View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
DeWanda Wise and Laura Dern in Jurassic World Dominion (Photo: Universal)
By Matt Brunson
(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.)
BUCK AND THE PREACHER (1972). While the blaxploitation flicks of the era largely focused on crime (Shaft, Super Fly) and horror (Blacula, Blankenstein), 1972 saw the release of a blaxploitation Western. That would not be Buck and the Preacher; instead, it was the Fred Williamson hit The Legend of Nigger Charley. Buck and the Preacher, on the other hand, retained the blaxploitation genre’s social outrage but offered it in a more traditional, albeit no less entertaining, manner. Significant as the first mainstream Western to star black actors (the title character in John Ford’s 1960 Sergeant Rutledge, played by Woody Strode, was black, but top billing and the largest part went to white actor Jeffrey Hunter), this takes place right after the Civil War, when blacks who were fleeing the South in hopes of a brighter future were being harassed by whites seeking to drive them back to lives of servitude. Sidney Poitier (also making his directorial debut) plays Buck, the wagon master determined to protect the settlers in his care, while an animated Harry Belafonte co-stars as a con man preacher who becomes his unlikely companion. Far from a simplistic “black vs. white” actioner, this offers soulful ruminations (most from Ruby Dee as Buck’s wife) and complex relationships (the encounters between blacks and Native Americans are respectful but tense) to go along with the shootouts.
Blu-ray extras include behind-the-scenes footage; interviews with Poitier and Belafonte from 1972 episodes of Soul! and The Dick Cavett Show; and an interview with author Mia Mask (Black Rodeo: A History of the African American Western).
DOG SOLDIERS (2002). Neil Marshall’s 2006 winner The Descent ranks as one of the best horror films of modern times, but the British writer-director already had another grade-A monster movie under his belt — his directorial debut, no less — before his breakthrough feature. Set in the Scottish Highlands, the story centers on six British soldiers engaged in a training mission — Sergeant Wells (Sean Pertwee) is in command, with Private Cooper (Kevin McKidd) serving as the most accomplished and dependable man in his unit. They happen upon an injured Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham), the only survivor of a special forces outfit that’s been wiped out by … something. That something is revealed to be werewolves; the soldiers avoid being slaughtered thanks to a last-minute rescue by a zoologist (Emma Cleasby), but all involved soon find themselves barricaded in a farmhouse and fighting for their lives. Marshall foregoes employing CGI (only small dollops are applied) in a desire to create the beasts via old-school means (outfits and animatronics); they’re a fearsome lot, with their origins providing the tale with a satisfying twist. As he did with The Descent, Marshall packs the picture with distinctive and sympathetic characters, allowing viewers to easily get absorbed in the hand-to-paw skirmishes. Mark Thomas’ music score is also a plus.
Shout! Factory’s Scream Factory branch has released the film in a 4K + Blu-ray edition. Extras include audio commentary by Marshall; a making-of featurette; an interview with Marshall; photo galleries; and Marshall’s 1999 short film Combat.
ELECTRA GLIDE IN BLUE (1973). Here’s a one-and-done from music producer James William Guercio (Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears), who made his directorial debut with this striking feature and then called it a day. It’s certainly a notable achievement, with initially mixed reviews and tepid box office stepping aside for recognition as an unsung cult classic. Guercio and writers Robert Boris and Rupert Hitzig have made a movie that, depending on one’s point of view, is either the anti-Easy Rider or a simpatico companion piece to Easy Rider. Robert Blake stars as John Wintergreen, an Arizona motorcycle cop who’s eager to be promoted to the Homicide division. Far more honest and far more intelligent than his partner Zipper (Billy “Green” Bush), he gets his chance when he correctly pegs an apparent suicide as a murder. He’s elated to be working alongside experienced detective Harve Poole (Mitchell Ryan), but Poole’s eccentricity, Zipper’s unpredictability, and his own sense of morality all conspire to make his happiness short-lived. Three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Conrad Hall (American Beauty) captures the Arizona vistas in all their majesty and the squalid homes in all their misery, and his shot selections during those startling closing minutes surely rank among his finest achievements. That hippie at the commune who looks like Nick Nolte is Nick Nolte (in a fleeting and uncredited role at the start of his career), while Chicago lead vocalist Peter Cetera appears as hog-riding suspect Bob Zemko.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Guercio; audio commentary by Boris; and interviews with Boris and Ryan.
