View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Sissy Spacek in Carrie (Photo: Shout! Factory & MGM)
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.)
CARRIE (1976). Like Jaws, here’s one of those rare instances when the movie is vastly superior to the book. What’s more, this box office hit easily remains the best adaptation of a Stephen King property (sorry, Shawshank and Shining groupies), thanks to an excellent cast, a richly layered screenplay by Lawrence D. Cohen, and a bravura directorial turn from Brian De Palma. Sissy Spacek delivers a powerhouse performance as Carrie White, a high school outcast who uses her telekinetic abilities to exact revenge against her many tormentors. Filled with rising young stars (including Amy Irving and William Katt as good kids and John Travolta and Nancy Allen as bad ones), bolstered by Oscar-nominated turns by Spacek and Piper Laurie (as Carrie’s religious nut of a mother), and packing a jolt of an ending that still haunts the dreams of baby boomers and Generation Xers, Carrie stands not only as a grade-A thriller but, with its look at the real-life horrors of peer pressure and the prom, also as a stinging and perceptive examination of teen angst. This marked composer Pino Donaggio’s first collaboration with De Palma; he would contribute music to eight of the director’s films, including the brilliant score for Dressed to Kill.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition from Shout! Factory! include audio commentary by author Joe Aisenberg (Studies in the Horror Film: Carrie); interviews with De Palma, Spacek, Laurie, Irving, Katt, Allen, Donaggio, and other cast and crew members; a piece on the notorious 1988 Broadway flop Carrie: The Musical; and TV spots.
CORALINE (2009) / PARANORMAN (2012). Just in time for a creepy Christmas, two offbeat Laika productions have been released in 4K UHD + Blu-ray Steelbook editions.
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was actually Henry Selick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, given that it was the latter who directed the film. With Coraline, Selick displays his stop-motion mastery again, overseeing an eye-popping animated extravaganza he adapted from Neil Gaiman’s bestselling book. Dakota Fanning provides the voice of Coraline, a lonely little girl who discovers an alternate world hidden behind a small door in her family’s new house. Initially, life does seem more pleasant on the other side — her new parents are hipper, the food is tastier, the entertainment is more dazzling — but it’s not long before things take a dark turn, and, with the help of a sage black cat, Coraline soon finds herself fighting for her very soul. The visual scheme is remarkable and provides a dazzling — and occasionally disturbing — break from the soothing styles found in most other animated tales. Incidentally, Selick has a new stop-motion animated effort out this year: Wendell & Wild, co-written with Nope’s Jordan Peele.
ParaNorman is for the kids as much as it’s for the adults, just not the littlest of kids. Instead, this PG-rated attraction is open season on any child who’s still afraid of the dark, so it’s perhaps best to keep this away from them and steer them back to Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. Everyone else, though, can expect a good time from this imaginatively designed and sharply scripted tale about young Norman (voiced by The Power of the Dog‘s Kodi Smit-McPhee), a sensitive boy who, like Haley Joel Osment’s Cole, sees dead people. This ability makes him the freak of his town (aptly named Blithe Hollow, a nod to both Noël Coward and Washington Irving), and only the equally lonely Neil (Tucker Albrizzi), the butt of endless fat jokes, wants to be his friend. But when Norman’s estranged uncle (John Goodman) warns him that Blithe Hollow will soon be destroyed by a centuries-old witch’s curse, it’s up to Norman and Neil to uncover the witch’s secret, fend off shuffling zombies, and prevent the panicky townspeople from obliterating their own community.
Extras on Coraline include audio commentary by Selick and composer Bruno Coulais; a making-of featurette; a look at the characters, featuring rare test footage; and deleted scenes. Extras on ParaNorman include audio commentary by writer-director Chris Butler and co-director Sam Fell; behind-the-scenes featurettes; a piece on the puppets; and feature-length storyboards.
