All Quiet on the Western Front (Photo: Netflix & Capelight)

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.)

Felix Kammerer (right) in All Quiet on the Western Front (Photo: Netflix & Capelight)

ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT (2022). It’s not meant as a knock to state that this third adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel is the weakest of the trio — it just means that the source material is so masterful it’s apparently hard to flub it. The finest is the 1930 version that won the Best Picture Oscar — it remains one of the greatest of all anti-war films and of all World War I dramas, joining 1925’s The Big Parade and 1957’s Paths of Glory on both, uh, fronts. Then there’s the 1979 take with Richard Thomas, Ernest Borgnine, and Ian Holm — its remarkability rests in the fact that it’s so potent despite having been made for network television. The new movie is notable for being the first made by Germany, although in many respects it’s the most Hollywood of all three. Felix Kammerer (in an impressive film debut) plays Paul Bäumer, the idealistic German teenager who marches off to fight for the fatherland but soon gets disillusioned by the brutal senselessness of it all. A+ in its technical proficiency, the film perfectly captures the “war is hell’ theme in all its nightmarish implications. But many of the subtler interludes in the book and previous versions have been excised — the home front sequences are particularly curtailed, and the quietly devastating finale replaced with a battle royale — and the film often feels like classic literature reconfigured for the MCU crowd. Up for nine Oscars (including Best Picture), it won four, including Best International Feature Film (besting my 10 Best of 2022 entry EO).

Extras in the 4K + Blu-ray mediabook edition consist of audio commentary by director Edward Berger; a making-of featurette; and theatrical trailers. A 24-page booklet is also included.

Movie: ★★★

George Kennedy and Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke (Photo: Warner)

COOL HAND LUKE (1967). In a career filled with iconic anti-heroes — including what I deem the “4-H Club” from the 1960s (Hud, Harper, Hombre, and The Hustler) — Lucas Jackson just might be the most popular of all the societal misfits played by Paul Newman. After drunkenly destroying parking meters in a small Southern town, Newman’s wisecracking loner is shipped off to a prison where the inmates break their backs working on a chain gang. The leader of the convicts is a burly fellow known as Dragline (George Kennedy), but he relinquishes his top spot after he and the other inmates get a look at Luke’s anti-Establishment attitude. The camp’s authority figures, on the other hand, aren’t impressed — least of all the prison’s captain (Strother Martin), who utters the now-immortal line, “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” — and they do their best to destroy both Luke’s body and spirit. The Christ allegories are a stretch, but the ins and outs of prison life are depicted in vivid fashion, and Newman turns in a career Top 10 performance. Look for many familiar faces among the prisoners, including Dennis Hopper, Harry Dean Stanton, and Joe Don Baker. Oscar-nominated for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay (Frank Pierson and Donn Pearce, from the latter’s novel), and Best Original Music Score (Mission: Impossible composer Lalo Schifrin), this won Kennedy the statue for Best Supporting Actor.

Extras on the 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Code edition consist of audio commentary by Newman biographer Eric Lax; a making-of documentary; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★★½

Humphrey Bogart and Elisha Cook Jr. in The Maltese Falcon (Photo: Warner)

THE MALTESE FALCON (1941). John Huston had already written approximately a dozen screenplays (among them the gems for Humphrey Bogart’s High Sierra and Bette Davis’ Jezebel) when he was given the opportunity to not only adapt Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon but also make his directorial debut. The result can separately be tagged as one of Huston’s best, one of Bogie’s best, and one of film noir’s best, but it’s easier to cut to the chase and deem it as one of cinema’s best, period. In one of the roles George Raft famously turned down (see also High Sierra, Double Indemnity, The Sea Wolf, and many more), Bogart hit superstar status as hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade, mixing it up with criminal vermin unforgettably played by Sydney Greenstreet (as Kasper Gutman), Peter Lorre (Joel Cairo), and Elisha Cook Jr. (Wilmer Cook). “The stuff that dreams are made of,” comments Spade about the elusive black bird of the title, a sentiment easily applied to this indisputable masterpiece that earned three Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Screenplay for Huston, and Best Supporting Actor for Greenstreet.

