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.
Owen Myre, Nita-Josee Hanna and Matthew Ninaber in PG: Psycho Goreman (Photo: RLJE Films)
(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.)
CROSSFIRE (1947). This riveting drama was based on Richard Brooks’ novel The Brick Foxhole, about the hate-crime killing of a homosexual. But in order to make it past the Hollywood censors, the filmmakers changed the gay man into a Jew, in effect joining that year’s Best Picture Oscar winner Gentleman’s Agreement as a compelling study of anti-Semitism. Robert Young plays the detective deciphering the who and why behind the fatal beating of a kindly Jewish man (Sam Levene), with Robert Mitchum offering support as the army sergeant who aids in the investigation. Unusual in its story structure and unfolding completely at night, this noir-tinged mystery earned Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Edward Dmytryk’s direction, John Paxton’s screenplay, and the volcanic supporting performances by Robert Ryan (as the bigot who emerges as the prime suspect) and the incomparable Gloria Grahame (as a bitter floozy).
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary with interview excerpts of Dmytryk, and a retrospective making-of featurette.
GORILLAS IN THE MIST (1988). It’s hard to make a concrete declaration when Ellen Ripley is right there on the resume, but it’s likely that Sigourney Weaver’s greatest performance can be found in Gorillas in the Mist. She’s phenomenal as Dian Fossey, the real-life primatologist who became the foremost expert on — and the chief protector of — the mountain gorillas of Rwanda. Assisted by her tracker Sembagare (a lovely turn by John Omirah Miluwih in his only film appearance; a shame, as he’s a natural), Fossey eventually becomes trusted by the gorillas and is able to move freely among them; her jubilation is soon replaced by her hatred of the poachers who slaughter the animals and the rich men who finance the murders. (The sequence depicting the gruesome slaying of Fossey’s favorite gorilla can break any heart.) Rick Baker, Hollywood’s premier monkey maker, is responsible for the superb makeup effects that make it almost impossible to distinguish the real gorillas from the manufactured ones. Gorillas in the Mist earned a total of five Oscar nominations, including Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay (Anna Hamilton Phelan and Tab Murphy).
There are no extras on the Blu-ray.
THE LAST REMAKE OF BEAU GESTE (1977) / IN GOD WE TRUST (1980). Like Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman probably felt that co-starring in a couple of Mel Brooks hits meant that he was ready to write and direct his own ambitious comedies. But just as Wilder’s solo outings were pale imitations of the Brooks brand, so too did Feldman’s offerings come up short. In other words, Feldman’s primary claim to fame will always remain his uproarious turn as Igor in Brooks’ Young Frankenstein and not his two at-bats behind the camera.
The Last Remake of Beau Geste is the preferable of the pair, if for no other reason than the particularly clever sequence in which Gary Cooper, the star of the 1939 version of the classic novel Beau Geste, appears opposite Feldman through the magic of the movies. There are several more choice skits in this uneven parody in which the dashing Beau Geste (Michael York) is molded into a hero by his harrumphing adoptive father Sir Hector (Trevor Howard) even as Beau’s twin brother, the frail Digby Geste (Feldman), is never expected to amount to much. After Sir Hector marries a gold-digger (Ann-Margret) who’s after the family’s prize jewel, it requires the siblings to join the French Foreign Legion in order to protect the priceless bauble. The slapstick segments are rather slapdash; more consistently amusing are the surreal moments that recall Feldman’s earlier contributions to British television, where he worked alongside future Monty Python and Goodies cast members.
Feldman was reportedly set to make a string of pictures for Universal, but his untimely 1982 death at the age of 48 meant that only one more would be completed. Given that The Last Remake of Beau Geste was a box office underachiever and In God We Trust was an out-and-out critical and commercial bomb, it will never be known if the studio would have tried to null and void the contract. In God We Trust finds Feldman in eager-to-please, puppy-dog mode, but his general likability can’t disguise either the blandness or obviousness of the picture. Feldman casts himself as the hopelessly naïve Brother Ambrose, forced to set foot outside of his monastery for the first time in his life and head to Los Angeles. There, he must beg the sleazy evangelist Armageddon T. Thunderbird (Andy Kaufman) to save the monastery through financial means; his exploits in L.A. also include encounters with a kindly prostitute (Louise Lasser), a drunken street preacher (Peter Boyle), and a computerized G.O.D. (Richard Pryor). A smattering of funny lines (“If God had not meant for some people to be poorer than others,” explains Thunderbird, “then He would not have published the Bible in paperback”) can’t compensate for a tepid and tedious presentation.
