View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray and DVD.
Sabrina Dennison and Axel Jodorowsky in Santa Sangre (Photo: Severin)
(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 DAYDREAMER (1966). Rankin/Bass Productions, the outfit responsible for such beloved stop-motion TV specials as Frosty the Snowman and Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town, occasionally dabbled in theatrical releases, which brings us to The Daydreamer. The movie was initially released to theaters, but knowing that its true home would eventually be television, the studio had it shot in such a manner that nothing of importance would be lost when converted from widescreen to a full-frame presentation. (For the record, this new Blu-ray contains only the fullscreen TV format.) An utterly charming family film that combines live-action and stop-motion, this follows a teenage Hans Christian Andersen (Paul O’Keefe) as he initially dreams up the stories that would eventually make him a household name. The live-action sequences are no more than serviceable, but the animated interludes are all delightful. Tales include The Little Mermaid, Thumbelina, and The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the all-star voice cast includes Boris Karloff, Tallulah Bankhead, Patty Duke, and Terry-Thomas. P.S. Love that menacing frog!
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Rankin/Bass historian and author Rick Goldschmidt and trailers.
DRUNKEN MASTER II (1994). A belated sequel to the 1978 film that made Jackie Chan a star in his Hong Kong homeland, Drunken Master II is even better than the original Drunken Master (reviewed here). Not reaching the U.S. until 2000, when it debuted with the title The Legend of Drunken Master, this follow-up finds Chan again playing Wong Fei-hung, the world’s foremost practitioner of a martial arts style known as drunken boxing. This sets up a number of sequences in which Wong downs ample amounts of alcohol and, like Popeye with his spinach, transforms into a human dynamo, weaving and bobbing and stumbling through boozy bouts. The story involves the efforts of Wong to prevent foreigners from stealing his country’s artifacts, but it’s really only there to serve as a clothesline for some incredible action set-pieces. It’s easy to take or leave the humor spread throughout the film — it’s innocuous but not particularly sharp — since the whole raison d’être of Drunken Master II is to allow Jackie to dazzle with his deft moves.
The Blu-ray offers three audio options: the original Cantonese, Mandarin, and English. The only extra is the theatrical trailer.
THE FATHER (2020). There have been equally effective movies involving Alzheimer’s, but none have placed themselves in the mind of the dementia-stricken protagonist as thoroughly as The Father. Anthony Hopkins stars as Anthony, who’s perpetually distressed as he can’t make sense of time or place. His daughter Anne (Olivia Colman) devotes herself to him despite his frequent belligerence toward her, as does his cheerful caretaker (Imogen Poots). But why hasn’t his other daughter been in contact? Which man is Anne’s current husband? And exactly in whose flat is he residing? The fragments come into focus for viewers but not particularly for Anthony, which makes this cannily constructed drama a poignant if difficult watch. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress (Colman), this won for Best Actor (Hopkins is phenomenal, although Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’s Chadwick Boseman was admittedly even more phenomenal) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Christopher Hampton and Florian Zeller, adapting Zeller’s play).
Blu-ray extras consist of a pair of making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; and the theatrical trailer.
GRIZZLY (1976) / DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977). What hath Jaws wrought? For starters, these two “When Animals Attack!” endeavors from director William Girdler, producer-distributor Edward L. Montoro, and star Christopher George.
Alternately nicknamed Jaws with Claws and Paws, Grizzly was one of the first films (if not the first) to try to cash in on the Jaws phenomenon. It worked, as the movie earned enough to set the record for the top-grossing independent film (at least until Halloween came along two years later). As expected, there’s a relentless killing machine served up by Mother Nature, a heroic lawman (George), a stuffy bureaucrat (Joe Dorsey) who doesn’t want to close the park since tourist season is approaching, a tasty little boy, and [Spoiler] a finale in which the man-(and-woman-)eater gets blown to smithereens [End Spoiler]. Two guys assist our hero in attempting to kill the bear, yet while the naturalist (Richard Jaeckel) shares DNA with Richard Dreyfuss’s Hooper, there’s no apparent link between the jovial pilot (Andrew Prine) and Robert Shaw’s Quint — meaning that’s about the furthest this gets away from Jaws. Grizzly offers the bare necessities needed for a “B”-level thriller but not much beyond that.
