Zachary Levi in American Underdog (Photo: Lionsgate)

(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)

Anna Paquin and Zachary Levi in American Underdog (Photo: Lionsgate)

AMERICAN UNDERDOG (2021). As a Rams fan for over 40 years — ever since Warren Beatty was their quarterback (go here) — it was a nice coincidence when the team won this year’s Super Bowl in the same week that I received the Blu-ray for a movie involving their only previous Super Bowl victory. American Underdog, which examines the unbelievable Cinderella story of Rams quarterback Kurt Warner, hails from Andrew and Jon Erwin, and, as I noted in my reviews of I Can Only Imagine (go here) and I Still Believe (go here), the siblings are perhaps the first filmmakers to make faith-based dramas that “at least look like a real movie rather than something even Ed Wood would have rejected.” This is the Erwin Brothers’ most polished effort yet, with the Christian values nicely interwoven (rather than forcibly shoved) into the story of how Kurt (Shazam!’s Zachary Levi), with the support of his wife Brenda (Anna Paquin), ultimately would not let dire circumstances steer him away from professional success and personal soulfulness. P.S. Fans of the Titans, Cardinals, Buccaneers, 49ers, and Bengals might want to eliminate a couple of stars from my rating.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by the Erwins and producer Kevin Downes; making-of pieces; and deleted scenes.

Movie: ★★★

Steffi Duna and Charles Collins in Dancing Pirate (Photo: The Film Detective)

DANCING PIRATE (1936). If Dancing Pirate can lay any claim to fame, it’s that it was the second (not third, as reported on various online sites like IMDb and Wikipedia) full-length feature shot in three-strip Technicolor (the first was 1935’s Becky Sharp, while the third, 1936’s The Garden of Allah, won an Honorary Academy Award for its color cinematography). It’s barely been seen over the years (and even then usually in black-and-white public domain versions), so cheers to The Film Detective for restoring the movie to its Technicolor splendor. If its historical value is immense, its entertainment value is more on the slight side, as it’s a pleasant albeit unremarkable tale of a Boston dance instructor (Charles Collins) who’s kidnapped by pirates and forced to serve on their ship. He manages to escape and makes his way to a Hispanic California village, where the locals mistake him for an actual pirate — his public execution is set, but not before he’s ordered to teach the mayor’s daughter (Steffi Duna) the waltz. Dancing Pirate earned an Oscar nomination for Best Dance Direction, a category that lasted only three years (1935-1937) before the Academy decided to axe it.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by author Jennifer Churchill (Movies Are Magic), and film historian interviews.

Movie: ★★½

Ann Sheridan and Errol Flynn in Edge of Darkness (Photo: Warner Archive)

EDGE OF DARKNESS (1943). Despite star billing for Errol Flynn and Ann Sheridan, this absorbing World War II drama operates like an ensemble piece, with the two performers enjoying no more screen time than many of their co-stars. It’s an atypical WWII film, unfolding as methodically as a good book while recounting the efforts of Norwegian villagers to strike back against the Nazis following the invasion of their country. The brave fisherman Gunnar Brogge (Flynn) fronts the underground movement; joining him is his girlfriend Karen (Sheridan), whose doctor father (Walter Huston) is reluctant to aid the cause, whose mother (Ruth Gordon) is clueless about what’s going on, and whose brother (John Beal) has already betrayed his countrymen once and therefore can’t be trusted. Characters move in and out of the proceedings, various subplots support the main narrative, and, until the exciting climax, the action comes in quick, short bursts.

Blu-ray extras consist of the 1944 live-action Western short Gun to Gun; the 1943 Daffy Duck cartoon To Duck… or Not to Duck; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★½

Kurt Russell in Escape from L.A. (Photo: Paramount)

ESCAPE FROM L.A. (1996). Escape from L.A. was the belated sequel to the 1981 hit Escape from New York, but its soft box office meant audiences never had to sit through any more urban-centered follow-ups, be it Escape from Miami, Escape from Chicago, or even Escape from Woonsocket, Rhode Island. Writer-director John Carpenter and star Kurt Russell are back, but this not-so-great Escape is derivative to a fault, and the play-by-play sops to New York are so relentless that what originally comes off as a deliberate reliance on in-jokes soon reveals itself as a sign of creative bankruptcy. In New York, anti-hero Snake Plissken is forced to break into the island prison of Manhattan in order to rescue the U.S. President (Donald Pleasence); in this one, set 16 years after the original, Snake (again played by a gruff Russell) is forced to break into the island prison of Los Angeles (separated from the mainland after an earthquake) to retrieve a mysterious black box belonging to the Prez (Cliff Robertson). Somehow, this $25 million production looks far cheaper than the $6 million original, and, except for a bizarre sequence involving Bruce Campbell as the Surgeon General of Beverly Hills, the satire is disappointingly tame.

