View from the Couch: Cinema Paradiso, Sudden Fear, Luis Buñuel box set, etc.
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.
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.
Phillipe Noiret and Salvatore Cascio in Cinema Paradiso (Photo: Arrow)
(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.)
ACCEPTED (2006). Movies focusing on “the slobs versus the snobs” have generally been on a downhill trajectory since the one-two punch of 1978’s National Lampoon’s Animal House and 1980’s Caddyshack, but here’s one that offers a smattering of decent chuckles amidst all the predictable piling on of pilfered plotlines. Plus, fans of playing “Spot the Rising Star” will enjoy catching Jonah Hill and Blake Lively each tackling one of the earliest roles in their respective careers. After getting rejected by every college to which he applied, Bartleby Gaines (Justin Long) has the bright idea to create a fake university in order to fool his parents. With his best friend Sherman (Hill) designing the website, fellow underachievers Glen (Adam Herschman), Darryl (Columbus Short) and Rory (Maria Thayer) helping him convert an abandoned mental hospital into the front for the school, and a nutty ex-professor (Lewis Black) agreeing to serve as the face of the nonexistent administration, Bartleby’s ruse gets off to a promising start as he creates the South Harmon Institute of Technology (abbreviate it to witness major lameness on the part of the scripters). But once the obnoxious frat boy (Travis Van Winkle) who’s dating Bartleby’s dream girl (Lively) starts to get suspicious, the misfits have their hands full keeping the illusion alive. With a PG-13 rating, Accepted isn’t as raunchy as others of its kind; it’s also not consistently funny, with Herschman playing an especially insufferable character. Other cast members fare better and actually manage to elevate the proceedings, with Hill garnering most of the laughs as a droll pessimist.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Long, Hill, Black, Herschman, and director Steve Pink; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
THE BUSTER KEATON COLLECTION: VOLUME 4 (1925-1927). After releasing three volumes of Keaton classics over a four-month span during the summer of 2019 (those reviews can be found here, here, and here), the Cohen Film Collection label finally returns with another twofer featuring the silent-cinema star.
Arguments continue to rage among film fans and scholars as to who was the greater comedian of his time: Keaton or Charlie Chaplin (alas, Harold Lloyd rarely enters the conversation, although he absolutely deserves to be included). One of the reasons I’ve always preferred Chaplin is because while both men had no problem bringing the funny, Chaplin was far more adept at infusing genuine pathos into his works — for instance, the ending of City Lights always leaves me a blubbering mess no matter how many times I’ve seen it. With Go West, Keaton attempts to get sweet and sentimental, with decidedly mixed results. He plays Friendless, an Easterner who ends up working on a ranch; there, he becomes the protector of a pitiable cow named Brown Eyes. It’s a cute premise, but it’s far from Keaton’s forte, and it results in one of the lesser pictures from the star’s most robust period of production. Still, while the climactic chase scene (thousands of cows storming through city streets) isn’t as strong as similar scenarios from other comedies (including Keaton’s own Seven Chances), there are nevertheless several strong gags scattered throughout the film.
College is no match for Harold Lloyd’s similarly themed 1925 masterpiece The Freshman, but it contains no small measure of uproarious sequences. Keaton plays a brainy student who realizes the only way he’ll catch the eye of a popular girl (Anne Cornwall) is by becoming a star athlete. He tries his hand at various competitions (baseball, pole vaulting, etc.) but proves to be hopelessly inept at all of them. The film’s pace flags toward the end with a protracted scenario involving the school’s rowing team, but the track and field segments are first-class, and there’s a priceless bit involving a trampoline and an open window.
Blu-ray extras consist of the 1923 Hal Roach short Go West (with an all-monkey cast); an audio recording of Keaton discussing his story idea for the hit TV series Wagon Train; and restoration trailers.
Go West: ★★½
CINEMA PARADISO (1988). An Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film, this Italian import is a movie of extraordinary passion, capturing the synergy which exists between the starry-eyed moviegoer and the medium he or she comes to worship. Like Federico Fellini’s Amarcord (reviewed here), writer-director Giuseppe Tornatore’s picture looks at the events that help shape a boy as he comes of age in his small hometown. Salvatore Cascio plays little Toto, whose best friend is Alfredo (Phillipe Noiret), the projectionist at the town’s only movie house. In most regards, Alfredo’s life is over: Poor and uneducated, he clings to his job as the only pleasure in what one feels was largely an unfulfilling existence. Toto, however, is young and full of promise, but he’ll eventually need to take that step to break away. Alfredo pushes Toto to do just that, and it’s the bond between this pair — as well as their love for the movies that grace the theater — that provides the picture with its emotional wallop. In 2002, the 124-minute original version was re-released in a 174-minute Director’s Cut, and both edits are included on Arrow’s exemplary Blu-ray release. As was the case with Apocalypse Now and Apocalypse Now Redux, less is more: The additional material changes the entire feel of the movie, making it less a heartfelt ode to cinema and more a familiar meditation on the vagaries of love (the extra footage largely centers on Toto as an adult, pining away for his childhood sweetheart). In its longer version, Cinema Paradiso is still an excellent film, just not a transcendent one.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Tornatore and film scholar Millicent Marcus; a making-of piece; and trailers.
