View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Austin Butler in Elvis (Photo: Warner)
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.)
ABE LINCOLN IN ILLINOIS (1940). If John Ford’s 1939 Young Mr. Lincoln, starring Henry Fonda as the title character, offers a smoother ride from first frame to last, John Cromwell’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois, released approximately 10 months later, offers a greater number of individual scenes that serve to energize and inspire. Based on Robert E. Sherwood’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, this finds Raymond Massey reprising his Broadway role as Honest Abe, seen here from his early days as a reluctant outdoorsman to the night of his election as the 16th president of the United States. Highlights include his love for the doomed Ann Rutledge (Mary Howard), his rivalry with savvy senator Stephen Douglas (Gene Lockhart), his marriage to the ambitious Mary Todd Lincoln (Ruth Gordon in her film debut), and his opinions on the issue of slavery. This earned a Best Actor Academy Award nomination for Massey and a Best Cinematography nod for the extraordinary James Wong Howe (Seconds).
The only Blu-ray extra is the 1940 radio broadcast starring Massey.
COOL WORLD (1992). It’s as clear in 2022 as it was in 1992 that Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World should have been an adults-only endeavor, a rude, raunchy, and decidedly non-P.C. companion to earlier Bakshi efforts like the X-rated animated hits Fritz the Cat and Heavy Traffic. Indeed, that was Bakshi’s intention when he suggested the film to Paramount, only to watch as imbecilic studio suits turned it into a more cash-friendly PG-13 confection that ended up bombing with critics and audiences alike. The groovy animation retains its kicky charm, but everything else about this live-action/cartoon hybrid remains a hopeless mess. Two humans — a detective (Brad Pitt) from the ‘40s and a cartoonist (Gabriel Byrne) from the ‘90s — finds themselves in the toon town of Cool World; there, they have to contend with Holli Would (Kim Basinger), a femme fatale who longs to become flesh and blood and cross over into our world. The story is nonsensical and the characters are drab; even a David Bowie original (“Real Cool World”) falls victim to a sense of torpor.
Blu-ray extras consist of a retrospective making-of piece and theatrical trailers.
ELVIS (2022). The name of the movie is Elvis, but a better moniker might have been Parker. That’s because writer-director Baz Luhrmann opted to tell the life story of Elvis Presley from the POV of Colonel Tom Parker, the shady and opportunistic manager who discovered him and represented him until the singer’s death in 1977. It’s an odd angle from which to examine “The King,” and while there’s no shortage of entertaining scenes in this 159-minute film, there always exists a vacuum at its center. Austin Butler is good as Elvis, but in the role of Parker, Tom Hanks is generally unconvincing, allowing his fat suit and affected accent to do most of the acting. It’s a major distraction, and it’s a sure sign of creative failure when the character Hanks most resembles isn’t Colonel Tom Parker but rather the gluttonous Mr. Creosote from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. Those viewing Elvis for spectacle won’t be disappointed, as Luhrmann has never met a camera angle or quick-cut edit he didn’t like. But as a comprehensive biopic, the movie is a mixed bag, employing a frenzied style that helps some scenes while hindering others.
Extras in the 4K UHD edition include a making-of featurette; pieces on the film’s music and clothes; and the lyric video for “Trouble.”
MASSACRE AT CENTRAL HIGH (1976). At this lamentable point in time, that title sounds like a “Thanks but no thanks” viewing option, but rest assured that this is probably not what one expects. It begins in typical — but extremely well-made — fashion, as the new kid (Derrel Maury) at a California high school stands up to fascistic bullies and subsequently adopts a Death Wish mentality after a tragedy occurs. But then the film unexpectedly takes off in a direction that was inspired by Lord of the Flies, that inspired Heathers, and that examines the overriding corruptibility of power. It’s a shame the final 15 minutes are so pitiful — inconsistent character actions coupled with a weak denouement suggest writer-director Rene Daalder didn’t know how to end this — but everything leading up to this point is a blast. Amusingly, this was released in Italy with several homegrown pornographic sequences inserted and renamed Sexy Jeans!
Blu-ray extras include a making-of piece; audio interviews with Daalder, Maury, and co-stars Andrew Stevens and Robert Carradine; and a still gallery.