The only extra in the new 4K UHD + Digital edition is the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★

Tom Hanks and Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile (Photo: Warner)

THE GREEN MILE (1999). The second movie adapted by writer-director Frank Darabont from a Stephen King work is comparable to the first, 1994’s The Shawshank Redemption (reviewed here). Paul Edgecomb (Tom Hanks), a Death Row guard at a Louisiana prison, is startled by the latest addition to his cell block: John Coffey (Michael Clarke Duncan), a hulking black man convicted of raping and murdering two little white girls. Coffey possesses a supernatural power that allows him to heal others, and Edgecomb begins to believe that this gentle giant could not have committed those heinous crimes. Despite a three-hour length, this never flags, and there are several scenes of tremendous power. But the same problems that plagued Shawshank are in full force here, including ridiculous coincidences and simplistic character treatments. There’s one sneering villain (Doug Hutchison) among the guards and one sneering villain (Sam Rockwell) among the prisoners — the rest of the inmates are so lovable that one would think they were on Death Row for jaywalking. This earned four Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and a supporting nod for Duncan.

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital edition include audio commentary by Darabont; a making-of piece; and deleted scenes.

Movie: ★★★

Jane March and Tony Leung Ka-Fai in The Lover (Photo: Capelight)

THE LOVER (1992). A French-British co-production, this adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Marguerite Duras proved to be a minor hit on the U.S. art-house circuit and earned lenser Robert Fraisse an Academy Award nomination for Best Cinematography. In French Indochina in the 1920s, a 15-year-old French beauty (Jane March) has an affair with a wealthy 32-year-old Chinaman (Tony Leung Ka-Fai), a union that is understandably frowned upon by members of both families. Writer-director Jean-Jacques Annaud and co-scripter Gérard Brach offer plenty of nudity but little genuine passion in an ofttimes emotionally sterile film where the strongest character dynamics aren’t between the lovers but between the young girl, her mentally distressed mother (Frédérique Meininger), and her volatile older brother (Arnaud Giovaninetti).

The Lover has been released by Capelight Pictures in a gorgeous 4K UHD + Blu-ray media book edition. Extras include a making-of piece; an interview with Annaud and Duras; unreleased scenes; and picture galleries. While the outer case states that this is the edited, R-rated version, it is actually the unrated 115-minute original that the MPAA had threatened with an NC-17.

Movie: ★★½

Jim Carrey in Man on the Moon (Photo: Kino)

MAN ON THE MOON (1999). This Andy Kaufman biopic is a socko motion picture, and while it derives much of its power from Milos Forman’s off-the-wall direction and a gaspingly funny script by the Ed Wood team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, it’s Jim Carrey’s mesmerizing performance that provides the film with a lightning charge. This is no mere act of mimicry, as Carrey seems to be channeling the very spirit of the controversial comedian. His uncanny impersonation further fuels the film’s theme that a man’s life and his art can be so intertwined that it would be foolish to even try to establish any boundaries between the two. Kaufman had more detractors than supporters, but the movie ably demonstrates that show business is often most alive when it’s perpetually pushing that tattered envelope — that point is made most forcefully via Kaufman’s alter ego Tony Clifton, the repulsive lounge singer who represents the pitch-black id of the entertainment industry. Danny DeVito is terrific as agent and foil George Shapiro, although Courtney Love is trapped in an underdeveloped role as Kaufman’s girlfriend Lynne Margulies.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Alexander and Karaszewski; a making-of piece; deleted scenes; and the music videos for R.E.M.’s “Man on the Moon” and “The Great Beyond.”

Movie: ★★★½

Albert Finney in Miller’s Crossing (Photo: Criterion)

MILLER’S CROSSING (1990). Joel and Ethan Coen’s third film had the misfortune of opening three days after GoodFellas and three months before The Godfather Part III (the latter reviewed here), meaning it got clobbered at the box office (and in the public consciousness) by the higher-profile gangster flicks. That’s a shame, because this was one of the best films of its year, with the Coens assembling a mob movie that’s at once part of the venerable genre yet also standing apart from it. Gabriel Byrne plays Tom Reagan, the right-hand man of crime kingpin Leo O’Bannon (Albert Finney). The men admire each other and trust each other, but loyalty takes a hit when Tom commences an affair with Leo’s girlfriend, Verna Bernbaum (Marcia Gay Harden). Leo’s fondness for Verna leads him to protect her lowlife brother Bernie (John Turturro), thus setting up a gang war with rival mobster Johnny Caspar (Jon Polito). As expected from a Coen production, Miller’s Crossing is brimming with superlative performances and bravura filmmaking techniques, and the sharp screenplay offers a welcome streak of nasty humor that runs throughout the picture.

Blu-ray extras include a new conversation with the Coens; new interviews with Byrne and Turturro; and vintage interviews with Byrne, Turturro, Harden and Polito.

Movie: ★★★½

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