View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
James Caan, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino and John Cazale in The Godfather (Photo: Paramount)
(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.)
BLUE SKIES (1946). A songbook captured on celluloid, Blue Skies features approximately three dozen Irving Berlin songs heard either in snippets or in entirety. Unfortunately, not all of the tunes are top-tier Berlin, just one of the problems plaguing this erratic box office hit. Fred Astaire plays Jed Potter, a hoofer in love with singer Mary O’Hara (Joan Caulfield). For her part, Mary pines for Jed’s best friend, nightclub owner Johnny Adams (Bing Crosby). As for Johnny, he cares for Mary but knows he’s not the type to settle down. Nevertheless, Mary and Johnny marry, leading to a daughter (Karolyn Grimes of “Zuzu’s Petals!” fame) but also to a combative relationship. Does Jed now stand a chance? It’s not a very compelling question, especially since Astaire has zero chemistry with Caulfield — she’s bland in the role and was almost fired from the film, but she was the married Crosby’s mistress at the time so there ya go. Crosby is his usual drowsy self, although he perks up when tag teaming with Fred for the amusing number “A Couple of Song and Dance Men.” Yet the film’s highlight — by far — is Astaire’s performance of “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” a superb showcase in which the magic of the movies allows the star to dance with multiple copies of himself! Blue Skies earned a pair of Oscar nominations for Best Scoring of a Musical and Best Original Song (“You Keep Coming Back Like a Song,” one of the few original Berlin compositions in the film).
Blu-ray extras consist of film critic audio commentary and trailers for other movies on the Kino label.
CAPTAINS OF THE CLOUDS (1942). Just as the 1942 Best Picture Oscar winner Mrs. Miniver boosted American support for the British cause during World War II (as was intended), so too did Captains of the Clouds offer its own measure of Hollywood-manufactured propaganda for our Canadian neighbors. A tribute to the Royal Canadian Air Force, this stars James Cagney as Brian MacLean, a bush pilot operating in the Canadian wilds. MacLean’s penchant for trouble leads him to steal business away from the other bush pilots — the noble Johnny Dutton (Dennis Morgan), the British expat Scrounger Harris (Reginald Gardiner), and the comic relief pair of Tiny Murphy (Alan Hale) and Blimp Lebec (George Tobias) — and to steal the fiery Emily Foster (Brenda Marshall) away from her boyfriend Johnny. But then Johnny saves Brian from certain death and Brian subsequently saves Johnny from marrying the materialistic Emily (by, uh, marrying her himself), so all the guys are now buddies and ready to leave the wilderness and join the war effort — and the RCAF. The movie’s complete bosh when it comes to the plotting and the characterizations, but the Technicolor lensing is impressive, the climactic aerial battle is exciting, and Cagney is in his element as a brash brawler. Captains of the Clouds nabbed a pair of Oscar nominations for Best Color Cinematography and Best Color Art Direction-Interior Decoration.
Blu-ray extras consist of a 1942 newsreel; the 1942 live-action short Rocky Mountain Big Game; two Bugs Bunny cartoons, 1942’s Hold the Lion, Please and 1944’s What’s Cookin’ Doc? (in which Bugs is livid when Cagney beats him for the Best Actor Oscar); and the theatrical trailer.
THE GODFATHER TRILOGY (1972-1990). I’ll avoid writing that this latest set of the Francis Ford Coppola-Mario Puzo movies is an offer cineastes can’t refuse (oops, too late). Seriously, though, this stellar 4K offering will doubtless remain one of the best — if not the best — home market releases of the year. The films themselves need no introduction. The Godfather (1972) immediately emerged as a cultural milestone; The Godfather Part II (1974) is lauded in some corners (although not this one) as being superior to its predecessor; and The Godfather Part III (1990), refashioned here as Coppola’s definitive The Godfather Coda: The Death of Michael Corleone, is worthwhile yet seriously flawed (go here for a full review). The first two films earned Best Picture Academy Awards, with the original also winning for Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Actor for Marlon Brando; the icon delivers a cheeky (in more ways than one) performance as Don Vito Corleone, although the award clearly should have gone to the real star, Al Pacino (relegated to the Best Supporting Actor category, where he competed against co-stars James Caan and Robert Duvall). Part II earned a total of six statues, including Best Director and Best Supporting Actor for Robert De Niro as the young Don Vito Corleone.
In celebration of the initial film’s 50th anniversary, Paramount is offering the trilogy for the first time in 4K. Not only does the collection contain The Godfather Coda but it also features the 1990 theatrical version of The Godfather Part III as well as Coppola’s 1991 cut. New extras include an introduction by Coppola; a piece on the saga’s latest restoration; and 8mm home movie footage shot in 1971. Previously released extras include audio commentary by Coppola; several making-of pieces; a look at the first picture’s troubled production, featuring interviews with Coppola, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and others; additional scenes; an interactive family tree; an interactive crime organization chart; and much, much more.