CREATURE FROM BLACK LAKE (1976). At first glance, Creature from Black Lake appears to be one of those exploitation-documentary hybrids that were so popular in the 1970s, movies like 1972’s The Legend of Boggy Creek, 1978’s Faces of Death, and 1979’s In Search of Historic Jesus (which critic Leonard Maltin hilariously opined “should be retitled In Search of Morons Who Will Believe Anything”). Yet it’s actually a more straightforward monster movie, and it’s all the better for it. Also known under the title Demon of the Lake, this centers on the efforts of two Chicago anthropology students, suave Rives (John David Carson) and nerdy Pahoo (Dennis Fimple), to track down a hulking Bigfoot-like creature that’s rumored to be terrorizing the Louisiana swamps. For a low-budget effort from two regional filmmakers (director Joy N. Houck Jr. and writer Jim McCullough Jr.) and presumably aimed at the drive-in crowd, this is better than it has any right to be — the scene staging is occasionally clumsy and some of the dialogue is wince-inducing, but the film is skillfully shot (cinematographer Dean Cundey would later earn an Oscar nomination for Who Framed Roger Rabbit and also handle d.p. duties on such blockbusters as Jurassic Park and Apollo 13), Carson and Fimple are likable leads, and Western veterans Jack Elam and Dub Taylor are on hand to add rural flavor.
Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; an interview with Cundey; the theatrical trailer; and a radio spot.
THE HALLELUJAH TRAIL (1965). John Sturges, the often underappreciated director of The Great Escape, The Magnificent Seven, and other gems, strikes out with this interminable Western comedy that saddles a stellar cast with dull characters and subpar jokes. The plot involves a wagon train transporting barrels of whiskey to Denver — the U.S. Cavalry is assigned to protect it, but complications arise when Temperance League busybodies, buffoonish Native Americans, and nitwit miners all take an interest in the shipment. Burt Lancaster and Jim Hutton are the harried officers, Lee Remick is a spirited teetotaler, Donald Pleasance is the drunken Oracle Jones, and Martin Landau is the Sioux Indian Walks-Stooped-Over. It’s astonishing that this runs a little over 2½ hours yet contains practically nothing in the way of laughs, and not a single actor makes any impression whatsoever. What a waste.
The Hallelujah Trail was one of only 10 movies made between 1957 and 1966 to be filmed in ultrawide Ultra Panavision 70 (others included Ben-Hur, It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, and The Greatest Story Ever Told), although — trivia alert! — Quentin Tarantino did bring this 2.76:1 format back decades later for 2015’s The Hateful Eight. Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray edition, however, offers the film in the more traditional widescreen 2.35:1 ratio. This release is also the roadshow version, meaning it includes the overture, intermission, entr’acte, and exit music. Extras consist of film historian audio commentary and theatrical trailers.
LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE (2022) / SECRET HEADQUARTERS (2022). Parents tired of watching A Charlie Brown Christmas or How the Grinch Stole Christmas! for the umpteenth time (although why would they be?) might want to check out these new, non-Yuletide offerings as PG-rated alternatives suitable for family viewing. Then again, while the kids might take to these, parents will most likely be bored, meaning they should hit “play,” sneak out of the living room, and watch Bad Santa on another household set.
As far as animal acts go, the latest live-action / animated combo meal from McHollywood is better than 2020’s Tom & Jerry but not as (mildly) enjoyable as last year’s Clifford the Big Red Dog. Based on the popular children’s book, Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile centers on a singing reptile (crooning courtesy of pop star Shawn Mendes) discovered by magician Hector P. Valenti (Javier Bardem) and “adopted” by a lonely little boy (Winslow Fegley) who has recently moved to NYC with his dad (Scoot McNairy) and stepmom (Constance Wu). As visualized on the screen, Lyle just isn’t very interesting, and between this charmless CGI creation, forgettable tunes from the pair (Benj Pasek and Justin Paul) who fared better with La La Land, and conflicts that fail to engage (the villain is nothing more than a cranky neighbor; quelle horreur!), this has little to recommend it beyond the sight of Bardem seemingly having a grand old time.
In Secret Headquarters, an alien entity fuses with an Earthling, but rather than turning Venom-ous, Jack Kincaid (Owen Wilson) instead turns heroic, donning superhero duds and fighting crime as The Guard. Jack’s son Charlie (Walker Scobell) worships The Guard but harbors contempt for his neglectful and perpetually absent father, not realizing they’re one and the same. It’s only when Charlie and his school chums are forced to defend The Guard’s lair from an evil CEO (Michael Peña) that he begins to grasp the truth. There’s an interesting idea here about how being a superhero can divide rather than unite a parent and child, particularly when said job is treated like a nine-to-fiver with plenty of OT, but it’s largely tossed aside so the movie can operate as a crummy cross between Spy Kids and Home Alone. The film could use a little more Wilson, whose role is basically a glorified supporting one, and a lot less Peña, whose already wavering comic chops grow less distinctive with each passing picture.
Blu-ray extras on Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile include four sing-along songs; book excerpts read by Bardem and Mendes; a deleted scene; bloopers; and the music videos for “Top of the World” and “Carried Away.” Blu-ray extras on Secret Headquarters include behind-the-scenes featurettes; deleted and extended scenes; and a gag reel.
Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile: ★★
Secret Headquarters: ★½
SILENT RUNNING (1972). Throughout his career, visual effects giant Douglas Trumbull has preferred to employ his talents in the service of serious, thoughtful science fiction (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner). It’s hardly a surprise, then, that he made his directorial debut at the helm of a similarly contemplative sci-fi flick that flopped upon its original release but has always retained a modest following. Silent Running is set in a future that has seen humankind destroy all plant life, with what little that remains now flourishing aboard several spaceships designed to function as greenhouses until the plants can be returned to Earth. But when the crews all receive instructions to destroy their cargo, botanist Freeman Lowell (Bruce Dern), assigned to the spaceship Valley Forge, decides to rebel. He steers the ship toward Saturn, aided in his flight by three diminutive robots named Huey, Dewey, and Louie. This plea for environmental awareness is clearly a product of the 1970s (two Joan Baez songs appear on the soundtrack) yet remains relevant today. One of the writers was Steven Bochco, eventually to become a TV legend thanks to his creation of countless hit series like Hill Street Blues and L.A. Law; the other scripters were Michael Cimino and Deric Washburn, later of the Best Picture Oscar winner The Deer Hunter.
Extras in Arrow Video’s 4K UHD edition include audio commentary by Trumbull and Dern; an archival making-of piece; archival interviews with Trumbull and Dern; and an isolated music track.
A WALK TO REMEMBER (2002). Mandy Moore is one of the good ones, and by that, I mean she’s one of those singers who turned out to be a decent actress. It’s not her fault that, television and toon triumphs aside, her output has largely consisted of cinematic stink bombs like Southland Tales, Because I Said So, and License to Wed. A Walk to Remember, which marked her first significant screen role, was greeted with savage reviews upon its initial release, but it’s actually one of the better Mandy Moore movies, one of the better Nicholas Sparks adaptations, and one of the worthier faith-based flicks. Playing like a Love Story for the high school rather than college set, this stars Moore as Jamie Sullivan, who’s living with her widowed minister father (Peter Coyote) in a small North Carolina town. Jamie is a genuinely kind person who doesn’t succumb to peer pressure — that’s the opposite of Landon Carter (Shane West), a rebellious teen constantly getting into trouble alongside his friends. Circumstances force the two to spend time together, and, although initially resistant, Landon soon finds himself reacting positively to her warmth and sincerity. There’s not much here that isn’t predictable — any bets on the nature of Jamie’s big secret? — but it’s all handled with grace and good intentions.
Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Moore, West, and director Adam Shankman; audio commentary by Sparks and screenwriter Karen Janszen; a new interview with Sparks; the music video for Moore’s “Cry”; and the theatrical trailer.
THE WOMAN KING (2022). Since it’s advertised as being “inspired by true events,” The Woman King has already had to deal with complaints about its twisting of history. (What, Hollywood has taken a real-life story and added fictional components? Say it ain’t so!) Since the carping is more pronounced than usual, it’s fair to wonder if it’s because the story centers around strong black women, but never mind — anybody who turns to the multiplex for a 100% accurate history lesson is an imbecile anyway, and the movie’s greatest strength isn’t even its story but rather its status as a representational rallying cry. Set in the African kingdom of Dahoney in the 1800s, it stars Viola Davis as Nanisca, the leader of a formidable group of women warriors known as the Agojie. Serving under King Ghezo (John Boyega), the Agojie set about training new members as they prepare for battle with the Oyo Empire. Chief among the recruits is Nawi (newcomer Thuso Mbedu), who’s distinct enough to capture the attention of both Nanisca and the seasoned Agojie warrior Izogie (No Time to Die’s Lashana Lynch). The film’s biggest problem from a narrative standpoint is the cheap twist that occurs halfway through, the sort of “Oh, come on” coincidence that inspires audible groans. Barring this misstep, The Woman King makes its mark as a rousing action saga that’s blessed with an exquisite cast.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Gina Prince-Bythewood and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire; a making-of featurette; an interview with Davis; and audition footage of Mbedu.
Review links for movies referenced in this column:
Clifford the Big Red Dog
The Deer Hunter
Dressed to Kill
The Great Escape
The Greatest Story Ever Told
La La Land
The Nightmare Before Christmas
No Time to Die
The Shawshank Redemption
Tom & Jerry
Venom: Let There Be Carnage