowboys vs. Indians” mode, with the two sides clearly delineated. Many of Ford’s regulars are on hand, including Victor McLaglen and Ben Johnson; as for Wayne, he’s excellent, even if this Kirby Yorke seems different from the one in Fort Apache.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by author Nancy Schoenberger (Wayne and Ford: The Films, the Friendship, and the Forging of an American Hero); a making-of featurette; and interviews with Jarman and actor Raoul Trujillo (The New World), the latter discussing Indigenous American representations in film.
TOP GUN (1986). One of the biggest box office hits of the 1980s (only 11 movies grossed more), Top Gun also stands as one of that decade’s most iconic motion pictures, with its image of Tom Cruise sitting in his plane’s cockpit and giving a thumbs-up often employed as a shorthand graphic for the period (generally alongside shots of Ronald Reagan, E.T., and Boy George). It was a hit among boys who enjoyed the action (Navy recruitment substantially rose after its release) and girls who enjoyed its hunky leading man. It was championed by those who appreciated its jingoistic sentiments and lambasted by those who felt it glorified war. Slickly made by the team of producers Don Simpson and Jerry Bruckheimer and director Tony Scott, it’s an entertaining watch that doesn’t provide much beyond surface thrills, although many have had fun analyzing its (unintentional?) homoerotic content — as my wife (who had never seen it) asked halfway through our initial joint viewing, “So when do Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer fuck?” Speaking of Kilmer, he delivers the best performance as Iceman, in constant battle with Cruise’s Maverick to determine who is indeed the best of the best among the young bucks at their flight school; others earning their thespian stripes include Anthony Edwards as Maverick’s best buddy Goose and Meg Ryan as Goose’s wife. An Oscar nominee for Best Film Editing, Best Sound, and Best Sound Effects Editing, this won for Best Original Song (“Take My Breath Away”).
While Top Gun was released in a 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital edition earlier this year, Paramount is now offering the same package as a steelbook. Extras include audio commentary by Bruckheimer, Scott, cowriter Jack Epps Jr., and naval officers; a trio of making-of featurettes (one teasing some footage from the upcoming Top Gun: Maverick); and four music videos.