View From the Couch: The Mask of Zorro, Phenomena, etc.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD.
Antonio Banderas in The Mask of Zorro (Photo: Sony)
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.)
For the full-length review of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which was released a couple of weeks ago by Dark Sky Films in 4K UHD, go here.
AIR FORCE ONE (1997). While film history is littered with actors playing ineffectual U.S. Presidents, a rat-tat-tat stretch in the 1990s found Michael Douglas as a compassionate Commander-in-Chief who stood by his ideals in 1995’s The American President, Bill Pullman as a brave Prez who whupped E.T.’s ass in 1996’s Independence Day, and Harrison Ford as a no-nonsense POTUS who single-handedly took on terrorists in this 1997 box office smash. It’s the typical Harrison hero: a pure-as-driven-snow guy who bristles at the mere thought of someone committing a rotten act anywhere on this planet. Indeed, it’s Ford’s typical conviction in the role that, against our better judgment, makes us swell with flag-waving pride at all the rah-rah jingoism the movie constantly shovels, as his President James Marshall seeks to stop the Russian zealot (Gary Oldman) who has hijacked his plane. If you’re expecting any semblance of political complexity, forget it: Having the Secretary of Defense (Dean Stockwell) invoke the spirit of Alexander Haig by barking at the Vice President (Glenn Close), “I’m in charge here” is about the closest it gets to venturing into the real world. Air Force One ultimately isn’t so much “Die Hard on a plane” (Fly Hard?) as much as it’s a Top Gun for grown-ups — military hardware in the service of a red-white-and-blue chest thumper. But the movie backs up its patriotic fervor by repeatedly delivering on its campaign promise of bona fide thrills.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital steelbook edition consists only of the previously available audio commentary by director Wolfgang Petersen (and, oddly, only on the Blu-ray, not the 4K) and the theatrical trailer.
THE HOUSE THAT SCREAMED (1969). If nothing else, Film Frenzy can be considered a safe space for cineasts. It’s hard to find a review of The House That Screamed (or, heck, even actual video box copy) that doesn’t mention this movie in relation to the cinematic classic that doubtless inspired it. Alas, anyone armed with the title of that previous picture (as I was) will be unable to watch this Spanish horror yarn without properly predicting its major plot twists. So proceed without fear, as that prior film’s moniker will not be noted here. (No, no; no need to thank me; my pleasure!) Suffice to say that even if one guesses the gotcha moments, there’s still plenty to enjoy in this stylish tale that played most of the globe (including Spain) as The Finishing School (alternately The Boarding School) but hit the U.S. in an edited version titled The House That Screamed. International star Lilli Palmer (The Counterfeit Traitor, The Boys From Brazil) is the one assuming the mantle of grande dame in a horror flick — she’s cast as Señora Fourneau, the humorless headmistress of a boarding school for girls. The sweet Teresa (Cristina Galbó) is the newest arrival at the school, and while she manages to strike up a friendship with Señora Fourneau’s teenage son (John Moulder-Brown), she runs afoul of fellow student Irene (Mary Maude), the meanest of the mean girls. Meanwhile, several of the lasses have gone missing, suggesting that a killer might be stalking the premises. Because this is very much in the manner of a Giallo, fans of Argento (see Phenomena, below) and Bava should particularly enjoy this stylish and suspenseful film.
The Blu-ray contains both the original 105-minute version and the 94-minute U.S. cut. Extras include film critic audio commentary and interviews with Moulder-Brown and Maude.
I’LL CRY TOMORROW (1955). Few actresses from Hollywood’s Golden Age are as ripe for rediscovery as Susan Hayward, who was a major star but isn’t remembered as well today as, say, Bette Davis or Katharine Hepburn. Hayward was so accomplished that she earned five Best Actress Oscar nominations over a 12-year period, winning on her fifth and final try for 1958’s I Want to Live! Her fourth nomination came for her formidable performance in I’ll Cry Tomorrow, a loose but nevertheless potent biopic of singer-actress Lillian Roth. The film follows Lillian’s life from an early age, when she was just a moppet being pushed hard by her mother (Jo Van Fleet) — she finally achieves success and is ready for a happily-ever-after finale with her fiancé (Ray Danton) until he unexpectedly dies of tuberculosis. This tragedy upends her entire existence, and she becomes hooked on alcohol as well as on a pair of bad husbands in the form of the callous Wallie (Don Taylor) and the physically and mentally abusive Tony (Richard Conte). I’ll Cry Tomorrow earned a total of four Academy Award nominations (including that Best Actress bid for Hayward), winning for Best Black-and-White Costume Design. As for Van Fleet, she won that year’s Best Supporting Actress Oscar for playing another mother — James Dean’s — in East of Eden, although she’s equally good here.
