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.
Dylan O’Brien in Love and Monsters (Photo: Universal)
(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.)
AMORES PERROS (2000). An Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, this Mexican import marked the directorial debut of Alejandro G. Iñárritu, who would go on to win Academy Awards for Birdman (deserved) and The Revenant (not so much). With a title that translates as Loves Dogs (or Bad Loves when the slangish Mexican meaning is attached), this centers on three separate but equal storylines, each involving dogs and all unified by an automobile accident that occurs in Mexico City. The first section centers on a cash-strapped young man (Gael García Bernal) who decides to enter his Rottweiler in dogfighting competitions; the second portion focuses on a supermodel (Goya Toledo) who’s trying to rescue her pooch while hobbled by a broken leg; and the third stretch relates the tale of a derelict hit man (Emilio Echevarria) whose contempt for humanity is matched only by his love for our canine companions. Amores Perros is a brutal motion picture, yet it’s obvious that Iñárritu and scripter Guillermo Arriaga Jordan share a great affinity for their morally flawed human characters and, more importantly, for the dogs that suffer under them.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of piece; deleted scenes; a new conversation between Iñárritu, Bernal, and co-stars Adriana Barraza and Vanessa Bauche; rehearsal footage; and music videos for songs from the film’s soundtrack.
BLIND FURY (1989). As with Arsène Lupin III (see below), Zatôichi is a popular character in Japan, having appeared in more than two dozen movies between 1962 and 1989 and 100 television episodes from 1974 to 1979 (Takeshi Kitano also brought him back for an exciting 2003 theatrical release that was part reboot, part tribute, and there was also a 2010 feature film that’s all but forgotten). Zatôichi is a wandering swordsman, yet what makes him unique is that he’s a blind swordsman, with as much in common with the superhero Daredevil as with any of Kurosawa’s seven samurai. Blind Fury was the Hollywood attempt to turn the figure into an American icon; it didn’t take, but this one-off did provide Rutger Hauer with perhaps his most unusual heroic role until Hobo with a Shotgun 22 years later. Losing his sight while serving in Vietnam, Nick Parker (Hauer) is saved from certain death by the members of a nearby village. During his lengthy recovery period, he is taught how to compensate for his blindness by honing his other senses. Returning stateside years later, he searches for his friend and former comrade-in-arms Frank Deveraux (Terry O’Quinn), only to learn that he must rescue him from a Las Vegas mob. The villains are cardboard and Nick spends too much time having to bond with Frank’s neglected son (Brandon Call); otherwise, this is a competent action film distinguished by Hauer’s charismatic turn.
There are no Blu-ray extras. However, as with the other Mill Creek titles reviewed in this column (Crossroads and The Freshman), the Blu-ray comes with a cool slipcover designed to look like a VHS release.
CAPTAIN NEWMAN, M.D. (1963). Anticipating M*A*S*H in its exploration of the effects of war on military doctors and the patients in their care, Captain Newman, M.D. is a captivating comedy-drama set in an Arizona military hospital during World War II. In charge of an understaffed psychiatric ward, the overworked Captain Newman (Gregory Peck) turns to both an opportunistic orderly (Tony Curtis) and a compassionate nurse (Angie Dickinson) to help him with the patients. Among the many soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (years before that term was actually coined) are a guilt-ridden corporal (singer Bobby Darin), a catatonic captain (Robert Duvall), and a seemingly deranged colonel (Eddie Albert) who calls himself “Mr. Future.” As was often the case with Curtis, his wisecracking character eventually wears out his welcome, although he and Peck do banter beautifully in many of the movie’s best comedic moments. The humor is in stark contrast to the hard-hitting dramatic interludes, with Darin particularly memorable as a tortured survivor. This earned three Oscar nominations, for Best Supporting Actor (Darin), Best Adapted Screenplay (Richard L. Breen along with Henry and Phoebe Ephron, Nora’s parents), and Best Sound.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Samm Deighan; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino Lorber label.
CROSSROADS (1986). The legend of musician Robert Johnson and his Faustian bargain (he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for becoming a great bluesman) hovers around the edges of this fulfilling drama in which Johnson’s contemporary, the now-grizzled Willie Brown (Joe Seneca), talks aspiring blues guitarist Eugene Martone (Ralph Macchio) into helping him get from New York City (where he’s wasting away in a hospital) to his home turf in Mississippi. Once they arrive, Eugene expects Willie to hand over Johnson’s fabled lost recording while Willie hopes to put to rest his own demonic deal. John Fusco drops tidbits of music history into his ambitious — if occasionally overreaching — screenplay, while Ry Cooder handles the deep-piercing blues soundtrack. Some of the material feels extraneous — the character of Frances (Jami Gertz), a teenage runaway who temporarily hooks up with Eugene and Willie, adds little to the film — but Macchio is appealing, Seneca is excellent, and the climax, a musical duel between Eugene and a Satanic emissary (guitarist extraordinaire Steve Vai), is a knockout. Walter Hill directed a number of interesting (if not always successful) films during the 1980s — this might be the most underrated of the bunch.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
THE FRESHMAN (1990). As a screenwriter, Andrew Bergman certainly has had his stumbles — take the Demi Moore bomb Striptease, so wretched that it almost makes one reconsider the overall worth of Showgirls. But when Bergman is on, he’s on, as evidenced by his solo scripting for The In-Laws (“Serpentine!”) and his team effort (along with Brooks, Pryor, and a couple other fellas) on Blazing Saddles. If The Freshman doesn’t represent Bergman at the peak of his powers — the story’s awfully thin, and the resolution could be stronger — it’s nevertheless a guaranteed good time, thanks to his zesty dialogue and several exquisite performances. Besides, where else in the universe can one catch Bert Parks offering covers of both “Tequila” and “Maggie’s Farm”? The chief selling point of The Freshman is the chance to watch Marlon Brando gently spoof one of his signature roles — he plays Carmine Sabatini, a powerful businessman who looks exactly like Don Vito Corleone. After a college freshman (Matthew Broderick) gets unwittingly sucked into his universe, Carmine makes the lad an offer he can’t refuse: $1,000 to pick up some unusual cargo at the airport. Paul Benedict has a few choice scenes as a pompous NYU film professor whose required reading list consists of his own overpriced books, while Bruno Kirby, as Carmine’s motor-mouthed nephew, does wonders with the lines Bergman has gifted him.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
LOVE AND MONSTERS (2020). Love and Monsters is a post-apocalyptic tale about a boy and his dog, but that’s where the comparison to Harlan Ellison’s A Boy and His Dog ends. This new endeavor is a decidedly lighter affair, with Dylan O’Brien cast as a guy who isn’t going to let an end-of-the-world scenario interfere with his desire to win back his girlfriend. Bringing audiences up to speed in mere minutes, the intro explains how a, shall we say, chemical imbalance has resulted in insects and certain animals growing to gigantic proportions and wiping out 95% of the world’s population. The survivors are forced to live in underground shelters; when the meek Joel Dawson (O’Brien) learns that his high school sweetheart Aimee (Jessica Henwick) is bunkered in a facility a mere 80 miles away, he decides that it’s worth the risk to cross a monster-infested land in order to be reunited. Along the way, a dog becomes his traveling companion, and the pair deal with both the good (helpful survivalists played by Michael Rooker and Ariana Greenblatt) and the bad (Sand Gobblers!). Love and Monsters is reminiscent of the 2013 zom-rom-com Warm Bodies in its confident mixing of, well, love and monsters, and the proceedings are enhanced by imaginative effects and some late-inning surprises.
Extras in the 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray + Digital set consist of deleted scenes; a piece on the cast; and a look at the film’s nightmarish world.
LUPIN III: THE FIRST (2020). Arsène Lupin may have been a French creation, but his nephew firmly belongs to the Japanese. Inspired by the “gentleman thief” birthed by French author Maurice Leblanc at the start of the 20th century, Japanese writer and artist Monkey Punch (real name Kazuhiko Kato) created the character of Arseène Lupin III in 1967 and never looked back. Lupin III has been the star of an endless stream of manga, movies, TV series, and video games, with even the great Hayao Miyazaki getting into the act (the Spirited Away auteur worked on one of the TV shows and made his motion picture debut with the Lupin yarn The Castle of Cagliostro). Lupin III: The First is the first Lupin III feature film in over 20 years, and since Monkey Punch passed away in 2019 (he was 81), a few months before the film’s premiere, the project is dedicated to him. It’s a fine tribute. Summoning up a hearty dose of Indiana Jones, the film centers on the efforts of Lupin III and his companions to stop various nefarious men from reviving the Third Reich by way of a valuable archeological find. Those hoping for a traditional style of animation might initially be disappointed by the CGI, but it’s executed so flawlessly that objections soon fritter away in the wake of a rip-roaring adventure tale.