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital Code edition include audio commentary by Bogart biographer Eric Lax; a retrospective making-of piece; the featurette “Becoming Attractions: The Trailers of Humphrey Bogart”; the 1941 Oscar-nominated shorts The Gay Parisian (live-action) and Hiawatha’s Rabbit Hunt (animated); the theatrical trailer for 1941’s superb Sergeant York; and trailers for two earlier screen versions of The Maltese Falcon, 1931’s The Maltese Falcon and 1936’s Satan Met a Lady (starring Bette Davis).

Movie: ★★★★

Ann Blyth and Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce (Photo: CC)

MILDRED PIERCE (1945). For three consecutive years, novels penned by James M. Cain were transformed into major motion pictures. While 1945’s Mildred Pierce — a hybrid of a bleak film noir and a high-gloss melodrama — might not quite match the brilliance of either 1944’s Double Indemnity or 1946’s The Postman Always Rings Twice, it’s still old-school entertainment at its finest. In what was her comeback role after several lean years, Joan Crawford delivers a sterling performance as the title character, a housewife-cum-businesswoman who repeatedly sacrifices herself for a bratty daughter who doesn’t even appreciate it. Ann Blyth is chilling as Veda Pierce — the original bad seed — with further notable contributions from Jack Carson as Mildred’s lecherous business partner, Eve Arden as her wisecracking best friend, and Zachary Scott as the ne’er-do-well playboy pursued by both mother and daughter. Nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Supporting Actress (both Blyth and Arden), Best Screenplay, and Best Black-and-White Cinematography, it won Crawford her only Best Actress Oscar. Cain’s novel was filmed again in 2011 as an HBO miniseries starring Kate Winslet, Evan Rachel Wood, and Guy Pearce.

4K extras include a 1969 interview with Cain; the 2002 documentary Joan Crawford: The Ultimate Movie Star; and an excerpt from a 1970 episode of The David Frost Show with Crawford.

Movie: ★★★½

Rawhead Rex (Photo: Kino)

RAWHEAD REX (1986). Here’s the thing about the costume that was created for the monstrous entity known as Rawhead Rex. Were this outfit spotted at a Halloween party, it would be the coolest and most envied attire there. But placed front and center in a motion picture? Even the Kroffts’ kiddie monsters H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund Ooze start to look lifelike by comparison. In a barren field in the middle of Nowhere, Ireland, a phallic column is overturned and out pops a bloodthirsty demon from pre-Christian times. It’s Rawhead Rex! Ultimately, it’s up to an American historian (David Dukes) to figure out the lore behind the gore and devise a way to send the satanic emissary back to Hell. This was the movie that made Clive Barker (who wrote the screenplay based on his own short story) decide he wanted more creative control over his film projects (his accomplished Hellraiser came next), but his disgust with the final product doesn’t mean he’s entirely blameless in its lameness — after all, those awful exchanges didn’t write themselves. Still, most of the finger-wagging can be directed at George Pavlou’s flat-footed direction and at that dopey creature couture. The film’s — or maybe even the entire film year’s — overacting honors go to Ronan Wilmott, cast as Declan O’Brien. He’s the loony church official who, after pledging his allegiance to Rawhead Rex, addresses his superior, Reverend Coot (Niall Toibin), as “fuck-face” and allows the demon to blast his own body with a powerful stream of urine (at least I think it’s supposed to be urine…).

Extras in the 4K UHD + Blu-ray edition include audio commentary by Pavlou; interviews with Heinrich von Schellendorf (who plays Rex) and Wilmot; and a behind-the-scenes image gallery.