The Godfather: ★★★★
The Godfather Part II: ★★★★
The Godfather Coda: ★★½
MILLENNIUM ACTRESS (2001). With only four films as a writer-director under his belt, Satoshi Kon established himself as a leading light in the world of anime before succumbing to pancreatic cancer in 2010, at the age of 46. The 1997 effort Perfect Blue was an influence on Darren Aronofsky, and 2001’s Millennium Actress, 2003’s Tokyo Godfathers, and 2006’s Paprika likewise have their disciples. With Millennium Actress, cinema folds back onto itself in this imaginative yarn in which a former movie star, now spending her twilight years in seclusion, reflects on the past at the bidding of a documentary filmmaker. As she relates her tale, the filmmaker and his assistant find themselves integrated into the action and witnessing history for themselves. A haunting love story, this also includes homages to Japan’s rich cinematic legacy (particularly the works of Akira Kurosawa).
In collaboration with Eleven Arts, Shout! Factory has reissued Millennium Actress in a steelbook edition that contains both the original Japanese audio and the 2019 English-language dub. Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of featurette that includes an interview with the late Satoshi Kon; interviews with producers Taro Maki and Masao Maruyama; and interviews with voice actresses Laura Post and Abby Trott.
SHOOTER (2007). Shooter kicks off with a scene in which a young man flashes a picture of his fiancée to his partner, which in movie parlance of course means he won’t be around much longer. Shooter also includes a sequence in which our put-upon protagonist reaches his boiling point upon learning the worst news a movie hero can hear: The villains went and shot his faithful canine companion (big mistake, guys). It’s a testament to all concerned that Shooter can include such hoary clichés and effortlessly survive them. Crisply directed by Antoine Fuqua and adapted from Stephen Hunter’s Point of Impact, this casts Mark Wahlberg (who portrayed a shooter of an entirely different kind in Boogie Nights) as Bob Lee Swagger, a former Marine sniper who’s duped into taking part in a political assassination and then served up as the lone gunman. Refusing to go down easy, he instead uses all his training to get back at the slimy suits who framed him, along the way enlisting the aid of an earnest FBI rookie (Michael Peña). Comparisons to Sylvester Stallone’s similarly ill-treated combat vet are paper-thin, since this film is anything but a Rambore; instead, it benefits from some taut action sequences, a well-chosen supporting cast (66-year-old Levon Helm, not looking a day over 99, steals the film as a gun enthusiast), and a suitably grumpy Wahlberg.
Paramount has reissued Shooter in a 4K steelbook edition. Extras include a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.
THE 355 (2022). There’s a tendency to attach the word “feminist” to any movie that takes a traditionally male-centric genre and fills the leading roles with women. But that’s a lazy and often erroneous approach. The horror film The Descent is a feminist work. The superhero saga Wonder Woman is a feminist work. The 355, on the other hand, is simply a standard action yarn in which the central characters just happen to be women instead of Ethan Hunt or Jason Bourne. The picture is a sampling of girl power with a United Nations twist, as five global operatives — American (Jessica Chastain), British (Lupita Nyong’o), German (Diane Kruger), Colombian (Penelope Cruz), and Chinese (Fan Bingbing) — pool their resources in order to stop a wide range of bad guys from activating some gizmo that can basically cripple the world. The 355 is the sort of movie that doesn’t trust the intelligence of its audience — that’s a given when there’s a cityscape shot that captures the Eiffel Tower and the filmmakers feel the need to tag the location as “Paris, France.” Writer-director Simon Kinberg, co-scripting with playwright Theresa Rebeck, is the guy who brought down the once-proud X-Men franchise with the painful Dark Phoenix, and this latest effort shows the same general inefficiency when it comes to such cinematic niceties as dialogue, characterization, and thrillingly staged action sequences. The 355 isn’t a bad movie — rather, it’s aggressively average — and any lift it receives is, not surprisingly, provided by its powerhouse cast, Kruger in particular.
Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes pieces focusing on the stunt work and the production design; deleted scenes; and VFX breakdowns.
WEST SIDE STORY (2021) / NIGHTMARE ALLEY (2021). Two remakes. Two current contenders for the Best Picture Academy Award. Two titles released through Disney’s home entertainment label. Directed by Steven Spielberg, West Side Story isn’t that markedly inferior to its 1961 predecessor (itself a Best Picture Oscar winner), with Rachel Zegler and Ariana DeBose particularly appealing as Maria and Anita and Mike Faist particularly energized as Riff. Still, as far as splashy 2021 musicals go, I prefer both tick, tick…BOOM! and In the Heights. Nightmare Alley comes from Guillermo del Toro, who adds the proper menacing mood to this tale of circus geeks and freaks. It’s no match for the 1947 version starring Tyrone Power, but an excellent production design and a strong central performance by Bradley Cooper make it worthwhile.
Blu-ray extras on West Side Story consist of numerous making-of featurettes and song links. Blu-ray extras on Nightmare Alley consist of a making-of featurette and pieces on the costumes and production design.
West Side Story: ★★★
Nightmare Alley: ★★★