Blu-ray extras on both titles (sold separately) include audio commentaries (including one by York on The Last Remake of Beau Geste); Trailers from Hell segments; and theatrical trailers.
The Last Remake of Beau Geste: ★★½
In God We Trust: ★½
PG: PSYCHO GOREMAN (2020). The tagline for PG: Psycho Goreman reads, “Little Girl. Big Psycho.,” but don’t for a minute think that the “Big Psycho” part refers only to the murderous monster from outer space. It also refers to the “Little Girl,” just one of the many unexpected paths taken by writer-director Steven Kostanski with his ofttimes bonkers yarn that combines ‘80s Spielberg, ‘80s Troma, ‘80s Saturday morning cartoons, ‘80s Marvel comic books — in short, just about every ‘80s flight of fantasy except maybe the Care Bears. Discovered by a volatile child named Mimi (Nita-Josee Hanna) and her mild-mannered brother Luke (Owen Myre), the alien assassin (Matthew Ninaber; voiced by Steven Vlahos) learns that Mimi possesses the stone that forces him to obey her every command. Speaking in the grandiloquent manner of a cosmic villain from a Thor or Fantastic Four comic, he prefers to be called the Archduke of Nightmares and isn’t thrilled when the kids dub him Psycho Goreman (PG for short) and force him to play silly games. Meanwhile, other intergalactic entities head to Earth with the purpose of killing him. If there’s a moment when this groovy, gory and gleeful movie takes itself seriously, I must have blinked and missed it.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Kostanski; cast and crew interviews; and a piece on the creature effects.
RAD (1986). Stuntman-turned-director Hal Needham began his partnership with Burt Reynolds with the smash hit Smokey and the Bandit, but by the time they got to the disastrous duo of Stroker Ace and Cannonball Run II, their collaboration was running on fumes. Needham’s first post-Burt effort was the dopey Rad, which flopped in theaters but picked up a sizable following on video. With a plot swiped from The Karate Kid, this finds amateur BMX biker Cru (Bill Allen) thrilled that a major racing event will be held in his town. Cru’s skills nab him a slot alongside the BMX pros, but promoter Duke Best (Jack Weston), fearful of an upset victory against reigning champ Bart Taylor (Bart Conner), does everything he can do block his participation. There’s no Mr. Miyagi, but you do get Ray Walston as a local bigwig who responds to Best’s meddling by giving him the finger. There’s also a cheesy musical interlude wherein Cru and his new girlfriend (Lori Loughlin; you might recall her scandalous behavior in recent years) “dance” atop their bikes at a high school party to the beat of “Send Me an Angel.”
Extras in Mill Creek’s Blu-ray steelbook edition include a behind-the-scenes featurette; a Q&A session with Allen, Conner, co-star Talia Shire, and co-writer Sam Bernard; and the music video for John Farnham’s “Break the Ice.”
TOUKI-BOUKI (1973). France looms large in this Senegalese drama from writer-director Djibril Diop Mambéty, and not just in the expected way. Titled The Journey of the Hyena in its native Wolof, Touki-Bouki is set in the post-colonial Senegal, 13 years after it gained its independence from France. Its two leading characters, the motorcycle-riding Mori (Mareme Niang) and his girlfrend Anta (Mareme Niang), dream of moving to Paris to enjoy a better life. And the film itself exhibits traces of the French New Wave — for starters, it’s impossible to look at this picture’s lovers on the run and not see Breathless in the margins. Touki-Bouki may not move at the same breathless pace as Jean-Luc Godard’s seminal work, but it also never slows down, and its bittersweet ending packs a real punch.
Blu-ray extras consist of a 2013 introduction by Martin Scorsese, founder of The Film Foundation (which was largely responsible for the movie’s rediscovery); a 2012 interview program with Mambéty’s brother, musician Wasis Diop, and niece, filmmaker Mati Diop; a 2013 interview with filmmaker Abderrahmane Sissako (Timbuktu); and Mambéty’s 1968 short film Contras’ City (aka City of Contrasts).