A better bet is Day of the Animals, which was immediately placed into production when Montoro and Girdler saw those box office receipts for Grizzly. This one adds an environmental angle to the plot, as it’s the depletion of the ozone layer due to aerosols that causes animals to go berserk. This particularly spells bad news for a nature guide (George) and his group of 11 amateur hikers, including a professor (Jaeckel), a TV reporter (Lynda Day George, Christopher’s real-life wife until his death in 1983), and an advertising executive (Leslie Nielsen). Trapped on a mountain, the gang is attacked by birds, wolves, snakes, doggies, and, of course, a grizzly. The animal assaults are more effectively staged than the ones in Grizzly, and Nielsen, three years before his career-altering turn in Airplane! (reviewed here), is a riot as the loathsome ad exec whose heretofore repressed alpha male explodes in a rage of macho manly manliness.
Blu-ray extras on Grizzly include film scholar audio commentary; a discussion of Girdler by author Stephen Thrower (Nightmare USA: The Untold Story of the Exploitation Independents); two making-of featurettes; and trailers. Blu-ray extras on Day of the Animals include audio commentary by author Lee Gambin (Massacred by Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film); a discussion of Montoro by Thrower; an interview with Lynda Day George; and the alternate opening title sequence Something Is Out There.
Day of the Animals: ★★½
MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE (1996). Directed by Brian De Palma and scripted by the Dream Team of Robert Towne (Chinatown), Steven Zaillian (Schindler’s List) and David Koepp (Jurassic Park), the first installment in the popular franchise (based on the classic TV series) set the tone for what would be a consistently exciting series (that dopey M:I II aside). This blast of turbo-charged escapism centers on a computer disc containing the names of undercover CIA agents located all over the world. An attempt to retrieve the disc from an informant leads to the deaths of several members of the Impossible Missions Force, and it’s up to agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) to smoke out the traitor, clear his own name, and protect the identities of all those compromised by the list. Character development counts for naught in this movie, and what they do with Jim Phelps (Jon Voight), held over from the TV show (and played there by Peter Graves), is blasphemous. But most viewers won’t mind as the film hurtles from one impressively staged sequence to the next.
The film has been re-released as a remastered Blu-ray for its 25th anniversary. Extras include a look at the franchise’s history; agent dossiers; and a photo gallery. An IMF car decal is also included.
MR. BLANDINGS BUILDS HIS DREAM HOUSE (1948). It’s occasionally too bland for its own good, but Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House succeeds on the strength of its trio of stars and their delivery of some biting quips. Cary Grant and Myrna Loy are Jim and Muriel, whose claustrophobia in their tiny NYC apartment leaves them considering a move to a spacious house in neighboring Connecticut. They’re duped into spending a fortune for a death trap that dates back to the Revolutionary War, thereby forcing them to spend even more money to raze the residency and build a brand new house from scratch. Grant is in his element as the flustered would-be homeowner, and he and Loy work beautifully together (this was their third and final picture together). Melvyn Douglas also scores some zingers as Bill Cole, the Blandings’ friend and lawyer, although the subplot involving Jim’s suspicions of an affair between Muriel and Bill is worthless and takes away from the momentum of the rest of the picture.
Blu-ray extras consist of two radio adaptations (one starring Grant and Irene Dunne, the other with Grant and his real-life wife Betsy Drake); the 1949 cartoon The House of Tomorrow; and the trailer.
SANTA SANGRE (1989). The love child of Luis Buñuel and Federico Fellini (with a reach-around by David Lynch for good measure), Santa Sangre is perhaps Alejandro Jodorowsky’s most accessible film. That’s not to say it’s conventional in any sense — no one will be mistaking Santa Sangre for The Santa Clause — but that it’s the most linear of his surrealistic cinematic odysseys. Fenix (played as a child by Jodorowsky’s son Adán and as an adult by his other son Axel) is the offspring of circus performers Orgo (Guy Stockwell) and Concha (Blanca Guerra); after witnessing Concha lose both her arms, Fenix ends up in a mental institute before escaping to reunite with his mother. Bizarre characters, frequently grotesque visuals, and various psychological underpinnings result in a one-of-a-kind oddity that nevertheless locates its own humanistic pulse.
Severin has released Santa Sangre in an exceptional four-disc edition that contains a 4K Ultra HD disc, the Blu-ray, the soundtrack CD, and over eight(!) hours of bonus features. Extras include audio commentary by Alejandro Jodorowsky; a feature-length documentary about the movie; deleted scenes; a 2003 interview with Jodorowsky; interviews with various key personnel; and the theatrical trailer.