Theatrical Version: ★★★★
Director’s Cut: ★★★½
GIANT FROM THE UNKNOWN (1958). The big news regarding this low-budget effort is the participation of Jack Pierce. Arguably the greatest makeup artist Hollywood ever produced (I say arguably because cases can be made for Rick Baker and Lon Chaney), Pierce worked at Universal for decades, where he created the iconic monsters seen in such classics as 1931’s Frankenstein, 1932’s The Mummy, and 1941’s The Wolf Man. Pierce was eventually let go by the studio, and he spent the remainder of his years plying his trade on indie cheapies and television series, winding down his career as the staff makeup artist for TV’s Mister Ed. Giant from the Unknown finds him designing the look of the titular behemoth, a hulking Spanish conquistador who emerges from a 500-year stint in suspended animation and begins terrorizing a rural California town. Boxer Buddy Baer plays the awakened brute, veteran Western star Bob Steele co-stars as the doubting sheriff, and Gary Crutcher appears as a nerdy kid named Charlie Brown. Amusingly, one might wonder whether Arch Hall Sr., creator of 1962’s all-time turkey Eegah!, ripped off this movie, since each involves a hero, a damsel in distress, and the damsel’s father discovering a fearsome giant from Earth’s distant past. Unlike Eegah! (reviewed here), this one is average rather than incompetent, with decent performances but a pedestrian storyline.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by film historian Tom Weaver; audio commentary by Crutcher; a look at Steele’s career; an interview with Crutcher; and the theatrical trailer. It also comes with a booklet. For the hardcore fan, The Film Detective is also offering a limited edition set; this includes a calendar, bookmark, magnet, card deck, lapel pin, bonus Blu-ray, and a 1-year subscription to TheFilmDetective.tv.
SUDDEN FEAR (1952). Joan Crawford nabs one of her best roles in this sharp thriller with film noir undercurrents. Crawford stars as Myra Hudson, a successful playwright who uses her authority to get actor Lester Blaine (Jack Palance) fired from her play during rehearsals because she doesn’t think he possesses the right qualities for a romantic lead. After some time has passed, Myra and Lester bump into each other; all seems to be forgiven, and they fall in love and get married. What Myra doesn’t know is that Lester, with the help of his slinky girlfriend Irene (Gloria Grahame), is planning to murder her for her money. Director of photography Charles B. Lang Jr. was already an expert at maximizing tension through his use of light and shadows (The Uninvited, Ace in the Hole), and he delivers similarly inspired results here. As for the performances, Crawford is excellent as the frightened woman who must keep her wits about her as she devises a scheme to save her own life, with Palance suitably menacing in one of his signature heel roles. Grahame is typically terrific, although she won the year’s Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her turn in The Bad and the Beautiful (reviewed here). For its part, Sudden Fear earned Oscar nominations for Best Actress (Crawford), Best Supporting Actor (Palance), Best Black-and-White Cinematography, and Best Black-and-White Costume Design.
DVD extras consist of audio commentary by film historian and author Jeremy Arnold (the TCM tie-in books The Essentials: 52 Must-See Movies and Why They Matter, Volumes 1 and 2), and the re-release trailer.
THREE FILMS BY LUIS BUÑUEL (1972-1977). One of the true giants of cinema, writer-director Luis Buñuel began making classics as far back as 1929, when his shocking short film Un Chien Andalou (the one with the razor blade and the eyeball) was released. Yet it was perhaps during his final stretch, when most of his films were steeped in his celebrated surrealism, that he most consistently captured the hosannas of critics and audiences alike. His 1962 oddity The Exterminating Angel is my favorite of these efforts, with Criterion having already released it on Blu-ray in 2016. Now arriving on the scene is this Buñuel box set offering the final three films he made before his retirement. All three of these French productions are co-scripted by Jean-Claude Carrière, and all three fearlessly tear into class hypocrisy.
An Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film (with an additional nomination for Best Original Screenplay), The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) follows six people (including one played by frequent Buñuel star Fernando Rey) as their repeated attempts to enjoy a meal together are always interrupted, whether it’s because there’s a corpse in the backroom of a restaurant or because a popular eatery has run out of tea and coffee (but not water, thankfully).
The Phantom of Liberty (1974) is a dreamlike endeavor in which the disparate sequences are generally connected by a different character moving from one vignette to the next. A perceived pedophile gives two little girls at a park a stack of postcards, and the parents are shocked by the images of opulent monuments and buildings. A married couple are frantic after the disappearance of their daughter, even though she’s actually standing next to them the entire time. And, in the most famous interlude, various guests sit on toilets around the dinner table but must slink away to eat in private.
That Obscure Object of Desire (1977), an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Adapted Screenplay, is based on the same novel that inspired the 1935 Marlene Dietrich vehicle The Devil Is a Woman (reviewed here). An older man (Rey) finds himself driven crazy by the young woman who has entered his life. If this sounds rather conventional for Buñuel, be aware that the role of the temptress is played by both Carole Bouquet (later a Bond woman in 1981’s For Your Eyes Only) and Ángela Molina — a brilliant casting decision on Buñuel’s part since one actress is elegant and cool and the other is earthy and hot.
Blu-ray extras include the 2000 documentary Speaking of Buñuel; archival interviews with Carrière, Rey, and others; a making-of program on The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie; an analysis of The Phantom of Liberty; and excerpts from 1929’s silent French film The Woman and the Puppet, based on the same source material as That Obscure Object of Desire (and The Devil Is a Woman).
The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie: ★★★½
The Phantom of Liberty: ★★★½
That Obscure Object of Desire: ★★★
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