Movie: ★½

Hugh Jackman and Zen McGrath in The Son (Photo: Sony Pictures Classics)

THE SON (2022). Since writer-director Florian Zeller and co-scripter Christopher Hampton followed The Father with The Son, can we expect their next filmic collaboration to be And the Holy Spirit? I jest, but the two properties were originally part of a trilogy, as Zeller created a series of stage works titled The Mother, The Father, and The Son. Since The Mother was the first part of the trilogy, it’s not likely to make it before the cameras — that might be for the best, since a screen version could prove to be closer in quality to the lows of The Son than the highs of The Father. Receiving universal acclaim and Oscar wins for Anthony Hopkins’ lead performance and the adapted screenplay by Zeller and Hampton, The Father allowed audiences to credibly see the world from the viewpoint of an Alzheimer’s victim. The Son centers around teen depression, but the end result is mawkish, manipulative, and phony. Zen McGrath is crucially underwhelming as Nicholas, a kid whose mopey demeanor causes anxiety among his divorced parents Peter (Hugh Jackman) and Kate (Laura Dern) and Peter’s new wife Beth (Vanessa Kirby). Reacting to depression as if it were a heretofore unknown disease found only in Bora Bora, the doltish adults have no idea how to address the situation, never once wondering if they should maybe hide the gun on the premises or allow a doctor to treat the kid. It’s painful watching smart actors play stupid characters, and Peter and Kate are basically the upper-class equivalents of Dumb and Dumber’s Harry and Lloyd. The gotcha ending (which most likely will not getcha) is particularly terrible.

Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of piece and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★½

Patrick Stewart and William Shatner in Star Trek: Generations (Photos: Paramount)

STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION 4-MOVIE COLLECTION (1994-2002). After the last of the original series of Star Trek motion pictures hit 4K last fall, it was only a matter of time before the quartet of TNG films would be welcomed to the format. And here they are!

The seventh film in the 13 (and counting) series, Star Trek: Generations (1994) serves as a changing of the guard, with Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) in effect passing the baton to the new kid on the interplanetary block, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The storyline that brings these titans together concerns a moving force known as the Nexus, an entity that offers eternal pleasure to anyone who gets swallowed up by it. A madman (Malcolm McDowell) who was once in its grip will do anything to experience its offerings again, even if it means sacrificing millions of lives to reach his goal; thus, we find two Enterprise captains from different centuries teaming up to bring him down. All of the TNG regulars are here: Stewart, Jonathan Frakes as William Riker, Brent Spiner as Data, LeVar Burton as Geordi La Forge, Michael Dorn as Worf, Gates McFadden as Dr. Beverly Crusher, and Marina Sirtis as Deanna Troi. But only Stewart and Spiner have substantial roles — and Spiner’s screen time is mainly spent on a tiresome subplot involving the android obtaining human emotions — with the other principals mainly called upon to fall down every time the Enterprise takes a direct hit. For the most part, though, this is a solid franchise entry, and it’s thrilling to see Kirk and Picard together. The stalwart Stewart is the better actor, of course, but the boyish Shatner seems to be having more fun.

Jonathan Frakes, James Cromwell, and LeVar Burton in Star Trek: First Contact

Far and away the finest of the TNG crop, the exciting Star Trek: First Contact (1996) is an ambitious undertaking in which the Enterprise crew travels back in time to prevent the dreaded Borg from drastically altering Earth’s future. It doesn’t hurt that two of the best performances from any Star Trek project can be found in this one film: James Cromwell, lovable as the 21st century tinkerer whose space flight leads to humanity’s historic first encounter with alien life, and Alice Krige, chilling as the Borg Queen who makes life particularly uncomfortable for Picard and Data. Confidently directed by Frakes and written by series regulars Rick Berman, Brannon Braga, and Ronald D. Moore, this is a grandly entertaining outing that successfully juggles a number of interlocked storylines while showcasing outstanding visual effects and unique, Oscar-nominated makeup designs. As a sidenote, it’s amusing to hear Picard discuss Moby-Dick, since Stewart would be playing Captain Ahab just two years later in an acclaimed TV production.