SHITHOUSE (2020). Or S#!%house, as it’s more delicately written on the Blu-ray box copy. It’s a crappy (sorry) title for this film, as it makes a sensitive tale about the college experience sound like a vulgar raunchfest whose script was deemed too lowbrow even by Adam Sandler. Making his feature-film debut as writer, director, and actor, 22-year-old Cooper Raiff pairs himself with Dylan Gelula, who first made an impression on me in the 2016 film festival fave First Girl I Loved. Raiff plays Alex, a meek freshman who makes no effort to fit in or strike up any friendships with anybody (Logan Miller is funny as his wastoid roommate). Alex does take a chance when he attends a party at the frat hangout known as Shithouse, where he comes to know his RA Maggie (Gelula). The two spend a lovely night together, with the emphasis as much (or more) on conversation as sex, but when Maggie gives him the cold shoulder the next day, he’s perplexed and ends up making all the wrong moves. Alex and Maggie are both fully realized characters — wholly likable but occasionally irritating and off-putting — and the film rings true until its unfortunate cop-out ending.
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and bloopers.
TOM & JERRY (2021). A better title than Tom & Jerry would have been Chloë and Michael, since the film is far more interested in tracking the rivalry between the characters played by Chloë Grace Moretz and Michael Peña than in allowing the Hanna-Barbera superstars a return to their glory days. Moretz is quite good as Kayla, a down-on-her-luck woman who, upon learning about a desirable job at a posh New York hotel, steals a qualified applicant’s resume and sweet-talks her way into the post. Sensing that something isn’t quite right about this too-good-to-be-true employee is Terence (Peña), the establishment’s event manager; however, he and Kayla must put aside their differences in order to plan one of those wedding-of-the-century events, this one for a pair of lovebird celebrities (Colin Jost and Pallavi Sharda) hoping to get hitched at the hotel. And what, pray tell, does this humdrum plot have to do with the cat and the mouse? Very little, as Jerry hopes to live at the hotel and Kayla hires Tom to get rid of the rodent. The blending of live-action and animation is nicely handled, but it’s in the service of soggy sit-com shenanigans.
Blu-ray extras include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.
WILD GEESE II (1985). It’s hard to believe that many of the same folks involved with the exciting 1978 hit The Wild Geese had anything to do with this sequel, since it feels as removed from its predecessor as, say, the execrable Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf from the excellent The Howling. Yet Wild Geese II was indeed planned as a direct sequel, with Richard Burton and Roger Moore tapped to reprise their roles from the original. But Moore hated the script and opted out while Burton died just days before filming began. With Burton gone, his character of mercenary Allen Faulkner was hastily reconfigured as Alex Faulkner (Edward Fox), Allen’s brother. Alex is contacted by news network suits to gauge his interest in breaking Nazi war criminal Rudolf Hess (Laurence Olivier) out of Spandau Prison so they can interview him (no, really). Alex doesn’t mind helping out, but to take charge of the mission, he suggests fellow mercenary John Haddad (Scott Glenn). It’s all rather preposterous and not very exciting, and it’s painful to see Olivier in such wretched health (he would pass away in 1989).
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; a new interview with co-star Barbara Carrera; and the theatrical trailer.
Short And Sweet:
BAXTER (1989). Dark humor abounds in Baxter, a wicked French film about a dog who’s anything but lovable. Speaking in voice-over throughout the movie, this bull terrier quickly makes it apparent that he’s hardly a “good boy,” as he plots murder whenever he doesn’t like his owners or his living conditions. Baxter eventually ends up with perhaps the perfect master: a cruel teenager (François Driancourt) who’s obsessed with Adolph Hitler. At 84 minutes, this could stand to be longer — more interactions with humans might have deepened the story — but it’s certainly original, edgy, and involving.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary and trailers.
ESCAPE FROM FORT BRAVO (1953). An Arizona fort that doubles as a prison camp for Confederate soldiers is the setting for this above-average Western from director John Sturges (The Great Escape). William Holden plays the no-nonsense captain who sets out after a group of escaped prisoners; he successfully recaptures them, but their journey back to the fort is interrupted by Mescalero Apaches out for blood. John Forsythe plays the leader of the Confederate escapees, and a stronger actor was required to match up against Holden. The movie saves the best for last, with a particularly robust showdown dominating the third act.
The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.
TANK (1984). After rubbing redneck Sheriff Cyrus Buelton (G.D. Spradlin) the wrong way, seasoned Sergeant Major Zack Carey (James Garner) watches as the corrupt Georgian lawman arrests his son Billy (C. Thomas Howell) on false charges and sends him to a prison farm to get raped by hardened criminals. Good thing Zack owns a WWII Sherman tank perfect for destroying police stations and prison farms! Garner is as reliable as ever, but the film starts off dumb and grows ever dumber, culminating in the sort of yee-haw fare preferred by the moonshine masses.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary; radio spots; and the theatrical trailer.