Blu-ray extras include the 1934 musical short Story Conference, starring Roth; newsreel of Hayward and Roth together at the film’s premiere; and vintage footage of the Look Magazine awards gathering, with Gregory Peck handing Hayward her Best Actress award for I’ll Cry Tomorrow and Fredric March giving James Cagney his Best Actor plaque for Love Me or Leave Me.
LABOR DAY (2013). In writer-director Jason Reitman’s drab adaptation of Joyce Maynard’s novel, Henry Wheeler (Gattlin Griffith) is the boy caring for his mom Adele (Kate Winslet), who’s withdrawn from the world ever since her husband (Clark Gregg) left her for another woman. Everything changes when Adele and Henry go to the supermarket and an injured man named Frank (Josh Brolin) forces them to drive him to their house. It turns out that he’s an escaped convict, and he just needs a place to catch his breath for a few hours. But before you can say “Stockholm syndrome,” Adele discovers she’s happy to have this guy around. Maynard’s source material has its fans, but the movie’s compression of characterizations and storylines makes it seem like it was instead adapted from one of those trashy beach reads that are digested and forgotten over the course of one sunburnt afternoon. Henry’s whiplash emotions and dunderheaded actions don’t suggest typical teen behavior as much as wretched writing — a similar strain of sloppy scripting also affects the romance between Adele and Frank, which occurs in about the same amount of time as it takes most people to pick out a card on Valentine’s Day. This is called Labor Day because all the action takes place over the holiday weekend, yet given its fondness for wince-inducing exchanges and tortured plot contrivances, they should have opted for Labor Pains instead. If this movie works in spurts, it’s only because of the strength of the three central performances.
Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Reitman, director of photography Eric Steelberg, and co-producer Jason Blumenfeld; a making-of featurette; and deleted scenes.
THE MASK OF ZORRO (1998). Over the course of his career, Anthony Hopkins has tackled a substantial number of famous figures of either historical or literary worth, among them Adolf Hitler, Alfred Hitchcock, Richard Nixon, Pablo Picasso, John Quincy Adams, Richard the Lionheart, King Lear, William Bligh, Quasimodo, and Professor Van Helsing. It’s an extraordinary assemblage, and one is left with the impression that he could have effectively portrayed Huck Finn and Little Orphan Annie if he had set his mind to it. The Mask of Zorro finds Hopkins adding another classic figure to his resume: Don Diego de la Vega a.k.a. the swashbuckling Zorro, the masked hero who fights for the rights of the poor. Don Diego has to cope with the murder of his wife, the kidnapping of his baby daughter Elena, and a 20-year prison stint — all the doing of his nemesis Don Rafael (Stuart Wilson). After a successful jail break — and realizing that he’s now too old for this sort of thing — Don Diego recruits a fiery outlaw named Alejandro Murrieta (Antonio Banderas) to become the new Zorro. This leads to the obligatory training sessions, much exciting swordplay, a pair of worthy villains in Wilson’s Don Rafael and Matt Letscher’s Captain Love, a sizzling romance between Alejandro and the adult Elena (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and plenty of welcome humor. Vigorously performed by a game cast and robustly directed by Martin Campbell (helmer of the first Brosnan Bond, GoldenEye, and the first Craig Bond, Casino Royale), this is old-fashioned entertainment of the best sort.
Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital steelbook edition consist of audio commentary by Campbell; a making-of featurette; a dozen deleted scenes; the music video for Tina Arena and Marc Anthony’s “I Want to Spend My Lifetime Loving You”; and theatrical trailers.
PHENOMENA (1985). Even by the usual Giallo standards, this feature from writer-director Dario Argento registers as one strange puppy — it’s ofttimes so bizarre that it makes such Argento efforts as The Cat o’ Nine Tails and Deep Red look as staid and streamlined as an episode of Matlock. In between her film debut in 1984’s Once Upon a Time in America and her breakthrough role in 1986’s Labyrinth (and, of course, long before her Oscar-winning turn in 2001’s A Beautiful Mind), 14-year-old Jennifer Connelly toplined this absolutely loopy yarn in which a lonely American student at a Swiss boarding school is revealed to possess a strange hold over all insects. Can she use her powers to catch the serial killer who’s been bloodily offing the school’s nubile young girls? Initially making the stateside rounds in a heavily edited version that was given the title Creepers, this engaging oddity — reportedly Argento’s favorite of all his own films — also finds room for a heroic, razor-wielding chimpanzee, a deformed kid who bears an eerie resemblance to Chucky, and veteran actor Donald Pleasence as a kindly entomologist prone to making grandiloquent declarations about bugs.
Synapse Films’ superb 4K UHD edition contains three separate cuts of the film: the 116-minute Italian version, the 110-minute international version, and the aforementioned 83-minute U.S. version, Creepers. Extras include audio commentary on the Italian cut by author Troy Howarth (Murder by Design: The Unsane Cinema of Dario Argento); audio commentary on the international edit by Argento scholar Derek Botelho and film historian David Del Valle; a feature-length retrospective documentary from 2017; and a visual essay comparing the three versions of the film.