Brent Spiner in Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek: Insurrection (1998) is a shaky enterprise in which the gang seeks to protect the Ba’ku, the peaceful inhabitants of a planet where no one really ages — those scheming to swipe the orb from them are a mummified alien warrior (Amadeus Oscar winner F. Murray Abraham) and a misguided Starfleet officer (Anthony Zerbe). There’s a pleasing romance between Picard and a Ba’ku woman (two-time Tony Award-winning actress Donna Murphy), and Abraham adds the right theatrical flourishes to what turns out to be a memorable villain. But a slender storyline means there’s more time for superfluous vignettes, some mildly amusing (Picard dances the mambo, sings Gilbert & Sullivan, and wears an eye-catching headdress), some mostly monotonous (Worf goes through the Klingon equivalent of puberty, Data learns how to “play”). There’s enough here to make it worth a look, although just barely.

Tom Hardy and Patrick Stewart in Star Trek: Nemesis

Sporting the tagline “A Generation’s Final Journey Begins,” Star Trek: Nemesis (2002) ends the TNG run with neither a bang nor a whimper but something in between: Draggy in some spots, exciting in others (the final half-hour especially delivers the goods), the plot concerns itself with the battle of wills between Picard (Stewart is as commanding as always) and Shinzon (a baby-faced Tom Hardy), an enigmatic figure who turns out to be Picard’s evil clone. In addition to returning as Data, Spiner co-wrote the script with Berman and Penny Dreadful creator John Logan, and the trio made sure to include several surprises for the Trekkie contingent, including a couple of cameos, a wedding between two of the leads, and an unexpected send-off for one major character.

As expected (and desired), the new 4K UHD + Blu-ray + Digital set carries over tons of previously available bonus features. These include audio commentaries on all four films by various actors, writers, directors, and producers; making-of featurettes; deleted scenes; storyboards; scene deconstructions; examinations of the visual and makeup effects; and much, much more.

Star Trek: Generations: ★★★

Star Trek: First Contact: ★★★½

Star Trek: Insurrection: ★★½

Star Trek: Nemesis: ★★½

Anne Lambert in Picnic at Hanging Rock (Photo: ARC)


PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK (1975). It’s Valentine’s Day 1900, and the stern headmistress (Rachel Roberts) of an Australian girls’ school allows two teachers, the charming Mlle. de Poitiers (Helen Morse) and the stuffy Miss McCraw (Vivean Gray), to take the establishment’s teen charges on a picnic to the base of an imposing edifice known as Hanging Rock. Over the course of the day, three students as well as Miss McCraw will travel up into the rocky structure and simply disappear; with one exception, none will be ever be seen again. Were they murdered? Abducted by aliens? Became one with nature? That’s the haunting mystery that partially drives what proved to be one of the key films of the Australian New Wave, the exciting explosion of cinema that occurred Down Under during the 1970s. Working from Cliff Green’s script (based on Joan Lindsay’s popular novel), director Peter Weir crafts a heavily atmospheric drama that’s steeped in sexual imagery and ideas, from the phallic-like nature of the rock with all its vaginal passages to the shot of virginal schoolgirls attempting (and failing) to tamp down their own erotic stirrings via constrictive corsets. Yet the film also works as an examination of the contrast between the unpredictability of this untamed landscape and the rigid societal rules of willfully naive outsiders. Weir would of course go on to forge a terrific Hollywood career crammed with the quality likes of Witness, Fearless, and The Truman Show (he finally received an Academy Honorary Award just last year). And if the kindhearted servant Minnie looks familiar, that’s because she’s played by Jacki Weaver, who exploded on the American scene approximately a decade ago thanks to her Oscar-nominated turns in Silver Linings Playbook and Animal Kingdom.

Movie: ★★★½


Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
Double Indemnity
The Father
High Sierra
Mission: Impossible
Paths of Glory
The Sea Wolf
Sergeant York
Star Trek Film Series
The Truman Show

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