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The DVD Report #264

The Vietnam War lasted from November 1, 1955 to the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975. It followed the first Indochina War which began in 1949. U.S. involvement began in what was then known as French Indochina in an advisement capacity in 1950. Involvement increased in the early 1960s when the U.S. escalated the number of troops sent to prevent a Communist takeover of South Vietnam from the Vietcong in the North. It became the least popular war in the history of the United States.

Films about the war were non-existent until 1968 when John Wayne’s wrong-headed jingoistic The Green Berets appeared. Films that realistically depicted the war did not appear until the war was over. A number of critically acclaimed, award-winning films about the war including The Deer Hunter; Coming Home; Apocalypse Now; Platoon and Full Metal Jacket were released in the decade from 1978 through 1987. Two years later, one of the best, Oliver Stone’s Born on the Fourth of July completed the cycle.

Stone’s biographical film about anti-war and human rights activist Ron Kovic begins in the 1950s as Kovic (born July 4, 1946) attends a fourth of July parade. The film follows him through his high school years and the school prom, followed by his gung ho entry into the Army, the horror he witnesses in Vietnam and his injuries, and rehabilitation and ultimate disillusionment with the way he is treated by the government.

Music is a big part of the film. John Williams’ great score is augmented by such popular songs as Henry Mancini’s “Moon River; The Temptations’ “My Girl” and Don McLean’s “American Pie”.

Kovic’s autobiographical book came out in 1976. The film was originally intended to go before the cameras in 1979 with a different director and star (Al Pacino), but there was a problem with the script. The delay was fortuitous as Tom Cruise at 27 was perfect casting for the part of Kovic as he goes from naïve kid to hardened activist whose most famous quote is “I am the living death, a Memorial Day on wheels. I am your Yankee Doodle Dandy, your John Wayne come home, your Fourth of July firecracker exploding in the grave.”

Cruise had been on a roll, alternating leads in such hits as Risky Business and Cocktail with co-starring roles with megastars Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman in The Color of Money and Rain Man. The young actor proved up to the task of his demanding role, impressing Kovic so much that he gave the actor his bronze star. The film, which opened December 22, 1989, was seen as an early favorite to win the Oscar for Best Picture, Director, Actor, Screenplay and more. It was nominated in those categories as well as Cinematography, Score, Sound and Editing, but won only two for Stone’s direction and the film’s editing. Cruise lost to Daniel Day-Lewis portraying another real life character with disabilities, painter-writer Christy Brown in My Left Foot. The film, as well as Stone and Kovic’s screenplay lost to Driving Miss Daisy. Williams’ score lost to The Little Mermaid.

The Blu-ray upgrade features an NBC Backstory: Born on the Fourth of July and a full-length commentary by Stone, both of which appeared on the earlier DVD.

Another film that looked as though it might have strong Oscar potential was Robert Redford’s 1998 film, The Horse Whisperer, adapted from the popular novel by Nick Evans, but it wasn’t to be. The film started out well in awards season with Golden Globe nominations for Best Picture and Redford as Director. The American Cinema Editors nominated it for an ACE and the American Society of Cinematographers nominated Robert Richardson’s gorgeous cinematography, but that was about it. Oscar’s only nod was for Best Song: “A Soft Place to Fall” which lost to “When You Believe” from The Prince of Egypt.

The film was a showcase for young Scarlett Johanssen who is injured in an accident along with her beloved horse. Her mother (Kristin Scott Thomas) seeks the help of a horse whisperer (Redford) to help the horse. He also has a way with people that helps heal the emotional scars of the young girl and her parents (Scott Thomas, Sam Neill). Dianne Wiest, Chris Cooper and Jeanette Nolan in her last role have prominent supporting roles.

The Blu-ray upgrade features a production featurette as well as featurettes on Redford and equine technical advisor Buck Brannaman, all carried over from the original DVD.

Audrey Wells’ 2003 film of Under the Tuscan Sun is a fictionalized version of Frances Mayes’ book about a villa she bought and renovated in Cortona, Italy. The film is basically a starring vehicle for Diane Lane in the wake of her Oscar nominated role in 2002’s Unfaithful. See it for the gorgeous scenery. The film itself is cliché filled nonsense that seems to take place in Italy of fifty years ago when the locals were not yet used to seeing American tourists.

Lane was nominated for both a Golden Globe and Golden Satellite for her performance but lost both to Diane Keaton in Something’s Gotta Give.

The Blu-ray upgrade features deleted scenes, several making-of documentaries and audio commentary by the director, all taken from the previous DVD release.

Nominated for BAFTAs for both Best British Film and Best Film Overall, J. Lee Thompson’s 1959 film, North West Frontier lost the former to Sapphire and the latter to Ben-Hur. It was released in the U.S. in 1960 under the title Flame Over India presumably because U.S. audiences might think the original title meant it was a western.

The spectacular film about the 1905 rescue of the five year-old heir to the Indian throne and his American governess (Lauren Bacall) was released on DVD in 2009 under its original title. Now VCI has released it on Blu-ray and standard DVD as part of its Rank Collection. The on-screen title is North West Frontier but the Blu-ray is being marketed as Flame Over India. The non-anamorphic Blu-ray looks and sounds fine.

Neither release offers any extras.

This week’s new releases include Margaret and the Blu-ray debuts of Chariots of Fire and Coma.

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