FERNGULLY: THE LAST RAINFOREST (1992). Message movies often run the risk of bludgeoning viewers with good intentions, in the process forgetting to place the story front and center. FernGully: The Last Rainforest thankfully doesn’t overdo it — while the end result is on the slight side, the movie employs bright animation to relate an entertaining “save the environment” yarn. The setting is the mystical FernGully, an Australian rainforest that’s home to Crysta (voiced by Samantha Mathis), Pips (Christian Slater), and other fairies. Unfortunately for its denizens (and, of course, the planet at large), FernGully has been targeted for destruction by a logging company, and it’s this outfit that inadvertently brings about the return of Hexxus (Tim Curry), an evil ooze created by pollution. Despite Elton John, Thomas Dolby, and Jimmy Buffet contributing original songs, the soundtrack is only so-so, although rapper Tone Lōc is amusing as a naughty lizard singing “If I’m Gonna Eat Somebody (It Might As Well Be You).” Robin Williams appears as a manic, motormouthed bat named Batty Koda, and the role is basically a test run for his manic, motormouthed Genie in Aladdin, released eight months later.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Bill Kroyer, art director Ralph Eggleston, and coordinating art director Susan Kroyer; an introduction by Bill Kroyer; a making-of featurette; a script-to-screen comparison; and the music video for “If I’m Gonna Eat Somebody (It Might As Well Be You).”
JURASSIC WORLD DOMINION (2022). In my review of 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I wrote, “Given the general slipshod quality of the franchise since the excellent original, stating that Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the best of the sequels is a largely empty declaration, equivalent to opining that a Hostess Twinkie is the best of the largely inedible sugary snacks flooding the marketplace. Perhaps it’s true, but does it really matter?” Jurassic World Dominion might be the new best-of-a-bum-bunch, but, again, that’s hardly a cause for celebration. The premise is that humans and dinosaurs now co-exist all across the globe; the hook is that the Jurassic Park cast teams up with the Jurassic World cast. Thus, we have Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) attempting to find out who has kidnapped their adopted clone daughter Maisie (Isabella Sermon) while Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) try to expose corporate malfeasance at Biosyn Genetics. Guess which two plotlines eventually intersect? It’s more fun hanging out with the old-timers than with the younger heroes (although DeWanda Wise makes a positive impression as a new character, pilot Kayla Watts), but the largely unimaginative use of the dino-stars renders this an also-ran, albeit one with a couple of memorable set-pieces.
Jurassic World Dominion has been released in a 4K edition that contains the theatrical cut as well as an extended version. Extras consist of a multipart making-of piece; a look at the visual effects; and 2019’s Battle at Big Rock, a 10-minute short that takes place after the events of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
PLEASURE (2021). It wouldn’t exactly be accurate to state that Pleasure makes Boogie Nights look about as hardcore as FernGully: The Last Rainforest by comparison, but there’s clearly a reason that (unlike the R-rated Boogie Nights) this fictionalized look at the porn industry has been making the rounds either unrated or with an adults-only designation. Swedish filmmaker Ninja Thyberg makes her feature directing and writing debuts while fellow Swede Sofia Kappel makes her acting debut in this bold undertaking centered on Linnéa, a young woman who leaves Sweden for Hollywood, adopts the nom de guerre Bella Cherry, and works on her dream of becoming an X-rated superstar. But her own initial limitations — she will only do vanilla boy-girl, girl-girl, and solo scenes — curtail her opportunities, so she grows ever more bold and begins to request extreme scenes that might potentially break her. Pleasure is largely dispassionate in the manner in which it views the industry, with performers asked to fill out standard paperwork, standing around with crew members and fellow actors (most, but not all, of whom are presented as decent guys on the job) between takes, and forced to room with other wannabe starlets. Kappel delivers an interesting performance as Bella, with her low-key demeanor camouflaging both the character’s naivety and ruthlessness, and verisimilitude is achieved by surrounding her with actual porn personnel, a few playing themselves (including top-level agent Mark Spiegler, the self-proclaimed “Patron of the Tarts”).
Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and camera tests.
VIVO (2021). Sony Pictures Animation has insisted on promoting Vivo as coming “from the studio that brought you Oscar winner Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018, Best Animated Feature Film) and the critically acclaimed The Mitchells vs. the Machines,” a pronouncement that does this mediocre movie no favors. A sizable disappointment given the participation of Lin-Manuel Miranda — he voiced the title character, wrote the original songs, and served as an executive producer — this follows the exploits of Vivo, an energetic kinkajou (a cousin to the raccoon, although oddly drawn here in the style of an organ grinder monkey). Vivo lives in Havana with the elderly musician (Buena Vista Social Club member Juan de Marcos González) who long ago rescued him from the streets, but circumstances force Vivo to travel to Florida, with an unorthodox young girl named Gabi (Ynairaly Simo) as his only companion. It’s likely that small children will take to the vivacious Gabi, but for grown-ups, she’s a screen irritant, and all of the other characters, from Gabi’s well-meaning but misunderstanding mom (Zoe Saldana) to Vivo himself, prove to be a singularly uninteresting lot. Those expecting Miranda’s songs to be on the level of the tunes from Hamilton and In the Heights had best temper their expectations.
The Blu-ray is billed as “The Sing-Along Edition,” giving viewers the option of watching the movie karaoke-style. Extras consist of a behind-the-scenes piece and the lyric video for “My Own Drum (Remix).”
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
In the Heights
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The Mitchells vs. the Machines
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse