Margot Robbie in Babylon (Photo: Paramount)

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.

Diego Calva in Babylon (Photo: Paramount)

BABYLON (2022). Was there any 2022 release as divisive as Babylon? It could create polarization even within the same person, and I’m Exhibit A. It takes a full half-hour before the movie’s title appears on the screen, and those 30 minutes — showcasing a golden shower, an ejaculating (fake) penis, and a crapping elephant — struck me as excess for the sake of excess. But after this obnoxious opening, the film calms down (comparatively speaking) and allows its tale about the excesses of early Hollywood to be related in a more measured and intelligent manner. The result is a real curio, a fascinating mess that finds La La Land helmer Damian Chazelle simultaneously possessed by the spirits of Fellini, Luhrmann, and P.T. Anderson. The sequences that focus on the art of moviemaking in the silent era are superbly punched across, and film buffs will enjoy playing guess-the-reference. The scenes that center more on the personalities of its characters — a starlet played by Margot Robbie, a veteran actor portrayed by Brad Pitt, a rising director essayed by Diego Calva, and so on — are often more problematic, with these individuals frequently painted in broad, superficial strokes. The climactic montage is meant to inspire but might depress, depending on how one views a history-of-cinema trajectory that starts with A Trip to the Moon and The Passion of Joan of Arc, runs through The Wizard of Oz and Psycho, and ends with, uh, Tron and Avatar. Babylon earned three Oscar nominations for its music score, production design, and costume design.

Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray + Digital edition include a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and pieces on the costumes and music.

Movie: ★★½

Edward G. Robinson and Francis Lederer in Confessions of a Nazi Spy (Photo: Warner Archive)

CONFESSIONS OF A NAZI SPY (1939). A propaganda pic par excellence, this is considered to be Hollywood’s first anti-Nazi flick. Warner Bros. had already established itself as a studio interested in making films with a social conscience — e.g. the 1937 Humphrey Bogart starrer Black Legion, about a real-life white supremacist outfit — and this one pulled no punches in addressing the Nazi menace not only threatening Europe but the U.S. as well. Consequently, German-American Bund members were outraged (with one even suing the studio!), death threats were sent to the filmmakers, fretful cast members with relatives in Germany employed pseudonyms, the movie was banned in over 20 countries, and even Adolf himself threw a hissy fit. Taking its cues from a 1938 U.S. court case, it finds Edward G. Robinson as a tenacious FBI agent whose suspected Nazi targets include a foaming-at-the-mouth naval officer (George Sanders), a respected doctor (Paul Lukas), and, most significantly, a German-American loser (Francis Lederer) who, like most deplorables, is a dim-witted dullard with an absurdly inflated opinion of his own self-worth.

Blu-ray extras consist of the 1940 short Meet the Fleet, starring Robert Armstrong (King Kong’s Carl Denham) and George Reeves (TV’s Superman), and the theatrical trailer. Alas, no one thought to include the 1943 Porky Pig cartoon spoof Confusions of a Nutzy Spy.

Movie: ★★★½

Bruce Willis in Detective Knight: Independence (Photo: Lionsgate)

DETECTIVE KNIGHT: INDEPENDENCE (2023). The Detective Knight series that began with Rogue and continued with Redemption should have ended at two movies, since the primary character arcs had been completed. Instead, writer-director Edward Drake opted to make a third film, and it’s largely a nonstarter. In this one, Knight (Bruce Willis) squares off against Dezi (Jack Kilmer), an EMT who snaps and begins committing crimes while dressed as a police officer. It’s not particularly inventive or exciting, and it all plays like a lesser episode of T.J. Hooker or a sanitized version of Maniac Cop. But wait! Godwin Sango is back in action! Or is he? Jimmy Jean-Louis reprises his role as the diligent cop, but the part has been reconfigured as a completely different person. Admirable and heroic in the first film, he’s an obnoxious bully and brute here, and his big scene finds him beating the living hell out of a still-innocent Dezi (this beatdown one of the reasons the kid cracks) for no real reason. It’s a shocking about-face, so startling that I thought maybe Jimmy Jean-Louis was imaginatively cast in a different role, one completely opposite from the sage saint he portrayed in Rogue. (Nope.) More than anything else, this waste of a great character is the biggest crime found in any of these three films.

Blu-ray extras consist of a pair of behind-the-scenes pieces.

Movie: ★★

Dragonslayer (Photo: Paramount)

DRAGONSLAYER (1981). Its pacing could be a little more brisk and its main characters a little more exciting, but Dragonslayer nevertheless earns its place in fantasy filmdom for featuring one of the best fire-breathing creatures ever committed to celluloid. A box office disappointment that nevertheless commands armies of devotees (including Guillermo del Toro, as evidenced on the bonus features), this sword-and-sorcery saga doubtless suffered by appearing in theaters two months after the magnificent sword-and-sorcery hit Excalibur and two weeks after the exciting sword-and-sorcery hit Clash of the Titans. Yet it’s an impressive achievement, following sorcerer’s apprentice Galen (Peter MacNicol) as he prepares to save an endless succession of sacrificial virgins from a fearsome dragon known as Vermithrax Pejorative. It’s a shame Ralph Richardson’s role as the dotty sorcerer Ulrich isn’t larger, as MacNicol and Caitlin Clarke (as the brave Valerian) prove to be bland leads. Yet the film’s rich sense of time and place is stunningly realized, and the screenplay’s crafty sociopolitical elements add dramatic heft to the proceedings. Dragonslayer earned a pair of Oscar nominations for Best Visual Effects (losing to Raiders of the Lost Ark) and Best Original Score (losing to Chariots of Fire).

Extras in the 4K UHD + Digital edition consist of audio commentary by director Matthew Robbins, joined by del Toro; an hour-long retrospective documentary; screen tests; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★

Joan Crawford, David Brian, and Sydney Greenstreet in Flamingo Road (Photo: Warner Archive)

FLAMINGO ROAD (1949). Warner’s workaholic director Michael Curtiz was at the helm when Joan Crawford won her Best Actress Oscar for 1945’s Mildred Pierce, and the pair were reunited for another melodrama with noirish elements. Crawford is Lane Bellamy, a hard-luck gal hoping to make a clean start in a hick Southern town. She becomes involved with deputy sheriff Fielding Carlisle (Zachary Scott), who’s being primed by sleazy kingmaker Titus Semple (Sydney Greenstreet) to run for governor; naturally, Semple doesn’t want his golden boy mixing with a woman from the wrong side of the tracks, so he has Lane tossed in jail on a false prostitution charge. It’s only after she’s released and becomes involved with Semple’s political rival (David Brian) that she begins exacting some measure of revenge. Crawford is often the whole show in her starring vehicles, but here she’s matched (and occasionally surpassed) by the compelling and colorful trio of Greenstreet, Scott, and Brian. Interesting casting and tough talk keep this one humming — it’s just a shame the ending feels unfinished and thus unfulfilling. Both this film and its source play served as the inspiration for the 1981 TV series starring Cristina Raines, Mark Harmon, and Morgan Fairchild.

Blu-ray extras include a piece on Crawford’s time at Warner Bros.; the 1949 Porky Pig cartoon Curtain Razor; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★

Esther Williams in Neptune’s Daughter (Photo: Warner Archive)

NEPTUNE’S DAUGHTER (1949). Although Quigley’s 1949 edition of its annual Top Box Office Stars list was headed by Hope & Crosby and Abbott & Costello (and John Wayne; always John Wayne), Esther Williams found herself represented thanks to her participation in two of the year’s biggest hits: Take Me Out to the Ball Game and Neptune’s Daughter. The latter is a typically frothy rom-com for the cinematic swimming sensation, with the actress and Ricardo Montalban providing the romance and Red Skelton and Betty Garrett providing the comedy. Esther plays Eve, a designer of fashionable swimsuits, while Betty plays Betty, her man-hungry sister. A South American polo team comes to town, and hunky team captain José O’Rourke (Ricardo) falls for Eve. Betty, meanwhile, falls for a doofus masseur named Jack Spratt (Red), only she believes him to be José. The usual mistaken-identity madness ensues. The Usual Suspects it ain’t, but it is a lot of fun, with peppy musical numbers and some glorious goofing by Skelton. This nabbed the Best Original Song Oscar for Frank Loesser’s melodic (and, alas, now controversial) tune “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.”

Blu-ray extras include Garrett’s musical number outtake, “I Want My Money Back”; a promotional interview with Williams; and two Oscar-nominated shorts from 1949, the live-action Water Trix and the Tom and Jerry cartoon Hatch Up Your Troubles.