STREETS OF FIRE (1984). As someone amusingly relates in one of the excellent making-of docs included as a bonus feature on this 4K release, a lot of folks around the Universal lot were worried about the anemic script for Streets of Fire, only to be constantly reassured not to worry about it since it was the visuals that would ensure a box office bonanza. Yet even those in the studio screening room weren’t impressed enough by the aesthetic design to disregard everything else — after 15 minutes, one executive turned around and rhetorically asked, “It’s not going to get any better, is it?” Still, yesterday’s box office flop is today’s cult film, although, even as someone who came of age in the ‘80s and first caught this in the year of its release, it never struck me as being particularly good — certainly, it’s not in the same league as select other films from the often underrated Walter Hill (The Warriors, The Long Riders, 48 Hrs.). Michael Paré stars as Tom Cody, a tough guy who agrees to rescue his former girlfriend, rock star Ellen Aim (Diane Lane), from the clutches of snarling biker Raven (Willem Dafoe) in exchange for a handsome payoff from Billy Fish (Rock Moranis), Ellen’s manager and current boyfriend. The fact that the dialogue is deliberately over-the-top doesn’t make it any easier to digest, and Paré proves to be a weak center. On the other hand, the visuals are pretty groovy, and the supporting cast includes plenty of ‘80s fixtures (Bill Paxton, Rick Rossovich, Elizabeth Daily). While the movie was a bomb, it did produce a Billboard Top 10 hit single in Dan Hartman’s “I Can Dream About You.”
Extras include a making-of retrospective documentary that’s about 10 minutes longer than the actual movie; a second making-of retrospective documentary that’s about 10 minutes shorter than the actual movie; behind-the-scenes featurettes; and music videos.
Short and Sweet:
CAMILLE (1936). Greta Garbo earned a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for what has endured as one of her signature roles. She’s Marguerite Gautier, Alexandre Dumas fils’ La Dame aux Camélias and a courtesan who catches the attention of both the handsome Armand Duval (Robert Taylor) and the scowling Baron de Varville (Henry Daniell). From first frame to final close-up, Garbo is larger than life — George Cukor has long been tagged a “woman’s director,” and his elevation here of the actress from mere mortal to silver screen goddess is an example why.
Interestingly, there have been almost as many silent versions of Camille as sound ones, and one of them can be found as a bonus feature on the Warner Archive Collection’s Blu-ray release of the Garbo film. That would be the 1921 adaptation, starring Nazimova as Camille and Rudolph Valentino as Armand. The remaining extras consist of an audio-only radio promo and the theatrical trailer.
KINGS GO FORTH (1958). This Frank Sinatra drama was released in the same year as another flick starring Ol’ Blue Eyes, Some Came Running, and while it may have been overshadowed by that superb melodrama (do catch it, especially for Shirley MacLaine’s heartbreaking turn), it’s a solid picture in its own right. Sinatra and Tony Curtis star as two G.I.s serving in France during World War II — when they’re not busy fighting Germans, they’re both wooing the same woman (Natalie Wood), an American-born, French-raised beauty whose late father, as it turns out, was black. The wartime material is fairly standard (if well-executed), but the simmering theme of racism is honestly handled, and Sinatra is excellent (and entirely sympathetic) as a self-effacing sort who knows he can’t compete with his less honorable friend’s looks and charm.
There are no Blu-ray extras.
FROM SCREEN TO STREAM
Turkey Pick: CHE! (1969). Upon its original release, Che! became one of the most reviled pictures of its era, with even Roger Ebert (often a soft touch) damning it with a one-star review. And while memories of the movie may have faded over time, the performance of Jack Palance as Fidel Castro continues to live in infamy. The New York Times‘ Vincent Canby noted that “Palance does little more than breathe deeply, between speeches, and light cigars,” while Leonard Maltin amusingly quipped, “You haven’t lived until you see Palance play Fidel Castro.” And in the book The Golden Turkey Awards, Palance was one of the five nominees in the category The Worst Casting of All Time (he lost to John Wayne as Genghis Khan in 1955’s The Conqueror). Admittedly, Palance is far from ideal as Castro, but it hardly ranks as one of the all-time worst performances — heck, it’s not even the worst Jack Palance performance. At any rate, he’s more enjoyable to watch than Omar Sharif, who plays Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara in a somnambular state that captures little of the passion and none of the magnetism of this controversial cultural icon. Certainly, the movie itself does little to support him: At a brief 96 minutes, it can hardly present a well-rounded portrait of the man and the times, yet what does make it on screen is both timid and tepid, a soggy saga so noncommittal that the Cuban Revolution ultimately seems no more monumental a historical event than the Iowa State Fair.
Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
The Cat o’ Nine Tails
Child’s Play (2019)
The Counterfeit Traitor
The Lion in Winter
The Long Riders
Some Came Running
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