MINIONS: THE RISE OF GRU (2022). In covering the dismal Despicable Me 3 back in 2017, I wrote that it was “a constantly ka-chinging cash register disguised as a major motion picture.” That’s been true of every entry in this deathless series that so far has produced three Despicable Me films, two Minions flicks, a handful of mini-movies, and about a thousand tie-in product commercials. Considering the downward trajectory of the series, which began in 2010 with the prickly Despicable Me but has been hopelessly homogenized over the ensuing decade-plus, it’s worth noting that this chapter adds a soupçon of inspiration by journeying back to the seventies. This decision allows a few time-capsule gags to break the tedium that has now come to define anything involving those nattering yellow nuisances, who in this installment assist a 12-year-old Gru (again voiced by Steve Carell) as he tries to join a team of super-villains known as the Vicious 6. But even the occasional sops to parents won’t prevent them from looking at their phone screens while their kids look at the TV screen.
Extras in the 4K UHD edition include two new mini-movies; character profiles; an extended scene; and outtakes.
MRS. HARRIS GOES TO PARIS (2022). Like The Duke, here’s another recent Brit hit to remind folks that the art-house has managed to bounce back from the darkest days of the pandemic as vigorously as the multiplex. Based on Paul Gallico’s 1958 novel Mrs. ‘Arris Goes to Paris, this second feature-length adaptation (following a 1992 CBS telefilm with Angela Lansbury) stars Mike Leigh regular Lesley Manville as Ada Harris, a widowed London house cleaner who decides that she simply must own a Christian Dior dress. After a miraculous run of good luck involving her financial situation, she takes off for Paris and the House of Dior — there, she makes several new friends, encounters resistance from a top Dior executive (Isabelle Huppert), and even helps the struggling fashion empire wiggle its way out of monetary difficulties. Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris is little more than a charming fairy tale — it’s only slightly more rooted in reality than, say, Jurassic World Dominion — but beneath the Cinderella sheen it does manage to point out the relevance of seemingly impossible dreams, the idiocy of class warfare, and the cruciality of the kindness of strangers.
Blu-ray extras consist of deleted scenes and a gag reel.
SO PROUDLY WE HAIL (1943). One of the countless World War II dramas Hollywood produced while the conflict was still raging, this focuses on the American nurses stationed in the Philippines when the fighting there was at its most intense. Yet those who might be tempted to derisively write this off as a “woman’s weepie” had best reconsider, since it’s as brutal as Objective, Burma!, Wake Island, or any other he-man WWII offering from the period. Claudette Colbert stars as the head nurse who feels deeply for the women under her; Paulette Goddard (in the year following her divorce from Charlie Chaplin) plays the flirt who’s perpetually trying to remain in good spirits; Veronica Lake is atypically cast as a hardened woman whose hatred for the Japanese knows no limits; and George Reeves (later TV’s Superman) and a scene-stealing Sonny Tufts are on hand as romantic interests. This powerful picture earned Oscar nominations for Best Supporting Actress (Goddard), Original Screenplay, Black-and-White Cinematography, and Special Effects.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailers; and trailers for other Kino titles featuring Colbert, Goddard, or World War II.
TWICE-TOLD TALES (1963). Taking a break from the Edgar Allan Poe adaptations he was making for Roger Corman and American International Pictures during this period, Vincent Price opted to tackle Nathaniel Hawthorne for United Artists. The result was pretty much the same: macabre tales, color-saturated sets, and prime Price performances. This anthology film serves up three tales of comparable quality, all introduced by and starring the horror legend. “Dr. Heidegger’s Experiment” casts Price and Sebastian Cabot as best buddies who discover a liquid that not only restores their youth but also has the ability to restore life to a long-deceased paramour (Mari Blanchard). “Rappacinni’s Daughter” pairs Price with his Return of the Fly co-star Brett Halsey, as they respectively play the father and suitor of a woman (Joyce Taylor) whose touch means instant death (an ancestor of The X-Men’s Rogue, perhaps?). And “The House of the Seven Gables” finds Gerald Pyncheon (Price) returning to his haunted family estate after a long absence and with his new wife (Beverly Garland) in tow.
Blu-ray extras include film historian audio commentary; the Trailers from Hell segment; and the theatrical trailer.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Despicable Me 3
Jurassic World Dominion
The Raven (1963)
Return of the Fly
The Tomb of Ligeia
Young Mr. Lincoln