Movie: ★★★

Laurence Olivier and Marilyn Monroe in The Prince and the Showgirl (Photo: Warner Archive)

THE PRINCE AND THE SHOWGIRL (1957). A man frequently heralded as cinema’s greatest actor gets paired with a woman frequently heralded as cinema’s greatest movie star, and guess who wins? Yup, the movie star. Based on Terence Rattigan’s play The Sleeping Prince (with Rattigan himself handling scripting duties), this takes place during the 1911 coronation of King George V. In London for the event is Charles (Laurence Olivier, who also directed), the Prince Regent of Carpathia, and he decides to spend the night before the big day seducing a blonde actress named Elsie Marina (Marilyn Monroe). Elsie gently refuses his advances, only to later decide she’s actually in love with the foreign dignitary after all. For his part, the humorless royal can’t decide what he thinks about this kooky American. Olivier’s performance is technically sound but also dry and uninteresting, and his static direction and Rattigan’s nonsensical plotting render this a drudging annoyance. Its only saving grace is the delightful Monroe — her sizable comedic chops and charismatic quirks are on full display, and she provides the only spark to an otherwise soggy undertaking. For a loose look at the behind-the-scenes of the making of this movie, check out 2011’s My Week with Marilyn, with Kenneth Branagh and Michelle Williams as Larry and MM.

The only Blu-ray extra is the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★

Nicholas Hoult in Warm Bodies (Photo: LG)

WARM BODIES (2013). Another zombie movie? As the kids would type on social media, “FFS.” Yet even after we thought the genre was exhausted with 28 Days Later … and then Shaun of the Dead… and then the Zombieland twofer … and then ParaNorman … and then some … here we find fresh blood (and more than a dash of Romeo and Juliet) pumped into the format with the zom-rom-com Warm Bodies, a likable adaptation of Isaac Marion’s novel that began life as a short story floating around the Internet. Nicholas Hoult, most recently seen in the 10 Best of 2022 entry The Menu (go here for the complete list), narrates the movie from his vantage point of playing one of the undead: He’s “R,” a zombie who becomes smitten with the human Julie (Teresa Palmer), more so after he eats the brains of her boyfriend (Dave Franco) and acquires all of his memories. Initially afraid of R (understandably so!), Julie comes to realize that he’s not a threat, and together they wonder if his progression back to normalcy means that it’s no longer necessary for her militaristic dad (John Malkovich) and his troops to annihilate all zombies. The laughs are modest and the scares are nonexistent, but the romance is awfully charming — and Hoult and Palmer make an irresistible couple.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by Hoult, Palmer, and writer-director Jonathan Levine; behind-the-scenes featurettes; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.

Movie: ★★★

Shelley Duvall and Sissy Spacek in 3 Women (Photo: Fox)


3 WOMEN (1977). Robert Altman was never a conventional filmmaker by any stretch of the imagination, but with 3 Women, the devil-may-care writer-director-producer pushed even harder against the envelope and in the process created a highly unusual and wholly original motion picture. This is one of his best achievements on film, a movie that manages to be simultaneously earthy and ethereal — it’s no surprise to learn that the genesis for the project came from a dream he had while his wife was in the hospital. Shelley Duvall, in a terrific performance that clearly should have landed her an Oscar nomination (the Cannes judges and the Los Angeles Film Critics Association were more attentive), stars as Millie Lammoreaux, a gangly, talkative woman blissfully unaware (or maybe pretending to be blissfully unaware) that everyone around her views her as a nuisance and a geek. Into her life comes Pinky Rose (Sissy Spacek), a naive youngster who idolizes Millie until she catches her fooling around with the loutish husband (Robert Fortier) of a sensitive artist (Janice Rule). By the time this film was made, Spacek had already cornered the market on playing eccentric innocents thrust into a world of hurt and deceit (see also Carrie and Badlands), but that doesn’t make her work here any less riveting; she and Duvall are both sensational, playing complex women whose contradictory actions — they can switch from endearing to annoying within seconds — make them come achingly alive on screen.

Movie: ★★★½


Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
Abbott & Costello Films
Best Films of 2022
Carrie (1976)
Detective Knight Series
King Kong (1933)
La La Land
Maniac Cop Series
The Passion of Joan of Arc
Raiders of the Lost Ark
Take Me Out to the Ball Game
T.J. Hooker
A Trip to the Moon
The Usual Suspects
Zombieland: Double Tap

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