Blu-ray extras include interviews with writer-director Takashi Yamazaki and select cast members; a CGI model gallery; and footage from the film’s yellow carpet premiere.
SILENT RUNNING (1972). Throughout his career, visual effects giant Douglas Trumbull has preferred to employ his talents in the service of serious, thoughtful science fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner). It’s hardly a surprise, then, that he made his directorial debut at the helm of a similarly contemplative sci-fi flick that flopped upon its release but has always retained a modest following. Silent Running is set in a future that has seen humankind destroy all plant life, with what little that remains now flourishing aboard several spaceships designed to function as greenhouses until the plants can be returned to Earth. But when the crews all receive instructions to destroy their cargo, botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), assigned to the spaceship Valley Forge, decides to rebel. He steers the ship toward Saturn, aided in his flight by three diminutive robots named Huey, Dewey and Louie. This plea for environmental awareness is clearly a product of the 1970s (two Joan Baez songs appear on the soundtrack) yet remains relevant today. One of the writers was Steven Bochco, eventually to become a TV legend thanks to his creation of countless hit series like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law; the other scripters were Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn, later of the Best Picture Oscar winner The Deer Hunter (reviewed here).
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Trumbull and Dern; an archival making-of piece; archival interviews with Trumbull and Dern; and an isolated music and effects track.
TINTORERA (1978). One of the alternate titles for Tintorera is Tintorera … Tiger Shark, which is sort of confusing since tintorera is the Spanish word for blue shark, and a blue shark is not the same as a tiger shark (the other alternate title, Tintorera: Killer Shark, works better). Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter if it’s a blue shark or a tiger shark or even Hanna-Barbera’s Jabberjaw shark, since, despite the marketing focus, the movie isn’t a Jaws rip-off as much as it’s a look at hedonistic lifestyles. Hugo Stiglitz and Andrés Garcia play two men who initially compete for the same women at a fashionable Mexican resort before becoming the best of buddies. Now on the same team, they cruise for eager-beaver tourists together, eventually meeting a British beauty (Susan George) who suggests that she can be the no-strings-attached girlfriend of both men. Every once in a while, a shark attacks. With its shimmering location shooting and parade of hot bods (some male, but mostly female), writer-director René Cardona Jr.’s film goes down easy for those hoping to rekindle those Skinemax — excuse me, Cinemax — after-hours viewings. But those seeking hot and heavy shark action will be sorely disappointed.
There have been two versions of Tintorera available to American audiences: the 126-minute cut with more nudity and an edited 87-minute edition that removes minor subplots. Surprisingly, the new Blu-ray from Kino only offers the shorter version. Extras consist of audio commentary by film historians and the theatrical trailer.
THE TRAIN (1964). This World War II drama uses an actual incident to ask the age-old question: Can Art-with-a-capital-A be worth as much as a human life? With meticulous direction by John Frankenheimer and a complex, Oscar-nominated script by Franklin Coen and Frank Davis (based on Rose Valland’s book Le front de l’art), this gripping film places that philosophical query in the context of a rousing action flick notable for its astounding use of real trains (no models or miniatures were employed) and a cunning clash of wills between two formidable adversaries. On one hand, there’s Colonel Von Waldheim (Paul Scofield), an erudite Nazi who plans to leave France with a huge shipment of artistic masterpieces (by fellows like Van Gogh, Picasso, Renoir and Gauguin) before the Allies arrive. On the other, there’s Labiche (Burt Lancaster), a railway manager and French Resistance member who’s uninterested in risking lives for paintings until matters take a personal turn. Crisply filmed in black-and-white and sporting small but memorable turns by French icons Jeanne Moreau (as a pragmatic innkeeper) and Michel Simon (as a crusty conductor), the picture nicely delineates its central characters through grounded exposition before eventually taking off with the high-charged power of — what else? — a runaway train.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Frankenheimer; an isolated track of Maurice Jarre’s score; and the theatrical trailer.